posted on 7-Sep-2001 7:25:51 AM
Whom among us, part one
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories:
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


March 12th, 2005. Arizona State University at Tempe.

"...Okay, well, I have that thermokinetics test in an hour, Liz, so I guess I'll just..." Peter Wilson's voice trailed off. "Liz Parker?? Mission control to Liz Parker??!"

"Huh?" Liz said after a few seconds, turning to look at her good friend. "What is it, Pete??"

"Oh, I was just making my excuses to go off and cram a little more useless physics into my brain," Pete said with a wide smile, "but you'd spaced off again. Where were you?"

"Hmm? Oh... just lost in the scenery I guess," Liz admitted. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it??"

"Yeah, for those of us who can afford to appreciate it, which would be you," Pete teased her. "The rest of us are too busy to even notice the sun as more than an example of the CNO cycle in action. By-bye!" He grinned, lifted one hand in a friendly wave, and took off for the science library.

Liz waved back, then took a deep breath and went back to appreciating the perfect Arizona spring day. She didn't have any more classes for two and a half hours, and no schoolwork that she hadn't already finished, so there was nothing to do but...

WHUMP! Automatically, Liz corrected as someone half crashed into her from behind. "Sorry, miss," a slightly gruff voice announced, and the guy stepped a little further away before trying to pass her.

"Watch where you're..." Liz started automatically, then stopped. She knew that voice, didn't she? Turning around to get a good look at the speaker, and her jaw dropped open. "Max???" He looked very different from when Lis had last seen him - hair slightly longer and less well kept, clothes blacker and more intimidating, and a fierce, cold quality in his eyes. The sudden thought ran through her that Max Evans was well on his way to becoming the future vision of him that she had met, all these years ago.

But what was Max doing, here at the University of all places, at this particular time? Had he planned this seemingly 'accidental' rendezvous? At first he just kept walking, not even seeming to hear that Liz had said his name, but after he had passed her it seemed to register. Max stopped dead and turned around to look back at her.

"Liz??" Now the surprise on his face was evident - he had been at least as shocked as Liz herself had been. And why not? Another thought ran through Liz's mind, the popular belief that fate would bring two soulmates together through chance meetings and strange co-incidences. Kismet.

But that wasn't their story. Liz wasn't Max Evans' soulmate, and destiny had proved that quite thoroughly. Destiny had split them apart forever, when there was nothing else in the world that possibly could have...

"Liz??" Liz shook herself, and from the look on Max's face, she could tell that she had phased out again a little. She nodded, hoping that Max wouldn't call attention to her blank.

"What are you doing here?" he asked her. Liz grinned... as if that wasn't exactly the question she needed to ask him.

"I go here," she pointed out. "For university classes... to get a degree, prepare myself for the future. Boring stuff like that. And you?" Liz paused a second, then impulsively decided to try an old joke. "Of all the campuses, in all the states, of all the worlds, why did you have to walk into mine??"

"It seemed like the most likely astronomy department to have what we wanted," Max said cryptically. "In fact... what are you studying, Liz?"

The question caught her off guard. "Umm... this term? Nuclear astrophysics, stellar observation, intro biochem, applied inorganic chemistry, and expressive writing. Why?"

Max looked blank a little. "Astronomy major, by any chance?"

"Astrophysics," she corrected him. "With a chemistry minor. What's all this about, Max??"

He smiled slightly, then looked around warily. The entire area was empty of other students from the science library to the Markman building, but Max asked "Is there somewhere else we can go to discuss this? More private, I mean??"

Liz knew better than to question Max when it came to security precautions. "Sure. Follow me." Quickly she led the way into the science library and a private room, locking the door behind the two of them. "Go ahead. These rooms are soundproofed."

"Okay." Max shuffled somewhat awkwardly into one of the chairs at the table that dominated the room. "Have you heard of the L9B Oddity?" He must have been able to read the bafflement on Liz's face, because after a few seconds he clarified. "The 'Lightning bolt'?"

"Um, no, I have to say I haven't, unless we're talking about a real lightning bolt," she told him. "What is it?"

Max was digging through his pockets. "It's an unusually shaped plasma cloud or energy formation." He had found something, and was unfolding it - a sheet of white paper that had a photocopy or computer printout on it. When he had opened it completely, Max put it out on the table for Liz to see. A picture showed a field of white stars against the blackness of space, and a whitish-blue jag that did indeed look like the popular icon for a bolt of lightning.

"Okay, now I've heard of it," Liz pointed out. "What about it??"

"The oddity started to develop only about a week ago," Max said. "Inside the orbit of Jupiter, just past the asteroid belt. From what we know, the association with Jupiter had a lot to do with its nickname - the roman god Jupiter being big with the lightning bolts, and all."

"Yeah, I know," Liz said with a brief smile. It was nice to see Max again, but she was losing patience with all of this explanation that didn't seem to be explaining anything.

"No-one in the astronomical community can explain how the Oddity developed out of thin space, virtually at our back door," Max continued. "Now it seems to be dissipating, and the scientists don't have any more answers about that. But *we* believe that it may have something to do with interstellar travel, and our mission."

"We?" Liz paused to take stock. "The four of you??"

"Eight," Max corrected, Liz blinked in amazement at that. "Sorry, I thought you knew," Max explained. "Alex found out... long before any of us left Roswell for good."

"I made it quite clear to Alex and Maria that I didn't want to know the latest developments with you guys," Liz pointed out. I couldn't afford to, she added silently to herself.

"Oh," Max muttered. "Well, we met up with four others of our kind, from another pod chamber. Not royalty, but good allies and good friends. We wouldn't have survived this far without them."

"The... the skins??" Liz managed to croak out. She couldn't believe she was actually asking Max about this.

"We... I think we won a critical battle against them," Max reported. "About two months ago. But it's still far from over. Which is why this Oddity might be so important."

"I can see," Liz said, nodding. Her trained mind started to reason it out. "If it's the skins, then they're sending reinforcements, just when you least want to have to deal with them."

"Yes," Max agreed. "But when the New Skins arrived four years ago, they weren't careless enough to leave one of these," and he tapped the picture of the Oddity meaningfully, "out in plain sight of human astronomers."

"Okay," Liz said. "So if it's not the skins... could it be from your people??"

"That's what we hope," Max agreed. "After all, everyone on our side has been working off of information at least sixty years old. Nasedo's instructions, the message from our mother, the memories we've been able to regain of our past lives, are all that far back. Only what we've heard from our enemies is more recent."

"You've been able to remember your life... with Tess?" Liz whispered, so quiet that Max wouldn't even be able to hear her. She just had to say that to herself.

"We don't really expect reinforcements ourselves," Max was going on. "The resistance was undermanned when we left, without much hope for a significant reversal. But just a message to let us know what's happening would be appreciated - along with a clue as to what we're supposed to do once we're finished fighting with Skins - if we ever do finish."

"'Learn enough to use your skills, your knowledge, your leadership...'" Liz whispered again.

This time, Max heard her, and his head whipped up to orient unerringly on her face. "What was that??"

Liz blushed. "Oh, nothing imp-"

"I've heard that before," Max said softly and intently. "I know I have."

"Of course you have, Max," Liz blurted out before she could stop herself. The way Max was looking at her grew even more intense, if possible. "Um, it was, I mean, I think it was part of the message from your mother that we received..."

"Yes, yes, I remember," Max cut her off. Quickly he leapt to his feet and grabbed Liz by both of her shoulders, actually lifting her heels off the floor for an instant. "Did you memorize the whole message??"

"Max!" Liz cried out, trying to free her arms from his sudden, fierce grip. "Let go of me!!"

He did, instantly, seeming faintly embarrassed about his actions, but made no sound of apology. "You did, didn't you?" he continued inexorably, his eyes unflinching on hers.

"It... it's not like it's something I ever planned," Liz whispered. "I just... remembered. I know that it's not something that's any of my business any more, but it's not like I could just take the words and throw them out of my head..."

All of a sudden, Max laughed out loud. "What's so funny?" Liz demanded of him furiously.

"I'm sorry, hehe," Max let that one last laugh slip out. "It's just that you misunderstood me so badly. I didn't mean to scare you, but, you see..." He took a deep breath. "*None of US remember.*"

"What??" Liz sputtered. "B-but that's impossible. All four of you were there too, and it was so much more important for you than it was for me..." She trailed off. "Or did you get hit with some kind of Skin weapon? An amnesia device??"

Max laughed again. "No, nothing like that. We remember parts of the message... a phrase here, one there, the overall sense of it. But we can't agree amongst ourselves on even that much. We found this out only last year, when Davin - he's one of the other four, asked exactly what the words of the message had been." He laughed hollowly.

"We'd seen and done so much by then that the most important thing had been half driven out of our heads. Each of us had different versions, and none of them sounded complete to any of us. We spent dozens of days up at the pod chamber trying to find some way to replay the message, even though we knew it would create another signal if it did... Attract alien chasers, lead the Skins right to the Granolicth, and set off god knows what else kind of trouble. But we couldn't do it anyway. The message seems to have been a one-time only show."

"Wow," was all that Liz could find to say to that.

"So... if you could write out a transcript or something, to settle things once and for all, I'd be grateful," Max told her. "Aside from that, we'd better get back onto the topic, which would be..."

"The lightning bolt," Liz finished. "Is that what brought you to Arizona State? To find out more about it??"

Max nodded. "The astronomy department here has been doing a lot of the research into the Oddity. We found out about it through the Internet, but there's a lot of important information that isn't on any of the web sites. The exact co-ordinates of this thing, in a way that we can understand them. If a space capsule has come from this formation towards the earth, when and where can we expect it to land??"

"That may not be the kind of thing that's easy to figure out ahead of time," Liz pointed out. "It could depend on when in the life span of the Lightning bolt the capsule came out, what its speed capabilities were, what kind of course its pilot wants to follow... or it's been programmed to follow..."

"I know," Max nodded. "Ideally, we'd like to actually find some way of locating the capsule in transit." He took a deep breath. "Is there any way that you might be able to help, Liz?"

"Well, I can ask around, try and figure out who's researching this thing," she started doubtfully. "But my ways of getting legitimately involved might be narrow, since it doesn't really relate to any of the classwork I've done so far."

"We'd appreciate anything you can do," Max said. Suddenly he checked his watch. "I've got to go meet Isabel. What about the rest of the gang, are they here too?"

"The rest of..."

"Kyle? Alex, Maria??"

Liz blinked in surprise. "No, Kyle got a football scholarship to USC, and Alex is at Stanford. Maria's still living in Roswell - she's working as an actress in this little film company."

"Okay. Can you be at the Student center at eight tonight? I'll look for you near the Mexican food place."

Liz laughed. "I'll be there." Max stepped closer to her, and for a second it seemed as if he was about to try and shake her hand. And then he was gone, out the door.

Liz sighed, sat down at the table, and pulled out a clipboard and blue pen from her knapsack. She'd better get the transcript done before she lost track of the fact that Max had asked her to do that.

"If you are seeing me now, it means that you are alive and well. I take this form because it will be familiar to you, and it will help you to understand what I am about to say. *You have lived before*. You perished in the conflict that enslaves our planet but your... - 'essence' was duplicated. Cloned, and mixed with human genetic materials so that you might be recreated into human beings.

"My son, you were the beloved leader of our people. I have sent with you your young bride; my daughter; the man you were betrothed to, and your brother's second-in-command. Our enemies have come to the Earth. You will know them only by 'the evil within'. Learn enough to use your skills, your knowledge, your leadership to combat the enemy. So that you can come back and free us, and that I may once again hold you both in my arms. I live for that moment. Help us. I love you."

It's so personal, Liz thought as she finished writing out the words. Strange that she should remember them, when the people they were in fact said to had lost clear memory of them. No, not that strange really. These were the words that had first broken Liz's heart.

'I love you.' Those words, on the paper, seemed to jump out at her. Written in her own hand, written for Max. So much like she was actually saying the words to him. Not really, of course, she was quoting someone else. But would they still be true coming from her??

A day ago, half an hour even, and Liz Parker would have said 'no.' She had been over Max Evans for years, or so she thought. But she wouldn't have thought about him a half hour ago, not unless something brought him to mind, and if it did, she would probably have found herself listening to sad songs, ooh, say tomorrow evening.

Now that Max had suddenly shown up, Liz had even less clue what she thought. She folded up the paper, put it in the pocket of her knapsack, and headed off for the Astronomy department in the Markman building. She had a lightning bolt to find out about.

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."
posted on 7-Sep-2001 7:28:51 AM
Whom among us, part two
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories:
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


March Alex Whitman sat morosely in the lecture hall, listening to Professor Konder wax eloquent on linked data structures. Like many of the other students taking this course, he had a small laptop computer set up on the table in front of his seat, and suddenly, overwhelmed with boredom, he activated the cellular modem to check his email.

Let's see... thirteen pieces of spam, four chain letters, three digests from his mailing lists, and... well, what was that?? JackSeeger⊕ Now where was that name familiar fr... hadn't he vaguely known a Jack Seeger at West Roswell high?

The message was short and to the point:

Hey, Whitman.

Thought you'd like to know this - your girl's shown up again. here in Tempe.
Whatcha gonna do about it?

Jack Seeger.
"The tribe has spoken." "Arizona State forever."

Alex drew his breath in in shock. Despite the vagueness of the text, and the fact that she had never been 'his girl,' Alex knew who Jack was talking about. Isabel Evans. During the first half of senior year, before Isabel and her new 'family' had left Roswell forever, Alex's obsession had become public knowledge.

An obsession that he'd never really gotten over, Alex knew. As much as he tried to put whatever he felt for Isabel behind him, the more he pushed it back, the harder it kept popping back up. Still, the part of his life where he actually did things about it was over. It's not like he could just go down to Tempe, wherever that was, and start looking for Is. What would he say if he found her??

And that's when it dawned on Alex. Liz Parker was at Arizona State university, based in a town called Tempe. Presumably, Jack Seeger was too, from his signature. (Alex took a moment to shake his head over someone actually putting the Survivor catchphrase in his sig. After all, that show had totally sucked since 2003.)

If Isabel was in Tempe, it had to have something to do with Liz. Probably Max Evans was there too. So... he'd skip off a few classes to go to Arizona and visit an old high-school friend. No one would suspect he'd known the Evanses would be there too.

Alex opened a web browser and started looking for travel sites. Hopefully all of them would be staying in Tempe for at least a day or two. He surreptitiously pulled a credit card out of his pocket and started buying greyhound tickets to Arizona.

* * * * *

Liz took a deep breath to calm her nerves before knocking on the door. What the heck, she took a second one. After three hours of carefully asking around, (interrupted by having to actually go to class,) she had finally found a lead on who was involved with the Lightning Bolt.

Unfortunately, that lead led straight to Doctor Hadrian Patternuss. He was the department head of Astronomy for the entire university, and Liz had only even seen him a few times. What's more, she knew fairly well that he had advised NASA on the 2002 'asteroid' that had turned out to be an old space probe, coming back to Earth on a collision course with a small town in Georgia. Patternuss had been part of the team that ID'd the probe, then found a way to divert it away from the Earth, in a project that would hopefully serve as a blueprint for what to do in the event of a real collision asteroid.

A butterfly flitted about in Liz's stomach, but there was nothing for it but to dive in, as it were. Knock, knock, knock.

"Hello?" a rich tenor voice rang out from the office behind the door. "Whoever it is, just come on in."

Her nerves compounded, not eased, by this informal greeting, Liz tentatively worked the doorknob and showed herself. Doctor Patternuss looked to be in his late forties, with a friendly smile that somehow didn't make Liz feel at ease.

"Um, hello?" she said nervously, the hint of a squeak in her voice, (*why* couldn't she get rid of that?) "You don't know me, my name is Liz Parker, and I'm an astrophysics major..."

Patternuss seemed to straighten himself to attention and perk up visibly, (not that he had been anywhere near morose to begin with.) "What year?"

"Uh, junior... third." Liz blurted out, knowing she had picked the wrong way to phrase her answer the first time and trying to put it behind her. It was a small question, she told herself. It doesn't matter.

"Have you picked a field of study yet?" Liz recovered just in time to hear the question.

"Yes," she blurted out, trying to smile. "I mean, I had been thinking of interstellar planetography." So you can find Max's home planet?? she thought at herself scathingly.

"And you've been doubting that decision?" With a sudden flash, Liz realized why Patternuss seemed so strangely familiar. He was acting kind of like a benevolent priest... like Pastor David, the old reverend emeritus at the Episcopalian church her mother had dragged her to in Roswell. But for the department head of a scientific subject as a major University, it qualified as 'creepy.'

"Well," she said, trying to get back to the subject, "I've heard about the ligtning bolt, and it sounds really fascinating."

"Ah! The Lightning bolt, indeed. 'The gates of heaven open wide.' I understand you fascination, Liz Parker - I share it! A mystery wrapped in an astronomical enigma - just down the street from us, as it were, and yet still beyond our ability to reach out and touch it. I can't help but feel - (and forgive me if I'm letting my cosmological mania show,) as if everything we haven't yet dreamed about our universe is tied in with that little bundle of energized plasma." Patternuss quickly shut up, as if afraid that he'd let himself ramble on for too long.

Liz, for her own part, was trying valiantly to contain an onslaught of giggles. Partly it was her knowledge of some of what the lightning bolt *did* signify, (Faster-than-light travel between worlds, alien civilizations, and extra-terrestrials fighting their battles on the earth, just for example.) And partly, Professor Patternuss just seemed so comical when he was waxing eloquent on the mysteries of the stars.

But now, he was sober. "However, you must realize, Liz, that this institution has rules that must be followed. A lot of students are eager to participate in our studies of the Lightning bolt, and we must make our selections based on seniority and relevant experience. Based on those criteria..."

"I know," Liz said, her spirits falling for real. "I don't qualify."

"I'm afraid not," Patternuss whispered, shaking his head solemnly.

"Any chance I could pick your brain about what you've found out so far?" Liz tried gamely.

"Uhhh..." he considered that for a moment. "Afraid not, again. I actually need to be on my way to a project meeting. But that's a good idea - maybe I'll have Drayden give a talk. Should be educational for all of you interested youngsters." Patternuss chuckled, as if the idea of educating university students was something comical. Having witnessed some party nights in her time at Arizona State, Liz had to admit he might be right.

"When would that be?" she asked, hoping it would be soon enough to do Max some good, though a public 'talk' was far from the best situation, she knew.

"Oh, in a week or so," Patternuss decided airily as he began to pack up. "Once th oddity has fully dissipated and our observations are concluded." Right, Liz thought to herself. Way too long for us to wait around.

"Well, good luck with your observations," Liz wished the astronomer. "I'll be thinking of you whenever I pass... by the way, where are you working from?"

