posted on 15-Sep-2001 11:09:44 AM

Author: Lynda
Email: lriead⊕earthlink.net
Category: M/L
Summary: AU Fic. No spoilers. Max had thought just being an alien would fulfil the 'weirdness quotient' for his whole life, but now he had to cope with the concept of aliens from the future. And not just 'good' aliens from the future. There was a whole organization of 'bad' aliens from the future and he, Isabel and Michael had been recruited to help stop them.
Rating: PG-13 Some language and adult content.
Disclaimer: Dear Ms. Metz and Mr. Katims, can Max and the others come to my house to play? I'll try to have them back in time for dinner. Thanks, Lynda.
Feedback: That's what we're here for. All feedback is welcome.
Distribution: Ask first.
Dedication: to Addison, my first fan
************************************

A STITCH IN TIME


PROLOGUE

It was yet another sunny day in Roswell, New Mexico. Max Evans was walking home from his father's law office. It was a long walk to his apartment, but he had a decision to make and was hoping that the fresh air and sunshine would help him.

Max had joined his dad's law firm after finishing law school. He had worked hard and been successful; his dad was pleased with him. But Max wasn't satisfied, wasn't happy. There was a hollow place inside of him and occupying his days with hard work was not filling it. And now Michael had offered him a partnership in his detective agency and the work he was doing was really attractive.

Max’s thoughts focused on the events of yesterday evening. Michael had called them all together to share his latest discoveries. Max smiled as he remembered how supportive Alex had been of Isabel. She projected her ‘Ice Queen’ persona to most people but this human she had let into her heart was perceptive enough to see the ‘real’ Isabel. Max’s smile widened as he remembered how Michael had stood there in front of them, arms crossed and head down, like a withdrawn teenager. It had taken Maria’s exasperated jibes to get him to begin his story.

As they were growing up and all through high school and college they had thought they were the only aliens on earth. But Michael's visions and detective work had proved them wrong. They still hadn't found their birth parents and it was unlikely that they would, but somehow it was comforting to know that others of their kind walked this earth. They had a people and a name: Al'Centrans.

The Al'Centrans' home world was dying and in order to preserve a portion of their civilization they had devoted the last of their resources to building huge generation ships to carry their people to other worlds. They found that most economical way of doing this was to hollow out asteroids and equip them with drives to propel them through the vastness of space. The ships were designed to rotate to provide gravity and had an artificial 'sun' in the center for warmth and light.

These ships could not move their massive bulk quickly, and their builders knew the people who started out in them would not survive the long voyage from star to star so they designed them to be as self-sufficient as possible, and large enough to handle the population growth that would occur. In order that the new generations of Al'Centrans not forget what it was like to live on a planet, they also designed the ships' interiors to be as planet-like as possible. There were forests, streams, wide plains and even some low mountains near both ends of the ship. Their schools insured that the knowledge to operate the necessary technology was not lost.

Many of these ships were sent out into the blackness of space like seeds blowing from a pod. One found this solar system and parked itself in the Asteroid Belt where it was easily hidden, a rock among rocks. The Al'Centrans did not know anything about the people who lived on the only inhabitable planet. They sent scouting parties who were supposed to remain hidden as they gathered their information. This process took years, but the decision was finally made. The humans, as the people called themselves, were not ready for contact with another species. However, there was good news along with the bad. The humans and the Al'Centrans were remarkably similar in looks, but not in abilities. The Al'Centrans would be able to hide in plain sight. They could live on earth and pretend to be human.

The Al'Centrans had mental and physical powers, and much like human talents and abilities, not every Al'Centran had the same power in the same degree. One power every Al'Centran had to some degree was telepathy. Other common powers were the ability to heal, to manipulate molecular structures, to dreamwalk. Rarer powers were empathy and telekinesis. Al'Centrans who married humans and had children passed their powers on to them.

And so the Al'Centrans began to send their people to Earth in small ships, to establish lives for themselves and to blend with the humans. They came to earth in small numbers scattered over a wide area. However, in 1947 there was an unforeseen event. One of the small ships crashed and most of the Al'Centrans on it perished. A few adults survived long enough to hide their children's travel pods in a cave before they died or were captured by the human military.

Three of these children broke from their pods together and wandered in the desert until they were found. That was Isabel, Michael and himself. But there were other lost ones out there, lost through other mishaps over the years. Some grew up and eventually found others like them, others stayed lost, never knowing they had a people who would have welcomed them warmly. This was the work Michael offered him: finding these 'lost ones.'

The walk had been productive; Max decided to quit the law firm and devote himself to the more rewarding work Michael had started. Now he just needed to find a way to tell his dad. Since his mom had died a few years earlier the law firm had been his dad's whole life. Max hoped he wouldn't be too upset when his only son didn't want to continue it. Isabel wasn't interested either; she and Maria were quite happy in their business. Their teen counseling center was doing vital work.

Satisfied that he had made the correct decision, Max made his way into his apartment. He called his dad and invited him out to dinner. He would break it to him right away; procrastination wouldn't make the job easier. Then he'd call Michael and tell him the news.

When Max returned from dinner with his dad he stood outside and contemplated the clear expanse of stars over his head. He was restless and the apartment felt too confining so he took a walk to unwind. Breaking the news to his dad hadn't been the ordeal he thought it would be. His dad took it well, confiding to Max that he had only kept the business because Max was working there. And now that Max was quitting he could sell it and travel in Europe like he'd wanted to do.

Max took a deep breath and looked up at the stars. His people's home had been up there somewhere. His home was on earth and he was satisfied with that. He walked inside and slept soundly for the first time in a long time.




[ edited 11time(s), last at 13-Nov-2002 3:45:32 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 11:23:11 AM

CHAPTER ONE

Three years later.

"Max, you are going to love the speed of this new computer I just set up for you." Alex loved his computer business; people paid him lots of real money to play with his favorite toys. And today he was helping two of his best friends upgrade their office computers. They had an extensive database of Al'Centran genealogy records. The Internet had allowed many of the far-flung Al'Centrans to keep in touch and they had begun to centralize their records with the Star Detective Agency's help. (The name had been Maria’s idea.)

The detective agency had been successful in locating many of the lost ones. And when the lost ones were troubled, Maria and Isabel were able to offer counseling help they couldn’t get anywhere else. Confiding in a human counselor would just get them committed to an institution and being able to talk openly about their troubles was essential. Maria and Isabel could offer unique help as they worked through their troubles and made peace with their situations.

The Star Detective Agency had regular detective work too, work that paid actual money. And that kept their doors open. Their professional reputations were growing nicely and their personal lives were going smoothly. Too smoothly, apparently.

Max remembered precisely when their lives had taken a twist into strangeness. They had been working for a client named Leon who claimed to represent a corporation that needed to locate specific women for a marketing study. Neither Max nor Michael suspected anything was wrong until the meeting when they turned over the files containing information about the first group of women. Max had first begun to feel uneasy during the meeting and as he handed the files to Leon the hair on the back of his neck actually stood up and a sense of foreboding washed over him.

Leon looked over the files with a gleam of anticipation that was out of place. Max and Michael exchanged a look.

**Max...** Michael telepathed.

**Careful, Michael.** Max ‘pathed back. **I feel it too. Let’s prime the pump and see what happens.** “Good looking group of women, wouldn’t you say, Leon?” Max commented casually.

Leon practically drooled as he fondled various photographs. “Oh yeah.”

**Interesting reaction, Maxwell.**

**I agree. Something odd is going on here.**

Suddenly realizing that he was acting out of character Leon gathered up the files and tried to assume a more business-like demeanor. “Thank you very much for your work. I’ll bring another list for you to start on later this week.”

After Leon left Michael and Max discussed their mysterious client and came to the conclusion that he was up to no good. They had just begun to formulate plans to investigate him when they were contacted by an Al’Centran who would only give his name as Gregory and things got really strange. Max had thought just being an alien would fulfill the ‘weirdness quotient’ for his whole life, but now he had to cope with the concept of aliens from the future. And not just ‘good’ aliens from the future. Leon belonged to an organization of ‘bad’ aliens from the future who, along with some like-minded humans, had mutinied and planned to hijack the present day Al’Centrans’ generation ship that was still parked out in the Asteroid Belt.

Max felt like a character in an episode of The Twilight Zone. He kept expecting to hear Rod Serling’s voice start explaining things any moment. What Max would love to hear him explaining was just how the future Al’Centrans got back here in the present and just how long they had been there. However, neither Gregory nor Rod was forthcoming with that piece of information.

Given the present day Al’Centrans’ necessary efforts at remaining anonymous they couldn’t go to the authorities and even if they could it would be too risky because it was suspected that the Dissidents had infiltrated many of these organizations. This situation had to be solved by the present day and future Al’Centrans and it had to be done quickly. He and Michael had agreed to help Gregory stop these Dissidents before they could do anything that would alert the present day authorities of the presence of Al’Centrans among them or seriously alter the future timeline. Strange concept, that.

Gregory’s plan was for Max and Michael to join the Dissidents. They would go along with the Dissident’s plan to kidnap full-blooded and blended Al’Centran women from the Denver area. Then, when they had transported out to the generation ship, Max and Michael would set off a location beacon and the Loyalists’ space ship would travel there and capture the Dissidents.

The Dissidents were counting on several powerful pieces of future technology to help them in their venture to start new lives. The most incredible of these was the long-range matter transmitter. This device would open a portal between earth and the Al’Centran’s generation ship out in the Asteroid Belt. It used immense amounts of power but it would hold the portal open for 18 hours. There were serious limitations, though. It took approximately two weeks to recharge it enough to open the portal again.

They also had stolen genetic scanners from the medical center on the ship and planned to use them to isolate the Al’Centran women. Another handy theft was from the ship’s security department; they had acquired stun guns that caused extreme submissiveness. This was how they planned to subdue the women.

The idea of the Dissidents kidnapping Al’Centran women to use as unwilling wives in a misguided plan to colonize another world infuriated Isabel to the bottom of her feminist soul. Although the others felt it was too dangerous, Isabel had insisted on helping. Alex and Maria knew about the situation and they helped as much as possible because their human heritage gave them a measure of safety. Isabel was in special danger because her heritage would make her a prime target but she persisted in her demands to help. Eventually they agreed to let her provide peripheral help on the condition that she not allow herself to get any where near the action.

~~~~~~

It was late August and Max’s shirt stuck to his back as he stood in the grassy field outside of a Denver area racquetball club. It was dark outside and the mosquitoes had decided they liked his alien blood. But these weren’t the only reasons he was uncomfortable. He was uncomfortable with this whole mission.

One of the Dissidents had joined the local March of Dimes chapter and had added specific names to the list of people invited to their charity racquetball tournament. He and Michael had spent several weeks of research finding these women and Max was still trying to cope with his feelings of guilt at his part in this. The Dissidents were going to take over the racquetball center and remove their future mates in one big group. The unwanted human women and miscellaneous bystanders would be shot with the stun gun on a stronger setting. This setting caused a memory blackout and they planned to use it to erase the knowledge of their activities from anyone they didn’t take.

When Max had voiced his concerns about allowing the raid on the racquetball club actually take place, Gregory had over ruled his objections. He claimed that the Dissidents had moved too fast for his group to prevent this raid. They hadn’t yet located all the Dissidents and if they stopped the raid the other Dissidents would go further into hiding and the months of research would be wasted.

Gregory seemed rather hard-hearted about the possibility of innocent people being involved and that had Max concerned. Both that innocents would be involved and that it didn’t seem to bother Gregory. But he was committed and would see this through. He buried his misgivings reluctantly, uncomfortable with how out of control the whole situation felt.

Refocusing his attention, Max scanned the overgrown grass and weeds that covered the field outside the rear door of the racquetball club. Max’s job as a fake Dissident was to watch for any unusual activity and report it to Bart, the leader of the Dissidents. Michael was back at the base camp, assigned to other duties. //Thankfully, Isabel won’t be any where near the raid,\\ Max thought in relief.

~~~~~~

Isabel hid the scout ship the Loyalists had loaned them in a small nearby forest exactly where Max told her. Its cloaking technology would keep it hidden from curious eyes. This ship was their ace in the hole if something went wrong and they had to make an escape. She was concerned for her brother and friend but was confident that they could complete their mission. She also shared their guilt in letting all those innocent women be victimized by the Dissidents. She had completed the limited assignment they had given her in plenty of time for her worry and guilt to drive her into a frenzy of nerves. Knowing that she was placing herself in danger, but unable to help herself, she decided to walk through the racquetball club. Her guilty conscience was insisting that she actually see the women they were placing in danger.

She remembered from their planning sessions that the club had two levels. The lower level contained the locker rooms and allowed access to the courts. The upper level was the observation area where spectators could observe the games in progress. The lobby was on the upper level at one end of the hall and the other end of the hall had a door to the outside. This door opened onto an exterior staircase. Isabel planned to go in through the lobby door and do a quick walk-through and make her exit through that door.

She walked through the lobby and into the observation level. There were not many people on this level, but one woman standing alone and watching the games below caught her eye. She was a short, almost too slim woman with very long dark hair in a braid down her back. Isabel watched her and wondered why her aura was so incredibly melancholy. It seemed so out of place among the happier auras the other spectators displayed. She felt sorry for her because the chances were very good that life was going to get rougher for this woman.

Suddenly the woman’s head flew up and she looked around in concern. With a panicked look on her face she started walking rapidly toward the rear door. Isabel looked at the woman in confusion. What was wrong with her? No one else was reacting like she was.

Then the lobby doors burst open and the first group of Dissidents stormed into the upper level of the racquetball club! //Oh my god, they’re early and I’m in trouble.\\ There was no way she wouldn’t be chosen because the genetic scanner would point her right out. She didn’t see Max; he must be outside.

The Dissidents shot everyone they saw with the stunners. Isabel was stunned with the rest of the people there on the upper level. Bart, the leader of the Dissidents, shouted, "Stay where you are!" It was all over very quickly and with very little fuss. Bart directed the others to go down to the courts to stun the rest of the people.

Isabel stood there stunned in more ways than one. She couldn’t believe she messed up so badly. She was kicking herself mentally when she noticed movement where there should be none. The sad-eyed woman was running. //How can she be moving??!!\\ Isabel could do nothing but watch as the woman escaped toward the door. //Hope she makes it before they see her.\
But it was not to be. Bart caught her movement and shouted. She dashed for the door as fast as she could but couldn’t outrun the stun bolt the Bart directed at her. When she was unaffected Bart was startled, but recovered quickly. "Leon! Go get her. No, you idiot!" Leon had fired his stunner at the running woman. "Run! She’s getting away."

Leon chased after her, still firing the stunner ineffectually as he ran. The woman made it through the door and half way down the outside stairs then vaulted over the railing to land on the ground below. Her sudden appearance from above startled Max who was on guard at the lower door. She pushed him off balance and ran away through the field.

Max’s first impulse was to just let her go, but Leon barreled down the stairs and ordered Max to help chase her. Hiding his expression, Max joined Leon as he ran after the small woman. He had to keep up his act or he would be discovered. But maybe if he was careful he could ‘accidentally’ not be able to catch her.

Realizing she couldn’t outrun them over the rough ground and hoping to lose her pursuers in the dark, the fleeing woman ducked down in the tall grass just as Leon was about to grab her. He tripped over her and she jumped up and dashed off at a tangent. Unfortunately, she tripped over a dense patch of weeds and stumbled right into Max’s arms. He was forced to capture her because Leon had gotten to his feet and was headed in their direction.

Max had a difficult time holding onto the panicked woman as she twisted in his arms and inflicted painful kicks on him. He lifted her off the ground so she couldn’t get leverage for more of those kicks and was trying to cope with the tremendous primal instinct that this woman was HIS! His to claim, his to protect, his to…

Leon came up behind her and hit her with the butt of the stun gun. She slumped unconscious in Max’s arms. Leon was furious and intended to take it out on her for making him look so foolish. He raised the stun gun and was about to hit her again when Max moved her out of reach.

Realizing that the situation could get ugly fast, Max fought to stay in control. He had to stay in character and still find someway to prevent the beating that this bully obviously intended to give the woman he held. "Oh no you don’t!" he said fiercely to Leon. "Finder’s keepers; this one is mine! You know the rules as well as I do." Max hoped that Leon was not so far gone in anger that he would jeopardize the mission and he judged correctly, because Leon stopped.

Leon growled, "Take her to the vehicle and secure her. For some reason the stun gun didn’t work on her so tie her tightly. Then get back inside; you still have work to do." Then he trotted back to the club’s lower door and went inside.

Max shook his head as he again tried to cope with the feelings surging through him. Feelings somehow caused by the unconscious woman in his arms. He sighed and shifted his captive to a more comfortable position in his arms. She was such a slight thing she was no burden. Max sighed again. What was the matter with him? Where were these feelings coming from? He wasn’t some primitive cave man, victoriously carrying his woman off to his cave. He needed to get a grip on himself and focus on his mission.

But as he headed toward the vehicles his thoughts focused instead on his captive. Because he was stationed outside he didn’t know how she came to avoid the stunner. He assumed that she saw the Dissidents burst in and made her escape before she could be stunned. But wait, hadn’t Leon said something about her not being affected by the stunner?

As he arrived at the vans he suddenly realized that he had not gotten any hint of emotional feeling from her when he first grabbed her. Max was a strong telepath and a contact empath and he should have been able to sense her emotions. Thinking back, he was shocked to realize that he had received nothing at all from her even though she was visibly panicked. Even now as she lay unconscious in his arms he could receive nothing from her. How strange. He could pick up his sister’s emotions without contact, but if he was touching anyone else he could choose to ‘read’ them.

What was going on here? Could this situation get any more screwed up? He looked down at her unconscious face. She looked so small and helpless and his possessive urges washed over him again. Reluctantly he leaned over and gently placed her in the vehicle, securing with the restraining straps. Her long braid was in the way so he moved it so it draped over her shoulder. He marveled at the heavy silken length of it. //Focus,\\ Max sternly told himself. What in the world was going on here? Why was she affecting him this way? He felt strangely drawn to her and coming from deep inside was the strong conviction that this unknown woman he was placing in jeopardy was more than she seemed.

Returning to the racquetball club just in time to see the lower door open, Max watched the Dissidents lead their captives toward the vehicles. Their hands were tied in front of them then secured to the captive ahead of them. The stunner had left them in a submissive state of mind but still able to walk, making the Dissidents’ job so much easier. It would have been so very obvious that something was amiss if they’d had to carry all these women instead of having them walk under their own power.

Max stopped in shock, then recovered quickly. What was Isabel doing in that line of captives? She didn’t look up as she was led past him and he could feel her frustration at how wrong things had gone for her. **Damnit, Izzy!** he started to ‘path her.

**Shut up, Max! Don’t even start with me.**

Whew! And Max thought he was upset. Iz was pissed! The Dissidents didn’t realize how lucky they were she’d been stunned. It took all his control to stay in character.

//Remember that this can be corrected,\\ he reminded himself. Remember that all he had to do was go along with the Dissidents until they ‘ported back to the generation ship and when he signaled the Loyalists’ space ship all would be rescued. //Remember that and stay in character. Damn, could this mission get any more screwed up?!\\

In short order all the captives were secured and the vehicles moved off up the mountain to the building the Dissidents had rented. The plan was for a group of them to hold the captives there while the rest went out on another raid to gather as many women as they could in the 18 hours they had before the portal closed.

The isolated building was only about two miles away, up a steep mountain road. The captives were unloaded and taken inside. Max hovered protectively near his sister and his captive but was ordered back outside. So much for the hope that he could protect them but he was instructed to get back into the vehicles and take part in the next raid. Gritting his teeth with frustration, he was forced to obey. All he could do was hope that Michael would not blow their cover when he saw Isabel. When he was younger Michael was not known for ‘think first’ behavior, but as he had matured he had gained more self-control. Max just hoped the shock wouldn’t cause him to revert.

Max stood by his assigned vehicle as they waited for Bart to come out and tried to keep his real feelings covered by the silent and surly persona he had assumed for his role as a ‘dissident.’ He looked around and noticed that Leon was not in any of the vehicles heading out on the next raid. A very cold feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. Leon must be on guard duty. Max was sick with worry for both Isabel and ‘his’ longhaired captive.





[ edited 3 time(s), last at 13-Nov-2002 3:57:29 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 11:35:23 AM

CHAPTER TWO

Isabel was furious with herself. Why couldn’t she have just followed her orders? It wouldn’t have killed her to just wait at the scout ship like she was told. But, noooo. She had to go exploring. And look where it had gotten her. Max was going to skin her alive. That is, if the Dissidents didn’t do it for him…that Leon character really gave her the creeps.

Max’s captive woke up slowly. Her head throbbed and she felt blood matted in her hair. She kept her eyes closed and listened as memories of recent events surfaced. What in the world was going on? Was this some type of terrorist hostage mess? She took stock of her situation. At least she wasn’t tied up. Maybe she could find a way to escape. She needed to escape from these goons. Old memories rose to the surface of her mind and made her desperate. She tried not to panic; she needed all her wits about her.

Isabel looked at the woman with the braid and was sorry that she had not gotten away. She watched as she opened her eyes and looked around then tried to stand but was obviously still too dizzy. Isabel scooted over to her. "Better stay down. Who knows what they’ll do if they see you moving around," she advised. She felt an instant kinship with this stranger, something that had never happened before. "Can you tell me your name? Mine’s Isabel."

The longhaired woman glanced at Isabel and said, "Liz." Then she continued her study of the room. Not much to see there, just an unfurnished room, two doors, one window boarded up from the inside, and ten other women. The closest one, the one who had spoken to her, was blond and looked like she’d be tall. The other women were huddled together in the corner farthest from the door.

The door opened and Leon swaggered in. "Now, what do we have here?" he gloated as he looked at Isabel and Liz. "You’re mine," he told Isabel. "And you’re not," he told Liz, "so I really don’t care if you get messed up. Move over there and stay quiet." He pointed over to the corner where the other women huddled then resumed his leering examination of Isabel.

Liz didn’t move away as instructed and when Leon knelt down to fondle Isabel she just rolled over on her back and used both legs to kick him in the ribs. Isabel was startled but gratified with this assistance and she began to pummel Leon with all her might. He struggled away from them, drew his stunner and zapped Isabel lightly.

He sneered at Liz and said, "Since this won’t work on you, guess I’ll have to do this the hard way." Holstering the stunner he made a grab for her. She eluded him and darted toward the open door. Her braid trailed after her and he grabbed it and jerked her backwards. Liz pulled the braid from his hand and watched him warily, waiting for another opportunity.

But she didn’t get one. Another Dissident quietly approached her from behind and grabbed her arms. She slammed her heel down his shin onto his instep and drove her elbow backward into his ribs with all her might. He howled, but didn’t let go.

Leon stepped up and punched her in the face. She hit the floor and lay still. He looked at her for a second as she lay there unconscious. Then he rubbed his aching side and kicked her in the ribs. //That’ll teach her.\\ He looked at Isabel. "Tell her when she wakes up there’s more where that comes from. She better learn who’s boss real fast...or else."

Attracted to the commotion, Michael rushed in. He grabbed Leon’s arm and jerked him around and away from the woman on the floor. With great disdain he taunted, "You sniveling coward of a bully! You’re beating up on a helpless woman! If that’s your best seduction technique, I guess we can tell why you usually have to pay for female company."

Leon turned his aggression toward Michael who quickly held up a communicator, indicating his readiness to report the misbehavior. Leon and his fellow goon looked at each other and silently agreed to retreat.

Michael went over to Isabel and under the guise of moving her back away from the door hissed at her, "What the hell are you doing here??!!"

"Shit happens. Be quiet and don’t blow your cover. I’ll be okay—just get that location beacon sent off."

Michael and Isabel went over to Liz to see how badly she was injured. She was developing an impressive bruise on her cheek. Michael helped move her over near the wall then had to leave.

Isabel wished she had Max’s healing ability. Sure would come in handy. But she didn’t; her strongest skill was dreamwalking and she didn’t think it would do any good in this case. So she waited until Liz awoke and sat up. They both leaned back and tried to get comfortable. The other captives seemed to think it was a good idea to stay away from them.

Liz asked, "Isabel, isn’t it?" At Isabel’s nod she continued. "Do you have any idea what’s going on?"

Normally Isabel was slow to trust and she definitely would not give their secrets away, but she felt an unusual kinship with this stranger. Without mentioning hers or the Dissidents’ ‘other worldly status’ Isabel quietly explained that the Dissidents were searching for women to start a new ‘community’. They really didn’t care if the women were willing or not.

Liz was aghast. She turned even paler and her mouth dropped open. "Why that’s barbaric. How do they expect to get away with this?" she gasped.

"They plan to transport us to an isolated place," hedged Isabel. She neglected to mention that this isolated place was out in the Asteroid Belt. She watched Liz’s reaction grow more panicked and desperate. Her amber aura had the sickly yellow blotches of fear and streaks of angry red ran jagged through it.

Liz said under her breath, "Not again. I will NOT go through this again."

Isabel wondered what she meant, but did not have a chance to ask because Liz struggled to her feet and staggered over to the other door. She opened it and discovered a bathroom. Mentally she ran a quick inventory. //No window. No cleaning chemicals under the sink. No shower curtain rod. Not even a toilet paper dispenser to scavenge the wire spring from. Nothing that could be used as a weapon. Rats!\\

Moving more steadily Liz made her way to the boarded up window and attempted to pry the boards off. She looked at Isabel and said, "These idiots boarded up this window on the inside where we could get at it. I bet ‘Lecherous Leon,’ your unwanted admirer did this. Give a hand?"

"And the best threat that goon could come up with was…or else," Isabel said. "Too bad you were knocked out and missed it. It was classic." She went over and studied the situation. Unobtrusively brushing her hand over the nails in the boards Isabel attempted to use her powers to loosen them. She was startled when nothing happened. She had a little telekinetic ability and a reasonable control over the molecular structure of inanimate objects but the stunner seemed to have affected her powers. They’d have to resort to brute force.

Nodding to Liz, they both got a hold on the same board but there really wasn’t a way to get a good grip. They struggled for a while then gave it up. "Was there anything in the bathroom we could use as a pry bar?" asked Isabel.

Liz shook her head ‘no’ then moved over to an empty corner. She slid down the wall to sit with her arms wrapped around herself, her head resting on her knees. She looked the picture of despair but her mind was working rapidly, sorting options and trying to come up with a plan.

Isabel’s first inclination was to go comfort her and tell her that her brother would save them but she could not give that secret away. And she noticed that Liz’s aura had grown extremely prickly and that meant she would not welcome contact. Isabel sank into her own depression and the night passed.




[ edited 2 time(s), last at 13-Nov-2002 4:08:06 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 11:38:44 AM

CHAPTER THREE

In the morning Michael was the one assigned to bring the captives food. Leon’s activities had been reported and he was reassigned to another job. Michael talked quietly to Isabel. "Max is still away on the second raid, he should get back soon. Then we’re all to help transport you women to the portal. It’s not far up the mountain. I’ll try to tie you loosely. Use any opportunity to escape. Max and I’ll try to delay things so you will be moved at the last minute before the portal closes. That way they won’t have time to chase you. Just get away any way you can!"

Isabel looked at him with gratitude, but insisted, "The important thing is to get that location beacon sent off. You MUST get that signal sent off! That’s the only way these creeps will be stopped, not to mention the only way I will be rescued if I don’t escape before the portal closes."

Michael realized he must get back in character before he gave himself away. Not being able to ‘path reliably like Max really pissed him off.

Isabel watched as Michael placed food near the other women. She was amazed that they seemed mostly apathetic about their situation. She wondered if the stunner’s effects were more permanent than originally thought. //Sure hope my brains don’t get fried.\\

Michael glanced over at the huddled group of women, his face unreadable to most, but Isabel knew something else was bothering him. When he came over to give her some food she placed her hand on his arm to aid in the contact and ‘pathed him. **Tell me, Michael.**

His eyes shifted toward her then he looked away. **Wish you had obeyed orders and stayed out of this mess, Iz.**

Isabel suspected that he was not telling her what was spooking him so she sent a mental jab at him. How dare he try to hide things from her!

Michael glared at her and rubbed the back of his neck. **You’re lucky that Leon likes women who fight back. The creeps who claimed those poor women over there want submissive, willing ‘companions.’ They used the higher setting on the stunner on them. Their memories are pretty scrambled right now. They think it will make the women turn to them as ‘protectors’ when we get to the generation ship.**

Isabel gasped audibly and paled in shock. Michael gave her a sympathetic glance and left the room to continue his duties. Isabel shook herself and focused on her present situation. She couldn’t do anything about them now. She only hoped their condition could be reversed when they were rescued.

She looked over where Liz was huddled; she didn’t think the poor woman moved at all during the night. Isabel went over to her corner and sat beside her. She didn’t touch her, as her aura was even pricklier than before. "Are you alright?" she asked gently. When Isabel didn’t get a response she put her hand on Liz’s arm. Liz jumped out of her skin and moved away almost uncontrollably. "Wow, that’s quite a startle reflex," Isabel commented. "There’s no one here but your fellow captives, so calm down."

Liz looked at Isabel blankly, not comprehending. Isabel noticed the large bruise darkening her cheek. "Boy, that looks like it hurts. Wish my brother was here, he’s good at fixing things like that." Isabel talked quietly and gently, trying to make contact with the injured woman.

She reached out and Liz moved away again, her aura spiking. Isabel thought, //I get the message.\\ To Liz she said, "I want to thank you for helping me when that offensive Neanderthal tried to get friendly with me."

Liz smiled a small crooked smile and but didn’t say anything. She leaned her head back against the wall and watched the door. After some time she turned to Isabel and whispered, "I’m going to try to get out that door the next time it opens. Maybe ‘Spike’ will come back with lunch. You’re welcome to come or to otherwise take advantage of the distraction."

Isabel was startled by the determination in her face and voice. She knew there was a good chance Liz would get hurt in her escape attempt and if she caused too much trouble they might just kill her. "Please trust me when I ask you to just wait. I can’t tell you why, but I know we’ll be rescued. My brother will never let this continue."

Liz looked back at Isabel, her face unreadable. "Sorry, I can’t risk it. I’ll die before I let them use me the way they intend to. Good luck." And with that she went over and sat beside the door.

Isabel closed her eyes. She felt so helpless. Her mind wandered over recent events, wishing she could go back and rethink her decision to walk through the racquetball club. Then she chuckled aloud as she realized which Dissident Liz referred to as ‘Spike.’ Such an appropriate description for her spiky haired friend. Liz raised her head and looked questioningly at Isabel. "Spike is a good name for our ‘waiter’," she explained. Liz smiled and resumed her watch by the door.

After several hours Isabel noticed that Liz had fallen into a troubled slumber. She was moaning in reaction to an obvious nightmare. Isabel decided to dreamwalk her. She was scared and bored at the same time; this would give her something to do and might provide some answers to why Liz seemed so familiar.

She relaxed and sent herself into the dream plane. Liz’s dream orb was floating nearby. Isabel called it to her and looked inside. She couldn’t see anything in the darkness so she enlarged the orb and entered it to find herself surrounded with thick clouds of smoke. Now she could hear terrified screams and the sound of running footsteps. The smoke swirled and Liz dashed by. Isabel reached out to stop Liz. When her hand made contact, Liz screamed again and began to struggle fiercely. Flames erupted all around and Isabel screamed in fear and agony as the searing heat ignited her clothes and hair. Liz and Isabel jerked awake and began screaming aloud.

The door to their prison slammed open and Leon burst in. An extremely startled Isabel just sat there stunned but Liz dove out the door and scrambled to her feet to flee. Leon spun around and followed Liz, slamming the door behind him.

He caught up with her at the locked door at the end of the hall and smashed her to the floor with his fist. He reached down, grabbed her by the arm and raised her to her feet. Then he hit her again, aiming for her already bruised cheek. Holding her up so she wouldn’t fall and spoil his fun, he pulled his fist back for yet another punch. But before he could release it, a powerful hand grabbed his arm and held it motionless.

Max said with deadly intent, "I wouldn’t do that, if I were you." He really wanted to annihilate this beast and he was almost beyond control, but he hung on to what little he had left with all his might. A conflict of that intensity at this time could jeopardize the entire mission. Hating himself, but knowing restraint was necessary, he just pushed Leon away.

He picked Liz up and almost lost his grip on her when she began to struggle frantically. He wrapped his arms around her as gently as he could and whispered into her hair, "Shhhh, quiet down now. I won’t let him hurt you again."

As he walked back toward the room where the rest of the captive women were being held he felt her trembling body relax as she lost consciousness. When he walked in he saw Isabel’s startled face. He gave her a warning look and carried Liz over to her. "Here, you," he said gruffly. "Take care of this one." With his back to the door, Max’s eyes expressed his real feelings as he telepathed to Isabel, **Izzy, she doesn’t deserve what’s happening to her and I’m responsible.**

//Boy, and I thought this was hard on me…\\ she thought as she nodded to her brother. //I hope Max forgives himself for this. We all knew going into it that the situation was serious and we might have to do unpleasant things to prevent a larger evil.\\ She accepted Liz’s unconscious body and cradled her gently.

Max sighed. **I was able to disrupt the other raid enough that they were not successful in capturing any more women. They’re not in very good humor so be cautious; I have to go now.**

Isabel sat there for a while, pondering this woman’s the pattern of behavior: try to escape, get knocked unconscious, wake up, try to escape, get knocked unconscious… Such stubbornness. Reminded her of Max. Then she felt Liz began to stir and she knew the exact moment when Liz had regained consciousness because she treated to another exhibition of her extreme startle reflex.

