posted on 21-Jul-2002 10:11:00 PM
Title: All For Her
Author: Taffy
Email: bstuller⊕
Category: M/L
Rating: PG13?
Disclaimer: Don’t own them, just borrowing them. Promise to return them only slightly used.

Picks up after Destiny but no Tess and sadly no Kyle either. Sorry about that, I love the guy too.
Max is taken back to Antar by Khivar. How will they get him back?


How long have I been here? How much longer can I last? I could almost wish for it to all end if it weren’t for that little voice in the back of my head, her voice. It won’t let me go. It calls to me even from across the galaxy. I never could say no to her, so I hang on and endure the unendurable for as long as I can...all for her.


He paces back and forth in the Crashdown, ready to explode any minute, but he can’t. He’s in charge, he’s the second-in-command. He has to keep control. He grinds his teeth in anger and frustration. It’s been too long; Max has been missing for over three months... too long. He continues the pacing as he barks out the command, “Tell me again. What exactly did he say?”

She’s been in hell these last three months. Her parents are frantic over Max’s disappearance. They don’t understand. How could they? How could they understand that their son vanished from the face of the Earth in a beam of light one day? No, they think their 17 year-old son ran off, but they don’t understand why. Instead they rack their brains trying to figure out what they did wrong, how they could have helped him more, been more understanding, they just don’t understand. Even if she told them the truth it wouldn’t help, only worry them more. How could she tell them that she knows he’s not on Earth any more because she can dreamwalk him, and in those dreams he’s in a dark dreadful place and in pain, how can she tell them that? Instead she tells them nothing and cries at night after every attempt at a dreamwalk. She cries on the rare occasions that she reaches him and he’ll actually let her in, and she cries harder when he won’t. It’s those ones that he blocks that terrify her the most. Alex wraps his arms around her and she leans into him, drawing on his strength, “It’s Khivar, he wants Max to support him, his regime. He said he’d let Max out if he agreed. Max said no... That was two days ago.”

Michael pounds his fist on the counter of the closed restaurant, “And since then?”

She shakes her head in despair, “Nothing since. He... he won’t let me in but...”

Michael’s needs to hit something or blast something, anything, as his temper flares, “But WHAT?”

She hesitates, she hadn’t told him this before because she wanted to be certain but she’s still not. She doesn’t know what to do. Alex hugged her tighter as a sob escaped, “I’m not sure if it’s he won’t let me in or... or he’s not there anymore. Oh God, it’s so dark there. I’ve always had a hard time finding him in the darkness,”

She has been like a zombie these last months, that’s her, a zombie, the walking dead. Part of her died that day when they heard a strange noise, looked up, saw a light hit them from above and he shoved her away, out of the light. It all happened so fast, it didn’t register until later that it would be the last she’d see of him long has it been now? Three months? It was the last she saw of him in three months, but it’s not the last time forever. She won’t let go. She won’t let him let go. Shaking her head at Isabel’s sobs, “No, no, he’s not gone. I won’t let him go, not ever! He’s holding on, I know, I can feel him. We’ll figure it out, we’ve got to. It’s his only hope.”

Maria puts her arm around her friend. They’ve heard it all before, Liz insists that she can feel him but... well; Liz hadn’t been Liz since he vanished. She’s clung so desperately to that belief, was it really real? Or was it what she wanted to believe? But Liz was still her friend and she was in pain, besides Max and Liz had always had that connection that defied all reason, anything was possible, wasn’t it? “Liz, Chica, you’re right, we’ll figure it out.”

As the sheriff it had been his duty to work with Philip and Diane Evans. They had filed the missing person’s report, hired a private investigator but... there was nothing to find. No report was going to help locate their son on another planet. They had pleaded for help, for anything, any news good or bad, but there was nothing he could do or say. That had been the hardest, dealing with the Evans. He had contacted Ed Harding immediately. The shapeshifter was trying find out what he could but his resources were limited. He had gotten a message off to the rebels fighting on Max’s world but it was going to take time to get there and even longer to get a reply. It didn’t sound like Max had been rescued yet. Trying hard not to stare at his shoes, “I’ll check in with Nesado and Tess, see if they’ve gotten anything new and let you know.”


Someone was pounding at his door in the middle of the night. It set his heart racing. He was dog tired from the long emotional night he had but not anymore, not with all the adrenalin that just got dumped in his bloodstream. Jumping out of bed, he almost knocks Maria to the floor. He gives her an I’m-sorry-look before swinging the door open. Seeing who it was really got him going, “Nesado, what? What’s happened?”
He steps back to let him in, that’s when he spies the other. “Who are you?”

Nesado hadn’t expected this, had been shocked that this was the response. But the actions were already set in motion. It would waste too much time to change it now. He uses human hand gestures out of habit to make the introductions, “Michael, this Reece... from Antar. He’s come to collect you and Isabel. They need you to help find Max.”

Stunned beyond belief, his brain refuses to believe what he just heard. “They WHAT? You’ve got to be kidding me? Why? How?”

Reece steps forward and bows his head slightly. This was his first trip to Earth and everything was new to him including how to properly greet Lord Rath. He noted that their protector had been very casual with him but then they knew him. He had no such history. “My Lord Rath, we don’t know where King Zan is. We understand that Princess Vilandra can locate him in the dream plain. We will need her help... and of course as his second, you would need to come as well.”

Michael looks from Reece to Nesado, not sure what to think. He can feel her eyes on him. Even without turning around he can feel Maria.

Ever since Max’s disappearance she and Michael had clung together. She was the only one that he could let his guard down with, the only one that gave him enough comfort so he could sometimes actually sleep at night. Tonight was the night she most dreaded, he had to leave. She knew it would come someday. Hadn’t he always told her so? Hadn’t he warned her all along that this would happen? “Call her Michael. I’ll call Liz.”

He spins around to face her. His emotions are all a jumble. Everything is happening so fast. This was exactly why he never wanted roots, never wanted the strings but she had worn him down, hadn’t she? “Call Liz? What the hell for? She’d just demand to come.”

Maria juts her head up. She climbs out of bed, not giving a damn that she was only wearing his t-shirt and a pair of panties. She points her finger at him for emphasis, “Damn right, she’s going to want to come. You’re going to need her... HE needs her. You know that. She can feel him. Isabel can’t always reach him but she can. How many times did she know he was getting near without even looking up? How many times did she just know where he was?”

Michael shakes his head adamantly, “No, no humans. Don’t you get it? We’re leaving the PLANET! As in wave bye-bye to Earth. None of you can come.”

She defiantly pulls out her cell phone and glares at him as she pushes the speed dial. “Wanna bet? My next call is to Alex. Where she goes, I go, and where we go, Alex goes. Besides, Isabel needs Alex’s support just as much as you need mine.”

He explodes as she hit the nail on the head, “GOD DAMN IT!”, before he stomps off to his own phone to dial Isabel. After hanging up with her, he dials the sheriff. They’re going to need someone to help cover their tracks.

An hour later Reece looked at the assembled group of Antarian royalty and humans, all young, all defiant. He hadn’t been prepared for this. They all look at him expectantly, “The ship will be at the rendezvous point in 45 Earth minutes. It’ll take approximately 6 Earth weeks to reach Antar. Hopefully by then we’ll have some information about where he’s being held. Uh, I’m not sure that all of you coming are a good idea. My instructions were...”

Liz had thrown some clothes on and packed her backpack with a few things, clean change of clothes, a couple of books, her journal and some pens, pictures of her parents, pictures of Max, had climbed out the window and didn’t look back. She had gotten to Michael’s in 10 minutes and spent the rest composing a letter in her head to her parents. Meeting the alien’s gaze head on, “I’m coming. I can help you find him.” She doesn’t wait for a reply. She sits down at the kitchen counter and takes out a pen and composes the letter, it was surprisingly short.

Michael looks over to Isabel. She had arrived with a bag in hand. She too had been working on a letter to her parents, it was much longer. She knew that they all would go. Even though Max would hate that Liz was putting herself in danger, she also knew that her brother needed Liz. He couldn’t survive without her. And in these last few months, she wasn’t sure she could survive without Alex’s quiet strength.

Nesado had a feeling that the humans would demand to come. He hadn’t liked the idea but he had to admit that they had been helpful to the Royal children, certainly loyal. And the Parker girl did seem to share some sort of connection to their young king. She may be useful in locating him. The sheriff certainly had his uses and had proven trust worthy. He hated to do it but he had no other choice, “Sheriff Valenti, there is something I need you to do. Tess, as the Antarian Queen, must be kept safe. It’s bad enough that they have Max and now with Michael and Isabel returning, 3 out of 4 of the Royal 4 will be in harms way. I cannot allow all 4 to go, so Tess must remain behind. As dangerous as it is for them on Earth, it is more so for them on Antar. She’s furious about it but is resigned to my decision. On Earth she is a minor. I have given her all the paperwork she needs to become emancipated but it still would be best if someone could keep an eye on her.”

The good sheriff of Roswell had been sucked into the I-know-an-alien-club and his world had not been the same since. He would have kept an eye on her anyways. “Of course, just as if she were my own, don’t worry. And I trust you’ll keep all of them safe.”

Nesado nods a little, “As if they were my own. We do plan to come back, you know. Even after we rescue Max, Antar will still not be safe enough for them, not while Khivar is on the throne. Only after he is disposed will it be safe enough. I will do everything in my power to bring them back, all of them.”


It was hard enough to see the kids go, delivering the letters to the parents was worse. He rang the doorbell at the Evans house. The sun was just starting to rise. A very surprised then alarmed Philip Evans opens the door in a bathrobe, behind him stands a similar looking Diane Evans. Taking his hat off as he entered the house, “Philip, Diane, I saw Isabel last night before she left...”

He shares a panicked look with his wife. Diane runs down the hall calling their daughter’s name, she returns near tears, the bedroom had been empty. Gooseflesh breaks out as a cold dread runs through him. Escorting his distraught wife to the sofa, “Sheriff, where’d she go? Where is she? Where’s Max?”

He holds out the envelope to them, “She went to get Max. They all did. It’s all in here. Read it and give me a call later if you want to talk. I, uh, I’m sorry but I need to get going. I... I have a couple more letters to deliver.”
Not knowing what else to say, he simply turns and walks out. It had been a long night and today wasn’t going to be any better. He still had to see the Parkers, the Whitmans, and then...Amy DeLuca. It was going to be a very long day.

Philip’s hands trembled as he tore open the envelope. It was their daughter’s handwriting. Together, he and Diane read it... and cried.

Dearest Mom and Dad,

I can’t believe I’m about to do this but I have no choice. I have to leave. I have to help him, he’s my brother. Max is in trouble but it’s not the kind you can help him with, you can’t because you’re human. We’re not, at least not entirely.
I know that you’ve both known that there was something different about us. We should have told you sooner but we couldn’t, we were afraid. We were two lost and scared little kids, who needed a home and were fortunate enough to have found one with terrific parents. You two were the only thing, the only ones we had. We couldn’t lose you. We needed you too much, loved you too much. We didn’t want to scare you. We didn’t want to tear the family apart... but I guess in the end we did anyways.
Max never ran away, he was kidnapped. He’s being held on our home world by our enemy. Tonight a ship arrived to take us back to there. They need our help to find him. Michael and I are leaving and with us Liz Parker, Maria Deluca and Alex Whitman are coming. We need them. They know about us, as does Sheriff Valenti, Kyle Valenti and Tess Harding. Tess is actually one of us but she had to stay behind. It’s too dangerous for all of us to go, so she stayed. The sheriff has agreed to look after her since her “father”, Ed Harding, is coming with us. He has to, he’s our protector.
Mom, Dad, I know this sounds too incredible to believe but it’s all true. Please know that Max and I both love you, it hurts so much to have to do this to you. We never meant to hurt you like this. We do plan on coming back. Our people don’t want us there because of the war, it’s too dangerous, and so after rescuing Max, we’ll come back. We only hope that we can come home as well.

All of our love always,
And Max

PS. Please, Mom & Dad, no one else can know about this, about us. The Parkers, the Whitmans and Mrs. DeLuca are being told that we’ve all ran off together but nothing else. Please keep our secret. We have enemies here as well.


Antar was a world that has long been divided, its people, its way of life, its species, all divided.

She traipsed thru the mud on the way to the meeting. They had arrived almost two weeks ago, Earth weeks that is, who the hell knew how long that was in local time, who cared? She certainly didn’t. The ship actually hadn’t been all that bad, all sleek and shiny... modern. For some reason she foolishly thought Antar would be the same, modern, all modern. Boy, had she been wrong. Antar was a world of extremes, extremely modern or extremely archaic and you never knew what you were going to get when you mixed the extremes. For instance, the hut, she really couldn’t call it a house, the wood and thatch hut they were staying in had a small generator for heat, an advanced communication system, but they burned wood to cook with and had no running water, no indoor plumbing. She could go the rest of her life without seeing another outhouse. She opens the door to the underground bunker and enters. She was the last to arrive and mumbles her apology, “Sorry.”

Reece just nods to Maria. They had surprised him. He had never seen beings so close as these five were. They worked hard on the six week journey here to learn the local language and customs with varying degrees of success. He had done what he could to teach Lord Rath, whom he now called Michael, and Princess Vilandra, now Isabel, about their powers and how to use them. He had been sadden and little angry at their protector for allowing them to become separated like that as children, but what’s done was done and he could only work to bring them up to speed as best he could now. Looking at the map of the large capital city, “We’ve heard rumors that a very important prisoner was being held in the city but not in the prison. We think it might be in the palace proper. There are tales of subterranean cells below the palace but no one knows for certain. No one has ever come back from them if they exist. Isabel, would you try and reach your brother tonight? You need to get in and see what he sees. It might help us to pinpoint his location if we could identify some sort of landmark.”

The weeks had been so hard. The closer they got to Antar, the more she could dreamwalk Max, and the more he fought to keep her out. He was in a bad way. She knew it. Liz knew it. Liz had grown more agitated as they neared the planet, had nightmares. It only increased once they got here. At least she had Alex to hold at night, Liz didn’t. They all pulled together, all worked hard to become acclimated to Antar but it wasn’t easy. It didn’t help that there were two species on Antar, the ones that could shape shift and the ones that couldn’t. Fortunately, the ones that couldn’t shape shift actually looked human. Ok, human with gold eyes and sometimes green-blue hair but still human. They could at least blend in enough not to be noticed too much. She looked over at Liz. There were dark circles under her eyes. Liz no longer cried out from the nightmares but there was no doubt that she wasn’t sleeping very well. Nodding her head in agreement, “I’ll try but he’s not...not very cooperative. He doesn’t want me to see. He puts up barriers and so far I haven’t been able to break them down.”

Liz had been looking at the model of the city. It was large; it showed beautiful parks and gardens. On a hill overlooking the city was an ornate palace, dominating it. She could read enough Antarian to pick out the library, the university, the government forum, all closed for over 50 years. A large prosperous city and it was all an illusion. She didn’t care. Let them have their illusion, all she wanted was Max. He was there somewhere in that city of illusion being held and tortured. She could feel him and sometimes at night he would slip, and then she would feel his pain. Last night had been bad, very bad. They were running out of time. She turns unblinking eyes to Isabel, “Tonight take me with you on the dreamwalk. I’ll get through to him.”

Isabel stares back at Liz. They had never done that before. She’s not sure what to think, “How? How do you plan on getting thru?”

Liz glares all her hatred at the palace model, “With a sledge hammer if I have to, but I’ll get in... one way or another.”


She already had a headache from attempting to dreamwalk. As expected Max wasn’t budging. She couldn’t get in. She had tried it once more on her own but no luck. She wasn’t sure if this would work but if anyone could get through to her brother, it was Liz. They lay together on the bed in the thatched house that was their temporary home on Antar. With Alex hovering close by for support, together they touched the picture strip of Max and Liz. They had taken them at some cheap little, 4-for-a-dollar thing at a mall. Liz was sitting on his lap, both laughing, both so happy. She could feel herself falling into the now familiar darkness that surrounds Max. Liz was standing right next to her. She was a flood of emotions. For some reason that surprised her, it shouldn’t have. Liz’s love for her brother was profound. She hadn’t doubted that in a long time and she didn’t now. In the dream plain she nudge Liz in the direction she had found him in before, when she had ran into the walls he had put up. The walls were still there. She and Liz looked at each other. Max was behind those walls, they both could feel it. She watched as Liz closed her eyes. She could feel it, the emotions. A tidal wave of emotions came pouring out, crashing into that damn wall her brother had built. Liz wasn’t joking about a sledge hammer. She used just that, a sledge hammer of emotions, anger, frustration, fear, love, and dogged determination. Liz wasn’t going to stop or leave until she was through. Cracks started to appear in the wall. As the cracks grew, they looked inside, there was Max, or what they knew in their hearts was Max. What they saw brought tears to their eyes. With a burst of anger from both of them, the wall finally crumbled. As they both rushed to him, a wave of dizziness swept over her. Grabbing Liz’s arm, “Hurry, I can’t keep this up much longer.”

Liz nods then runs to Max. Holding his battered face in her hands tenderly, “Max, Max. Listen to me. Do you know where you are? Where they’re holding you?” She can see the anguish in his eyes as he shook his head no. She does the best she could to hold him in her arms but it wasn’t easy, not with his arms chained to the wall. As he rests his head on her chest, she looks around. It looked like some medieval dungeon, stone walls all around with a bar door. It was cold but the air was stale, no windows. She heard footsteps echoing down the hall. Turning back to Max, taking his face in her hands, “Max, listen to me. We’re here Max, We’re on Antar. We’re close. We’re going to come and get you out but you have to remain strong. You have to hold on... for me. Please Max, please hold on, just a little longer.”

Everything hurts. He didn’t want anyone to see him like this. It hurt too much. Through parched and swollen lips, “For you.” Her delicate kiss was like honey, nectar from the gods. It nourished is soul. He would hold on for as along as possible... all for her.
Both Liz and Isabel jump as the bar door clangs open, his body was too sore to move. His torturers had returned.

It was a jolt to suddenly be back in the thatched hut. She felt cold, alone. Alex was there holding Isabel and her too. But she didn’t want to be held. She wanted feel Max, just Max. She looked over at Reece, who stood silently in the corner watching them. Had he been there all along? She couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. Max, he’s all that mattered. She wants to run over to the table and start recording everything she saw but her feet, they were like a ton of bricks. She could barely move. Michael grabbed her as she almost keeled over. “Help me to the table. I need to record everything I saw. Now, before I forget anything.”

Reece comes towards her and turns on the recorder. “You got in.”

Taking the funny looking microphone in her hand, “Yeah, it wasn’t easy but we got in.”
For the next hour they describe everything that they’d seen, smelt, heard, felt, including the pain. They described Max’s physical condition which sent Michael into orbit. He had to go outside to blow something up. Her head was pounding and her body was getting very angry about the continuing punishment she was putting it through. As they finished, she looked up at Reece, “Did this help? Did any of this help locate him?”

Reece shaking his head, “Not immediately, nothing sounds familiar but I’m just one person. Many are going to review it. I’m sure there’s something there.”

She drops the microphone on the table, all that and still nothing. She gets angry, “Damn it! If those stupid guards hadn’t come in and startled us, we might have gotten more!”

Reece looks hard at her, “Guards? What guards? You didn’t mention any guards. Describe them.”

Isabel looks at Liz, didn’t they tell them about the guards? What had they looked like? “Human form, large, male, mean, they had on these funny silver pantsuits with sort of a purplish sash and these stupid hats, like the guards at Buckingham Palace wear.”

They lost him at that point, “Buckingham Palace? Where’s that? Never mind. Can you draw it?”

Can she draw it? Miss Fashion Design of West Roswell High, could she ever draw it! Grabbing some pens and a sheet of parchment, she begins. She uses her powers to change ink colors as she goes and double checks with Liz on a couple of details and in the end, she has a perfect copy of what the guards wore. Handing the picture to Reece, “That’s it. That’s what they wore...does it help?”

Reece smiles for the first time in months as he looks at the picture, “Yeah, that’s the uniform of the royal household. He’s in the palace, definitely in the palace. And that sash. Different areas of the palace have different colors. We have someone that might be able to narrow it down from the color of that sash. Since it is the palace and from what you described, no windows, no fresh air, it’s sounding more and more like those subterranean cells just might be true after all.”
Looking over at Isabel and then Liz, his smile softens, “Michael, Alex, I think we should put them to bed since they’re already asleep.”


For the first time in his life, he was in his element. He knew that he could do this. It felt right, it was right. They used the 3-D map of the city and the palace to refine the final plan. Michael reviewed the plans one more time, step by step. He wanted to make sure they weren’t missing something, “So why go up the cliff side again?”

Reece, “Less defended, less likely to be spotted.”

Nodding and moving the pointer to the next position, “Then down this hall to the stairway. Where are the palace guards again?”

Reece uses his own pointer, “Here and here, both central points in the corridors.”

Michael, “And they won’t see us because...”

Reece, “The advance team will have the shifters with them. They’ll take out the guards and dispose of the bodies with the shifters taking their place.”

Michael, “And no one will be the wiser. They won’t be able to tell.”

Reece, “Exactly, at least not from just looking.”

Michael, “Right...continue, next step.”

Reece traces the next part, “Along here, down these stairs and then left. That will put us in the purple sector according to our sources.”

Michael, “Ok, now we’re in the purple sector, where those guards were from that Liz and Isabel saw, then what?”

Reece takes a deep breath. The next part is based on intel, unconfirmed intel, and was less assured, “Then continue down this corridor to this junction. There’s supposedly a control panel there. We think it controls the prison cells which we believe lay further down the corridor, here.”

Michael looks up at that, “Supposed, think, believe? Exactly how firm is this information? Can it can be confirmed?”

Reece sighs, “Not without risking our assets and tipping our hand. Everything should be there. I just can’t guarantee it.”

Taking that in, Michael nods again, “Ok, fair enough. Now we’re here in the corridor where the prison cells are. How do we find him? How do we get him and us out?”

Reece wanted to cringe, this part was even sketchier than the last and not all of it was because of intel, “We’re hoping to find something at the control panel that would tell us which cell he’s in. Last ditch effort would check each cell. We wouldn’t have to open each one, just look in. According to what they saw, the doors were just metal bars. Then getting him out…that depends on what kind of shape he’s in. It’s been three days. There’s no way of knowing if he’s ambulatory. If he is, then we create a distraction in the cells, a fire maybe… we’re still working on that part. We’ll take him back down this corridor back the way we’ve come but instead of turning right at this junction, we go straight. Through the sewers that run along here, and then to the right, to the main trunk that runs through the city where we’ll meet back up, emerging here, just outside of the city.”

The room was quiet. They were expecting much from everyone, especially a tortured Max, “How long of a walk is that through the sewers?”

Reece, “Almost five miles and I suggest we run not walk.”