"Hmm? Oh, the main observatory. The one on top of the northeast corner of the Markman building." He smiled blandly at her as he held his office door open.

"Right. Thanks." Liz left the office, waited to see which direction the professor was heading, then beat a hasty retreat the other way.

* * * * *

"That's all you found out?" Michael Guerin asked Liz menacingly. They were sitting at two small tables in the food court... Liz and Michael, Max and Tess. Liz couldn't help but notice that four young people she didn't recognize, (the others?) were sitting a little ways apart from them and keeping watch. Like a perimeter defense system. Of Isabel Evans there had been as yet no sign.

Michael and Tess had changed as much as Max had. If Liz had thought that Max 2005 looked tough, Michael seemed the consummate street fighter... acid-washed jeans, leather jacket, and various handles just visible at his pockets. Liz didn't want to know what kinds of things they were handles for, but figured she'd find out before all this was done.

Tess, at least, hadn't overdone it with a commando look. Her light blonde hair, which still had all of its natural waves, was cut shorter than it had been in Roswell, not even coming to her shoulders. She wore a pleated navy skirt that came to her knees, and a black blouse with a crescent moon design on it. What struck Liz about Tess was that she seemed almost a modern sorceress... which brought to mind the spell she cast on Max, way back when.

"What do you mean, is that all, Michael?" Max shot back. "It's a lot more than we'd have found out asking around by ourselves. We'd probably have just gotten a lot of awkward questions back."

Tess ignored the two guys and focused on Liz. "So, what do you think our next move should be, Liz?"

"Well, I thought I could probably find Professor Drayden tomorrow," Liz mumbled. "Patternuss mentioned him, he's on the project, and I took one of his lectures last year. Maybe I can get more out of him."

"And if he gives you the same runaround as professor number one, Liz?" Michael sneered. "They all have the same regulations to follow, Liz. You won't get enough more out of him to be worth the wait."

"You got a better idea, Michael?" Max asked coolly.

"Yah," Michael shot back. "We know where they're looking up at this thing from. I say we slip in, in the dead of night, and copy out the information we need."

Liz burst out laughing, and Michael looked angrily at her. "I-I'm sorry, Michael," she giggled, "but have you thought about getting a clue?" Okay, that was mean, but Michael had it coming to him. "This is As-tro-no-my." She sounded out the word with exaggerated slowness. "The dead of night is their peak time."

"They'll be working in the observatory all night?" Max clarified, getting it.

"As long as... Max, give me the papers," Liz suddenly instructed.

"Huh??" Max seemed as confused by someone giving him orders as by what Liz was asking for. "W-what papers, Liz? I'm not sure what you're talking about.

Liz sighed. "The web-page printouts you showed me earlier today? About the you-know-what??"

"Oh, *those* papers. Umm..." Max's face kinda scrunched up in thought.

"You gave them to me, Max," Tess told him with a long-suffering sigh. After a few moments of digging in her bag, she produced them and handed them over to Liz.

"Thanks. I'm sure I saw some general co-ordinates in here somewhere..." Liz scanned through the pages until she found the needed figure. "Right ascension... fifteen hours, twenty-odd minutes. That means..."

"Means what?" Michael asked sourly.

"Shut up, I'm thinking," Liz told him flatly. It had taken her a long time to get to the point where sidereal time, or star-time, was almost as natural as the sun-based time of day that the whole world but astronomers used. Given that it was early march, the sidereal time was only a little earlier than the sun time, and so...

"Darn!! It'll be rising a little bit before nine, which means that they'll already be setting up."

"It?" Michael prompted.

"The lightning bolt, presumably," Max guessed, and Liz nodded.

"They'll make observations under the oddity fades into the morning twilight, and then hang around making observations and calculations past dawn," she predicted.

"But they'll leave at some point, right?" Tess asked. "I mean, they'll need to sleep, not to mention having other duties to attend to."

"Around eight, I'd guess," Liz judged. "Well into the morning."

"Then we make our move under cover of morning," Michael decreed.

"Cover of morning?" Max repeated. "How much cover does morning offer, dimwit?" He smiled as he said the last word.

"Liz, back me up here," Michael insisted. "How many people are really up and around a college on a Friday morning??"

"He's got a point," Liz admitted to Max.

"Okay," Max groaned. "So we make it tomorrow morning." He turned to Liz. "I hope you're okay with participating in a burglary of University premises. I hate to ask this of you, but you're the only one who knows how to find what we need."

Liz groaned inside. It was starting again - the lying, the sneaking around, the generally unethical behavior. For Max's sake. Sure, the adventure was fun, but...

"Sure, I'm in, definitely," she heard herself telling Max. "Oh! If you're going to have to wait around all night... do you have somewhere to stay? My dorm room is definitely not big enough for all of you, hehe." She tried to make Max laugh along with her.

"Isabel's working on the housing issue," was all he said.

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."
posted on 7-Sep-2001 7:29:54 AM
Whom among us, part three
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories:
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


"I can't believe this," Isabel muttered under her breath. "In an institution of this size, surely temporary accomodations must be available..."

"There *are* facilities, Miss Evans," the guy at the housing office sighed, looking first up at the clock, then down Isabel's shirt. "But we're not a hotel, and I can't just assign you an eight-occupant suite in exchange for cash. There have to be authorizations, reservations approved..."

Isabel had had enough. Switching mental gears, she turned on her alien power. Communicating with someone with words and subconscious imagery was uncomfortable and difficult, but possible after all the practice she had had, if the receiver was right there in front of her. What's more, it was a one-two persuasive punch that most people were hardly equipped to resist.

"I'm afraid I don't have my paperwork, with me," she whipsered, pulling a small pocketbook out of her jeans, and removing two hundreds, also 'accidentally' half pulling out one of her fake ID's so that housing-boy would get a good look at the name. Belle Evans, (which wasn't exactly a fake name, but it wasn't the variant she normally used, so it would do.)

Subconscious thought: joking around with a friend, (don't worry about who, the boy's old mind will fill in the face.) Friend told him about an eccentric woman, Belle Evans, young enough to pass for a college student herself, but she was in tight with the upper circles of the University administration. "She doesn't like to make a big deal about her connections, until she's using them to fire someone. Believe me, you don't want to get on her bad side."

"I... Are you trying to bribe me, miss?" the guy squeaked out. Looking into his eyes, Isabel could tell that it wasn't quite working yet. He wasn't sure whether to trust the 'memory,' thought he was just making it up. Time to try harder.

"Not at all," Isabel replied. More details into his subconscious - 'friend' showing him a picture of Isabel in a beautiful evening gown with her blonde hair pinned up. "I just think that you could find an apartment you can rent me and my friends," -- housing-guy reacted with doubt to his friend at the time: 'how would a girl like that get in with the University governors?' "for a fair price, without violating any University protocols." Place the money in his hand. 'Whatcha think buddy? She's probably a bit of nookie on the side for the Chancellor or something. Man, a body like that... can you imagine her trying to *really* impress you??'

Housing-boy exploded into a splutter of coughs, blushing. Isabel did her best to keep a cucumber-cool composure as she looked back towards him, and ended up letting slip a quirky smile, which kind of worked too. "Umm... I'll... I'll need an extra sixty-seven eighty-five," he bluffed, holding out his hand. Isabel gave him another hundred without a second thought. He was squeezing them, but the cash was not an object. In exchange, two keyrings were passed back. "Number six-fourteen in the Congreve tower. Follow the path left when you go out these doors." He flushed again. "Come back in the evening within four days to return the keys or, umm... renegotiate."

"Thanks." Isabel flashed him a grin and left, swinging her hips just a little. As soon as she was back outside the double doors of the office building, she burst into helpless laughter at what she had just done. Or was that what 'Belle' had just done?

* * * * *

Liz sat up in bed for the hundredth time and stared at the glowing blue LED's of her clock radio. 2:37 am. Past two-thirty in the morning and she *still* could not get to sleep.

It wasn't because of Max. Well, not directly. Every so often Liz got hit with insomnia, normally when there was something very important happening in the morning. Strange kind of irony, but it was as if she couldn't get her body to calm down enough to get the rest she so badly needed.

It had been like this the night before she started high school (a year before she met Max...) and before leaving on the trip to work at Mauna Kea Observatory two summers ago. Well, she wasn't getting anything accomplished by lying here in the dark. In fact, it was just making her feel more nervous and antsy and fidgety and... No, she'd get up, put on some warm clothes and take a bit of a walk around. The cool March night air would calm her down. (Luckily, it didn't often get very cold in Arizona, any more than in New Mexico.)

Liz pounced up out of the bed and switched her light on. Now, what of her clothes would be most comfortable outside? The dark green pants were normally pretty warm. The snug lavender sweater that Grandma gave her, fuzzy socks and her running shoes, and the tuque Kyle had sent after taking his trip to Alaska. Within ten minutes of turning the lights on, Liz was leaving her residence, walking amidst the nightscape of the University, still brightly lit by polelamps and lights shining from building walls everywhere.

It was so quiet, though. All the parties were over now, and there wasn't a single other figure that Liz could see anywhere. Without conscious thought, she headed up the main walkway that would take her between two other residence towers, past the science building and the library, near the main lecture halls and finally to the student union, if she took it that far.

Boy, how weird was it to see Max and his 'family' again after all these years? Automatically, her mind cast back to when she had started to cut the ties with him, at his future self's insistence. It had seemed to Liz that just making Max think that she had slept with Kyle wouldn't be enough. She had to make a clean break, to seperate herself from him, or their usual chemistry would re-assert itself. Or, horror of horrors, the truth about Liz and Kyle and future-max would come out.

She had begged out of an expedition up to the mysterious Copper Summit, the home of Congresswoman Whittaker. At the time, four hours in a car with Max, Tess, and Isabel had seemed like a very not-good idea. It had actually been something of an ugly scene at the time, with Michael going on about her being the only one with a legitimate connection to Whittaker and Max accusing her of selfishness. In the end, Isabel had gone pretending to be Liz Parker, Whittaker's assistant, in the hopes that no-one would know the difference. But she had been recognized as an alien by the Skins anyway, and... well, there had been a whole big thing.

Some of the time Liz had still gotten involved despite her best intentions, like the Skins' attack on Roswell, and sometimes she had just heard what happened second or third-hand, like the big 'Summit' the next spring. But mostly Liz had drifted away, not just from Max and the aliens, but even from Kyle, Alex, and Maria. Now she basically knew where her old friends were, as she had told Max, but hadn't heard from them in months. Oh, except Maria, who still called Liz every other Saturday at eight on the dot.

Suddenly, other footsteps impinged on Liz's awareness. She looked up towards the lecture hall, where someone had just rounded the corner that led to the graduate apartments. Max. Of course. Liz couldn't help laughing. "We've got to stop meeting like this."

"Speak for yourself, Miss Parker." Max was grinning at her, and he seemed totally different from when she had seen him just earlier today. Suaver, more carefree. Like the burdens of a world had been lifted up off of his shoulders for a few precious hours.

Liz had to smile back. "I guess you couldn't sleep either, huh?"

"Oh, sleep." Max pshawed. "I never sleep before a raid."

That raised Liz's eyebrows. "Just how often do you do this sort of thing, Max Evans??"

"I'm not sure," Max admitted. "As you might remember, covert operations is sometimes the name of the game. Stinging guidance counselors, planting surveillance devices, tampering with bones..."

"Yeah, I remember," Liz assured him with a chuckle. "So, is that what it's been like since I've been gone? Just more sophomore hijinks??"

Max thought about that for a second. "The stakes have gone up," he decided, "and a few new players have dealed themselves in. But the basic rules of the game never seem to change much."

"You seem to be handling it well," Liz observed. "You, and Tess, and everyone else. Like you're a well-oiled alien machine."

"We do our best." That brought a lull to the conversation for a long while, as the two old friends walked on in silence. By some sort of unspoken agreement they turned away from the path that led back to the student center and passed between the history building and the psych complex.

"So," Liz said, wanting to fill the quiet moment. "You said you remembered your past life now... on your home world. With Tess. What... what was it like?" And what just posessed me to ask that question?

"Um, th-that's..." Max stuttered, and took a break. "That's a pretty big question, Liz. What kind of things were you wondering?"

"Er..." Liz tried to think of something that wouldn't hurt her to know. "How did you meet Tess? I mean..." Oh, good one.

"How I met Evani?" Max laughed softly, and seemed to get a faraway look in his eyes. "I would've been... oh, two cycles old... that'd be about six year in our human terms. She was the daughter of a high-born noble family, and so someone who could understand what Vilandra and I went through, as crown prince and princess." He took a deep breath.

"S-so you were childhood friends?" Liz summarized not sure what else to say.

"Yeah." Max was on a roll. "Things weren't safe for Evani in her home province, so she can to live with us for a while when she was three cycles old. She was Vilandra's best friend. I can still see them playing hide and seek all over the palace." He chuckled. "Their special powers were already starting to develop, so Evani cast illusions to try to misdirect Landra or spook her into giving up her hiding place. And my sister would just try to see into Evani's mind and see where she was hiding."

"And let me guess," Liz finished up sourly. "She stayed with you guys until you realized you loved her and got married."

"Oh no. She went back home before the cycle was over - the extremists who had been threatening her death got rooted out. But we stayed friends, and when my..." Max choked off for a second. "When my father was killed, I needed a royal bride. Ke'Var was already saying that the monarchy was insupportable and trying to raise support for a civilian government."

"With himself as first citizen, I assume?" Liz put in.

"Exactly. Part of our plan for heading him off was to play up the royal tradition, which meant having a queen. Evani knew the drill, she was loyal and capable, and pretty. She was the obvious choice."

"So that's how it was," Liz breathed with a sigh of relief. "A marriage of convenience, no love?" Careful, girl. You're getting too invested here.

The comment stopped Max short. "I'm not sure. At the time, I would have said I loved Evani. She was one of the dearest people in my life, aside from my mother and Vilandra. I was only five and a half cycles, and I didn't know much about love. We didn't have a great and fiery passion in our marriage, but I wanted very much to make things work. But then Ke'var started a revolution." He moaned with the pain of the memories. "New topic. What've you been up to since leaving Roswell, Liz?"

Liz took a deep breath and prepared for the conversation to reverse polarity. "Not much. Did the whole 'freshman, finding myself' thing, and then kinda settled down into the sciences."

"You always did like science," Max said reminiscently. "You said you could depend on it." Liz let that memory go by without comment. "Anything else besides school in your life? Any boyfriends??"

"Hmm... a few," Liz admitted. "I was 'seen' with Randy Davis from homecoming through spring finals last year." Randy Davis who, now that Liz thought of him, looked quite a bit like Max... oh god... "But we stopped seeing each other as friends. There really hasn't been anybody... that serious in my life."

Was it just her imagination, or did Max look as relieved as Liz had felt when she thought his marriage to 'Evani' was just convenience?? "So, university," he said with a smile. "Is it everything you expected it to be?"

"Yes, and no," Liz qualified. "In a lot of way, it's just like I always hoped. The only thing wrong is..." She trailed off uncertainly.


"So lonely," Liz finally finished. "I always thought Liz and Alex and I would go to the same school. Maybe Kyle too. And there was a time when it wouldn't have been too outrageous an idea that you be here with me." She waited for Max to say something but he didn't. "I know, it isn't your fault that we've all grown apart. It's mine."

"I didn't say that," Max insisted fiercely. "So, do you get back home often? Visit your parents, Maria? I hear that the Crashdown is still going strong."

"Not as often as I'd like." That was a half-truth. Liz hadn't set foot in Roswell in more than two years, ever since she tried to spend the Christmas break with her parents. She ended up leaving town in a car with Maria on boxing day and ending up at a New Year's eve bash an Arizona State acquaintance was throwing in Baja. There had just been too many emptinesses to bear in Roswell.

"Okay, that's it," she finally said. "Switch again."

"That wasn't a very long turn," Max protested, laughter dancing deep behind his big brown eyes.

"Tell it to the Quizmaster."


"You heard me!!" Liz insisted.

"Yes, yes I did. What Quizmaster??"

"The one in charge of old friends asking painfully probing questions of each other," she explained. "What's the deal with you and Tess now? Are you, like, married? For real??" According to the time-frame Future Max had given her, she would have married Max years ago in the original timeline. Somehow, she couldn't help comparing.

"We..." Max hesitated a second. "We've never been married on Earth. Tess thought it would be disrespectful to our heritage, to pretend that our original wedding didn't count just because it was different from everything on Earth."

"It was also another lifetime," Liz muttered under her breath. Max glared at her. (Couldn't she ever seem to say anything that he wouldn't hear?) "I'm just saying, it wouldn't seem inappropriate to have a renewal ceremony or whatever."

"I think we did, kind of," Max said slowly. "When Michael and Isabel had their joining ceremony, Tess and I stood by them. That was when we first started really living as husband and wife."

"I... I see," Liz whispered. "And do you love her, Max?"

"I -" Max started, and then looked at her, Each of them was brightly lit by a light standing off to one side. Max had probably never looked so handsome, and she wondered if he still thought she was beautiful. "I... I don't think this is something we should be talking about anymore, Liz."

"You're... you're probably right," she agreed. "I'm feeling like sleep isn't so impossible after all, so maybe I'll get back to my dorm, and let you just continue prowling the campus alone."

"I think that's a good idea."

"Goodnight, Max." Liz headed off towards where the north path began, a few yards from where they were standing and then turned back. "Hey, Max! One more question?" she called out.

"What is it, Liz?"

"What was Michael, back on your home planet? A Duke or something??"

Max laughed. "Michael wasn't noble-born, and boy was he pissed when he found *that* out. Rev was the son of my father's chief bodyguard, who was also my tactics tutor. But Rev was also knighted when he was five cycles old and got my sister to agree to marry him."

Liz thought about that. "See you bright and early tomorrow morning, Max."

* * * * *

Bright and early was not an understatement. The morning sun seemed to burn down from the eastern horizon as Liz headed towards the point near the Chemistry lab complex that Max had chosen for a rendezvous point yesterday. The time on her watch was one minute to eight o'clock.

"You're early," a voice accused her. When Liz turned around, (not too deliberately, she didn't want to attract any undue attention,) she realized it was one of the four 'Others.' He was none too tall, with a balding head and black moustache and beard. Like all of the 'others,' he seemed to be in his early thirties, making Liz wonder if they had come out of their pods earlier, or grown longer while still 'incubated.' Come to think of it, she knew almost nothing about these 'new' aliens.

"By a minute," she whispered. "I don't tend to time out my movements to the second."


"You're here too!" Liz protested.

"We're supposed to be. That's in the plan. You showing up before eight isn't."