Liz backed into the nearest corner, eyes wide in panic. Isabel looked at her and said quietly, "Hey, calm down." Liz did regain some semblance of calm faster than Isabel thought she would. She scooted closer to Liz’s corner but didn’t attempt to touch her. "Sit down and save your energy, Liz. Please sit down; I’m getting a crook in my neck trying to look at you."

Liz slowly sank to the floor, taking deep shuttering breaths. Isabel looked at her. //Wish we could just ‘path each other. It would be so much safer. She sure is a mystery. I can get surface thoughts from most people I touch, but she is a total blank.\\ Isabel leaned closer and noticed that Liz’s face tightened as she tried not to back away. "Calm down, Liz, " she said soothingly. Then in her quietest whisper, "Did you see the man who saved you from that thug Leon?"

Liz nodded slowly. She didn’t know why, but she did trust Isabel. Not many people gained her trust so quickly and she hoped she wasn’t wrong.

"Remember his face. He won’t hurt you." That was as far as Isabel felt it was safe to go. She couldn’t tell Liz about their mission. Too much was at stake.

They sat there, exhausted, for a short time. Then the door opened and a group of Dissidents entered the room; Max and Michael were among them. The Dissidents set to work and tied the women’s hands to short ropes so they would all be joined together in a line. Things progressed reasonably smoothly as all of the women except Isabel and Liz were suffering from the effects of the stun.

However, all hell broke loose when they tried to tie Liz up. She screamed and struggled and fought with all her might, inflicting far more damage than someone her size should be able to. Max’s heart broke to see her terror, but he could not help her. Soon she was trussed up like the rest. Her struggles delayed the Dissidents and she was last in line with her rope attached to Isabel’s hands.

The Dissidents began to lead their captives out of the building. Max positioned himself at the end of the line of women so he would be near Isabel. Michael tried to be close to Isabel and Max, but was ordered to guard the middle of the line.

It was just before noon and they had a ways to walk to get to the portal. The path they were walking on traveled along the edge of a steep ravine. Max put his hand over the rope around Isabel’s wrists. Concentrating his powers, he altered the molecular structure so it would stretch easily. **Iz, I’m going to pretend to trip. I made your rope stretchy. Get free and run. It’s too late for them to spend any time chasing you; the portal will close soon.** He paused and looked at her to get her answer. He glanced at Liz, then back at Isabel. **If at all possible, take her with you.** She nodded her understanding.

They walked a short distance further along the path and Max stumbled and fell quite convincingly. Isabel jerked her wrists loose from the altered rope and turned to grab Liz’s hand and run. She hadn’t taken more than a few steps when Leon appeared in front her and grabbed her arm. She let go of Liz and commanded, "Run!"

Liz took a quick around and saw one of the Dissidents (Michael) running toward her. Realizing that she was still trapped, she backed a short way down the steep slope toward the edge of the ravine, trying to keep her balance as her feet slipped on the loose rocks. Leon handed Isabel off to Michael and began to edge down the slope toward Liz, his rage at her escape attempt driving caution from his mind.

Max watched from his vantage point on the ground as Liz, her attention focused on Leon’s approach, continued down the unstable slope. Without a thought for his own safety, Max crawled, unnoticed, toward the developing disaster. He had just reached a point slightly below Liz when her foot slipped and she lost her balance slightly. Leon reached out for her arm but she moved it away from his grasp.

Then Max watched with horror as Liz made deliberate eye-contact with Leon, turned and threw herself towards the edge of the ravine. She tumbled down and hit a tree trunk hard, halting her progress just short of the edge of the ravine. Blackness rapidly consumed her as she lost consciousness.





[ edited 2 time(s), last at 13-Nov-2002 4:23:56 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 11:49:01 AM

CHAPTER FOUR

Max saw Liz dive for the ravine and in trying to stop her, fell after her. She had ended up bent around the base of a tree and he slid past her, barely stopping himself from going over the edge by grasping a bush one handed. He could hear shouts from the path above. Isabel was crying, Michael was insisting that he be allowed to rescue him. Bart was shouting that they didn’t have time to fool with them, the portal wouldn’t wait. The voices faded out as they got further away. Max realized with a sinking feeling that the success of the mission now rested in his friend’s hands.

He looked at the unconscious woman. Luckily she had hit the tree front first; if she had hit back first it probably would have broken her back. As it was, she was bent forward at the waist and draped around the base of tree that stopped her. Blood trickled from her mouth.

The bush Max was hanging onto began to pull out of the ground. He slipped a little closer to the edge of the ravine. He knew the fall would probably kill him. If he survived the fall, there was no chance he would escape without severe injury and be trapped down there. //Not a pretty way to go.\\

Carefully using his powers he tried to strengthen his bush’s root system. He rested his head on his arm and considered his options. He had just come to the conclusion that he didn’t have any options when he heard a weak voice.

**Hey.**

He looked up in surprise. The injured woman was looking at him, her face white with pain.

**Grab the rope. I’ve anchored my legs.** She paused for a long moment, her eyes closed. **Best I can do.**

Max saw that she had hooked her lower legs around the next tree, preventing her body from sliding off the tree that had broken her fall. The rope was still attached to her wrists; she swung it toward him with the last of her strength.

With his free hand, Max grabbed the rope. His little bush gave way and he used both hands to hold onto the rope. He looked up at her and was shocked at what he saw. She had blacked out again and there was fresh blood coming from her mouth. The only thing saving both of them from the fall to the bottom of the ravine was the way she had hooked her legs around that other tree. His added weight was causing her to bend further around her tree.

As carefully as he could, Max pulled himself up along the rope. He used his power to help stabilize the rocky soil and provide footholds. He didn’t want to jerk on the rope any more than he had to; he was dreadfully afraid that the blood from Liz’s mouth was from a punctured lung.

Finally he reached Liz’s tree and was able to use it, instead of the rope, to gain slightly flatter, safer ground. When he was secure he studied Liz’s position and tried to determine the best way to untangle her from the trees and get her back up onto the path without causing further injury. The magnitude of her sacrifice was not lost on him.

He felt the psychic surge as the portal closed. Shutting his eyes he cursed under his breath. This mission had not gone to plan. He considered his options again; there were a few more than he had a few moments ago, thanks to that poor woman he had helped capture. He had no clue as to why she had saved him. She had obviously tried to throw herself into the ravine rather than be captured again. And instead of biding him good riddance and letting him fall, she had saved him. She was a mystery. Shaking his head, he got down to the delicate business of getting her back on the path.

He reached down and touched the injured woman. He would try to stabilize her condition before he moved her. Max began the connection so he could heal her. Try as he might, he could not connect through her mental shields. Who or what was she? Unconscious as she was, he should have no difficulty connecting with her, but there was no breaching those shields.

He tried another way. He used his power to create a cocoon of force around her body in an effort to stabilize her as much as possible and then cautiously used it to lift her into his arms. Shocked again at how light she was, Max cradled her as gently as possible. He carefully scooted backward up the hill toward the path. She did not regain consciousness and thankfully the blood coming from her mouth did not increase.

Max was becoming frantic. His injured woman was rapidly going into shock; if he couldn’t form a connection and heal her, she would most likely die. Max’s inner cave man was reacting badly to these thoughts. Feelings of rage and grief at losing this woman—his woman—were growing. Max rapidly sifted through potential solutions. Then he remembered the scout ship had a healing chamber. It was her only chance. Somewhat comforted, his inner cave man sank back in to his subconscious.

Holding her firmly but gently, Max started to stand up. He faltered and almost fell. His ankle was damaged in some way: sprained or broken, he couldn’t tell which. Very bad words came from his mouth. He looked down at his mystery woman and blushed. It was a good thing she couldn’t hear him.

Max carefully laid her back down on the ground and examined his ankle. He attempted to heal it but stopped when he realized that the stress of the last few months, added to the trip out of the ravine back to the path, had depleted most of his energy.

He would have to deal with this another way. He reached for some small tree branches that were nearby. Tearing his shirt into strips he created a splint that would have made his Boy Scout leader (if he’d had one) proud. Hoping his ankle was just sprained or cracked and not really broken, he stood up to test it. Lots of pain but he thought he could manage—he’d have to manage; there was no other choice. Balancing on his good leg, max leaned down and picked up his mystery woman. As he slowly started down the path towards the scout ship he pondered the many questions he had about her.

Concentrating on these questions helped take his mind off of his exhaustion and his fear for Michael and Isabel’s safety. The woman in his arms definitely provided him with food for thought.

He had no idea what her name was; he couldn’t keep calling her his mystery woman, even if that was what she was. And what was she? Was she human, Al’Centran, some blend of the two, or something totally different? She had to have registered on the Dissidents’ genetic scanner for them to take her. No, wait, she had run from the building too quickly to have been scanned. So that question was not easily answered. It just added another one: why didn’t the stunner affect her?

Why did she inspire these possessive feelings? Why couldn’t he penetrate her shields? It might be that her incredible shields protected her from the effects of the stun. Who knew? Max did know that when she was conscious her aura displayed colors of great distress, but as strong as his telepathic and empathetic powers were, he could read nothing from her.

And speaking of powers, unless he had totally lost it, he was positive she had ‘pathed him that message about the rope. Bent around that tree trunk with a potentially punctured lung, she definitely didn’t have the air to speak normally.

Questions, mysteries and more questions. These thoughts occupied Max as he made his slow, painful way to the scout ship. Traveling the two plus miles took more out of him than he expected, but he finally reached the scout ship. He entered and made his way to the medical cubby. It was so tiny on the small scout ship that it didn’t even qualify as a room. Using his elbow to open the healing chamber, he gently placed his mystery woman inside. He brushed a strand of hair away from her bruised face and looked at her again before he closed the chamber and let the diagnostic computer begin its work. Thank god for future technology.

Max sank down onto the floor next to the chamber, wishing that he had the energy reserves necessary to heal his own ankle. //I’ll just rest here for a while,\\ he thought, as he drifted off into an exhausted sleep, lulled by the beeps and other quiet sounds emanating from the healing chamber.

The healing chamber was programmed to ‘regenerate’ and so while it repaired the most serious of Liz’s physical wounds and restored her energy levels it depleted the scout ship’s stored energy. Her surface injuries were left to heal at a normal pace. Due to his inexperience with the future technology, Max had not realized the amount of energy required by the healing chamber. However, being the type of person he was, he would have used whatever energy necessary to heal his mystery woman no matter the cost. His conscience was absolutely killing him.




[ edited 2 time(s), last at 13-Nov-2002 5:03:41 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 11:51:21 AM

CHAPTER FIVE

Max awoke with a stiff neck from his awkward sleeping position. He stretched out flat on the floor and began to think over his options. His part of the mission was pretty well screwed up. Michael had the whole responsibility now. Additionally, he had to protect Isabel. Max groaned in reaction to his thoughts.

The healing chamber began a soft beeping, reminding Max of its occupant, another of his responsibilities. He got to his feet and studied the readouts on the dials. He wished he knew more about this technology; he had placed his injured mystery woman in there purely in desperation. However, if he understood what the dials indicated, although she was not completely healed, she was as healed as was possible.

He checked the energy levels for the scout ship and was shocked at how low they were. There had not been enough energy for a complete healing and there was not enough energy left for a signal to the main ship until the ship’s batteries recharged themselves. At least the ship itself would not be accidentally discovered; it was totally and completely undetectable by present day technology. He located it only because he knew precisely where Isabel had hidden it.

Max groaned again. He leaned against the wall and thumped his head against it in frustration. How was he going to explain this obviously advanced medical technology in this even more obviously advanced scout ship to her? Well, at least he could keep the future technology a secret from her by moving her before she regained consciousness. He opened the chamber and studied its occupant. Her facial bruises were still painfully visible; he could only hope the chamber had healed enough of her other injuries. He gently gathered her up into his arms again.

When he began to walk out of the ship his movement reminded him that his ankle was still in need of attention. Max hoped he had enough time and had regained energy enough to heal it before she woke up. His ‘not from around here’ status was another secret he must keep from her until he knew just what she was. He sighed and shook his head as he made his way out of the scout ship and traveled slowly and painfully back toward the racquetball club.

It was early evening when Max arrived at a clearing in the woods near his goal. He stopped and placed his mystery woman on the soft ground. This was a peaceful setting and hopefully it would help him cope as he approached a very difficult situation.

Max sat and absorbed the peaceful calm of the meadow as he contemplated his situation. He had not arrived at any solutions when he noticed his mystery woman beginning to awaken. Moving closer he studied her as her eyes began to open. He said in a quiet and gentle voice, "Please don’t be afraid. You’re safe now and I won’t let anyone hurt you again."

Liz was still groggy from the actions of the healing chamber and this somewhat cushioned the shock of returning to consciousness. Memories of recent events began to come clearer and she was on the verge of panic when she became aware of the most gentle and comforting voice she had ever heard. Just the sound of it offered reassurance and safety. She opened her eyes and recognized the face that Isabel told her to remember, the face of the man she promised would not hurt her. Liz sat up and immediately noticed that her ribs didn’t hurt anymore. She looked at her companion. He had an air of worry and guilt about him. She saw the worry and concern in his expressive eyes and that concern seemed to be for her.

Max had to say something, had to begin his explanation… "Are you feeling better? You’ve been sleeping all afternoon." //Yeah, sleeping. Unconscious is more like it. Great start, Max.\\ He paused to gather his thoughts and hopefully come up with a way to explain everything without giving away any secrets. He did not want her to go screaming to the authorities. Too many questions would be asked for which answers could not be given. "My name is Max Evans. Will you tell me yours?"

Liz just looked at him. //This is the man Isabel said to trust. Lordy, lordy, WHY do I feel like I CAN trust this stranger? He helped kidnap me in the first place even though I got the feeling he would have let me go if that thug Leon hadn’t been around. He helped me when Leon was beating on me in the hall. Is he a ‘bad guy’ trying to cross to the ‘good’ side? Is he a ‘good guy’ caught up in ‘bad things’? Isabel was kidnapped too, why did she tell me to trust one of the kidnappers?\\ Liz groaned and buried her face in her hands.

Max was startled and reached out to touch her arm gently. "Are you alright? Are you in pain? Can I do anything?" Touching her reminded him of her unknown status. Why couldn’t he read her? Her aura showed that she was stressed. Overwhelmed by questions he groaned and buried his face in his hands. He was startled to hear quiet chuckling and looked up quickly.

Liz looked at Max with amusement. "My name is Liz Parker." She shook her head and laughed again. "We’re quite a pair, aren’t we."

Max laughed and agreed. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad after all.

"I assume that you know more about recent events than I do. Isabel said I could trust you and God only knows why I do. Want to try to explain?"

"Isabel is my sister," Max began. "Did she tell you anything when you were in that room with her?" //There, that’s a better start. Maybe I can find out what Isabel said and go from there.\\

"Well, I thought they were terrorists but she said something about our being kidnapped to help those idiots start a new community somewhere or something like that. I really didn’t understand how they thought they could do something like that in this day and age. I’d been smacked upside the head a few too many times to really think about what she was saying. That and I was too busy trying to find a way out to really try to understand the ‘whys’ of the situation." She looked at him intently. "So clue me in, Max."

"Well, first of all I want to tell you how sorry I am that you were involved in this."

He looked at Liz with such guilt in those expressive eyes that she was moved to offer comfort. "Wrong place at the wrong time, I guess. Keep talking."

"Okay. Isabel, my friend Michael and I found out about your ‘terrorists’ //that’s as good a name for them as any\\ not long ago and were trying to get them to lead us to their base so we could call in reinforcements and stop their operation." Max looked at Liz to see how she was accepting this limited version of the truth.

"Why didn’t you just go to the police or the FBI or something?" Liz asked.

Max looked at her in genuine alarm. "No! We suspect they have infiltrated some local authorities and we couldn’t take a chance. Our group must work secretly if we are to succeed." This was true, they did not know how far into present day society the Dissidents had spread and how many present day Al’Centrans were involved. "Please don’t go to the authorities! It will only make the situation worse. Michael and Isabel are still with the terrorists…"

Liz interrupted, with concern showing in her face and voice. "Isabel didn’t get away? Oh, Max, I’m so sorry." She got to her feet and began to pace. Max began to speak but she gave him a small smile and said, "Give me a minute, can you? I’ve got some thinking to do."

She turned her back on him and began to pace along the edge of the clearing. Then she stopped and stood there for such a long time that Max began to be concerned. He started to get to his feet but caught the sticks of his splint on his pants leg and gasped in pain. Liz whirled around and helped steady him so he could stand. "Are you alright, Max?" He nodded. Liz continued, "Are we safe here or will the terrorists be looking for us."

"I’m not sure; we probably would be wise to find a place to hide while we decide what to do. I can’t contact my group right away." Max was amazed at how well Liz was coping with what had to be a surreal experience for her. She didn’t panic or get hysterical; she just went directly to the most pressing concern they had: immediate safety. Who was rescuing whom? He chuckled ruefully to himself. "I’m not from around here //in more ways than one\\ and I’m not familiar with this area but we do need to find a safe place as soon as possible. We’re not far from the racquetball club…"

"My jeep is parked near there. Can you make it that far with your ankle?" Liz knelt down and tried to see how badly it was injured. She peeled down his sock and saw extensive swelling and bruising.

Max was almost speechless at this sudden change of roles. "Liz, I don’t want to put you in any more danger. I have enough on my conscience as it is…"

She stood and glared up at him. "Oh hush up. I want to stop those terrorists just as badly as you do and my reasons are just as personal as yours." She put her hands on her hips in exasperation. "Besides, your ankle may very well be broken!"

Max looked stubbornly back at this totally determined woman. She asked, "Will you let me help you?" Liz could see a ‘no’ coming and spoke up quickly before he could say anything. "We can use my jeep to get out of the immediate area. Then I have more questions."

Max could only look at her with amazement. "I’ll answer yours if you answer mine," he bargained.

"Let’s get to a safe place first," she agreed and started toward her jeep. She looked back to see him limping along. She picked up a stout tree branch and offered it to him as a crutch. He smiled his thanks and followed her. It had been a rough week and Max was so exhausted he could barely think straight. It had gotten darker while they talked and Max stumbled over a tangle of grass. Liz turned back to him and studied him for a moment. She seemed to prepare herself before offering him her shoulder as an additional crutch.

They made it to her jeep. Liz pulled her keys from her pocket and opened the passenger door. She reached into the Wrangler and slid the seat as far back as it could go. Then she turned and helped an exhausted Max inside. "Put your ankle up on the dash. Maybe if it’s elevated, some of the swelling will go down." Max only had enough energy to do as she said. He reclined the seat and closed his eyes.

Liz got in the jeep and began driving. "Okay. I need to know some things." She glanced over at Max. "How did the terrorists choose their victims. Do they know who I am or where I live?" Max still had his eyes closed, trying to focus enough to answer her questions. She reached over and poked his arm. "Wake up, Max. This is important."

He rolled his head to the side and looked at her. "They wanted young and healthy women; that’s why they chose the racquetball club. Other than that their choices were random." //With a little help from the genetic scanner, that is…\\

She was quiet for a minute then continued, "So, Max, are we okay to assume that my house is a safe place?"

Max forced his exhausted brain to focus on her question. Their survival had been very much in question the last time the Dissidents had seen them. And with all the confusion he had created during the last raid, Max didn’t think the Dissidents would be able to tell just which captive had escaped. Also considering the fact that he had ‘lost’ both the paper files listing potential ‘wives’ and the disk the information was stored on, Max decided they would be safe. He nodded, closing his eyes again.

"Well, can we take you to the emergency room to have your ankle taken care of?"

Max opened his eyes at this. "No. They’ll want too much information. They can’t know who I am." //What I am.\\

Liz just looked at him, then continued driving. "Go to sleep, then. We’ll be at my place in about two hours." She didn’t want to drive directly to her house on the off chance that they were being followed. So she began driving around the city, watching in her rear mirror for any vehicle that made the same random turns she did. Eventually she was satisfied that they were safe and turned onto the highway that led up into the mountains.





[ edited 1 time(s), last at 13-Nov-2002 3:31:34 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 11:59:41 AM

CHAPTER SIX

It was late when they arrived at the entrance to her road. Max woke up as the jeep turned onto the gravel and stopped in front of a plain farm-type gate. He watched as Liz reached for the dash and pushed a button and then was startled when the gate slid silently open and then after they were through, it closed again. //Who is this mystery woman and why does she trust me enough to take me to her home?\\ Max’s befuddled brain could not even begin to answer this. He could only sit there passively and watch to see what would happen next.

Liz slowly drove up the long road toward her home. She couldn’t believe what she was doing. Her brain was screaming at her not to trust this stranger, but coming from somewhere deep inside her was the feeling that this was no stranger, just a friend she hadn’t met yet. She shook her head and sighed. Maybe this was all a dream and she would wake up, vowing to give up spicy food before bedtime. Yeah, right.

She pulled the jeep around to the back of the house and into the garage. Looking over at her passenger she said simply, "We’re here." Then she went around to his side of the jeep and helped him out. "Careful, now," she cautioned him. "Lean against the jeep for a moment— I just remembered something." Liz gave Max a small smile and went over to the other side of the garage and retrieved a pair of crutches that were hanging from a nail. She grabbed a rag, wiped the dust off and handed them to Max with a flourish. Max just looked at her in tired amazement. He placed the crutches under his arms and followed her into the house.

Liz unlocked her back door and pushed it wide so Max could enter. After he was inside she locked the door and led him through the kitchen/dining room into the living room. Max just stood there so she guided him to the couch. He was so out of it he just did what she wanted without argument. She grabbed a small pillow, placed it on the coffee table and gently put his injured ankle on it. He leaned back and closed his eyes. She stood looking at her guest. //Okay, smart girl. Now what.\\

Max’s stomach chose this moment to give off a loud rumbling sound. He opened his eyes and glanced at the offending organ in dismay. Liz couldn’t help but giggle at him. Max looked at her in mock anger. Her giggles grew into serious laughter and she bent forward, holding her middle as she laughed uncontrollably. Max joined her and for a time they were both lost to laughter. Eventually, they regained control; their laughter tapering off into occasional giggles.

Liz had ended up lying on the living room floor holding her aching middle. "A good laugh is food for the soul," she said. "Thanks." She rolled over and got to her feet in one smooth motion. "Back to business." Looking at Max she asked, "What’s first? Food or look at your ankle?"

"Food, obviously." He looked at his stomach and back at her again.

Liz shook her finger at him. "Stop it. We’re not starting that again." She chuckled and went to the kitchen to find the much-needed food.

As soon as Liz left the room Max sat up and began to probe his ankle. His nap on the way there had restored just enough power to determine that it wasn’t broken, just badly sprained. He sighed in relief and leaned back again. He could hear sounds coming from the kitchen around the corner. //Such a homey noise,\\ he thought in his exhaustion. //I feel like I’ve come home.\\

Max looked through the wide archway into the dining room; he could see a round table in front of curtained French doors. There was a hallway going who knew where. Max looked idly around the neat living room. There was a wood burning stove to his left near the stairs that led to the upper level. Nice normal things, so comforting after the recent bizarre events that had complicated his life since he and his friends were recruited by the Loyalists. Continuing his inspection he saw a recliner beside the couch he was on, a love seat, TV and a group of photos on the wall across from him.

Photos. Max sat upright. Photos of her family, no doubt. Max groaned to himself, his guilt crashing down upon him again. He had really messed up this poor innocent woman’s life. And she had saved him from falling into a ravine, brought him into her home and offered him sanctuary. When he thought about his sister Isabel, his misery compounded itself.

Liz arrived with a tray of food at this time. She looked at his expression and accurately judged where his thoughts were. "Stop that," she ordered. "Tomorrow’s soon enough to think about that. Eat some dinner then we’ll look at your ankle." She set his dinner tray on the coffee table. "Let me help you get up. The bathroom is down the hall; you can wash up."

"Yes, Bossy," he said facetiously.

Liz stuck her tongue out at Max and gave him his crutches. She went back to the kitchen. When he returned she was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the coffee table staring into space, her aura disclosing her melancholy thoughts. She got up and helped him sit back down.

"Thanks." //For everything.\\ His hunger was aroused by the odor of some seriously spicy chili and he dug in with gusto. The sweetness of the applesauce she had also served him complemented the chili nicely. He looked at his hostess. She was lost in thought again, holding her empty spoon. Max felt his heart tighten in sympathy; she looked so incredibly sad. Her aura was almost completely covered with the deep purple webs of grief. He moved uncontrollably, trying to reach out to comfort her.

Liz looked up, startled. She put a surface smile on and quickly got up. "Need anything else?" she asked as she took her all but untouched dinner into the kitchen.

Max heard the water run and the dishes clatter in the sink as she cleaned up. He struggled to his feet, picked up his tray and limped out to the kitchen. She hurried over and took his tray then turned her back on him as she cleaned his dishes at the sink. "You okay?" he asked hesitantly.

"Sure," Liz said and gave him that surface smile again. "Let’s look at your ankle. Sit over there in the dining room and prop it up on another chair." She bustled him over to the chair and went down the hall to get a pair of scissors and the medical kit. When she returned she found him trying to remove the splint, struggling with the knots he had tied. "I think it will hurt less if you do it yourself. Here. " She offered him the scissors for the knots and watched as he removed the splint.

Then he took off his sneaker and sock. His ankle was quite swollen and colorfully bruised. Max flexed his foot gingerly and winced in pain. "Well, I can move it so I don’t think it’s broken."

Liz went to the freezer and came back with an ice pack. "Let’s get you upstairs and settled for the night. You can keep it raised on a pillow and the ice pack will help with the pain." She handed him his crutches.

He looked up at her horribly bruised face. //I should be taking care of you.\\ But the closed look on her face advised him to keep his mouth shut.

Liz led the way to the stairs and turned around. "Give me your crutches, I’ll go up and open the door. Sit down scoot backward up the stairs. It’s the safest way." Without waiting for an answer she walked up the stairs and opened the door on the left. Max watched as she stood in the doorway as if she didn’t want to enter. Just as he was getting ready to say something she walked into the room and out of his sight. He gave a mighty sigh. More questions to be added to the already huge pile he already had.

When he arrived upstairs, Liz reappeared and returned his crutches. He followed her into the bedroom. Her aura hurt to look at, it was so filled with grief. //Oh my god, what is going on here.\\ Liz’s face was totally closed off and she wouldn’t look at him. He listened as she talked; her voice was emotionless.

"I’ve put out a robe and there are clean towels in the bathroom." She pointed out the door to the bathroom that was at the top of the stairs. "The bathroom closet has extra toiletries; help yourself. And we’ll do something about clean clothes in the morning." Then she fled the room.

Max just stood there, taking in this new development. He sat down on the twin bed and looked around. Stereo on a bookshelf; stacks of CDs; a battered roll top desk with school books piled neatly; snowboard leaning in a corner; a series of colored martial arts belts hanging from a rack; photos of teenagers pinned to the wall, most of them starring on a pretty girl with short dark hair. He limped over to the desk and opened the top schoolbook. The name Dave Parker was written inside the cover.

He replaced it on the stack and sat back down on the bed. This was a teenage boy’s room. Max put his elbows on his knees, rested his head in his hands and spent some time deep in thought. He could hear Liz downstairs cleaning up. Not knowing what else to do, he took a shower and stretched out on the bed, his ice packed ankle propped up on the pillow Liz had left. Exhaustion overcame him and he fell asleep.

Liz moved quietly about the downstairs, putting things back in their proper place. She was doing her very best not to think of anything. Soon she heard the shower running upstairs and she went out onto the front porch. She sat down in her favorite rocker and pulled the quilt that was draped over the back around her. She sat there, silent tears running down her cheeks and rocked for almost an hour.

Finally, way beyond exhausted, she made her way up to her bedroom and fell asleep on top of the bed, still wrapped in her quilt.






[ edited 1 time(s), last at 13-Nov-2002 3:35:30 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 12:07:11 PM

CHAPTER SEVEN

Max awoke to midmorning sunlight pouring in the window. He heard the shower running and smelled coffee. Grabbing the robe, he put it on and walked to the window. It was a tall crank-out type window and the sill was low enough that he easily stepped through and limped out on the deck. He was greeted with a glorious sight. The sun was illuminating majestic peaks that rose from the forest surrounding the meadow in which Liz’s house was centered . Not far down the meadow was a mirror-smooth mountain lake. Max soaked in the morning beauty and felt it restoring him.

After a time he climbed back in the window and noticed a piece of paper stuck under his door. He limped over and picked it up. ‘There are some clean clothes outside your door—don’t trip over them. Remember to scoot downstairs. Don’t try to walk down. Crutches and stairs don’t mix. Coffee and rolls downstairs on the kitchen counter. Help yourself.’ It was signed ‘Bossy.’

Max put the note on the bed and retrieved the clothes. There was underwear, sweatpants and a t-shirt. He put them on and opened the bedroom door. The bathroom door was open, exposing steamed up mirrors. The door directly across from his was closed and he could hear movement inside. Max looked at the closed door for a minute then sat down and obediently scooted down the stairs.

He was sitting at the table, sipping his second cup of coffee when Liz came down. Her long dark hair was clean, shining and freshly braided; she wore baggy jeans and a t-shirt. Smiling shyly, she greeted him, "Good Morning." Then she mock frowned and pointed at his ankle. She grabbed a couch pillow, put it on a nearby chair and sternly instructed him to elevate his ankle.

"Bossy," Max teased. It felt so natural to be around Liz; it was like he had known her forever.

"If you had the sense God gave a goose I wouldn’t have to tell you such basic things," she teased back, all evidence of last night’s emotion gone without a trace.

//Yep, named her right the first time: Mystery Woman.\\ "Thanks for the clothes." Max courteously followed her lead and kept the conversation light. "You have a beautiful view from the deck upstairs. I climbed out the window this morning."

"When we put the front porch on the house we added that upper deck. The existing windows were large so we didn’t make them into doors. Somehow it’s more fun to climb out a window, like you’re going on an adventure."

"We?" Max couldn’t help but ask but then felt immediately sorry when her aura flashed grief strong enough to blind him.

"Would you like a tour or do you want to get right down to business or we can do both at the same time," Liz changed the subject adroitly.

"Let’s do both."

"Yeah, I always think better when I’m on the move. Come on, Gimpy." Liz stood in the dining room and pointed down the hall. "Bathroom and office down that way. Hall door goes down to the basement; the laundry is there. I’ll wash your clothes later."

"I can do that," Max insisted.

Liz shook her head and said, "Stairs," as an explanation. She turned and pointed out the back door. "Garage and barn out back. I’ll show you when you’re more mobile." Then she began walking toward the front door. Max followed obediently. Liz held the door open for Max and his crutches then directed him to one of the rocking chairs on the porch. When they were both seated, Liz pointed "Mountains, trees, lake." She smiled guiltily. "I forgot about your gimp status when I offered the walking tour. Also, we’re above 10,000 feet here and you should take it easy until you get used to it."

They sat in companionable silence for awhile, both needing the time to gather their thoughts.

"So, down to business," Max began. "Do you have any questions before we start?"

"Yes, is there any way we can rescue Isabel and those other women the terrorists have?" Liz asked.

Max sighed mightily. "Wish I could tell you differently, but we can’t reach them. We’ll have to depend on Michael completing the mission and getting the location beacon started. It’s totally out of our hands at the moment."

"I’m so sorry, Max. There’s nothing else we can do? Do you need to contact your group leader or whoever is in charge?" Liz’s voice was soft and comforting.

Max told her the truth, "I can’t contact the group right away."

"Can you go home to your family?" Liz asked.

Max shook his head. "It wouldn’t be safe for me to be popping in and out. It’s best if I stay away until we get those terrorists stopped."

"I was serious when I offered to help, Max. You’re welcome to stay here." She looked at him. "Will you tell me about yourself?"

Max smiled at her and looked back out at the lake. "Nothing really exciting to tell." He smiled a private little smile. "We grew up in a small town. After college my sister Isabel married Alex, her childhood sweetheart. Alex is a serious computer whiz. Isabel and Maria—she’s Michael’s girlfriend—run a counseling center. Michael became a private detective and I joined our dad’s law firm right out of law school but now I work with Michael. Our mother passed away several years ago. That’s the short version."

"Sorry to hear about your mom. Mine died when I was 22. I don’t think we’re ever ready to lose our mothers." She sat, lost in thought for a few minutes, then continued. "So how did you small town people get involved in this group or whatever it is that is trying to stop the terrorists?"

"I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you." Max gave her a mock serious look. He couldn’t help teasing her. She laughed at him and quit asking questions he obviously didn’t want to answer.

They sat there and looked at the peaceful mountain vista in silence. It was a comfortable silence, as each became lost in their own thoughts. But Max watched her aura gradually darken, as her thoughts apparently became sadder and sadder. Finally Max was unable to keep his questions to himself. "May I ask you some questions, Liz?"

"You can ask…I may not always answer, but I promise not to lie." She gave him an odd smile. "Let’s trade questions. Fair’s fair. It’s your turn."

Max looked at Liz searchingly for a moment. "Are you okay? You’ve had a rough couple of days, thanks to me."

Liz looked up, startled. Clearly, this was not the question she was expecting. She thought for a moment then replied, "I’m doing as well as can be expected." She looked at him. "My turn. Do you always take responsibility for events beyond your control?"

Max laughed ruefully. "I’m the oldest of our group, so I guess I just never got out of the habit. Do you have siblings?"

"No, I was an only. I was adopted when I was about 6 years old. My turn." Liz looked at Max thoughtfully. She started to ask him a question ‘Who are you and why do I feel as though I have known you all my life?’ but changed her mind and said instead, "I realize you can’t tell me some things, but what can you tell me about this group of yours?"