Michael’s eyes narrow at that, “Go on, then…”

They walk over to the spot on the map where they’re supposed to emerge. “We’ll have people waiting for us, including a medic. From there we’ll have transport out of the city, to here. This is the weakest gate in the city’s shield. We’ll need to get past the guards dressed as locals, so no weapons, no technology. They’ll check. We’ll be local peasants taking an ill relative home. Once outside the city’s shield, we’ll be able to get help easily enough from the underground.”

Michael starts with the obvious questions, “What if Max isn’t…ambulatory?”

Reece knows that was a distinct possibility, “Then we’ll have to carry him. It would slow us down.”

He looks at the distance from the palace to the sewer exit, “Plan on carrying him at least part of the way. If he’s in the shape we think he is, standing is going to be a challenge, never mind a 5mile jog. Next, how many people do we have? How many do we need?”

posted on 21-Jul-2002 10:13:46 PM
Reece, “We have 7 shifters including your protector, plus 6 more and we’ll need every one of them. All 7 sifters will be used as guard doubles in the main palace corridors. They along with 3 more will be in the advance team. Once the shifters are in place, the 3 will continue down to the purple level. Once that is clear, the last 3, which will be me, you and Isabel, will continue to the prison cells and get Max. We’ll have communicators and once we have Max, we’ll get the shifters moving behind us keeping the rear clear.”

Michael looks over that part of the palace very carefully. He doesn’t like it, “No, that’s not enough. Look here, here and here, all these corridors run right through the purple section. It would be impossible for 3 people to keep all of them plus the main corridor clear. Not even sure if we could do it with 6. We need at least 3 more.”

Alex had remained as silent as everyone else. He had kept a low profile since they left Earth, but this was Max, his friend, and his best friend’s soul mate, “You’ve got ‘em, us. Maria, Liz and I will go in and get Max out.”
He can see the explosion burning in Michael’s eyes, ready to burst out any second. He keeps his gaze steady and strong, “I may not be his second or even an alien, he’s not my king but he is my friend. I want to help. I can do this. I’ve been taking target practice and am pretty good with a blaster, as are Liz and Maria. Besides if anyone will get Max up and moving it’s those two. Let us do this.”
Liz and Maria come to stand next to him. Michael would argue later with them but they all knew the fight over it was already decided. No one could win one with Maria when she got riled and for this, she’d get riled.

Michael clinches his jaw, “Later... Now Reece, tell us how we’re going to be scaling that cliff?”


She would be grumbling non-stop if it hadn’t been too dangerous. Silence was their friend this night. That would be difficult for most but for Maria, it was damn near a miracle. Her hands hurt, her back hurt, her legs, her feet, hell, everything hurt. They were hanging, literally hanging from a cliff, and waiting for the all clear sign so they could finish scaling the wall. Not normally something Maria DeLuca of nowheresville, Roswell, NM would be expected to be doing. True, they had Antarian auto-pulleys to carry them up and even over, but still…you did many things you’d never think you’d do in a million years when far from home and she was very far from home. At last, the signal came. Pushing the button she once again ascends the cliff and palace wall. They were in. She takes Alex’s hand, manages not to get tangled in the ropes as she climbs out of her harness.

She knows exactly where to go. She, Alex, and Maria had it memorized, but for her, it was more. Max was near. She could feel him. As if it were a homing beacon, she knows exactly where he was. They quietly and quickly creep along the corridor. It was disturbing to see the guards just ignoring them, but then they were their guards. She caught sight of one of the original guards lying quite still off in a room whose door was slightly ajar. They kept moving, down the hall, down the stairs, to the left. They passed Michael, Isabel, and Reece, standing guard; they kept going to the control panel. SHIT, GUARDS! She doesn’t hesitate, she can’t, Max’s life was at stake. She and Alex took aim and fired. The guards didn’t move after that. Turning to the panel, there were rows of lights with corresponding numbers underneath each light and a card. They looked like some hotel key card. She turned and ran down the cellblock on autopilot. He was close, so close. If she had stopped, the smell alone would overwhelm her. It stank. It was like he was right around the corner. She started looking in each cell. Some were empty, some had one or two prisoners, and some were so full she couldn’t count. It registered in the back of her mind that not the prisoners were chained as Max had been, as she looked in one cell, correction as he still was, “MAX!”
She looks up at the number then shouts back down the cell, “MARIA, HAVE ALEX PUSH THE BUTTON FOR 67843 AND GET ME THE CARD!”
The latch on the cell door clang as it unlatched. She rushed into the cell. It was exactly as she recalled, except Max. He was worse, much worse, barely coherent. Taking his face in her hands, he moans. His eyes are swollen shut. It looked like his nose was broken. She could hear a rasping sound as he tried to breathe, and that was just for starters. She quickly looked him up and down. He was wearing the same clothes that he had been abducted in almost 5 months ago, or what’s left of them. They weren’t much more than rags now, barely enough to cover him. There was some sort of strange patch with what looked like computer chip in the middle over his left breast. The skin around it almost black it was so bruised. He was covered in bruises of various colors and abrasions. She quickly ran her hands down his sides. He winced when she touched his right side, most likely bruised or broken ribs. She continued, right hip seemed swollen but he remained quiet as she passed over it. And farther down, his legs were covered in whelps and bruises, left ankle, a painful moan. Shit, that didn’t sound good. He moaned again as she pressed a little harder on that ankle. It didn’t feel right. She tried to move the ankle cuff to get a better look. Can’t, too swollen. She looked at his right ankle, normal, then back to the left. At least sprained, mostly likely broken. Great, all he had to do was run 5 miles on a broken ankle with his eyes swollen shut. She turned towards the door at Maria’s shocked gasp, “Maria, the card. I need the card to unlock the shackles.”
They work quickly. As she pulled the cuff off, the right ankle looked worse than she thought. Not stopping, she unlocked his wrist shackles. He moaned in pain as they helped him pull his arms down. Looking at how he had been chained it dawned on her, he could neither stand nor lay down. He had no choice but remain like that, in the same position for hours or days on in. Carefully putting his right arm around her neck, “Carefully Maria, I think he has a broken left ankle and some broken ribs on the right.”
It was slow going, too slow. His head hung forward. They had no idea if he was conscious. It might be better if he wasn’t. In any even, they weren’t going to get too far like this. They made it to the cell door. She was shocked. Alex was going down the cell corridor, tossing cards in, “Alex, what are you doing?”

He never did like the idea of starting a fire in here. Too many people could get hurt. He had another idea, “Prison break. I figured out their numbering method. Christ, he looks like shit! Come on let’s go.”
They stop at the control panel where he throws the master switch and the clanks of unlatched doors echo down the corridor. Turning to the girls, he takes a deep breath, might as well give it a shot, it worked in the movies plenty of times. He bends over and carefully hoists him over his shoulder. Ok, he was heavy but not as heavy as he should have been. He’d lost a lot of weight. God, he smelled. Adjusting him a little on his shoulder, he hears a groan, “Sorry about that. Come on ladies, let’s get out of here.”

It seemed to take forever for them to come out. He hears it, not sure what it was, didn’t care. It was noise, a commotion, a diversion. Ok, there they are. F*ck, was that Max over Alex’s shoulder? Not good, not good at all. They actually run/walk right past them and kept on going. Not wasting anytime, he falls in right behind them, motioning to the others, “Come on Isabel, Reece, give them the signal. Time to move out and don’t stop!”
It was easier to catch-up to them than he would have liked but he remained silent. When Alex tired, he’d take him. They were in the main trunk of the sewers when a grateful Alex handed him over. A mile further down the trail, he had a new appreciation for the hidden strength Alex had in that lanky frame of his, only about three more miles to go. He was worried. He could hear Max breathe but he hadn’t moaned in a while. He had worried every time he heard a sound from him, now he worried because he didn’t. Three more, he can do it. He wastes a few precious breaths to mumble, “Hang on Maxwell, we’re getting there.”
For some reason he was surprised to see it was still nighttime. It seemed like they were in there forever. He’s directed to some sort of ancient looking transport shuttle. There were no seats in the back, just open cargo space. There’s a young man with some sort of case waiting for them. He gives Reece a significant look and gets a nod in return. He carefully lays Max down in the cargo area. Liz immediately goes to him, as does Isabel. The young man turned out to be the medic. By the time they take off, the medic was frowning.

Liz was holding him in her arms. The medic had given him something for the pain and put a splint on the ankle, it was indeed fractured. The patch turned out to be neutralizer patch. It prevented Max from using his powers. It was a moot point now. He was too weak to do anything anyway. It also had another purpose, it had a built-in receiver and by remote, it could cause pain to shoot through his body. The deep bruising around the patch was evidence of it’s often use. The medic was nervous about it, after all this was their king he was treating. It should have been done in a hospital but that wasn’t possible. When the shuttle hit a smooth straight patch, the medic nervously performed something slightly more than minor surgery and removed the patch. The patient managed not to bleed to death. She held him in her arms and rocked him. She hoped he could feel her and hoped it comforted him some.


What’s going on? Where am I? I think I’m being carried, but by whom? To where? I can’t open my eyes. Who’s that talking? It sounds familiar. It reminds me of someone back home, who? He tries to move but he can’t. I’m strapped down again but it’s different. It’s warm and sort of soft, no steel cutting into his skin. Fresh air, I can smell fresh air. Rain, it smells like it had been raining. God, I’m thirsty. Everything feels different, why? Pain, where’s the pain? I still hurt but it’s...subdued. I must have been given something. Liz, oh God, Liz, you’re nearby. Where are you? The rhythm of the litter he’s being carried on soon lulled him back to sleep.

She was walking beside the litter. They hated restraining him at all but the idea of him falling off was even worse, so they had packed soft blankets around him and used leather straps to secure him in. The medic had given him some more painkillers right before they landed not far from the city’s shield gate. They had to walk the rest of the way. No technology of any kind was allowed out of the city, especially shuttles regardless of age. Unfortunately the medic went with the shuttle. He had other duties and responsibilities. He thought Max would be ok. The leg was set, the broken ribs bound, the area around the patch had been thoroughly cleaned and dressed. Everything else was less serious, painful but not life threatening. Max would survive. She would make sure of it. As they neared the gate, everything they had been told came flooding back, don’t speak, don’t argue, look down, non-threatening. Reece would do all the talking. They were a poor family returning to their family home to care for the injured relative they were carrying. They were tired of city life and wanted to return home. They certainly looked the part. Their black spy suits as Maria dubbed them were replaced by rough linen shirts and trousers for the guys, long multilayered skirts and tops for her, Maria and Isabel. Expect to be searched, especially the litter. Undo the straps, lift him out of it if they had to or the guards might do it themselves, only more roughly. Her hair was tied back loosely with several strands falling about her dirty face, everything was a little dirty. She walked beside her husband’s litter. He had fallen and caused the owner to run behind schedule, of course the owner had him beaten, that was his privilege, or so the story went. As it’s their turn next at the gate, be docile, offer no resistance, say nothing, and look down at the ground or at Max. Do nothing to provoke their interests.

His lines were rehearsed. He knew exactly what to say. Everything would be perfect, nothing to fear. The guards asked for papers. He looked at him blankly, as if saying papers, what papers? It was a trick. Poor outcast people didn’t carry papers. Papers were for people that the government wanted to track, why would they track the ones they wanted to get rid of? It wasn’t very hard to sound nervous, “Brave sir, papers? What are those?”

The guard looked up and down at the family, nothing new, poor ignorant fools. He could care less where they’re going or why. It was obvious they didn’t have a single credit between them, just look at them, hell, smell them. Just like the rest, better to have them outside the city than inside. The women weren’t bad. Hmm, must’ve had a hard time though, no children around. He walked along eyeing each of them. He comes to the one in the stretcher. He gave the unconscious man a slight knock up side the head just to make sure he wasn’t faking it. He just moans a little but doesn’t wake. Interestingly his wife’s head shot up. There was fire in her eyes. Bet she was lively between the sheets. Her head quickly goes back down and she gently strokes her husband’s cheek. He stands there and contemplates a few ideas, maybe I let them pass but keep her for questioning? They might owe someone some credits? He’s distracted by an official shuttle baring the high command’s seal. Shit, it must be something major. He won’t have time for her now, just his bad luck. With no more time to waste on these people he called back to the gate, “Let them pass. I’m going to go meet the shuttle and see what’s up.”

His heart couldn’t be pounding any harder. He’s holding one end of the litter, Michael the other. They needed to rush through as quickly as possible, there’s no doubt that shuttle carried bad news for them. The problem was they couldn’t appear to be rushing, that would make the guards suspicious. He had enough of their suspicions. The way that one had looked at Liz made his skin crawl. And what kind of person hit an unconscious guy being carried on a litter? Bastards. Good thing that medic had Max well medicated. They were the last ones thru before the gate was closed, and not just closed but sealed too. They walked a little faster down the road. There wasn’t anything to stop them from coming after them even on this side of the shield, the unprotected side except laziness, and eventually someone higher up would come down and yell enough to get them moving after them. They needed to be long gone before then. Looking around, as their walk became a fast walk, then a trot, “You know Max, your planet is certainly lush and green. Be a great place if it weren’t for a lot of the people.”

Luckily they didn’t have to worry about the shapeshifters. They had elected to take a different route. Actually many lived in the city as respectable citizens. They only acted as double agents when needed, so they simply went home. The one called Nesado had taken his own way out and would meet up with them later on. He had a family in the city that he hadn’t seen in over 50 years and had a lot of catching up to do first.

It was nightfall when they finally stopped in a small clearing in the woods for the night. They had turned off the main road sometime ago and had been dodging fallen trees and splashing thru streams ever since. Carrying a litter didn’t make it easier but they tried not to jostle Max too much. He looked around the clearing. There was nothing but trees all around. He couldn’t even see the trail they had taken to get there. Michael was duly impressed, “Not bad Reece. Not bad at all, now what are we going to do for food, water and warmth?”

Reece just smiled, this wasn’t going to be a cake walk but it was the one part of the journey he was the most comfortable with. He knew this place very well. It was an old smuggler’s camp and he just happened to be the son of an old smuggler. He smiled up at the young second-in-command so far he’s done well. They all have. “Well, there’s a stream over that way. And if memory serves me right, there should be a cache of fire making materials and a few water bags we can fill, and if we’re really lucky maybe even some jerky to gnaw on.”
There was no jerky but they managed to get a fire started and filled the water bags that they found. The dense foliage kept most of the rain away and they had managed to pack a few extra blankets around Max for their journey. They still had to share blankets but at least they were fairly warm and mostly dry.

Maria sat around the small warm fire while sharing a blanket with Spaceboy. They all were tired but were still too keyed up to sleep. Her eyes kept darting around in the darkness, trying to see if there was anyone lurking about, waiting to pounce on them. She looked over at the litter, Max was still sound asleep. Liz had untucked one of his blankets and was curled up next to him, watching him. She turned back to the fire and companions, “Reece, I don’t understand something. Why such the huge differences between the cities”

Michael stared at the hypnotic fire burning. He had already figured it out, “War.”

Taking another swing from the water bag, Reece begins, “He’s right there was a war, centuries ago. It was between Antar and another planet. They couldn’t protect everyone so they protected the cities with the shields. About 40 major cities survived and everything else was pounded almost into oblivion. Surprisingly, Antar won the war. The idea at the time was if the cities could survive then they would have the technology to help everyone else rebuild.”

Alex comments, “But they didn’t, did they? They didn’t share.”

Reece shook his head sadly, “Oh they tried at first but it wasn’t as easy as they had thought. Soon the city people began to fear that it was costing them too much to share. They became more interested in preserving what they had. So they kept the shields up to protect against the outsiders. But we, outsiders, as they called us survived. We had always been resourceful. You have to be if you lived on the land. Many had clung to the old ways of life and they passed on that knowledge. And if there was something that we really needed...we weren’t above taking it. Plus regardless of what many city people believe, we aren’t ignorant.”

Maria thinks back to the sophisticated communications system they had. It was virtually undetectable even by the city people, “No, you’re not. So it’s you guys then against the city people? Where do these guys fit in? Max? Are they yours?”

He smiled at her comment. It was a sad smile though, “No, they aren’t ours. King Zan was trying to reunite us as one people. He wanted to take the shields down and have free exchange of ideas and resources. He wanted change.”

Michael looked over at his friend lying there on the litter, all battered and bruised. He became angry, “But Khivar didn’t so he struck us down and took the throne.”

Reece nodded, “Yes, he did. The queen mother had relatives on the outside and knew that there was an enclave of scientist working with us that had developed a cloning process for livestock. So much of our livestock had been destroyed that even after centuries there still weren’t enough. We, uh, adapted the process. We sent you to Earth because it was very dangerous times for us, still are.”

Isabel, “What about our mother? What happened to her?”

Reece, “She died some years ago. I’m sorry... I think you all should try and get some rest. I’ll keep a look out tonight.”

Michael shook his head, “No, You can take the first watch. I’ll take the second and wake Alex for the third. We all need some rest.”


Liz was worried as she carried the litter. She shared the burden with Maria on their end and Reece on the other. They knew Alex and Michael were tired and they wanted to show them that they could help. But Max was moaning a lot. Obviously the pain medication was wearing off and soon he was going to be in tremendous pain. It didn’t help that they were obviously climbing in elevation and it was getting colder. There was even some snow on the ground in patches and she could see her breath in the chilled air. She looked in front of her at Reece’s back, “Reece, how much further is it? Max is going to be in a lot of pain soon and this cold...none of us are prepared for snow. Max shouldn’t be out in this cold.”

He had contemplated this. This wasn’t the way he had originally planned to go, but given Max’s condition it was the best way. He looked straight ahead as he answered, “Not far, maybe another hour or so. There’s a place, someone I know who can help him.”
Underneath his breath, he added, “If she’s still alive.”

A little over an hour later they were crouched down in a small ditch off to the side of the path. There was a cottage with smoke coming out of the chimney up ahead and supposedly someone inside that would welcome them and even be able to help Max. As least that’s what Reece had told them, but it had been a long time since Reece had been here so they decided to proceed cautiously. Michael looked behind him. They were all staying down low, out of sight just in case, as Reece approached the cottage. He walked right up to the front door and knocked, then waited. Michael lets out the breath he had been holding as an elderly lady swung the door wide and immediately wrapped Reece in a tight embrace. After a few moments of talking, Reece turned around to them and waved them to come over. All was safe, hopefully.

She didn’t waste any time on introductions, her attention is immediately on the one being carried in on the litter. Quickly clearing the table off, as they finally walked into her home, “Here put him here on the table. What’s happened to him?”
After sitting him down on the table it’s obvious from their blank stares at her that they didn’t understand a word she had said. She turned to Reece for an explanation.

Reece gave a quick rundown, “He was Khivar’s prisoner. From what a medic said, his left ankle is broken, some busted ribs on the right and the medic removed a neutralizer patch, plus various bruises and insults. The pain medication the medic gave him yesterday is wearing off.”

She nodded to him and started thinking of everything she needed to do. She takes a moment to look over the others, all young and fit, all filthy, probably hungry and exhausted. She noticed the little brunette hovering close by the injured youth. He had been moaning and there was a sheen of sweat on his forehead. When the girl touched his cheek, he calmed down some. She started to undo the straps tying the youth to the litter, the brunette immediately helped her. She began barking orders to all of them knowing Reece would explain “Reece, firewood. I need this fire built way up and burning hot and water, lots of water for treating him and washing.”
Glancing around at all of them again, “And even more for all of you to wash. There are some spare cloths in the root cellar. They’re used but in good shape and clean. They’ll do. Oh and while you’re down there bring up some sweet potatoes, carrots and onions. Go to the smoke house and get that haunch of roast beef I was smoking and bring it in. Make sure my main cooking kettle is filled half way with water and boiling nicely.”
She didn’t need to turn around, she didn’t hear any feet moving, “Well, Reece what are you waiting for, get ‘em moving. All of them, except this young lady. She’s going to help me. Go on, get going. This boy needs help and you want to eat, don’t you?”
That got them moving.
She carefully removed the dressing on his chest where the patch had been. It was swollen and bruised but she didn’t see any sign of infection. His breathing was a little labored but he didn’t seem to be in distress so she left his ribs bound for now. She moved on to his legs and immediately scowled at the splint. The ankle had swollen and the splint was now too tight. She’ll need to fix that but one touch to the injured ankle and the boy almost screamed. She won’t be able to touch that until she can give him something for the pain. Then they could wash him. He was beyond filthy. She didn’t want any if his more minor cuts and abrasions getting infected either. The boy had no reserves, doubtful he’d be able to fight off anything. She looked up at the girl who was now tenderly holding the boy’s hand. Deciding that she needed to know what to call her, she points to herself, “Midi”, and then to the girl, “You?”

Liz held Max’s hand while carefully watching everything the woman was doing. So far it seemed she was just checking Max over thoroughly. She had felt his forehead, the pulse in his neck and wrists, opened each eye and checked the pupils, felt his breathing, checked where the patch had been removed, along his ribs, and then the ankle. God, it looked bad. She knew that it had swollen but wasn’t sure what to do about it. The lady had been so quiet that it startled her when she spoke. It wasn’t hard to figure out what she meant, “Liz, I’m Liz.” The woman pointed again, “Max, he’s Max.”

Midi nodded then gave her a careful look. Midi spoke the same basic language as Reece but with a more archaic dialect. This wasn’t the first time she had been in this situation. Speaking carefully, “Liz, Max... mate?”

Liz wasn’t sure how to respond to that. They weren’t married but they were...soulmates. That qualified, didn’t it? Nodding and pointing to Max, “Yes, mate. He’s my mate.”

She nodded and then went to her herb closet. There were racks and racks of herbs and plants drying, even more on shelves that lined the closet. This was her pharmacy. Selecting the ones she needed. She used the water from a nearby bag to fill her special cooking pot and set it near the fire to boil. The others came in with the firewood and buckets and bags of water. Soon the fire was roaring with several cooking pots of water starting to boil nicely.
While her medicinal tea steeped, she helped them get a rich stew going. The meat was already partially cooked so it wouldn’t take too long to cook. By hanging a blanket, an area was set aside for the young ladies to wash and change in, while the men did the same on the other. She noted that Liz refused to leave her mate’s side. She can wash later. After the tea was the proper strength, she had tasted a little to be sure, and called for Reece to come over and translate. Looking directly at Liz, “This is datura and it will deaden the pain and help him sleep. His ankle has swollen badly and I must adjust the splint or it could damage the ankle further. It will be very painful when I touch his leg, it will be even worse when I remove the splint. All the blood the splint’s tightness is keeping out will go rushing there and cause it to throb with even more pain. He must not move his leg while I do this. He must be asleep. Do you trust me to do this?”

Liz thought she trusted her. She really didn’t have a choice, did she? She looked to Reece, “Do you trust her?”

Reece didn’t hesitate, “Yes, she’s treated generations in this area. She’s the best doctor I know.”

Liz quickly glanced to the others. It felt odd to be the one being asked but then Midi believed her to be Max’s mate, his wife. She hadn’t realized what that had meant when she said it, she did now. She could tell that the others pretty much thought the same, what other choice did they have? She looked directly at the old woman, “Yes, I trust you.”