"Break it up," Max said, getting between the two of them. "Okay. Michael, Liz, Kenner, you're alpha team. It's up to you to actually infiltrate the observatory and retrieve the data we need. Isabel, Tess, and Bentor are back at the room. If anything goes wrong, Isabel will hopefully read it in your subconscious thoughts. The first reaction will be by Tess, who will use her power to create a diversion, or a screen of illusion to hide you, or whatever you most need. Meanwhile, Is and Bentor will be formulating a rescue plan and letting us," (and Max gestured to himself and the two remaining 'Others,') "implement it. Clear?"

"Do we really need this complicated a plan?" Liz muttered to herself.

"You'd be surprised," Michael told her snidely. "Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong."

"I'm aware of Murphy's first law," she shot back. "Okay, come on, let's go." She led her two 'charges' off toward the Markman building. Though Michael might be thinking that they have to take care of her, but Liz felt reasonably certain of her indispensability since she was the one who knew where they were going.

Although there were more people than Liz had expected walking down the path at eight o'clock on a Friday morning, none of them seemed to pay any attention to her little party, and the first floor of the Markman building seemed deserted. Silently she brought them up the main stairwell to the second story, then the third, then the fourth. Across the corridor on the fourth floor, (waving hello to a silent janitor,) and up a less conspicuous flight of stairs, and Liz was staring at the door to the main observatory.

"Locked, as always," she muttered, looking at the electronic combination security device on the door. "But my student combination should get us in."

"Too risky," Michael said. "It could flash us up onto a monitor at campus security. Allow me." He squeezed past her to the door, and waved his hand over the lock, his eyes closed in concentration. Suddenly the display flashed 'ACCESS GRANTED - PROFESSOR LEVEL.' A second, and then 'SILENT MODE.' Michael opened the doorway, and Liz and 'Kenner' hurried in. Before closing the door, Michael waved at the lock once again.

"It shouldn't even have reported us, and we'll be able to get out without any trouble, but only if we leave within four minutes," he summarized. "So, what do we take??"

Liz had sat down at the computer terminal connected to the main telescope and the electronic camera attached to it. "Umm... take a look over there, see if there are any photographic prints," she suggested, pointing over to a large table while booting up the computer. "We can't swipe the negatives, that's too big a giveaway. Really careful track is kept of them. But if we take some of the prints, then everybody will just think some other professor wanted to take them for further study."

"Okay," Michael said, going over to the table and looking around. "Score!! What kind of prints do we want?"

"Umm..." Liz was concentrating on navigating the computer's file system as quickly as possible. "Just hang on a second." Soon she had her place and was copying observation records and digital images to a Jaz disk. "Anything that seems different from the rest, that shows something unique or interesting about the Oddity."

"Uh, okay..." Michael started shuffling through papers. "How much time?"

"Two minutes, forty-five seconds," Kenner announced. Seconds and then minutes ticked away in silence, as Liz watched the computer do her dirty work and Michael inventoried all of the photographs and selected four.

"Time check?" he called out for the third or fourth time.

"Twenty-two seconds."

"Okay, we'll have to make do with what we've got," Liz decided, cancelling all further file transfers. She had over seven megs of data so far, so that sounded good enough. If only it was the right seven megs. She popped out the disk and hurried over to the door, which Kenner was holding open for her.

They rocketed down the observatory stairs and the first flight of the stairwell back down to the third storey, motivated more by adrenalin than any real fear of discovery, as far as Liz could say. But on the third floor the door opened and two campus security officers stepped in, glaring at Michael with his armful of stolen photographs. "Now, just what are *you* fine folks doing raising a kuffle so early in the morning?" one of them asked.

Isabel! HELLPP!! Liz screamed mentally.

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."
posted on 7-Sep-2001 7:32:17 AM
Whom among us, part four
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories:
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


Michael blinked once and then began speaking smoothly to the security officers: "Well, we- we were just running a bit of a bit of an errand for Professor..." He stalled out.

"Patternuss," Liz supplied quickly. "He wanted us to drop these prints and these files off in his office so he could start working on them as soon as he arrived."

"Department leaders, huh?" Michael whispered conspiratorially to one of the guards. "Too important to climb a few flights of stairs to get to the observatory - in the daytime, at least."

"You were just up in the observatory?" the lead guard asked. Liz and Michael exchanged a nervous look. "Sorry, I'm afraid we're going to have to hold the three of you until we can get ahold of Doctor..."

At this point a drunk male student burst into the stairwell, muttering obscenities in a low voice, weaving unsteadily, and seeming about to vomit on the guards.

Liz breathed a sigh of relief at the interruption, but Michael was not so pleased. "Damnit," he whispered. Liz could tell what he was saying not so much by sound as by the way his lips moved. "Iz, Tess, not *that* kind of diversion now!" He waited a second, then whirled around, his gaze centering on Liz. "Damnit, Iz," he muttered aloud, shaking Liz's shoulder. "Listen to *me*."

Suddenly a faint presence in the back of Liz's mind that she hadn't really been aware of went away. Obviously Isabel had been monitoring her thoughts, and Michael realized that the best way to grab Iz's attention was to speak to her through Liz herself.

The drunk disappeared, but both security officers were looking were he had been and affected no shock and surprise, so Liz assumed that she was now simply being left out of the illusion. Meanwhile, Michael was rushing forward, obviously interacting with the unreal man.

"Careful, buddy, you don't want to hurt yourself," Liz heard him muttering. She also noticed that Kenner was now carrying the prints. Liz took a few steps away and some deep breaths, trying to get herself back under control and not panicked. It would still take a lot of effort to get out of this without the security officers reporting them.

"No, no, no," Michael was saying to the school-a-cops. "You've got to make sure that he's not lying on his back, or he could choke on his own chunks and die! You wouldn't want the school or yourselves to be liable for that, would you? Sheesh, didn't they teach you the Bacchus maneuver in security training."

At that point, two new figures came on the scene. Real figures, although Liz wasn't sure everyone was seeing them as they were. One was Max, in an official-looking uniform. (Where had he managed to get it on such short notice? Oh, he could probably have rearranged the molecules of his own clothes.) One of his 'others' was beside him, the one who had told Liz off for being early. Of the third member of Max's team there was no sign.

The reaction of the guards was unusual, though. "Doctor Patternuss!" the lead guard said, recognizing (!) Max's friend. "A moment of your time, please. These people were..."

"Yes, yes, it's perfectly all right," 'Patternuss' said. "They were just fetching some things for me from the observatory. I know I forgot to..."

"Green flag computer access at this time of the morning," the guard supplied helpfully. "Or let us know that someone would be coming..."

"Well, I think it should be obvious that this whole situation is a non-event," Max decided, speaking now for the first time. "Don't file a report on any of this," e instructed the guards. "I don't think anybody needs to hear about it, that would just embarrass the good Doctor. Clear?" They nodded. "Well, I think I saw some students loitering suspiciously in front of the science library. Go check it out. I'll take care of our friend over there." After a surreptitious nod from Michael, Max waved in the direction of the imaginary drunk. The two guards left.

Liz kept her sigh of relief buried until they all got back to Isabel's suite.

* * * * *

"I'm sorry I panicked back there," Liz apologized. "I nearly got you all into even more trouble."

"No, I'm the one who should have known better than to act before I had thought it all through," Tess said ruefully. "A drunk. What did I expect that to accomplish? At least you have a good excuse, Liz. You haven't done this kind of thing in years."

"At least Michael saw how to turn it into part of a workable plan," Isabel said admiringly, grabbing his hand in hers.

"Well," Michael said, turning to Liz. "We've got what you came for, so now you can... leave."

Liz snorted. "You may have the data, but I'll fall over dead if you have any clue how to use it. Huh?" Silence greeted Liz's prediction. "So I guess I'll have to stick around a little longer." That said, she thought for a second, and headed for the door.

"Wait, Liz!" Max called out. "Where are you going??"

"To pick up some resources we'll need," she told him.

* * * * *

Once again, Liz knocked nervously on a door.

A sleepy groan emerged from inside, followed by a more coherent "Huh?" and finally words. "Who is it and why are you bothering me so early?"

Liz couldn't help but laugh. "It's Liz Parker and I'm sorry, but I need a favor."

A long moment of silence, then creaky residence-bed sounds, footsteps, and the door opened, revealing Pete Wilson in a navy bathrobe and anime pajamas. "How early is it, Liz Parker??"

"It's eight thirty," Liz admitted. "I'm really sorry, but..."

"Whatcha need?" Pete interrupted with a sigh.

Liz blushed. "The laptop."

"For how long?"

Liz hesitated. "Oh, the weekend should cover it."

Pete pondered a second, and Liz worried that he was figuring out how to refuse her. "Oh, fine. I'm gonna be going home for the weekend anyways." He backed away from the door, letting Liz come into his room and approach the computer sitting at his desk. "Whatcha need it for, anyway"

Liz froze for a second. Helping a bunch of extraterrestrials I know get a message from their home planet. "Extra credit assignment." You get extra credit for helping to save a civilization, right?

Not if you're just doing it to try to impress an ex-boyfriend, who happens to be as good as married now.

"Can you... tell me any less?" Pete joked as he started unplugging connections from the hardware.

"Probably not," Liz laughed. "But no more either. Sorry, it's kind of secret."

"Oh, that's okay," Pete assured her. "Let's see. Will you be needing the Jaz drive?"

"Definitely," Liz said, thinking of the disk she had used to get information from the observatory computer.


"Probably." To analyze those prints in more detail.


"Oh, yes."

"Help carrying all of this junk?" Pete cracked a smile as he said that, and Liz laughed out loud.

"That would be above and beyond the call of friendship, but definitely appreciated," she admitted. "Oh, and did you get that planetary simulations program yet?"

"Haven't scraped up the cash," Pete admitted ruefully.

"That's okay," Liz assured him. "I'll borrow Caryn's copy."

"Okay. If you can take the Jaz and the scanner," Pete placed the small disk reader easily on top of the long flatbed, "I'll figure out some way to manage the computer and the printer."

After a few seconds of thought, Pete pulled out a small carrying case and loaded the folder-up laptop unit into it, along with plenty of stray cables. Holding the bag in one hand, he then proceeded to pick up the small bubble jet printer with both hands. "A question I should probably have asked earlier. Where are we taking all this stuff? Your room??"

"No, over to the Congreve tower," Liz said, taking Pete's keys and leading the way out of the room, carrying her share of the hardware. "I've got some friends there who can take it the rest of the way; I just didn't stop to count all the peripherals I'd be needing."

"The Congreve tower," Pete repeated. "That's one of the grad apartment buildings halfway across campus, isn't it?" Liz nodded apologetically. "Okay, come on, let's go," Pete groaned.

They carried their loads in silence for a while. "Say, Liz," Pete puffed as they turned onto the south path. "D'you remember that project I was telling you about? The atmospheric modeling one?"

"Oh, yeah," Liz replied after a pause for thought. "It sounded fascinating."

"Well, it looks like we're going to be finished next week easily, and I was wondering if maybe Saturday night next weekend I take you out to celebrate? Dinner at Lindsey's, maybe, then we could go down to the Blue note, have a few drinks, listen to good music."

"But why me?" Liz asked. "I'm not a part of your proj..." Then it hit her. "Dinner at my favorite restaurant, drinks at a dance club... Pete, would this be a date?" She looked over at Pete with a cautious smile that hopefully hid the confused feelings inside of her.

"A what??" Pete dead-panned. "Okay, here goes. Yes, Liz, I'm asking you out on a date." Pete paused, waiting for Liz to say something, but she couldn't, so he started speaking again, nervously. "We've known each other for two and a half years, Liz, ever since you scratched that pool ball into my beer the last day of Frosh week. We've dated other people, sure, but have you never thought of the two of us, together, that way?"

Liz gulped. "Well... yeah, occasionally, I have." In point of fact, Liz had had a huge crush on Pete half of freshman year, but never made a move on him, partly because it was too hard to keep track of when he was available and when he wasn't. (Plus, at that point he seemed to go for girls who were flashy and frankly not all that bright. Liz hadn't thought she could compete on that basis.)

Last October, feeling depressed on the anniversary of her first date with Randy Davis, Liz had decided that she was finally going to ask Pete out, only to find out that he had started dating her lab partner, Renee Williams, a relationship that lasted four months, during which time Liz had succeeded in putting her feelings for Pete out of her head. Now he was asking her on a date and...

"I... you're a great guy, Pete, and I really like you and I *don't* want to reject the idea of 'you and me' out of hand," she began.

"But?" Pete prompted. He had put down his computer things while they settled this, Liz noted, and she followed suit.

A mental picture of Max seemed right there with her. "But now isn't really a good time for me to decide something like this, okay? Maybe... maybe in a few days."

"Sure," Pete said, although his disappointment was obvious. "I'll come by when I get back to campus on Monday, okay?" He picked up the bag and the printer again.

Liz reached down for the scanner. "Oh, one other thing. I might not be around next week." Where had *that* come from? Well yeah, considering what Max had dragged her into, she might be chasing down a UFO sometime in the next little while. "So, if you can't find me, it's not because you scared me off; it's just this stuff I have to do, okay?"

"Got it," Pete muttered. They were approaching the Congreve tower, and Pete put his burden down outside the doors. "Is it alright if I go back to my room now and try to get back to sleep?"

Liz couldn't help but laugh at the way he put things, even now. "Sure Pete. Thanks for the loan, and for your help carrying." As an afterthought, she tossed Pete's key ring back to him.

Without saying a word Pete threaded a spare room key off the ring and tossed it back to her. "So you can put all my stuff back where you found it before you skip town, Parker."

* * * * *

Twenty minutes later, Liz opened the door to her own residence room. She didn't expect to spend a lot of time here over the next few days, what with the apartment Isabel got for the aliens becoming project lightning bolt central, and so there were a few things she wanted to pick up. First on the list were her textbooks and notes for planetary orbit dynamics, we she knew she'd be needing soon.

She had already visited Caryn Teslik and borrowed 'Pathways of the planets' for Windows ninety-five plus, which she'd need to plot courses on the computer, and she put the small software box down on her dresser while she took stock of her room.

Some clothes and hygiene necessities seemed to be called for. Liz emptied her knapsack, her mind still compiling a list of things she wanted to pack. She almost didn't notice the small folded-up piece of paper that was the last thing to be taken out of her bag, and curiously opened it up to see what it was. She recognized words out of order. 'Hold you in my arms.' 'Beloved,' 'Bride.' 'I love you.' What on earth? Oh, it was the message from Max's mother. She had totally forgotten to give it to him yesterday, or today for that matter.

She folded the paper away again and put it in her pocket. "Remember to give this to Max as *soon* as you get back to the apartment," she muttered. Then ready, get set, pack. Three sets of spare underwear, (just because you never could tell.) Pajamas, a few outfits that weren't too bulky and thus could serve as a change of clothes without taking up much room in the bag. All the books and notes she'd need, leave room for the program, yeah, it could go right there.

What else would she need? Suddenly Liz's melancholy feelings about Max, and Tess, and Pete, became unstoppable. She grabbed a bunch of CD's that she knew had sad songs on them, a bag of chocolate covered cream balls, and the bottle that she'd been keeping in the lockbox in her closet.

When Liz got back to Isabel's apartment, she could hardly have imagined a less likely scene to meet her eyes. Some sort of modern pop/rock was playing on the stereo, sung by a rich-throated alto and a sensual baritone. Michael and Isabel were... well, dancing suggestively in each other's arms, out on the living room floor.

Two of the others were dancing too, including the one woman among the 'others,' but in a very different fashion, adapting a modified ballroom style to the music. Max and Tess were sitting nestled together on the couch, each with an arm around the other's shoulders, their other hands clasped together, and playing a little footsie. (Liz fought down a sudden urge to throw up.)

And the last two aliens in the apartment had started up Pete's laptop, (apparently without connecting the power cord, so it would be draining the battery,) and were playing one of Pete's video games.

Michael swung himself and Iz around, and noticed Liz, standing slack-jawed in the doorway, the heavy knapsack now hanging from one of her arms. "Hey, cool," he exulted, letting go of Isabel. "Liz! Whatcha bring this time, Liz? Did you get food?" He hurried over to grab at Liz's bag.

Liz tried to keep the knapsack from him, wary of Michael's suddenly-too-friendly behaviour, but he already had ahold of it and Liz knew that he was stronger than she was. "No," she announced loudly. "I didn't get food. If you're hungry, there's a student grocery next to the union building, or about a dozen different take-out places on campus. Go for yourself."

"Oh, I don't wanna have to go myself," Michael complained. He set Liz's bag down on a chair and opened it up. "Hey! Booze!! Whooda figured you for a drinker, Liz? I always wanted to try this stuff. Hmm..." He peered at the label. "'White rum.'"

"Oh, no you don't," Liz shot back. "I've seen what even a little alcohol does to alien metabolism."

"Why are you so sure, Liz?" Isabel broke in, stepping up to her. "Well, you always act so sure of yourself, unless you're being poor pathetic pitiful Liz who can't even decide what she wants for breakfast. But think about it. Yes, Max drank a sip of Kyle Valenti's bourbon on Valentine's day and acted tipsy all night until you kissed him. Does that really sound physhio... metabolic to you? Sometimes aliens have very suggestible psychologies."

"Well, I'm still not going to give it a cance to happen again," Liz asserted. "For on thing, just the thought of putting you all back to rights..."

"And what made you think you'd be called on to do that, Liz?" Tess called from the couch. "I mean, I don't begrudge you and my husband you Valentine's day... neither of you even knew about me yet then. But if you think I'm about to let you do *this* to Max again..." and Tess brought her lips to Max's in a passionate kiss that made it impossible to complete her sentence - not that Liz really needed any further elaboration.

"Whoo, jackpot!" Michael exclaimed. He had been digging in Liz's knapsack again and brought out one of her bras. "Think she was hoping to model this little number for Max, Iz??" He held the undergarment up, stretching it between his fingers. Isabel broke out laughing.

"That is *ENOUGH*!" Liz screamed, snapping. In two paces she stepped over to Michael, wrestled the bra away from him and stashed both it and the rum back into her bag, now guarding it carefully. Suddenly everything that had been bothering her about the aliens fell into place. "You don't need rum - you're all drunk already!!"

"Am not," Michael argued back. "It's just ihibitions, babe. You've got to let go of your inhibitions sometime, Liz honey. Or they'll build up inside you and you'll burst."

"I don't think so," Liz said stiffly.

"Whatever." Michael shrugged. "It's your funeral. Now hand over that bottle like a good girl."

"Not a chance," Liz repeated. Michael stared to get very angry.

"You *cannot* deny me this," he said ominously, his eyes staring coldly back at her.