Max scratched his head as he gave her question serious thought. "Well, our detective agency was asked to locate certain individuals. Although we didn’t know this at first, it was the ‘terrorists’ who had hired us. We began to have suspicions that there was something fishy going on and we began our own investigations. Then we were contacted by the group and asked to help. Michael, Isabel, Maria, Alex and I discussed it and we decided to get involved. Does that answer your question or is it too vague?"

"Yeah, that was pretty general, but that’s all right, I understand about secrets. My turn…"

"Hey! That last one wasn’t a real question!" He saw the spark of mischief in her eyes and they laughed together. Max sat there for a few minutes, processing the questions that kept coming to him. Finally, he looked at Liz and said as gently as possible, "Who is Dave?"

Liz froze and seemed to quit breathing. Her aura displayed such grief that Max instantly regretted his question. //My god, what have I done?\\ Max could have kicked himself. As Liz suddenly stood up he began, "I’m sorry, you don’t ha…"

Liz broke in, "I’m going for a walk." She turned and headed off the porch, but stopped and looked back. "There’s plenty of food in the refrigerator and freezer. Help yourself." And with that she took off running and was quickly lost to sight.

Max sat there in stunned silence. How could he have inflicted such pain on this undeserving person? He sat there until early afternoon when his body forced him inside to feed it. His massive energy expenditures had seriously depleted him. His body required food and rest to replenish itself.

After he finished eating, Max cleaned up after himself and went upstairs and lay down on what had obviously been Dave’s bed. His active brain would not let his tired body rest; he limped over to the desk and sat down. His eyes traveled down the titles of schoolbooks stacked there: Calculus II, Statics, Mechanical Engineering…these were college books he realized with a shock. Liz wasn’t old enough to have a college age son, Max thought.

She said she was an only child so he couldn’t be a brother. Max groaned and got to his feet. He hated mysteries and questions; he’d had more than enough of them during his life.

He went back downstairs and limped around, too restless to sit down. His ankle was really bothering him; he sat down and decided to have another go at healing it. He knew he couldn’t have a sudden ‘miracle cure’ or Liz would ask questions he wasn’t ready to answer, but if he worked on it a little each day, he could appear to just be a fast healer.

After his partial healing, it was much easier to pace which was good because Max was too upset to sit quietly with the stupid thing elevated. Max found himself in front of the photos that were displayed on the living room wall.

They showed the same boy at various stages of his life. Some of the photos had another person in them, a distinguished looking older gentleman with a white goatee and a sparkle in his eye. Maybe this Dave was his son…no, the book said Dave Parker. Only one of the photos showed Liz. She was being hugged by Dave as a smiling teenager. They looked so happy together.

Liz came in the front door unnoticed as Max was studying the photos. She watched him and realized that her reaction to his innocent question was causing him some serious distress. She said quietly, "That’s my son Dave in most of those pictures." She moved into the living room and continued, "That’s Jon there with Dave. He was our friend."

Max looked at her in surprise. She took a ragged breath and said, "They died not long ago."

Her aura was almost solid purple. Could that much grief kill a person, Max wondered. He looked at her with so much compassion in his eyes that she had to look away. She walked into the kitchen and began to gather the ingredients for dinner.

Max just stood there in front of the photos. After a while, he wiped the moisture from his eyes and limped out to sit on the front porch.




"Dinner’s ready. Do you want to eat outside?" Liz’s voice drifted out through the door.

"I’ll come in there, Liz." How could her voice sound so normal? Her heart had obviously been ripped out, torn in tiny pieces and stuffed back into the gaping hole in her chest. Max knew he would be hard pressed to survive the level of grief Liz’s aura clearly displayed. Right there and then he vowed to himself that he would do whatever he could to protect his mystery woman. His unanswered questions buzzed around inside his head, but he made himself follow Liz’s lead and act ‘normal.’ He walked into the dining room and said, "That smells delicious, what is it?"

"Good old corn-fed Missouri Whitetail."

"Deer?" Max asked, startled.

"Have you ever eaten venison before? I’m sorry, I guess I should have asked about your food preferences…"

"Liz, don’t worry about it. I usually eat whatever doesn’t eat me first and like I said, that smells delicious."

Liz looked directly at him and said, "Dave and Jon got this deer last season. They went back to Missouri where Jon’s family lives. He said Colorado deer taste like sagebrush." Liz smiled in memory.

"Need any help carrying things to the table," Max asked.

Liz looked at Max who wasn’t using crutches and commented, "Thanks. You’re not limping as much. How is your ankle?"

"Oh, I’ve always been a quick healer. It’s getting better fast. Keeping it elevated has really helped." //Yeah, right. Tell her another one.\
"There are condiments in the refrigerator door. I usually use barbecue sauce but Dave liked Tabasco Sauce," Liz instructed as she moved about the kitchen with the last minute preparations that kept her from seeing the shocked look on Max’s face.

"A boy after my own heart," Max said. "I’ve always had a taste for the stuff myself." He grabbed the two sauce bottles and headed for the table. Liz had the rest of the meal waiting for him. "You’re spoiling me, you know."

Liz smiled crookedly. "I like to cook for people. Dave called it hugging from the inside."

Max watched her as he made inroads on the delicious meal she had prepared. He was determined that he not going to ask any more painful questions; he would wait and see what she told him.

After a while Liz sighed and looked back at Max. "I’m sorry I ran out on you like that. Your question was…it just…well, I didn’t want to…I was upset and needed to be by myself." She paused, looking sad. "Dave was my whole world. I miss him constantly, but he would definitely come back and haunt me if I didn’t get on with my life." She smiled sadly. "My son was a joy to be around." //And he didn’t get to do all the wondrous things he had planned.\\ She paused again, lost in her memories.

"You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, but if talking would help…" Max said softly and gently. His expressive eyes were filled with compassion.

"Dave had the most unique way of looking at the world. He had a truly warped sense of humor…" She smiled that crooked smile again. "I probably won’t be able to not talk about him," she said with some amusement. "But not right now."

She got up and carried her plate to the sink. "You want some pie? I have a freezer pie—it’s chocolate peanut butter ice cream in a chocolate graham cracker crust. Did I mention that it comes with hot fudge for a topping?" Liz looked back at Max. "Serious comfort food."

"Looks like I’ll be adding it to my list of favorites," Max said.

They finished their dessert in silence then began to clear the table and clean up the cooking mess without talking. They worked together like they had done this all their lives, comfortable with each other and not needing to say anything.

Their jobs completed, they walked into the living room. Liz asked hopefully, "Do you want to pretend nothing out of the ordinary has happened and just spend the evening reading and watching TV?"

"Sounds like denial to me. My mom used to say ‘Denial is not just a river in Egypt.’" Max sounded amused.

"Just call me Cleopatra, Queen of Denial," Liz returned, just as amused. "Seriously, though, we can get back to the question trading if you want. I’m a tough old bird, I can handle it."

"You don’t look like a tough old bird to me. How old are you, anyway?" //Thought you weren’t going to ask any more personal questions, Max.\
"Age is a matter of the mind; it only matters if you mind." She looked at him; the Mark Twain quote obviously didn’t satisfy him because he still looked expectant. So she added, "Thirty one."

"Same age as me, but I must say, you could have fooled me. You look incredibly well preserved for your advanced age." //I’m not flirting, am I?\
"Well, I have this portrait hidden away in the attic that does my aging for me…"

Max laughed as he caught her Dorian Gray reference. "Okay, then if you’re up for it, I would rest better tonight if we could continue. And I think I owe you a big question or two." //I wish I could tell you everything, Liz. I have this overwhelming urge to confide in you.\\

Liz grabbed two quilts from a basket by the couch and headed out the front door. "Let’s sit outside."

Max followed and accepted one of the quilts. She wrapped herself in a quilt and made herself comfortable in one of the rockers. When Max just stood there looking at her, she said, "It gets chilly when the sun goes down."

//She has such an unselfconscious attractiveness. Even her bruised face doesn’t mar it. Wish I could wrap up in that quilt with her and indulge in some serious cuddling…\\ "Sorry. My mind wandered."

She smiled her crooked smile and said, "If I find it, I’ll send it back to you." She scooted a footstool over toward his rocker and looked pointedly at his ankle. Then she moved her long braid over one shoulder, snuggled down in her quilt and gazed out at the mountains.

Max sat down and propped his ankle up and draped the quilt over his legs. He leaned back and began to rock. "Your turn, I believe."

Liz took a deep breath and was reminded of the curious fact that her ribs didn’t hurt. "Tell me what happened up on that ridge. I remember Isabel telling me to run but things are fuzzy after that." //Come on, Max. Tell me the whole truth. I want to trust you with my brain, not just because my intuition tells me I can.\
"Well, you remember we tied your wrists to Isabel?" He looked to see her reaction. He definitely remembered how Liz had reacted to that episode. His conscience still jabbed him when he thought about it. "I tied Isabel’s wrists loosely so she could release them herself. When we were on the trail I pretended to stumble and that was her signal to break and run. She was supposed to take you with her, but stupid Leon grabbed her."

"I remember that. She screamed for me to run and when I turned around to do it I saw Spike blocking my way."

"Spike?" Max was confused. Michael had been in her way.

"You know, the one with the hair." She made hand motions, describing his hair.

Max burst out with a hearty laugh. He looked at her and said, "That was Michael, our friend. Gotta admit ‘Spike’ is a better name. I’ll have to remember to call him that and see his reaction…"

"Isabel laughed too, but she didn’t tell me he was one of the good guys. We were amusing ourselves making up descriptive names for the terrorists. On with the story, please."

"Well, there I was, sprawled in the dirt after my ‘stumble’ and I saw you dive toward the ravine." He shuddered in memory and looked sternly at Liz. "Don’t you ever do that again!" He got no comment from her so he continued. "I tried to stop you and ended up following you down. A nice sturdy tree stopped your fall but all I could grab was a wimpy little bush."

Max stopped his narration at this point and studied Liz intently. She gazed back at him, her expression unreadable. Her aura gave nothing away either. How could she control it like that? "You threw me the rope and I climbed away from the edge to your tree. The terrorists had gone by then. I got you back up to the path, splinted my ankle and carried you down to that clearing." //And the twenty thousand dollar question is ‘why did you throw me that rope and did I imagine that you ‘pathed me.’\
Liz looked at Max. //Well, that’s true as far as it goes. Max, I’ve seen things and heard things that I cannot explain. You skirt around them just like Isabel did. I know you’re not lying to me. You just aren’t telling me the whole truth.\
Max studied Liz’s expression. Not good. //I get the impression you are talking to me, Liz. I just can’t hear you.\\ Then he remembered something else and his face brightened. "Okay, this is potentially good news. Remember that terrorist who was hitting you in the hall?" Liz nodded. "Well, after you fell down the slope he tried to go down and get you. He lost his footing and fell all the way down. No helpful tree or bush for him."

Liz perked up. "I know there is a blot on my soul for this but I can’t generate much regret. But, Max, it is really good news because he was the one giving Isabel so much trouble."

Max’s face darkened, "Trouble? What kind of trouble?" His big brother vibes were working.

"The kind of trouble he won’t be giving her anymore. Quit worrying, Max. Is there anything you can do about it at this moment in time? You’ll only wear yourself out."

Max sighed and said, "Well, with Leon out of the way, Michael can ‘claim’ her and look after her."

"I’ve lost track. Whose question is it now." Liz was sounding tired and her face was pale in the moonlight.

"Mine," Max said. "You know, Liz, sometimes I look at you and get the distinct feeling you are talking to me, but I can’t hear you."

"Maybe you’re not listening on the correct frequency," Liz said facetiously. "My turn." She leaned back in her chair and rocked for a while. Coming to a decision, she sat up and looked at Max. "Max, I have to say this. I’m usually a pretty good judge of character and I trust you, even if I don’t quite know why. I know what you have been telling me is the truth.

"But I can read between the lines and there are lots of secrets there. Both you and Isabel have done this when you ‘explained’ things to me. And Max? I’ve seen things and heard things that I can’t explain. I think you know the answers but don’t trust me enough to tell me."

She stopped and heaved a big sigh. "Keep your secrets if you need to, Max, it’s okay. It doesn’t change what I said about helping you.” Liz paused a moment and then continued. “It’s been a rough day. I’m going to bed. Remember to scoot up the stairs. If you fall and break something I don’t think I’m strong enough to carry you up." With that, Liz went inside, leaving a very thoughtful Max.

Max went upstairs to the bedroom. He saw a neatly folded stack of clothes on the bed. When did she have time to do laundry? He finished getting ready for bed and lay there for a long time, contemplating the nature of secrets, before finally falling asleep.





[ edited 5 time(s), last at 25-Nov-2002 2:54:02 PM ]
posted on 15-Sep-2001 12:19:37 PM

CHAPTER EIGHT

Max awoke suddenly to the sound of terrified screams coming from Liz’s bedroom. He burst across the hall and into her room. Thanks to the light in the hall he could see her struggling figure on the floor at the foot of the bed, trapped in the bedclothes and screaming. He rushed over to her and tried to take her in his arms to comfort her but he got popped in the nose for his troubles.

Liz finally made it out from underneath the tangled sheets, and crying, she managed to gasp out, "Sorry. Sorry. Bad dream. Sorry. Don’t touch. Sorry, I’m sorry." She buried her face in the sheets and began to cry in earnest. To Max’s total amazement she cried for only a minute before raising her tear streaked face up and regaining control. "I’ve bloodied your nose," she informed him softly.

Max just sat back on his heels in total shock. Liz quickly got to her feet, went into the bathroom and returned with a cold, wet washcloth. "Here."

Max took the cloth and held it to his nose. He just stared at this enigma crouching before him in her nightgown, long dark hair in disarray. "It seems I’m not the only one with secrets." //Shit! When did I get foot-in-mouth disease!\\

Liz looked at him calmly. "It’s not a secret, Max. It’s just reality coming back to haunt me after a period of denial."
"Oh, Liz, I’m sorry I said that," Max groaned.

"It’s okay, Max. I’ll tell you some other time. Just not now."

"Okay, Cleopatra," Max said in a teasing voice.

Liz chuckled and said, "Oh, and Max? It might be a good idea if you put your robe on before you rush into a lady’s bedroom to rescue her." She buried her head back in her sheets but this time she was laughing.

Max looked down and for the first time became aware of his state of undress. His face flamed, but he had to laugh as he made his exit.


The next morning Max took his shower and put on his clean clothes. He walked over and climbed out the window to the deck, intending to enjoy the view like he had yesterday. He was startled to hear Liz’s quiet voice say, "Good morning, Max." He looked over and was treated to an amazing display. There was Liz in her robe and she had her freshly washed hair combed down over her face and spread out on her raised knees, drying in the sunshine. She pushed a strand behind one ear, exposing her face a little and smiled at him. "Have a seat," she offered.

Quite at a loss for words, Max took the seat indicated and watched, totally captivated, as Liz continued to brush her hair dry in the morning sun. After a while, Liz spoke up. "Is your nose okay this morning?"

"Um, yeah, it’s fine." Max could barely form words. He was trying to come to grips with the intense attraction he felt toward a woman he had only known for two days. He shook his head and gave up. "I’ll have to remember what a fierce fighter you are. I guess I’m just a slow learner. That wasn’t the first time you’ve inflicted pain upon my poor body." Teasing her was such fun he couldn’t resist.

She brushed the hair out of her face and looked over at him, "What?" Then she remembered all the other times during her ‘capture’ that she had hit and kicked him and laughed. "Let that be a lesson for you." She finished brushing her hair back into place, totally unaware of how spellbound Max was.

Liz turned in her chair, drawing her feet up under her robe. "Max, I do need to tell you something." She waited until she had his attention. "It really isn’t advisable to try to touch me when I’m really upset," she began somewhat hesitantly. "Dave was a black belt in Hapkido and a brown in Kung Su Do. He taught me some really down and dirty defensive moves."

Max was beyond amazement. He just chuckled and said, "I noticed."

Liz blushed and gave him one of her crooked smiles. "We played this game… did you ever see Peter Sellers in ‘A Shot in the Dark’?" Max nodded. "Well, don’t laugh at me, but… I told you Dave had this really twisted sense of humor. He got a kick out of pretending he was Kato and I was Inspector Clouseau and he would ‘attack’ me at odd moments, trying to catch me off guard." Liz sat a moment, lost in fond memory, then continued. "Anyway, he had an ulterior motive. He was installing a set of really keen defensive reactions in me. It was loads of fun. He never knew that I could tell when he was sneaking up on me. It gave me an unfair advantage."

Max was suddenly curious. "How could you tell where he was? Was he noisy or not sneaky enough?"

Liz looked thoughtful. "No," she said slowly. "I could always tell where he was, even when he was in town. It was probably just over-developed ‘mom sense’." She wasn’t going to tell Max she was developing the same sensitivity with him; somehow she knew where he was, too. //Secrets and questions all around, I guess.\\ "Well, time to start the day. Meet you downstairs when you’re ready, Max." And with that she got up and climbed though the window into her room.

Max watched as she turned around and noticed that her hair was way down below her butt. //Such incredibly gorgeous long hair. And such a cute butt… Stop that!\\ He sighed and wondered yet again what was getting into him. He needed to focus on the business of re-establishing contact with his group and seeing what the next steps were. Max collected his scattered thoughts and made his way downstairs. He had decided to cook Liz breakfast and wait on her for a change.

He arrived in the kitchen to find Liz dressed and with her hair back in its usual braid. She had coffee and some kind of fancy bread cut and set on plates. "I was planning on making breakfast for you but I see I’ll have to get up earlier."

"It’s no biggie. Thanks to the miracle of freezers and microwave ovens. Sit down…" Liz said absently as she put the finishing touches on breakfast.

"…and put my ankle up. Ha! Beat you to it." They smiled at each other. "And before you ask, my ankle is very much improved." //Thanks to another partial healing session this morning.\\

They ate in silence, each occupied with their own thoughts. Liz broke the silence, having organized what she wanted to say. Max had spent his time watching Liz. "Okay, let’s see if I have this straight. One: Michael, Isabel and the terrorists are gone somewhere and we can’t reach them." Max nodded. "Two: we can’t go to the regular authorities because we don’t know who is safe." Another nod. "Three: you have to stay away from your family and friends to keep them safe. And four: you can’t contact your group yet. That how things stand so far?" Max nodded but remained silent.

"Concentrate, Max, it’s your sister and friend who are out on a limb," Liz admonished. "Is the altitude getting to you? We’re up around 10,000 feet here," she added, concerned. Altitude sickness was nothing to mess around with.

"A wise woman once told me it was a waste of energy to worry about something I had no immediate control over," Max said, and then had to duck quickly to dodge the wadded up napkin Liz threw at him.

"Point taken. But I’m not worrying, I’m planning ahead. There’s a difference," Liz insisted.

Max smiled at his success in teasing her then sat up and got down to business. "I have to trust that Michael and Isabel are okay and will accomplish what I wasn’t able to. While it wouldn’t be advisable for me to physically go home, I can contact Alex and Maria over the Internet. Alex will send an encryption program so there’s no chance of anyone knowing what we say. I can contact the group over the Internet also; we have a regular mail drop. Is it too much to hope that you have Internet access all the way up here at 10,000 feet above sea level?”

Liz laughed aloud. With amusement still coloring her voice she said, "Well, I think I can arrange for that Internet access for you." She stood up and walked around the table to the French doors. Then in her best game hostess imitation she announced, "And the gentleman chooses what’s behind door number one!" She swung the door open and gestured grandly at the contents of the room. Max’s mouth dropped open in surprise. The small room contained wall to wall computer equipment, monitors, scanners, printers; everything a computer geek could possibly want.

"Boy, oh boy. If Alex could see this he would think he had died and gone to computer heaven. Are you the resident geek?" Max marveled. He saw Liz shake her head ‘no’. "So we have Dave to thank then."

Liz looked at him with gratitude for his casual mention of her son. "I only know basic computer stuff. Dave set this all up. It’s quite sophisticated; he was rather proud of it." Liz smiled, proud of her son. "Help yourself. Nothing is password protected." She started to clean the table and stopped Max from helping her. "Go on and get busy, I’ll take care of this."

Max began the process of contacting Alex to get that encryption program. Then he spent time acquainting himself with the computer system while he waited for Alex’s email.

Liz cleaned up breakfast and began organizing supplies for chocolate chip cookies. She said to Max, "Don’t log off yet, I have to send a grocery order out." Max looked at her in question and she pointed out, "I can’t go to town until my bruises go away. It would cause too much question."

She continued mixing the cookie batter until a new thought occurred to her. "Max, make a list of sizes and what clothes you’ll need to hold you over." Then taking pity on his baffled look she explained, "A couple of Dave’s friends in town occasionally do shopping for me to earn money for college. They’re nice kids. I give them an extra tip in the form of cookies." After she put the first batch in the oven to bake Liz pulled up a chair and started typing the email on another computer.

"His and hers computers," Max smiled in amusement.

Liz looked up and smiled. "Actually, mine’s a Mac and it’s in my the office." When she got to Max’s list, she added a few more items.

Leaning over to look at her computer screen, Max said, "I don’t have much extra cash on me and I can’t access my account until this business with the terrorists is settled."

Liz shook her head and responded, "Don’t sweat the small stuff, Max. This won’t bankrupt me and you can pay me back later."

Max asked her, "How are you going to explain the men’s clothing on your shopping list or is this a common occurrence?"

"Oh, yeah, every day and twice on Sunday. You goose. //If you only knew— you’re the first adult male who has ever slept under the same roof as me.\\ In case you didn’t know, you are now one of Denny’s cousins in for a visit and the airport lost your luggage."

The oven timer dinged so she got up to take care of her cookies. "One or the other of the kids is frequently online so they should get our email right away. It usually doesn’t take them long to do the shopping and we’ll have our stuff sometime this afternoon."

In a short time they had both finished their tasks. Max was still waiting for Alex’s program but had spent time writing up his report. Liz had finished the cookies and offered some to Max.

"These are really good," he complimented.

She said mysteriously, "My mom’s secret family recipe." Then she chuckled. "That’s an inside joke: the recipe is really the one on the back of the chocolate chip package, but Mom always said it was her secret recipe. Actually, she always dipped hers in hot sauce. Dave did, too."

Max kept his face impassive. "So, did you inherit your mom’s odd sense of humor too, or did it skip a generation and hit Dave."

"You weren’t listening the other night: I’m adopted. And you’ll just have to wait and see what my sense of humor is like."

"Do you remember your birth parents?" Max asked. "Don’t answer if it bothers you. It really is none of my business."

"No, it doesn’t bother me at all. I always knew I was adopted, but I have no memory of my life before. Mom found me wandering in the desert and when no one claimed me, she adopted me. She used to tease me about finding me under a cabbage leaf. When I was old enough to realize that cabbages didn’t grow in the desert she said it was a very special cabbage leaf. Mom was good to me and I had a great childhood— no adoption traumas here. //I don’t know what I would have done without Momma. Why did she have to leave me?\\

Max sat there silently, adding up things in his mind. He looked up when Liz put a wrapped package on the table. "I need to put these cookies down in the drop box at the end of the driveway. It’s too far for you to walk yet, but if you need to get out of the house we can drive."

Max stood up and stretched. "A drive sounds nice, even if it’s a short one."

Liz smiled mischievously. "Come with me to the garage. I’ll show you our chariot." She led the way to the garage. Max walked over to the jeep, but Liz said, "Wrong chariot." She pulled a tarp off an ATV and continued, "This one is more fun. Have you ever driven one of these?"

Max’s eyes lit up and he grinned in anticipation. "I’ve got one just like it at home. Only mine doesn’t have a storage box on back or a pillow…"

"I’ll have you know that is a custom made backrest to insure the comfort of the passenger: me!" Liz said haughtily. She spoiled her act by laughing. Then she balanced her package of cookies in one arm and hopped on the seat then scooted back to give Max room. "Come on, Max. The key’s in it."

Max didn’t waste another minute. He carefully swung his leg over the seat and started the ATV. He let the engine warm up for a few minutes then took off down the driveway. Before long the gate appeared across the road. On the other side was a small shed that he hadn’t noticed before.

Liz said, "Lean forward or get off, Max." He got off and Liz followed before he could offer a hand to steady her. He admired her gracefulness as she climbed nimbly over the gate. Fishing her key out of her pocket she opened a door in the shed and placed the cookies on a bench inside. "Eddie and Ceci have their own key," she explained as she climbed back over the fence and hopped back on the ATV and gestured grandly up the road, "Home, James."

Max laughed and got back on the ATV. When they got to the house Liz leaned over his shoulder and said, "If you want a longer ride, go around the house and follow the road up the mountain. It’s a nice smooth ride and shouldn’t hurt your ankle."

Max didn’t need further encouragement. He sped up and took off up the dirt road. Liz braced herself with her legs and laughed in delight. When they arrived at a clearing Liz tapped Max on the shoulder to get his attention. He turned to see what she wanted and she asked, "Want to stop here for a while? The view is fantastic."

"Yes, it is," Max agreed, looking at her.

Liz laughed and said, "No, silly goose, the view is that way." She hopped off the ATV and opened the storage box and took out an old quilt. Max took it from her and spread it out on the sparse grass. They sat down and looked out over the expanse of mountain beauty.

Liz did not understand why she felt so comfortable around this dark haired stranger beside her. She had long ago accepted the fact that she would almost certainly be alone (and lonely) for the rest of her life. Events in her past had seriously affected her ability to form relationships with men. Even casual association with certain men was impossible; Liz didn’t know why her internal voice warned her away from them, she just obeyed it.

Since she had moved to her mountain hideaway it was easier to feel safe. But she was still lonely. She did have friends and acquaintances that she was comfortable being around but even before Dave and Dennis died there was a place deep inside her that was incredibly empty. Being around Max made that feeling go away. Being around him made her feel safe.

But what would he do if he found out all her secrets: about her uncertain ancestry, about the circumstances of Dave’s conception and birth, about her not being able to have more children. Talk about baggage! From what she had observed, her secrets made her undesirable. She had accepted this as a fact, but now… since she had met Max, it saddened her.

After a while, Liz curled up on her side and took a much-needed nap. Her nightmare last night had kept her awake a long time.

Max turned from the mountain view and began a serious examination of the view lying asleep beside him. He found Liz incredibly attractive. She aroused all his protective instincts (among other things). This was a first for him. He was 31 years old and had never found anyone who made him feel this way. Isabel and Michael had found mates who knew their secret and accepted them. All four were quite happy. Although he was often lonely, he found comfort in the close affection of their group.

Max felt so contented in Liz’s presence. She seemed to be comfortable around him; she even said she trusted him. This was remarkable when he considered how he had made her acquaintance. Kidnapping was not a socially acceptable method of meeting women.

He thought Liz was the most attractive woman he had ever met. She acted so natural around him; not obviously flirting like some women he had met. He remembered with distaste one occasion when he was in high school a new girl had pursued him relentlessly. He had never liked the name Tess since then. Liz wasn’t like that. She very well could be the one he had been looking for.

But who, or more importantly, what was she? More and more Max became convinced that she wasn’t 'human,' that she was like him. Her age, her adoption after being found in the desert, her mental shields, the fact that she telepathed to him above that ravine, these things all indicated to Max that Liz might be 'Czechoslovakian.' He chuckled to himself as he remembered how Maria and Alex referred to their non-human origins. He would love to have access to Michael’s records; he had devoted much of his detective skills to finding the 'lost ones.'

Liz definitely was a mystery woman. He wanted her to be his mystery woman. He wanted to spend his life exploring her mysteries. He wanted to make sure nothing else happened that would cause her sadness.

Max’s thoughts turned to another facet of his mystery woman. She was his age, but she had had a son old enough to attend college. His math skills were as advanced as any Al’Centran and it just didn’t add up.

Her grief over her son’s death was heartbreaking. He admired her bravery as she coped with it and yet could still find beauty and enjoyment in her life. She had laughed with such carefree enjoyment as he hot-rodded the ATV over those whoop de dos. He wished she had held onto him instead of the handholds on the rack. He loved to hear her laugh. He decided that he wanted to spend the rest of his life finding new ways to make her happy.

Liz stirred in her sleep and Max noticed tears leaking from her closed eyelids. He felt his heart ache in sympathy; he was positive he knew the source of her tears. He wished she would turn to him for comfort, but although she acknowledged her grief, she held herself separate and didn’t ask for help. Max wondered if there had ever been anyone there for her to lean on. He’d bet real money that since her mother had died, there had been no shoulder for her to lean on. //I have nice broad shoulders that would love that job; they’re even water-resistant and her tears wouldn’t hurt them,\\ Max thought wistfully.

He reached out and gently touched the tears on her cheeks, an act he wouldn’t have attempted had she been awake. Feeling guilty about the invasion of her privacy Max attempted to open a connection between them, but even in her sleep all her thoughts and emotions were tightly locked behind her shields. He wondered if she had conscious control of them; if she could choose to open them and let him in.

Liz began to stir. Max moved his hand away and looked back out at the mountains. She sat up, unobtrusively wiping her cheeks dry. She stretched and stood up. "Do you have a watch, Max? I wonder what time it’s getting to be."

"It’s a little after one," Max said. "I really should check and see if Alex has emailed me yet."

"Has your stomach informed you that it’s hungry? It’s way past lunch…" Liz looked at him mischievously as they folded the quilt together.

On the way back to Liz’s house, Max pondered the advisability of coming totally clean and telling her everything, even telling her his suspicions about her birth parents. Would that be too much of a shock, when she was still recovering from the kidnapping attempt and her son’s death? He didn’t know and wasn’t sure if he wanted to risk it.






Edited by - ColoradoGal on 09/16/2001 12:22:43
posted on 15-Sep-2001 12:25:29 PM

CHAPTER NINE

Alex’s encryption program was waiting for them when they returned and checked the email. So was a message from Ceci informing Liz that their purchases were down in the shed by the road and thanking her for the cookies. Liz made lunch while Max set the encryption program up and sent Alex an email telling him what had happened. They were eating lunch when the computer quacked and announced the arrival of an email message.

Max looked up, startled. "It quacks?"

"Dave always said it was appropriate," was Liz’s response.

Max went over and opened the email then turned to Liz, "There’s trouble." Liz immediately went over and sat in the other computer chair, waiting for Max to tell her what had gone wrong.

Max scrubbed his face with his hands in frustration and turned towards Liz. "Alex and Maria are in danger. Someone has been making inquiries about them and then Michael’s office was broken into. Maria scared the intruder away before anything was taken. She and Alex secured Michael’s files and left town. They’ve been traveling randomly to confuse anyone trying to follow them. Alex has been using his laptop and cell phone to check his email in case one of us tried to reach him." Max looked stunned.

Liz asked, "Where are they now. Are they sure they’re safe?"

"They’re in Leadville in a motel. They’re pretty sure no one has followed them."

"Max, do you want them to come here? No one knows about this place. A dummy corporation holds the title so even if the terrorists did know my name, they wouldn’t associate this house and land with me. We should all be safe here."

Max reached out and put his hand on Liz’s arm. It was an unconscious, impulsive gesture and only after he had done it he realized that she hadn’t drawn away or seemed upset. "Liz, I cannot tell you how much your offer means to me. If there is any chance of bringing further danger to you, we’ll all leave. But this offer of sanctuary could save their lives." Max was overwhelmed and his face expressed the depth of his feelings.

Liz reminded him, "Max, I told you I would help you any way I could. I know you still have to keep some secrets, but I trust you. Your friends are welcome here."

Max said simply, "Thank you."

"Can you give them directions to meet us in town somewhere? They should be able to get here this afternoon. We can meet them there and make sure no one has followed them before we come back here."

"If someone has followed them…" Max began.

Liz interrupted and finished his sentence, "…we’ll all lead them away somewhere else and come back here when it’s safe. The good guys have to stick together against the creeps of the world, you know."

Max sighed and wondered what he had done to deserve such good fortune. He gave Liz a grateful smile. "I’ll send Alex the directions and then we can finish lunch." He turned back to the computer and Liz returned to the table.

When Max returned to the table, Liz said, "So, Max, these terrorists know where your family is, or was. Alex and Maria got away safely. Will your dad be in any danger?"

Max was amazed at her concern for someone she’d never met. Her slender frame held a large, compassionate heart. "My dad’s retired and is currently traveling in Europe. He has no knowledge of our connection with the group trying to stop the terrorists and will be safe enough. He is not expected to return for at least a year and he uses email to reach us for casual communication. Thanks for asking, though."

"Let’s go pick up our packages from the shed and go to town early. We can find a place to watch and see if anyone strange is hanging around."

"But Liz, your face is still bruised… You can’t be seen in town that way." //Oh, if only I could heal it.\\

"Rats! I forgot about that. And I don’t have any makeup that would disguise it. I could stay in the jeep…"

"You could stay here," Max corrected. "If worse comes to worse and we have to run, I want you safe and out of the way." Max was adamant. "There will be no argument." He gave her a stern look.

Liz sighed but accepted the situation. "Well, I’ll go get your clothes and the groceries." When she got back up to the house she took the packages inside and gave Max his new clothes.

When Max came back downstairs after putting away his things he found Liz in the kitchen. She turned to Max and said, "I need to show you something on the jeep." Max looked at her curiously as they walked out to the jeep. "Look here, Max. See where the lighter usually is? That’s the gate release; just press it and the gate will open. You press it again and the gate will close. However, the gate posts have a scanning unit that will detect any sort of tracking device in the jeep or in your friends’ car, and if it finds one the gate will not open. If that happens use the intercom on the post by the gate to call me and I’ll tell you what to do then." She looked at him, her face unreadable. //I have secrets of my own, Max.\\

Max looked at his mystery woman. "Boy, am I going to have a doozie of a question when we resume question trading."