Midi, thru Reece’s translation, “Good, now help me to get him to drink it. It does not taste very good but I need him to drink it all. Now hold his head up and try to wake him some.”

Liz carefully does as she’s asked, “Max, Max, wake up. Good, Max drink this, ok? I know it doesn’t taste good but it’s going to help you get some rest. Come on, careful, don’t gag. Ok, good, good. That’s it, that’s all, just rest now, just rest.”

Midi very expertly undid the splint and then repositioned it to allow for the swelling. Hopefully in a few days she will need to do it again as the swelling goes down. Good thing there was still ice and snow on the ground for cold compresses. She then made an antiseptic wash and with Liz’s help began to get him cleaned up. She was a little suspicious of Liz being his actual wife by how much she blushed when they removed what little that remained of his clothes but she held her tongue. None of them had questioned it when Liz had been the one to agree to his treatment. Perhaps they’re just intended instead of actually married. In any case, she is or will be a very lucky woman. He was a nicely made man. Now they just needed to get him healthy. After trimming the mattes out and washing his hair, they covered him with a bed sheet and moved him to an extra bed to rest. Extra pillows were put under his leg to elevate it and a cold compress was placed on it to help get the swelling down. With the table now cleared, they scrubbed it down and prepared for dinner. Her guests were famished. She set a little of the broth aside for her patient. She’d have to be careful about what he was fed and how much. If you feed a starved man too much, too fast, it could actually kill him, for now teas and broths, and maybe some cereals. As the night wore on her guests made pallets on the floor and were soon sound asleep. She watched Reece bank the fire for the night then looked over at her patient. He had snuggled into Liz’s arms and seemed to be resting comfortably. They both did.


Mmmm, I’m in heaven, I must be. Everything is warm and soft, and sweet smelling, and Liz. He’s surrounded by Liz, by her smell, by...just her. Heaven. Something moved, I moved. I moved? No, I didn’t. Who moved? He carefully tries to open his eyes. He’s partially successful. His eyes are still pretty swollen but he can at least open them a crack, enough to see. Blurry, everything was blurry. He blinked several times trying to clear them. Fire, there’s a fire? A fire in prison? Prison, I’m in prison. No, no, I can’t be. Liz, Liz has been talking to me, helping me, or was that just a dream? Who moved again? Very, very slowly he tried to rise. A pain shoots through his leg. He bit his lip to keep from crying out but a grunt slipped out anyways. He lay back down. He heard an angel’s voice in his ear telling him good morning. He could feel her fingers run thru his hair, felt her leg brush up against his naked body. His eyes popped open. He wasn’t dreaming this. Without moving a muscle, his eyes looked around. He was laying on someone, someone soft and warm. His mind refused to believe it but it could only be her, “Liz?”

She was still running her fingers thru his hair, loving touching him. “Um hum, it’s me. You need to move very carefully Max. You’ve got a broken ankle and some broken ribs. But you’re going to be ok. You’re safe, Max. We got you out...Max, are you ok? Max?”

He didn’t hear a word she said, he was concentrating too hard on the silkiness of her sweet voice, music to his ears. A voice he never thought he’d hear again except in his dreams. He tried to kick start his brain, get it functioning again. I’m out? Safe? Me? How? A slight movement sends another jolt of pain thru him. He closed his eyes and waited for it to pass. Ok, a broken ankle that made sense. He remembered hearing that sickening snap. They had just gotten done giving him another “lesson” then slapped the ankle shackles back on him, only they did it wrong and it came down on his ankle, hard, then the snap, then pain, then finally blessed nothingness. Her voice called his name again, bringing him back from the memory. He was here with Liz. Liz was with him. She said they were safe, but safe where? Where were they? He didn’t recognize anything. He licked his parched lips, his voice a mere whisper, “Liz, where...where are we?”

She very slowly and gently moved from underneath him and helped him lay back with his head on the pillow. He had curled up in her arms the second she had laid down with him and slept that way all night. It had felt so right that she drifted off pretty quickly herself and didn’t wake until he called her name. He winced a few times when his ankle moved at all, and she was sure his ribs hurt like hell too. She gently stroked his cheek and gazed into his eyes. Her thumb softly wiped away his tears. She moved closer and gave him a light kiss on the lips. Max, her Max, he was with her, finally. She planted another kiss on his cheek and then got up, “Let me get you something to drink.”
He grabbed her arm. He didn’t want her to go, afraid she wouldn’t come back. She pointed toward the fireplace, “Max, I’m just going over there. I won’t even leave your sight, ok?”
Seeing him nod his head weakly, “Ok, I’m going right over there.” His eyes followed her every movement.

Midi had gotten up at the crack of dawn as was her habit. She already had tea steeping for her guests. She had noted that her patient was awake. She had watched him move around a little and saw the pain it caused. She had something prepared for that too. Liz walked over to the fireplace and her, she handed her a cup of tea, “For Liz”, and then picked up the other cup, “For Max, for pain, help.”

Liz took both cups, “Thank you, Midi.” She took a sip of her tea as she carefully walked back to their bed, it tasted like honey and fruit, very flavorful. She set her tea by the bedside table and sat on the edge of the bed, holding Max’s out to him, “Here Max, drink this. It’ll help ease the pain.”

Why did that sound familiar? He’d heard something like that before, he was sure. If he remembered correctly it was some pretty horrid stuff. He sniffs it a little, it didn’t smell bad. Liz tipped the cup some more. He slowly drank it down. It was rich and strong and surprisingly good. He couldn’t stop looking at her. He couldn’t believe that she was really there with him. As Liz took the empty cup from his lips, “Liz where are we?”

She sat his cup on the table and then picked up hers. She stretched out on the bed next to him and took another sip of her tea. She was so happy, he looked so much better today. She couldn’t help the smile. “Actually I don’t exactly know other than this is Midi’s house. That’s Midi over there. She’s been wonderful in helping us and you.”

He’s getting desperate for information. “Liz, please, what planet? Are we home?”

She gave him a tender look, “No Max, we’re still on Antar. Reece helped us get you out of the prison and out of the city. As soon as you’re strong enough, we’ll head back to base camp and from there…home to Roswell.”

He nodded in understanding then frowned, “Liz, how’d you get to Antar? Who’re we? Who’s Reece?”

Liz motioned to the pallets on the floor, “We, as in Michael, Maria, Isabel, Alex and me. Oh, also Nesado but he’s not here at the moment. Reece is a group leader of the resistance. When they got the message from Nesado about your capture, they sent a ship for Michael and Isabel. They needed Isabel so she could dreamwalk you. They needed information on where you were being held. Max, there was no way they were going without us.”

Max craned his neck to see everyone on the floor. His eyes got misty as he saw his friends, his family sleeping underneath piles of blankets and pillows on the floor. They hadn’t abandoned him like Khivar had tried to make him believe. They had crossed the galaxy to find and rescue him. He’d never be able to pay them all back for the sacrifices they made for him, all they had done for him. “Liz, how long have I been gone?”

She took his hand in hers, “Five months, Max. It’s going to take at least two more to get back. You do want to go home, don’t you?”

He closed his eyes as he thought of his family back home, “Yes, yes, I do but… my parents, what…what were they told?”

Liz, “Nothing at first. They thought you had run off. Before we all left Isabel wrote them a letter and gave them the basics. Sheriff Valenti said he’d talk to them, too. Max, they were heartbroken thinking you had run off. They love you both so much. I know that they’ll accept and welcome you and Isabel when you get back. And before you ask mine, Alex, and Maria’s parents believe that we had all ran off on some sort of teen adventure. That we had a lead on where you wound up and went off to visit you. Um, we might have some trouble with that when we all get back, but we’ll worry about that later. Right now we need to get you back on your feet. At least get you strong enough to heal yourself.”

He looked at her in surprise, “Heal myself? I…they but this inhibitor patch on…”
For the first time he looked down and saw a bandage on his chest where the patch was. His chest was sore there, but that wasn’t anything new, it had hurt since the day they had put it on him. He looked over at her and smiled, “It’s gone.” His smile turned into a yawn, “Mmm, sorry.”

Midi kept herself busy slicing bread, setting out some preserves and fruit. She noticed her patient starting to yawn. The tea was having some affect. She walked over to the tray she had kept warm by the fire and brought it to him, “Liz, for Max, food.”
She pointed to his foot. “I look.”

He didn’t hear that last part. She lost him after “Max, food.” His stomach growled. He had been hungry for months and that tray smelled incredible. His mouth was actually watering. He licked his lips and looked at Liz in anticipation, “I’m hungry.”

posted on 21-Jul-2002 10:16:09 PM
Midi was glad to see him eating his breakfast. She had added some cereal grains to the broth from the night before to thicken it a little plus a few herbs to keep it flavorful and add to its nutritional value. But it was mild and easily digestible. He wanted to wolf it down but she made sure Liz understood to take it slow. While Liz kept him busy eating, she took a look at the ankle. It was better. The swelling was down a little but not enough. She’d send one of the kids out when they got up for more snow and ice for a new compress. He fell back asleep as soon as his belly was full.


His fury had not diminished one bit since yesterday. He already had the head of the captain of the palace guards on a platter, literally. That was just the beginning. The guards that hadn’t died at the hands of the intruders did at his. In the throne room stood the general in charge of city security. Khivar came to stand less the an inch from the general’s face, his words were more calm than expected but just as deadly, “They escaped. My prisoners escaped. HE escaped. We found discarded equipment along the cliff side that makes us think that’s how they got in. We found several escaped prisoners wandering down in the sewers. After some… questioning, they admitted to following the others that had already escaped. Now where in the city did they go? WELL?”

The general was desperate not to suffer the same fate as the palace captain. It had been a feather in his cap in capturing King Zan in the first place. He’s sure that’s what saved him so far but it won’t last. He needed to find him and fast. Only because he was a military soldier did he not cringe. “My Lord, we believe that someone helped him to get to the underground resistance. We’ve scoured the city already with no trace. It’s possible that they could have made it outside the city’s boundaries before we sealed the gates.”

Khivar’s rage was explosive and lethal, “So go outside the city shield and…GET HIM! Use what ever assets you have to but bring Zan BACK!”

The general saluted smartly and backed out of the room. He was in his shuttle on his way to the city’s southern gate less than an hour later. The southern gate was the least rigorously guarded and the most likely escape point. He had heard that there was an underground resistance cell just on the other side. He’d know by nightfall if it were true or not.


It was still a shock to him to wake up warm, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, not starving. He had barely gotten his eyes open when someone has a hold of him. He smiled though, he could tell she was trying to be gentle but was still bubbling with exuberance. She gave him a kiss on the cheek, “Hi Maria.”

Looking back at him, his face as was the rest of him, a mass of bruises but he was definitely better. He was talking and looking around, and she heard he had eaten a pretty good breakfast early this morning too. Smiling her relief to him, she couldn’t restrain herself, “Hi Maria? That’s all you’ve got to say, hi Maria? Buddy, you had better come up with something better than that.”

His smile broadened and he started to chuckle only to have it turn into a wince as his ribs protested, “Ouch, Maria don’t do that. It hurts. Ok, how about thank you? Thank you Maria, for...for coming to my rescue, for caring.”

Oh hell, now he’s done it. I’m going to cry. How could I forget? Max got the sensitive gene that Spaceboy missed? She sniffled and wrapped him up in another hug, “You’re welcome Max.”

After the hug, he looked around a little, the place was empty. “Maria, where’s everyone else?”

She walked over to the fireplace and got the cup of medicinal tea that Midi made for him. As she helped him drink the tea, “Here, I’m under strict orders to make certain you drink it all down. They’re outside doing some chores, chopping firewood, stuff like that. And Midi needed help harvesting the last of her garden before winter really set in. Before you ask, Liz is taking a short walk and getting some fresh air. So I volunteered to keep an eye on you. Besides, it’s warmer in here. Now drink up.”

His eyes show his amusement, “Yes, ma’am.”
He and Maria visited until the others came in from the cold. The second his sister walked in and saw he was awake, he was immediately being hugged again, “Iz, I...I’m ok. I’m going to be ok.”

Since she left Earth, she had been determined to not to cry and instead focused all her energy on finding and rescuing her brother. When they had done that, she still refused to break down until he was safe. At some level it had hurt her to see Liz just sort of take over with her brother and his care but she knew that’s what Max wanted, what he needed, but now...talking to him, being able to hug him. The tears refused to stop and with it, some of her pent up frustration and pain spilled out, “You’re ok? Hardly. Look at you, you’re nothing but skin and bones and some of those are broken. You’re too weak to even get out of bed. You have no idea what we’ve been going through. What I’ve been going through. Max, do you have any idea how hard it was to be shut out? I knew that you were being hurt...tortured. When you wouldn’t let me in... I thought... I thought you were dead. God Max, don’t you ever shut me out like that again!”

His heart hurt. He knew that everything she said was right, he had shut her out but he had to. He didn’t want her to see what had been happening to him, what they had done to him, how terrified he had been. “I’m sorry Iz. I...I just...I knew it hurt you but I...I wanted to protect you from...from seeing me like that... I thought it would hurt you more if I let you see...I’m sorry, Iz. I’m sorry.”
Her only response was to hug him and cry the pain out in his arms.

Midi used some special herbs to make a tea that had calming properties for all of them. She watched the emotional exchange between brother and sister, the hugs and warm greetings between the men, the handshake greeting between Max and Reece. There was much healing being done today. She made a hearty meal of leftover roast and breads with some freshly churned butter for them and fixed some broth and bread without butter, for Max, which he hungrily ate. She watched him very carefully and saw him starting to squirm a little more as the afternoon wore on. It wasn’t hard to figure out what the growing problem was. After all, she had been giving him a great deal of tea to drink. It was good to know that he was finally rehydrated. When she brought the empty pan over to him, he gave her a confused look. When she slipped it underneath the covers, he got the idea. He blushed deeply when he finished and she took it away. By mid-afternoon he had fallen into an exhausted sleep.


They watched in fear from the hilltop. He and his brother were just returning from what the city people called a smuggling campaign, they called it trade. His name was Ryce and he was 12. He and his older brother Tryal, 19, were following in their father’s footsteps. They just hoped they don’t follow the same fate. Their father had been caught and executed by the city police for smuggling. They hated the city people and their police. They avoided city police at all costs. Unfortunately their village couldn’t do the same. They watched as their village was set ablaze and its people, their neighbors and friends marched off to who knew where. It was hard to keep the terror out of his voice, “What are we going to do Tryal?”

He was a veteran of many smuggling trips with their father. He had barely escaped when his father had been caught. He hadn’t wanted his little brother to become a smuggler like him and their father but looking down at their village, their home, he’s glad that his brother had insisted. He knew that their village was the first stop on the underground resistance, everyone did, but it was only one of many on the smuggler’s trail. Good thing smugglers knew things and places the resistance didn’t. Taking his brother by the arm, they stayed low, out of sight as they crept away. They headed to the old healer’s house. His father had taken him that way once when Tryal had hurt his arm. He’d only been there that one time. He hoped he could find it again.

It started snowing during the night. They were dressed warmly but the cold still bit at their faces and anything else left uncovered. Tryal fought the urge to just run up to the cottage. If he had learned one thing recently, it was caution. The cottage looked warm and inviting. There was a soft glow coming from under the door and through the slats on the shutters. She was home, or at least someone was. He only hoped it was the healer, Midi. They approached slowly. Staying out of the line of sight of anyone who maybe peeking from the windows.

Alex thought he saw someone out there. Like every night since the rescue started, one of them kept watch. He had been leaning up against the smokehouse when he thought he saw movement. There, there it was again. Someone was sneaking towards the house. He waited until the intruders were out in the open stretch between the house and the woods and sounded the alarm, a bird whistle.

Reece heard it first and was up like a shot, followed quickly by Michael. Someone was here. Their choices if discovered were limited, fight, flight, or surrender. One look at Michael and he had his answer. He wouldn’t surrender Max to anyone. Looking out through the shutters, he thought there was someone in the open, but it was hard to tell.

Midi was well known to the smugglers. She had been around them often enough to know that they were an extremely cautious breed, they had to be, their lives depended on it. She had known that these kids weren’t smugglers, even Reece wasn’t anymore. Smugglers rarely ran in groups of 2 or 3, more were too dangerous. No, these kids were special and the tension in the room only confirmed that. She looked back over to her patient who was droggy but awake. Khivar had captured and tortured him and these kids, his loved ones had gone to extraordinary lengths to get him out. Reece was involved which meant so was the resistance. The boy must be someone very important. She walked over to the window, she could barely see anything. Then they moved, it looked like two of them. They were swift and agile as they moved back into the woods. She let out a deep breath, “Smugglers Reece. Anyone else would have busted the door down.”

Reece had come to the same conclusion. He looked over to Michael. “Should be ok. Smugglers won’t talk. Talkative smugglers don’t last long. Let’s get the fire built up. The smoke’s a sign of welcome.”

A half hour later Ryce and Tryal were sitting by the fire warming themselves. No one had said anything yet but that wasn’t unusual. Sometimes it’s best not to. Tryal had been surprised to see all these people here. Seven people, that’s a lot of smugglers in one place. Midi handed him and his brother some warm tea and told them to sit at the table as she got out some leftovers for them to eat. While wolfing it down, he kept glancing back at the men. They didn’t look mean exactly but he had no doubt that they meant business. There was something about the look in their eyes, like they would pounce if he made the wrong move. Oddly, all but one seemed to be close to his age and the one, maybe had only five-ten years on him. Something else was going on. He looked around a little, there was a couple in one of the beds. The guy was injured, looked like a broken leg. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. He could actually feel the increased intensity of the men’s glare at him. He just figured out what the wrong move was that would make them pounce. One step towards the injured one and he was dead meat. He looked elsewhere as he finished his food.

Midi sat down at the table. She knew the older one. He had been here a few years ago with a broken arm. It wasn’t a bad break. She had set it and sent him and his father on their way. The next time his father had past thru he a brought her some quilts and jars for preserving as payment. She hadn’t seen their father since. Looking at Reece and Michael, she could tell they were on edge and didn’t like them being here. Trying to break the ice, “Tryal, how’s your arm?”

Tryal looked up at her and smiled a little, she had been very kind and taken good care of him when he was injured. “Its fine, no problems, not even when it turns cold like tonight.”

Midi, “That’s good. Who’s your friend. He looks a bit young to be hanging out with you. Where’s your father?”

He gets a pained expression, “He didn’t make it back one night. The guards got him. This is Ryce, my brother. He’s all I got left. I had to take him with me. And after tonight, I’m glad I did.”

That peaked his interest. Reece sat down at the table and looked at them, “After tonight? What happened tonight?”

Tryal looked at Midi for assurances before answering, “The city police came to our village, burned it, rounded up everyone and hauled them away. We...Ryce and I were just returning and saw it all from a hill. We didn’t have anywhere else to go so we came here. I don’t get it. The city police rarely follow anyone outside the city...and never like that.”

Michael had gotten bits and pieces of it but looked to Reece for a better translation. After getting one, his mood worsened. “Where’s their village?”

Tryal had never heard that language before. He wondered where they were from. After getting the translation from the one named Reece, “Karoom. We’re from Karoom.”

All the blood drained from Reece’s face. He saw the inquisitive look from Michael, “Karoom is... was the first stop in the underground trail. If Max had been stronger that’s where we would have gone, probably would still have been there. They’re not going to stop until they find us.”


The general was in a sour mood. All that work to find and overtake the village and then... nothing. None of them claimed to know a damn thing. He looked over at the mayor of Karoom’s son. It was rumored that he was part of the resistance but no evidence. It didn’t matter, a rumor was all he needed. He stared hard at the young man then turned to his lieutenant, “Make sure he’s awake then bring in his father. I’m sure he’ll want to know what happened to his son, might as well show him. We’ll get the truth out this traitorous bunch one way or another.”


Reece stared out the window at the pitch blackness. He knew the snow was falling but it was too dark to see. They had all been quiet this past hour since Tryal revealed what had happened to Karoom. He looked over at Michael, “We can’t stay here. We have to leave, now.”

She had been curled up with Max in bed but neither one slept. Reece’s words started her heart racing, what’s more Michael agreed. She sat upright, “Are you nuts? It’s snowing. Max is in no shape to be moved let alone out in weather like this! He’s too weak. It could kill him!”

Max tried to get her attention and grabbed her elbow, “Liz, Liz, don’t...I’m better... I’ll be ok.”

Reece knew Liz was right but they were out of options. Midi was known to the smugglers and there were a lot of smugglers in Karoom. They even elected one mayor. No, sooner or later someone was going to spill about Midi. They had to leave and she had to come with them. Besides, she might make the difference between Max surviving or not. “Liz, if we wait until it stops snowing, we might as well just stay put. All they’d need to do is follow our footprints. We have to leave while it’s snowing so the new snow will cover our tracks. If they capture us, capture him... death would be a blessing.”

Michael hated it but he knew that there were no alternatives, “So what’s the plan?”

Reece looked over at the newest arrivals. They were smugglers and would know exactly what his plan meant, “We pack up everything we need for an extended trip. Midi, I’m sorry but under the circumstances you need to come with us. If they find you here...besides, we need you. We head out before dawn... to the Smugglers Caves.”

Tryal had to sit down at that, “Smugglers Caves, in the winter?”

Reece looked him head on, “Exactly. Even if they figure out we’re following a smuggler’s trail and not the underground. No one would think to look there, too remote, too difficult to get to especially in winter.”
He turned back to Midi, this was going to be difficult for him to say, “Midi, I...Midi, once we leave there’s no coming back...ever. This place will be known, you’ll be known. It’s’s best not to leave anything for them to find...I’m sorry.”

Midi had lived almost her whole life in this place, she had moved here as a young girl and learned healing from the old woman that lived here before her, now it was over. She looked Reece. He had been a boy, younger than Ryce when she met him. She wanted to know one thing, “Why? Why are they coming after Max like this? I think I’m entitled to an explanation.”

Reece looked down then over to Michael and relayed the question. Michael looked to Max, who thought about it for a moment then nodded. Reece took a deep breath then took Midi’s hand and walked to Michael, “Very well, Midi, I’d like to introduce you to Lord Rath, second-in-command to King Zan.”
He gestured to Isabel, “This is King Zan’s sister, Princess Vilandra.”
He simply looked in the direction of the bed, “And this is King Zan.”

It took her a moment to close her mouth and collect her thoughts. She looked again at the bed and her patient, then it dawned on her, he hadn’t said anything about the others, about Liz. She looked at Liz, “Queen Ava?”

As Liz shook her head no, Reece explained, “Uh, no, she’s not. Liz, Maria and Alex are humans from Earth. They are...well, things did go quite how we planned and uh, they all found other partners.”

Midi thought about it then smiled a knowing smile, “Yes, youths do have a way of doing the unexpected. Well, if I must move on, at least it’s for a good cause. Now, let’s get packed. We’ll need to carry quite a bit of food and supplies if we’re heading to the caves. Oh and I’ll need to take an assortment of herbs and plants, no telling what we may run into.”