"The hell I can't!" Inside, Liz was shaking, remembering Michael's power, remembering how he had killed Agent Pierce. But something in her just wouldn't let her give in to this kind of bullying. Well, at least not until Michael's threats started getting a lot more specific.

"A clarification," Max said aloud from the couch. Liz realized absently that it was the first time he had spoken since she had come back to the apartment, and also that obviously his french kiss with Tess was over, for now at least. "There is a tradition among our people of wild celebrations following a victory. Nothing can be denied during such a period, as long as the household is safe, and short of violence to one's fellows. We have embraced this custom, and it's served us well through the hardships we've been through."

Max turned to stare at Michael. "But Liz is not one of us, and holding her to our ways is quite simply unfair. She can refuse any of our requests, without giving offense." He stopped with a small nod, and Liz couldn't escape the feeling of just having witnessed a Royal Decree.

No-one was saying anything now, all of the other aliens looking back and forth between herself and Max, and Liz guessed that it was her turn to say something. "Well, I don't want to disrupt you celebrations," she muttered, and forced herself to speak more clearly. "But I came here to work. If I can have the computer, some slightly less pounding music and a peaceful environment, I'll get to work simulating the Lightning bolt and Earth in their respective orbits. Otherwise, I'll just go, catch up on the sleep I missed last night, and come back later."

As she finished talking, Liz wondered if she was being as much of a royal stick-in-the-mud as she sounded. She could do with a party and letting off some steam as much as anybody. But if gettin' down with the aliens meant having to watch while Max and Tess got all coupley...

The guy whose turn it was at the computer game clicked the quit button, and shot Michael a meaningful glance, angling his head at the stereo. Michael nodded a reluctant agreement. "Sure," the guy said out loud, getting up from his seat, leaving his chair out in an invitation for Liz, and went over to the stereo to turn the CD off and find a radio station playing soft, peaceful music. His partner also got up from in front of the computer and started hooking up the peripherals.

"Come on, gorgeous," Michael said in a soft but audible voice to Isabel. "Let's take this party further inside." Iz nodded, and soon they disappeared to one of the bedrooms.

Well, it looked like that was that. Liz took her backpack over to the computer and fumbled out the CD for Caryn's program to install it.

* * * * *

"Attention ladies and gentlemen , we are now pulling in for our scheduled stopover in Palm Springs, Califonia. As we will not be taking a layover at this destination, please prepare to disembark now for Palm Springs."

The voice of the Greyhound driver shook Alex out of warm and comfortable dreams. He had had to rush feverishly to get out of a few sticky commitments, pack, and get down to Sunnyvale in time to catch this bus. No, not actually this bus, but the one that had taken him down from the greater San Fransisco area to Los Angeles, where he had transferred to this bus.

He was tempted to get off here at Palm Springs. The party capital of California, they called it, and that was saying a mouthful. He could lie in the warm desert sun nex to a pool somewhere and dream about Isabel Evans, instead of horribly complicating his life by actually going to Arizona to see her again.

By the time Alex had worked this all out, the bus was stopping. Moment of decision. Either get up and make enough noise about getting your stuff and getting off that the bus driver will wait for you, or he'll make your decision for you, Whitman.

The bus driver made Alex's decision for him.

"In fifteen minutes we will be taking a short layover in Indio, followed by a longer break in Blythe and stopovers in Quartzsite, Arizona and Tolleson. Then we will be pulling into Phoenix at twenty minutes to five this afternoon, and departing the Phoenix bus station at five thirty, bound for the Phoenix airport and Tempe, the home of the Arizona State Sun devils."

Maybe he'd get off in Phoenix. None of the other stops seemed at all interesting to Alex.

* * * * *

Liz considered a moment, then selected the Simulation: Anmate menu choice. The computer's screen cleared, and one by one various astronomical elements were added to its display: the earth, the sun, the moon, mars, venus, jupiter, the asteroid belt, (a few of the largest asteroids were simulated individually, but othewise the belt was just marked as a wide grey zone of space.)

Finally, the last element of her preliminary simulation appeared: a small, white planetoid out beyond the belt. Out of all the objects available within the program, Liz had decided that this was the least inappropriate to use for the lightning bolt. (There simply weren't any planet-size nebula available, which Liz could understand, but it was frustrating.)

By now, all of Liz's planets and other objects were flying slowly through space, and she could move the point of view around to see an optical illusion of a three-dimensional perspective from any point she chose. Satisfied, she escaped the simulation, made sure that all of her environment was saved on the disk, and quit.

"Finally decided you need a break?" The voice was familiar, and looking around her, Liz found the source. Max was leaning back in an armchair half behind where she had been sitting and working at the computer, calmly watching her.

"Is the celebration all done?" she asked him evenly.

"For me?" Max clarified. "Pretty much. It's up to the individual how long they want to take it. Michael and Isabel are still in the 'private celebrations' phase."

Okay. "How long have you been sitting there?"

"Hmmm... about fifteen minutes, to hazard a guess. Long enough to make that thing do some very interesting things that I don't understand."

"Oh, it's really nothing so far," Liz disclaimed. "The program came with instructions and incredibly detailed data for simulatng the well-known bodies of our solar system; pretty much all I had to do was pick and choose. Small objects like Mercury and the moons of Mars and Jupiter won't affect what we're trying to do and eat up run time, so I left them out."

"Okay..." Max said somewhat uncertainly.

"Then I went through the observed co-ordinates of the Lightning bolt and added a corresponding object into the environment. There's not much more I can do here without help from you out-of-towners. Oh, by the way, the most exciting thing isn't on the computer at all."

Max's face quirked with intrigue. "Where is it, then?"

"Here." Liz brought out one of the magnified prints Michael had taken out of the observatory. Against the brightly shining fuzziness of the Oddity, a dark splotch could be seen.

"I imagine the spot is why Michael picked this print," Liz said, "and if so his instincts are right on the money. As far as I can tell, this object, whatever it is, came right out of the middle of the Bolt when it was at its largest."

"The capsule," Max breathed.

"Probably," Liz agreed. "Which means we have the time of its emergence if we take the moment this picture was taken and subtract the lightspeed differential to these co-ordinates." Liz sighed. "The problem is, we only have this one picture, so we have no idea what the object's course or speed was. To find it, I'm going to need to know an awful lot more about the kind of space travel your people do."

Max was shaking his head and smiling. "You're really in your element here, aren't you?" he observed. "Well, I know next to nothing about space travel, but Bentor should be able to help you out." He stood up. "Do you want me to see if he's awake?"

"Huh?" Liz thought about that for a second. "No, I really could do with a break, come to think of it. Go out for some lunch..." Liz looked at her wrist, but her watch wasn't there, so she picked it up from where she had put it down next to the computer and looked at it. "Or brunch, or whatever." Ask to come with me, ask to come with me, ask to come with me, she thought silently, (and guiltily,) at Max.

"Sounds great," Max observed casually. "Mind if I tag along?"

"It'll be a burden, but I'll survive," Liz assured him with a straight face.

As they headed through the apartment, Liz became uncomfortably aware of groaning coming from the room that Isabel and Michael had disappeared into. She remembered what Max had said about them having a 'private party.' Suddenly Isabel's voice could be heard: "Give it to me harder, you horny alien bastard!"

Max and Liz shuddered in unison, and a burst of laughter escaped Liz.

Max opened the apartment door to make their escape, but it was not to be. "Sir? 'Max'??" It was one of the 'others,' the woman. "Could I speak with you - privately, sir?"

"I'm sorry," Max told Liz. "This shouldn't take any more than..." He trailed off, realizing that she hadn't really given him enough information to guess how long it would take. "Ardra?"

"Five minutes?" she hazarded. "Ten??"

"Go on," Liz told Max, feeling very uneasy. Who could tell whether, after Ardra was finished speaking with Max, Tess would be around and demanding his attention again?

You don't have any right to bitch about that, Liz told herself fiercely. She's his wife, and he's accepted that because of what *you* did five years ago. For the good of the world.

She has a right to his attention. If she takes it, just go off to brunch alone. But Liz couldn't bring herself to do that just yet, so she settled back down to the computer, pulled up and tried her hardest to ignore the sounds of the Michael and Isabel show.

She did pretty well with that, except for a series of climactic cries that at least hinted the whole thing might be over. Liz wasn't sure how long after that it was that Michael came into the living room, wearing only a towel, and called her name.

"Uh, yeah?" She tried to avoid letting her gaze slip below the neck.

"There's a liquor store on campus, right?"

Liz got up from the computer again, shaking her head. "Nope. The bars won't let one in because it brings their business down. You have to go down to Laurel Street." She walked over to her knapsack, pulled out the rum, and held it out to him. "Try some out, or don't, I don't really care. But don't mess up Pete's computer, and don't even *touch* any of the rest of my stuff. Clear!?"

Michael swallowed slightly and nodded. "Clear." He took the bottle and left, leavig Liz with a clear view of Max smiling at her.


"Just glad you stood up to him. Let's go."

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."
posted on 7-Sep-2001 7:33:21 AM
Whom among us, part five
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories:
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


The sun shone brightly down through greening trees, and a warm spring wind tried its hardest to ruffle the freshly shorn grass, before giving up, as Max and Liz headed over the campus to whatever restaurant Liz was suggesting for brunch.

I shouldn't be here, Max thought. I should be back in the apartment so that when my wife wakes up, I'd be there. I definitely shouldn't be walking across what seems to be Arizona State's soccer field, with Liz Parker, so that I can go to brunch with her.

And yet, here I am...

It wasn't that cut and dried, really. Max knew that. There were some things he needed to say to Liz, away from the others. This brunch would be a good opportunity to...

Damn, she's gorgeous. How many women can make a sweatshirt and baggy jeans a stunning ensemble like that? Well, not that Tess wouldn't look cute like that, because she would, if she ever dressed like that. But Liz... anything to do with Liz still seems 'more so' than something that doesn't, even after all this time... and I have *so* got to get off this train of thought.

"I'd like to apologize," Max suddenly blurted out, "about earlier this morning. It must have been very uncomfortable for you and I'm pleasantly surprised that you didn't just walk out on us and let me fend for myself. The lightning bolt is our problem, after all."

"Oh, I couldn't let you do that," Liz said softly. Her voice made his stomach flutter as much as it always used to. "I made a commitment to help you, and it's the least I can do after all you gave me... starting from giving me my life back and continuing on from there."

Oh god, did she have to bring that up? Nothing could make Max feel warm and fuzzy about Liz like remembering the day she almost died... no matter what happened he knew the world was a much better place with her in it. It was one of the best things he could think of to justify his own life... and that he was brought back, after being killed on his home world, and that so many people had to die to protect his secret. If he hadn't been in Roswell, this incredible, wonderful girl's life would have been a tragedy - shot dead at sixteen by a trucker over some stupid argument that had nothing to do with her.

"I just..." Liz continued, startling Max out of his own thoughts. "I want you to know that no matter how things turned out between us, I treasure every moment that we spent together, and I wouldn't have cut you out of my life if I had felt I had any choice."

"I guess, since you're here with me now, you feel that things have changed." Oh great, how dumb a thing was that to say? Totally obvious, for one thing.

"Well yeah, a lot has changed, obviously." Liz said with a small nod. Max couldn't help noticing how her hair moved with the gesture. It was curlier than it used to be, which had surprised him from the first moment he saw her here in Arizona, but she looked good like that. It was a little longer too, but still the same incredibly rich dark brown... "You and Tess... Michael and Isabel. I mean, the last time we were really close, none of you believed that your destinies were with each other."

She sighed, stepping out onto a street. "Speaking of whom... what the heck is up with Michael and Isabel? I mean... Michael was never tactful, or even nice very often, but he's changed a lot from the way I remember him. And Isabel never used to be harsh or unfeeling..."

"They've been through a lot, we all have." Max let out a deep breath of his own. "Michael... well, he's not used to dealing with outsiders at this point. He's responsible for battle plans, for keeping all of us safe, and I think it hardens him. Distrust of outsiders has become a major theme, and I guess after all these years, you've become an outsider again."

Liz nodded. "I guess that makes some sense, from his perspective. And Isabel?"

Max nodded solemnly for a while before he answered. They were coming to a more built-up area of campus now, probably approaching Liz's restaurant. "Well, as you've noticed, Isabel's powers have grown, a lot, over the past few years. She's been having to use telepathy more and more lately, and it's quite a strain. She told me once that she wasn't sure where the other people left off and she began. So she tends to overcompensate, voicing any thought she can be sure is one hundred percent Isabel without stopping to think if it's tactful or not. There's an 'us versus them' mentality in Isabel's job too - us being the aliens who she joins together for our own protection, and them being the humans who get deceived and manipulated."

"Yeah, gee, I never thought of it that way," Liz replied with a sympathetic look on her face, as she led Max into a building that looked slightly like a small shopping mall, next to the student union. Max noticed the grocery store she had told Michael about on the right, and decided to pick up some provisions for the others on the way home from brunch.

"From what I remember from freshman psych," Liz was saying, "that kind of environment that Isabel's in could lead to schizophrenic tendencies."

"Well, let's face facts," Max joked with a wide smile. "When the voices you hear inside your head are real, is schizophrenia really an issue any more?" Liz laughed. It felt so good to make her laugh.

And now she was leading him into a store, no, a restaurant. The sign outside read 'Tree of Plenty' and cleverly illustrated signs were hung up behind the counter, listing all kinds of possible foods to order. There wasn't much of a line, so after a freshman finished ordering, Liz stepped up and frowned for a long moment, considering her options. "Umm, french toast, a small steakette, and apple juice. What do you want, Max?"

Max paused a moment and let his instincts take over. "The spicy barbecue wings and a strawberry milkshake, please." Liz giggled again.

After paying the tab, (Liz insisted on treating him,) they were sent off to find a table while their orders were prepared. "So," Liz said while scootching into a booth by the window. "What's the deal with these 'others,' anyway? I'm still a little vague on where they fit in."

Max smiled. "You always were the inquisitive one, weren't you Liz? Well, let's see, where do I start?" He looked around to make sure that no one was close enough to hear him saying something wild. "You remember what my mother said in her message about how we came to be on Earth? That we'd died on our home planet but our 'essence,' our souls were saved?"

"Yes," Liz said, and jumped. "By the way, I *did* make that transcript f the message, I just keep forgetting to give it to you. It's in the pocket of my knapsack, back in the room."

"It's okay," Max assured her. "I'll make sure to pick it up from you before we go our separate ways." The thought of them separating again seemed to depress Liz as much as it secretly did Max, but what could they do? He couldn't stay with her here forever. "So, bodies were created for us in embryo, using our own genes and human DNA, so that we could live as human beings, but still use our natural abilities. Does that make sense?"

"Yeah," Liz agreed. "Though Nasedo told Michael that your powers were human, not alien, in origin. The peak of the human potential, or something."

"Nasedo may just have been trying to motivate him," Max pointed out. "We all thought of ourselves as basically human at that point, so maybe Nasedo thought it was easier..." A waitress came up to their table with an order, and Max paused until she had left. "easier to do something thinking it was human rather than alien. Still, while humans may have the potential to do what we do, our abilities correspond with the talents we originally had on our home world." Max thought for a second. "I was going somewhere with this, wasn't I?"

"The others," Liz supplied helpfully.

"Right. But mother knew things would be difficult for us here on Earth. Because we'd died before our essence could be salvaged, our memories of home would be faint, deeply submerged. As children we wouldn't know who we were or why we were on Earth... as we didn't. There were to be guardians, four of them... Kilvorens, able to shape-change and command incredible power to defend us. But they weren't our kind, and could only offer protection, not guidance."

"Nasedo was one of them, right?" Liz clarified.

"Yes. Two of the others were killed by the army, and one captured by what would later become the special unit." He shook off the pain of those memories. "But four trusted retainers of the royal family volunteered to undergo the procedure along with us - to have their essences transferred into human vessels. Trusted teachers and servants."

"Wait a second..." Liz said, a thoughtful look on her face. "They volunteered for this... while they were still alive?"

"It's kind of hard to make decisions like that when you're dead," Max pointed out. "Yeah, that blew me away too. That these people would give up their lives, their homes, just to help us..."

"I imagine that 'procedure' must have hurt too," Liz pointed out. "I wouldn't want someone sucking *my* soul out..."

Max laughed. "Well, if it did hurt, they never mentioned it. So, they were supposed to be with us while we were growing up, but the pods were separated, and they couldn't do much to find us as kids themselves. But once Michael learned there were other pods, we managed to track them as far as Houston, where Bentor tracked us down." Max let out a sudden yawn. "I think that's enough shop talk for now." He took another bite of his brunch. "Good wings. How d'you find out about this place?"

"Hmm?" Liz blinked prettily in surprise, (not that she wasn't *always* pretty in Max's opinion.) "Um, my mom was here with me to help me move into residence, and we went looking for somewhere to have lunch afterwards," she recounted. "She asked one of the frosh leaders, and he recommended it." She cut a bit out of her steakette and popped it into her mouth on a fork.

Well. "To be honest, that wasn't as much of a story as I'd hoped for," Max admitted. There was so much he wanted to know about Liz, about her life since she had left him, but so few words to ask with. It's not a bad side that I'm so curious, is it? Liz and I used to be good friends as well as girlfriend and boyfriend. It's not like I'm in love with her, just because I want to hear more about her life.

"I'm sorry," Liz said, shrugging and laying her hand down flat on the table in front of her. "There just wasn't a story to tell."

"That's okay," Max said with a smile, reaching out to touch her hand in what he hoped was a non-intrusive, friendly way.

WHOOSH! Suddenly a rush of mental images bombarded him. No, it wasn't an bombardment, because that suggested randomness. It was a simple narrative shown in highly compact thoughts, coming into Max's mind in less than a second:

A beautiful young woman with dark brown hair in a short bob, wearing a tight turtleneck sweater and an almost ankle-length denim skirt, standing next to the bleachers on a football field.

'Hello.' 'Hi, you were in the game, weren't you? Nice field goal.' 'Just doing my part for the team. I'm Randy Davis, by the way.' 'Hi. Liz Parker.' 'Listen, I was looking over at you in the stands every chance I got during the game, and I have to ask; by some crazy chance do you not have a date to the dance yet?'

Liz giggled. 'No, I don't. Is this an invitation?'

"That's weird." Max jumped slightly as Liz spoke in the present, interrupting his absorption of the vision. "That's the first time we've touched since meeting the other day. Somehow, after everything we've gone through... I expected something to happen, you know?"

She didn't feel it? Well, maybe that's for the best. If I got the memory of Liz meeting her boyfriend, what would Liz have seen in my life? My commitment vows? Being with Tess for the first time?? If she has any memories of us at all, those are things better kept from her.