Liz gave him a crooked smile and said, "I’ll have dinner waiting. Come back safely." Then she went inside and didn’t watch as Max drove back down the driveway.

After a while she came back to the porch and sat in her rocker. She had known Max for less than a week, but she realized that he had found a foothold in her heart. //If things were different… If I weren’t the way I am… If wishes were horses…\\ Liz got up and began the preparations for dinner. She started two loaves of bread and put the chicken on to cook for stew.

While she was cooking she deliberated on where she would be housing her two additional guests. When Dave was younger he’d had two twin beds in his room for when his friends slept over. Then when he’d gone off to college they had disassembled one bed and put it away. She would have to get the extra bed from storage and put it back in Dave’s room. The two guys would have to bunk together and Maria could sleep on the daybed in her office.

Moving that bed from the basement to the second floor was an enormous task for Liz to undertake by herself, but she honestly didn’t even think of waiting for help. For most of her life, there had been no one to help so she had gotten used to just doing things herself. When she was finished and all the sheets had been changed she was quite sweaty. She took a quick shower and sat on her deck to dry her hair and do a bit of thinking.

Liz was seriously concerned about her ability to tolerate two strangers around for an indefinite time. Dave was the only person (before she met Max, that is…) that she could tolerate unconditionally. Even Denny, whom she had liked and respected, made her uncomfortable after a time. Her ability to be around large groups of people had diminished as she had matured. Her mom had told her this would probably happen, and it had. It was ironic for a person to be so lonely and yet not be able to tolerate the company of people who would ease that loneliness. Liz sighed, fighting a melancholy mood.






Edited by - ColoradoGal on 09/16/2001 15:24:38
posted on 15-Sep-2001 12:28:18 PM

CHAPTER TEN

Max drove Liz’s jeep down to the small city park by the marina. He got out and found a spot where he could observe the whole park and settled himself unobtrusively, pretending to read the local paper. He watched everyone who entered the park to see if anything out of the ordinary occurred. He wanted to be sure Alex and Maria weren’t followed into the park. He waited about an hour and then he saw them stroll casually by where he was sitting.

"Hey," he said quietly.

Maria squeaked and spun around. "Max!"

Alex and Max shushed her. The two friends ‘casually’ sat down at Max’s bench.

"When we get somewhere private you are getting a swat and a hug, Max Evans. You scared me out of at least three years growth!" Maria informed him. Max smiled affectionately at her. It was really good to see both of them again.

Alex smiled a somewhat nervous ‘hello,’ and then kept a lookout, watching to see if anyone besides Maria was acting suspicious. "I don’t mind admitting that this whole situation really freaks me," Alex confided to Max. "It reminds me too much of the close calls we had in high school. Evading the FBI was bad enough, but now…" he paused for a breath, "…getting mixed up with these future Al’Centrans. I have doubts, Max, serious doubts."

Maria continued, "So what’s next, Max. Until this thing is settled, we really can’t return to Roswell." Maria took a small vial of cedar oil from her purse and took a mighty sniff.

Max hid his smile behind his newspaper. No matter how chaotic his life had been since the arrival of the future Al’Centrans, these two old friends hadn’t changed. When he had his face under control, Max folded his newspaper up and turned to face his friends. "Keep watch, Alex, when we’re sure you weren’t followed, I can take us some place safe."

Maria looked keenly at Max. "What happened to your mission to stop the Dissidents? Where are Isabel and Michael? Why are you here and not there with them? I sense that something momentous has happened to you, Max. All my ‘Maria-sensors’ are vibrating. Come on, spill."

Max said, "Well, if you’ll be quiet for a moment I’ll try to update you." Max hesitated, stalling for time. His email had given them the bare bones of the story, but he wasn’t looking forward to reliving the details as he told them the whole story.

Maria crossed her arms and looked sternly at him and Alex just shot him an amused glance before resuming his watch. Max’s email had told them about Isabel’s capture and while this news upset them, the fact that the portion of their hearts reserved for their bonded mates still resonated with their love reassured them. And they trusted in Isabel and Michael’s ability to finish the mission and keep themselves safe.

Max turned on the bench and looked out at the lake as he gave them the details of his story. When he was done they sat there in silence, absorbing the astounding events.

Alex said, "So, let me get this straight. During the course of the mission you personally kidnapped a helpless woman, Isabel— that headstrong woman that I’m married to— got herself captured, you sprained your ankle and almost fell to your death into a deep ravine, and had to be rescued by the woman you kidnapped, leaving Michael to complete the mission and then this woman you kidnapped took you home like an abandoned puppy." Alex looked at Max in wonder. "Have I got it all straight?"

Maria had been shocked speechless, but recovered and blurted, "You kidnapped some woman?? Max! You couldn’t just ask her out like a normal guy? Oops, that’s the problem, I guess. And while you were polishing your dating skills, Isabel got captured and Michael is left to do everything. What were you thinking, Max?"

Max groaned and hid his face in his hands. Alex looked at Max sympathetically and said sternly to Maria. "Sniff some cedar oil, Maria. Life doesn’t always go to plan. Michael and Isabel will take care of each other. We’re all worried about them, don’t take it out on Max. We’ll find some way to fix this. We just have to stick together. Haven’t our escapades with the FBI taught you that?"

Maria put her arm around Max and hugged him. "I’m so sorry, Max. I just spazzed out there for a moment. I know Michael and Isabel will be okay. Who is this woman that has got you so… so…"

Face still hidden, Max said, "Her name is Liz Parker. She has a house up on the mountain and she has offered to let us stay with her. I think we’ll be safe there." Max raised his head and looked at his friends. "She thinks the Dissidents are terrorists and I haven’t told her differently; she wants to help stop them. She doesn’t know about the future Al’Centrans or about my Al’Centran heritage. She knows I have secrets I can’t tell her; and for the life of me I can’t figure out why she trusts me." Max shook his head slowly. "But there’s more: I think she is a full Al’Centran like Isabel, Michael and myself. What she has told me of her past points so clearly to that. And she has some of the strongest mental shields that I have ever encountered. I can’t read anything from her.

Maria asked, "Why haven’t you told her about where you come from? I mean, if she’s Czechoslovakian, too, what’s to stop you?"

"It’s not that simple, Maria. She’s had serious troubles beside me kidnapping her. She had a son and he died recently."

"Oohhh," Maria made a sympathetic noise, looking concerned. "She’s married? What about her husband?"

"No ring visible and no husband mentioned. There’s more," Max said. "She told me her son was in college, but she’s the same age as we all are. You can do the math yourself, but when I do it, things don’t add up."

"Could he have been adopted?" Maria wanted to know.

"I saw his photograph. He looked too much like her; he had to be her natural son," Max answered.

Alex added in a thoughtful voice, "So, you think she might be one of the Dissidents?"

"Absolutely not," Max stated emphatically. Ignoring the looks Maria and Alex gave him, he continued. "I admit that I can’t read anything through her shields, but I can see her aura and it clearly indicates that she is telling the truth." He looked back out at the lake. "And most importantly, my heart tells me she’s telling the truth." Alex and Maria exchanged a significant look.

Max looked back at his friends. "She is an innocent, caught up in events beyond her control." He turned to Maria. "I’m glad you’re here, both because I want to keep you safe— Michael would never forgive me if I let anything happen to you— and because maybe you can help Liz." When Maria looked quizzically at him, he continued, "She has nightmares. Really bad ones." He sighed. "And she cries in her sleep."

Max looked so sad thinking about this that Maria put her hand on his arm to comfort him.

Alex said, "Well, let’s get going. I’m as positive as I can be in this situation that no one followed us."

"Yes, Liz will have dinner waiting," Max added, totally oblivious to the looks his friends gave him behind his back.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 12:34:00 PM

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Liz had been waiting with some trepidation for Max to return with his friends. The bread was all baked, the stew was simmering in the crock pot, the sleeping arrangements taken care of, the house was straightened up; everything she could do to occupy her mind while she waited had been done.

Then about an hour ago she had gotten one of her ‘feelings,’ A positive one, thank goodness. She somehow knew that Max and his friends were safe and now she could wait without worrying.

She walked down to the lake and sat on the bench there to watch the sunset. When she heard the jeep coming up the driveway she started back to the house. There was a car following with two people in it. //That would be Max’s friends,\\ she thought and then added, //Duh.\\

Max drove the jeep towards the house. It was just starting to get dark and the house looked so inviting with the lights burning inside and the porch light on. It felt like he was coming home, he realized. Alex and Maria got out of their car and began to gather their baggage. Max went over to help Maria. "Did you pack everything you own?" Max teased.

Maria teased right back, "Yes, do you have any objection to that?" When Max laughed and held up his hands in capitulation, she added, "Some of these boxes contain Michael’s computer files. Alex thought it was a good idea to make a copy of everything Michael had and then fill the hard drives with the old files the previous owners had backed up."

Alex explained, "That way if our burglar comes back he’ll find tons of information but it won’t be the information he was looking for. It should take a while for him to discover that."

"Alex created false names and addresses so no one would be endangered," Maria added.

"Good thinking," Max voiced his approval. Then he noticed that Liz had silently approached along the path from the lake. She was just standing there in the growing darkness, watching. It was almost like she was afraid to come forward. He turned and looked at her, waiting for her to make the first move, trying to send out soothing vibes.



Liz had been silently observing the two strangers, trying to get a feel for them. She approved of their obvious affection and concern for one another. Meeting new people was extremely difficult for her but she thought that maybe these two would be ones she could be around without the intense discomfort some people created in her.

Gathering all her courage, she walked out of the shadows towards them. Stopping about six feet away, she waited for Max to say something. She knew he had seen her come up.

Max smiled at Liz and held out his hand for her to come closer. She looked like a nervous fawn, ready to run for the safety of the woods. When she stayed where she was he began the introductions. "Maria, Alex, this is Liz Parker. Liz, these are two of my closest friends, Maria DeLuca and Alex Whitman."

Liz did not offer her hand, but said sincerely, "I’m very pleased to meet you. You are welcome to stay here for as long as necessary."

Alex and Maria smiled and looked at this woman who had had such effect of their friend. They saw a very slender, almost too thin woman about 5’2’’ with her dark hair pulled back. She was attractive despite a massive bruise covering one cheek.

Maria said, "We can’t thank you enough for your hospitality. Your house looks so beautiful. The mountains are magnificent, what we saw of them anyway, because it was getting too dark. Was that a lake we just passed as we came up the driveway? Love your gate opener, by the way."

"Forgive Maria," advised Alex. "She’s been cooped up with me for too long. She’s starved for female conversation."

Liz smiled at them and said, "That’s okay. Are you hungry? Dinner is ready." She said shyly to Max, "Glad you all made it back safely." Then she turned and walked towards the house.

Max helped Alex gather the luggage and looked at Maria with his eyebrows raised as if to say, "Got your ‘Maria-sensors’ working?" They all followed Liz into the house.

"Alex, I’ve put you upstairs with Max. Max, will you show Alex where everything is?" She smiled her thank you at Max. "Maria, if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you to your room." She picked up two of Maria’s bags and set off down the hall toward her office. She turned and smiled at Maria as she walked. "I have a daybed in the office, hope you don’t mind. It’s comfortable, though, I’ve slept in it before."

"You’re not serious, are you? At this point, any room with any type of bed will do. I can’t thank you enough for taking us in like this."

"That’s okay. Glad to help. I cleared out space in the closet and the chest of drawers in the corner is empty." Liz pointed as she talked to Maria. "Sorry for the messy computer desk." She rolled her eyes in self-derision. "I can’t seem to keep ahead of it."

"Little elves come out at night and have parties. They leave terrible messes. I ought to know: they visit my kitchen all the time." Maria laughed with Liz.

"The bathroom across the hall has a shower and the towels are in the linen closet. Want to clean up before dinner?" Liz asked courteously. "It’s just stew and will keep."

"A quick wash up and I’ll be ready to eat, Liz. Thanks again."

Liz went into the kitchen and began to set the table.



Max led the way upstairs and when he entered the bedroom he stopped in shock at the sight of the rearranged room and the second twin bed. He was totally at a loss for words and just motioned for Alex to put his stuff on the new bed. "What’s up, Max?" Alex asked, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.

"Last time I was in here, there was only one bed."

"You mean she magicked up a bed? Can Czechoslovakians do that? Is this the proof you’ve been looking for?"

Max frowned at Alex. "Give me a break, Alex. You should know us better by now. I was just surprised to see it and shocked that she could carry it up from wherever she got it. She’s just a skinny little thing. Half of her is hair.

"Maybe she power lifts in her spare time." Max gave him another look. "Kidding." Alex looked around. "Whose room did this used to be? Her son’s?"

"Yes. Hers is across the hall and the middle door is the bathroom." Max paused in thought, then continued. "Hey, Alex. I know you have suspicions, but go easy on her. She tries not to show it, but she’s had it really rough lately."

Alex was going to reply when they both heard Maria calling from downstairs. They obediently trooped down the stairs to dinner. There wasn’t much conversation at dinner; all were lost in their own thoughts. When they were all done Liz began to clear the table.

"Oh, Liz. Let me help." Maria began to get up as she talked.

Max interrupted. "That’s okay, Maria. Why don’t you and Alex get settled in and I’ll help Liz." One look at his face and they didn’t argue. He had on his stubborn face and obviously wanted time alone with Liz.

Liz smiled her thanks and continued cleaning off the table. Max waited until his friends had left the room and then gathered a handful of plates. "Whose turn is it in our continuing question exchange?" Max asked casually. Liz looked up at him, startled. He continued without waiting for her response. "If you insist, I’ll go next. Why didn’t you wait until you had help to move that bed?!" Max was trying without much success not to sound upset. "You might have hurt yourself."

Liz just looked at him. Her aura gave him no clues. "Force of habit." She turned back to the sink and continued rinsing dishes. "Thanks for your concern, Max, but I’m not helpless."

Max was consumed with questions and began "Liz, about that scanner on the gate…"

She held up her hand to stop him. "My turn." She had a matching stubborn look on her face. "Wipe off the table, please," she asked with a smile. //No hard feelings, Max. I’ll respect your secrets if you respect mine.\\

Max looked at her for a moment and turned to do as she asked. He wiped the table and the counters and had started on the stove, waiting for her question. Finally he said, "I’m waiting for your question, Liz."

Liz was finished loading the dishwasher and she hid her smile. "Patience, Max. I’m still thinking. And I think I’ll go down and say goodnight to the lake while I do my thinking." She smiled innocently and quickly left the kitchen. She escaped out the door, grabbed her quilt from her rocker and ran down to the bench by the lake.

Maria had been watching and listening from the doorway of her room. She walked down the hall, gently laughing. "Well, Max, how does it feel to be out-stubborned?"

Max just folded his arms and scowled. Maria came up and gave him a comforting hug. "We’ll figure all this out together, Max. Don’t try to carry it all on your shoulders like you usually do."

"Maria, I— " He stopped at her look, smiled ruefully then continued. "I don’t know when I’ve had so many unanswered questions and it’s starting to get to me."

Alex entered the kitchen. "Max got out-stubborned? And I missed it?"

"All right, you guys, enough’s enough. Let’s go and sit on the porch. There’s a full moon tonight." Max led the way to the porch. Maria and Alex accepted quilts from Liz’s quilt basket and followed him outside. They looked quizzically at the quilts and Max said in explanation, "Gets chilly after dark at this altitude."

They sat without talking for a short time, all of them caught up with their own thoughts, then Alex stood up. "I’m going to take a walk in the moonlight and ponder the unponderables." He took off around the house and disappeared.

"He’s really worried about Isabel, Max."

"He needs to get in line," Max said, not unsympathetically, then lapsed into silence again. They both stared out at the lake and a small, still figure illuminated by the moon. Max noticed Alex approaching along the path heading toward Liz. He sat up in concern.

"What?" said Maria, becoming concerned at Max’s concern.

They watched as Alex reached out and touched Liz’s arm apparently to get her attention. "Oh shit," Max said under his breath as Liz sprang into an automatic defensive reaction and Alex went down.

Maria had started down the porch steps when Max stopped her. "Wait, let’s see what happens. I don’t believe she injured him." They watched Liz stand motionless and Alex gingerly pick himself up. They talked for a few moments and Alex came up the path to the house and Liz remained at the lake.

When he got to the porch and saw that he had an audience he crossed his arms over his chest and said, "Alright, I’m humiliated."

Max laughed softly and said, "She bloodied my nose. My advice is don’t startle her. She’s small but she’s mighty."

Maria looked at Max. "Was that when you kidnapped her? Serves you right."

"No, she had a nightmare and I rushed in to see why she was screaming. She had fallen out of bed and was tangled in the bedclothes. She was still asleep, still in the middle of that nightmare and I tried to wake her. You know the rest." He laughed to himself at the part of that story he wasn’t telling.

"She was sitting there on the bench and I guess she didn’t hear me come up so I reached out to get her attention and wammo!" Alex said. "I didn’t notice the tears on her cheeks until she apologized to me."

"Did she acknowledge that she was crying?" Max knew the answer, but asked anyway.

"No, she just wiped her face dry and apologized for knocking me down. She was genuinely concerned that she might have hurt me."

Max sat on the steps and rubbed his face with his hands. He groaned, "Frickin’ questions." He looked out at his mystery woman. "I have so many questions."

"I’m assuming you’re not talking about the Dissidents," Maria said. She put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "Well, I don’t have any answers, Max, and it’s late." She yawned.

Max stood up and said contritely, "You guys have had a long day. Sorry for burdening you with my…" Maria put her fingers over his mouth.

Alex said, "Don’t even say it, Max. We’ll get through all this together. In the morning it will look brighter."
"Yeah, the sun will be up." Maria snorted. She hugged Max and Alex and went inside. Alex put a comforting hand on Max’s shoulder then followed Maria.

Max retrieved his quilt and sat in his rocker. He watched the lonely figure sitting on the lakeside bench. His heart ached for her sitting there alone in her pain but he didn’t feel he had the right to offer comfort. How could he ask her to reveal her secrets when he couldn’t reveal his own? //Frickin’ secrets.\\

Max went up to bed but didn’t get to sleep until much later. Liz still hadn’t come in when he fell asleep.




Edited by - ColoradoGal on 09/16/2001 15:26:56
posted on 15-Sep-2001 12:38:28 PM

CHAPTER TWELVE

Max woke to a beautiful sunny day. Alex’s bed was empty and neatly made. He could hear voices downstairs and he smelled coffee. He sprang out of bed, thankful that his ankle was finally healed. He grabbed some clothes and hit the shower.

He entered the kitchen and observed the cozy scene. Alex was reading something humorous from a newspaper to Liz and Maria while they made pancakes. He smiled in contentment. This was a feeling he could use more of. "Good morning all," he offered. He gasped in shock when Liz turned around. That horrible bruise on her cheek was gone!

"Hey Max." Liz greeted him with a shy smile, last night’s grief totally concealed. "Maria used her makeup to hide my bruise."

"Yep, the girls are power shopping today. We’ll leave you guys here to catch up and do dishes," Maria said with a grin as she set a plate of pancakes on the table. She looked at Liz and said, "No arguments. We cooked, the least they can do is clean up."

Max poured himself a cup of coffee and joined the early risers at the table. A guy could get used to waking up like this. He enjoyed his breakfast and the friendly, casual conversations traveling around the table. Liz seemed to welcome having a full table and showed a carefree side he hadn’t yet seen as she and Maria talked about their anticipated shopping excursion. They were going to outfit Maria and Alex for mountain weather; living in a desert hadn’t prepared them for the mountains.

Max and Alex were talking about Liz’s computer setup. Alex’s eyes gleamed with anticipation and he couldn’t wait to get his hands on it. Max noticed Liz’s amused smile as she listened to the enthused computer talk. He smiled back.

"So, Liz," Alex said. "I’m really looking forward to seeing if Dave’s computer is all Max has been telling me. Did he set it up himself or did he have help?"

"Dave did it all." Liz smiled. "He started building his ‘dream setup’ when he was 12. He kept adding and modifying as he learned more. I think he enjoyed that most. Alex, I know he’d like how you’re planning to use his computer. I won’t be much use technically, but I can tell you in layman’s terms what’s there."

Max was dumbfounded but managed to keep it off his face. He just kept his mouth shut; he was getting questions answered and he shamelessly took advantage.

"Was he self taught or did he study computers in school?" Alex asked.

Liz paused a moment, mixed emotions crossing her face. "Dave loved learning. The computer knowledge he just picked up on his own. He was studying mechanical engineering in college. He was a sophomore." She stopped, lost in memory, her face becoming sad.

"Did he his talents from you or his father?" Alex asked.

Liz didn’t answer but quickly got up and took her plate to the sink. When she returned, she had a cheerful look back on her face and she deftly redirected the conversation back to their shopping needs.

When Maria was finished, she and Liz disappeared upstairs, leaving Max and Alex talking over the remains of their breakfast. When the girls were safely upstairs Max said quietly, "Okay, what’s up?"

"When Maria and I got up and came into the kitchen, Liz was already up and she apologized for ‘neglecting’ us last night and assured us that we were welcome here for as long as we needed to stay. Are you sure she’s not a split personality?" He was stopped by Max’s frown. "Kidding."

Alex looked thoughtful and continued. "She tried to reassure me about Isabel’s safety and Maria about Michael’s. She made Maria laugh when she told her about calling him ‘Spike.’

“No doubt you’ve noticed how good she is at not answering questions she doesn’t want to." Max nodded in agreement. "Well, Maria told her you’d told us about her son’s death and we gave her our condolences. She said ‘thank you’ and changed the subject."

They heard Maria and Liz coming downstairs and turned to see what they were giggling about. Their mouths dropped open in unison. Liz had French braided her hair and wore a simple skirt and blouse. Maria had on a natural looking shoulder length wig of curly light brown hair. She definitely didn’t look like Maria. The girls started laughing at their looks. "Like my disguise?" Maria posed for their approval. "Just in case someone has a picture of me."

They left amid ‘good byes’ and ‘be carefuls.’ Alex and Max resumed their conversation.

"Max, have you tried to dreamwalk Isabel?" Alex asked, concerned about his wife.

"I seriously depleted my energies during the mission. I couldn’t even heal my ankle before Liz regained consciousness. I’ve been healing it gradually as my energy returns so I’ll just look like a fast healer. Alex, I’m sorry I just couldn’t save all my energy for dreamwalking Isabel, but I felt I needed to be completely mobile, just in case." Alex nodded to show he understood.

Max smiled gratefully. "I was so drained that if Isabel tried to dreamwalk me from her end I don’t think I would have been able to help her make the connection. It takes two cooperating parties for real communication at this distance, you know. I should be able to try tonight after we go to bed. Do you want to link with me and we’ll try for a three-way connection? In the long run, that might be the best solution."

Alex’s worry and concern was greatly eased at the thought of being able to communicate with his beloved Isabel. "That would be outstanding!" he told Max. "And thanks. I know you’re worried, too." Deliberately putting his worry aside he rubbed his hands together and said, "Let’s get into that computer!"

Max laughed and opened the French doors wide. He wasn’t disappointed in Alex’s reaction; it was all he’d hoped for. They set to work and were soon happily involved. After a while Max stood up and left Alex as he was in the process of installing all Michael’s files. It would be useful to have access to them; they could get back to work finding ‘lost ones’ while they were waiting to contact Gregory. Max wondered if they’d find Liz in those files.

He cleaned up the breakfast dishes and then wandered into Liz’s office. He smiled affectionately at the oddities and small toys scattered around her computer. Small rubber insects walked along the top edge of her keyboard. Two small toy Godzillas held a picture of Dave hugging a puppy between them on top of her monitor.

Max smiled at the big red wax lips perched next to the printer. He reached down to pick them up and got a flash! He saw Liz and two other women all wearing red wax lips. They were at a restaurant and there were opened presents on the table. All three women were cracking up at each other’s big red wax lips. Each time one would try to talk with the lips muffling their words the others would burst into even more laughter. The flash ended and Max put the lips back where he found them. He smiled, then laughed quietly at the memory. He was glad she had such good friends at one time. Where were they now that she needed them?

Max walked into the living room and picked up one of the quilts from Liz’s quilt basket. He admired the colors and design and when he turned one corner over he saw an abstract duck design and the words: ‘An Odd duck Quilt’ stitched on back. He looked at the others; they had the same thing on the back. He folded the quilts and returned them to the basket. A lot of time and care went into those quilts. It said a lot about whoever made them.

Max’s wandering feet took him upstairs to the bedroom he and Alex shared; Dave’s old bedroom. He shook his head when he saw Alex’s bed. Why didn’t she just ask for help? Then he answered the question himself: because there had been no one around to help for such a long time that she had forgotten how.

Max reached out and touched one of the colored martial arts belts hanging from the rack. He got a flash of Liz and Dave in their Inspector Clouseau and Kato roles involved in a serious looking skirmish that ended with laughter and hugs. It looked like he was lucky to have gotten away with just a bloody nose.

He walked over to the desk and sat down. Max looked at the books on the desk and noticed a medium-sized leather bound book. He looked at it for a while, then feeling like a voyeur but unable to stop himself, Max reached slowly over and picked it up. When he opened the front cover he discovered it was Dave’s journal. Feeling incredibly guilty, Max started to close the book but it slipped from his grasp, fell to the floor and the pages fluttered open.

As he reached down to pick it up his eyes fell on the words: ‘Today is October 13. My name is Dave Parker and I learned more about the mysteries surrounding my birth today.’ //Oh my God.\\ And then he was the surprised recipient of a very unpleasant flash. He watched as Liz’s son Dave, sitting at his downstairs computer, read information that shocked him to his very core. He was reading an article from an online newspaper archive dated nine months before his birth. It detailed the unsolved case of the attack and near fatal beating of a young thirteen year old girl named Liz Parker. He watched helplessly as Dave put his head in his hands and sobbed. Not for himself, but for the pain and loss of innocence his mother had suffered. The flash ended.

Max dropped the journal again and leaned forward and hid his face in his hands. And that was how Alex found him several minutes later.

"Max!" Alex exclaimed. "Are you alright?" He entered the room and put his hand on Max’s shoulder, offering comfort even though he didn’t yet know what had so distressed his friend. Max looked up, emotion ravaging his face.

"Oh God, Alex. She was raped."

Shocked and dismayed, Alex sank down onto the nearby bed. "The Dissidents raped her?" His thoughts instantly sprang to his Isabel. Had she already suffered the same fate?

Even through his distress, Max recognized the direction of Alex’s thoughts and hurried to reassure him. "No, Alex. Isabel is safe. Remember Michael is there and he won’t let anything like that happen to her!" Alex wiped his face with a shaking hand. Max continued, his emotional pain evident in his voice. "Liz Parker was raped and almost fatally beaten when she was thirteen. Her son Dave was born nine months later."

The two friends sat there in stunned silence, both trying to assimilate the implications of this appalling piece of news. Alex was the first to recover the power of speech. "No wonder she has nightmares."

Max looked up and shook his head slowly. "I got a vague flash from her when she had one the other night. I don’t think the nightmare was about this." He really didn’t want to reveal Liz’s private thoughts, but if they were going to help her, they needed to understand the demons that haunted her. "It involved fire and screams and running."

Alex muttered a heartfelt "Shit." He stood up and held out a hand to Max. "Come on, I’ve got more to show you downstairs. I ran Liz’s, then her mother’s names through Michael’s files." Max accepted Alex’s helping hand as he got slowly to his feet, grateful for the physical and emotional support. They went downstairs to the computer room.

"You know, Alex, my mind knows that we have to have this information, but my heart feels like we’re invading the privacy of a very private woman. A woman who is coming to mean more to me with every passing minute."

Alex’s humor broke through the serious situation, "Kyle would call you worse than a ‘wussie’ if he could hear you saying that your heart talks to you." He sat down at the computer and prepared to pull up the files he’d found earlier. "Sounds like your single status is in danger, Max." And that pleased Alex who had watched his lonely friend and wished he would find happiness like he had with Isabel and Michael had with Maria.

Max didn’t comment, just sat in the chair next to Alex. He looked expectantly and with some dread at the screen. Alex began, "You know, this is just the search results from Michael’s genealogy records. When I’ve integrated the ones Michael and I hacked from the Loyalists we’ll find more information."

"You what??!!"

Alex’s eyes gleamed mischievously and he said, "Look here, this entry concerns two full blooded Al’Centrans who registered a child named Jeannie Parker. They must not have stayed in contact because nothing more is recorded."

"What about Liz or Dave."

"Sorry, Max. There is nothing for either of them." Alex looked speculatively at his friend, then continued. "On the other hand, there is the research that Dave was doing…"

Max looked up, startled. "What?"

"Um, well… gee, Max. Don’t look at me like that. I know I shouldn’t have been snooping in his private files but he’s gone and we need answers." Max didn’t answer so he continued. "I was just on my way up to tell you what I’d found. I guess you already know that Dave knew about his mother’s attack. Well, he also found out more."

Alex looked at Max to gauge his reaction, but Max’s face gave him no clues. With a big sigh, he continued. "This guy had quite a way with computers. He managed to get the police report and the hospital’s files. Do you find it interesting that Jeannie Parker checked her daughter out of the hospital the very next day against the doctor’s protest? Especially since besides her other injuries, Liz had extensive head and facial wounds. She must have pulled a fast one because the hospital filed charges. But no one could find them. Apparently they left town and disappeared. And Liz’s hospital records are listed as ‘missing.’" Still no reaction from Max. "I also have files concerning the circumstances of her adoption…"

Max spoke up. "She told me about that. So we have no concrete evidence of Liz’s parentage, but we know that her adopted mother was full blooded Al’Centran." He snorted in frustration. "You know, before I knew her name I used to call her my mystery woman. Now I know her name and she’s still a mystery." He missed Alex’s look when he called Liz ‘his’ mystery woman."

Max stood up and stretched. "Alex, I need some time to think about this. I’m going to take a walk." And he left through the back door and headed up the dirt road he and Liz had ridden on… was it only yesterday? So much had happened since. His head was spinning with all the new information he had learned today.






Edited by - ColoradoGal on 09/16/2001 12:52:50
posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:05:10 PM

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Earlier that day.

Liz and the disguised Maria drove down the driveway and when Liz pressed the gate opener, Maria commented, "That’s quite a convenience."

Liz looked over at her and smiled. "Especially in the snow." Turning onto the road and continuing towards town, she made idle conversation, pointing out various sights as they entered the town. They found a place to park the jeep, got out and began walking along the line of shops. "This is mainly a tourist town because of the big lake to the east," Liz said. "There are so many strangers it’s easy to be anonymous. Once we’re more certain the search for you and Alex has been called off you won’t need to be a curly-haired dishwater blond. Your real hair is more attractive for your face."

Maria looked at Liz’s long hair all French braided, with open admiration. "I love your long hair. Is it much trouble to take care of?"

"Actually, my hair is naturally very straight and willful. Keeping it long is easier than trying to control it when it’s short."

"Is that why you have this wig?" Maria was curious why a woman who had no makeup in the house would have a wig.

Instead of answering Maria’s question Liz said, "Oh look, here’s ‘The Body Shop’. They have great lotions. You’ll need lots of lotion in this dry mountain air." She led the way into the shop.

They continued shopping their way down the street, accumulating the items on their lists. Soon they both were burdened with various sacks and bundles. They were standing on a corner talking as they waited for the traffic light to change. Maria was stunned when Liz suddenly stopped mid sentence, dropped all of her bundles and spun around. She watched as Liz stepped sideways and swooped up a small child who would have run into the path of an oncoming car. The child’s distraught mother came running down the sidewalk and accepted her child from Liz’s arms.

Liz turned and grabbed up her sacks and bundles and said to Maria, "Quickly, let’s get out of here."

Maria was still dazed and delayed them long enough for a man to grab Liz’s arm in an attempt to stop her from leaving. "Hey, lady. I work for the local paper and I’d love to get your picture and…"

Liz tried to pull her arm away but the reporter had a firm grip. She said firmly, "Let go of me." When he still held on she reached over, grabbed his thumb and used it as a lever to break his grip on her arm. "Thank you." Then she walked rapidly away. When the reporter attempted to follow Maria smoothly tripped him with one of her sacks and further detained him as she apologized profusely.

Maria found Liz sitting in her jeep, pale and shaking. She got in the passenger side and brightly, "Well, that was fun. Are the reporters in this town always so obnoxious?"

Liz turned to her with a crooked smile and said, "Thanks so much for tripping that reporter. If he had grabbed me again his story would have been totally different." She gave a shaky laugh and continued to sit there for a minute longer then she visibly took herself in hand. "How about having lunch down by the lake? I know a great spot…" She looked back at Maria to see what she was thinking. Maria started to giggle in nervous reaction. Liz joined her and they had a good laugh. Finally, wiping tears from her eyes, Liz said, "So what about that lakeside lunch?"

"Great idea. I’m not ready to go back yet. With one minor exception, this has been a nice break from the mess that my life has become lately."

Liz started the jeep and drove to a deli near the lake. She and Maria went inside to get their lunch. Then they drove along the lake to a trailhead parking lot. Liz looked at Maria’s quizzical expression and said "Patience. It’ll be worth it." She got out of the jeep with her lunch and a beach towel she always kept in the back seat. She motioned Maria to follow and led the way down the path towards the lake. When she got to the shore she spread the beach towel and sat down.

Maria sat beside her and said, "This is nice, Liz, but that island kinda blocks the view of the lake." Then she saw Liz removing her sandals. "What’s up?"