She had reset the splint on Max’s ankle again. The swelling was down making the splint loose. With him being moved around, it needed to be tightened. He was sleeping the datura tea off in the litter. They had taken everything they could, extra clothing, blankets, quilts, food, firewood and coals, water bags, her herbs and plants, knives and axes, rope, tent, cooking pots and eating utensils, everything they could carry. Her little home sat bare. Everyone but Reece was outside waiting for her. She gave it one final look around then nodded to Reece. She didn’t look back as Reece spread the hot coals from the fire about the wood floor and walls. All that would be left were the remains of a stone fireplace.

The going was slow, cold and wet. Liz kept along side the litter. She had draped part of a blanket over Max’s face to keep the falling snow off of him and tuned his head so he could breath. She didn’t want him to get chilled. It had been sad to see the little cottage burn. It had been so warm and inviting... a peaceful oasis. She adjusted the pack on her back, its strap was starting to cut into her shoulder. Reece hadn’t been joking about these Smugglers Caves being up high. At some places it seemed they were going almost at a 45% angle up and the snow fell harder as they climbed. She’d looked back every once in a while to see if she could see their tracks, so far, so good. They kept climbing.

Tryal’s mind kept running through everything that had happened in the last day. His home was gone, stolen from him. He had gone to the old healer for help and stumbled upon a group of people that turned out to be none other than King Zan and his family in hiding with the resistance, headed by one who just happened to be an old smuggler. Now they were on the run and heading to a place that few smugglers go to and none that he knew of in winter, during a snow storm which most likely meant blizzard conditions near the caves. But the alternative was worse. If they were caught, Reece was right, death would be a welcomed reprieve. He shuddered, life was much easier when he was just a smuggler.

They stopped sometime during late afternoon when they found a small area that wasn’t too steep. They weren’t staying but set the tent up as a makeshift shelter that they could tear down and repack quickly. They needed to catch their breath and get something warm to drink and maybe a bite or two to eat. Midi got a small cooking fire started and boiled water for tea then went to check on Max. The datura had worn off a while ago but he hadn’t said anything. He didn’t want to complain while the others were being pushed to the limit like this. At least he wasn’t cold, in fact it was the opposite. He was too hot and could barely move with all the supplies they had loaded around him and hell, even on top of him. They ate a quick lunch and then quickly loaded back up and headed out. Reece had taken out the ropes and tied one end to his waist then passed it down for each of them to do the same. They tied it to one end to the litter and started a new rope on the other end. The snow was getting heavier and it was getting near white out conditions. They didn’t want anyone to get lost. Reece hoped he could still see well enough to spot the strange rock formation that indicated the cave’s entrance.


The general stared at the burned out remains of the little house. It had taken hours but finally the mayor had broken. He couldn’t bare to see his son tortured any more. The general had kept his word to the mayor, he had put a stop to his son’s pain. The dead felt no pain. All for nothing, they had gotten away. He looked up at the heavy sky. The shield protected the cities from the elements, he was neither used to nor liked the snow. At least it had let up enough so they could make it up here. As the lieutenant came over, “Report.”

He saluted smartly, “Sir, parts are still warm. They couldn’t be more than a day ahead of us, Sir.”

The general surveyed the area. It had taken much to get this location. Where would they go from here? Had they even been here? It made sense, though. Personally he had been amazed at the amount of punishment King Zan had endured. Especially considering how Lord Khivar kept insisting that humans were weak, but last he had heard Zan had been in a bad way. One of the guards had “accidentally” broken his leg. So taking him to a local healer was the most likely choice. The more he thought about it, the more certain he was that they had been here. They just got here too late. “Any clues as to which way they headed?”

He tried to stay as calm and professional as possible, “Sir, No, Sir. There are some tracks visible next to the other buildings, the...I believe it’s called a smoke house and the other...outhouse, but only because of the roof’s overhang protecting it from the snow. This damn snow, Sir, it covered everything, Sir.”

The general just nodded, they were so close, yet so far. With no other option at the moment, they went on the information they had collected, “Very well, what was the location of the next stop after Karoom on this resistance underground?”

The name was etched in his memory, the way the boy had screamed it as another electrical shock racked his body, “Sir, Drasol, Sir. Five clicks to the east of Karoom.”

Nodding as he made one more scan of the area, “Very well, let’s go see what the people of Drasol know.”


By nightfall the snow had let up some. It was dumb luck that they found it at all. Maria had made them stop so she could go pee. That’s when Reece took a good look around and realized that the area seemed very familiar. They were literally standing on top of the rock formation they had been looking for. Alex had taken to calling it Maria’s Pee Spot. Reece hoped the name didn’t stick.

Ryce had never been to the Smuggler’s Caves. He had heard the name before but had never known their location or even if it really existed. Some thought they were just fables but now he was there...and with King Zan no less! He had been in awe of him, of all of them, including his brother. Near the entrance Tryal had found the cache of torches, along with some flint and iron pyrite. It took a few strikes but soon Tryal had the torches burning brightly. They walked deep within the cave. They came to a large area and Ryce was surprised to see a pool of water. He held his torch up high and saw at the other end of the pool a spring bubbled, bringing fresh water in. He gave his brother a grin, “I still ain’t taking a bath.”
Ryce liked it when his brother smiled. He didn’t do that too often since Dad died.

Midi quickly put everyone to task making camp. The tent was used as a ground cloth, three fires were soon burning bright adding warmth and light, water was started for tea, food packs opened, and blankets and quilts laid out for beds. Midi was a little concerned to see how sweaty Max was but soon realized that the poor boy had been covered in layers of blankets and supplies. She had Liz give him a cool sponge bath to cool him down so he could rest better. Neither seemed to mind it too much. After a quick meal, they banked the fires for the night and everyone crawled into their beds exhausted. Snoring soon echoed through the cave.


Liz couldn’t help herself. She had gone to bed exhausted and slept soundly, but then how could she not? Max was there in her arms. She had no idea of the time but the fires had long since grown cold. It was still pretty dark in the cave but a soft glow from the entrance made its way to them. It was enough to see him by. She had told herself that she was just making sure he was ok, that he was really there with her but that wasn’t it. She loved touching him everywhere. She gently ran her fingers along his arm, down his side, the one that didn’t have broken ribs, past his hip, to his… she saw the corners of his mouth turn up. She giggled, “Faker, you’re awake.”

Max’s grin grew but he kept his eyes closed. This wasn’t the first time he had been awakened by her touch. He relished her touch and hated when she stopped. She made him feel so loved, “Hmm, no, I’m not, so no reason for you to stop.”

She laughed softly and snuggled closer to him, kissing him on chin, “I think you’re enjoying this a little too much.”

Max, “And that’s a problem?”

As her fingers continued exploring, loving him, “No, but it will be if I continue. I’m not sure we could explain it if you happened to hurt yourself in your…excitement.”
She kissed his cute pout that formed at that. She heard him sigh as her hands came back up around his neck. She gave him a proper good morning kiss then laid her head on his shoulder, listening to him breathe, strong and steady. They both dozed off to sleep. When they woke next, everyone was already up.

Maria set about trying to organize things in their little corner of the cave. Did a cave have corners? She pushed the stray thought aside as she shook out the bedding. She looked over at him as he finished another bowl of soup for breakfast, soup for breakfast? What happened to Rice Krispies? “So Spaceboy, how long are we going to play cavemen?”

He briefly wondered what kind of meat was in the soup, it tasted kind of like chicken. He decided that he’d rather not know. “As long as possible. Looks like it might snow again.” He looked over at Max. Midi was checking his leg again. At least Max was sitting up a little with lots of blankets stuffed underneath him propping him up, still weak as hell, though. “As long as possible Maria, for his sake.”

Midi was pleased with what she saw. The swelling was way down and the ankle looked almost normal. His ribs looked good and the patch area, also good. Now she just needed to get a little meat on his bones. She gave him another cup of tea that had mild pain killing properties and another bowl of broth. A little later Reece came over to speak to her in private.

Reece was concerned and needed some information on Max’s condition, “Midi, when will he be up and around?”

Midi, “I’m not sure. If it weren’t for his broken ribs I’d say he could be up and around a little on crutches tomorrow but the ribs, crutches could put added pressure on them, enough to cause one of them to puncture a lung.”

Reece frowned at that. It sounded like a long time, too long, “What about until he gets strong enough for his powers to return?”

Midi thought about that, “Again only a guess, maybe a week or two. It depends on how much rest he can get and proper nutrition. All this moving about just puts more stress on him making his recovery all that more lengthy. Reece, how long can we stay here?”

It was Reece’s turn to think about it, “He might get his week of rest, maybe even a little longer. It depends on the weather. As long as it snows we should be ok. Once the weather clears for any length of time...we’ll need to think about moving on. Midi, do we have enough supplies, food, fuel?”

Midi nodded, “I believe so. We might be down to cold broth and stale bread after two weeks but we should fine until then.”

Reece, “Good, good.” He saw Michael waiting to talk to him, “Michael?”

He had noticed that Reece and Midi were having what looked like a serious conversation and he had some questions of his own, “Reece, Midi, I was wondering. What do you think will be the city police’s next action? What will they do next?”

Reece felt sick when he thought about it but it was the most likely scenario, “They’ll continue down the underground road to the next town, Drasol, my home town.”


They were getting nowhere fast. Drasol was a hotbed of conspiracy, full of resistant conspirators but no escaped prisoners. Normally Khivar would be delighted with the inroads being made in eliminating these traitors but it won’t mean a damn if he doesn’t come up with Zan and soon. Before him was a woman who was just a little too defiant. Outsider women were supposed to be docile, weren’t they? That’s what everyone said, but not this one. Her teeth marks could still be seen on his lieutenant’s arm, “So why are you so hostile? Hmm?”
He got a glare as an answer. “What’s the matter? Don’t feel like talking? We’ll just have to change that. Guards, see if you can convince her to talk.”
Turning to his trusty lieutenant, “Walk with me... so other than some vampire tendencies, have you found anything new on the locals?”

The lieutenant rubbed his arm where that bitch had clamped down with her teeth until he bled. She had butted in when they had been “questioning” a young man in a tavern about something he had let slip. She had backhanded the young man to shut him up. He admired her spunk but he had been thoroughly pissed that he wasn’t been able to get anything out of the young man afterwards no matter how hard he tried. “Sir, I’ve haven’t heard anything about Zan directly, but...”

The general stopped and looked expectantly at the lieutenant, “But what?”

Taking a deep breath, “Sir, I’ve heard talk of a different...road, something called a smuggler’s trail. Sir, it’s possible that they have taken that route instead, Sir.”

He scowls at that and resumes walking, “So where is this smuggler’s trail? Which direction?”

He’s almost afraid to tell him, “Sir, that’s just it, Sir. From what I can tell, they can go in many directions. They literally crisscross...well, everything, Sir.”

He grunts at the news, “So who would know these roads?”

He smiled at the answer. They already had many in custody, “Sir, smugglers, of which we already have many in for interrogation. Perhaps we should revise what questions we ask them. See what we can dig up on these smuggler’s trails, Sir.”

The general allowed himself a small glimmer of hope, perhaps this hadn’t been a complete waste after all, “Yes, even if they didn’t take one of these smuggler’s trails, we should know about them, all about them. Make sure these smugglers are... very forth coming with information. Dismissed Lieutenant and good job.”


It had snowed for four days straight with no sign of letting up. Usually heavy snow meant a long lonely stretch for her but not this time. She’s surrounded by youngsters that when given a small reprieve from their current burdens were full of life. The bickering between Michael and Maria was amusing even if she didn’t understand most of what they were saying. Alex and Isabel were still a bit of a mystery to her. Alex seemed to have a quick wit about him, she just wished she understood their language enough to get his quips and jokes but they did lighten the mood of the others especially Isabel. Tyral brooded quite a bit lately. He was obviously feeling the pang of loosing his home and friends and worried over his brother. She had asked Reece to talk to him, include him in things to get him thinking of the future instead of the past, and to act as sort of a big brother to Tryal. Progress was slow on that part but it was moving forward. She smiled over at Ryce, sitting with Max and talking his head off. Ryce was picking up their language very quickly, but then children usually did. Ryce had plied Max with question after question about his home and Earth. Max didn’t seem to mind, it kept his mind occupied while he recovered. Max was still bed ridden but that would change soon. She eyed him critically as he moved a little trying to get more comfortable. He was still very thin but there was the beginning of a little layer of fat there, not much though. His face was still thin but that sunken sickly look was gone. The bruises were fading. He actually smiled some, especially when Liz was near. His eyes had life to them. And he had started to complain. When a patient started complaining about their confinement, it was time to get them up and moving around. She already had Michael work on crutches for him. It was time for him to build a little muscle tone.

Liz sat off to the side as Ryce played 20 questions with Max. It seemed to be Ryce’s favorite pastime but that was ok, it kept Max busy. Finally they took a break, “Ahem, Ryce, could you excuse us please? Thanks.”
As the boy goes over to see what his brother was doing, she hands Max the pile that had been sitting in her lap, “While I wouldn’t mind, I think the others would rather see you clothed when you start getting up and around.”

He looked at the clothes then back up at Liz and smiled, “Up and around?”

Liz, “Um hum, see, Michael just finished your crutches. But we’ve got to get you dressed first.”
He beamed as she helped him slip the shirt, underwear and pants on. They were baggy but he’d fill them out soon enough, in the meantime a belt would do.

Midi waited until he was dressed then came over with Michael and Alex, with Reece to translate, “Max, you need to take this very slow and easy. Let Michael and Alex pull you up then we’ll hand you the crutches. Just stand there for a moment and get used to them. Be very careful not to put too much stress on your ribs or accidentally hit them with your crutch and don’t expect too much today. Understand? Good, ready?”
With Michael on one side and Alex on the other, they carefully lifted him up and hung on to him. She watched him blanch and close his eyes. A sheen of sweat started to form on his brow, “Just hold still while it passes, Max. This is the first time in a long while since you’ve been on your feet. It’s normal to be a dizzy and even a little nauseas. Let me know when you’re ready. Take your time”
They waited several minutes until his color returned to normal and his eyes opened. At his nod she handed him both crutches. Alex and Michael hovered close as he took a few small steps around the cave. It wasn’t much but it was a start.

That afternoon Liz moved their bedding a little closer to everyone else. They had been a little further away so Max’s naps wouldn’t be disturbed during the day but after walking around earlier, he wanted to be up talking more and around everyone. That night as they finished dinner, Max lay back on their bedding, and enjoyed sipping some tea and listening to Michael and Maria go at it once again. He felt he was one step closer to going home. He looked at his hand that held the cup of tea. There were some small scratches on it. He decided to see how recovered he really was and closed his eyes in concentration.

It felt so good to have her brother up and around. The change in him had been remarkable once he got up on crutches. He wanted to join in, talk, joke, and laugh. It was like he started living again, finally. She had long since learned to tune out Michael and Maria’s rounds, so instead she watched Max. She almost choked on her tea when she saw him do it, “Max, your hand. It glowed. Do you have your powers back?”

Max opened his eyes at the sound of Isabel’s voice. He looked around at the now silent group. Even Michael and Maria were quiet. He looked down at his hand. There wasn’t a scratch on it. He smiled as he looked at them, “Looks like it. They’re weak though but yeah, they’re coming back.”


The general looked over the topographical map of the area. It had taken several days but they finally broke one of the smugglers and he had told them everything about the various trails and hiding places the smugglers used in the area. His lieutenant stood silently by as he looked over the map, “So where would they have gone, hmm? Any clue?”

The lieutenant had been a very busy man but for a change, he had something good to show for it. “Sir, we don’t know for certain but look here, Sir. The healer’s cottage lies right along this trail. From there it heads further up the mountain then splits. From there you can either go thru this pass, up and over the mountain or around and thru a valley but either way it ends up here, in Waylor. If they were at the cottage, this seems the most likely trail they would have taken, Sir.”

The general studied the map, “I agree. What are these marks here on the mountain pass?”

The lieutenant cranes his neck to see, “Oh, some caves, Sir. But I understand quite high up in elevation and very unusable in winter. With these storms, Sir, not a place I’d want to be, especially carrying any injured.”

Nodding in agreement, “Yes, yes, quite. Most likely they went around and thru the valley but either way it doesn’t matter. Eventually they come to Waylor. So Waylor it is. What’s the latest on the weather, Lieutenant?”

He quickly checked his latest report, “Tomorrow, Sir. It’s expected to clear tomorrow, late afternoon. Even with transport it will take almost two days to reach the town, it’s very remote, surrounded by rugged terrain, not many places for transports to land. Also Sir, I’m told that Waylor isn’t very... receptive to proper authority, Sir.”

The general straighten up, his back ached from looking over the map, “Well, we’ll just have to teach them to be more receptive. Make sure everything is ready as soon as the weather clears. Bloody nuisance these storms. I’ve had quite enough of them, dismissed Lieutenant.”


Michael like the rest of them had been keeping discreet tabs on Max’s progress. In the last day he had healed most of his small injuries, cuts and bruises. Last night he managed to finish healing where that damn patch was on his chest and hopefully tomorrow he can get to the ribs and maybe the ankle the next day? God he hoped so. He was going stir crazy being cooped up like this 24/7, plus Maria had been busting his chops about him making a mess. Like keeping a cave neat and tidy was a major priority or something. As Reece came over to join him, “We should probably be thinking of moving out soon. Where do we go from here?”

Reece, “Waylor is a good day’s walk. There are lots of friends there. We shouldn’t have any problems getting supplies, maybe even some pack animals or something, then south to till we hit an eastern trail that parallels the resistant underground for a bit. From there we should be able to make direct contact and get a transport back to base camp.”

Michael frowns, “You really think it’s going to be that easy?”

Reece stared at the fire, “Nope, never said it would be.”


Reece waited outside the cave for everyone to assemble. Max had recovered most of his powers and was able to pretty well heal himself. He still had a limp but Midi said that was more from lack of use and strength and that walking was actually the best medicine for it, just not to over do it, plus Max still tired quickly. He had wanted to leave at first light and keep going until they reached Waylor before nightfall while the
posted on 21-Jul-2002 10:18:24 PM
weather held. It had stopped snowing the day before yesterday and now that they had decided it was time to move, he wanted to put as much distance as possible between them and the cave. He didn’t really worry about their footprints at this point. From here there were only two choices, back to Midi’s or Waylor. Given Max’s condition, they would have to camp somewhere tonight and arrive at Waylor in the morning. At least it was pretty much all down hill and their packs were much lighter since they had used a little more than half of their supplies. That worried him for some reason but he kept pushing that worry to the back of his brain. They only had to be concerned about tonight, right? It was almost midmorning by the time they headed out. Everyone carried a pack on their back, even Max, although his was rather light. Max also used a crutch as a walking stick to help maneuver down the hill. It was slow going, slower than he had expected. At this rate it would be afternoon by the time they reached Waylor. Each added delay added to the worry over supplies in the back of his brain that refused to go away.

Michael brought up the rear. This gave him the opportunity to observe everyone. Max seemed to be doing ok but they were going to have to stop in an hour or two to let him rest. He just didn’t have the energy and there was no way Liz was going to let anyone push him beyond his limit. He couldn’t recall if he had ever seen Liz really furious before but he had no doubt that when it came to Max, Liz could show Maria a thing or two on standing her ground. He blanched at that thought. He could tell Reece was trying to pick the pace up every now and then, only to find that he was getting too far ahead and had to drop back again. Tryal was keeping up with Reece. Those two had become very close over the last few days. It was a pretty good bet that Tryal would be officially joining the resistance soon and most likely bringing Ryce along as well. Ryce worshipped Max. There was just no other way to explain it. He hung on every word Max said and stayed close to him. Max didn’t seem to mind too much unless he wanted to be alone with Liz a little. Isabel walked along with Midi behind Reece. Midi was a wealth of knowledge about nature. Isabel could point to some twig and Midi would tell her what it was and what it was good for. It also helped Isabel to learn more Antarian and Midi English. Every once in a while Midi would drop back a little to see how Max was doing. Alex walked with Maria. When Maria complained about the cold, sore feet, aching back, or whatever, Alex would do whatever he could to make her laugh and she’d forget her complaint for a while. He was going to have to talk to Alex sometime and find out how he did that. A little over an hour later Liz announced that Reece needed to find a good place to stop for a bit to rest. He smiled. Reece had never heard Liz give a command before. Good thing Reece was smart enough to not challenge her.

When they stopped she got some dried fruit out of her pack and some cold tea from a water bag. The tea was something Midi had given her. She said it was good for giving you a bit of an energy boost and Max definitely looked like he could use that. “Max, here, have some fruit and drink some of this. It’s one of Midi’s special teas.”

It had been such a long time since he had been anything but miserable, he had forgotten what it was like to feel anything but. He had started feeling pretty good these last few days. He still did even though all this walking was making him sore but it was a good kind of sore. He knew Liz was being very protective of him, he had heard it in her tone to Reece when she told him to stop. Told him, not asked him. There would be no arguing with her. He loved her for it. He gratefully took the tea and fruit, “Thank you Liz. It feels good to rest but I think Reece wants us to get moving again soon so let’s not get too comfortable here.”
Seeing that stubborn look in her eye reminded him of the day she had climbed in his window and demand he give her Nesado’s necklace so she could go to the reservation. Giving her a quick kiss before she could protest, “Liz, I’m ok. In fact, I haven’t felt this alive since I left Earth. Now let’s eat, I’m starved!”

As the afternoon wore on, Reece was getting even more worried. At Liz’s insistence they had stopped once more that afternoon, slowing them down even more. The winter sun dropped lower in the sky. They were going to have to make camp soon. At this rate, they’d be lucky to make Waylor by tomorrow night. He headed towards a group of trees off to the right. If memory served him right there was a spring over that way that he hoped hadn’t frozen over yet. It hadn’t and they made camp for the night. He was restless. His worry over supplies and the delays kept nagging at him. Waylor was the only supply stop on this part of the trail. Every smuggler knew it. From Waylor you could head out on many trails that branched into many more. Waylor bristled with business during the summer months but it died off as the snows came then it would turn into a sleepy mountain town. It was easier to be noticed in a sleepy town. He’d rather not be noticed.
He stared at the smokeless fire that Tryal had built. He smiled at the young man. Tryal had lost much and was at a loose end in his life. True, he still had his little brother to worry about but Reece could help him with that. There were schools Ryce could go to. Ryce could have a different life than his brother if he wanted it. Tryal was a good smuggler and would be a great asset to the resistance if he cared to join. Tryal also offered him something else, expendability. Tryal knew the trails. If something happened to him, Tryal could guide them to safety. With that thought a plan clicked into place. He waited until most were asleep and then sought out Tryal, Michael and Alex, “Listen, this isn’t working. It’s taking too long. We should have been there by now or at the latest first thing in the morning. If we stay this course it’ll be late tomorrow night before we get there. Plus a group this large coming into town would be noticed at this time of the year.”