Liz took another bite, her brunch almost done, and then jumped slightly in her chair in the way that Max knew meant she was remembering something important that had almost been forgotten. "Oh, we have to feed the jukebox before we go." She started looking for some change.

"Um, forgive me for asking but... why? It's just a jukebox and I don't need to hear any music."

"It's good luck," she told him with a straight face. "My friends and I always feed the jukebox here before exams. And if we're going to find that space pod of yours, Max, we're gonna need all the good luck we can get." She got up and headed for the machine with the spinning CD's, only a table away. "You pick: seven thirty-four, one fifteen, two sixty-five, or four fifty-nine."

"Uh... what songs are they?" Max asked.

"Not gonna tell you," Liz teased him. "Just pick."

"Uhhh... two six five."

"Ooohh," Liz whispered. "And he picks the sad song."

"Wait," Max started, but it was too late. Liz had already dropped the quarter in and was pushing buttons.

* * * * *

"Max." She reached out to brush his dark hair away from his forehead, but it fell back the moment her hand moved on.

"Tess, baby," Max whispered, propping himself to take a better look at her. "I love you, I need you..."

"I'd die without you," Tess whispered back, and then realized that something had changed. Max wasn't in bed next to her, or in the room at all. It had all been a dream.

Tess sighed. The clock in the room read 11:42. Time to be getting up, she supposed.

Among the benefits of mastering molecular transformation was getting cleaned and dressed more quickly. It was a momentary thing for Tess to convert the minute traces of sweat, dust, dirt, and grime about her body to odorless gases and let them drift away.

Then she took an old dress she didn't like any more and converted it into a new outfit, as good as laundry-fresh and pressed. Today, Tess decided on a simple blue shirt with a v-neck and a black skirt with a modestly short hem. Simple, fresh, innocent, but sexy. After a second's thought she pulled her short blonde hair into a small ponytail, slipped her feet into sandals, and left the bedroom.

The rest of the apartment seemed pretty much deserted, except that there was obviously someone in the shower. Kitchen had been well stocked sometime since last night, so Tess mixed up a bowl of instant oatmeal (with plenty of sugar and a little hot pepper sauce for zing,) and heated it up with the wave of a hand.

The water flow in the bathroom shut off, and about four spoonfuls later someone emerged - Isabel, wearing only a shirt that went down to about miniskirt length. Tess nodded calmly at the other alien girl. Since she could transform her clothes as easily as Tess could, presumably Isabel either couldn't be bothered, or was making the fashion statement she wanted to. Then again, Tess couldn't really understand why her sister-in-law insisted on hot showers when using her powers to clean herself would be so much more convenient.

"Nice outfit, Tess," Isabel commented, grabbing a bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator and drinking straight from it. "Very 'America's Sweetheart.'"

"Uh, thanks," Tess replied. "I just figured, while in college-town, dress as the colleens do."

Isabel snorted. "Have you seen the chicks that go to this school? None of them dress like that... well, maybe one of them." Isabel almost winked at Tess, but not quite.

"Uhh... whatever," Tess decided. "By the way, what was with that whole scene with Liz early this morning?"

"I was in a mood," Isabel explained, "and Michael was just in high spirits. What's the big, anyway? You used to pick on her more than anybody."

Tess flushed with embarrassment. "I was young back then. C'mon, Is, just cut her a break, okay? For me, and for Max. She didn't ask to be dragged back into this, and the past is the past." Tess smiled what was hopefully a persuasive smile.

Isabel shrugged absently. "Your call. Well, I better go check on my dear mate. See ya, sister."

"Oh, wait," Tess said before Isabel could leave the room. "Do you know where Max is?"

Isabel stifled a nasty giggle. "Well, from what Michael told me... he went out to brunch. With Parker." That giggle finally escaped as Isabel made her exit.

Tess sighed to herself, alone again. "Uncle Morph, you never warned me it would be like this," she whispered to herself, and the memories came coursing back.

May of 1999. At fifteen, (in terms of her human appearance, that is,) she had cried all the way from school to their apartment and collapsed on the couch in a pile of tears.

He found her there not ten minutes later. Normally, his job at the Army as Ed Harding being what it was, he wouldn't have come home for more than an hour. Later Tess would learn that he had known she was upset, all the way across town, and come to her as quickly as he could.

"What's wrong?" A human parent, or substitute parent, might have wrapped his arms around her, but Uncle Morph never showed her that kind of affection - not unless they were in public. But after seven years, the sound of his voice, of any of his voices, was comfort enough that Tess stopped crying and looked up at him.

"Oh, uncle Morph..." He was uncle Morph only in private too, the combination of a roughly appropriate relational term and the name of a comic-book character who shared his most obvious characteristic. When other people were around, of course, Tess called Ed Harding 'Daddy', but he had been firm that he wasn't really her father. "You wouldn't want to hear about it," she explained, wiping a tear from her human cheek.

"Try me," Morph said softly, looking into her eyes."

"It's about a boy," Tess warned, and giggled as Morph's Ed Harding face screwed up in distaste. But having confessed that much, the rest came spurting out of her. "I asked Bobby Seaver to the spring dance, he's really cute and even though he's dated Karen London a few times, they're not going steady or anything and I'm a lot prettier than Karen is."

Morph nodded thoughtfully. "And?" he prompted, not guessing what was about to come next.

"He turned me down." Tess took a deep breath before confessing the truly heartbreaking part. "He called me a space case and said he wouldn't date me if I was the last girl in school."

"Oh." Morph shook his head regretfully. "'Space Case'... this is supposed to be some kind of an insult?"

"Oh, Morph," she chided him. "A space case is someone who doesn't understand the others, who doesn't fit in." She took a deep, sob-laden breath. "I've tried, I really tried! It's not my fault that I'm diff..."

"Now, you stop right there," Morph interrupted her, his eyes steady on Tess's. Impulsively he reached out and grabbed her hand, an unheard of intimacy between them. "Yes, you are different. But I never want to hear you apologizing for it. You are a star child, Teresa, which means that you are more special, more precious, and more important than..." It took him a moment to recall the names. "Bobby Seaver and Karen London could ever dream of being."

"Hmmm..." Tess said, somewhat mollified. "But what good is it being so special when I'm all alone. Well, not *all* alone," she qualified, with a shy smile at her shapechanging uncle. "I have you, I know. But it's just not the same."

"It won't always be this way, baby," Morph encouraged her. "Soon, I'm going to take you away to a place called Roswell, to be with other star children like you. As soon as I can bring the four of you together safely. Their names are Michael and Isabel and Maxwell, and where you belong is with them. And Max is going to fall completely in love with you and make you happier than Karen London could ever imagine."

Now this was knew. Morph had mentioned 'going to Roswell' before, but never mentioned this many details before. As nice a story as it was, Tess had to giggle. "How can you possibly know that, Uncle Morph?"

"Because I know that it's meant to be true love between you and Max, and Michael and Isabel."

"I don't believe you," Tess said. "But thanks anyways, for helping me forget about Bobby. I love you, uncle."

* * * * *

Clunk. The quarter Liz had supplied dropped down quietly into the Jukebox's change bin, and Liz smiled to herself for a second in bittersweet anticipation of the song that was about to start, before flashing a glance over towards Max. She was so glad that he had come with her, it was almost like old times between them. A slight hiss emerged from the speakers as the blank space on the track before the instrumentals came in began to play.

Liz moved back to their table, her pace in the rhythm as the song began with a haunting guitar riff, and then settled down into a regular beat. Against the tensely energetic beat, a singer with a smoky baritone began to sing.

('I hear you just got married,
Took a month-long honeymoon.
And you were all smiles at the wedding.
You cried when you kissed the groom.')

"Well," Liz teased Max, "we have to stick around while the song's playing. Can I have this dance?" Oh, heaven, to be in his arms again, even if only for one song.

('I got no invitation.
I guess the mailman din' bring it to me.')

"I..." Max's face lit up for a tiny fraction of a second, then was replaced by a dull frown. "I don't think that would be a good idea, Liz."

('But I see the whole thing, in slow motion,
Every night, as I try to sleep.')

"Oh," Liz said, trying to hide her own disappointment. Desperately trying again, she waved towards the green-topper table in the corner. "Game of pool? Bet I can still whip your ass."

('My buddy John said you looked real pretty,
And you acted like you were in love.')

Max sighed. "Bring it on, geometry girl." Grinning competitively, he slid away from the table and headed off to find a cue.

('He said the preacher asked for objections,
An' he thought about standin' up.')

Liz smiled at her minor victory, got a shorter cue, and gestured to Max that he go ahead and take the break.

('I tol' John, he musta been crazy,
'Cause you were justa bout ta say 'I do.'
An' he jus' gave me a wink,
An' said all he could think,
Was it coulda been me with you.')

Max managed to sink one ball of the break, the fifteen, but his next target rebounded just out of reach of the corner pocket, and Liz grinned as she went up to the table to take her turn.

('It could have been me, standin' there with you,
It could have been me, and my dreams coming true.
But those dreams move on, if you wait too long.
It took me 'til now to see: it could have been me.')

Liz, having successfully made three shots in a row, including an impressive double bank, flubbed one on purpose just to give Max a chance to catch up. (And give herself another chance to see Max bending over the pool table in those tight jeans. Hoo mama!)

('I don't guess I ever told you,
That I went out and bought you a ring.')

Max gamely took aim and sent the cue ball rolling across the table. It collided with his target at completely the wrong angle, but managed to send a different striped ball into the side pocket. He lined up for another shot, but Liz stopped him. "That's not the ball you called."

('I'd even carried it around in my pocket,
Waiting to say the right thing.')

"I didn't call *any* ball," Max disagreed, and Liz realized he was right.

"From now on we call it," she warned him. "That shot was fluke luck and you know it."

('I pulled it out the other day,
But the diamond had lost its shine.')

Max nodded slightly and lined up for his next shot. Teasingly, Liz came up from behind and stood next to him, so that her thigh was pressing against his through two layers of denim.

('Well, I know how it feels,
'Cause my eyes grow dim,
When I think,
That you could have been mine.')

The touch was electric... well no, not quite electric, but electrifying nonetheless. To feel the warmth of Max's body so close to her made Liz choke back a gasp as waves of desire ran through her. Surely Max would flub this shot more badly than the last... but he nailed a single bank instead!

So, as the music flowed back into the chorus, Liz tried the same trick again with a twist - forcing herself to break the contact just as Max was about to shoot.

('It could have been me,
Standin' there with you,')

Max's cue ball spiraled right into the corner pocket and he turned to glare at Liz. "Scratch," she told him with her best facade of innocence, and went to fetch the cue ball.

('It could have been me,
And my dreams coming true.')

After sinking the seven ball in the side pocket, Liz sang along with the line whose haunting melody had begun the intro, possibly the most compelling line in the whole song from a melodic standpoint:

"But those dreams move on, if you wait too long..."

Liz looked up at Max, who seemed to be far away for a second. So she called the five ball in the corner pocket and took her shot.

('It took me 'til now to see,
It could've been me...')

Things were getting trickier now. Liz had only two of her 'solid' balls left on the table, compared to four of Max's stripes and the menacing eight ball. It was a good position overall for Liz, since she was closer to winning, but it also meant her shots were getting more and more difficult. She made a try at the six ball and didn't get it quite in. As the instrumental played, Max sank one of his own balls and then lost control of the cue to Liz again.

('I know... I called,
Just in time, to be too late...
You know dreams - move on,
when you wait too long.')

Max sneaked up and tickled the back of Liz's neck, resulting in a shot that barely moved the cue ball an inch.

('It took me 'til now to see...
That it could've been me!
Standing there with you...')

"Oh, is that how you wanna play it, Maxwell Evans?" Liz asked him. "Then go ahead - take your shot." She nodded challengingly at him. Max gulped silently.

('It could have been me,
And my dreams coming true.')

But Max stood up to the table anyway, lining up his pool cue. Liz snuck up on his other side and kissed his earlobe, but Max didn't take his shot. Liz licked slightly at his ear, but when she realized that he was waiting to take his shot until she was done, she withdrew. Max chuckled with superiority... until he flubbed the shot anyway.

('But those dreams move on,
If you wait too long.')

Liz lined up a shot of her own, wondering what Max would do this time. The answer was quickly revealed when he fluffed her hair back and started running his lips and tongue across her throat and neck. Liz wanted nothing more than to drown herself in that sensation. Instead she fired off the shot, waited until she had seen the ball drop into the pocket, and then dived onto Max, nuzzling the short brown hair at his temple while going for the ticklish spots under his ribs with her hands. Max looked up at her in surprise, and suddenly, their mouths were separated by less than an inch of space.

('It took me 'til now to see...')

This is it, Liz thought. The final moment of decision. But the decision had already been made by the time she got that far. As if drawn in by a common force, her lips met his in an explosion of feeling. Then, after a few seconds, Max pulled away.

"What was that?" he whispered. Whether because the answer was obvious or unknown, neither of them answered. By some unspoken cue they both stood up and straightened themselves out.

"The song is over," Max pointed out. "And it's getting late, so we should be heading back to the apartment. I guess you win again, Liz."

"Okay," Liz repeated somewhat hollowly, pushing balls down into the pockets with her bare hands. "Thanks... um, for an interesting game."

"A little *too* interesting," Max muttered. "But at least your good luck seems to be working, Liz." They picked up from the table where they had eaten and started back across the campus in a dead, uncomfortable silence. "Liz?" Max said softly as they rounded a building.

"I'm sorry, Max," Liz blurted out. "I didn't mean for things to get out of hand like that, and I was probably the one who started it..."

"Sshh," Max silenced her. Without a word he pointed at a man standing about forty feet away, and then whirled her back around the corner, out of his sight. "Did you see him?" he asked urgently.

"Uh, yeah," Liz answered. "What's going..."

"Let's go for a 'run'," Max suggested with a quiet urgency in his voice. "That way." He pointed back away from the Congreve tower.

"Why are we... Ma-"

"And *don't* say anything that might possibly be considered out of the ordinary," he continued, starting to hurry her along. "Or mention my name or those of my family."

Liz frowned, trying to think of what to say that wouldn't violate those restraints. "What-EVER, 'Jay.'"

* * * * *

"Okay, people!" Isabel called out, stepping out of the bathroom in her outfit for the day. "Party time is over, people... we need to get back to work." She scanned the area. Tess was sitting at the kitchen table, lost in thought until Isabel's calling had roused her. The allies had gathered in the living room, but... "What, are Max and Liz not back yet?"

"No," Tess reported. "What about Michael, is he around anywhere?"

Isabel smirked. "Oh, he's around. But he tried some of Liz's rum after all."

Tess blinked. "How bad is it? Why don't you kiss him sober."

Isabel laughed. "It's pretty strange, and I've tried kissing. No effect."

"What??" Tess's eyes narrowed. "What's so funny, Isabel? What are you not telling us??"

Michael walked up the hallway. His hair was flat against his head, his clothing a dull gray suit, and he was wearing glasses that he had presumably either found or made. "What Isabella is uncertain how to inform you of is the fact that the ethyl alcohol present in the aforementioned beverage seems to have had the opposite effect on my person than it had on Maxwell five years ago."

Tess' jaw dropped. "It's made you into a lawyer?"

Isabel let out a burst of giggles, and Michael stared coldly at both the alien women. "It has made me unusually sober," he clarified. "It is my hypothesis that alcohol magnifies many-fold the expectations or the hopes of the alien drinker. Maxamillian drank from Kyle's flask wanting to relax, to lose control. He expected to get stereotypically 'drunk' and he got very drunk. On the other hand I experimented wanting to remain in control, and as a result have become far more controlled than usual."

Tess was barely holding back hilarity at this point. Slowly, with measured movements, she rose from her chair, and stepped cautiously towards Michael, as if still suspicious that his austere behavior was the setup to some kind of joke. In a high-pitched, unnatural voice, Tess said "Meep, meep!" reached out, and squeezed Michael's nose quickly with her thumb and forefinger. He didn't react beyond a glower, and that, apparently, was the point where Tess could take no more and exploded into helpless laughter.

"Stop that, Tess," Isabel ordered calmly. "Well, Max and Liz should have been back by now. I'd like to try to make mental contact just in case there's anything wrong." She looked around. Tess shrugged. Michael seemed to be giving the proposition some weighty deliberation. The 'others,' as usual, seemed hesitant to volunteer an opinion unless specifically asked. Isabel focused on waiting for Michael's response.

The question of who was in charge in Max's absence had never been firmly settled on a blanket basis. Complicating the situation was the fact that although both Isabel and Tess outranked Michael in the nobility structure of their home world, on a military chain of command Rev had been second only to Xam. (Of course, neither Princess Vilandra nor Evani had been in the military, so...)

In the absence of any firm cue from Max, Isabel tended to think of herself on an equal level with Michael, which meant having him check on her decisions when Max wasn't available.

"It would seem... a prudent move," he said finally.

So Isabel closed her eyes and concentrated. With far less effort than she used to take, she could put herself into Max's mindscape... which apparently included rushing over the campus' fields. "So, you've realized you're late?" she asked sarcastically.

Her brother's reaction surprised her. "No!" he called to her. "You can't... can't stay here. Mustn't use your powers, any of you... especially telepathy. Get on the move, find us - physically. Bounty hunters... Kaffarrans."

Isabel frowned. "Max, I-"

"GO!!" he roared at her, and Isabel was daunted enough to cut the connection. She looked around at everyone, her alien family.

"Max... was really worried about something," she started uncertainly. "He said not to use our powers, especially telepathy. Do any of you have any clue what a Gavvarran is?"

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."
posted on 7-Sep-2001 7:35:30 AM
Whom among us, part six
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories:
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda

Shipper warning: this part has a little Max/Liz, not much Max/Tess, a fair bit of Liz/other, and a bunch of chase scenes. Shouldn't offend anybody TOO much.


"My sister just called me," Max said quietly as he hurried them across the campus. "I hung up on her, and told her not to try calling again."

"Call you??" Liz repeated dumbly. "M- 'Jay', why the hell are you talking like this?"

"That's better," he said with a smile. "Assume that we're being monitored. Anything that any other student at this school might be expected to say, we can say safely. But I imagine that there are dozens of words or phrases that are being searched for. If we speak any of those, our voice could be recorded and used to find us."

"I... got it," Liz muttered, her mind reeling with the possibilities. Who would have the capability to do something like this? The list of words that might be dangerous spooled itself out in her mind: their names, Max, Isabel, Michael, Tess. Alien. Powers. Telepathy. Healing. Star. Planet. Lightning bolt... She concentrated, trying to come up with a 'safe' question.

"Do... do you have any idea who might be doing this?" she finally tried.