"We’re not there yet. Might be a good idea for you to take your sandals off. Don’t want to get them wet." She waited for Maria to follow her directions. Then she bundled their sandals in the beach towel, grabbed her lunch sack and started for the shore. "Coming?" She held her skirt high and waded through the shallow water out to the island.

Maria laughed and followed. "What an adventure! I must say, Liz, shopping with you is not dull."

Liz reached the shore of the island and spread the beach towel again. She dried her feet and put her sandals back on and without waiting for Maria, ran lightly along a path that led along the island shore. "Come on, slowpoke!"

Maria splashed her way on shore laughing. She caught up with Liz on the other side of the island sitting on some large rocks.

"How about this view," Liz asked, waving her hand at the expanse of lake.

"Outstanding. Awe inspiring. Beautiful." Maria laughed with delight and joined Liz on the rock.

They ate their lunches and enjoyed the view. When Maria was finished she looked at Liz and asked, "Liz, how did you know that kid was going to run into the street? You were facing the street but you turned around just in time to stop him. You saved his life."

Liz sat a moment, then said, "Oh, it was his lucky day, I guess." She hopped down from her rock and gathered the remains of her lunch. "Hey, let’s take the long way back around the island. It’ll be good exercise for us." She began walking along the beach.

Maria frowned, and hopped down from her rock also. She soon caught up with Liz. Liz glanced over at Maria as she opened her mouth to ask another question and spoke up quickly. "How did you and Michael meet?" Maria’s mouth stayed open as she tried to regroup her thoughts. Liz chuckled and asked, "Catch many flies that way?"

Thoroughly distracted, Maria laughed and Liz joined in. They walked along for a little while then Liz prompted her again, "So, you and Michael…"

"…met in high school." Maria continued with a recounting of her tumultuous relationship, leaving out the Czechoslovakian references.

They had walked the rest of the way around the island by the time she finished her story. They took their sandals off again. Liz picked up the beach towel and they waded back across the water. When they sat down on the beach to dry their feet and replace their sandals Maria asked, "Liz, does it upset you to talk about your son Dave?"

Liz looked surprised at this turn their conversation had taken. She said slowly, "No, it doesn’t bother me. Sometimes it makes me sad, though. I miss him. My brain knows he’s dead, but in my memories, in my heart, he’ll always be alive. Sometimes when I'm down by the lake I feel him so strongly it's hard to believe that he's dead."

Maria looked at her with sympathy. "If I hug you will you ‘kung fu’ me like you did Alex?"

Liz laughed ruefully, "I’ll probably never live that down." She walked on toward the jeep, avoiding answering Maria’s hug question.

After they had driven for a while Maria said, "I cannot imagine what it must have been like to lose a child; a life you carried in your body." She put her hand over her womb, deep in thought.

Liz said quietly, almost to herself, "I wish I could have died in his place."

"How old was he when he died?"

"He was 17."

"I thought someone said he was in college…"

"Dave was… highly intelligent." Liz sighed sadly. "Such an incredible waste." She turned to Maria, trying to lighten the conversation up. "Such an warped sense of humor. He was a master of subtle expressions and body language. He could make me lose control so easily."

"Sounds like you two had fun together."

"Oh yeah." Liz laughed softly in fond memory. "But he had a weakness: he was squeamish. And squeamish people are soooo easy to tease."

"Alex is squeamish, too. I had great fun at his expense when we were growing up." Maria laughed.

"So you, Michael, Alex, Isabel and Max all grew up together?"

"No, Alex has been my buddy since fifth grade. We became close to Michael, Max and Isabel in high school. Did you have close friends in high school?"

"Not really. I’m pretty much a loner. And I was home schooled from grade eight on. My mom was a great teacher. She made learning things so much fun."

At this point, they turned into Liz’s driveway. She pushed the gate release and drove through, grateful that the scanner detected no tracer. The gate wouldn’t have opened if that had happened. She concealed her relief and drove up the driveway.

They gathered their purchases and entered the house. Liz went upstairs saying, "I’m going to put my loot away. Back down later." Maria went on through the living room and said ‘hi’ to Alex as he came out of the computer room. He followed her back to her room. Her ‘Maria-sensors’ told her he was very upset even though he was trying to hide it.

"Alex, what’s wrong. Did you find out something about Isabel and Michael?" Maria started to get upset, herself.

"No. No, it’s not that. Max and I are going to try connecting and dreamwalking Isabel together. It’s about Liz. Max and I found out some things. Some very upsetting things."

Maria heard Liz coming down the stairs and she cautioned Alex, "Ixnay on the estionsquay." She motioned out toward the kitchen to let him know Liz was out there. He nodded and they both went out to the kitchen.

Liz had changed back into her baggy jeans and T-shirt. She was getting a glass of water when they came in. "Where’s Max?" She was getting an uneasy feeling.

Alex said, "He went for a walk earlier." He thought for a moment, then continued. "You know, he’s been gone a long time. Hope nothing has happened."

Liz’s uneasy feeling crystallized into a bad feeling. Something *had* happened to Max. She looked at Maria and Alex. "Max needs our help. He’s in trouble."




Edited by - ColoradoGal on 09/16/2001 15:29:19
posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:11:37 PM

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

"What??!! How..." Maria and Alex spoke at once.

"Are you coming with?" Liz pressed the garage door button and left the kitchen at a run. She pulled the tarp off the ATV and started it up. By this time Maria and Alex were out there with her. "I can carry one passenger. Choose quickly because I’m leaving right now." She scooted forward and Alex climbed on.

"Don’t ‘kung fu’ me if I accidentally have to hang on to you to keep from falling off," Alex said as Liz gave the ATV the gas and sped up the road. He noticed uneasily that Liz did not ask which direction Max went. She seemed to know where he was. //How on Earth… Whoa-- Maybe that was the problem.\\

They zoomed up the road past where Max and Liz had stopped on their earlier ride. Liz looked intently along the downhill side of the road as they drove. Suddenly, she slid the ATV to a halt and set the brake. She leapt off and half-ran half-slid down the steep hillside. Alex looked down the hillside but couldn’t see anything but rocks and trees. He got off and followed Liz cautiously down the steep and rocky slope.

Liz slid down over the edge of a gully, lost her balance and tumbled head over heels to a halt beside an unconscious Max. He had obviously fallen all the way down the hill; he was full of scrapes and scratches. His jeans were torn open to reveal a gash in his calf that was pumping blood. Liz removed her belt and had begun to attach it as a tourniquet as Alex arrived. He took in the situation quickly and without a word, helped Liz with the tourniquet. Liz held the stick tightening the tourniquet while Alex gave Max a quick once-over to see if there were any other serious injuries. His leg seemed to be the worst of it. As they were doing this Max regained consciousness.

Alex placed his hand on Max’s chest, keeping him in a reclining position. "Hey, buddy. Take it easy."

Max groaned and lay back down. What was it with him and ravines lately? "The edge gave way and I fell down here. Thank God, you found me."

Alex said, "Yeah." He looked at the silent Liz, but she turned away and wouldn’t meet his eyes.

Liz looked up the hill and still not looking Max or Alex in the eyes said, "Alex, there is a rope in the storage box on back of the ATV. If you tie it to a tree up there it should help us get Max back up to the road."

Alex stood up to go and Liz added, "Bring one of the bungie cords too, please." He nodded and made his way up the hill.

Max looked at Liz. She wouldn’t meet his eyes. He said, "Bungie cord?"

Liz blushed and replied, "You’re using my belt." She indicated the tourniquet. "And my jeans are about to fall off."

Max looked and yes, it appeared that her jeans were being held up by will power alone. "Liz…" She did meet his eyes this time and he saw amusement at her situation in them. Unable to help himself, he began to laugh.

Liz said, "You fink." And she joined him in laughter.

They were still laughing when Alex came back down the hill, using the rope to control his descent. He just shook his head at them. Liz regained control and reached out one hand and took the bungie cord from him. "Please hold the tourniquet, Alex." When he had a good grip on it she released it and stood up, hanging onto her jeans. She twisted around and hooked one end of the bungie in a back belt loop, pulled the cord up over one shoulder and hooked the other end in a front belt loop. She looked back at Max and her expression dared him to laugh.

Between the rope and Alex’s strength they got Max back up to the road. Liz’s main function had been to hold the tourniquet in place. They set Max on the ATV seat and elevated his injured leg.

"We need to release the tourniquet for a few minutes before we start the trip back," Liz said. She gently loosened her belt and winced at the renewed flow of blood.

Alex blanched and turned away. "Yuck. Can’t stand the sight of blood."

Liz teased, "So, Alex, I guess that means it’s a good thing you weren’t here when I cut the tip of my finger off two years ago…" She held up her left forefinger but Alex wouldn’t look at it.

"Ewww, gross. Keep away."

Liz laughed, her expression mischievous.

Max said, "Really? You cut the tip of your finger off?" He held out his hand, intending that she place hers in his so he could inspect her finger. She began to tighten his tourniquet instead.

"Yeah. It was a tragic quilting accident…" She laughed again. "Dave was fun to tease with it. He was even more squeamish than you are, Alex. He almost fainted when we had to put three stitches in it to stop the bleeding."

"Ha. Ha. Ha." Alex said, trying not to laugh with them. "Let’s get Max back to the house."

After some deliberation, they had Max drive so he could prop his injured leg up on the front fender. Alex rode behind him to hold him in case he lost his balance. Liz originally intended to walk back, but Max refused to let her. In the end she sat on the front rack and helped support Max’s leg and held the tourniquet.

When they got back to the house, Max asked Liz to go bring back his crutches. Alex held the tourniquet until she was out of sight then he used his body to conceal Max’s glowing hands as he did a quick repair on the torn artery. Max left the skin gashed open so it wouldn’t provoke questions. He could explain away lack of pumping blood by saying that it must have clotted.

"I’m really lucky you guys came along when you did," Max said quietly. "I might have bled to death before I regained consciousness enough to heal this."

Alex rolled his eyes and said, "You have no idea."

"What?" asked Max.

But Alex’s answer was lost as Maria came running out of the house. She grabbed Max in a big hug and then reached out an arm and included Alex. She didn’t have to say anything: her relief was evident on her face.

Liz came back with the crutches. They all got in each other’s way trying to help Max inside but no one complained; they were just happy to have Max back safely.

Working together, they got Max cleaned up and bandaged. Max and Alex did their routine about the gash having clotted. Then Alex helped him upstairs to change clothes and wash up. As soon as they got upstairs behind a closed door, Max turned to Alex and said, "Okay, what were you going to say before Maria came out of the house?"

"Somehow Liz knew that you were injured. She ran out of the house and only stopped long enough for me to jump on the back of the ATV. And even more weird, she knew just where to find you. If it had been just me looking for you, you’d have bled to death." Max raised his eyebrows in question. "Max, you weren’t visible from the road. I couldn’t see any indication you’d gone over the side."

"Then how…"

"Liz stopped the ATV and took off down the hill. I followed and there you were."



Liz and Maria stood in the kitchen looking at each other. "I’ll say one thing, Liz." Maria shook her head, amused. "Life around you is not dull."

"I could use a good dose of dull right about now," Liz answered. "I could use a shower even more. I’m dust from one end to another."

"I’ll take care of dinner while you shower if you want," Maria offered.

"You’re a real dear. Come downstairs to the freezer and I’ll show you what’s available." They went down to the basement together. "I don’t think either one of us is up to cooking tonight, we can have leftovers." Liz opened the freezer and showed Maria shelves of neatly labeled packages. "The top two shelves are individual servings of whatever their label says. Maybe we can make a list and give the guys a choice. They’re small servings so maybe they’ll want two."

"Wow. I’m speechless."

Liz laughed. "I like to cook and I just package the leftovers like this to make it easier on the days that I don’t feel like cooking." //Not to mention the fact that after Dave died I would cook his favorite foods and then not be able to eat them.\\

Liz went upstairs for her shower and met the guys as they were coming down. "Hi. Maria’s handling dinner. Don’t wait for me; I feel the need for a hot shower," she said. She noticed Alex giving her a look, but she didn’t meet his eyes as she passed them.



Max and Alex met Maria in the kitchen. She motioned for them to follow her to the basement. "Come down and pick your dinner. Liz says the freezer and microwave are cooking tonight."

They obediently followed her downstairs and picked out their choices. They got back to the kitchen and began heating their dinners. Alex was doing most of the talking, running on nervous energy from all that had happened that day.

He told Maria about how he and Max were going to try to dreamwalk Isabel that night and about helpful Dave’s powerful computer system was going to be. But he didn’t think it was his place to talk about Liz’s past. Max was becoming so protective of her that Alex thought he’d better let him be the one to tell Maria. But when Max started to go sit down but Alex said, "Wait, Max. Tell Maria about your amazing rescue."

Max frowned at Alex’s tone of voice. He trusted Liz but it sounded like Alex’s suspicious nature was getting the better of him.

"Okay, spill." Maria crossed her arms and waited impatiently.

Max remained silent so Alex told how Liz had somehow known exactly where to find Max even though he wasn’t visible from the road.

Maria’s eyes got wide and she said, "A strangely similar thing happened while we were shopping. We were standing on a street corner…" Alex gave her a look and she smacked him. "Doofus. Get your mind out of the gutter. Well, as I was saying, we were standing there waiting for the light to change and all of a sudden she literally dropped everything, turned around and swooped up this kid who was about to run into traffic."

"So she saved a kid’s life. Okay, so don’t get me wrong, I’m happy the kid didn’t get squashed but how does this relate to the current situation?" Alex wasn’t a happy camper.

"So we were standing there talking with our backs to the sidewalk with all this traffic noise… how did she know the kid was coming?" The guys had no answer.

Max was still silent so Alex asked, "Is this type of thing a Czechoslovakian characteristic? Because I’ll tell you the truth, all of the uncertainties, her mysterious origins, these things she can do— it’s starting to freak me out. What is she, Max."

At this unfortunate point Liz entered the kitchen. She stood there in clean clothes, holding her shoes in one hand, devastation written all over her face. "I am not a freak," she whispered.

She started for the back door but Max said, "No. Liz, wait…" He reached out and grabbed her arm to keep her from running away. She made a twisting downward motion with her arm and broke his grip, but before she could get out the door he grabbed her again, this time with a firmer grip.

Panic flared in her eyes. She dropped her shoes, reached across with her other hand, seized his thumb, twisted it and used it as a lever to break his grip. It all happened very fast and she was gone.






Edited by - ColoradoGal on 09/16/2001 13:16:20
posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:19:54 PM

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

"Oh my god, what have we done." Max crouched down and completely healed his gashed leg. He didn’t want it to slow him down. Then he stood up and ran out after Liz.

Maria and Alex stood there in stunned silence. Maria said with tears in her eyes, "Did you see the look on her face? We did that." Alex wrapped her in a comforting hug, but he felt like he was the one with the most guilt in this situation.

Max ran out the door and caught a glimpse of Liz disappearing up the road, long hair flying loose behind her. He sprinted after her but could not catch up. //Damn, she’s fast!\\ He ran on, trying to at least keep her in sight, but eventually the altitude got to him and he had to stop, panting and gasping. He bent over, hands braced on his knees and tried to think what to do.

Max stood up, still gasping for air, and cleared his mind. He closed his eyes and heightened his senses, trying to feel any trace of Liz’s emotions. If it weren’t for those damned shields she would be broadcasting loud enough to be felt two counties away as upset as she was. He didn’t feel any trace of her so he started running up the road again.

Stopping at a fork in the road Max closed his eyes and listened with his heart. Somehow knowing, hoping he was right, Max sprinted down the left side road until he was out of breath again. He bent over again, bracing his arms on his knees, trying to get more oxygen in his lungs. His eyes randomly focused on a rock near his feet. Blood!! There was fresh blood on the rock. Liz’s blood. Oh god. He didn’t care about oxygen anymore, he ran on.

Wait. He caught a glimpse of something. Liz. He stopped and looked closer. She was sitting in the sparse grass, arms wrapped around her knees, head buried in her arms. She made an awfully small bundle all huddled up like that. Max waited until he had somewhat regained his breath, using this time to think how to repair this horrible situation. He had caused Liz pain; she felt like she was a freak. This was inexcusable; he couldn’t allow it. To hell with secrets.

Max walked over to Liz and sat beside her. In his softest, gentlest voice he said, "Liz. Sweet Liz. Will you look at me?" He carefully moved closer and continued coaxing her. "Please, Liz. Look at me. I need to see your beautiful brown eyes. Please, Liz. It’s important."

She kept her face hidden and shook her head ‘no’. Max moved even closer. "Liz, I’m going to touch you. Please don’t hurt me…"

She gave a half laugh, half cry at that. "Go away, Max."

"No. I’m never going away. You’ve been alone too long." //I’ve been alone too long.\\ "Here I am, I’m going to touch you now. Don’t be afraid." And he cautiously reached out and smoothed her hair away from her face. Now he could see her bruised, tear stained face, long dark lashes wet against her cheeks. "That’s better, I can see you now," he said quietly.

He scooted even closer, almost touching her. "I’m going to touch your face now, Liz." He reached out with both hands and cupped her face, bringing it up to his. "Open your eyes. I want to see your eyes." She shook her head, beginning to tremble. "Please, Liz. I need you to look at me. It’s very important." Unable to help himself Max softly kissed Liz on the forehead. "Please, Liz. I want to show you something." Liz opened her eyes to see Max’s concerned eyes close to hers. "Take slow, deep breaths and empty your mind, Liz. Look at me; I want to show you what I am."

Max did not attempt to create a normal two-way connection, he simply opened his mind and invited her in. He showed her the three of them coming out of their pods and wandering in the desert until the Evans found them. He shared the feeling of loss as Michael, too afraid, ran away and to hide again, not be reunited with them until several years later. He showed her the home the Evans provided them, offering them love and acceptance. He shared with her his trauma at feeling not human, so different from everyone around him and needing to hide it to be safe.

Liz felt his loneliness and isolation as he tried to protect Michael and Isabel and be the leader they expected him to be. She watched as they met their mates and formed lasting attachments all the while Max stayed alone, looking after them. She felt his guilt over his part in her kidnapping, his rage at Leon for hitting her, his wonder at her trust.

The feelings and images were coming faster and faster. She felt his horror and anger when he discovered the secret of Dave’s conception. She felt compassion and sympathy, not the disgust and distaste she had always feared would be the reaction if anyone found out. Instead, she felt his growing love for her.

The connection was ending. Max was still close, still holding her face. He moved slowly closer and very gently kissed her on the lips. It wasn’t a fiery, passionate kiss; those would come later. This was a welcome home kiss, sweet in its innocence. "You’re not alone, Liz. Not a freak. We’re the same."

Liz sat up slightly, still allowing Max’s touch. "Thank you, Max." She reached up and touched his cheek, trying to share herself with him. "I can’t do it for you." Tears began to form in her eyes. "I’m broken inside." She buried her head again and cried like it was her heart that was shattered. Max wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his lap. He rocked her and stroked her hair until she had cried herself out.

Still wrapped in the comfort and safety of his arms, Liz told Max about the attack. "I was walking home from work one night; I had a steady babysitting job about half a mile from home. We were really poor and Mom needed all the help I could give her. It was dark and I noticed a man following me. I tried to get away but he caught me. He tried to rape my mind, Max. I put up my shields and he couldn’t get in. It threw him into a rage. I don’t think he was sane, the images I got from him were so distorted. He beat me unconscious and raped my body.”

Max hugged her tighter and put his cheek down onto her head. "You are such an incredibly strong woman, Liz. You didn’t allow what that monster did to you affect your ability to be a loving mother. I…"

"Oh god, I saw in your memories that Dave knew about this, oh my poor baby." Liz began to cry again. "I tried to protect him from this, I told him his birth father had left before he was born. He didn’t deserve to have to deal with this horror."

"Liz. Liz, listen to me. When I got the flash from Dave’s journal I not only saw what he saw, I felt what he felt. He didn’t feel diminished as a person because of the conditions of his conception. You raised him with such unconditional love and support that this knowledge could not destroy that. He felt grief at your pain, he felt compassion and determination to protect you so you would never be hurt again."

They sat there for a time, each absorbing the events of the afternoon. Finally Liz stirred and gently released herself from Max’s arms. She smiled at him and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you."

Max lovingly cupped her bruised cheek and said, "No. Thank you." He got to his feet and reached down for her hand. It felt so good to finally be able to touch her. She placed her small hand in his large one and allowed him to help her rise. As she began to walk back to the road she gave a small cry of pain and almost went down. Max scooped her up in his arms, alarmed. "Are you hurt? What’s the matter, Liz?"

She hid her face in his chest and said, "I’m embarrassed to tell you this. I feel like such a fool."

"Tell me what’s wrong. You should know that nothing will change how I feel about you."

"I cut my feet up running barefoot. That’s why I stopped."

He sat her back down on the grass and inspected her dusty and bloody feet. "The bleeding has mostly stopped, but we need to get you back to the house as soon as possible and clean these cuts up." Max looked at her regretfully. "I’d heal them but I need a two way connection and your shields prevent that. I’m so sorry, Liz"

"It’s not your fault, Max. Remember what I said about assuming guilt for situations beyond your control?"

"I’ll work on that if you promise me something."

"What," she said guardedly.

"Ask for help if you need it. You’re not alone anymore."

"Okay." She reached out her arms toward Max. "Give me a ride home?" she asked impishly.

"With pleasure!" Max swooped her up in his arms again, dropping another kiss on her cheek. It felt so good to have her in his arms.

"Oh, Max, what about that gash on your leg? You shouldn’t carry me with that."

"Don’t worry. I healed it before I set out after you and it’s a good thing I did or I never would have caught up with you. Boy, you’re a fast runner."

"You caught me because I stopped," Liz said smugly.

During the long walk home in the growing darkness Max filled her in all the secrets he had been keeping from her. He explained how her injuries were healed on the scout ship. They discussed his Al’Centran heritage, the Loyalists and the Dissidents.

"Max, I still want to help stop them. Whatever resources I have are yours to use. I’ll tell you about them later."

"Okay, Cleopatra," Max teased.

"No, silly goose. We’re almost home and I can see Maria and Alex sitting on the back porch. They must be worried sick."

Alex and Maria walked hand in hand towards them. Alex looked at Liz with such shame on his face that she felt sorry for him. "Liz, I want to offer my most sincere apologies for my behavior. It was inexcusable. You have generously and graciously welcomed us into your home and I really wouldn’t blame you if you asked us to leave. I really wasn’t calling you a freak…"

At this point Liz held up her hand and silenced him. "I know I’m not a freak, Alex. I’m an odd duck. And without the help of my friends— that’s you three here, in case you didn’t know — I’d quack up.

Alex groaned, "Oooo, Liz, that’s really bad."

Maria gave Liz a tentative hug and said, "What he said."

They all returned to the house amid laughter and hugs.






Edited by - ColoradoGal on 09/16/2001 15:32:15
posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:25:00 PM

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

After they washed and bandaged Liz’s cut feet they ate their delayed dinner then retired to the living room to talk. Max wouldn’t let Liz walk even that short distance, he insisted on carrying her.

Max and Alex discussed their dreamwalking scheduled for that night Alex was getting pretty desperate to have contact with Isabel and he was anxious about their success, given the excitement of the day.

"Max," Liz broke in to their conversation hesitantly. They stopped and gave her their attention. "Is there a reason Maria and I couldn’t join in the dreamwalking? With Maria and I in the link wouldn’t you have more energy? Maybe enough to contact Michael, too?"

Maria sat up, her face brightening. "Michael, too?

Max thought for a short minute and said, "I don’t know, Liz." He looked at her compassionately. "I don’t think you could make the connection…"

"Max, thanks for trying to spare my feelings, but this is more important." She looked determined. "There are still things I can help with. I guess it’s been established that my adopted mother was Al’Centran." She looked at Maria, amused. "Or Czechoslovakian, if you prefer." Taking a deep breath, she continued, "But we don’t know quite what I am…"

"Quack." This quite realistic duck sound was from Alex who earned a friendly smack on the back of the head from Max for his humor.

Liz laughed at him and continued, her face going from amused to determined. "Mom had been teaching me some things, you know… things I could do because of my ‘odd duck’ status." She paused for a moment, thoughtful. "You know, that’s what she called me: her little odd duck. I wonder, if she knew her heritage that would mean she didn’t think I was the same…" Liz pulled her hair back away from her face. //Focus on what’s important here, duck girl. Keep your problems out of it.\\

"Okay, back on track here. I know I can still help. I can provide some of the energy for you three to connect. I won’t be truly connected, but if someone is brave enough to touch me you can draw energy from me."

Alex said drolly, "Actually, you’re lucky you won’t be fully in the link. I’d hate to think of the mental damage some of Michael’s dreams could do to a little innocent duck like you, Liz"

"Alex!" Maria’s face was bright red with embarrassment. She knew all too well what kinds of dreams he was referring to.

The friends all laughed, releasing some tension. Max pretended to scold them, "Children, children. Let’s attend to the matter at hand." He turned to Liz. "I don’t want to take any chance that you’ll be hurt or aggravate the damage that’s already been done."

"It will be okay, Max. Mom said I had an abundance of… she called it natural energy. After the… after the attack I couldn’t consciously access it. But you can use it. She did; when she was healing me she had to tap it. I was pretty messed up…" She shuddered in memory and hid her face in her hands. "Cleopatra doesn’t want to go there, okay?" Liz looked up, still determined. "I’m stronger than I look. Let’s do this."

Max stood up and took charge. "Okay, Alex and Maria. Stretch out on the floor. I’m going to connect and ‘encourage’ you to go to sleep. This combined trip to the dream plane will be easier if you’re already sleeping. Liz, don’t get up. I’ll carry you over here and we’ll get started." Max was not going to miss any opportunity to get Liz in his arms.

He got Maria and Alex all settled in dreamland and went over to pick Liz up. He sat down and placed her on the floor between his legs. Then he moved closer so she could lean against him and wrapped his arms around her.

"Uh, Max. I think all you need to do is hold my hand or hang onto my arm to be able to use my energy."

"Hush," Max said, amusement coloring his voice. "This way is more fun." He snuggled his Liz closer and got ready to draw energy from her when a thought came to him. "Liz, what’s it like for you when you provide energy like this? Are you sure this won’t hurt you? It won’t weaken you or endanger you? We can try this without you…"

"Max. Quit worrying. I’ll be fine." She leaned back to make eye contact with him. "Let’s get started."

Max lost himself in her eyes for a moment, then began the connection that would link Liz’s energy, Maria, Alex and himself on the dream plane.

Light mist floated all around, obscuring the distance. Small dream orbs floated randomly like soap bubbles. Billowy white clouds supported the three friends. They had magnificent wings growing out of their shoulders and glowing halos floated above their heads. Max and Alex looked at themselves with amusement.

"Maria!" they both said at the same time.

Maria giggled and the angelic embellishments disappeared. "Oh come on, guys, doesn’t the dream plane remind you of heaven?" A pair of horns and a tail suddenly sprouted from Maria.

Alex said, "Those look so much more natural on you, Maria." They all laughed and Maria was just Maria again.
Isabel came running out of the mist and launched herself into Alex’s arms. They hugged and kissed, each offering reassurance that they were fine.

Maria looked on wistfully and Max put his arm around her to comfort her. "Michael must be occupied right now. Isabel will tell us how things are going." Then raising his voice he added, "That is, if she can ever get her mind back on the important things."

"This is the most important thing I can think of right now" she said, kissing Alex again.

Max laughed at her, "When you’re ready, Izzy. But be aware that we’re short on energy and I will not drain Liz unnecessarily."

Isabel broke her kiss off but kept Alex’s arms around her. "We have a lot of catching up to do. This Liz— that’s the Liz you kidnapped, right? — how is she providing energy. What’s going on, Max?"

"That can wait for later. Are you and Michael okay? What is the status of the mission?"

Isabel recognized ‘In Charge Max’ and quickly got down to business. "Okay, with Leon gone Michael was able to claim me and have I told you how humiliating it is to be ‘claimed’ like some prize? Other than that things are going according to the original plan."

"Is Michael okay?" an anxious Maria asked Isabel.

"Yeah, he’s doing wonderful. Makes a great Dissident. They gave him a promotion and he’s in charge of us ‘prizes.’ He was able to change some things and the actual ‘consummating’ –(she shuddered)-- part of the scenario will be delayed until they’re actually on the way to their new home wherever that will be. I can tell you that there was great relief among the ‘prizes’ when that news came out."

Max felt a wave of dizziness. "Iz, we have to go now. It’s taking too much energy. Tell Michael we love him and…"

Max came out of the dream plane suddenly to find Liz slumped in his arms. "Liz!" Max hugged her tighter and then laid her gently down on the floor to check her. Alex and Maria woke up to find Max looking very shaken, trying to wake Liz up.

"What happened? She said this wouldn’t hurt her," Maria exclaimed.

Liz opened her eyes and said groggily, "It didn’t. I’m just tired." She started to sit up but Max wouldn’t let her. "Max, I’m okay."

Max scooped her into his arms and started to carry her upstairs. "I shouldn’t have let you do this."

"Max…" Liz began.

"Hush. No arguments. You’re going to bed."

Maria had followed them upstairs and when they got to Liz’s room she opened the door and preceded them in. "Wow, Liz, what’s that?" She pointed over to a large machine along one wall.

"That’s my longarm quilting machine. I’ll show it to you sometime, if you want."

Maria nodded and pulled the covers back on Liz’s bed. Max laid Liz down on the bed and began to cover her up. "Max, are you going to make her sleep in her clothes?" Maria looked with amusement at Max.

"Uh." His look of utter befuddlement was cute and Maria snorted.

"My ‘jammas are in the second drawer, Maria, if you would be so kind." Liz pointed to her dresser. When Maria handed them to her she said, "Thanks, guys. I can take care of the rest by myself. I’m not helpless, contrary to popular belief." She gave Max a little pat on his arm and pointed to the door. "Good night."

"Good night, Liz. We will talk about this in the morning." Max gave her a stern look as he left.

"Sweet dreams," wished Maria as she closed the door.

//Don’t I wish.\\ Liz dreaded going to sleep. Her nightmares didn’t happen as often now as they did when Dave first died. Just when she was unusually tired or stressed. She groaned and buried her face in her pillow. //Maybe I’ll get lucky and be able to sleep soundly.\\

She changed into her nightclothes and carefully got off the bed. Wincing, she limped over to the window and sat in her sewing chair. She sat there a while, looking out at the moonlit lake and thinking, then she made her painful way back to bed.



Maria and Max went back downstairs to find Alex leaning back on the couch, deep in thought. He looked up as they sat down on either side of him. "Is she okay? It was great to see Isabel, but I had no idea it would be so hard on her."

"She is stubborn and strong willed and hard-headed…”

"Just like a certain Max we all know and love." Maria laughed. "You guys can stay up all night if you want. I’m going to bed and try to dream of a spiky haired Dissident." She hugged them and took herself off to bed.

"Great idea, except I’m going to dream of an angel with long golden hair," Alex laughed as he got up and headed up to bed. "Coming, Max? You need to get some rest, too."

"Yeah." And a thoughtful Max went off to bed.



When Liz’s screams woke Max, he wasn’t surprised. But he was better prepared, having slept in his boxers and a t-shirt. He ran into her room to find her in that same tangled heap of bedclothes. Alex followed him, panic on his face. Liz was still crying and struggling with her blankets. They stopped and didn’t touch her.

Alex said with a shaky smile, "Don’t you find it incredibly ludicrous that we’re two big strong men afraid one small skinny woman will hurt us?"

"A wise course of action would be to let her wake up first…" Max said. But he couldn’t stand it, he knelt down and took her into his arms. To his and Alex’s surprise she accepted him without a fight. Max held her gently and began to smooth her hair away from her face.

She woke up, startled. "Oh god," Liz groaned and hid her face in her hands, "You must think I’m…"

"…a very nice woman who has gone through hell and is doing her best to cope with it." Alex finished her sentence. Max looked gratefully at him.

Maria appeared in the doorway and Alex went over to her and quietly explained, "Nightmare." He ushered her out and closed the door.

"If I was attacked like she was I’d have nightmares, too." Maria shuddered in sympathy.

"No, Max says it’s something else. God, what could be worse that that."

"How did her son die?" Maria was trying to understand. She had only known Liz for a few days, but she felt like they could be best friends, given a little time.

"She hasn’t said." Alex yawned. "Well, I’m going try to get some sleep. Max will take care of her."

"Yeah, guess you’re right. ‘Night."

Max was still rocking Liz in his arms when he realized she had fallen back to sleep. He leaned back against the tangle of blankets she had taken with her when she fell off the bed and found it surprisingly comfortable. He would cheerfully endure far more uncomfortable circumstances in order to sleep with Liz in his arms. He wondered when Liz would tell him what her nightmares were about. Soon he drifted off to sleep, comforted by the quiet sound of her breathing.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:30:56 PM

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Liz woke up to a different view than usual. She was on the floor! The memory of last night’s events returned in a rush. She began to stir when she realized that she was lying on her side, cuddled against a warm form, with a muscular arm as her pillow. Max! Her movements must have awakened him because his breathing changed and he brought his hand up to stroke her hair.

Liz shifted onto her back and looked up at his sleepy face. She blushed and shyly said, "Good morning, Max."

He looked at her adorable blushing face and realized anew that he had fallen totally in love with her. He leaned down and gave her a gentle kiss. He pulled back and used his free hand to stroke her cheek. "How was your mother able to heal you through your shields." Max really wanted to take that bruise from her cheek.

"She was powerful and she knew some tricks. If I was healing myself I’d be using the same energy— she just did what I couldn’t."