Michael’s eyes narrowed at that. He had begun to worry about Reece worrying so much, now he knew he was right to worry. “You’re going in advance, aren’t you?”

Reece met Michael’s intense gaze, “Yeah, I am.” He picked up a stick and drew some V’s for mountains, an X at the top and then another X near the bottom and to the right. From one of the X’s he drew a line thru the mountains then to the X off to the right. “If this X is Waylor, do you recognize this Tryal?”

Tryal looked at it for a moment before it came to him. “Hespar Pass. We’re going to Hespar?”

Reece nodded, privately relieved that he had recognized it. It made him more confident that his plan might work even if he got caught. “Correct. I’m heading into Waylor. If everything goes well, I meet you here at tomorrow sunset.” He pointed to a new X not too far from Waylor, “At Dutch’s Gap.” He looked at Tryal to see if he knew the place. Tryal nodding in acknowledgement, he knew it. “Then we head out on the Hespar Trail. Once in Hespar, we meet up at the Watcher’s House. It’s local inn. The owner, Byran, has a cache of mine. It’s a transmitter. Alex, you remember how to use our transmitters?”

There was a ton of adrenalin being dumped in his body. Something was wrong and Reece knew it, he never told them this much unless he was expecting trouble. “Yeah, I remember.”

Reece, “Good. The frequency is 451.3. There’s a hidden basement at the inn. Byran can hide you there until transport arrives.”

Tryal knew it as well, a smuggler never gave up his secrets unless he wasn’t sure he was coming back. “Reece, what happens if you don’t make it to Dutch’s Gap at sunset?”

Reece gave him a level stare, “Wait one hour then head out. Don’t look back. If I’m not there, I’m dead. It’ll be up to you, Tryal, to get them out of here. You’re the only other one that knows the way. They lose you and everything’s lost. Don’t come after me, none of you, got that?” He saw their looks, they hated what he said but they knew it was the truth. He took a deep breath, “Supply wise you’d be limited. Hespar Pass is a difficult trail so watch your selves. There are some mountain people along the way that could help you but be careful. Knowing you puts them in danger. Any questions?” There was only silence. “Good. I might as well head out now. There’s no way I’d get any sleep. I’ll be in Waylor by morning. Look, most likely everything will be fine and I’ll see you tomorrow sunset at Dutch’s Gap.” He gives them one long last look then gathered his things and quietly slipped into the night.


The ones that had managed to get sleep that night awoke with the dawn. It wasn’t until she sat down for a quick cup of hot tea that she realized someone was missing. Maria looked around in alarm, “Where’s Reece?”

Max knew what had happened last night. No one told him, no one needed to. He felt horrible. All of these people had put themselves in danger. Hell, entire villages had been emptied all because of him. He felt bad about that but there hadn’t been anything he could have done to stop it, but this was different. He hadn’t known those people, but he did know Reece. He stared hard at Michael sitting across from him, “He went ahead to Waylor.”

Michael didn’t want to meet his gaze. He should have told Max last night. Max was King, he wasn’t... Reece wasn’t. Max should have had a say or at the very least been immediately informed but he hadn’t been. Michael said nothing as he watched the fire lick its final flames of life.

Maria looked at Max staring at Michael, and Michael staring at the fire going out. Something bad was going on here, “Why would he do that? Michael?” Getting no reply from Mr. Stonewall, she turned to Max, “Max, why’d he go ahead like that? What happened?”

He kept staring at Michael, he couldn’t help it. He should have been told, should have been included. It might not have made any difference but he should have been told. “Because it was taking too long to get there. I was taking too long. He’s been worried about this, about Waylor. The longer it took, the more worried he got. So he slipped away in the night without telling....everyone. Isn’t that right, Michael?”

Michael finally looked up at him. He saw the hurt and a flash of anger. He’s right. They all should have been included. “Yeah, we’re not going to Waylor. We’re heading to Dutch’s Gap to wait for him. He said he’d be there at sunset with supplies. Tryal knows the way. We better hurry up and get packed so we can be on our way. Don’t want Reece to get there ahead of us and have to wait.”


The sun had gone down over an hour ago. They had been there since mid-afternoon. No one felt like saying a whole lot. No one had to, they all knew it. They all felt it, Reece wasn’t coming. Tryal looked at Michael and made one of the hardest decisions of his life, he followed orders. “Come on, let’s pack up, we need to get on down the trail. It’s too dangerous to stay here any longer.”

Ryce was confused. Wasn’t Reece going to meet him here? He was just running late, that’s all. Shouldn’t they wait until he got here? He looked around in confusion at all the sad faces and fell in next to Max as they walked away from Dutch’s Gap and headed towards the mountains. Looking up at Max expecting him to have all the answers. Max was a king after all, his king. “Max, why aren’t we waiting for Reece? He probably just got delayed and will be showing up any minute but we won’t be there. We should stay, right?”

He didn’t want to answer the questions. They were full of hope, false hope. Ryce was just a kid. He should be home with a mom and dad, complaining about school and getting into harmless trouble with friends. He should still believe the world was full of fun instead of what it really was, but he couldn’t lie to him. “No, Reece isn’t coming to Dutch’s Gap. Even if he was just running late he wouldn’t expect us to be there. In fact, he would be mad if he found us there. Reece told us to move out one hour after sunset and that’s what we had better do.”

Ryce had already lost his home, his family. He was terrified that he would lose his brother someday. Reece had been good to his brother. Tryal had told him that Reece had offered to take him and Ryce in, even set it up so Ryce could go to school. Reece had been like a brother to them, he didn’t want to lose any more family. “Who’s going back to help Reece?”

The words were some of the most painful he ever said, “No one. No one is going after Reece. There is no one. Your brother is the only one who knows the trail and Michael, Alex and Isabel would be caught the second they opened their mouths besides they wouldn’t know where to go once they got to there. Reece knew it, Ryce. He knew what could happen. I’m sorry Ryce, I’m really sorry.”

Ryce didn’t talk after that. He was too busy thinking. Max was wrong. There was one that spoke the language and had been to Waylor before. His brother had taken them there once before not long after their father had died. Tryal had friends there and Ryce knew where they lived. It was almost midnight before they made a quick camp. He waited for almost two hours to make sure everyone was asleep before slipping off, back the way they had come. If he hurried, he would reach Waylor sometime tomorrow morning. He was determined not to lose anymore family. He was going to help Reece.


The next morning Michael had to physically restrain Tryal from going after Ryce. Michael didn’t blame him, he felt the same way. He still had him pinned to the ground. “Tryal listen to me. LISTEN! It won’t help Ryce to go charging in there and getting your self captured or killed. We have to think this through. Tryal, do you hear me?”

Tryal wanted to bash Michael’s head in for holding him down. He had to get Ryce, he was his brother. The only thing he had left in this world. He had to. Michael was a big guy though and finally the anger drained from him. Defeated, he stopped struggling, “Michael, you can let me up now. I’m listening.”

Michael very slowly got off of him and sat down. He kept an eye on him though, still not convinced that he wouldn’t suddenly take off after Ryce. Stupid kid, what the hell had he been thinking? He looked around at everyone, indecision, worry, fear, what were they going to do now? His eyes fell on Max. Other than Tryal, Max had been the closest to Ryce. He and Max had talked a little yesterday. He understood Max’s anger at being left out and Max knew that they were just trying to protect him. They had come to an agreement that everyone would have a say in the future. He just didn’t realize the future would be smacking them face so soon. Max looked like shit, the kid taking off was hitting him hard, “Maxwell, any ideas?”

What was Ryce thinking taking off like that? What did he think he would accomplish? What could he accomplish? Where would he go once he got to Waylor, if he got to Waylor? “Tryal, where would Ryce go in Waylor? Had he ever been there before?”

Tryal was numb with worry, “What? No, no, he....” A memory came back to him, a memory that he wasn’t very proud of. It wasn’t long after their father had died and Ryce had to come with him. He hadn’t meant to go there, to bring his little brother there. But he had been drinking with some friends to dull the pain of losing his father and he sought comfort in the other thing Waylor was known for. He hadn’t known Ryce had been following him. “Yes, I took him there once. I have friends there. He might go to them.”

Michael tried to think of everything Reece and the others had told him of city police tactics. He knew that they thought of outsiders as ignorant and that the women were docile and harmless. “Tryal, are your friends male?”

Tryal wasn’t sure how to answer that. His friends were male but there were the others. Would Ryce go to them? What could they do if he did? Would they protect him? Could they? “My friends are male, yes.”

Michael shook his head in anger, “Damn, I’m betting that the city police have figured out we’ve taken a different route and beat us to Waylor. If that’s the case, from what I’ve been told, they’d round up all the men for questioning but not the women. They have this misguided idea that women are harmless.” He glanced over at Maria, God could that be any farther from the truth?

Tryal tried to think of the English words to explain this, “Uh, not all friends are male. Some are female. They...they...Waylor is a smuggler’s town. Smuggling can be very...lonely. Ryce followed me to once.”

Maria blinked a few times as she strained to understand his words. He couldn’t mean what she thought he did, could he? “You took your little brother, a child to a... a whorehouse? What the hell’s the matter with you?”

He wasn’t sure if had explained it properly but from Maria’s yelling, most likely they did. He sat dejectedly and stared at the ground.

Alex looked around at their camp. It was like they had traveled across the galaxy to be dropped off in the old west, out in the open following a trail, carrying what they needed, avoiding the law, and Waylor, an old wild, west town, complete with brothel. In the movies the prostitutes were rarely docile. “Uh, would the...ladies be able to help him? I mean aren’t they usually pretty resourceful?” Isabel looked like she was going to pop him one so he quickly added, “Or so in the movies I’ve seen...anyways.”


It was mid-morning and he had already gone to his brother’s friends’ house. No answer. He wasn’t sure where else to go. It had all seemed so easy last night. He’d slip into town, get his brother’s friends to help and rescue Reece then meet back up with the others that night, easy. Things were different in the day. The town felt strange. He hardly saw anyone other than city police on the streets. He had seen their shuttles flying in from the north almost non-stop since he got here. He stayed in the shadows and alleyways as much as possible. He just didn’t know where else to go. The area he was in was starting to look familiar somehow. He ran out of shadows to hide in and had to go out in the open to get to the next block. He looked both ways and didn’t see anything. He almost made it before he was grabbed from behind. He tried to wrench himself free, “LET ME GO!”

She looked out the window at the deserted street. Well, not exactly deserted but she had no desire for the likes of them in her house. None of the houses did. She had seen the boy in the shadows and wondered who he was. She knew all the kids in town, not because she’d let them come here, not that young but because many were the sons and daughters of former employees. Many of the girls married the smugglers when they were ready to settle down and lead more traditional lives. Every year she held a big party in the park for all of them during the spring. Her spring party was always well attended and was full of fun and games for the children. It was a day for family. No, that was not a local boy but she thought she might know him none the less. She had a keen memory and started thinking of how she could know the boy. Client? Absolutely not. Son of an employee that had left? Possibly, but who’s? Son of a client? Who would bring their son here? The last one was a couple of years ago. He was the son of one of the smugglers. No, that wasn’t right. He was the brother of that young smuggler. What was name? Tryan, Trylor, Tryal? That’s it, Tryal. That was Tryal’s brother. Tryal had been drunk and miserable. His father had died recently leaving only him to care for his little brother. Tryal had been furious when he found that the boy had followed him. She had soothed Tryal’s fury and told him she’d watch the boy and make sure his virtue stayed intact. She had Whelen play cards and games with him that evening until the boy fell asleep.
The sight of the city police grabbing him brought her out of her musing. What kind of monsters accosted children? She grabbed her best, most demure wrap and flew down the stairs and to the door. The second she opened the door, she buried her fury and the mask of a distraught woman appeared, a mother who was terrified for her wayward son. She approached the police with tears flowing and begged, “Kind sirs, please. He is my son. I had sent him out for sweets for my customers. It’s my fault he was out. Please release him to me and…and I would be most grateful.”

This assignment had been boring beyond belief. It hadn’t taken long to empty the city of the men for questioning and now they were to patrol empty streets. No men out meant no women, either. The women were too frightened to come out without their men about. Just look at this foolish woman, she sent her boy out, too frightened to go herself. He looked over at the house she had come from, the sign read the Green House. So she was one of the local whores he had heard about. He smirked at the frightened boy, a son of a whore. Maybe he could strike a bargain, “How grateful?”

She knew she had him. She also knew that her girls would not be happy to see her bring these beasts in but they would want to help the boy. “Kind sir, very grateful.”

She took the boy’s hand and dragged him back to the house. Admonishing him all the way as a mother would. The police soldiers followed behind. Their reception from the girls was warm, forced but warm, the sooner to get them out of there the better. With the soldiers occupied she brought the boy to her private quarters. “You are Tryal’s brother, are you not?”

Ryce now remembered where he was. Tryal had left him at his friend’s house and came here. It was in the days right after father’s death and Ryce had been terrified that Tryal would leave and not come back just like Father had done, so he followed him here. He remembered the lady too, she had calmed his brother and then sent him to some room where he was fed sweets and played games. It had turned into a fun night after all. Nodding his head, “Yes, Tryal’s my brother. My name is Ryce.”

That name sounded right. She had stuck her neck out for this boy and she wanted to know why. “Is your brother in town? If so, he and you had best leave. It’s dangerous here.”

Ryce’s eyes were teary. He had been terrified much lately, “Tryal isn’t here. I ran off. I had to. I had to come and help Reece. I think…I think they took him.”

She knew a Reece. He was an old friend but he hadn’t been through here in many years, not since he gave up being a smuggler for a rebel. “Who’s Reece?”

He swiped angrily at his tears. He would not cry, he wouldn’t! “Reece was taking us to safety but we needed supplies. He went ahead to get them and then was supposed to meet us after sunset but he never showed.”

She was getting a sinking feeling about this Reece. “So you came here to rescue him. Tell me, who is the ‘we’ that you mentioned. Why did this Reece need to get them to safety?”

He bit his lip. He was scared. “We…uh, we were going to join the resistance but…but the city police…they’re after us.”

She paled, “This Reece is with the resistance?” His nod confirmed it. She stood and walked to the fireplace as memories flooded her. Reece hadn’t been more than youth, not all that much older than the boy sitting here now, she a bit older and much more experienced but still a young beauty with a whole life ahead of her. She had showed him many things over the years and he had always been kind and gentle. When her youth and beauty began to fade he had still sought her out. He would lie to her so convincingly that for a time while in his arms, she believed that she was still that young beauty of so long ago. He had left the smuggling trade to join the resistance. He had asked her to come with him, but she hadn’t. She had chosen another life. “You said that Reece never made it to the rendezvous point last night?” His answer was a sob. She walked back over to the boy and handed him a tissue, “Then most likely Reece was captured. I know this Reece.”

She walked to her desk and rang a little bell. A large woman appeared, “Whelen, this is Ryce. He is the brother of a friend and friend of special friend of mine. See that he has a warm meal and bath, fresh clothes and then bed. I’m putting him in your charge. I have other things that I need to attend to.”

Whelen had worked for the first owner of this house for years and when she retired, Whelen had stayed on. She never regretted it, either. The new owner was very capable and very kind, usually. One did not want to get on the bad side of Laurus, owner and operator of the Green House of Waylor. She tolerated little and had a long memory. “Of course Laurus, I’ll look after him like he was my own. Come along Ryce, let’s get you some supper.”

Laurus nodded then went to her desk. She rang the bell again for her first lady, the one that actually ran the house for her. They had many things to do, many new clients to prepare for. She sent a girl to the baker for bread, the butcher for hardtack, the stables for fresh pack animals. They all were glad to assist her, and if they weren’t, a copy of the chit that their husbands, sons, or lovers owed her house quickly swayed them. Another girl was sent to purchase another house’s special wine, the one that had a more unsavory reputation. They would raise eyebrows at the idea of the Green House needing such wine but a few pieces of gold silenced their questions. By early afternoon she and her girls were ready. They headed to the tavern that was across the street from the constable’s station. Normally it would be empty except for maybe one or two drunks that had made a nuisance of themselves but not today. Today it had been commandeered by the invading city police. She was betting that many of Waylor’s invaders had a lot of pent-up energy to release and with it and a little drink their tongues would wag. She needed information on where exactly Reece was being held and how many guarded him. The tavern owner would play along. After all having the ladies of the Green House ply their trade there was good for business.


He had him. He knew it, now he just needed to convince him to talk. The lieutenant stood at attention as the general walked in to view the prisoner. “Sir, General, Sir.”

He had been chomping at the bit for information. Khivar was growing impatient. Waylor was an interesting town, full of smugglers and their prostitutes living right along side proper families. Incredibly it didn’t have much in the way of crime if you discounted the smuggling and whoring, that is. He had been told that they had finally caught a break and he came to see for himself. He wanted to see the enemy that had eluted him all these days. He didn’t look like much, just another rebel laying on the floor bleeding. He had seen many like this but this one was supposed to be different. “Lieutenant, this is him. He doesn’t look like much. What have you found out about him?”

Lieutenant, “Sir, he’s a known smuggler to the locals by the name of Reece. They hadn’t seen him in quite some time until he suddenly popped up this morning. I interrogated all of the other recently arrived smugglers rigorously. I can now account for their whereabouts and what trail they took to get here. All but him and what’s more, Sir. None of the others saw him on their trails, none, Sir. That means...”

“That means he took a trail the others didn’t travel, the trail we were on, the one from the old healer’s place. Has he said anything?” The general couldn’t take his eyes off of him, this traitor.

Standing up straight, “No, Sir, but it’s just a matter of time, Sir. I... I was thinking, Sir.”

He finally turned to look at his underling, “Yes, go on.”

Lieutenant, “Sir, the only reason to come here is supplies. They’re low on supplies. They couldn’t go far without them. They’re close, Sir.”

The general smiled a sadistic smile. He had already figured that, now he just needed to know which direction to head. “Make him tell you where Zan is. Don’t stop until he does, and don’t kill him until he does, either. I’m heading back to base camp. Notify me when you have it, Lieutenant.”

There wasn’t a single place on Reece’s body that didn’t hurt. If he had thought about it, he would have had a new appreciation for what Max had endured. He heard the cell door open. He prayed that he could keep his mouth shut long enough for them to get away.


Michael didn’t like it but there was damn little he could do about it. Tryal had refused to leave his brother behind and no one blamed him. He was just a kid. Tryal had given him and Alex as much detailed information he could on where this brothel was. In the cover of darkness he and Alex would sneak in and hopefully see this Madame Laurus that ran it. If all the men had been rounded up, which he was pretty sure was the case that would leave only the women. Until dark, he and Alex were held up back at Dutch’s Gap. Tryal had taken the others on down the trail to hide. Where, he and Alex didn’t know. It was safer that way if caught. Tryal said that they would spot them on their return. He hoped so. He hated the thought of being stuck here. Roswell was looking better and better all the time.


She wasn’t sure who she was looking for but she’d know him when she saw him. Meanwhile her girls were busily plying their trade and making a tighty sum, as was the tavern. The day was wearing on and she was beginning to worry. That’s when she spotted him, big and burly with a face only a mother could love, and bruised and swollen knuckles. She had more than her share of run-ins with bullies and they always liked to use their fists eventually, make it personal. This one was definitely a bully. She looked over at her first lady and discreetly nodded in the bully’s direction. She watched as one of her more talented girls casually sauntered over with a bottle of the special house wine. The thing about bullies was that they were easily tamed, so long as you stroked their ego and the girl that met him was especially good at that and she had volunteered. Laurus watched and inwardly smiled as the bully became putty in her hands. His laughter bellowed through the place as they headed to one of the tavern’s back rooms.

It didn’t take long for him to become happily sated and relaxed. She knew his type and had been careful to compliment his every action, every word no matter how limited and boring it was. He was finally in the state she wanted him. She ran her fingers down his scared cheek, down his neck, his chest. She breathed heavily as she purred at him, “Kind sir, that was magnificent. A man of your stature and vigor must be of great importance.”

His eyes were closed and relaxed. He had been a bundle of unused energy earlier. It was wonderful to find a release. “Hmm, yes, yes, very important. Without me they wouldn’t get nearly half the information that they do.”

She drew little circles along his chest, feigning interest, “Oh, no wonder they had you work so hard. It must take hours. Was there one giving you particular trouble?”

He smirked, “Yeah, he was a stubborn one. He nearly broke but then the damn fool had the audacity to pass out. The lieutenant wouldn’t let me finish him tonight, strict orders not to accidentally lose that one.” He yawned, “Hmm, going to work some more on him tomorrow.”

She was very careful not to entice him too much. Men like this sometimes had problems a second time around and tended to blame the woman. Instead she poured him some more wine and held it to his lips to help him drink. Taking the cup away she smiled sweetly at him, “They must be keeping a very close eye on this prisoner, many guards.”

Yawning again, he hadn’t been this relaxed in ages, “Not really, where’s he going to go? Naw, just the two in the front of the main jail’s door and two more inside the actual jail area. Hmph, the guy couldn’t stand when I left. If anything, he’s over guarded!”

She laughed with him at the sick joke. Continuing to soothe him, “I bet those guards get awfully lonely staying watch over someone sleeping away. I bet they’d like a little…entertainment as well.”

Shrugging, “I suppose. Some of them are pretty new recruits, never been away from home. Yeah, I bet they’d be eager for a little fun.”

Her customer was almost asleep. She needed just a little more information before she could leave. She was getting anxious to take a bath, “So we should ask for the guards that are watching…what was that prisoner’s name again?”

He was so sleepy, “Reece, ask for the ones guarding Reece.”

She gave him a tender kiss on the cheek, “I’ll do that. Now, why don’t you get some rest? You have a big day tomorrow.”
He was already snoring. She quickly got dressed and left the sleeping ogre where he laid. She should have asked for double pay for this. She went immediately to Laurus at a back table in the tavern, “Ma’am, I got it. They do have Reece. He’s being held in the main jail area. Two guards by the main jail door, two more inside the main jail. Supposedly guarded by new recruits, first time away from Mama. Ma’am, that… that thing said this Reece was in a bad way, unconscious, not able to stand. They only stopped because he had passed out. They plan on starting up again tomorrow. Oh and I need to take a bath. A very long, very hot bath…for a week.”