"The... the old man, I showed you?" Max stuttered out, seeming to be having at least as much difficulty with censoring himself. "He isn't a man. A device, an electronic imitation, that would house... a different kind of species."

"Ah," Liz replied blankly. An android? An exoskeleton for a different race of aliens? She wasn't sure how to clarify when obviously these words were on the danger list too. But it helped things fall into place. Extraterrestrial electronics could well be capable of doing what Max had said - monitor all speech on campus... or at least that which wasn't behind closed doors too far away.

But there were so many people talking that one being wouldn't be able to understand it all, so apparently he'd have to depend on a none-too-flexible computer analysis. Picking key words out of their conversation like a search engine. And Max had recognized the android in time, and given her the cue, so that neither of them would be saying any keywords. Now... "Well, what now?"

"We should be able to go home, but it'd be safer to find somewhere to stay put for a bit and find a long way around," Max suggested. "These... people can track by more than sound. It... may have the equivalent of a picture of me, and they can tune in on..." Giving up on finding safe words to convey the end of that thought, Max settled for extending his hand very obviously in front of him, then tapping his hand. Liz caught that one too - his powers, or maybe even the potential for power that existed in Max's brain. If he got too close, since the potential for power wasn't something that Max could turn off, and the alien presumably hadn't locked in on it yet.

"Let me lead," Liz suddenly suggested. Max had been heading a rough course straight away from where he has seen the robot, and it seemed to Liz that they needed to take off in an unexpected direction, and get lost amongst other people. Max nodded, and Liz cut quickly over to the Whitman building and inside. Down a hallway, Liz took a look inside the fourth door on the right randomly, and saw a bunch of student-aged people, maybe nine women and seven guys, arranged around a series of tables in an oval pattern.

"Well, hello!" a woman called from across the small chamber. "Welcome. And who're you now??"

Liz blushed with a very old shyness. "Um, none of you know me, but..."

"Hey!" another girl called. "Are you Barbara's friend Nina?"

Liz considered that for a second. Nobody was shaking their heads, so Nina was presumably unknown to all the company. "Where... is Barbara?" she said tentatively.

"She couldn't make it this week - her babysitter canceled," the girl explained. Willing to take the plunge, Liz stepped forward, unobtrusively waving Max in too. "Uh, this is..."

"Oh, your husband Kevin, right?" the first woman said without much doubt in her voice. Liz shrugged mentally and decided to see if Max would accept this. It seemed like a good opportunity to dodge the robot and hide safely, if...

"H-hello, everybody," Max said, waving and putting an arm around Liz's shoulder, obviously playing the nervous husband. "How's it going?" He walked her to a pair of empty chairs next to each other and sat down.

"Well, shall we get back to it?" the woman who was apparently leading this meeting, whatever it was, asked. Liz nodded... and then had to stifle a laugh when it became apparent that this was some kind of 'mature students' meeting. Mature? Serious, maybe, but at twenty-two Liz was sure she didn't fit the bill.

But it wouldn't do any good to advertise that now, so she did her best to play the part of mature, shy, married Nina as the other participants talked about various things that had happened over the past month and plans for some kind of social. Max was also content to keep his mouth shut and observe silently, which Liz was glad of.

It was quickly apparent that a lot of the other participants were also in married couples, at least ten of them, possibly twelve or more out of the unbalanced sixteen present, and hints were dropped that at least one of the girls had a husband who was a member but not present today. Maybe that was the point of the group, in fact - not mature, but married students. Well, I definitely don't qualify for that, Liz admitted. Not in this lifetime. Not for the first time in the past few days, the memory of her marriage-that-never-was with Max haunted her thoughts.

As a polite debate raged over the musical entertainment to be hired for the social, a noise outside the door caught Liz's attention. Through the tiny window, she caught sight of a familiar face... the man that Max had pointed out. The robot, he was here!! And Max had said that the machine would be able to recognize his face. Both of their chairs were facing more or less towards the door - Max could not turn away without drawing extra attention to himself. And he probably didn't even know who was outside!

Liz did the only thing she could think of. And you always said you were imaginative. Half launching herself out of her chair, she pressed her lips to Max's in an enthusiastic kiss, trying to not only cover his face, but get her body between Max and the door. Caught by complete surprise, Max started to lose his balance, and Liz deliberately pushed harder that way. Within seconds his chair had toppled over and they were both on the ground.

This was even better - they were both hidden by the table. When Max started to mumble through her lips, Liz reluctantly broke off the kiss and shushed him, her arms still around him. From where she was, Liz could see the bottom of the door swing wide as it opened, and two feet step halfway into the room with what seemed an unnaturally mechanical precision.

"Yes, what is it?" That was the group leader again.

"My apologies. I seem to have been given the wrong direction." Liz shivered at the unearthly timbre of the robot's voice, though she knew she wouldn't have been able to put her finger on what was so strange about him if Max hadn't told her. Those feet backed up, the door closed, and footsteps proceeded further into the building.

"Um... feeling impulsive today, 'Nina'?" someone asked Liz, looking down at the two of them behind the table.

"Uh..." Liz stuttered, standing up as Max did the same. His cheeks were red, and Liz knew she must be blushing up a storm. "Err... bye." Without another word, the two hurried to the door and left the way they had come, secure in the knowledge that the robot had gone in the other direction.

* * * * *

"The Kaffarrans are from a solar system near ours, Isabel, as you'd remember if you paid nearly as much attention to our lessons as Max did," Bentor explained. "They never pursued the powers of the mind, the same way the species of the five planets did. They specialized in technology instead, and for many centuries the two star systems enjoyed the benefits of trade. Many of the machines you've seen were designed by your mother and built by Kaffarran artisans. The pods. The orbs."

"Okay," Michael said, nodding. "So?"

"Most Kaffarrans are peace-loving people who seek productive lives on their home planet or compatible situations on other worlds, like ours. But Kaffarran bounty hunters are legendary. They can build exoskeletons capable of operating in any environment and blending in with the local populace - with heightened senses to track their targets, and unnatural strength. They machinery is even capable of nullifying or tracking use of The Power - which is why Max told you not to use your powers."

"How do we even know that these Kaffarrans are after us?" Tess asked somewhat doubtfully.

"Who else in Tempe is wanted dead by a galactic warlord, Tess?" Michael shot back.

"He's right," Kenner put in. "There's a one in ten thousand chance that we, or more properly you," his gesture indicated the three of them plus the missing Max, the Royal four, "aren't the quarry, but we can't afford to take that chance." He turned to Isabel. "Max said to find him??"

"Uh... he mentioned it," Isabel said somewhat doubtfully. "Not with any vehemence, just kind of like 'if we have the time.' I got the impression he's hoping to shake this Kaffarran dude himself and get back here. He was much more insistent that we take precautions and not venture into any danger ourselves."

"A wise choice," Bentor agreed. "Once we leave this room, probably, we must act as if our words are being monitored by the Kaffarran's audio sensors." The sage had already set up white noise generators at the doorway to the suite and near the windows to reduce the risk of anything said within being audible. "Don't say any of our names, 'alien', 'Kaffarran', 'exoskeleton', 'android', 'robot', 'powers', 'telepathy', 'tracking'..."

"Yes," Michael butted in once again. "I believe we can extrapolate the entire list ourselves." He was still noticeably anti-drunk. "Time is passing, and in the event that our comerade Maxwell cannot extricate himself, we may be needed." Bentor nodded, and they filed silently out into the hostile world.

* * * * *

Pete Wilson sighed as he made his exit from Scientific Logic 2. He was feeling reasonably happy. That was his last class of the day, so he could take off for his parent's place in Sedona any time. His stomach rumbled. Okay, so best not to head out to the car until I've had some lunch. He'd already packed his things and they were waiting for him in his old secondhand Sable.

On the way to the cafeteria in the Terriman square, Pete caught sight of a familiar face. "Hey, Davis! How's it going!" The friendly football player looked around and adjusted course to intercept him.

"Hey, man! How's it going?" Randy raised his fist and Pete allowed him to make his strange little bumping-hands greeting.

"Doing good, man. Where you off to?"

"Uh... on a food mission. Thought I'd grab lunch at the micky D's in the student union."

Pete considered that. "Sounds good. Mind if I come along?"

Randy shrugged. "Sure man." He turned down a corridor that would bring them to an exit from which they could conveniently walk to the student union building. Pete and Randy weren't really tight friends, but Pete had gotten to know the jock pretty well while he had been dating Liz last year, and recently...

"So, I did it, man." Pete announced out loud, though not loud enough that anyone but Randy would have reason to pay attention. "I asked Liz Parker out."


"That's... that's okay with you, right? I mean, I wouldn't want to step on..."

"It's fine," Randy assured him. "Liz is great, but it was never going to work between us. I haven't changed my mind about that. But... well, what did she say? How did she react??"

"She gave me an emphatic maybe," Pete confessed.

"Dude! Sorry to hear it."

"I'm not giving up," Pete said defensively. "She said... that it wasn't a good time for something like this." He sighed. "Whatever that means."

"'Not a good time?'" Randy repeated slowly. Pete watched the other guy as they headed out into the open air. He'd learned more than a year ago not to underestimate Randy just because he was an athlete, and tended to express himself with too much slang. There was a good brain hidden under all that wavy brown hair, and he had a real feel for people.

"Well, is there anything unusual about this 'time'?" Randy mused out loud. "There's midterm fever in the air for most of us, but Liz is always so on top of her schoolwork it could make you sick, so it can't be that..."

"I think it might have to do with these, um... new people," Pete suggested. "She came over to borrow my laptop and the rest of my gear early this morning. That's when I asked her, actually. We carried the stuff all the way over to the Congreve tower." He concentrated, thinking. "A couple of guys, around our age, and two real babes with them. All of them dressed funny. And there were a few older people running around. Liz said they had a fancy suite set up on the eighth floor, but I didn't get up to see it."

"'New people?'" Randy repeated. They were approaching the union now. "You ever seen them around before?" Pete shook his head. "Hmm... weird. I wonder if they're from Roswell."

"Ros..." Pete stopped himself before he could question that. "Ah, Liz's old digs, right?? Well, none of the girls was 'her bestest friend in all the world ever, Maria.' I know that much." Pete smiled, remembering the first time he had met Liz's friend Maria, at a new year's vacation down in Mexico that the two Roswell girls had unexpectedly arrived at.

"Hmm..." Randy said again. As they headed into the student union, Pete led the way up to the burger-joint fast food window, which was unusually short on students lining up for their lunch. Pete ordered some chicken nuggets, a small fry, and orange juice, and indicated with a small gesture to Randy that he should order too. Pete intended to cover lunch for both of them. It was the least he could do to pay Randy back for listening to his romantic troubles - with Randy's ex.

Randy ordered a specialty double cheeseburger slathered with all kinds of sauces, a large onion rings and chocolate milkshake, and led the way to an empty table in the food court. "Well, I've never really told anybody about this," Randy started, "even Liz herself, but back last spring when I was wanting to get more serious, I..." He paused, trying to put the thoughts into words right. "I kinda got the feeling that she still had issues about some guy from when she was back in Roswell."

"Really?" Pete asked after washing down a bite of chicken. "Liz? She always seems so together."

"Well, yeah," Randy admitted. "That's Liz for you. But there's something... something big, that she always keeps hidden inside. Probably..." He paused again, working something out in that brain. "From her sophomore year at West Roswell high, near as I could work it out. So that's a lot of time gone by even before she came here to Arizona. But... as much as Liz really believes she's put this thing, this guy, behind her - she can't really do it. Does that make any sense to you, man? I mean, you've known Parker a year longer than I have."

"Hmm..." Pete considered that. "Yeah... I guess I can see that, now that I'm looking for it." He considered. "Any idea who this guy is she's so stuck on?"

Randy shook his head. "Nope. Not Kyle Valenti, 'cause she rattled on and on to me about him quite enough. But the real guy... I don't think she ever let slip his name."

Pete sat and chewed on that, (well, that and a few fries.) "So, what do I do now man?" He wasn't sure whether Randy would have any useful advice, but it never hurt to ask.

"Well, you've got to give her a little space. How did you leave things with Liz by the way?"

"Hmm? Uh, she said she'd think about it, I said to talk to me next week..."

"No." Randy shook his head. "How did you leave it body-language wise? Was there a kiss? Any kind of gesture involving physical contact? It's important, man."

Pete thought back to his meeting with Liz earlier today. "No, man, there wasn't... any of that."

"That hurts you," Randy admitted. "Any chance you can swing the drop-by without Miss Parker getting suspicious??"

"I dunno," Pete bemoaned. "She thinks I'm heading straight out of town, as per ususal. Plus, I don't even know which suite they're in."

"Oh." Randy took another think break. "Well, don't risk it then. Leave things for the weekend... oh, no, on second though, leave her one of those cute 'just thinking about you' emails tonight. With your out of town phone number, just in case she'd like to talk." Randy chuckled. "I'll see if I can find a way to help out from here, man."

Pete blinked in surprise. "Well... thanks man."

"No thanks necessary," Randy admitted. "You're gonna do this man, you're gonna get that date with Liz, and plenty more after the first. Then I'll talk Liz into setting me up with that friend of hers, the sexy Teslik chick, and we can double." He laughed. "I can't ask an ex-girlfriend to set me up with a friend of hers unless she's dating someone else too."

Pete joined in the laughter as he finished up his lunch. "Well, I'd better head over to the parking lot man. Thanks for the company, okay? It's been real." He offered his hand for a shake.

"Keep the faith, brother." Pete smiled and emptied the garbage from his tray into a bin. From here... well, if he took 'the south way' to parking lot four, he'd pass within sight of the Congreve tower. (Never mind that the north way was shorter.)

And he reminisced as he went.

It had been last January, and a remarkably cold wind for the Arizona desert had driven warmth-loving students inside by the hundreds. Pete and Liz had waited for the storm to blow over in the residence suite in Carlton dorm they had each applied to be at the beginning of the year, along with Randy and a couple of their suitemates and friends. It was a festive atmosphere, with no-one worrying about classes or homework, and the party started getting down once Pete brought out a little booze he'd hidden away. At least, almost no-one had been worrying about classes or homework...

"C'mon, Liz," Randy called into her room. "Do you really want to spend all evening slaving away over your assignment on red giant evolution patterns?? There's a bash going on out here! You can get your schoolwork done later."

"Randy," Liz's voice came back. "Don't be like that, okay? I'm just sticking to my schedule. I want to make sure I don't lose a handle on this material at the wrong time."

"You can catch up on your schedule tomorrow," Randy tried persuasively. "Look, there are a lot of people out there who would love your company, and frankly you're being a little rude hiding away in here by yourself."

Pete stifled a snicker. "Okay, okay," Liz admitted. "I'll come out for a little while. Just..." Her voice trailed out amidst footsteps, followed by Randy's calling "Okay, here we go!"

Liz let out a little yell. "Randy!! Get out and let me put something on."

"You look great to me!"


"It's not a formal 'soiree', Liz. Don't worry about it." Shortly after he said this Randy rounded the corner into the living room, a rather annoyed Liz in his arms. Offhand, Pete had to agree with Randy. Liz was wearing a pair of thin sweat pants that went halfway down past her knees, a black halter top, (the heat had been turned way up in the dorm building against the cold outside,) and bare feet. Her hair was just starting to grow out at this point, and reached down her neck and towards her shoulders with slightly shaggy optimism.

To Pete, she looked incredible. He'd been hanging out with Liz for about a year and a half now. She had dated during freshman year some, which Pete had been glad of in a vaguely big-brother sense (for all that Liz was actually a month and a half older, that didn't stop Pete from acting like a big brother.) Pete had had a great time himself that year, trying his luck with any pretty girl he met. Sometimes there had been less luck and sometimes more, but overall there had been quite a collection of fun memories.

Somehow, though, Pete hadn't really realized how dateable Liz was until she had been seeing this Randy guy for about a month. For the life of him, he couldn't think why now. She was so sweet, funny in a kinda shy way, and smart. So gorgeous, with that lush brown hair, eyes that seemed to look straight into you, and... umm - 'a perfectly lithe figure.'

Which figure was shown off very well by the clothes Liz was wearing, and Pete had to force himself to not stare at another guy's girlfriend. Fortunately, the festivities soon provided distractions, as the liquor continued to flow modestly. The television was turned on by the guy from the room opposite Pete's, and Randy booted up the suite's computer and started looking for silly games on the internet.

At the end of the night, Randy had fallen asleep on the loveseat, and Pete, (after several vodka cocktails,) found himself dancing with Liz, between the coffee table and the kitchen counter, to some kind of vaguely haunting music that Beverly's sister had put on the stereo. All the lights were turned down.

Before he even knew what was happening, Pete's lips were against Liz's and his world was falling apart from the inside out. He couldn't stop kissing her for a few seconds, and when they finally pulled away, Liz was looking at him with some kind of fuzzy confusion.

"Uh... Liz, oh, god, I'm so osrry," he muttered. And then she passed out in his arms. As far as he had ever been able to figure out, she'd never even remembered that forbidden kiss the next morning.

That anachronistic self-commentary roused Pete out of his daydreaming. Just as well, because the Congreve tower was right up ahead. And... were those some of Liz's mysterious friends? He had hung around out of sheer curiosity after delivering the computer, and had gotten a good look at several of the people who had come to pick it up. He hurried forward to catch up with them.

* * * * *

"Okay," Liz said to Max, pointing to the end of the corridor they were taking through the Carson chemistry building. "From that exit, setting a bearing due south will take us straight back to home base, and we'll be able to hug the dormitory buildings for half the way. Is this roundabout enough?"

"Sounds good," Max commented softly. He had been extremely quiet since they'd left the 'Mature students' meeting, and Liz couldn't help but wonder why. It was entirely possible that he was just trying to reduce the risk of saying something incriminating while they might be overheard... but was it conceivable that he was angry with her because she had kissed him again? It had just been part of a plan to divert them from the robot's attention, but she hadn't exactly been able to explain that at the time... or since.

Meanwhile, Max was taking the lead now that Liz had pointed the way, pushing through the double doors into the Carson's southwest foyer, and passing under the hanging stairway without even giving any signs of noticing it. (Liz had always found those stairs so unusual - going up on one side of the foyer, crossing above the doorway, and then continuing up to the second floor offices.

Carefully, he peered out of the glass windows that allowed full view of the outside in two directions. Liz guessed that he was first making sure that the area was secure, then finding the route Liz had mentioned that would take them back to the Congreve. "Come on," he urged her shortly.