Max leaned down and kissed the bruise. "I’m not using your energy. Not after last night." He kissed it again. "Relax, I’m going to try something."

Liz looked up at Max and brushed the hair off his forehead. "I trust you, Max." She relaxed her shields as much as she was able.

Max placed his hand over her cheek and looked into her dark, trusting eyes. He concentrated, trying to find a new way to heal. Soon he was able to visualize how to erase the bruise and he removed his hand to find an unblemished cheek. He kissed it again, thinking about what he had done.

Liz turned her head and kissed him on the lips. "Thank you, Max."

Max kissed her back with growing passion, then stopped and just hugged her to him. Given her history, he didn’t think she had had much, if any experience. He would have to take it slow and court her gently if he didn’t want to frighten her. Max pulled back and kissed her on the nose. "Sit up, I’m going to heal your feet next."

Liz giggled, "So you’re going to work me over head to toe, huh?"

Max caressed the bottom of one foot and said with a gleam in his eyes, "You betcha." //And I really would love to do just that, although not quite in the innocent way you meant.\\ He got to work and healed the cuts on her feet. It took a lot more energy, but it was worth it. Then he brought one foot up to his chin and tickled her instep with his whiskers.

"Max!" she squealed and jerked her foot away. Then she quickly moved her other foot when he made a grab for it. Max slowly began to move closer, eyes gleaming, thoroughly enjoying teasing her. Liz began laughing as she scooted out of reach, then got to her feet and dashed for the door. "Just for that, I get the bathroom first!"

Max laughed and rolled over on his back amid the tumble of bedclothes. He craned his neck and looked out the open door. His and Alex’s door was still shut. Alex must be sleeping in. He heard the shower start as he began to think about seeing Isabel last night. He was so glad she was as safe as she could be under present circumstances and Michael had the situation under control.

Max sat up and looked around Liz’s room. She had a quilt on the big machine. It looked like a fascinating contraption. Her sewing machine was by the window. It was a cozy room; part bedroom, part sewing room— lived in and comfortable.

His musings were interrupted by the sound of the bathroom door opening. Liz’s voice came out timidly, "Max?" Her head peeked out and she repeated, "Max?" He got up and went over to her. She was blushing again. "I forgot to bring my robe in with me. Would you please get it for me?"

He started chuckling. He fetched her robe and teased a quick kiss from her before he gave it to her. She paid up and disappeared inside the bathroom with the robe. In a moment she opened the door, wrapped in the robe, wet hair streaming down her back and announced, "You’re really bad." But she spoiled it by laughing as she escaped into her room and closed the door.

Max quietly got his clothes from his room and didn’t wake Alex. He took a quick shower, dressed and went back into Liz’s room. He knew she would be out on the deck drying her hair and he didn’t want to miss it.



Later that morning they all assembled at the dining room table after a leisurely breakfast. The topic of discussion was everyone’s plans for the day. Max and Alex were going to continue their detective work, Maria needed to do a laundry and had expressed a desire to sunbathe down by the lake. Liz had email and other office work to catch up on.

"You know, Liz, I don’t think I remember what type of work you do," Maria asked.

"Well, I taught school for six years, but now I work from home."

"Must pay well to support a place like this," Alex said.

Maria smacked him on the back of his head and said, "Alex, you simply have no manners."

"I have to agree with Maria, Alex." Max said sternly.

"What I have is more curiosity than ten cats and it’s always getting me in trouble," Alex said ruefully. "Sorry if I offended, Liz."

Liz laughed, "Don’t worry, Alex. I’m not easily offended. Our friend Denny was like that. He would ask anyone anything, no matter how personal."

"Who was Denny," Alex asked with a grin.

They all laughed at his persistence and Liz said, "He was Dave’s middle school teacher and later when I took Dave out of school, he was his tutor."

"Why did you take Dave out of school?" Max asked.

"Well, Dave was a highly intelligent young man. And this is not just parental pride speaking, although I do have that in abundance. The school system didn’t have the facilities to challenge him and he was really bored. Do you know how much mischief a highly intelligent bored teenager can get into?" Liz rolled her eyes and laughed at her memories. "So I talked Denny into ‘retiring’ from public school and taking the job of being Dave’s partner in crime. We moved here to Colorado and they whizzed Dave through high school in two years. He started college when he was 16; he was studying mechanical engineering at CSU."

Liz got to her feet and said briskly, "Well, if anyone is interested, I’ll give a complete tour of the grounds after lunch." She looked at Max and smiled. "It’ll be a lot more complete than the one I gave you when you first got here."

Max laughed in memory. "Yeah, that was an extremely short tour." Maria and Alex looked confused. "I was on crutches at the time and— how did it go, Liz? ‘Bathroom and office down that way. Hall door goes down to the basement; laundry in basement. Garage and barn out back. Mountains, trees, lake’?" Max pointed in the direction of each as he recited Liz’s quick tour.

Liz laughed at Max’s teasing. "I forgot you were a gimp at the time. I promise this one will include walking." She opened the basement door and said to Maria, "I’ll show you where the laundry is and then I‘m going to say good morning to the lake before I get to work."

Max and Alex opened the French doors to the computer room and began their work. After a time Alex looked over at Max and said, "Did she talk about her nightmare?" At Max’s look he quickly added, "Sorry, I’m at the mercy of my curiosity bump. It’s killing me. You know, Max, I don’t know how you three handled the unanswered questions all those years."

"It wasn’t easy. But we couldn’t just start asking questions. We just had to find out things on our own."

"Find out things on your own, huh?" He hesitated and then said, "Want me to share the things I’ve found out on my own?" He raised his hand to stop Max’s reply. "This information is from the Internet search I did yesterday morning. I just didn’t have time to go through it all."

"Alex." Max stopped and tried to sort through his confused reaction to this information.

Maria appeared in the doorway. "Max, she needs us. I know she is trying her best to work through her troubles, but I think she has buried some of them so deep she can’t get at them anymore."

Max rubbed his face. "I think I’m being double-teamed." He looked at them. "I’d really rather wait until she tells me herself."

"I don’t think she will, Max. Since her mom died she hasn’t had anyone to lean on. When things happen like when Alex startled her, or when she saved the little boy and our big boy here, or like her nightmare last night— she doesn’t deal with them. She changes the subject and pretends like it didn’t happen."

"That sounds like my Cleopatra."

"What?" He’d lost both Maria and Alex.

"Cleopatra, Queen of Denial. I’ve called her on it several times and she’ll admit that denial is how she deals with some things but she still won’t talk about them. So you really think I should ask her instead of waiting for her to tell me?"

"Yes, I do, Max." Maria was adamant.

"Well, I have here an article from the local newspaper dated about six months ago." Alex looked at Max to see if he wanted him to continue. Maria didn’t hesitate and moved over behind Alex to read over his shoulder.

"Oh my god, Max. This tells about a fatal house fire in town. Two people were killed: a Dennis Harrison and a David Parker." She put her hand over her mouth and her eyes filled with tears. "Ohhhh, poor Liz."

Alex hit the print button and handed Max a copy when it came out. Max paled as he read the article.

"Max, this was an arson fire." Alex was reading from the screen.

Maria gasped, "It says that the house was fully involved when Liz came running up and tried to go inside to save them. She disabled two firemen and one bystander when they tried to stop her. They knocked her unconscious while they were trying to restrain her." She looked at Max. "What are we going to do?"

Max said firmly, "What we’re going to do is let Liz tell us about this in her own time." He sat up straighter in his chair. "Put yourself in her place. She has been isolated most of her life and been forced to endure tragedy and sorrow all alone. Now suddenly she has a house full of relative strangers and although she has welcomed us, I think we need to respect her privacy."

Maria spoke up. "Now, Max, I know you mean well, but I’ve had more experience dealing with troubled teens…" Max looked at her and opened his mouth to say something. "Yeah, yeah, I know she’s our age, but she does look like a teen. Max, she trusts you and whether or not she’ll admit it she needs help. It’s not healthy for her to suppress things like this. We should all concentrate on giving out vibes that say we’re here to listen whenever she’s ready, but Max… Max, I’m serious here. If she doesn’t dig those traumas out and deal with them really bad things will happen. Help her, Max."

"Alright. I’ll see what I can get her to tell me. But Alex, no more probing into her past on the net. If she finds out she will very likely consider it a highly inappropriate invasion of privacy." Max looked sternly at his curious friend.

"If it comes up in conversation, may I offer to help her find out her past?"

"Don’t pressure her about it."

"Max, I think you’re forgetting who we’re dealing with here. I’ve never run into anyone besides you who is as stubborn. And she’s pretty good at not answering questions when she doesn’t want to."

Maria piped up, "Yeah, Alex. If you’re not careful, she’ll ‘kung fu’ you again." She looked out the front window. "Scatter and act natural. Here she comes!" And she dashed down to the basement to tend her laundry.

Liz came in and said, "Hi, guys" as she went back to her office. Looking very innocent, Max and Alex got back to work. They could hear Liz and Maria’s voices as they talked in the other room. After a short time Maria walked by on her way out to sunbathe. Things went smoothly and quietly for the rest of the morning.

Maria came in around noon and she and Liz fixed lunch. Instead of sitting down with them she said, "You guys go on and eat. I’m not hungry and I still have some work to finish."

Max objected, "Liz, you need to eat."

"Max, I had a big breakfast and I’m not hungry." She smiled at them all and started walking by the table on her way back to her office. Max leaned out of his chair and attempted to grab her around the waist but she easily eluded him, laughing, and went on into her office.

Alex leaned close to Max and said very quietly, "Don’t pressure her." And then laughed at the look Max gave him.

After they had eaten lunch and cleaned up, Max walked down the hall to Liz’s office. He heard quiet laughter and he entered the office to find Liz at her computer. "What’s funny?" he asked curiously.

To his amusement, Liz blushed. She closed down her computer and said, "Ready for that tour?" She tried to walk around him but he moved to playfully block her way.

"Are you going to tell me or are you going to make me use one of my turns when we start question trading again?" He gave her one of his best pleading looks.

Liz put her finger to her lips and said "Shhh" then moved a few steps back and crooked her finger at him. He walked away from the door and leaned down so she could whisper to him. Then she zipped around him and escaped out the door. He could hear her laughing as she went down the hall.

"That was sneaky!" he hollered after her.

"The grand tour is starting! Hurry or you’ll miss out." She hollered back.

When all of her guests were in the kitchen she mischievously gave them Max’s short tour. "Bathroom and office down that way. Hall door goes down to the basement; laundry in basement. Garage and barn out back. Mountains, trees, lake," as she pointed in the proper directions. Then she laughed and said, "Kidding. Follow me and I’ll introduce you to the barn. I think all of you have met the lake already." She led the way out back. "Denny used the barn to store his toys and he and Dave had a shop out here, too, for some of their bigger projects." She struggled to open the large door.

Max and Alex stepped up and gave her a hand. Max leaned down and said quietly in her ear. "Thought you were supposed to ask for help when you needed it."

She ducked her head slightly and said, "Oops." She entered the barn and turned on the lights. "Maria, this is where we get to watch the guys drool." Liz walked over to a large cloth covered object. "This was Denny’s pride and joy," she announced as she revealed a gleaming Harley Davidson motorcycle.

"A Heritage Softtail Classic! Wow." Alex was obviously impressed. He and Max began to inspect the motorcycle while Liz and Maria shared a private laugh about boys and their toys. "Did you ride with him?" Alex looked over at Liz. "I’m trying to picture you in black leather…" From the expression on Max’s face he was, too.

Maria laughed at Liz’s blushing face as Liz said, "No, no, not me. Dave was his riding buddy."

Liz showed them around the rest of the barn and then led the way out again and walked towards the garage. When they got to the garage Max took the tarp off the ATV and started it up. "Sorry guys, I’m kidnapping Liz. You’ll have to explore on your own."

"What, again? Max, you need some serious therapy. This kidnapping of small defenseless women is becoming a habit." Maria laughed.

Max held out his hand to Liz and she said, "Oh, alright." She climbed on behind him and he gave Alex and Maria a mock evil grin as he drove off.

Maria and Alex watched them drive off up the mountain road. "They make a cute couple, don’t you think, Alex?"

"Matchmaking, Maria?" He ducked as she tried to swat him. "However, it would make me very happy to see him finally find someone. Isabel worries about him, too." He put a friendly arm over her shoulders as they walked back toward the house. "Do you think this ‘kung fu when touched unexpectedly’ thing will cause them trouble if they do get together?"

"Guess you hadn’t noticed, except for that one time she doesn’t have trouble when Max is the one doing the touching. She avoids contact with everyone else as a general rule." She laughed. "That pushy reporter almost lost his thumb. The look on his face was priceless when this ‘skinny little woman’ broke his ‘big strong manly grip.’ Looping her arm through Alex’s, they continued to explore the area.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:36:18 PM

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Max sped up the smooth dirt road thoroughly enjoying himself. He heard Liz laugh gleefully as he took her over the whoop de dos again. A few miles past where they had stopped the first time out the road branched and he took the uphill road. They rode along enjoying the scenery.

Suddenly the road veered sharply to the right and then dropped down, a wide stream crossing it. There was no time to slow down so Max just went on through getting his jeans wet and his sneakers full of water.

Liz laughed and teased, "You’re supposed to hold your feet up when you go through water, Max." He looked back and she pointed down to her dry feet she was holding up in the air. He gave her a mock scowl that made her laugh more. Then when he slid his foot out of his sneaker and held it up to drain the water out of it she totally lost it.

Max stood up and picked Liz up in his arms. She was laughing too hard to stop him and he walked out into the middle of the stream. He tipped her up and began to lower her feet towards the rushing water. She screamed with laughter and kicked her feet. "This is very tempting, but I’ll be a gentleman." Max carried her back out of the stream and had to drain his sneakers again. They both got a good laugh out of it this time.

Liz recovered first and took the quilt from the storage box. "Come over here in the sun, Max." She spread the quilt in a sunny area near the stream.

Max sat on the edge of the quilt and took off his sneakers and socks. They spread them to dry and settled back to enjoy the sound of the rushing water.

Max picked up the end of Liz’s braid and began to tickle her arm with it. "Liz."

"Hmmm?" She was leaning back on her arms, face to the sun, eyes closed.

"I want to thank you for allowing us to invade your home."

"It’s no problem, Max. I’ve already told you that."

"Liz."

"What is it, Max?"

"Whose turn is it?"

"Well, now it’s mine." She laughed at his expression. "Max. What do you want to ask me?"

He put the end of her braid horizontally under his nose. "Do you think I’d look good in a mustache?"

Liz laughed and said teasingly, "Coward. What do you want to ask me, Max? I know pretty much all of your secrets."

"Will you stay Liz or will Cleopatra show up?"

She looked warily at him. "Ummm… Who knows?"

Max took a deep breath and hoped Maria was right. He reached out and gently took one of her hands in his. "Do you know what your nightmares are about?" He watched her unconsciously move from a very relaxed position to the small tense bundle he found the other night after she ran away from them. He moved over and put his arms around her. Max was very relieved that she accepted his contact. "Liz, let me help you. Please talk to me."

Her face was buried in her knees so her voice came out muffled but Max could hear her. "I wish I didn’t know, Max."

"Will you tell me, Liz?" He smoothed her hair back from her face.

"Why?"

"It’s not good for you to keep it bottled up inside. I can’t change what happened, but if you tell me, I can help you behr it." He kissed her temple gently. "You shouldn’t have to do it alone."

"Why?" She raised her head to look at him. "Why are you doing this, Max?"

Max cradled her face with both hands and looked into her anguished eyes. "Because all my life I’ve had a hollow place inside me and since I met you, it’s not hollow anymore. I love you, Liz." He kissed her softly. "I love you and don’t want you to go through this alone anymore." Her eyes filled with tears and she hid her face again. He pulled her closer and hugged her to him and rocked back and forth. "Please let me help you."

Liz kept her face hidden, but began to talk. "Oh, Max, I wish I could trade my life for his. If only I could have gotten there sooner… Why did he have to die the death I feared most?" Max couldn’t do anything but hold her tighter and offer his support.

"I woke up in the middle of the night. The bad feeling was strong, so strong it hurt. I didn’t know what was happening but I knew it was Dave." Her voice was tight and strained as she fought to keep it even. "I’d made it to the outskirts of town when I felt Dave." Liz raised agonized eyes and looked at Max. Her breath was coming in gasping pants. "I felt Dave burn. I felt my son burn to death, Max. Why couldn’t it have been me? Why, Max? Why?" She began to cry with great racking sobs. "It hurts so much. He hurt so much as he died."

Max’s heart was gripped with sorrow. "Oh Liz, I’m so sorry." He held her tightly and rocked her to try to ease her agony. She didn’t cry long, which surprised him.

"I’m so tired of crying, Max. I’ve used up all my tears and it still hurts." Max gathered her up and cradled her in his lap. He smoothed the hair from her face and gently kissed her tear stained cheek. He was just beginning to doubt Maria knew what she was talking about when Liz began to talk again. "Max. Thank you for holding me."

Max cleared his throat, trying to achieve a normal tone of voice. "Thank you for trusting me."

"I always have, Max. Even when I didn’t know why."

"You said you were a good judge of character…" Max teased her gently.

Liz shifted within reach and kissed his cheek. "That’s a fact."

Max hugged her tighter, burying his face in her hair. "I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am. It scares me to think of losing you. Now that I’ve finally found you I don’t think I’d survive losing you. When we were still with the Dissidents and I saw you make that suicidal dive into the ravine I… I almost died right then."

"That wasn’t a suicide attempt, Max. That was a gamble. One with rather long odds, I admit, but sometimes those pay off." She gave a private smile then sat up straighter in his arms so she could look him in the eyes. "Max, I don’t want you worrying about me." She cupped his cheek with a small hand and he turned his head and kissed it. "I know we’ve teased about me being the Queen of Denial, but I’m not really denying that these things happened. I’m just choosing not to think about them until I’m ready to. There’s a difference, Max." He smiled gently at her, his expressive eyes telling her he loved her. "I’m pretty tough, Max. I’ll get through this. But I must say it’s a lot easier to behr when you’re holding me.

Max stretched out on his side, cuddling Liz to him. "I think you are one of the strongest and most courageous people I have ever met."

Liz rolled over onto her back and looked up at Max. "Oh, I bet you say that to all the girls you kidnap."

"Nope, only the ones who rescue me from falling into ravines. Twice." He leaned down and gave her a kiss. She snuggled closer to him and sighed in contentment.

"Nobody’s ever held me like this. It’s so nice."

"Is it because of the attack you suffered that you’ve never let anyone close to you? You were so young and rape is such a horrible violation."

"Oh, Max." Liz’s voice is full of concern. "Don’t worry. That was a long time ago. I don’t remember that part of the attack. I was thankfully unconscious by then. And the mind attack thing— it’s over. I don’t remember the bad parts. And, no, I’m not being Cleopatra. I had some pretty extensive head injuries and parts of my memories are just gone. The worst long-term damage from the whole thing is my stupid shields being locked in the ‘on’ position."

Liz smiled up at Max and said, "The reason nobody’s ever held me like this before is… I hadn’t met you."

Max kissed her and held her closer. After a minute she continued, "Can we pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist and stay here forever? Or at least until we get hungry?"

"Sounds good to me." He stroked her face with his hand and watched as her eyes closed and she gave a small sigh.

They stayed cuddling happily and talking quietly for over an hour then Liz opened her eyes and looked up at Max. "Alex and Maria are worried about us. We probably should get back."

"How do you know? Did you get one of your ‘feelings?" Max was curious. "What does it feel like?"

Liz thought seriously for a moment. "Well, sometimes I get an uneasy feeling, a feeling of anticipation before I suddenly ‘know’ something. Other times I just know right away. It’s hard to explain. I haven’t really talked about this kind of thing with anyone." She shrugged her shoulders slightly. "Do you or your Czechoslovakian friends get ‘feelings’ like this?" Max shook his head ‘no’. Liz sighed, then said, "Quack."

Max laughed softly then said, "Yes, but you’re MY odd duck." He took her hand and kissed her fingers. Then he looked closely at her left forefinger and exclaimed, "You really did cut the tip off! I thought you were just distracting Alex."

Liz looked at her finger and said, "Not really the tip, I just cut off the corner down to the bone… Yeah, I gave myself quite a flat spot there. But it’s not near as obvious as it used to be."

"Show me." And Liz did. "You know what, Liz? I think you’re re-growing the lost part. What kinds of things could you do before the attack? Maybe your subconscious is working under those shields of yours."

Somewhat sadly, Liz answered, "That part of my memory is gone. I know I used to be able to do things, but I can’t remember how I did them. Mom thought my… my attacker inflicted so much damage to my head because he couldn’t get through my shields.

"I have noticed that you can be very hard headed about some things…" Teasing Liz was turning into his favorite pastime. "Has your subconscious done any thing else besides re-grow missing fingertips?"

"Ummm. My hair grows extremely fast."

"How fast is extremely fast."

"18 inches a year. That’s about 4 times faster than ‘normal’. But I don’t know if it’s me or what Mom did." Max nodded for her to continue. "The emergency room doctors shaved my head when… you know, Max, this is really yucky. Are you squeamish? And are you sure you want to hear this? It happened a long time ago."

Although Max had paled slightly he said, "I want to know."

"Why?"

"You ask that question a lot. Are you sure you’re not a two year old?’ He kissed the tip of her finger. "Tell me."

"Do I have to?" Max nodded his head. "Fink." She hid her face in his chest and continued her story. "They shaved my head so they could stitch up all the cuts." She peeked at Max then hid her face again. "There were a lot of them. And I had a concussion and some other injuries." She felt him take a breath to speak and knowing what his next question was, said "No."

"Okay. Go on from there. I know this is rough, sweetie, but I want to know."

Liz took a ragged breath and continued, "Mom told me this part. I was out of it for a long time. The doctors told her that if I survived at all, my head injuries would leave me severely handicapped. She wouldn’t accept that and knew she had to try to use her powers to fix the neural damage. Anyway, she pulled a fast one and got me out of the hospital and we left town that night. I’m sure you know why. Then she set about putting me back together. I don’t remember anything for a long time but she told me I was a very crabby patient. So I wouldn’t be so conspicuous she ‘encouraged’ my hair to grow back fast and it’s grown fast ever since. And when I was finally me again…" She stopped and took a deep breath. "I’ve never told anyone about this. Why do I have to start now, Max?

"Liz, when I… the other day when I showed you…"

"When you let me look into your soul you showed me what an incredible person you are, Max."

Max kissed her temple, the only part of her face visible as she hid against his chest. "Thank you," he said softly. "When I shared my feelings, my loneliness, my sense of isolation with you and you accepted me and trusted me, it lightened a burden I’ve carried all my life. Liz, when you care for someone you want to help them… just like I want to help you. Share your burdens with me, please."

Liz raised her head and looked into Max’s eyes and saw his love for her. She gave up at that point. She quit holding onto the shield she had around her heart and fell helplessly in love with this wonderful man who had come into her life. "I love you, Max." She raised her face for a kiss. "Where was I?"

"You stopped right after telling me what a crabby person, I mean, patient, you were."

"Don’t look at me. I know it’s silly, but…" She shrugged her shoulders. Max just smiled indulgently and pressed her head back into his chest. She felt him chuckle silently. "This wasn’t an easy time for Mom and I. Looking back on that time I’m amazed at her. Fixing all the damage to my brain was an incredibly complex and painstaking task. She just had to go slowly and ‘encourage’ the damaged parts to regrow. She did an incredible job… except for one thing."

Max brushed the hair away from her face, trying to see her. "What, Sweetness?"

Liz hid her smile and continued, "she left me with a serious weakness for tall, dark and handsome Czechoslovakians." She felt Max chuckle and ruffle her hair. “Anyway, it took a long time to heal all my injuries and fix the worst of my scars. I still have some that my hair hides." Max did not like to think about scars and Liz. "She used my energy like you did the other night." Liz paused and her pause lengthened into a silence.

"When did you find out you were pregnant?" Max wasn’t going to let her avoid this.

Liz took a ragged breath and continued. "Mom suspected right away. When I was finally able to… when she felt I was able to handle it, she told me. I think I was four months along. Neither of us ever considered aborting that innocent life.

"Anyway, to cut a long story short, I never went back to school— Mom taught me at home. Being fourteen is difficult enough, but add in being a mother at that age and trying to cope with middle school age kids’ reactions to my situation— we took the easy way out. The three of us were very happy together. However he got started, Dave was a bright light during a dark time."

Max was silent, thinking about what Liz had confided to him. She was an amazing woman to have survived all this. "Was Dave’s birth difficult? You’re so small and you were only fourteen…"

Liz scrambled to her knees. She bent down and gave Max a quick kiss. "I’m done for now. We don’t need to go over my whole life in one afternoon. Alex and Maria are really getting worried now."

Max looked up at her stubborn face and decided she’d been through enough for today but he was not going to let her go back into her shell. He had quite a reputation for being stubborn, too. He reached up his arm and drew her face back down for another kiss, this one he let go beyond innocence. "You’re the best thing that has ever happened to me, Liz Parker."

"I feel the same way, Max Evans." As they walked to the ATV Liz hurried Max along. "Maria is really worried. Let’s hurry."

"Liz, I know you have trouble being around people…"

"Just large crowds and some individuals, Max. You know, as much as I knew in my heart that Denny was a good person, I had trouble being around him for long periods. I don’t know why. But I’m very comfortable with Maria and Alex. I feel like I’ve known them forever, not just a few days."

"What about me?" Max turned his best puppy dog eyes on her.

Liz teased, "It’s a tough job putting up with you and your questions, Max. But somebody’s gotta do it."





posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:38:34 PM

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Maria was sitting on the back porch steps waiting for them as they rode up. Looking at Liz’s face she could see traces of the emotions she’d gone through that afternoon. But she also saw the new closeness between the couple. //This might work out all right… For both of them.\\

Alex came to the back door when he heard the ATV. "Max, you have an email from Gregory."

Max took Liz’s hand and they walked towards the door. Maria greeted them and Liz stayed there with her as Max went inside.

The two women sat down on the porch steps. "So, how are you doing?" Maria asked. She was sending out ‘talk to me’ vibes as hard as she could.

Liz looked at her, assessed the situation and chuckled. "Want to walk down to the lake and you can ask me whatever it is you’re dying to? This seems to be my day to answer questions."

Maria looked startled, then laughed at herself. "Oh, I’m subtle, yes I am." She stood up and smiled at her friend. "Sounds like a plan." They got up and began to meander down toward the lake.

Liz said, "You know, I could get used to having a girl friend to talk to. One that knows about me, I mean. I had two good friends when I was teaching, but there was so much we couldn’t talk about."

"I know what you mean. Alex has been my best buddy since forever, but sometimes a girl just needs to have a good chick talk. Then when Isabel and I became friends it was great, ‘specially since I knew of her Czechoslovakian background. We didn’t have to have any secrets. We could tell each other anything."

"You’re being subtle again, Maria." Liz kept her face straight only for a few seconds then she laughed at the expression on Maria’s face. "We don’t have secrets, Maria. Just things we haven’t told each other about yet." She gave Maria a one armed hug. "You seem like quality best friend material to me."

They walked on down to the lake and sat on the bench. "I like this bench, Liz, although it’s more like a platform than a bench. It would take a mighty wide butt to fill it. What is it, a whole sheet of plywood?"

"You guessed it. Dave and I built it when we moved here. I have a mattress that fits it stored in the garage. It’s a great place to sunbathe." She laughed softly in memory. "Even in winter if the wind isn’t blowing. Dave used to sled down the hill on the mattress and catch some rays on sunny days."

"Must have been fun dragging the mattress back up the hill."

"This is ‘Dave the Inventor’ we’re talking about here. He attached a rope to the mattress and used a small motor to pull it back up the hill. There was a remote control gadget he used to turn the motor on. He wanted to get a bigger motor so he could ride up too, but he never got around to it." This last part was said somewhat sadly.

"Well, set your skinny butt down here, Liz, and let’s have us a good chick talk." Maria smiled her best friend smile.

Liz smiled back and sat on her end of the bench. They talked of inconsequential things for a while, both enjoying the ordinary-ness of it. After a comfortable silence, Maria turned to her and asked, "I really don’t mean to pry, Liz, but how are you doing with all this? So much had happened in your life, even before Max kidnapped you…"

Liz laughed and lay back on the bench. "Are you guys ever going to let him live that down?" Directing questions away from things she didn’t want to talk about was such second nature that Liz didn’t even realize she had done it.

"Probably not. It was sooo out of character for our quiet, reserved, always in control Max to do such a barbaric thing." Maria lay back and they both watched the clouds for a moment. "This may sound odd, but I’m glad he did. I’ll admit he picked an unusual way to meet you, but I think my lonely friend is smitten with you."

Liz blushed, sat up and began to undo her braid. She looked at the lake as she finger-combed her hair. Then she peeked over at Maria and hesitantly admitted, "I’m kinda smitten myself."

Maria squealed and sat up. "Oh girl, I’m so happy for you." She turned to face Liz and sat cross-legged. "Tell Dr. Maria all about it." She grinned in happiness for her friends.

At this inopportune point they heard a shrill whistle and saw Alex motioning for them to come to the house. "Rats. Such timing! Just when things were starting to get interesting… We’ll have to continue this later."

Liz smiled affectionately at her and they began to walk toward the house. Liz braided her hair as they walked. "Depending on what this email from Gregory says and what the guys have planned, do you want to go to town with me tomorrow? I need to check my mail and do some other things."

"You bet."

Alex and Max were sitting in the living room waiting for the girls to join them. When they had taken seats Max leaned forward, elbows on knees and informed them, "Gregory wants a face to face meeting tomorrow."

He looked directly at Liz. "I will not bring him here. This is your home, Liz, and I think we put you at risk quite enough with us just being here. I’m not going to have Gregory’s group coming and going. Alex found us an isolated spot we can reach by jeep. It’s about an hour and a half away from here. Alex and I will rent a jeep in town. I don’t want even your jeep associated with us when we meet Gregory. Michael is afraid that the Dissidents have subverted someone close to him. I don’t want to take any chances at all."

"Will you be safe?" Liz asked, concerned.

"Take my cell phone," Maria offered. "At least you’ll be able to keep in touch with us. Wait. If you take my phone how will you call us: Liz doesn’t have a phone. Liz, this is the twentieth century how can you not have a phone? Don’t laugh at me, Alex."

Liz tried to keep a straight face. "Maria. I have a cell phone. Give yours to Max and Alex and we’ll make them call us every hour on the hour." She looked at Max. "Is there anything else we need to discuss about tomorrow’s meeting with Gregory?" Max shook his head no.

Liz stood up and said briskly, "Well then. Let’s have a nice normal dinner and spend the evening in nice normal conversation. Things have been far too exciting lately and tomorrow’s time enough to worry about Gregory. I’m going to start our nice normal dinner." And she walked into the kitchen.

Alex tried manfully to restrain his humor but was unsuccessful. Quietly, so just Max and Maria could hear he said, "Mr. Responsibility meets Cleopatra, Queen of Denial…" He ducked quickly to avoid the couch pillow Max threw at him. Picking it up to throw it back, his eyes were drawn to the words on the pillow: ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’ He held it up so Max and Maria could see it and he totally cracked up. They both laughed at the pillow and at Alex’s loss of control.

Liz stuck her head around the corner to see what was so funny and saw Alex still holding the pillow. She waited for an explanation but none was forthcoming. "Okay, I’ll buy a vowel. What’s so funny about my Pleasantville pillow?"

Max said, "Pleasantville?"

Liz explained with a bemused expression on her face. "Well, I made that pillow so I could throw it at Denny. He had a tendency toward rather radical views and when I couldn’t handle the intensity I’d hit him with it. We had a three-strike rule: if he got hit three times in a week, he was banned from the house for a while. I think he thought it was funny. He’s the one who named it the Pleasantville pillow."

"Oh," Max said, striving for his most innocent look. He really didn’t want to explain what had just gone on.

Maria came to his rescue. "Why don’t I help you with dinner, Liz. Then we’ll make the guys cook tomorrow. It’s only fair to trade off." She stopped and innocently looked at Max. "Or would you rather help Liz tonight and Alex and I will take tomorrow’s shift?"

Max got to his feet and headed for the kitchen. "Why thank you, Maria. I know you’ve been needing some quality time with your old buddy Alex," he said in his most insincerely solicitous voice.

And they all enjoyed a nice normal dinner followed by a nice normal evening. Alex only got hit once more with the Pleasantville pillow and it was for his taste in jokes so Liz decided that didn’t count toward his three strikes.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:43:33 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY

The night had passed uneventfully and the four of them were sitting at the table planning their day as was becoming their custom. Max was really enjoying this close companionship. It was something he hadn’t gotten enough of since his friends had paired off. He had spent far too much time alone. Maybe when this Dissident business was settled he and Liz…

"Max. Earth to Max." When Alex had his attention he continued, "Is it going to be safe to use our names to rent the jeep? They’re also going to want a credit card number even if we pay in cash."

Liz spoke up hesitantly. "Umm. I have a fake ID complete with matching credit card if you want to use it. I mean, the credit card is real. It just uses the fake ID’s name and the bill is sent to the dummy corporation that holds the title to this place."

Three pairs of eyes stared at her in amazement and three mouths hung open. "And you would have these because?" Max was the first to regain the power of speech.

"Dave used them when he traveled with Denny. Sometimes anonymity is a good thing."

Alex asked Liz, "In your closet do you have a cape and skintight costume with a large ‘M’ on the front for when you assume your role as Mystery Woman?"

Max said bluntly and quite seriously, "Alex, do I have to go get the pillow?"