Laurus eyed the girls there and had already selected the four that would go inside and the other four that would be waiting. “Very good. I’ll make sure your bath is hot and filled with fresh rose petals. You deserve a nice clean fragrance after the stench. Would you like to assist in freeing this man, Reece?” The girl nodded and smiled, of course she would, anything to get back at that monster. She had already picked her, as was one of the four that would help to get him out.
The four that would go inside were very good with first timers and she had plenty of wine to help their clients get over their nerves. The sun would be setting in less than an hour as the four girls carrying bottles of wine sauntered over to the constable’s office. The guard at the desk didn’t know what hit him, but he liked it. She was soft and nice smelling and could do incredible things with her hands. The other guard had found his own piece of heaven. He was eager to find out first hand what all the others had teased him about, what they had been telling him he was missing. Her idea of how to make use of all those empty beds in the cells was intriguing. He willingly opened the door and let her lead him towards the back. The other two guards in the jail were shocked and protested when they came in but not for long. They too were soon in the hands of angels who knew just how to make them reach the stars and beyond.
By the time the other four girls entered, the guard at the desk was sound asleep, wearing nothing but a stupid grin. The two that had guarded inside the jail were in separate cells, were still tied up and sleeping peacefully in different cells, clothes on the floor. The last one was slumped over a bed with whelp marks on his backside but blissfully sated. He’d liked things a bit different. It wasn’t hard to find Reece. Other than him all other prisoners had been taken to a central hold corral hastily built outside of town. That bully hadn’t been kidding, Reece was a mess. As night finally fell, together they carried Reece out of the cell, out of the side door of the jail, down the alleyway, and through backyards and alleyways of the town to the Green House, where Laurus anxiously awaited them. Reece wouldn’t be staying long there, he couldn’t. It wouldn’t take long for their night’s activities to be discovered but thanks to the wine, they’d have no idea exactly whom it had been with. And when they finally were questioned they of course would admit to pleasuring the young men, but then they had demanded it. They were just helpless women who were too scared not to obey. It wasn’t their fault the guards fell down on the job, as it were.

Laurus gently touched Reece’s forehead with a cool cloth soliciting a moan from him. He was starting to come around, “Reece, Reece, its Laurus. Reece, can you hear me?”

His eyes opened slowly. He had to blink several times before he only saw one of everything, then he almost passed out form shock, “Laurus? What…what are…”

She held a glass of brandy to his lips, “Shhh, here drink. It’s all I have to help take the edge off. Reece, listen, Tryal’s brother Ryce is here. He told us about you being captured. We rescued you but you’ve got to get out of here, now.” This wasn’t working, Reece passed back out. She snapped when someone knocked at the door. She had left specific instructions not to be disturbed, “WHAT?”

Whelen opened the door and stepped in, “Laurus, ma’am, there’re a couple of men here asking for you.”

Her heart stopped for a moment, she couldn’t believe that they had found her so fast. Then it dawned on her, if it were the soldiers they wouldn’t be waiting patiently downstairs, they would have simply busted in. “Whelen, did they say what they wanted?”

She folded her hands in front of her, “Yes Ma’am, they’re asking for the boy, Ryce. But…they’re very hard to understand. Their speech is very peculiar.”

Trying to think fast, “Where’s Ryce?”

“Asleep Ma’am. The poor thing was exhausted.” She had always loved children but never had any of her own, so she spoiled the ones she knew rotten. Ryce was no different. She had stuffed him with hot food then various cookies and cakes fresh from the oven. After that plus a hot bath, he was asleep before his head even hit the pillow.

Laurus nodded, “Very well. See if you can rouse Reece. I need him on his feet pronto, while I go see what these guests with the odd speech want.”


He had never been to a bordello before and knowing Isabel, this was the last time he ever would. It was fascinating. The girls walking around half clothed weren’t bad either. They were certainly friendly. That blond one over there looked a little like Maria. He looked over at Michael. Yep, from Michael’s slight grin, he’d noticed that too. Maria had left strict instructions, Michael could look but if he didn’t want to be pushed out an air lock on the ship ride back to Roswell, he damn well had better not touch. No one doubted she meant it either, especially not Michael. Isabel had informed him that if he touched, it would be the last time he’d ever be able to. He took her seriously, after all no one messed with West Roswell High’s Ice Princess and lived to tell about it. He noticed an older lady still very pretty even fully clothed, came down the stairs. This must be the madam.

Laurus appraised the two young men. She was certain that she had never seen them before, “I’m Laurus, may I help you?”

Alex looked at Michael and realized that he wasn’t too certain how to talk to her. This was an entirely new situation, for both of them, but Alex was Alex and had been talking to girls forever. Maria and Liz were girls, right? Using hand gestures that he hoped would clear up any language barriers, “Yes, Madame Laurus, I’m Alex and that’s Michael. We are friends of a boy named Ryce. Ryce had run off last night and his brother, Tryal, sent us to find him. We thought he might have come here.” He could tell that the name had registered. “Ma’am, we’re very worried about him. Please, if you’ve seen him…”

He was at the top of the stairs hanging onto Whelen so he wouldn’t fall over. He’s not sure how he got here or what Michael and Alex were doing here, but God, was he ever glad to see them. He’d get pissed about them disobeying a direct order later, right now they needed to get out of here. “What are you two doing here? We’ve got to leave, now!”

Michael was beyond shocked. Alex’s look was similar to Michael’s. Michael recovered his voice first, “What the hell are you doing here?”

Reece winced as Whelen helped him down the stairs. Thru gritted teeth, “I could ask you the same thing. The answer is I don’t know and right now I don’t care. They’re going to be looking for me and I had better not be here.” Turning to his long ago lover, “Laurus, I’m not sure how you did it but...thank you. I can’t begin to tell you how good you look to me.”

Laurus was beyond confused about what exactly she had gotten herself into but she had lived among smugglers enough to know not to ask questions. Sometimes it really was better off not knowing. Smiling lovingly at him, “I’d say you look good too but then I never could lie like you could.” She gently ran her fingers along his cheek, “Now, I’d be rather ticked at you if you went and got yourself captured again after the expense I went to, to get you out. Let’s not waste it.” Turning to her long time friend, “Whelen, is everything ready? Good, go get Ryce. We need to get them on their way, now.” Once they were reunited with the boy, and hugged him, she pressed an envelope into Reece’s hand, “Here, take this. Now listen. At the edge of town, near Walter’s Clearing are four pack animals and supplies.” Before they left, she pulled Reece back and kissed him hard, “Don’t you dare get your self killed, now get out of here!”


The walk to the clearing was surprisingly easy and true to her word, there were four pack animals loaded with supplies. Once they made it well outside of the town’s perimeter, they had Reece ride on the back of one of the animals. It was faster than him stumbling along while they munched on some of the fresh cookies that Whelen had sent with Ryce. Alex looked up at Reece for a moment, none of them had thought they’d see him again and from the looks of him, they probably wouldn’t have either. In the moonlight he saw Reece pull the envelope out that Laurus had given him. Reece grinned big time as he read it. Alex couldn’t resist, “So Reece, what’s that a love letter?”

Reece would have laughed if it hadn’t hurt so much, “Sort of... it’s a very complete and detailed bill for services rendered.” What he didn’t tell him was the last part, the one that read, or in lieu of payment I’ll take you. Love always, L.


He sat on a rock outcropping watching the trail that they should be coming down anytime now. Liz and he had gone round after round
posted on 21-Jul-2002 10:19:30 PM
about him doing this but he wanted to, he had to. He was sick and tired of everyone treating him as if he were, well, sick and tired. He wanted to help, to contribute. That was only part of it, the other part was quilt. This was his fault, all of it. True, he never asked any of them to do this but if he had just...died in that prison, or been strong enough to walk, or walk faster, or... he wanted to be a help to them and not be a burden or hindrance like he had been. He glanced up at the night sky. It was starting to turn the light blue of dawn. Off to the north he had noticed earlier that the stars had disappeared behind some clouds. Those clouds would soon be catching up to them and most likely bringing more snow. He heard her boot scrape the rock as she climbed up. In her hands were two mugs of a something steaming and hot. He gave her a grateful smile as he took one, “Thanks Liz.” She smiled back at him as she sat down next to him. “You don’t have to do this, you know...check up on me. I’m all right. Liz, I’m just sitting just like I would be down there...Are you still mad at me?”

She shook her head and leaned into him, wanting to feel him, just him. The day had started bad with all of them waking to find Ryce gone, then the argument over what to do, the indecision. Max finally suggested a compromise, Michael and Alex would go look for Ryce at that brothel. Then come back by morning one way or another. She could tell how much Max hated putting that last condition on it but they couldn’t stay here forever and if they got caught...well, he knew first hand what they were capable of. While Michael and Alex went to wait for darkness at Dutch Gap, Tryal led them about 6 miles down the trail and then up the hillside to this out outcropping of rocks to hide and wait, and wait, and wait. It had taken its toll on everyone, nerves were frayed, tempers were short, and the slightest thing could cause an eruption, even from her. She hadn’t meant to shout at Max like that earlier, she was just so frustrated with him, with everything. Max was doing better. He was walking just fine now although climbing up or down hills put added stress on his ankle. Just climbing up here, he had twisted it a little and had to stop to heal it which left him more tired than normal. She knew he felt guilty about everything and wanted to make it all right again, but she was afraid. She had lost him once and she wasn’t going to lose him again. So she had yelled at him when he suggested that he’d take a watch tonight for the guys return. She wanted him to rest, she wanted him whole again. “No, I’m not mad, just tired. I don’t want to lose you again.”

He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and drew her close, kissed her forehead. “You won’t, we’ll make it back. We all will, I promise.”

Her eyes kept scanning the road, looking for them. “Max, don’t make promises you don’t know if you can keep.”

He drew her even closer to him, his eyes locked on the road, “You’re right, I shouldn’t, I just...I want everything right again. I want Reece back, Ryce with his brother, Michael and Alex with us and us, home. I want to be back at home where my biggest concern was passing a biology test or wondering what Michael was going to drag me into next and how to get around curfew. I want my life back. I want all of our lives back.”

Liz took a deep breath, “So do I Max. So do I.” Her eyes grew heavy as the morning crept up on them. It came as a shock to her that she had to open them when she felt Max jump. She hadn’t realized that she fallen asleep. Looking around for what had startled him, she heard his whistle. She followed his gaze to the trail down below and smiled when she heard an answering whistle. She had to strain in the day’s new light to see, but sure enough, down through some treetops was what they had been waiting for. She turned to Max with a big grin, “Looks like you’re getting what you wanted, Alex, Michael, Ryce and if I’m not mistaken that’s Reece riding on something.”

He grinned back at her with a twinkle in his eye, “Yeah, let’s go see what kind of trouble those two got into in a brothel.”

Liz giggled as she remembered Maria’s reaction to Michael being asked to go visit one, it was explosive. “Yeah, we should find out if we need to keep him clear of any air locks on the ride home.” He was laughing alongside her as they climbed down from the rocks.

Tryal was the first one down to them. He grabbed his brother in a tight embrace and didn’t let go. The tears squeezed out of his shut eyes. He wiped them on his upper arm then pulled back to look at his brother, and then hugged him again. The next time he pulled back, he let him have it, “What the hell were you thinking? You could have gotten yourself killed. Did you even bother to think of that, huh? You dead, Father dead, Mother long since dead, and me all alone. Did you stop to think what that would have done to me?” He started to get choked up again, so he grabbed him and hugged him, and rocked from side to side as he held him, “Don’t you ever do anything like that again!”

While Tryal alternated between hugging and threatening to kill Ryce, he watched Alex help Reece down from the, what was that anyways? A jackass? Reece looked like hell, but he never looked better. Max walked over and shook his hand and clamped a friendly hand on his shoulder, “Welcome back Reece. You certainly are a sight for sore least a sight anyways. Ouch, the looks like it stings a bit. Need some help with that?”

Reece was bone weary. The beating had taken quite a lot out of him then the escape and traveling all night. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so tired. God, Max looked better than he must have. He managed a weary smile, “Yeah, that’d be good if it’s not too taxing, otherwise Midi could...” Max’s glowing hands were already at work before he finished the sentence. He tried out his now healed jaw, moved it around a bit and smiled pain free, “Feels good. You do good work.”

Max quipped, “I try. Now let’s get sorted out and figure out where to go from here.”

For the past hour Reece had watched in fascination. Max had everyone organized and getting everything packed up and ready to go. They had to get moving. But now, now there was no doubt that Max was in charge. It wasn’t that he had purposefully taken over or anything, it just seemed...natural. Everyone just sort of naturally turned to him for leadership. It was fascinating to watch. Although Max was no tyrant, he let all of them have their say and really listened. He wasn’t above asking for help, either. Max had no problem with Reece leading the way on this trip with Tryal aiding him; after all it had been a few years since Reece had been this way. The snow was just starting to fall as they headed out. They wanted as much distance between them and Waylor as they could get. As they walked he smiled as he heard snippets of conversation.

Maria, “So Spaceboy, find anything of interest in Waylor?”

Michael couldn’t help himself sometimes, a pissed Maria could be fun occasionally, “Maybe one or two.”

Maria, “WHAT?!”

Alex just laughed, “Yeah, there was that one in the Green House that was sort of petite with blond hair. Michael sure gave her a good eyeful.”

Isabel, “And what about you, Alex? Anything catch your eye?”

Alex knew better, “Just you Isabel, just you.”

Reece lost the conversation from there but he could still hear Maria going off, just couldn’t make out the words but he was sure they were lethal. The snow got heavier as the day wore on and the going tougher. They were climbing again in elevation and there were already a couple of feet of snow on the ground. He decided to stop and check the packs for snowshoes. He smiled and said a silent thank you to Laurus as he found some. He was quickly busy showing everyone how to put them on, “No, Maria, you have to lace thru here... and then...yeah, no, wait that...” Her hands dropped to her side and he got a look that told him to just do it already. So he did.

Maria had tried three times already but it just kept slipping off. She finally swallowed her pride and let Reece do it. “So Reece, there are lots of brothels in Waylor.”

He glanced up at her then started working on the other shoe. “Yeah, lots of smugglers go thru there. Smuggling can be a lonely life.”

Maria had no idea how someone could be expected to walk with what looked like tennis rackets on their feet. “So it’s no big deal, smuggling, whorehouses, just...part of everyday life.”

Tying the lace a little tighter, “Yep, no big deal.”

“So the little wife stays home while the hubby goes out smuggling and whoring.” She said it as a statement but she wanted an answer.

When Reece finished her snowshoes, he gave her a hand standing up. “Try ‘em out, see if they’re tight enough.” As she took a few awkward steps, “No Maria, the husbands don’t go out smuggling and whoring. Some do but many more don’t. Smuggling is an honored profession here. They help bring the things, the technology, over that helps make lives a little easier and also so it can be reversed engineered and in many cases improved upon. There’s no shame in it, other than the shame that we have to do it in the first place. As for those who provide comfort, the whores, as you seem to like to refer to them. They’re women who are also doing what they can to survive and hopefully make someone’s life a little easier for a time. Most of them are fine women who very often marry a smuggler once he and she decide it’s time to settle down and start a family. Usually they have a pretty strong marriage, since both have lived hard lives they understand and can relate.”

Maria looked at him for a moment, softening her tone, “How do you know that? Were you married to one?”

He just looked at her, “Thought about it once. She turned me no, but my father was...very happily for over 20 years.” Turning his attention to the group, “Ok, I think we’re all set. Come on people, let’s get moving and try not to loose any snowshoes.”

Maria grabbed his arm, “Reece, I... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean...”

Reece gave her a small smile, “I know you didn’t, Maria, just don’t judge us until you’ve lived our lives. Things work a little differently here. Let’s go, they’re waiting.”


The general had already reported to Khivar last night that they had captured one of the rebels that helped Zan escape. He couldn’t tell him that the rebel had now also escaped. The guards that had been on duty last night had already been dealt with. The condolence letters sent this morning along with their bodies. And now he was worse off than before for Khivar was breathing down his neck for an update and he had nothing to give him other than his own head, and he had no intention of doing that. He glared at his lieutenant, “Exactly what were a bunch of whores doing in here last night?”

Lieutenant was hoping to be alive at the end of the day, but it wasn’t looking good, “Sir, from what we gathered some of the women were across the street at the tavern and then came over here, Sir.”

His fingers strummed the desktop impatiently, “And they were just...let in? No questions asked, no regard for protocol, orders, nothing like that even occurred to them?”

He swallowed a few times, “Sir, apparently not, Sir.”

Still the fingers strummed on, “And these whores, have they been identified, yet?”

The lieutenant really needed to find a bathroom soon, “Sir, no, Sir, not yet, Sir.”

Casually looking around the room at the other nervous officers, all wondering if they’d be next, “Well, what are you waiting for…FIND THEM! In the meantime, send out search parties to the surrounding countryside, they couldn’t have gone far.”

The lieutenant bit back the observation that the weather had taken a turn for the worst and that flying would be dangerous. No use getting executed for stating the obvious when there were so many other things for which he was already flirting with death. He saluted smartly, “SIR, YES, SIR, IMMEDIATELY, SIR!”


They made camp in a grove of trees. For they first time they had to use the tent as an actual tent. I was pretty close quarters but they managed to fit everyone plus their supplies in. The trees provided some cover for the pack animals. The tree branches protected them from much of the falling snow and provided cover from the prying lens of any over flying camera. Tryal opened the smoke whole flap for a small fire for warmth and tea. Hot tea was welcomed by everyone. Midi had been impressed with Max’s healing powers. Natural healers like him were very rare. She had never actually seen one at work before. She hadn’t actually seen him heal himself, just the results. Seeing him heal Reece was awe inspiring. She couldn’t stop herself from double checking on Reece and found not a scratch on him. Max found it amusing when he heard and teased her a little about checking out the competition. Reece had translated and they both had a good chuckle over it. Midi was still keeping an eye on Max though. Max couldn’t heal malnutrition with a swipe of a glowing hand. He also couldn’t heal the memories of what they had done to him. Like many as they age, Midi didn’t sleep all that much at night which gave her plenty of time to watch him, how he curled up with Liz and was restless if she wasn’t there. And sometimes in the dead of night he would tense up as if in pain and occasionally let out a soft whimper. Somehow Liz always seemed to know when he was in pain, even while she slept. A gentle caress from her was usually all it took to soothe him. And sometimes she noticed a few caresses that made her wonder if they might be getting in some practice for marriage.


The general was not pleased that it had taken so long to find the whorehouse responsible, three days was too long. Because of this delay Khivar had to be informed of the prisoner’s escape. Khivar’s reply as short and to the point, be back in 7 day with Zan or else. He knew what the or else meant. In 7 days time he would either return home a hero or a in a box and he had wasted 3 of those 7 days looking for these damn whores! Now he had the Madame in front of him and God was she annoying? All that pleading and crying, how could the men stand all that? She seemed to know just the right pitch that would grate most on his nerves. He rubbed his hand over his eyes, trying to ease the headache she was giving him. His hand suddenly slammed down on the desk, “ENOUGH WOMAN!” He was pleased to see that had finally shut her up, “So from what you say, your girls were at the tavern across the street whoring, why? We know that you have a house in which to ply your trade, why go to the tavern?”

Laurus had been surprised that it took them so long to find her and her girls. She had expected this to happen the very next day. It worked in her favor though. The more frightened girls were now on loan to other reputable houses with their consent of course, and other friends had been encouraged to come forward when the timing was right in her support. She had a reputation as fair and honest business woman who took interest the community, she was well liked. At this moment she looked nothing like that respected and astute woman, she was a hysterical mess. Through tears and a broken voice, “My lord, times...times are hard, my lord. So many new men in town and...and...and so far away from...from my humble house. We...we thought to go to them, my lord...” she sobbed on cue and barely choked out, “We thought only of the comfort of your men, my lord.”

He pursed his lips, “Indeed. How very kind of you. Now, exactly what were your whores doing in my jail?”

Her trembling was perfect, “My lord, one... one of them came to the tavern. He...he was upset. He was working and...and wouldn’t be off during the...the time the tavern owner was allowing us his facilities. He...he was very angry. He...he frightened us, my lord. We...we...” She sobbed harder, “we had no choice...he made us come entertain him and the others....Oh my lord, please, I beg of you, please, we did nothing but what we were asked, told to do.” And more heart wrenched sobs, “Please my lord, please show us mercy. We...we only wanted to help your soldiers.”

The general cringed inwardly as she began that annoying begging again, “STOP!” He began drumming his fingers on the desk, “And what of the prisoner, hmm? Where did he disappear to?”

She managed to give him a confused look, “P-p-prisoner, my lord? M-m-my girls mentioned seeing a man in a cell, b-b-but they were told not to be concerned about him. Was that wrong, my lord? P-p-please my lord, p l e a s e forgive us. We only did as we were told.” And on it went, more pleading, more whining, more begging. She should have been an actress.

He couldn’t take it any more, she just didn’t stop. He wasn’t even sure why he was spending his time and energy on this obviously useless woman. Well, not entirely useless. He had heard that the lady’s whores had treated his men very well. He had also confirmed that the tavern owner did have a set time that he would allow these whores the use of his tavern, so at least that part of her story checked out. But he had no way to check out the rest. So he could confirm that part of her story was true, so he decided to give her a part reprieve. “Enough! Woman, you are the most annoying creature I have encountered! Lieutenant, take this whore back to her house, have her watch while you empty it of anything of value...then burn it. Woman, that is as much mercy as I will grant you and your whores, your lives. Value them for I will not do so a second time. Now GET HER OUT OF HERE!”

Laurus was stoic as her house burned. Helping Reece and the others had cost her, her property but not her life. She could always rebuild if she wanted to, after all copies of all her remaining chits owed were in the secret basement at the stables. One of her former girls and her husband owned the stables and were more than happy to hide them for her along with a good portion of her emergency savings. As the flames died down, she put her arms around some of her long time girls and headed towards the stables. Each girl that had stayed and helped was rewarded appropriately, enough that anyone of them could start their own house, she took what remained and purchased some provisions. She was thinking of a long ago offer and made sure that a certain special chit was safely tucked away in her skirt for safe keeping. She had a debt that she was determined to collect.


They had reached the part of the trail that cut through the mountains to the other side to Hespar. They had made good time these last three days, the pack animals were a god send. They carried their burdens and occasionally one or two of them when fatigue threatened. The snow had been constant but no blizzard, just enough to quickly cover their tracks. They had reached the part of the trail that Reece had been dreading, there was no cover. It was a treeless, windswept narrow valley and it was the only way over the mountains. Reece looked up at the sky. The snow had been getting lighter, only a few flakes hit his face, soon none would. They had reached this part just as the weather was about to clear. Swallowing down his anxiety he made a decision and turned to the others, “This is Hespar Pass. It’s a narrow valley that we need to get through as quickly as possible. No stopping, no camping. We leave what we don’t need here. Hespar is a half a days walk on the other side of the pass. That will be our next stop.”

Isabel looked around at all the others. Like her, they couldn’t help but notice the worried tone that crept into his voice, “Reece, just out of curiosity, how long is this pass?”

Reece was already lightening a pack animal’s load, dumping out the tent and extra ground cloth, “A day, a full day. We can’t get caught out in the open with no cover so we have to keep going until there is some and that’s at Hespar. We should reach it by midday tomorrow.” It was only early morning, he was asking for a full day and a half of nonstop moving. He locked eyes with Max for a moment, he knew that if Max disagreed there’d be problems, dissention. He sighed in relief when Max simply shrugged and helped Isabel pull a pack off and start to unload the unneeded supplies. He hoped Max was strong enough to do this. He had to be because there really was no other choice. A little while later they headed out. The animals carried some food and water. They had considered letting them go but decided to wait, they might be needed besides they could let them go at any time. As the day wore on, the clouds faded away and the sun came out, that was the last thing they needed.