As she stepped out into campus exterior, Liz was struck suddenly by the thought that this place had been 'home' for her, for... what? More than two and a half years?? Roswell seemed so very far away right now - a lot further than four hundred-odd miles. Just up one way was the Markman building, where she had spent hours in more lectures, tutorials, labs, and project research sessions than she could count. Along the path in the other direction was the Carlton dorm, where she had lived for two years. And now she was living in Bailey hall, the second residence building they'd be crawling along the edge of in an attempt to get back to the home base.

As they walked quickly, quietly along, Max nudged her slightly. Up ahead a loose web of individuals were heading in their direction - Liz recognized Michael, Tess, Isabel, and the others. Max waved to Michael slightly, and Michael nodded. No words were said yet, in an unspoken caution.

And then, just when it seemed like they were home free, Liz passed the corner that led into the Bailey Hall courtyard and noticed a woman walking across the small lawn. Her movements seemed ever so slightly unnatural - just jerky enough to set off a warning bell. Quickly Liz spun around, warning back Max, who luckily was lagging behind her somewhat, and kept him from turning the corner himself. With gestures she indicated where she had seen the alien, and he carefully peeked around the brick outcropping, then turned back to her and nodded. It was another android, or whatever, and seemed to be heading generally this way.

Liz crept forward to take a closer look. She was the one who wasn't really a part of Max's party, so her face wouldn't trig any file match alarms or something. But as she got closer, a voice from the parking lot called out "Isabel? Michael?? You're Liz's friends, right??"

The effect on the android was instant, her head immediately swivelled up to orient on the words and her feet quickly followed. Liz stifled a groan as she recognized the voice. Unbelievably, it was Pete's! How did he recognize Isabel and Michael, let alone know their name? And what co-incidence had led him to walk by and call out to them at exactly the wrong time??

She had to stall the android. She walked confidently over and began with, "Excuse me, miss. You can't come this w..."

As the woman approached, she warded Liz away with a relaxed, innocent pushing gesture. At least, it looked relaxed and innocent. The force in that seemingly casual gesture was enough to send Liz flying five feet into the air, twelve feet away, and have her splash noisily down into the middle of the courtyard pool.

The small of her back made solid contact with the bottom of the pool, forcing her head underwater for a second, but it wasn't a bruising impact after that much boyant force had been applied to her body. She was entirely drenched by the time she struggled back up to a crouch, though, and at once frightened and respectful of the alien robot. Frightened by the strength it had so casually used on her, but apparently it had also been discrete enough not to hurt her.

If she had actually winded up to take a punch, that much force could have either sent Liz through the residence wall or flying out past the parking lot - and either way, broken every bone in her body.

From where she sat in the pool Liz had a good view of the robot charging up to the mouth of the courtyard. "Help!" she called out, hoping to alert Max and the gang. "Watch where you're going, lady!!"

Suddenly a blue force-field stretched over the exit, and Liz stifled a sigh of relief. That would be Max... though she didn't know his forcefields could be any color other than blue. But he'd had years to practice - maybe different colors made different things. The robot seemed to concentrate, and a section of the forcefield dimmed but didn't go out, and then re-asserted itself. That looked promising. The robot couldn't nullify Max's powers to block out the force-field, because the force-field protected Max from the blocking effect. Maybe Michael or some of the others were helping him out.

Exoskeleton-lady's next strategy was to point at the force wall, and energy bolts started to come out of her hand. Liz was picking herself out of the pool by now, and as much as she wanted to directly help Max, she had to realize that she couldn't, both because of not having alien brain cells to contribute to the effort (and protect herself with,) and because she was caught on the wrong side of the wall. In fact, it would be good if she was elsewhere before the robot realized that she was one of Max's friends.

So Liz took off for the doors that led south out of the courtyard into the residence hall, and rushed as quickly as she could, dripping water and slip-sliding across tile, towards the door that she knew led out from the south side of the building, from which she could hopefully dash to the Congreve. She noticed several students staring at the soggy spectacle she presented, including a few guys whose stare lingered where the wet shirt and jeans clung a bit too tightly to the curves of her body. Horndogs. At least one guy was with a girl who slapped him for his gawking, and Liz had to supress the urge to laugh. It would have taken energy better used for running.

* * * * *

Max groaned with supressed effort as the Kaffarran fem shot pulse after pulse into the force wall. This ploy wasn't going to keep him safe for long - they needed another plan.

"What... what the heck is going on?" First things first - deal with whoever it was who had blown their identities.

Michael took care of that for him. "Go. Now," he instructed the college student. After a second's hesitation, the guy did - heading straight for the Congreve. Well, at least he was out of the way.

As he left, a familiar sensation took hold - Isabel mentally connecting him to the others at a subconscious level. It was a strange effect less like communication than becoming, briefly, one mind with his consort, his sister, and her husband. To think that he could become part of a collective intelligence and slip back to individuality was a strange notion (and completely at odds with what they said on 'Star Trek,') but it did make planning easier.

In this case, the planning stage was quite quick, because Isabel didn't want the telepathic field up for long, just in case the Kaffarran could sense it from behind the force wall. The goal was simple - they needed to get away from this location, hopefully without the android being able to track them. But Max could only keep the force wall up at close range against this kind of punishment, the exoskeleton would be faster than they were, and tracking them by sight would be an insult to the alien's abilities.

So... deception. Tess would be able to create a false lead with her mental powers, even to the extent of deceiving the alien inside the exoskeleton about what its tracking devices read about where power emanations were coming from, if Isabel would assist by manipulating the creature's mind. But neither of them could use their powers through the force wall either, so...

The mind merge dropped, and Max let the force wall go. Secure in the knowledge that Tess was creating false images to cover his escape, Max ran over to Tess, trying to see if she needed any assistance. Her eyes were closed and she wasn't moving - obviously this particular mind warp was demanding all of her concentration. Max scooped her light frame up in his arms and kept rushing towards the apartment building. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Michael helping Isabel along, the two of them passing him as they hurried to home base.

Finally, groaning with the effort, Max struggled up to the door. (It would have been so much easier to use some power, but he knew he couldn't risk that with the Kaffarrans around.) Right then Tess opened her lovely eyes and struggled to her own feet. "I think it's okay," she managed to gasp out.

"I agree," Isabel whispered to Max. "She fell for it."

"Who was that woman?" University-boy asked them as Max walked into the lobby of the building.

"I can't tell you," Max said simply, frustrated at the nuisance.

"Uh... okay," he muttered. "Hey, where's Liz?"

"Here Liz is," a familiar voice announced, brushing through the door. Liz was all wet, but she still looked beautiful to Max. She looked speculatively at her friend, and Max realized that she had to be thinking about what to do next about him. That fem Kaffarran had his voiceprint on a short list - it wouldn't be safe for him to wander about the campus alone. But if they undertook to protect him, he could lead the androids right to them all.

Fortunately, Liz had another option, based on things Max hadn't known about. "Pete, do you still want to go out of town for the weekend?" she asked him.

"Uh... yes."

"Are you ready to go now?" 'Pete' nodded. Liz turned to Michael. "Can you make sure he gets to his car safely, Michael?"

Michael turned to Max for confirmation, and Max nodded. "Okay," Michael agreed. "Tess, Kenner? You're with me." He got ready to hurry the poor boy off.

"Oh, Pete?" Liz called as he was about to leave. Pete turned around, and Liz met him with an uninhibited liplock. At first she tried to hold her drenched clothes away from him, but Pete reached his arms around her, heedless of a little water, and Michael had to clear his throat loudly several times before they seperated.

"Take care, Pete," Liz murmured as they seperated. "Watch your back. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you."

Max watched this all a bit uncomfortably. It seemed that he wasn't the only one who had found other romantic interests. As much as Max would like to think that she just sat and pined away waiting for him to come back, obviously Liz realized that she had to get on with her life and she had. Intellectually, he was glad of that.

But deep down, he wondered if Liz felt the same way he did right now when she watched him with Tess.

Michael, Pete, Tess, and Kenner left, and Liz crossed the lobby to signal for the elevator. "So... back to work on the computer program, I guess?" Max asked her.

"First, I need a hot shower," she pointed out. "Boy, I'm glad I brought some clothes over here so I'll have something dry to put on."

And as he waited for the elevator, Max tried not to let his imagination run away with the concept of Liz changing. Without much luck.

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."
posted on 7-Sep-2001 7:36:27 AM
Whom among us, part seven
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories:
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda
Special disclaimer: The text quoted at the end is from Piers Anthony's incredible science fiction novel 'Thousandstar,' and I make no claims to it.

Shipper warning: beware...


Michael watched the used car pick up speed as it left the parking lot behind, the gestured to Tess and Kenner that they head back. There had been no sign of any androids, and no-one was following the car.

"I don't like it," Tess opined. "Liz's boyfriend almost gets us all killed, so in return we have to watch his back as he leaves town."

"Well," Kenner observed gruffly. "It's not like he knew that he would be causing trouble simply by calling Michael's name."

"You would do well to be appreciative that Miss Parker has a beau," Michael announced pompously. "If that is indeed their relationship, which seems short of a firm conclusion."

Tess felt a wash of annoyance on two counts. Was Michael hinting that Tess couldn't hold on to her husband now that Liz Parker was back in the picture - unless Liz wasn't interested in Max? Another consideration took precedence to bickering over that, though.

"You know what?" Tess announced out loud. "I'm getting really tired of lawyer-boy."

"I would prefer to be free of this unnatural configuration myself," Michael told them, "but I regret I am unable. No maater in what fashion I attempt to express myself, my thoughts emerge in a most mature and convoluted manner."

Tess groaned - and stifled a gasp as a brainwave struck her.

"Michael, I'd like to take a small detour and examine the courtyard where Liz first saw that android. I may have a good idea. I'm not sure."

"A good idea... of what nature?" Michael asked her.

"I can't explain that yet," Tess told him.

"We're expected back at the apartment in just a few minutes," Kenner reminded them. "Max and Isabel will worry. Not to mention that the... that our enemy may also have returned to the scene of the altercation."

Tess was about to change her mind, but Michael beat her to speech out loud. "We should be able to observe the region visually from inside the building, at little or no risk."

"Okay, let's go," Tess repeated. "Carefully but quickly - this shouldn't take long."

And it didn't. They took a look out a window, which assured Kenner and Michael that nobody suspicious was hanging around the courtyard - in fact, no-one at all was there. Tess led the way out to the general area where Liz must have confronted the android.

"So... what is the next element of your secretive idea??" Michael asked wordily. Tess looked at him, judging the positions. Not quite right. She shusshed him, walking over towards the mouth of the yard, hoping that Michael would move in a similar direction.

He did. "Tess? I do not see the effaciousness in continued silence." Suddenly the right moment struck. Turning around quickly, Tess leapt towards Michael and shoved, tumbling him into the same pond that Liz had been thrown into earlier.

Kenner stared at Tess in shock. So did Michael, once most of the water had dripped out of his eyes again. "What the hell was that for?" he demanded loudly.

"To get you back to your slightly lovable self, Michael," Tess told him smugly.

"And just what on homeworld do you mean by..." Suddenly, Michael broke off in mid-rant as something occured to him.

"You're not talking soberly any more," Tess informed him unnecessarily. "I was getting tired of lawyer-boy."

"Thanks - I think." Michael clambered out of the pool, with Kenner's help. "What gave you the fool notion that dumping me in the pool would help with that?"

"Intuition." Tess shrugged. "It would be a startling break, and about the most un-sober thing that could happen to you." A short pause. "Don't look at me like that - it worked, didn't it??"

"Let's get back to base home," Michael grumped. "I hope Liz is out of the bathroom by the time we get back there."

* * * * *

Max paced through the 'living room area' and back impatiently. He had booted the laptop computer back up, and loaded all of Liz's programs back up, according to her instructions. But there was nothing else he could do to help out until Liz herself was ready to return to work, so Max was waiting for her to finish with her shower. A fact that's not conducive to relaxation in the slightest.

Isabel stepped through the door at the other end of the room and waved him over. Max shrugged and walked up to his sister. "Yes?"

"I've been thinking... we're soundproofed in here, by the way," Isabel started off. "With at least two Kaffarrans here on campus, maybe we should be making plans to go elsewhere. Find another base camp for Parker to work her mojo with the computer at."

She stopped talking here, waiting for a response from Max. Unfortunately, right then the water flow in the bathroom came to a conclusive stop, followed by the soft but unmistakeable sound of footfalls leaving the shower. Max struggled not to zone out again. "Umm... somewhere else??" he managed to repeat. "Are you thinking of anywhere in particular?"

Isabel shrugged with annoyance. "I dunno - get a hotel suite in Phoenix maybe. Be hard to find us amongst all those thousands of people even if they look."

Max evaluated this, finding it a welcome distraction from obsessing over the bathroom. "You forget, finding the needle in the haystack isn't exactly a big problem for these people. We don't know where else they have agents, but the big city seems entirely too obvious to me. *If* we run to ground, I suggest we find someplace deserted where not even androids would think of looking."

Isabel's eyes narrowed. "'If', Max?"

"I'd have to ask Liz," Max said absently. After a few seconds he realized that Isabel was glaring at him. "What?? We don't know if she can easily just pick up and work from some campsite in the countryside. She might need some other tools that can only be found here at the University."

Isabel's eyebrow arched in elegant doubt, but the discussion was brought to an end at that point. A squeaking signalled that the bathroom door was opened and then closed. Liz appeared a few seconds later in the small hall that joined the bathroom, the living room, and the kitchen together. "Hey, I'll be ready in a few minutes," she assured Max. "Can I borrow somebody's bedroom to finish putting myself together?"

Max didn't answer - he was lost in, well... amazement. If someone had asked him in 1999, he would have sworn in all sincerity that Liz Parker could not, possibly, in any way, be more beautiful than she was then.

But the truth was that Liz had blossomed in the years since high school, and looking at her right now left no possible doubt of the fact. No longer a girl, (though Liz as a teenage girl had been a wonderful, unutterably precious thing,) but a woman, an incredibly desirable young woman.

Liz's hair was still quite damp, almost wet, but that couldn't entirely stifle whatever she had done to make it curl. Most of it poured down to her back in hundred of wavy locks, but a few dark brown strands refused to yield to peer pressure and fell about her face and shoulders.

Her face had a fresh-scrubbed look that reminded Max painfully of the girl he had first 'connected' with that September day in Roswell, but also showed off ever-so-small touches of maturity that hadn't been there years ago. A greater elegance in her cheekbones, an understated confidence in the set of her jaw. And maybe... Max thought he could see a trace of a melancholy burden behind those gorgeous brown eyes. Did I have anything to do with that? Or was he imagining it? He had to admit Liz didn't seem to be struggling with any great sadness downstairs.

She was wearing a casual red sweater, a short dark green skirt, and sandals. Max had expected Liz to pick something a little... warmer looking, after her soaking. But he had to admit that home base was warm enough inside, and she probably figured that she'd actually dry off and warm up faster if some of her creamy skin was bare instead of being all bundled up. Like a good long stretch of her legs, three quarters of her arms, a small open space around her neck, and a teasing strip of midriff that her sweater flatly refused to hide from the world.

This ensemble, as convenient and practical as it was presumably picked to be, left absolutely no doubt as to the beauty of Liz's figure. Her legs and hips had grown sleeker and slightly curvier over the years, and Max couldn't help but speculate that Liz had been something of a late bloomer, umm... 'up top...'

Stop thinking about her breasts, Max. That can only lead to badness. Dragging his eyes and his brain back to the subject, Max cleared his throat. "A room? Yeah, take the first door on the left." He pointed. "If Tess comes back, I'll make sure that she doesn't barge in on you." Oh, wasn't that a mental picture...

"Thanks." Liz smiled brightly, apparently clueless about the saucy speculations that had been running through Max's mind, and headed off. Max forced himself not to look at her departing miniskirt and ended up looking straight into Isabel's eyes. She was not unaware of Max's thoughts. She couldn't be, after all her telepathic training.

"What should I say to Tess?" she whispered to him sardonically.

"Nothing," Max snapped. "This is my problem, I'll take care of it myself."

Isabel gave him a steady look, accompanied by about a third of a condescending sneer, and turned to walk into the small den. Max sighed, turned around, and settled down to wait for Liz near the computer.

In the meantime he focused on reining in his hormones - and the feelings that Liz Parker had been starting to rouse in him ever since he bumped into her the day before. Some of which feelings went far beyond the hormonal, Max suddenly had to admit.

Well, why not?? Max's relationship with Liz had been more than intense, way back then. They'd been soulmates, they said, with a bond that nothing could break. And then, something did. Tess arrived, with her strange convictions, born out by the message from Max's mother. Shaken by that, Liz had left for the whole summer, and things hadn't been the same between them the next fall.

As much as Max might try to persuade Liz that he sincerely meant to 'make his own Destiny' - to choose her instead of Tess, he never seemed able to get through. The one time he thought he was making progress, he ended up coming to Liz's window and finding her in bed with Kyle Valenti. And she never had anything to do with him for the rest of high school that she could help.

Max had railed at that for months, had raged and wept and done anything he could think of to get Liz to talk to him again, even as a friend. When failure had been impossible to ignore, he had blamed Tess for the whole affair. It had been April of 2001 before they settled things...

"Hey." Liz waved at Max before settling down in front of the laptop, cutting off the train of Max's thoughts.

He looked at Liz. She was still in the same enticing outfit as he had just seen her in, but this time Max suceeded in keeping his heartrate down. This was just a friend. Liz was involved with that Pete guy, and Max himself was with Tess. Liz was being an amazingly good friend and helping them all out with this whole Lightning Bolt situation, and Max could think of her as a friend and not as his amazingly beautiful ex-girlfriend. If he concentrated hard enough.

"Well," Liz sighed as she waited for the program to load up. "I believe the last time we were both here I told you I needed some information on the capabilities of your people's space flight vehicles and such, and you told me I would have to speak with..." she broke off, frowning slightly. "Oh, you told me the name but I forgot. One of your 'friends.'" She intoned the word significantly.

"Oh," Max replied with a smile. "Bentor. I can go get him for you."

"Sounds good," Liz confirmed with an amiable smile. Max got up and headed for the bedroom wing of the suite, trying not to feel like he was beating a quick retreat before his armor of friendly feelings for Liz was breached.

His route took Max past the front door just seconds after Kenner, Tess, and a thoroughly soaked Michael made their entrance. After receiving a kiss hello from his wife, he turned with more than a little concern to the two fighting men of the party. "What happened to you, Michael?? Another run-in with the androids?" If so, maybe Max *should* force the issue with Liz and get them all off campus.

"No, not at all," Michel spluttered as he tramped off toward the bathroom. "It was your dear bride who dropped me in the drink, Maxwell." With that, he closed the door, effectively assuring himself the last word in that conversation.