Liz laughed and said, "It’s okay, Max. I have an inappropriate sense of humor, too." Then more sternly, "How often do I have to remind you that I’m serious about committing my resources to helping you?"

"I’m sorry, Liz." Max scratched his head and looked at her ruefully. "You keep surprising me. I guess I really am a slow learner. Forgive me?

"This time," Liz said teasingly, then continued on a more serious note. "I also have a stash of cash you guys can use. Cash is anonymous," she explained.

Maria piped up. "I’ll be Miss Moneypenny. Liz, you be ‘M’ and equip our two secret agents here with the proper equipment and gadgets…"

Liz said, "I have a shoe phone…" Then at their renewed looks of amazement she said, "Kidding."

They resumed making their plans. The guys would make their first check in call after they had the rental jeep and were on their way.

Maria and Liz stood on the front porch watching them drive down the driveway in Alex’s car. They were both very worried but were determined not to show it. Maria turned to Liz with a gleam in her eye and said, "Let’s pretend everything is normal and just go shopping. I believe you said you had some errands in town."

Liz laughed and said, "Let’s go."

They disguised Maria again just in case, made sure they had Liz’s cell phone, and headed for town. Liz went into the post office and came out with a bundle of mail then drove to a beauty shop. "I have an appointment to get my hair cut. Want to wait inside with me?"

"You’re going to cut your hair?? It seems like such a shame."

"Just some of it. It grows really fast and it’s gotten down to an awkward length. Once I start sitting on the end of the braid, it’s gotta come off. Come on."

They entered the shop and sat idly looking at magazines while they waited for Liz’s turn. A mother with a new baby came in and sat across from them. Maria found them endlessly fascinating and her magazine dropped into her lap, forgotten. Liz noticed where her attention was and smiled a secret smile.

Soon it was time for Liz’s haircut. Maria said, "I’ll stay here. I don’t think I could bear to watch…" Liz chuckled and followed the hairdresser back to her area.

Liz returned a short time later with her hair trimmed up to the middle of her back. "All done. Let’s get back."

Maria said, "First turn around and let me see. That’s a great length, Liz. I can see that it would be easier to take care of." She got up with a last look at the baby. "Yeah, I’m ready to get back."

They drove back in silence and sat in the living room waiting for the check in call. They were both lost in their own thoughts when the phone rang and they jumped and made a grab for it.

Maria got there first and said, "Hello," then cracked up. She hung up and explained, "Alex and Max said to tell you the fake ID worked magnificently they have successfully acquired a jeep. They were using really bad foreign accents."

Liz laughed, then sobered and sighed. Maria decided to distract her. "So, Liz, did you make all those quilts?" At Liz’s nod she continued, "They’re fabulous. I can do simple sewing, but I’ve never attempted a quilt."

"It’s not hard at all. Would you like to see my quilting machine?" They went upstairs and Liz demonstrated her machine for Maria. "This monster does the topstitching that sews the quilt top, the batting and the lining all together. I use my regular sewing machine to sew the quilt tops together."

"I would love to make a quilt someday."

"How about now? It will take our minds off our ‘secret agents.’" Liz pulled a couple of quilt books from her shelf and set them in front of Maria. They were books on baby quilts.

Maria looked at the books, then at Liz, her face a mixture of emotions. Liz looked back at her and raised her eyebrows. Maria sat down suddenly. "Is it that obvious? I’m not showing yet. Oh, Liz. I’m so scared."

Liz knelt down beside Maria’s chair and said, "It’ll be okay, Maria. We’ll get through this together. What else are friends for? I only pushed the issue because I thought you needed to talk and…" (teasing now) "I was trying to be subtle."

"Ha."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Liz added drolly, "I’d be the last person to insist you talk about something before you are ready." She watched Maria’s face closely to see what it told her.

"What was it like when you were pregnant?"

"Well, I don’t remember the first four months…"

"Oh my God. Was that from the attack? Oh Liz, how horrible for you."

"Yeah, it was rough. But do you want to know what was a key factor in helping me get through it all?" Maria nodded yes. "When I could feel my baby move inside me. I think that was the point I began to truly recover. Maria, it’s the most incredible feeling." She placed her hand over her flat stomach and smiled gently. "There was this tiny innocent life growing and I could feel the love he projected."

"Was that a Czechoslovakian thing?"

"I think it was a ‘mother’ thing. Just you wait."

"Michael doesn’t know about the baby. He left to go play Dissident right before I found out."

"How do you think he’ll feel about the baby," Liz asked cautiously.

"Michael didn’t really have a family when he was growing up. He bounced around the foster family system until he petitioned for his emancipation when he was seventeen. We talked about it once and he finally admitted he’d like lots of kids. But we never thought we could have kids together. You know, because he was hatched…." She laughed affectionately. "He’s going to make a great daddy."

She placed her hand over her growing baby. "Did you ever want lots of kids?" Then Maria stopped and realized that might not be a tactful question. She peeked at Liz to see how she was reacting and found her looking into space, a closed look on her face.

"I can’t have any more babies so I guess it’s a moot question," Liz said quietly.

"Oh Chica, what happened?"

Liz looked up and met Maria’s eyes firmly. "Don’t be scared of having babies. The process of labor isn’t that big screaming production that television and movies would like us to believe it is. It’s a natural process and you shouldn’t be afraid of it. What happened to me… what went wrong happened after Dave was born.

"I hemorrhaged and to save me Mom had to… use her powers to alter my uterus to stop the bleeding. We couldn’t just go to a hospital. She cried when she told me later what she’d done, what she’d had to do. She had really drained her powers healing my injuries from the attack and at her age that strain permanently depleted them. It broke her heart that she didn’t have to power to save my life and my ability to have more babies. Poor Momma."

Liz signed sadly in memory. Then she shook herself and looked at Maria. "You aren’t going to have any difficulties with this baby. I just have a feeling things will work out great"

"You know, Liz, I think I’ll trust that feeling of yours." They gave each other a hug and started planning Maria’s quilt.

They were happily occupied when the phone rang and Liz answered. She listened and said, "Come back safely. Bye." She turned to Maria. "They are almost to the meeting place. Their next check in call might be delayed and they don’t want us to worry."

"Fat chance." Maria snorted.

Liz nodded her agreement and they resumed working on Maria’s quilt and chatting like old friends. After a time Maria asked, "I was always afraid it would hurt our relationship because I couldn’t seem to get pregnant. Did it ever affect any of yours… the fact that you couldn’t have babies?"

"Never had any so I never had to face that," Liz admitted.

"What??!!" Maria was shocked. "Never had any relationships? Wouldn’t your mother let you date in high school? But surely once you were on your own…"

"Maria, think about it. I was home schooled so I didn’t have a lot of contact with kids my own age. Besides, what teenage boy wants to date a girl who has a baby? Unless he thinks he’ll score easier and I could pick up on that easily enough. Even most grown men would consider me to be, what is the phrase… damaged goods."

"Liz, I realize that teenage boys can be awfully immature about this whole baby thing, but most grown men don’t expect every unmarried woman to still be a virgin!" Liz blushed from the roots of her hair to her toes. Maria looked at her in amazement. "What are you blushing for?"

If possible, Liz got even redder. "Oh Maria, if you only knew…"

Maria turned to face her friend, crossed her arms and waited with a determined look on her face. "Liz, I hate to have to break it to you at your age, but you’ve had a baby— you can’t possibly be a virgin!"

"I’m really embarrassed to tell you this."

"Come on. Give. Friends don’t keep secrets. Especially ones that could make a thirty-one year old woman blush like that."

"Do you remember what it was like to be fourteen? Hyper-sensitive and at the mercy of your hormones? Well, add in a pregnancy, a difficult convalescence and then an even more difficult birth. I was a real mess. I don’t remember a lot from that time, but Mom told me later I was a very difficult patient.

"The healing had to be done in stages over a period of time and she felt it was safer to wait until after Dave was born for most of the cosmetic work. She had to tap my energy to help heal me and it left me exhausted most of the time. I used to get horribly upset about the oddest things… poor Mom. Well, once I got upset about not being… well, not being a virgin anymore." Liz continued is a small voice. "So she fixed it. And I still am one."

"What?!" Maria’s voice ended in a squeak.

Liz raised her head and gave a small laugh. "We laughed about it later, and she called me a ‘born again virgin’, but at the time it was really important to me. It’s kind of embarrassing now."

"Oh, Liz, I’m speechless. You mean you’ve never made love?"

In an effort to direct Maria away from that subject, Liz continued, "I really was a crabby patient. I hate to tell you some of the other things she did to try to make me feel better." She laughed, determinedly cheerful. "She gave me permanent eye makeup once when I was fussing about how ghastly I looked." Liz tilted her face and closed her eyes for Maria to see. "A truly useful modification, wouldn’t you say?" Maria still looked as though she might pursue the other topic so Liz continued, "And one of my favorites… she made the hair on my legs and under my arms quit growing so I wouldn’t have to shave it."

"Now, I’m really jealous about that one!"

They sewed together in silence for a while until Maria said, "Well, I think my back is telling me I’ve done enough for one day. Let’s grab something to eat and veg out in front of the TV. It’ll occupy our minds until the guys call back. What say?"

"I’m for it. Maybe there’ll be a chick flick on. Dave never would watch with me. Maria, you have no idea how much I enjoy having you be my friend." Maria didn’t say anything, but it saddened her to think how lonely Liz must have been.

They went downstairs and tried to keep each other’s minds off their mutual worries. Taking their sandwiches into the living room they tried to find something on TV that was interesting. Liz left her sandwich untouched and paced between the living room and the dining room windows.

"Liz, babe. You have to eat something. You’re nothing but skin and bones."

Liz looked at Maria and nodded. "I know. I lost a lot of weight when Dave died and I haven’t been able to been able to get it back." She sat back down and made herself eat her sandwich.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:46:55 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

The afternoon passed slowly and the tension built. When the phone finally rang they both jumped in reaction. It was Maria’s turn so she answered it. "They’re on their way back! Alex said the meeting was ‘interesting’ and they would give us all the particulars when they get back. ETA about 3:30."

"Well, at least there is a set time we can anticipate. Open-ended waiting is not my favorite activity."

They occupied themselves as best they could, and as the time approached they decided to walk down to the gate to meet their secret agents. There they are!" Maria pointed down the road. Suddenly she had a thought. "Liz, don’t tell Max or Alex about me being preggers. I want Michael to know first."

"No problem, girlfriend." Liz gave her a quick hug.

The gate opened and Alex’s car came to a stop beside them. Max got out and hugged both women. "Would you ladies like a ride to the house?" He gestured to the open car door.

Maria spoke up quickly, "I call shotgun."

Max smiled to himself, silently thanking her and held the seat forward to help Liz get into the back of the car. As she leaned forward to step in he exclaimed, "Liz! Your hair!"

She sat down and turned toward Max. "Pardon me?" She looked confused for a moment. "Oh. Maria and I went to town and I had it cut. It’s easier to manage at this length… what’s the matter, Max?"

Realizing he could put his foot into it he recovered nicely. "Just a shock, I guess. Seeing half of it gone like that. It looks nice." He put his arm along the back of the seat and stroked her silky hair, enjoying the feel of it.

"Thanks," she said shyly, smiling up at him.

"Oh, Alex, if you’re my buddy you’ll let me press the button for the gate," Maria said from the front seat, "It makes me feel like some grand Lady coming home to her estate." Maria was giddy with relief at their safe return. She lifted the portable device and dramatically pressed the button to close the gate and then got down to business. "Alright, guys. We want to know what happened and we want to know now."

"You do the honors, Max. Gregory mainly talked to you," Alex said.

"Could that possibly have been because you had a guilty conscience about hacking his files and kept hiding behind me?" Max asked. "Well, Gregory wasn’t pleased about something he wouldn’t talk about. And Pokran was even less pleased."

"Who is this Pokran fellow and did he mistreat our intrepid secret agents?" Maria hadn’t heard the name before.

"He works with Gregory. Rude fellow." Alex made the pronouncement that Max was too polite to make.

They arrived at the house and Max took Liz’s hand to help her out of the back seat. She smiled her thanks for his help and when Max didn’t release her hand she looked up at him. He smiled at her and his love shone in his eyes.

Liz looked up at him and said softly, "I’m so glad you made it back safely, Max." And they walked hand in hand into the house.

When they took seats in the living room Max contrived to sit beside Liz. He put his arm along the couch back and continued to stroke her silky hair. He would have preferred to pull her into his lap and indulge in some serious cuddling but he settled for this. He and Alex related the events of the day. Max did most of the talking with Alex making Alex-type comments.

"First of all, Liz, I want to assure you that I didn’t tell them anything about you or where you live." Max snorted derisively. "Not that you saved my bu… rescued me from the edge of that ravine, not that you risked your own safety to offer me sanctuary when I was injured, I didn’t even tell them that you were the main reason I was able to get back into contact with them." He shook his head, chuckling to himself.

"Liz is our secret weapon," Alex piped up.

"Max, they sent you three in there to do a very dangerous job. Now maybe it all didn’t go to plan, but I have every confidence that all of you working together will stop the Dissidents." Uncomfortable with Max’s praise, Liz tried to redirect the attention away from herself.

"Have they received the signal from the beacon yet?" Maria wanted to know.

Max tried to conceal his worry. "I’m afraid not, but it’s not something that can be rushed. Michael will wait for the proper time so his actions do not endanger them."

"What happens if the two weeks are up and they still haven’t received a signal?" Maria was worried and her face showed it.

"Worse case scenario— we go through the portal in force and shut down the matter transmitter. It will leave the Dissidents stranded here on Earth and the Loyalists will help locate them. Their ship will start for the Asteroid Belt in anticipation of receiving the beacon signal.

"How will they know where the portal will open?"

"Gregory let it slip that they suffered some sort of catastrophic computer malfunction when they arrived in our time. They’ve done enough repairs to their systems that they’ll be able to locate the portal after it opens. That gives us 18 hours to get there and go through."

Looking at Maria’s worried face Alex stood up and offered her his hand. "Let’s go take a walk. It’ll do you good."

She looked up at her friend’s compassionate face and stood up to hug him. "You’re my buddy, Alex." They walked out the front door and started down to the lake.

As soon as they left Max gave into temptation and pulled Liz into his lap and took advantage of the fact that her hair wasn’t confined in its usual braid. He ran his hands through the silky strands and nuzzled her neck and kissed her ear lobe. He gave a happy sigh. It was hard to worry when he had Liz in his arms. "I could definitely get used to this," he teased. "How did you and Maria occupy the day. Besides getting half of your hair cut off…"

Liz was enjoying the new sensation of being cuddled by this large, strong man she had invited into her home and who had found his way into her heart. //I definitely could get used to this myself.\\ Teasing back she admitted, "Smokin’ opium and foreclosing on old ladies’ homes."

Max placed her arms around his neck and drew her closer for a tighter hug. "I knew I could count on you to distract Maria. She’s really worried about Michael and Isabel. Maybe Alex can get her to open up." Liz hid a smile against his chest.

Max was content to hold Liz closely and stroke her hair for a while. Then he released her slightly and cupped her face in his hands, his thumbs stroking her smooth cheeks. He loved looking into her dark eyes. Slowly, ever so slowly he moved closer to her, anticipating the touch of her soft lips. Just as their lips touched Liz’s cell phone rang. They both jumped slightly then Liz started to get out of Max’s lap. "Do you have voice mail?" Maybe he could salvage this opportunity.

"Sorry." She smiled, gave him a quick sweet kiss and went to answer her phone.

Max leaned back on the couch and groaned to himself. He was trying to take it slow with Liz, not wanting to scare her, but it was so difficult. He found her irresistibly attractive. He wished his responsibilities with Gregory were finished. He could imagine spending the rest of his life showing Liz how much he loved her.

His eyes never left Liz as he was thinking. He heard her soft voice as she began her conversation, "Hi, Julie…" and watched as her aura grew more and more webbed with the deep purple of grief. She walked slowly into her office as she listened to this Julie person. After a time she came out and he could hear her starting dinner.

Max got up and walked into the kitchen. Her aura did not look very receptive and her face was closed off. He wondered what had happened to distress her. "Hey, are you okay?" he asked gently.

Liz nodded her head but did not meet his eyes. She continued mixing up the casserole she was preparing for the oven. "Max, would you get me a can of stewed tomatoes from the pantry?"

"Sure." Max opened the pantry and found the proper can. As he was closing the door he noticed a calendar on the inside. He noticed a big red heart on Friday of the coming week. Inside the heart were the words: Dave’s Day.

Max held the can out to her but when she took hold of it he didn’t release it. She looked at him quizzically and he pulled her slowly towards him. When she was close enough he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her gently. "Tell me." He felt her take a ragged breath. "Please."

"Julie was Dave’s girlfriend. She wants to come up soon and say goodbye before she leaves for her semester abroad; she’s going to be a foreign exchange student."

"Thanks for telling me." He hugged her tighter and kissed the top of her head. She began to move as if to leave his arms and Max quickly released her. She reached up and brushed her hand along his cheek and turned to finish her casserole.

She had just put it into the oven when Max remembered. Oh, I almost forgot. Here’s the ID and credit card you gave us." Max handed them to Liz.

"Thanks, Max." She got a thoughtful look on her face then said, "Come into the office and I’ll show you where I keep them." She led him into the office and opened the closet. Careful not to block what she was doing from his view Liz pressed a hidden switch and a portion of the wall between the clothes rod support and a narrow set of shelves on the side of the closet slid open.

Placing the cards in the hidden compartment she told him, "There are more IDs and credit cards; two male IDs and two female. Also, I keep a stash of cash here." She closed the compartment and turned to face Max. "If for any reason you need these, please help yourself."

Max stood and looked at Liz with an unreadable expression on his face. "Liz, why are you showing me this?"

Liz met his eyes with a matching expression. //Because I’m getting the beginnings of a ‘feeling.’\\ "Max. I told you that you could have access to any of my resources. I’ll let you show Alex and Maria in your own time." The oven timer went off just then. //Saved by the bell.\\ "Excuse me, I need to stir the casserole."





posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:53:41 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Max stayed in the office, lost in thought. He sat down in her chair and leaned back. Idly his eyes rested on a small photograph he hadn’t seen the first time he had been, well, snooping around her desk. It showed an attractive elderly woman with a Yorkshire Terrier on her lap. This was normal, but what wasn’t normal was that the woman and the Yorkie shared the same ears.

He picked up the photo and looked closely. Yes, it did indeed look like she had dog ears. He could see where her hair was carefully brushed around the ears. It looked so real. What was this? He was still examining the photo when Liz returned.

When she saw what he was looking at she laughed a little and admitted, "That’s my mom. I gave her those ears."

Max’s mouth opened but no sound came out. Liz realized what he was thinking and rushed to correct him. "Max, I manipulated a digital image, not her molecular structure." She took the photo from him and looked at it, smiling in fond memory. "I used to tease her that she and Toby looked so much alike with that white streak in the front of their hair. So, one Mother’s Day I scanned this photo and copied Toby’s ears and put them on her." She put the photo back on her desk. "Not a bad job even if I do say so myself."

Max laughed with her and then reached up and drew her down into his lap for a cuddle. He wanted to give her as much emotional support as he could and not allow her to go back into her shell.

Liz sighed a big sigh and snuggled her face into Max’s neck. "It feels so nice to be held like this, Max. Thanks so much."

"My pleasure." And he did enjoy just holding her and giving her the physical closeness that had been sadly lacking in her life. His eyes rested on her desk again and he noticed some legal papers there. Quite a stack of them. "Liz, I see some legal papers on your desk. Do you need help going through them? I have a legal background and would be glad to help if you want me to."

Liz raised her head and looked at the papers he indicated. "Maybe later. I usually have to go through them single word by single word with my ‘Lawyer to English’ translation book handy." She snuggled back against his chest. "I’m enjoying this too much to crank up my brain enough to read those."

Max’s conscience was stinging him for being so nosy. "Liz. If I ask you a question you don’t want to answer, if you feel I’m sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong… feel free to tell me. I have highly refined detective instincts and you…" He touched her lightly on her nose. "…incite them unbehrably." He followed his touch with a kiss then brushed her cheek lightly with his palm.

She was such an innocent child in some ways. But then, considering her history, it wasn’t surprising that she was devoid of ‘experience.’ What did surprise him was that she accepted his kisses and hugs without any obvious evidence that her rape had scarred her emotionally. He admired her strength and resiliency; a weaker person would have crumbled under such burdens. And he was here now and she would not have to carry them alone anymore.

The oven timer interrupted them again. Liz extricated herself from Max’s embrace and smiled shyly at him. Without saying anything she went into the kitchen to finish dinner preparations. Max followed and set the table. They worked in a companionable silence, each occupied with their own thoughts.

Liz looked out the front windows and saw Maria and Alex on their way back from the lake. They were walking closely and Alex had a brotherly arm around her. Liz looked up at Max. "Maria really needs to talk to Michael. Could we dreamwalk him tonight?"

"I will not drain your energy like I did last time we dreamwalked, Liz. It’s too hard on you. You had a nightmare that night, if you recall." Max came up behind her as she watched out the window and wrapped his arms around her.

Liz twisted in his arms so she could look him in the eye. "So, you’re refusing to let me help bring comfort to my friend Maria in the only way I can?"

//Ouch. Why did she have to phrase it that way?\\ Max winced and rethought his position. He reached down and kissed her nose. It was a cute nose and deserved a kiss.

He turned her back around and wrapped her snugly in his arms again. "Okay. Let’s think this through. What did your mom do to protect you when she tapped your energy?"

"Ummm. When she was healing me she kinda surrounded me with her aura and projected love and security. Then I would relax my shields as much as possible. And then…" Liz turned again to look Max determinedly in the eye. "…she would draw as much energy as she needed because we both knew it wouldn’t hurt me. If I became too tired, I’d just fall asleep like I did the other night. I wasn’t hurt in any way, Max."

Distracted, Max asked, "You can see auras?" Liz nodded yes. "Could you and your mother telepath each other?" Another nod. **Can you hear me, Liz?** Her expression was unreadable but she hesitantly nodded yes.

Maria and Alex came in the front door at this point. "Hey, it was our turn to cook dinner tonight but I can tell by the wonderful aromas wafting our way we’re too late. Sorry," Alex said.

Maria picked up on the fact that they had interrupted something, and she put her arm through Alex’s and hurried him down the hall. "We’ll just go wash up. It might take us a while. Holler real loud when you’re ready for us to come eat— we’ll have the door closed."

Liz couldn’t help but smile at Maria’s words. She started towards the kitchen but Max didn’t let her go. He wasn’t smiling. His face looked determined and as he opened his mouth to say something Liz spoke up quickly in a teasing voice, "You know Max, you’re starting to look a lot like Kato. And it’s been a long time since I’ve had any practice…"

Max let himself be distracted; he would pick this conversation up later. "You know, I got a flash of you and Dave ‘practicing’ when I touched one of his belts the other day. Who was better? It looked pretty serious to me."

"Dave was better, hands down. Besides, he would get me laughing and I’d be helpless."

"So that’s the secret to controlling you, hmmm?" He wiggled his eyebrows at her.

"Oh, but I have secret weapons. I bite and pull hair."

"So you resort to fighting like a girl?"

"You’d better watch what you say, buster. I also have a super secret weapon that has never failed." Liz looked at Max mischievously and slowly began to put her hand near his waistband in back. She reached up on tiptoe and whispered in his ear as she got a grip on the waistband of his boxers. "The wedgie…"

Max laughed and used both arms to reach behind himself to try to prevent the super secret weapon from getting him and Liz took this opportunity to get away and darted into the kitchen. She turned around and laughed at him from the kitchen. "See? It always works. Even if it’s just a threat." She raised her voice. "Maria, Alex. Dinner is ready."

Max had to laugh at her as he went down the hall to wash up. When he came back to the dining room he heard Maria’s voice. "Oh Liz! It would be so wonderful if we could actually dreamwalk Michael. You’re absolutely sure it won’t hurt you?"

Liz looked at Max as she responded to Maria. "Absolutely positively sure." She smiled and hugged Maria. "I know you want to see Michael."

Maria caught the by-play between Liz and Max. "Max, what do you say?"

"I say that Liz is the most stubborn, pig-headed woman I’ve ever met." Max hugged Liz lightly so she wouldn’t misunderstand his words. "If I agree to this, will you do exactly as I tell you?" When she nodded he pulled her chair out and seated her.

Dinner conversation was about light and casual topics and when everyone was finished Maria shooed Liz and Max into the living room so she and Alex could clean up. Max took Liz’s hand and led her out to the porch where they could have more privacy.

Max sat down in Liz’s rocking chair and pulled her into his lap. "Max, there are two chairs… and I’ve been sitting upright for some years now."

"So?" He settled them comfortably. "Your point would be?" He laughed as Liz nestled in with her head tucked under his chin. And then jumped when she pinched him for laughing. **So, you can hear me when I telepath to you, can you. I knew I wasn’t mistaken when you ‘pathed to me about grabbing that rope.**

Liz looked up at him and said, "I didn’t realize I was doing it at the time. Mom and Dave were the only people I could communicate with like that."

**’path to me, Liz.** Max encouraged her with his eyes.

**Max…** A look of wonder filled her eyes. Then, unable to handle the intensity, she buried her face back into Max’s chest. She felt rather than heard him chuckle. **What did you do for amusement before you met me?**

**I must admit that my life was pretty dull.** He wrapped his arms around her small form and began to rock. **Rock a bye baby…** "Ouch!" **If you pinch me again I’ll have to retaliate, you know. You look like a ticklish person…**

**Wedgie…** Liz threatened, then giggled.

**I’ll quit wearing underwear…**

Liz popped her head up in shock and exclaimed, "MAX!" Then, her face flaming red, she hid again. **You’re so bad.**

**Just call me Commando Max, braving the Kung Fu Queen, on a tickling raid.** Max began to move his hand, searching along her ribs for a ticklish spot. He felt her body tense as he neared one and then had to reassign his priorities as he now had a lap full of struggling Liz. They both laughed as they wrestled in the rocking chair, searching for each other’s ticklish spots.

In the house, Alex heard the commotion and peeked out the window. He shook his head and went back to finish helping Maria. "Now, that’s a braver man than I," he commented to her. "He’s tickling Liz." He chuckled and shook his head at their antics.

"And he’s still alive?!" Maria had to see for herself and peeked out the window just in time to see Max and Liz fall out of the rocker, still locked in their tickle battle. She saw Max jerk, then pull back and accuse Liz of biting. Maria laughed at them and then motioned Alex to join her on the porch.

"All right, all right. Children behave yourselves!" But she was secretly very happy to see this horseplay. It had been a long time since she had seen Max laughing like this.

The four friends settled down, Max and Alex insisting that the girls have the rockers. Max leaned against the porch railing, facing Liz. He thought she looked beautiful all flushed from their play. She was trying regain her composure after having been caught rolling around the porch. Max telepathed a chuckle to Liz and was rewarded with one in return. A telepathic chuckle was somewhat like being tickled from the inside, Max thought.

"So, Max, when do you think we’ll have the best chance of contacting Michael during a dreamwalk?" Maria was anxious to start.

Max grimaced and scratched the back of his head. He really didn’t want to use Liz’s energy but he was feeling pressured into it. He didn’t have enough energy to do the dreamwalk by himself.

"Maybe we can try short dreamwalks every hour until we catch either one of them. Then we can get some idea of their schedule and won’t have to waste energy." Liz was going to see that Maria had a chance to talk to Michael no matter what it took. She knew Overprotective Max would refuse to let her help if given half a chance. **Please, Max. It means a lot to me to be able to help.**

"I’ll stay out of the ‘walk and just provide energy like Liz, if it would help," offered Alex.

"Alex, you are my buddy. Thanks." Maria hugged him.

With three faces looking expectantly at him, Max gave in. "Let’s go inside and get started, then."

Maria squealed and threw herself at him for a hug. When Liz stood up to go inside, Maria included her in the hug. They went into the living room and Maria and Alex arranged themselves on the floor.

Max knelt down to put Maria and Alex to sleep. "I won’t bring you in, Maria, until I’ve made contact with Michael. Our energy source…" He glanced over at Liz. "…will last longer." When they were asleep he went over to Liz and stood looking at her.

Becoming very uncomfortable under his scrutiny Liz reached out her hand and touched his arm. "Max. Let’s get started." He reached out and framed her face with both large hands. He pulled her in for a kiss then folded her in his arms wordlessly. Their auras blended together with the shining gold of love. They both drew comfort from each other’s touch and they stood like that for a while.

Max sat down cross-legged beside their sleeping friends and pulled Liz into his lap. With his arms wrapped around her and his aura projecting his love, he connected to her freely offered energy and entered the dream plane. He called out for Isabel and Michael and waited. Then he left and returned to reality.

Liz was looking at him when he opened his eyes. "What’s it like?" she asked wistfully.

"What? The dream plane?" When she nodded, he continued. "Well, humans can only be there outside of their dream orb if one of Al’Centran blood is with them. It’s a very peaceful place. Somewhat like a cross between heaven and a Lawrence Welk concert. The dream orbs float around looking like large soap bubbles and when we’re there we are somehow supported on clouds. The mist obscures the distance and what passes for reality there is very malleable."

"It’s like heaven? I’d love to visit there sometime. I wonder…" she broke off and her aura displayed sadness.

"What do you wonder, sweetling? Tell me," he asked gently as he stroked her soft cheek.

She met his eyes and he could see her sadness. "My son… Dave’s dead. In the cold, harsh light of reality, I know this. But deep in my heart I can still feel him; it feels like he is still alive." Her unshed tears glimmered in the light. "I have to keep reminding myself of the reality of the situation because denying it is so tempting. I would give anything to be able to tell him I love him and to say goodbye."

"Is that why you say that he’s ‘dead’ when you refer to him? I wondered why Cleopatra didn’t use one of the gentler euphemisms." He pulled her close and rocked her. After a while he asked, "Would you let me help you to take a nap? I promise to wake you for our next attempt." When she nodded he put his hand on her head and used his powers to put her into a restful sleep.

When it was time, Max awoke his sleeping beauty with a kiss. They exchanged a smile and he entered the dream plane. This time Michael was waiting for him.

"Maxwell! It’s good to see you. Man, I have to tell you that you scared me shitless when you fell down into that ravine! Isabel kept telling me she would know if you were dead, but I must say, it’s good to see you with my own eyes."

"Thanks, Michael. I knew I could count on you to take over and Isabel tells me I wasn’t wrong. Maybe you missed your calling… Isabel tells me you earned a promotion?"

"Yeah, but I still haven’t been able to get that beacon set yet. There’s something going on, I don’t know what just yet. Don’t trust anyone. I think they have a ringer in Gregory’s bunch."

They discussed business for a short time then Max said, "So, two hours later is a better time to meet? Every other night, remember? Now, Michael, if you look right over there you’ll see a certain somebody’s dream orb… She really wants to talk to you. I’d bring her into the dream plane but I think we’ve used enough of Liz’s energy for tonight."

"Liz’s energy? What’s up, Max?"

"Later. I’ll bring Maria in Monday night, then it’ll be Alex’s turn. Tell Iz to meet us." And Max returned to the reality of Liz’s living room and her warm body in his arms.

He opened his eyes to find Liz looking at him, an affectionate smile on her lips. "Welcome back," she said shyly. Then she yawned and stretched gracefully.

Tempted beyond resistance, Max tightened his arms and buried his face in her neck, her long silky hair brushing his cheeks. He breathed in her scent then began kissing his way up toward her mouth. He pulled back far enough that he could look into her dark eyes.

"Uh, Max. I really hate to interrupt, but did you talk to Isabel?"

Max and Liz looked over at an abashed Alex. His normal consideration would never have allowed him to interrupt, but he was really worried about his wife. "I saw Michael this time. He said Isabel is fine, so try not to worry. We’ve arranged a schedule of contacts to best use our available energy. Right now Michael is visiting Maria’s dream. I didn’t bring her into the dream plane this time; too much business to discuss and we were running short on energy. I’ll bet that if you get yourself to sleep you’ll have a visitor."

Alex began to get to his feet. "Thank you kindly for this information. I suddenly feel quite sleepy and will take myself off to beddy-bye."

Max got to his feet also, reaching down an arm to help Liz. "Hand me a quilt, please, Alex. We’ll just cover Maria up and leave her to her dreams." Then he took Liz’s hand and followed Alex toward the stairs. "Do you want me to help you get back to sleep, Alex?"

Alex looked back at him gratefully, "Would you? I suddenly find myself a little too excited to get directly to sleep." He went into the bedroom and began to get ready.

Max led Liz into her bedroom to wait until Alex was ready. He was admiring the quilt she was working on when he heard Alex’s voice singing the Sandman song. "Be right back, Liz. Be ready for bed when I return." She looked at him in question. "Please," he said as he left the room.

Liz stood there bemused until she heard, **Are you ready yet?** Then she quickly went into the bathroom, brushed her teeth then undressed and got her nightgown on. She was coming out when she met Max coming up the stairs. He was wearing the robe she gave him that first night.

"I shut off the lights and locked up. Maria will sleep okay on the floor. Her dreams will keep her happy, I’m sure." Max smiled and took Liz’s arm to lead her into her bedroom.

"What are you doing, Max"

Max led her over to her bed and pulled the covers back. He picked her up and tossed her into bed, then taking off the robe, he climbed after her. "I’m going to hold you in my arms all night and protect you from nightmares," he said smugly. "And I’m better dressed than the first time," he said, indicating his boxers and t-shirt.

"Max…" Liz started.

"Hush. You agreed to do what I said if I let you provide energy for our dreamwalking. I think it tires you too much and that’s what triggers a nightmare. So, I’m here to try to prevent that. And… if you do have one, I’ll be here to help you."