The lieutenant stood at attention and waited for permission to speak. It was a relief when he finally got it, “Sir, the weather has cleared. The recon ships are heading out now, Sir.”

The general looked over the map of Waylor and the surrounding regions with the numerous smugglers’ trails penciled in. They had lost two ships and damaged three more searching for them in the storm before the general had finally called it off due to weather. How can people live like this? “Which areas?”

The lieutenant approached the map and pointed, “Here Sir, the Winter’s Trail, and here, Gulch Pass, and over here, Sir, Faulkner Piper trail and if there’s time before nightfall, Hespar’s Pass, Sir.”

The general nodded, “Good, good. We have four days to find them or heads will roll, including mine and if mine does, so does yours, dismissed!”


The day turned to night and Antar’s two moons shone bright, lighting their way, just what they didn’t need. They’d been walking pretty much single file all the way with Reece in the lead and Michael bringing up the rear. No one spoke all that much, too tired. Somewhere past midnight Midi was helped up onto one of the pack animals to ride for awhile and not too long after Ryce joined her. Michael had been keeping a keen eye out both for what may be approaching from the rear and how everyone was doing up ahead. The rear area seemed quiet enough. There had been a few quickened heartbeats at sunset when he thought he heard a shuttle nearing but whatever it was passed. The thing that was bothering him the most was what he saw ahead of him, staggering people with Max doing the most. So far Max hadn’t said a word. He probably didn’t have the breath to. No, Max would walk himself into the ground before saying anything, so he kept a close eye on him as he knew Liz was as well. Liz was right behind him, many times with her hand on his back, or grabbing his elbow so he wouldn’t fall. The next time Max stumbled, Liz wasn’t quite fast enough and down he went. Liz was immediately there of course and for a moment her eyes looked at him, pleading for him to do something to help Max. There was only one thing Michael could think of, he caught up to Max and helped to get him on his feet and then held onto him, “Ok Maxwell, time for you to ride.”

Max wavered on his feet as he protested, “No, no, I…I’m ok. Let’s keep going.”

Michael crossed his arms and wouldn’t buy it, “Uh huh, sure. Ok Maxwell, this is the way it’s going to be, either you get on the jackass and quit being one or I’ll put you on it…hog-tie you to it if I have to. Your choice Maxwell.” As Max was about to protest again, he had no choice but to pull the rug out from under him, “Maxwell, we have to keep moving and you can’t. Don’t slow us down.” He hated the devastated look that put on his friend’s face but they really didn’t have time. “Sorry, Maxwell…come on, I’ll give you a hand up.”

Max nodded and looked at the ground. He used Michael’s shoulder to boost himself up on the pack animal. As he got himself situated, he looked at his second, “Thanks Michael, don’t let anyone slow us down, not even me.” After a few hours his body became accustomed to the animal’s motions. Liz joined him at some point and when he felt her
posted on 21-Jul-2002 10:20:48 PM
arms slip around him, he was able to doze off as they sat on the back of the animal. As the night turned to morning he awoke and looked upon the valley that held Hespar. They had made it through the pass and should be in Hespar by noon.


The lieutenant immediately went to the sight as soon as he had word. The recon shuttles had all come back empty handed yesterday except one. The one that had scouted the Faulkner Piper trail thought it might have had a hit on the quick pass over they did of Hespar’s Pass before heading back to base for more fuel. While the weather had remained clear higher up in the mountains, unfortunately once they got refueled thick ground fog had settled over Waylor and it was too dangerous to take off again. It was almost midmorning before it had burned off sufficiently to start up again. The shuttle immediately confirmed that they had spotted something, equipment. There was discarded equipment strewn about on the Hespar’s Pass. The lieutenant marched over to the scout that had a quivering local under guard and barked his command, “REPORT!”

The scout gave him a quick salute, “Sir, this here is Dentry, he lives about a mile that way. He came thru this way the day before yesterday and swears that this gear was not here then, sir.”

The lieutenant eyed the local, an elder man, bent and gnarled with years of hard work. “How can you be so certain it wasn’t here?”

The man eyed the lieutenant with contempt. The soldiers had stormed into his house this morning, about scared his wife half to death. They had lived a secluded life for many years and liked it that way but they were also practical people, “Cuz I would have taken it if it were.”

The lieutenant thought about that for a moment and realized that he was telling the truth. Knowing the man was of no further use he let him go and turned back to where the gear was. He looked at the narrow valley between the mountains and consulted with the head scout, “Where does this valley lead to?”

Scout consulted the map coordinates, “Hespar, Sir. It’s right on the other side.”

Thinking it over, he couldn’t afford to make any more mistakes. He wouldn’t survive them. “Why dump the gear? Why hear?”

The scout looked down again at the map and did some quick calculations. He nodded as it made sense to him. Showing the map to the lieutenant, “Sir, we’re approximately here. This is the pass. From the tracks and the type of gear they left, they have to have pack animals to carry the load which would allow them to move a bit faster. With luck they’d be thru the pass in about a day and Hespar looks to be no more than a half day past that. If you’ll notice, sir, the gear is camping gear, tents, poles, things like that. They wouldn’t need that if they didn’t plan on stopping again, so why take it? It’d just slow them down. Hespar, sir, that’s where they’re headed. Hespar’s their destination. It has to be, sir.”

The lieutenant studied the map very carefully. What the scout said made perfect sense but the problem was that they really didn’t know for certain that it was Zan and his group. Turning to his corporal, “Have we accounted for all the departures and arrivals in and out of Waylor?”

The corporal consulted a tablet then stood at attention, “Sir, yes, sir. The next trade group crossing through here is two days back, sir. No one else has supposedly headed this way and the recon shuttles noted all the other trade groups were where they were expected to be on these trails, sir.”

A small smile tugged at the corners of the lieutenant’s mouth. I’ve got you Zan! “Notify the general. Tell him Zan’s group is headed to Hespar. Let’s see if we can catch them out in the open. Move out people!”


Byran looked up from wiping the counter and couldn’t believe it. He poured a glass and walked over to the man. Shoving the glass towards him, “Well, ain’t you a sight. Been a long time. Didn’t think you’d ever be comin’ back this way.”

Reece gratefully drained the glass, wiped him mouth on his sleeve, and gave the barkeep a wry grin, “It’s good to keep in touch every now and then. How are things Byran? Place looks busy, ‘specially for this time of year.”

Byran poured him another, “Been strange times these last few weeks. People coming in from all their hidin’ places, on their way to safer parts. Heard the city folks been followin’ up on some trails, looking in places they shouldn’t. Know why they’d be doing’ that?”

The rye drink both burned and quenched as it went down, “Must be after something special.” He eyed his old friend. They went back to childhood, grew up smuggling. When Byran squirreled away enough to buy this place, he had made certain modifications to accommodate his friend. “Speaking of hidin’ place’s you still got a room for an old friend and few more?”

Byran had been studying his friend. Reece was always a resourceful one who made friends easily. It made him a good smuggler and it also made for a good rebel. He knew Reece believed in the resistance and what they were fighting for but he also knew something else. Reece would have given it all up in a second if she had said yes. Reece had enough money stashed to have setup some sort of shop somewhere, had a good home, wife, kids, but she had said no. So instead Reece joined the resistance and hadn’t look back. He missed his friend and from the look of him, he was in trouble. There was no doubt Reece was driving hard and you only did that when trouble was nipping at your heels. “Some things never change. You know the way. Everything is just how ya left it.”

The door burst open and man excitedly ran in shouting, “POLICE, CITY POLICE SHUTTLES! COMING DOWN THE PASS! LOTS AND LOTS OF THEM! THEY MEAN BUSINESS!” Almost all of the patrons of the inn got up and ran out the various exits in a panic. Most were smugglers or former smugglers or relatives of smugglers, many with connections to the resistance. They all had things and secrets to protect.

Byran watched the blood drained from Reece’s face as he stared at his friend. “Get movin’ before they spot ya. That special something you’re protecting had better be worth all of this.” Reece looked at him for a second more, nodded his thanks and ran out the door.

Reece quickly herded the others out of the stables where they had been hiding temporarily, thru an alleyway and down the outside entrance to the basement of the Watcher’s Inn that belonged to his friend, Byran. Once in the basement, he used his powers to unseal a section of the floor, revealing a stairway. Handing them a couple of lights, he hurried them along, “Come on, come on. Get down there. Move it!” He was the last one down, but he didn’t stay there. In the corner of the subterranean hideout was a radio, not new, not the most modern but hopefully it still worked. This particular model wasn’t strong enough to transmit from the hideout so Reece brought up to the basement and prayed it could from there. Turning it on, waiting for the light to come on. Finally! Turning the dials, he could hear movement above him from the inn. His heart raced as he tried to find the frequency, “Base this is smuggler 1, I got the goods, repeat, I got the goods. Hidden in cache H, repeat the goods are hidden in cache H. Do you copy? Over.” Static, Shit! Then in between the static he heard, “Smuggler 1...repeat...goods...” He heard the ruckus above him. They’re turning the place apart. Footsteps getting closer, the door from the inn’s storeroom that leads to the basement rattled. SHIT! He shut it off, and ran down the stairs with it. He barely had time to reseal the floor section before footsteps thudded directly above them.


The general knew they were here somewhere. He just needed to find them. They had immediately searched the local gathering places, taverns, inns, brothels, markets, hoping to catch them quickly but no such luck. He left men in each place just in case they missed something as he decided on a different tactic. When they arrived in force they had seen all the people scatter from the local gathering places, but they had caught a few of them and had them brought in for questioning. He had one such person before him now, “So why were you running?”

The smuggler was already bruised from an earlier round of questioning. He really didn’t know what they hoped to get out of him, other than blood. “Because I was afraid. I was just trying to get home.”

The general paced in front of him, “Where were you running from?”

He could still taste the blood in his mouth, “The inn, Watcher’s Inn. I was there having a drink.”

General, “Who were you having a drink with?”

Smuggler, “No one, I was going to be heading out to do some trading later today and wanted a drink before leaving.”

The general looked at him carefully, “Trade or smuggling?” The smuggler said nothing. “Doesn’t matter, so tell me, was the smuggler Reece there?”

The smuggler looked at him blankly, “I don’t know any Reece, smuggler or otherwise.”

The general stopped pacing and sat down at a table, “Of course. Then tell me, had a man of medium height and build, just come in looking like he had just gotten off the trail while you were there.”

The smuggler had no idea what this general wanted with this Reece and didn’t care. He just wanted out of there, “I saw someone like that. He came in just before some guy came running telling us you guys were coming.”

The general hid his grin, “Indeed and where did this stranger go?”

The smuggler tried to shake his head but it hurt too much, “I don’t know. We all ran, including him. Ask the barkeep, he was talking to him, he might know. Please, I don’t know anything else. I haven’t done anything. Let me go.”

The general was very pleased, “Lieutenant, you heard him, he’s innocent, let him go...right after to search his home for any illegal contraband. You know the penalty if we find any smuggled goods or technology. Make sure you carry it out, Lieutenant. But first, show me this Watcher’s Inn. I want to see it for myself.” The lieutenant saluted smartly and made the arrangements.


Byran sat tied to a chair in his inn with the general glaring at him. He wasn’t certain if Reece had made it to the basement hideout or not. It might be better if he hadn’t, but he couldn’t take the chance. He couldn’t help wondering what kind of trouble Reece had gotten himself into this time but whatever it was, it was big. The general wanted to know where Reece went and who was with him. Byran knew from experience the best thing to do was to tell the truth as much as possible. Lies were too hard to keep track of. “I told you, General. I hadn’t seen nor heard from Reece in over ten years. He just showed up out of the blue this afternoon, right before you came, then took off when everyone else did. I didn’t see anyone come in or leave with him.”

The general was sitting at a table strumming his fingers on a case he brought with him. “I see. So what did you talk about with this friend whom you hadn’t seen in ten years?”

Taking a breath, “Basically hello, it’s been a while. We didn’t’ have time for much more than that.”

The general’s eyes never left the barkeep, “Much more than? So you had time for a little more. Did Reece tell you who he was traveling companions were? Where they were?”

Byran, “No, he didn’t mention anyone.”

The general leaned forward in the chair, “You’re sure? Think real hard now. Your life may depend on it. Reece never mentioned where he had stashed Zan?”

Byran blinked, Zan who the hell was Zan? “No, he never mentioned a Zan.”

Sitting back in the chair, “Perhaps, he never said his name?” He opened the case and pulled out a small imaging device, sat it on the table and activated it. A 3D image of Max taken not long after he had been captured on Earth appeared, “Was this man with him? Did you ever see him?”

Byran stared at the image. It was just a youth, barely a man. What the hell could a kid have done that warranted all of this? He looked up at the general, “No, I haven’t. Who is he?”

The general was watching very carefully. He knew this man knew something but he clearly wasn’t recognizing the image. “Zan, some insist on referring to him as King Zan.”

The shock was profound. By all that’s sacred! Reece was hold up in his sub-basement hideout with King Zan! No wonder the hounds of hell were after them so badly. He looked at the image again and realized the kid looked pretty bruised up. Odd, that they’d take an image of him in that kind of shape. Then it dawned on him that must have been the best shape he had been in while they had him. He couldn’t help staring at it. That was King Zan, the one that had wanted to unite the people of Antar. He’s just a boy. “No, no, I’ve not seen him.”

The general saw the shock. The barkeep wasn’t lying. He hadn’t seen him but he also saw something else, devotion. The barkeep wouldn’t give him up if he had. “Lieutenant! Search this place. Every square inch, then search it again. Look behind every board, every stone. NOW!” His glare bore into the barkeep, “I believe you. Reece didn’t tell you about him and you didn’t see him, but you know where he is, don’t you? You’re hiding him.”


The hideout was maybe 10x10 and all dirt, dirt walls, dirt floors, even dirt and timber ceiling...dirt. Even though there was a small ventilation shaft at one end the air was growing stale after a couple of hours. They could hear muffled voices and people walking. They had to remain absolutely silent. If they could hear what was above, then they might be heard as well. They could make out snippets of conversations and Reece thought he had heard his friend, which wasn’t good. It meant Byran was in the basement. If Byran was in the basement then somehow they knew or at least thought they were here somewhere. They could definitely hear them tearing the place apart looking for them.

Byran had watched helplessly as they destroyed his place, first the bar, the guest rooms upstairs, the kitchen, then they discovered the basement. He was brought down here so they could watch his reaction as they now tore the basement apart. They were waiting for him to give them away with a certain glance or body movement. Byran kept his eyes locked on what the soldiers were tearing apart. He didn’t dare look elsewhere. They were currently tearing a wall out and he knew that once they succeeded his fate was sealed. Behind it they would find weapons, technologically advanced weapons. It would brand him a smuggler and he knew the penalty, death.

The general was called over as the cache was discovered. He held the blaster in his hand. It was well made, very well made. He looked at the barkeep, “It seems I was right, you have secrets after all. What else are you hiding?” He noted that defiant look the barkeep now had. He was hiding more. Without taking his eyes off of him “Keep looking. They’re here. I can feel it!”

Byran almost wanted to laugh. The general was standing on top of them. He held his tongue and said nothing. He was already a dead man, no use taking anyone else with him if he didn’t have to.


The waiting was growing intolerable. Reece was pretty certain that the message was received because they had responded but had they understood it? As the searching above continued, he could see the terror etched on everyone’s face, yet when they met his eye all he saw was determination, especially on Max’s. Reece knew without a doubt that they would never take Max again, not alive anyways. Suddenly they were knocked off their feet as the ground shook. Dirt fell on their faces. Many bit their lips from crying out. It shook again, and again. He heard panic in the voices of the people above “general....resistance...force...massive...ships...battle....” Reece couldn’t help the slight smile. The message had been understood after all. Now they just needed not to get killed being rescued.


The general was furious. They had allowed the enemy to sneak up on them! And where did they get all of those ships? He could see fear in those around him and that only added to his fury. He was so close to finding them, so close to returning home in triumph. The ground shook again as the battle sounds outside intensified. He didn’t have time to search any more. So he did the next best thing, a live Zan was preferable but a dead one would do as well. He turned and without another thought, shot the barkeep in the chest. “Lieutenant, burn it, burn it to the damn ground. We’ll come back for Zan’s ashes later!”


Things above had grown quiet, too quiet. It had been cold down in the whole in the dirt but now it seemed to be warming up. Maria noticed it first, smoke. Smoke was coming in from the ventilation shaft. They started coughing. Michael grabbed Reece’s arm, “They’ve set the place on fire. We’ll suffocate if we stay down here.”

Reece looked at Max. He saw the agony in his face but he nodded in agreement anyway. Climbing the stairs, he used his powers to open the sealed door and lift it up. He coughed some more. The air was filled with smoke. He stayed close to the ground and crawled along the floor. He spotted his friend lying on the ground and went to him, “Byran, oh God Byran, what have I done? I never meant for any of this to happen.”
Max crawled over next to him and waved a slightly glowing hand quickly over him then settled it on the white-hot blaster burn. Max was dripping with sweat as he started to heal him both from the exertion and the heat of the encroaching fire. He suddenly stopped and panted for breath, which only made him cough as his lungs filled with smoke instead. Byran was alive, better but far from healed. The kid was ready to fall over. He just didn’t have the strength but he had done what he could. He had at least stabilized him. Now they just need to him and them out of there.

Michael carefully lifted the basement door that led to the alley that they had come in from. There were people everywhere all running for cover to dodge blaster fire. Christ, they were right in the middle of a major shooting war. The smoke was billowing up from below him stinging his eyes and lungs. It had to be worse under him but he couldn’t let anyone out until he could spot a safe place to run to for cover. Scanning the street, there, down and across the doorway, not much but better than roasting alive. He looked down, Tryal was right under him. He pulled him up to show him where to go. “Get everyone over there. I’ll cover you.” Tryal nodded. Michael climbed out and took a defensive position as they filed out, following Tryal. There above them a little, they were spotted. Michael opened fire.


They had gotten a quick report from the soldier they had left covering the burning inn. He had spotted people exiting the basement then nothing. The radio went dead. The general grabbed the lieutenant, “Get back there. That’s him, Zan. We capture Zan and use him as a bargaining chip for a ceasefire. Go, GO!”


Tryal had gotten Ryce, Maria, Isabel, Alex and Midi across with Liz on her way and Max right behind her, then all hell broke loose. Troops were coming down the alley in force cutting off their escape from the burning building. Michael and Reece let loose with everything they had as Liz finally made it across but Max had to turn back, just too much blaster fire. They had no choice but to try and reach safety in the opposite direction, away from their friends. With Michael continuing to blast away, they retreated around the corner. Michael watched in horror, as enemy troops quickly overtook their friends in the doorway, “NO!”

Max stopped dead in his tracks when he heard Michael’s shout. He came back to where Michael was peaking around the corner and his heart stopped. The city police had them, had Liz.


The lieutenant quickly radioed the general with the good news. They had some of them and were in hot pursuit of the rest including Zan. The general didn’t want anything or anyone fouling this up so he told them to hold tight until he arrived. When he did a few minutes later the scene was eerily quiet. Obviously Zan’s side was holding its fire with friendlies in the line of fire. He looked the prisoners over. Women and children, that’s what they caught, Zan’s women and children. Now, which woman was Zan’s? She would be the key to getting to him. Was it the tall blond? She certainly was a beauty. No, he didn’t think she’d be his type, maybe the other blond that looked at him with fire and brimstone? Perhaps. He smiled when he looked the brunette over. Defiance and cunning, he could see it in her eyes. Yes, she would be a perfect match for King Zan. He roughly grabbed her by the arm, held a blaster on her and walked out into the middle of the alley. “ZAN! ZAN, I have your whore! You here me? Show yourself now or I’ll kill her where she stands!”


A flood of memories came back to him when saw who had Liz. That monster had been the first one he could remember seeing when he was abducted. Max didn’t remember passing out, only waking up on a ship, bruised and bloody in a holding cell with some sort of force field as a door, and HE was standing on the other side of it, smiling the same smile he was now. He told him he was taking Zan home to face his crimes then ordered the guards in. Max had tried to fight them with his powers but the guards had powers too and they had already weakened him with the previous beating. They held him down and another came in with the neutralizer patch. Max will never forget the pain as the prongs sliced thru his skin and imbedded into his chest. His screams only made the monster smile more, and then he tried out the different settings on the remote pain transmitter. The first setting sent a jolt and made him jump, the second and third had him doubled over in pain, by the fifth he was screaming, when he hit the seventh he was begging him to stop, he remembered at the eighth he lost control of his bladder, he didn’t remember the ninth or tenth but his muscles and nerves trembled for hours afterwards. The monster only smiled more, and now he had Liz. Max took a step forward.

Michael’s heart was in his stomach. They had their friends and Maria. He recognized the general that had Liz from the planning meetings for Max’s rescue. He had a reputation as a heartless bastard who would kill on a whim. From the sound of it, the reports had been right. He was briefly startled when Max walked in front of him but he immediately knew what he was thinking and grabbed Max’s arm, holding him back. “Maxwell, NO! Getting yourself killed will not help Liz. Don’t do it.”

Max briefly turned and looked at his second and closest friend. They had been through so much together. He was the brother Max never had. As he turned back, his eyes locked on Liz. He shook off Michael grasp, “Don’t stop me, Michael. That’s an order.” And he stepped out from behind cover. His eyes never left Liz as they spoke to her the words he couldn’t say. ‘Liz, forgive me. I can’t let him take you. I won’t let him take you. I know what he’ll do to you, to me. I held on all those months because you asked me to. It was all for you, Liz, only you. Please forgive me but…but you won’t be alone. I promise you, I’ll never leave you. Where you go, I’ll follow. I love you.’

Michael wanted to wring his neck. Max was going to get himself captured or worse, killed. He’d do it too. Michael had no doubt Max would lay his life down for her, for any of them if he had to, but definitely for Liz. He saw Max’s hand behind his back. It more than glowed. It crackled with energy. What was going on?

Liz just stared into those amber eyes. They always were the windows to his soul. They told her so much, his love, gentleness, strength and right now, sorrow. She knew that he would never let them take her or him alive, never. Her eyes told him that he had the forgiveness he begged her for but they also told him something else. Not go down without a fight! As her captor adjusted his hold a little, her eyes flashed him a warning, ‘NOW MAX! DO IT NOW!’ She bit down on her captor’s arm. She tasted blood and still she bit harder. She heard him cry out and finally released her. The air was immediately filled with energy, a white flash, a searing heat hit her back, she fell and everything went black.

Michael had no clue what Max just did but it was without a doubt the mother of all blasts. It shook the ground. Their forces that had been gathering behind them in their defense took it as a sign to open up and a fast and furious blasting fight erupted. How Max remained on his feet and unhit was beyond him, but he did. When the dust settled Max stumbled towards Liz’s prone body.