Max turned to stare at Tess, not a particularly easy feat since she had nestled herself comfortably against him with his right arm draped around her shoulders. Tess giggled, presumably at whatever expression she saw in Max's face, but no explanation was immediately forthcoming. Max maneuvered the pair of them down into the hall and to the door of Bentor and Ardra's room. "Hey! Lord sage," he called out, knocking on the door.

"Yes, my lord?" There was tolerant good humor in the scholar's voice.

"Your presence and expertise are hereby requested at the laptop computer," Max 'commanded.'

"I shall attend momentarily, sire," Bentor answered. Max considered a moment, shared a glance with Tess, and the two of them headed for their own bedroom. The effort to plot the course of a mysterious space capsule would probably be intensely boring, with only one redeeming point. And Max did *not* want to end up paying more attention to Liz than what she was saying. He'd spend some quiet time with Tess - if Liz needed him for anything, she would have him called for. He had no doubts about that.

* * * * *

Liz experimented with the parameters of the program. She had used it a lot for working out planetary and planetoidal orbits, but could it really do for space ships and space capsules. Well... what do you know. There was actually a space probe graphic in the list of available objects. Looked a little like the old Pioneer spacecraft, but oh well.

Let's see. Take our space probe, put it in a low earth orbit. That works of course. Now, how do we... hmm, what happens if we increase its velocity to earth escape levels? Liz made the change, took the simulation off 'pause,' and watched in satisfaction as her little probe spiraled outwards from planet earth, slingshot unexpectedly around the moon, and headed for Mars. "Good enough. Now apply a slow burn of acceleration, and we're on course for Saturn. I hope." Liz thought about that for a second. "Oh, cripes. I should have used the acceleration tool to build up to escape velocity rather than doing it all in an instant. No vessel could survive that kind of G force. My little space probe would be about a thousand shards of metal by now."

"This is true," a deep voice agreed out loud, surprising Liz. "However, nobody is perfect, as I have heard on this planet many times."

Liz couldn't resist a chuckle. Standing about six feet away from the computer table was the dignified thirtyish figure that she had heard referred to as 'Bentor.' His human form wasn't particularly remarkable - short dark hair with a fringe of brownish-gray around the edges, lean form, silvery-rimmed glasses - but Liz could somehow very well picture him as a royal court sage on a distant planet. More easily than she could imagine Max as a prince or a young king, to tell the truth.

"Ummm..." Liz fought hard to get her thoughts back on track. "Uh, hi Bentor. Max said that you might be able to answer my questions. About the kind of Space capsule your people might send through the rift." She trailed off awkwardly, wondering how the alien she was speaking to would react.

"A small part of the lore of our sector of the Galaxy has been entrusted to me in this life, for the good of the Royal Four," Bentor answered. "I am no longer expert in space technology, but ask your questions. I may well be of some help."

"Uh, thanks," Liz said. Bentor kept putting her off-balance with the things he said. "Well, let's start with the hyperspace business, or whatever it is that you think the Lightning bolt is? Not 'what are the principles upon which it functions' - I imagine that would take years to convey even if you were a trained professor of the science and I was fully prepared to begin learning it. But what are the circumstantial effects surrounding a trip between star systems?" Liz knew she was rambling on and not even giving Bentor a chance to reply, but she seemingly couldn't stop herself. "Is there another rift in space like that Lightning bolt in another quadrant of the galaxy, kiloparsecs away?? With the two of them connected to each other somehow?" Having a more or less concrete question, Liz found she could shut up and wait for Bentor to answer.

"There... is, or was," Bentor replied after several long seconds. The Kiyagengoran, or 'Sky tears,' as our people call them, are the terminus points where trans-space channels meet the real universe. But whether the other end of this particular channel..." he reached out and tapped one of the pictures of the Lightning bolt, "still connects to real space or if that end has been collapsed depends on how far the trip is, what level of energy it's being generated, and exactly what is travelling from here to there. Do you understand?"

Liz nodded with a smile. "Yeah, I think I do - that far. So, with what kind of relative velocity would an object emerge from the tear?" She had an idea of the answer to that question already, and liked the term Bentor had given her, the tear. Looking at pictures of the Lightning bolt Liz could definitely picture it as a rip in the fabric of space.

"With whatever velocity it entered the opening. Great amounts of distance are covered in trans-space, but the conservation of momentum in true space cannot be violated."

Liz nodded as that fact was confirmed, and tried to work it into her thought process. "So, to start with we can presumably take starting speed at the lightning bolt to be optimal for an earth approach course, since there's no way to know what conditions prevail on the other side. Now, what kind of an acceleration would you expect a space capsule to be capable of? Short term or long term."

"An inanimate cargo pod would be able to sustain thrust, if needed, for weeks at... approximately one and a half times the effect of gravity here," Bentor explained. "Similar for a royal warship or fast scout. A pleasure yacht would be capable of such accelerations over short periods, but would only be able to sustain three fifths as much thrust as that in the long term."

"One point five gee?" Liz repeated aloud. "That's a speed increase of almost fifteen meters p.s. every second." The very thought amazed her. "Okay, let's start by working this backward," she muttered, fingers already working over the keyboard. "I'm putting a space probe in low earth orbit with that kind of capabilities, and we can work out a near-optimal course to the Lightning bolt. Then we can reverse that route to get from the Bolt to earth."

Sure enough, suddenly the tiny orbiter screeched off into space at what seemed a totally reckless velocity. (Though considering how quickly the tiny earth was spinning, the simulation had to have accelerated the progress of time.)

It bolted for deep space, beelined in a wide spiral for the asteroid belt, (though the interplanetary spaces were vast enough that this still took some time,) and oriented on the slowly spinning Lightning Bolt. When the two of them intercepted, the probe crashed into the planetoid that Liz had been using to represent the bolt - with a truly impressive collision animation for an educational program. Little bits of wreckage floated off into space.

"Whoops," Liz giggled. "That wouldn't happen with the real Lightning bolt, would it?" Bentor shook his head in solemn negation. "Still, we have what we needed - the general heading and velocity of the probe at the time of the collision will serve for a direction and speed the probe may have come *out* of the rift, when reversed."

Bentor nodded. "I was wondering if an unassisted flight plan would be optimal. Perhaps a use of the 'slingshot' technique would save time - like around this planet here." Bentor tapped the red orb of Mars on the still-running simulation.

"Yeah, I thought of that too," Liz agreed. "The thing is, Mars is out of position for ideal slingshot conditions. Still, we can run that through the computer too. I want to have at least a dozen trajectories on paper by tonight, then we can try them all out. Speaking of which, do you have any notions for how to find this ship of yours? I mean, a way to verify a trajectory by looking at the right part of space where we think the ship should be? We'd be pushing it to depend on visual observation I think."

"There should be microwave signatures we can scan for," Bentor told her. "If you and the royal heirs can - um, 'liberate' a moderately powerful radio telescope..."

* * * * *

Alex Whitman looked around the unfamiliar campus. He had never been here - Liz and Alex had grown apart before going to university, and the one time they had met since Liz had gone to California. How on earth was he going to find Liz here, let alone Isabel??

"Help!! Oh my god, what *is* that?" The screamed words were coming from around the corner of the building, and they peaked Alex's curiosity instantly. He headed over to investigate, and quickly noticed a typical-looking college girl running around the corner. Alex reached out a hand to wave her down, and she practically ran him down, and his arm fell around the girl's shoulder as she slowed to a stop, moaning in fright.

That was when a second female poked her head out from around the corner - unmistakeably Isabel. She looked different than Alex had last seen her - more mature, leaner. And she seemed to be wearing a leather outfit seemingly straight out of Alex's most embarassing fantasies... "Hey, buddy!" she called. "Couldja get the girl out of h... Whitman??"

Alex put on the best smile he could manage. "Yeah, Is. It's me. How've y-"

"No time for small talk, I've got work to do," she told him. "Can you get Miss Hyper here well clear? I'll find you once I'm done."

As always, Alex agreed to what Isabel was asking him. Buddy, you're whipped and you haven't even been dating the girl for five years! With only the briefest nod of recognition to Isabel Evans (who was already turning around herself,) Alex swung his new charge around and headed directly away from the scene of whatever action was going on. "Hey, where should I drop you off?" he asked the co-ed.

Talking to her directly had been some sort of a cue. "What *were* those things? Who are you?! Do you know that girl??" College-gal's questions came out in a hurried rush.

"I have no idea, Alex Whitman, and yes, she's someone I used to know," Alex said. "What about you? What's your name??"

She smiled a little self-consciously. "Suzy. I'm Suzy Trancsinn; it's nice to meet you Alex. I'm sorry to ask so many questions - you didn't even see them, did you?"

"No I did not." Though by this point Alex felt he could be surprised by very little.

"I live in Clairmont Hall," Suzy told him, and must have read the blank expression from his face. "You don't go here, do you??"

"No, I don't," Alex admitted. "Just came to Arizona to meet up with some friends."

"That... that girl from b..." Suzy trailed off in wonder.

"No," Alex lied. "My friend's name is Liz Parker - do you know her?"

Suzy shook her head. "That way," she mentioned, pointing him over to a long residence building about three stories high. No more was said until they had almost come to the large double doors. "Well, thanks for all your help, Alex Whitman. Hope you find your friend."

"I do too." But after seeing Isabel, Alex didn't feel much like looking for Liz anymore. He waited while Suzy disappeared safely inside her dorm, then headed back to where he had gotten off the bus. There was a building nearby - some sort of student union or centre, with a food court and various restaurants, and Alex bought a cola and a plate of french fries with gravy.

He had only barely begun when a familiar yet strange voice sounded behind him. "Okay, Whitman, what the hell are you doing in Arizona??"

Alex turned around to smile at Isabel, or should he think or her as 'Isabel Croft?' "I heard a rumor that the infamous Isabel Evans was lurking around campus, and I thought I'd check it out," he admitted.

"In other words," Isabel re-interpreted, "You intentionally decided to poke your snoopy little nose into my life again?"

"Mm-hmm. French fry??" Alex held the paper plate out towards Is. Her only response was a glare almost frosty enough to freeze the gravy.

Alex took his food back without letting any disappointment show. "So, while I'm 'snooping,' just what are *you* doing here in Arizona, Isabel??"

Isabel didn't answer Alex directly, which he could have guessed. In fact, the young alien beauty didn't seem to have heard Alex's question, as she was focusing intently on something not easily guessable. "They're coming," she whispered, so quietly the words had to be meant for herself alone.

But Alex had always had good ears. (Despite all the jokes about them.) "Who's coming??"

"Not who, what," Is clarified quickly. "And they're no business of yours, Alex. Get out of here. Go back home to California."

"Are *they* dangerous?" Alex asked softly. He had felt something pull at his heart when Isabel called him 'Alex' for the first time today, instead of 'Whitman.'

"Deeply dangerous. That's why you've got to g-"

"Forget it," Alex replied. "I'm not going anywhere while you might be in danger."

"Alex, you don't get it. You can't help me he..."

"I don't care," Alex countered, softly and intently. "Where you go, I go."

Isabel looked at him narrowly for a few seconds. Then "okay," she conceded. "But you do what I say, and nothing but what I tell you too, or you'll get both of us killed, all right??"

Alex nodded his agreement, figuring that speaking would not make Isabel any happier about having him along.

"We have to get out of here," Is continued after a few seconds. "*They* probably have a lock on me. None of these other people..." and she waved at the throng of students, teachers, dropouts, and who-knew-how-many other classifications crowding the food court. "...Should be in danger - as long as I get out of here."

Alex got up, pointedly ignoring his snack and beverage sitting on the table, and tried to look as if he were scanning the premises with a critical eye. "Which way?"

Isabel silently led him through a small side door in the building, and to a wooded grove next to one of the residences, the trees somewhat shielding them from view. "All right, you damn little bastards," she called out softly once they were alone. "You want me? Come and get me!!"

The response was surprisingly quick. A small grayish-white blur streaked out of the branches of a Douglas fir ten feet away, and Isabel screamed as the thing latched onto her neck. Alex rushed forward, shock-stricken by the speed of the attack and not quite sure what to do about it.

As it turned out, Alex didn't need to come to Isabel's rescue just yet. Too bad. The blonde beauty's graceful hands clawed desperately at the pale alien clinging to her throat. With a sudden exertion and growl of discomfort from Is, the creature was pitched to the dirt in front of her. She concentrated visibly and extended a hand in the direction of the hissing grayish bundle. Bit by bit, it started to fly apart - a quarter of it was gone, then half.

Suddenly Isabel couldn't concentrate on disintegrating the first attacker, because two more were whizzing to the attack. Is hardly skipped a beat as she used her powers to whip them punishingly into tree trunks, then returned to the first.

Alex craned his neck to get a better look at these dangerous life-forms without getting too close to any of them. They looked almost like... "Dust bunnies?"

"Killer *alien* dust bunnies," Isabel clarified. "Stay where you are, Alex, and if you must talk, then try to call out any of them that might be behind me? Use degree notation."

"What?" Alex was confused for a second. "Umm... there's one! Uh... one hundred forty degrees to your left, next to that old tree trunk." Isabel spun around and flung the dust bunny up into the sky. "And another, sixty degrees further over, on the second branch of that tree." Isabel concentrated and started to disintegrate that one. "Back ninety degrees..." But the bunny Alex had sighted was starting to disintegrate as it flew through the air, even though Isabel was still finishing the last one off. "What the..."

"That one was the father, the King bunny," Isabel explained, gesturing at the tree. "It's the end... for now. And thanks." She smiled gratefully at him, and Alex's knees buckled.

"It was nothing," Alex told her softly, walking over to meet her. Before he knew what he was doing, Alex had spread his arms around the girl of his dreams and kissing her.

Much to Alex's surprise, Isabel... let him. In fact, she was kissing back, as if she li-

"Hey, Whitman!" another familiar voice called. Isabel wasn't kissing him anymore. Where had she gone? And "Kyle, what are you doing here?"

"Well, it's a funny story," the voice of Kyle Valenti replied. "See, I was waiting in the L.A. bus terminal..."

The bus!! Dimly at first, and then suddenly with crushing clarity, Alex realized he was on the bus again... no, not again. He was on the bus to Tempe *still*, he had fallen asleep, and everything about meeting Isabel at the campus had been a strange dream. (Killer dust bunnies?!) Kyle was sitting on the seat across the aisle, and talking at him.

"...On a layover between the young buddhists of California meeting and heading up to Roswell to see my Dad, trying to avoid the more unpleasant individuals when who did I see waiting for an Arizona bus but Alex Whitman? And I remembered that Liz Parker was in Arizona and I realized 'Hey, I could do with a dose of Liz.' So I exchanged my Roswell ticket for Tempe, and got on the bus. I dunno what was up with you man, because I looked right into your face and you didn't notice me. Y'were too busy staring out the window. So... when we left Phoenix I thought you wouldn't mind me waking you up. I'm *really* feeling bored."

Alex yawned and tried to blink himself further awake. "We've left Phoenix??"

"About ten minutes ago," Kyle reported. "We should be arriving at the Tempe campus before long."

"Fine," Alex groaned. "I'll see you when we get there." And he turned away from Kyle to sulk out the window about his lost dream.

"Oh very funny," Kyle told him, slipping his way past and sitting in the seat between Alex and the window. "Like that'd be any decent way to treat an old friend. So, is it gonna be a reunion of the old gang at Tempe? Is Maria coming out??"

Alex sighed again.

* * * * *

"''...Vengeance is immature, yet there is justice. I became a juvenile masquerading as adult, much as you masqueraded as male. Now all is resolved, and I am whole, and my metamorphosis is becoming complete--''" Max passed the book off to the girl lying next to him, to take her turn.

"''But then you will forget all that has happened here!' she protested,'" Tess read with feeling, and the trace of a tear in her eye.

Max resumed reading, not taking the book back from his wife, just kind of looking over her shoulder. "'A third, fading effort. 'I -- will forget. The rigors and complexes of the juvenile state are too strong to permit maturity; must be cast aside. But you must inform them--''"

The penultimate chapter of 'Thousandstar' was fading to a close. Max had suggested that they read it together, having enjoyed the cluster books himself, and Tess was loving the story of romance and high adventure among bizarre alien species. (Was there any wonder?) They traded through a couple more paragraphs, and then Tess took the book and moved over to the chair in the bedroom for her big dramatic moment as Jessica, as she often did.

"''Oh, Heem, I'll never see you again. Not as I have known you! You won't even remember me, and I can't remind you, because that might undo your maturity.' She paused, in the far and fading distance.'" Tess posed cutely. "''Yet, maybe that is best. Our love was hopeless from the beginning. We should never have allowed it to happen. This way you, at least, will not suffer, and I'm glad for that.''"

Tess raised her hand to her forehead in Jessica-woe, at the same time showing the book out for Max to read a description. "'Then she was gone from his awareness, except for one especially strong concluding needle that momentarily banished his opacity:'"

"''I love you, Heem of Highfalls,''" Tess declared without even needing to look at the text herself. "''Farewell!'' And that is..."

"*Chapter,*" Max called out in unison with her. "Thoughts??"

"Piers may be a hack, but he knows his hack," Tess decided. "This stuff is right up there with the best moments of daytime drama. I can't wait to see what he's got planned for the last chapter. He has to find some way to reverse the amnesia plot, doesn't he?"

"You told me..." Max started.

"Yes, I know what I told you, don't spoil anything," Tess confirmed. "Well, I guess that's that for now. I'm gonna take another little nap. Tricking that android was tough."

"You gonna be okay?"

"Sure. Why don't you check on the progress of the plan? It's been a while." Tess smiled and settled back down on the bed, waving teasingly at Max as he left the room.

Michael spotted him down the hall as soon as Max had closed the door on Tess. "Fearless leader!"

Max headed up to the living room of the apartment. "Where do we stand?"

"Liz and the professor have drawn up about route maps for our space pod," Michael told him briskly. "Apparently, we're gonna need to go and lift some radio dingus from the astro labs here so that we can confirm which pathway it's taking. Then it's out to the open desert for a night of stargazing."

Max thought about that for a second, smiled, and headed over to Liz, who was sitting on the sofa and looking very tired but pleased. She still looked amazing, but the lust Max had felt for her earlier wasn't there anymore, (or at least not nearly as strongly.) She was just one of his oldest and dearest friends, who was putting forth an astounding effort to help them. "Got anyplace in mind for a skywatching session?" he asked her.

"Yeah." Liz smiled over at him. "There's a little abandoned cottage on a hilltop a few miles out of campus, past a wooded grove and in the opposite direction from town. You get almost no disruption from artificial lights and a great field of view." She grinned at him teasingly. "But first you've got another raid to go on, Mister Evans."

To be continued...

"This above all, to thine own self be true."
"We make our own destinies."