Nothing mattered, nothing existed. Only her. She didn’t move. He stumbled to her, gathered her in his arms. He ran his hand over her. Her injuries were fatal. He knew that. Only he could save her, heal her. He placed his quaking hand on her. It glowed dimly then died out. He tried it again and again, and…nothing. He couldn’t. He used everything he had already. He had nothing left. Nothing mattered, he didn’t matter. He laced his hand in hers and let the blackness consume him. He would follow her wherever she went.


Michael couldn’t believe it, not after everything they had gone thru. It just couldn’t be. He carefully felt Max’s neck for a pulse, nothing…no wait, there. God, it was faint but there. Then Liz, he wasn’t sure. He thought there was something, barely a tiny thump underneath his fingertips. He looked up at Reece standing over them, “Get a medic, NOW! They’re alive but barely, just barely.” He turned back to his lifelong friend, “God Max, why’d you go and do this?” Max had been sprawled on top of Liz, so he rolled him off of her and onto his back, that’s when he noticed it, their hands. Their hands were linked and dimly, very dimly glowing. “What the hell?”

Reece came running back with the medic. The thrill of defeating the city police soon waned when word began spreading that King Zan lay near death with his mate. Both he and the medic paused when they saw their hands. They knew there was nothing they could do, but the desperate look on Michael’s face begged them to do something, “Go ahead, see if you can…sustain them, at least try.” The medic did as he was asked and soon both were whisked away in a shuttle to the best outsider hospital. They were certain it was a futile effort though.


Upon arrival at the hospital, they were immediately taken to an exam room, but they knew too. Once examined and made comfortable the head doctor went to the waiting room to meet with the family. It was always hard when two chose this way but it was most sad when they were so young. With Reece translating he carefully explained what had happened and what it met, “Sometimes, when the end grows near their mate can’t stand the thought of going on without them, sometimes they just can’t. Usually the couple had spent a lifetime together and would be lost without each other. So as one is dying, the other connects and follows them. It…it can take a little while for it to happen. The one that’s following discharges their energy into the other and temporarily sustains them both…for a while. Eventually though, the energy drains and they both…pass on together. I’m afraid that’s what King Zan has chosen to do. The girl, Liz, her wounds are fatal, not even the best-equipped city hospital could help.”

Isabel was in a daze. She couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t accept it, she wouldn’t. “No, no, there has to be something. Can’t you at least try and save them, transfusions, surgery, something… anything!”

The doctor just shook his head, “I’m sorry. The only thing that’s keeping her alive right now is his energy. Without it she wouldn’t have survived the trip here and…I’m afraid that he’s pretty weak. It won’t take long for his energy to…dissipate.”

Maria was in shock, like all of them and refused to believe this was the end of them. “No, no, I won’t believe this, not after…no, what…what about a healer like Max. He brought her back from a fatal gunshot last year. There’s got to others like him, right? Find one and bring them here before it’s too late!”

The doctor looked at Reece for help. Reece looked down for a moment then with a heavy heart explained, “A natural healer like Max are extremely rare. Genetics helps determines our strengths and powers. Healers like Max have only been found among the male offspring in the royal family. There never were many to begin with and well, Khivar perceived them as a threat. If they were natural healers, it proved their lineage included royal blood that might challenge his rule, so he…eliminated the ones he could find and those he didn’t find went underground.”

Michael was desperate, “Find them! There’s got to be one or two that survived and could help, right?”

Midi had grown very fond of her patient. He was such a nice boy and Liz…what a wonderful girl. They were so in love and deserved a happy life. It just wasn’t fair. She had looked forward to seeing Max whole and well. It was the best part of healing. It had been wonderful to see him use his healing gifts, such a rare treat. A thought occurred to her. Looking at Reece, “I remember my predecessor telling me how she had seen a natural healer heal someone once. I…I think it was in the Bakura Province. Perhaps…perhaps the healer is still alive or had a son?” She looked at him hopefully.

He looked at Midi. It would be hard enough finding someone who didn’t want to be found but she wanted him to track down a hope. “It could take a while.”

Isabel turned to the doctor, “Can you do anything to help keep Liz alive? I mean as long as she lives then so does my brother, correct?”

The doctor wasn’t sure about this. Usually they did nothing because it was already hopeless, probably is this time too. Would it be cruel to sustain it? They were just so young though. “Fluids and dressing, they’re not in pain, so no need for pain medication. That might help for a little while. I’ll give King Zan some fluids, too. It might help to boost his energy but don’t…don’t expect a miracle.” Reece immediately left to go see what he could find. He didn’t think any of this was going to work, not in time, anyways. But that was better than when he first spoke to them, before he thought it was totally hopeless, now there was a ray of hope, a thin one but it was there. Walking back to the treatment room, “Ok, let’s get some fluids going and getting a dressing on her blaster burn. Let’s see if we can keep these kids going for a little while longer.” He noted the surprised looks on the staff’s faces but they were quick to comply.


It was like trying to find some fabled lost city of gold. Everyone had heard of one, somewhere at sometime, usually long ago that they had seen someone heal somebody. It was frustrating beyond belief. Reece had arranged for 20 teams with shuttles to track down as many as possible, of course there was no telling if they actually found one that he would help. What other choice did they have, Max and Liz were going to die if they did nothing. So here Reece stood at some old recluse’s doorstep. Rumor had it that he had saved a girls life after she broke her neck, 40 years ago. He hoped the guy was still alive. He knocked on the door and was surprised when a young girl answered, “Hi…hi, I’m looking for Derano. Is he here?”

The girl looked at him for a moment then turned her head and yelled back into the little cottage, “Father, someone’s here asking for Grandfather.”

Reece looked down at his feet for a moment, guess he wasn’t such a recluse after all. A man about his age came to the door. Obviously the girl’s father, “Hello, my name is Reece and I was hoping to meet Derano…your father?”

He appraised the man in front of him. His father had always warned him to be wary of strangers knocking on the door, even ones begging for help, it could be a trap. “Yes, he was my father but he passed on some years ago, my name is Jerell. What did you want my father for?”

Damn, so close, “I, uh, I’m with the resistance and had heard that Derano was a healer. I had hoped…” He studied the man’s son. Jerell seemed nervous about him asking for his father but not surprised about why. Could Derano really have been a healer? And if so, was the son? “Jerell, someone very important is dying. His only hope is a natural healer. Can you help me, Jerell?”

Jerell looked at him for a moment, “No, sorry.” And slammed the door.

Reece knocked again, this time more urgently. He yelled through the closed door, “Jerell, Jerell, you’ve got to help… Jerell, at least listen to me… Jerell? Jerell, King Zan’s mate is dying, he’s following her. His only chance is a natural healer…Jerell, he’s just a youth, and his mate’s not much older than your daughter. Jerell, Khivar kidnapped him, tortured him for months. We just rescued him when the city police caught us. They shot his mate… Jerell, they don’t deserve to die, not now, not like this… Jerell…please help them.”

Jerell tried to close his ears. He wasn’t his father. God, King Zan, of all people to need his help. He slowly rose and opened the door again, “I don’t know if I can help. My father was a natural healer but…I’m not as experienced. He didn’t want me to be…for my own good.” His voice wavered a bit, “King Zan? It’s really him?”

Reece nodded and looked at him with hope, “Yeah, it’s him. Please, can you at least try?” He sent a prayer to the all powerful when Jerell nodded yes.


Jerell looked at the young couple. So young, too young to die but then the young died everyday, didn’t they? Could he really do this? Could he really heal King Zan and his mate? He had only healed small animals and his close family’s small injuries. He had never attempted anything like this, was his powers strong enough? He looked around the room at King Zan’s family, all looking at him with such hope. He swallowed his doubts and would try for them. The doctor had already told him the King Zan was not injured but very weak from his months of torture and escape. But his mate, Liz, was the one he needed to heal. He took a deep breath, prayed for strength and tried to remember everything his father had told him. He ran a glowing hand over Liz to see what he could sense and feel. He could feel the injury and it was bad but he could also sense the link between her and King Zan. He had no idea how that would play into the process, so he put it aside for the moment. He would find out soon enough anyways. He laid his glowing hand on her burn and concentrated. He pictured how it should heal in his mind. Nothing happened. With a heavy breath he stopped and then started it again. It wasn’t working. He wasn’t getting in. He ran his hand thru his hair in frustration, “She’s not letting me in. I can’t connect. Something’s blocking it.”

Maria could see the healer’s frustration, “But Max had no problem connecting when he healed her.”

Jerell waited for Reece to translate to make sure he had understood. Max healed her before. He had connected to her before. Looking at their hands, correction he IS connecting to her. That’s it! I only have to follow his connection. He placed his glowing hand over their joined hands and followed the energy pattern as it flowed from him to her. He could feel their strong connection. He felt King Zan’s energy swirl around her wound. He combined it with his and began to heal it. It felt odd, but it was working. However something started creeping into his psyche. He was disturbing something.


No! Stop! What are you doing? It’s so peaceful here, why are you making us come back? We’re so close then no more pain, no more suffering. Peace. Why can’t I have peace? I was denied it in the last lifetime, why are you trying to deny me it again? We’re together with no one to get in our way. No one pulling us apart. Let us stay. Let us find happiness…forever.

He heard her sweet voice echoing to him like a whisper in the wind. ‘Max, you promised not to leave me, remember? You said you’d follow wherever I went. I want to go home, Max. My life isn’t finished yet. Neither is yours. Join me. You promised me.’

He couldn’t deny her, he never could, not in life and now, not even in death. She called to him to live, so he would…all for her.


It had been two weeks since their near-death experience. Liz had recovered completely, but Max was taking a little time to build up stamina, during which he was under Midi’s astute care. They didn’t really talk about what had happened, what they felt. Neither was certain exactly what had happened but Liz knew without a doubt that the only reason Max was there was because she wanted him there. They had been given a modest home in town that they shared with Midi for now. They had offered Max a much more larger one but he had declined. They didn’t need it. They weren’t staying. Midi could have it when they left. She yawned and stretched. She always slept so well in his arms. She could see his eyelids flicker a little. He wasn’t asleep. She ran her fingertip along his lips, smiling when he kissed it. “Good morning. Did you sleep well?”

He loved the feel of her next to him. He could stay with her like this forever. “Um hum, always with you next to me, although… I believe your hands had their wandering problem again last night.”

Scooting up a little so she could give him a proper good morning kiss, “Just checking inventory.”

Giving her a raised eyebrow look, “And what’d you find?”

Her hand wandered down his side. He had finally started putting on and keeping on some weight and they took walks in the afternoon to build muscle tone. While Midi plied him with teas and made him eat nutritious foods. “All present and definitely coming along very nicely.”

He rubbed his hand along her nightgown, “You know, I still find it hard to believe that there are no such things as boxers or pajama bottoms on Antar, yet they have nightgowns.”

She grinned at him, “Isn’t it though? Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you don’t get chilly.”

As her hands continued to wander, “Liz, chilly isn’t the problem.”

Laughing, “Problem? Max, you have a problem? Show me. Maybe I can kiss it an make it better.”

He froze, she was joking, wasn’t she? They hadn’t been separated since the healing but they hadn’t taken things all the way yet, not even third base. Ok, maybe second base and a half but… well, he was still recovering, “Uh Liz, I…uh, are you…” He jumps as Midi comes in with a tray.

Setting the tray on the bedside table, she glances over at them as Liz scoots back off of Max to sit next to him, “Ahem, morning, children. Well, you two seem to be in a playful mood. Here’s a little morning snack to boost your energy.” As she departs with a twinkle in her eye she calls back to them, “Liz, don’t wear him out. He’s just now starting to get close to something more… functional.”

Liz lays back in bed and laughs as Max’s cheeks turn scarlet, “I think Reece is teaching her too much English.” Turning an accusing eye at a still laughing Liz, “You’re enjoying this a little too much.”

It felt so good to laugh, “Yep, don’t ya know it!” She purposefully strattled him as she reached for the morning tea and plate of fruit and bread, taking her sweet time spreading the preserves on the bread. She bites her tongue as she hears him groan. Sitting back in bed innocently looking at him as she has breakfast, “So what do you have up for today?”

He gives her a mischievous look as he helps himself to breakfast, “More than I’d planned on apparently.” Sighing, he wanted to remain here in bed with her. That’s all he wanted to be with her but as always, other things intruded, “Actually, I’m meeting with the governing council today. They’re still trying to convince me to stay. Without the main general of the city police around to keep Khivar’s lackeys in line, well, they think with a little more pushing, Khivar might fall.”

She sips her teas, “But you’re not, though. Staying that is.”

Shaking his head, “No. They don’t need me. If I did stay all I’d be is a figurehead. They’ve already got a governing body with elected officials and a pretty fair judicial system. All they need to elect is the executive branch.”

Drawing her knees up, “A democracy then, not a monarchy. Think the city people will go for it?”

Sitting back against the pillows, “I think so, eventually. If we can get a democracy going strong here with all the freedoms it offers, then yeah. It should work, especially with Khivar teetering. Reece thought it was a pretty good idea. I’d have to officially abdicate, though, but that’s no problem. I was hoping to talk to Reece some more about that before the council meeting.”

Shaking her head, “Nope, don’t think so. Maria said that Madame Laurus came into town last night. Tracked Reece down, it seems him and her had some unfinished business, something about an outstanding debt he owed and she was determined to collect it. I, uh, I think we should give them some time to uh, settled that debt.”


Reece stretches out in bed and smiles, “Morning.”

Laurus turns on her side and smiles at him, “Morning. Well, I must say, you do know how to make a down payment on a debt.”

Cocking an eyebrow at her, “Down payment? I thought that was payment in full.”

Giving that a throaty laugh, “Hardly my dear. You’ve forgotten just how expensive I can be.”

Reece played with a piece of her hair, “Yes, most things worth having are.”

Her tone softened, “I’m I? Worth having?”

He turns serious, “God yes, priceless.”

She loves how his chest muscles dance as she runs her fingers down them, “Then give me payment in full…you. You asked me something once. Ask me again.”

His hand traces along her jaw, “Marry me. Make a home with me.”

She drew close to him, “Yes.” Reece never made the council meeting that day. He had other commitments to attend to.


A week later they left for home, finally. Before leaving they were once again asked to stay, even after Max’s abdication but they couldn’t. Antar wasn’t home, Roswell, NM was. The first presidential election was announced for the spring, and rumor had it that there were massive defections in Khivar’s troops. The political front was in good hands.
On a more personal note, Reece and Laurus’s wedding reception was small, just friends and family, which now included Tryal, who had officially joined the resistance, and Ryce, of whom Tyral had turned over guardianship to them. Now when Laurus harangued Ryce like a mother, it was for real, and Midi would be staying with them as an honorary aunt in the house that Max and Liz left them. In spite of all the hardships they had suffered on Antar, there were still some good friends they left behind.
The ride home was exciting at first, especially for Max. He hadn’t had a chance to see the stars or anything the first time. He had mostly recovered physically from his ordeal but would still have some rough nights if Liz hadn’t been there.
Now as they neared home other concerns came up. What exactly were they going to tell the parents? How were they going to go back to being high school kids after everything they’d gone thru? How had the Evans taken the news about their children and would they want them back? How to break the news that Nesado had decided to remain behind on Antar with his family? Tess by now was an emancipated minor but still, he had been the only family she had, it was bound to hurt. But how were they going to be just boyfriends/girlfriends again? So many questions with no easy answers.


It was their last night in space and Max was in the throws of another bad memory that invaded his sleep. His whimper had awoken her. She stroked his cheek tenderly trying to sooth him but he only squeezed his eyes tighter and whimpered again. She started shaking him gently, “Max, shhh, it’s ok, it’s ok. Max, wake up…Max?” He woke with a start and looked around in a panic. “Max, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Where was he? Where was she? There, right there. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, still shaking. He didn’t care about the tears that fell from the corners of his eyes, “I can’t lose you. They can’t take you away, not again. Never. I came back. I kept my promise. I came back for you. Promise me you won’t let them take you from me.”

She was holding him as tight as he was holding her. Her words, his fears touched her soul. She started covering his face with little kisses. She looked into his eyes. He was still distraught. She put her hands on either side of his face and forced him to look at her, “Max, it was a nightmare. I’m right here. I’m not leaving you. I’m right here. Understand?”

He took a few haggard breaths, “No, that’s not true. Tomorrow everything will be different. We’ll be in our homes. You in your parents’ home and me in mine, I hope. Separated. Apart. Liz, I don’t…I don’t want to be away from you. I can’t, not after…not after…”

“Living for me?” She wiped his tears with her thumbs, “I know Max. I know. But I promise you. We’ll stay together, somehow. We won’t be separated, I promise.” She captured his lips in hers, hard. It made her hungry for more, for him. As her hands roamed she felt him come alive, craving her touch, craving her. And she fed his cravings, as her own hunger intensified. She threw her nightgown to the floor causing Max to pause and look into her eyes, asking if she was sure this was what she wanted. She took his hands and placed them on her breasts and then kissed him. His touch was tentative and unsure at first, but the shiver he felt go through her encouraged him to continue. He wanted her. He had to have her, to taste her, all of her. They spent time exploring each other. Her body fascinated him, all the curves and different textures. Each part tasted and felt different but was all like sweet honey to him. Over the weeks he had allowed her free reign of his body. He loved the feel of her hands on him. They could make his body feel the most incredible things. Sometimes it was almost too much, “Liz, I…uh, Liz stop. I don’t want to…you know.” He looked at her a little sheepishly. He was so cute when he looked like that, she had to kiss him, and kiss him, and kiss him again. They continued their lover’s dance through the night, exploring, touching, caressing, kissing, and loving each other until morning when they fell into an exhausted sleep.


They ate in the kitchen. There just didn’t seem to be a reason to set the table when it was just the two of them. It has been over three months since all the kids left, six since their son disappeared. Christmas was right around the corner and they both dreaded it. Thanksgiving had been hard enough. She had fixed a small turkey that mostly went uneaten. She didn’t want to think what Christmas morning was going to be like. They’ll probably go to Christmas Eve Services in the park to hear the children sing that is if they could ignore the stares. It had been hard these last few months. The rumors, Max had ran off and joined a cult and had forced the others to follow somehow, Max had came back and killed them or taken them off and did God knows what with them, whatever the rumor, it seemed the whole town blamed their son. They went out of their way to stay clear of the Crashdown. The Parkers were beside themselves with worry and tried not to blame their son, but sometimes…well, it was hard. They hadn’t heard too much from Alex’s parents. They called every once in a while to see if anything new had been found, nothing ever was. They didn’t know about Amy DeLuca other than that she was leaning on the sheriff for support. Her alien shop wasn’t always open like it used to be. Poor Sheriff Valenti, he had to go through all the motions of the missing person reports. They even had filed a new one on Isabel just so as not to raise suspicion. Plus he had to field all the calls. Philip had helped Tess with her emancipation paperwork and they and the sheriff had gotten her squared away in a nice little apartment. Ed Harding had left her well provided for so long as she didn’t live extravagant. But mainly they waited for what seemed like forever. She looked over at her husband as he just picked at the meatloaf, “Not hungry tonight, dear?” She already knew the answer, he never was. Neither was she, but like the sheriff they went through the motions.

He didn’t even look up, “Not really.” He continued to move the meatloaf around with his fork. He looked up suddenly when he heard someone knocking on their backdoor. Who could that be at this time of night? His wife’s startled look mirrored his own. She followed him to the backdoor. “Sheriff, what brings you out tonight?”

He had just gotten off the phone with Tess and came right over, “She got a signal. That alien receiver started beeping. They’re coming home. She said that Ed had told her it would go off two hours before they arrived. She was out shopping earlier so she’s not certain how long it had been going off. Come on, let’s go!”

They looked at each other then grabbed their coats and keys and followed the sheriff out to the return site, Frazier Woods. They got out there and joined the sheriff in his cruiser to wait. The sheriff explained that a ship wasn’t really landing but a beam of light would send them down one by one. They hoped it wouldn’t be too much longer. The night was turning cold. Diane briefly wondered if they should have brought some extra coats and blankets. A little over an hour later they heard a strange whizzing sound. About 20 feet in front of them a beam of light appeared, just as the sheriff described it. It happened so fast, she wasn’t sure how he had gotten there but suddenly Michael was standing on the ground in a circle of light. Excitedly they all jumped out of the car and ran over near him. He stepped out of the beam, gave them a smile, and then pushed the button on a little box he held in his hand. She was too busy hugging the stuffing out of a startled Michael to realize that someone else was suddenly there. Alex! Oh God, God will his parents ever be ecstatic to see him! Next Maria appeared and more hugs, especial from the sheriff. Then, Isabel, her daughter, her daughter was home. She was too choked up to speak. She and Philip just hugged her instead. She tried to ask her about her brother, when Liz appeared next. Liz looked so happy, it must mean…oh please, please let…he was there. Max was there. She was sobbing so hard, all she could do was grab him and hold on. Her son was home.

The kids were shivering by the time they got in the cars. Philip cranked the heat on high as his wife snuggled between their kids in the back with Liz and Alex sharing the front and Michael and Maria riding with the sheriff. To make things easier and to make sure they get their stories straight. They would all be staying the night at their house.

She and Philip weren’t exactly comfortable with the sleeping arrangements, but given the circumstances and as long as the bedroom doors remained wide open. They went along with it. It was very strange to see her 17 year-old son curled up in his bed with a 17 year-old Liz Parker, sound asleep. But as they had talked tonight, she realized that Max wasn’t at that shy, innocent boy that had been snatched away from her six months ago. He had the confidence of someone much older. He had seen too much, experienced too much, they all had. As she stood in the hallway, watching them sleep, wanting to make sure they were really there, she heard a slight whimper from him and was ready to bolt into the room. She saw Liz’s hand go up and stroke his cheek softly and he immediately settled back down to a peaceful slumber. Her son had come back but he wasn’t her little boy anymore.

The reunions with the other families the next day were full of hugs and tears and for the most part joyous. There were of course the required explanations. Max had gone off to the Pacific Northwest and wound up in the Canadian Rockies working at a lumber mill for a while. He had been going through some emotional times stemming from long repressed issues of abandonment from when he was six. He had eventually written his sister a letter and she decided to go see him to help him work things out. Michael of course had joined her, he definitely had issues needing to be worked on and one thing led to another… and they were all very, very sorry for worrying everybody. Of course, Philip and Diane were standing by their son and were going to get him help for any remaining issues, but for their son’s mental and emotional health could the Parkers be a little understanding about the situation and not ban Max from seeing Liz?

Max would still have some difficulty sleeping and Diane would need to wake him occasionally from a nightmare. The first time she went to check on him to make sure he was sleeping alright and he wasn’t there, she panicked and called the sheriff, who called her back and told her Michael had found him curled up on Liz’s balcony. From then on, all she asked was that he leave a note so she wouldn’t worry. After missing so much school, it was decided that it would be best for all of them to be home schooled. They didn’t really fit in anymore at high school. It worked out for the best anyways, it helped Max and Liz both graduate early, out of their junior year and they went onto NMSU the following year and were married the next spring. Their first-born arrived almost exactly nine months later. As Max held his newborn daughter he smiled, life was good after all.


The End - End