He lay down on his side and opened his arms for Liz to cuddle close. When she remained sitting there looking at him, he smiled at her, reached up and drew her down beside him. **You did say you’d do what I told you... OUCH! No pinching.**

**Quit gloating, then.** She turned her back to him and snuggled in when he put his arms around her. **Night, Max.**






posted on 15-Sep-2001 1:56:48 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Liz woke up from a peaceful night’s sleep to find Max gone. She could hear the shower running and she rolled over into the warm spot Max had left. She smiled and ‘pathed, **Morning, Max.** She stretched and thought how natural it had felt to sleep in Max’s arms. Habit forming.

**Morning, Sweetie.**

**What?**

**I said ‘Morning, Sweetie.’** Liz could hear him laughing in her head. **Don’t you think the guy who cradled you in his arms all night has the right to call you sweetie?**

**I wouldn’t dream of arguing with you. You’re much bigger than I am.**

**And don’t you go near the kitchen this morning. I’m going to fix breakfast for everyone.**

**Okay, I’ll stay up here and work on my quilt.** She paused a moment and added, **Max.**

**What, Sweetie?**

**Thanks for guarding my sleep.** Liz didn’t know if it would work but she sent him a telepathic kiss.

**Why, thank you.**

She felt him chuckling so she guessed it worked. She looked over at her quilt and felt it saying, ‘Get to work on me. There’s a child out there somewhere who needs me.’ "Yes, you’re so right. I have neglected you shockingly. I promise to work on you more often."

"You talk to your quilts?"

Liz squeaked and spun around. Max had come in unnoticed. She stuck her chin up and admitted, "Yes. Sometimes they are quite fascinating conversationalists." Pointing to the one she was working on, she continued. "This one is anxious to find its child. It’s convinced that there is an orphan out there needing its love and comfort."

She tilted her head slightly to one side and held out her arms. "Want a good morning hug?" she said with a shy smile.

The smile that lit Max’s face was blinding. He took a quick step forward and swung her into his arms, overcome with happiness. **Love you, Liz.**

**Love you, Max.**

After a time, Max set Liz down and said, "Breakfast. I promised to cook you breakfast. Do you have any preferences?"

Liz just shrugged. "Cook’s choice."

"What luck! That’s my specialty. Don’t come downstairs until I call." He gave her a quick kiss and went downstairs.

Liz stared after him and pondered the changes her life had undergone. Smiling to herself she took a quick shower and began working on that nagging quilt. It was right to nag her. She needed to finish it and send it off with the other three that she had already finished. Project Linus was such a cute name for one of her favorite organizations. They collected quilts and blankets for distribution to needy children. Sometimes Liz liked to imagine what the children who received her quilts were like. She hoped the hugs her quilts gave them helped them through the rough spots in their young lives.

She was quite happily occupied when she looked up and saw Maria in the doorway. "Morning," she smiled at her. "Did you have sweet dreams?"

Maria blushed and stretched out on Liz’s bed. "Oh yeah."

"Were you able to tell Michael your news?"

"Well, I’m sure he knows something is going on. Dreams can be surreal at times. Max told me he’d bring me fully into the dream plane Monday night. I’ll be able to tell him then."

"I’m so happy for you two, Maria." They shared a tender smile at the thought of Maria’s baby. "Something smells good downstairs."

"Oh my! I was supposed to be bringing you down for breakfast not laying on your bed mooning about Michael! Don’t tell on me, please. The guys will tease me unmercifully."

Liz giggled with her. "You haven’t been up here that long, I’m sure they won’t notice." And they went downstairs to enjoy Max’s breakfast of bacon and eggs.

After breakfast the conversation turned to the Dissidents, Gregory’s group and their current responsibilities. "So we have five more days before the portal will function again, is that right, Max?" Max nodded. "Since we don’t have any pressing responsibilities what would you say to declaring a day of rest, fun and relaxation?" Alex suggested.

"Oh yeah, I saw a flyer advertising a blue-grass music festival in town. The resort sponsors it so there is no admission charge. Think of it, Max. Music, good company, food, beautiful lake views— how could you resist it?" Maria was starting to get excited about this idea.

"What do you say, O Fearless Leader?" Alex said with a salute.

Max laughed at their enthusiasm. "Well, that sounds like a relaxing way to spend a day." He turned to Liz, "What do you think?

The idea of spending so much time in close proximity of that many strangers was giving Liz an uneasy feeling, but she was reluctant to spoil their plans. They sounded like they were really looking forward to a vacation from the stresses that had filled their lives lately. She’d just have to do the best she could with the situation.

"Blue-grass music is nice." She worked on burying all her misgivings and keeping a pleasant expression on her face.

**Are you alright, Sweetie?** Max ‘pathed to her.

**I’m okay, Max.** "Which of you big strong men wants to come with me to get the lawn chairs? There is rarely enough seating at those festivals and if you sit in the grass, you’re liable to get stumbled over."

She waited while Alex and Max arm wrestled for the job. Maria laughed at Alex when he lost and then laughingly consoled him. Max stood up and flexed his arms, posing for them. The three of them were in high spirits. Liz was faking it for all she was worth. Crowds gave her the wiggins. They all piled into Liz’s jeep and Max drove but Maria insisted on pressing the gate button again.

Soon they were all settled in the shade, listening to the music. Liz was doing her very best to handle the crowds of boisterous music lovers but it was a serious strain on her. She could sense the beginnings of a ‘feeling’ and she didn’t think it was a good one. The good ones generally just presented themselves to be enjoyed. It was the bad ones that lurked around the edges, making her uneasy until they sprang out to surprise her.

Max was enjoying himself until he glanced over to say something to Liz. The smile on her face didn’t reach her eyes and her aura was streaked with greasy gray swirls. He reached over to take her hand but when he touched her she startled so badly she almost fell out of her chair. She tried to make light of it but Max didn’t buy it. **Liz. Tell me what’s wrong.**

She turned to him and smiled a surface smile. **I’m okay, Max.** She turned back to the music and wouldn’t meet his eyes.

Max studied her profile for a while, worried, but didn’t want to press the issue here. He’d wait and talk to her when they got back home where she’d feel more secure. Home. Liz’s house did feel like home to him, unlike his apartment. That was just the place where he slept and ate some of his meals.

Maria leaned across Max and asked, "Liz, want to go get a coke?" She looked at Max and Alex. "Ask nicely and we’ll bring you some."

Max grabbed her, flipped her onto her back and dipped her across his lap. Using his best puppy dog eyes he said, "Please, Maria my friend, save Alex and I from our parched throats which have made us too weak to travel the great distance to the concession stand." Alex had removed one of her sandals and was rubbing her foot.

Liz laughed and stood up. Alex replaced Maria’s sandal and got some money from his wallet. "My treat, ladies." Maria took the money and they set off for the concession stand.

Alex sat down and looked at the crowd around them. He nudged Max and said quietly, "Hey, isn’t that Gregory over there?"

Max casually looked over where Alex indicated and saw that it was Gregory. He seemed to be trying to find someone without being too obvious about it. **Gregory, it’s Max.**

He didn’t turn toward Max, but still scanned the crowd. **Greetings.**

**Is there something Alex and I can do for you?**

**No, there is no need. I just seemed to have misplaced my assistant. I’ll contact you later if necessary.** And he moved on, still scanning the crowd.

Max turned to Alex and told him about the conversation. They shrugged at each other and then relaxed and listened to the music.



Maria led Liz toward the concession stands. There was quite a crowd and Maria grabbed Liz’s hand and began to pull her among the lines of people waiting. She found the line she wanted to be in and they were quickly surrounded by more people getting line behind them. Turning to talk to Liz she was shocked to see her friend’s pale sweating face. Liz was standing frozen, breathing in shallow pants and looked one second away from a full-blown panic attack.

Maria started to say something but an impatient man reached out to grab Liz’s arm and pulled her roughly out of his way. In a flurry of silent motion the man was suddenly lying on the ground and Liz was gone. Maria stood there in shock.

The man got to his feet and began to bluster about filing assault charges. Maria decided the best defense was a good offense. "What did you do to my friend," she yelled at him. "I saw you grab her! What did you think you were doing?"

She moved forward and got in his face. "What makes you think you can go around grabbing innocent women. YOU CREEP!! What do you mean YOU’LL file charges? You grabbed her first!" Seeing that she had him thoroughly on the run she made a quick exit and went to find Liz.

Looking through the crowd and seeing no sign of Liz, Maria ran for the guys. Reinforcements were definitely in order. When she got there she was in such a state that she could hardly make sense. "Max. Liz. Oh my god. How could I. I’m so stupid. She had all the signs. Max. We’ve got to find her. She…"

At this point Max grabbed her by both shoulders and shook her gently to get her to focus on him. "Maria." He concentrated on her, trying to send calming vibes. "Focus here, Maria. Where is Liz?"

"She… she… this man… she…" Maria closed her eyes and tried to take a deep breath. Alex hugged her from behind, offering his support. Maria opened her eyes and looked into Max’s alarmed eyes. "She totally freaked out in the crowd. Oh, how could I have been so stupid as to drag her in there?."

Max shook her again. "Maria! Tell me where Liz is!"

Maria wailed, "I don’t know! A man grabbed her. She knocked him down. She ran away. It happened so fast I didn’t even see which direction she ran." Maria took a deep breath and gathered what was left of her self-control. "Let go of me now, guys. We have to find Liz."





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:00:39 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Max took charge. "Alex. Go to the jeep. If she’s not there, stay there. We’ll use it as a rendezvous point. Maria. I really don’t think she’d be there, but check the women’s bathrooms then meet us at the jeep." Alex grabbed the lawn chairs and headed to the jeep and Maria dashed for the bathrooms. Max stood, head down, trying to sense Liz. No luck. **Liz! Where are you? Liz, tell me where you are so I can come to you.** No answer.

Max walked rapidly over to the concession stand and looked around, trying to see where she might have run. He could see the lake. Maybe she ran along the lakeshore. It was isolated and she had been trying to get away from the crowd. He started for the shore, calling telepathically.

His route took him by the jeep and Maria was there with Alex. She ran up to him. "Max, she took me to a small island near here. We waded out to it. She might be there."

Alex said, "Go check it out. I’ll stay here in case she comes."

"Thanks," Max said as he followed Maria at a run. When they got to the island Maria led the way through the water, neither one stopping to remove their shoes. Maria led Max along the shore of the island but he soon passed her and ran ahead. He could see Liz coming toward them. He ran faster.

Liz regained control after her panic-stricken flight to find herself crouched behind her favorite sunbathing rock on the lake side of the island. Her clothes and hair were wet; she must have fallen as she crossed to the island. She was shuddering, taking deep, ragged breaths. Max. She could feel Max coming nearer. Liz leapt to her feet and ran toward him. **Max!**

**Liz, I’m coming.** He could see her running along the path. Then she was in his arms, safe in his arms.

//Safe. I’m safe.\\ She felt her love’s strong arms surround her in a protective embrace. Liz tried to control her trembling, tried to bring her breathing back to normal.

Maria came running up and they opened their arms to include her in the hug. "Oh Liz, I’m so sorry. This is all my fault."

"No. This is no one’s fault but mine," Liz insisted with a catch in her voice. "I knew better." //I knew better than to try to be like a normal person.\
Max leaned his forehead down to touch Liz’s and looked into her dark brown eyes. **I heard that, Liz Parker. What’s so great about normal? A ‘normal’ person very likely would not have survived all that you have. You are an incredible woman and I won’t have you disparage yourself.**

"Okay, enough with the look into my eyes thing." Maria gave them both a squeeze then stepped back from them. "Let’s get back to Alex." She put her hand on Liz’s cheek. "You worried us. Why didn’t you tell us about your phobia about crowds?"

Max and Maria put their arms thorough Liz’s and began walking her back to the jeep. "I should have noticed that something was wrong. I’m sorry, Liz." Max was really kicking himself over this.

"Maria, has Max always taken responsibility for things he has no control over?" Liz tried for a teasing tone and partially achieved it. She reached up and planted a quick kiss on his cheek.

Alex saw them coming and ran down to meet them. He stopped and just looked at Liz, trying to decide if she was all right. "Liz, what happened?"

Liz stepped forward and gave him a hug "It’s over now. I’m sorry if I worried you."

Maria spoke up. "Liz, you need to talk about what happened. It’s not good for you to just avoid dealing with it." She looked at her friend earnestly.

"Let’s get home and into dry clothes." Max looked at Liz. "And then we’ll discuss this." She ducked head and wouldn’t meet his eyes. "You aren’t alone anymore, Liz. You have friends who are more than willing to help you."

They walked back to the jeep and Max let Alex drive so he could sit in back and hold Liz in his arms. She refused to answer him when he ‘pathed her and she kept giving compulsive little shivers every few minutes. Finally he resorted to using her methods and pinched her to get a response from her.

**Max. Leave me alone. I’m dealing with this my own way.**

**I will not let you bury this. Maria and Alex won’t either. We have you outnumbered so you’ll just have to give in and let us help you.** He leaned down and kissed her forehead. **Please, Liz. It hurts me to see you like this.** He played his trump card and waited to see what she would do.

Liz heaved a ragged sigh and cuddled closer to Max’s warmth. **Okay,** she ‘pathed in a small voice.

When they were all gathered in the living room after changing into dry clothes and shoes Liz surprised them all by starting the discussion. "Okay, I guess it’s been adequately established that I’m not comfortable in large crowds of strangers."

"Why, Liz, I never would have guessed you had such a capacity for understatement." Alex’s expression and teasing voice mellowed the sarcasm of his statement.

Max picked up the Pleasantville pillow and gave Alex a stern look. Liz reached over and took it away from him. "Alex, Dave would have made that very same statement. He rarely let me avoid a situation he felt needed to be dealt with." She sighed sadly. "I’m really sorry for spoiling your day. Would you do me the tremendous favor of returning to the festival and enjoying yourselves?" she looked hopefully at them.

"Liz, I feel responsible. With all my training, I should have seen the signs and not dragged you into that crowd." Maria looked miserable.

Max spoke up quietly. "Liz, do you know why you reacted the way you did?"

She nodded. "I never tolerated crowds of strangers very well even as a child. Mom always said I’d get worse as I got older. If I still had my powers, if I could still control my shields I don’t think I would be as affected." She rubbed her face tiredly. "And when that man grabbed me and began to jerk me around I… I just lost it." //I am such a mess. Maybe I should find an isolated mountain top and apply for the job of resident hermit.\\ She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes momentarily. //Oops. Tried that and it doesn’t seem to be working.\\

**I heard that. I thought I made it clear that I wouldn’t have you disparaging my favorite woman.** Max reached over and took her hand. His face was grim. He wasn’t there to protect her and look what had happened.

**Max, that was a private thought not meant for you to hear.** "Maria, did I hurt that man?"

Maria didn’t like how sad Liz looked and she tried to lighten things up. "Only his ego. You have to admit he looked pretty ridiculous getting whupped on by a shrimp like you."

"I’m really sorry for not telling you the truth about me. I really want you to go back and enjoy what is left of the festival. It’ll still be going on this afternoon and tonight, too." She smiled at each of them in turn. "It would really make me feel better about this. You know, Dave used to go to all the festivals and if he could leave me here so can you."

Max asked, "So, Dave didn’t have your phobia about crowds?"

"No, he loved people. He brought his friends home with him all the time. We had loads of fun." She smiled to herself at the pleasant memories. "He seemed to have a knack for picking friends that his prickly momma was comfortable around."

She looked up at Max. "You apparently have the same knack. I’m very grateful that you introduced me to your friends because now they’re mine, too." Liz smiled at Maria and Alex. "Please, go back and enjoy yourselves."

Max spoke up. "I’ve had enough excitement for one day. You two go and have fun." He stood up and stretched. "I think there is a nap headed my way." He escorted Maria and Alex toward to door.

Maria whispered in his ear, "Make her talk about this, Max," and smiled at him when he winked.

Max was standing in the door watching them drive off in Alex’s car when he heard Liz start up the stairs. "I’m going to work on my quilt while you nap, Max." She hurried on into her room.

He grinned and followed her. Did she really think she could get away that easily? "I think I’ll just nap on your bed, if you don’t mind."

Liz turned around to find him stretching out on her bed and making himself comfortable. He looked so natural there. She smiled at him and began work on that nagging quilt.

Max contemplated the complex woman he had fallen in love with as he admired the graceful movements she made as she quilted on the big machine. It was like she was dancing with it, her arms on the handles, making slow graceful movements.

After a time Liz looked back at Max and found him sleeping. She paused her quilting and spent some time studying his face. It was so dear to her and she didn’t often get a chance to just study him. He looked so cozy all curled up with her favorite quilt. His masculine attractiveness made quite a contrast to the rose-colored log cabin hearts in the quilt.

She turned back to her quilt machine, her mind pleasantly occupied designing a quilt that would suit her Max. Presently she finished the topstitching and began to take the nagging quilt off the machine. It was happy that it was almost done.

Max awoke from his nap and was treated to an exceptional sight. Liz was sitting in her chair by the window doing some type of hand stitching on the quilt. The sunlight streaming in the window framed her in a golden halo. She was smiling to herself and she looked so beautiful that Max fell in love with her all over again. He gave a happy sigh and stretched.

Liz looked up and greeted him. "Have a good nap, sleepy head?" She clipped her thread and put her needle away. She stood up to fold the now completed quilt and as she walked by the bed Max reached out and pulled her down next to him. He wrapped her in his warm arms and nuzzled her neck. "You’re tickling me, Max." She squirmed and giggled softly.

"I know." He began a slow search of her ribs for that ticklish spot he’d found earlier. "I plan to keep it up until you talk to me about your crowd phobia and any other things that concern you."

"You really should have Maria coach you on being subtle." Liz tried to wiggle out of reach but didn’t have much success countering Max’s greater strength. She shoved the quilt between them and tried to wrap herself in it for protection. Max thought that was a great idea and he wrapped her up tightly, leaving her head out so she could breathe. "MAX! You don’t play fair!" She laughed and tried to get free but couldn’t. "All right. I give up."

Max didn’t let her out of the quilt. He just tucked her snuggly along his side and waited for her to start. "I’m waiting." He brushed the hair from her face and stroked her cheek gently. Liz with shorter hair had some advantages: she left it free more often instead of braiding it. She looked so appealing with the glossy masses of it flowing in loose swirls on the bed around her face.

After a few minutes he reminded her, "I’m still waiting." Max picked up a loose strand of her hair and began to tickle her ear with it.

"You’re really bad, Max." Liz tried to avoid his tickling. "I thought we already covered this before Maria and Alex left." She changed her tactics and closed her eyes, determined to ignore him. It was a standoff.

Max used this time to study her face. He knew she didn’t realize how beautiful she was, and that was part of her attractiveness. He began to release her; he didn’t want her to be feel really trapped. As he began to unwrap Liz he noticed she had stitched words on the back of the quilt she just finished. There was also a short poem but a fold of quilt hid most of it. "’An Odd duck Quilt.’ Is that how you sign your work, Liz?"

Liz opened her eyes as Max unwound her from the quilt. "Yes. And some of them want to have their say so I stitch a poem on to help them." She shifted her position so she could see Max’s face better. "Max?" He looked at her with such love in her eyes that it derailed her train of thought. Whatever had she done to deserve such love? She didn’t know, but she was grateful for it.

"Yes?" Max prompted her. He could spend all afternoon just looking into those dark expressive eyes.
"How do you deal with crowds? You’ve been picking up my private thoughts lately, not just what I ‘path to you so you must be pretty sensitive. And crowds don’t get to you? Is this something I could learn?"

"I don’t know, Sweetie. I would have thought with those shields of yours that this wouldn’t be a problem. What were you feeling right before you lost control?" He watched an expression cross her face and added, "Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for what you did to the guy who grabbed you. From what you said earlier he deserved what he got. His only injury was to his ego and he’s lucky you didn’t hang around and press charges. What he did to you would be considered an assault."

"And what I did to him?"

"Self-defense. This is Max, the ex-lawyer, speaking." He kissed her softly. "Now, where were we? Oh yeah, you were just about to tell me what you were feeling…"

"I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to think about it now."

Max could tell she was becoming uncomfortable with the discussion, but he was determined that she work this through. "Do you feel their emotions or hear their thoughts? Is that what bothers you?"

Liz sighed and snuggled closer. "No, it’s nothing that specific. It’s like a pressure in my head that grows and grows until I can’t stand it anymore."

"Is the number of people a factor or is it the particular individuals?"

"A little of both, I think. I can deal with small groups of people for a short time. I can shop and walk around town and I’m generally okay as long as I’m not surrounded by too many people and can’t get to a door easily."

Max closed his eyes and groaned to himself. And here he just was restraining her with his greater strength and trapping her in that quilt. How sensitive was that?

Liz chuckled and stroked his face. "Max. Stop that. Surely you’ve figured it out by now that nothing you do scares me. I trust you totally and absolutely. A little horseplay like we just indulged in was fun." She moved her hand to his ribs and began to tickle one of his sensitive spots.

Max leaned down and breathed gently into her ear, tickling her like before. He kissed his way down her neck. Liz wrapped her arms around him and he kissed his way up to her mouth. Their kisses and caresses had become more passionate when a loud buzzing sound attracted their attention.

"What’s that?" Max was not happy at this interruption. He released Liz as she moved to get out of his embrace.

Liz straightened her clothes and hair as she walked toward the door. "It’s the gate buzzer— someone is at the gate. Didn’t Alex take the remote control?" She didn’t wait for Max and he heard her light tread as she ran down stairs.

He groaned and buried his face in the quilts. Blasted buzzer. He could hear her voice as she talked to somebody who had very bad timing.

"Max. There’s trouble."

He bounded out of bed and pounded down the stairs. "What kind of trouble?"

"The gate won’t open for Alex and Maria. That means that either their remote control is broken or someone planted a tracking device on them." They exchanged a worried look. "I told Alex to keep driving and we’d meet them at the next trailhead parking lot. There’s one about 4 miles farther down the road." Liz ran into the computer room and took a homemade electronic gadget from a cupboard. "Let’s go, Max. We don’t want them to be stopped too long." At his questioning look she added, "I’ll explain on the way."

As they were rushing to meet their friends Liz explained, "You’ll remember that I told you the gates had a scanning device connected to the opener? Well, unless it’s just a broken remote, we have to deal with that device before whoever planted it is aware of anything. Stop at the gate, please." She hopped out and ran to the road, looking back toward town. "No one is coming, Max. Turn left and hurry!" Liz instructed as she got back into the jeep.

"What’s that thing you have there, Liz?"

"Another invention courtesy of Dave. It will locate any tracking devices and if we choose, disable them. But if we find one today, I have another idea for dealing with it." She pointed to the left side of the road a little way ahead. "There’s the parking lot, Max."

Liz jumped out of the jeep before it was totally stopped. She ran up to Alex’s car and began to move the scanner over it. Alex and Maria jumped out and Max explained what Liz had told him. When the scanner was moved near the rear passenger fender it emitted a beep. Liz crouched down and felt under the fender. She stood up with a small device in her hand.

"Is that it?" Max asked as he took it from her.

"Yep. I’m going to finish scanning though. Might be another one." But she didn’t find another one on the car. She moved toward Maria and Alex. "Let me scan you guys just to be sure." They were clean, much to everyone’s relief.

"Are you going to disable that, Liz?" Alex asked.

Speaking quickly, Liz answered. "No, I’m going to send it on a little river ride. I’ll explain later. No time now. You two can go on home now, Max and I will take care of this. Drive around for a while before you go home and don’t turn into the driveway if you can see a car in either direction." She gave them a quick hug and motioned for Max to get in the jeep.

Max jumped back into the jeep and turned onto the 4-wheel drive trail that started at the end of the parking lot as Liz indicated. When the trail became rougher Max put the jeep into 4-wheel drive. "Liz, what the hell is going on?"

"Watch the rocks, Max. We can not afford to burst a tire before we dump this stinking thing." She opened the console and took out a ziplock bag full of napkins. Returning the napkins to the console she put the tracking device into the bag and partially sealed it. Then she blew into the bag to inflate it and finished sealing it.

"Take the right fork ahead, Max. About three miles down that trail we’ll come to a stream that pretty closely follows another trail. The trail and stream end up in the next county. Dave and I tested this; seven out of ten times the baggie ended up in the lake there, the other times it went all the way down the spillway of the dam and beyond the range of our scanner." She turned to Max and held up the inflated baggie. "Our little bug is going on a ride." Max just glanced at her, a grim expression on his face.

They rode in silence until Liz said, "There’s the stream." She jumped out and set the baggie afloat. When she got back into the jeep she said, "Now we need to get off this trail. Keep going for another half mile then take the left fork."

"Planning on telling me just where we’ll end up?" Max kept his eyes on the rough trail, but his voice betrayed his stress.

"Ummm. Yeah. Sorry I haven’t been explaining better," she said in a meek voice.

Max stopped the jeep, leaned over and took Liz’s face in his hands. He planted an apology kiss on her mouth. "I’m the one that should be sorry. You didn’t deserve to be spoken to in that tone of voice."

"That’s okay, Max. This hasn’t happened in a long while and I’m uptight. If you’ll go back to your driving, I’ll do better at explaining. We really need to get off this part of the trail before it gets dark. It’s way too rough to drive without adequate light." Liz reached over and ran her fingers through the hair on the back of Max’s head, comforting herself that he was here with her. "This trail ends up in a small town several miles from home. We can take paved roads home from there." She heaved a big sigh and thought for a while. "Max?"

"What, Sweetie?"

"So, I’m your sweetie again, huh?"

"Always. I trust you, I just want to know what’s going on."

"Can you wait until we get home for my explanation? I might as well tell all of you and I’d rather do it only once."





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:04:14 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

It was a silent drive home. Max and Liz entered through the back door and found their anxious friends sitting in the living room. Maria jumped up and rushed into the kitchen. Alex followed more slowly and Liz could see his questions on his face.

"Will you please sit down and let me tell you something?" Liz looked down at the table for a few seconds, deciding how to best approach the subject. "Okay, guys. Moment of truth time."

She had their complete attention. It made her uncomfortable and she blushed. She hid her face in her hands and pleaded, "Don’t all look at me at the same time. I can’t deal with it." She peeked between her fingers and they were all still looking at her, mystified. "Okay, I won’t look at you."

Max chuckled affectionately at her solution. "We’re waiting."
With her face still hidden Liz started, "About five years ago I came into quite a sum of money." She peeked out between her fingers again.

"Came into…." Alex repeated.

"Well, kinda sorta. I won a tidy sum in the lottery…"

"LIZ!" Maria squealed. YOU were the mystery person who won the 350 million dollars!! The person every tabloid reporter in the country would sell their daughter’s virtue to find??"

Max and Alex just sat there astounded, looking at Liz. She was still hiding behind her fingers.

"Yes, the very same person who had to move out of her home state and take extreme measures just to maintain the anonymity necessary for a reasonably normal life." Liz looked up hesitantly to see what the reaction to her bombshell was.

"What kind of extreme measures are you talking about, Liz?" Max tried to look serious. He should give up being surprised at anything about this small, totally amazing woman. "Are there any bodies hidden around here that we need to dispose of for you?"

Liz laughed, grateful for his humor. "No, but I am on my third law firm. The first one lost their job because they allowed some idiot with an investment scheme to find me. That was when we packed up and moved here. We also set up the gate scanners then. That fraud had bugged my car when one of the partners in the law firm let it slip who we were. He trailed us all over, always showing up, trying to get us to trust him.

"The second firm lost their job because they tried to trick me when we were setting up a scholarship fund. And my present firm seems to be doing okay so far. This time I took the time to personally meet every one of the partners. It’s a small firm and no one gave out bad vibes."

Liz walked over and looked out the dining room window. "I know I don’t deserve this money. I didn’t earn it— I just got lucky. It’s an obscene amount, more than one family could spend in several lifetimes. So I’m doing my best to see that it helps out as many deserving people as I can." She turned and grinned at them. "It’s like being Santa Claus and a fairy godmother all rolled into one."

Three open-mouthed people watched her in amazement. She came back and sat down at the table. "Okay, close your mouths, I’m still the same odd duck you knew before." Liz raised her chin stubbornly and met their eyes. "I’m offering you funding to help in the search for lost Czechoslovakians. And also any help you need to round up all those Dissidents and kick their sorry asses— pardon me— back to the future. You can use whatever of my resources you need for your jobs."

Liz smiled her best smile at her friends. "And I’d love to have you stay here for as long as you want. Not as guests, but like family. I know you have real homes in Roswell, but until you can go home and if you ever want to come for a visit you are welcome to consider my home yours."

Maria broke the silence first. "Liz, I’m flattered that you would trust us with personal information like this and invite us to stay with you after the way we treated you when we first arrived."

"Maria, don’t worry." She smiled in genuine friendship at them. "What happened then was just a misunderstanding resulting from too many secrets."

Max chuckled. "You are certifiably insane if you let Alex anywhere near your checkbook. He’ll spend all your money on computers."

"What better way to spend money? Who needs food or clothing or shelter…"

Laughing, Liz agreed. "Computer geeks are all alike. You should have heard some of Dave’s justifications for that room full of computer gear. In the end he earned most of the money himself and I think he was happier for having done that."

"I must say, Liz, this is an unexpected side of you. I would never have thought you were a gambler," Max teased.

"Actually it was only the second lottery ticket I’d ever bought. Close your mouths again, guys. You look like fish." She explained, "Denny had this custom of buying a lottery ticket each year before he signed his teaching contract. Just for fun, I started doing it, too." Liz looked at Max. "Sometimes long shots pay off."

"About damn time some good luck came your way, Liz." said Alex.

"Thanks, Alex." Liz said shyly. "And I want to apologize to you and Maria for the scare you had with that tracer. I think someone is trying to find me again. I can’t think of any other reason for what happened."

"Wait until you hear what we did with the tracer. It’s quite a story all by itself," Max said, admiration and amusement coloring his voice.

Liz blushed all the way to the roots of her hair. She stood up. "I’ll let Max tell you. I hear a quilt calling me. I’m going to leave all you good people to do whatever it is you need to do." And she escaped to the sanctuary of her room.

The three friends sat and stared at each other for a moment. This was quite a bit to digest. Maria spoke up. "Well, I think it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. But guys, she still needs us to act like before. I don’t think she has let many people as close as she has allowed us. If we start treating her differently it will be a tremendous betrayal."

"Actually, from what I understand, this money might have actually saved her life and/or sanity. Living isolated here and having control of just how much humanity she exposes herself to is vital to her well-being," Max said. He added a private thank you to the lottery gods who had blessed her with the money necessary to protect herself. Her heritage and the damage from the attack had left her vulnerable in many ways.

Finally Alex asked Max, "So, do you think the tracer was from someone trying to find Liz or did it have to do with Gregory’s missing assistant?"

Max gave the question some thought. "I think it’s just too much a coincidence that Gregory’s assistant is suspiciously missing the same afternoon that a tracking device shows up on your car."

"I’m curious…" Alex began.

"So what else is new?" interrupted Maria in a teasing voice.

He tried again, "I’m curious, Max. Tell us what you did with the tracer?"

Max laughed and said, "You won’t believe this…" And he related the story of how the tracer was now leading someone on a wild goose chase.

They had a good laugh and then while Maria fixed dinner Max and Alex pondered the question of just who had put the tracer on Alex’s car. When dinner was ready, Max went upstairs to tell Liz. He found her sitting on the deck, wrapped in a quilt.

"Who taught you to make quilts, Liz?"

"Momma. She made this one for me right before she died. It hugs me for her now that she can’t."

Max picked her up, quilt and all, and wrapped her in his arms. He sat back down in her chair. "I’ll hug you whenever you need it, too." He buried his face in her hair, inhaling her scent. "Hmmmm. You smell like vanilla. Good enough to eat…" Max began to nibble on her ear lobe.

Giggling, Liz explained, "It’s my body lotion." She turned her face and kissed his cheek. "I would have thought that you would have preferred something spicy… like Tabasco. I notice you put enough on your food."
Max raised his head and looked at Liz. He kept his face serious, but his eyes glinted with humor. "Do they make Tabasco scented lotion? Sounds enticing…" He nuzzled her neck some more then moved to her soft, inviting lips and kissed them.

"Sweetling, thank you for trusting us with so much personal information. I know you’ve kept yourself isolated for many reasons, but please know that we appreciate the level of faith you’ve placed in us. We won’t disappoint you, you know. Alex and Maria are your friends and they won’t let you down.

"And what about you, Max."

"Well, I’m having serious doubts." He kissed her cute little nose. "It seems I’ve fallen love with a woman who gambles on long shots…" Max settled down for some serious smooching. After a time he remembered what he had come upstairs for. **Time for dinner, sweetling. Time for a nice normal dinner followed by nice normal conversation.**

**Cleopatra thanks you.**





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:07:16 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Monday arrived amid cloudy skies threatening rain. Max woke up and went out on the deck to greet the day. "Morning, Max." Liz was seated in her rocker, freshly dressed and showered.

"Your solar hair dryer is broken today, it seems." Max walked over for a good morning kiss. He ran his hands over her wet hair and used his powers to dry it.

"Thank you, Max." Liz smiled shyly up at him. "I don’t mind the clouds, though. I love the way they drape over the tops of the mountains like pieces of quilt batting." She lifted her gaze to mountains, smiling. "What are your plans for today?

Max sat down in front of her and leaned back against the railing. "Well, baring unforeseen events Alex and I plan to integrate the files he ‘acquired’ with our existing database. It’s tedious work; the differences between the system they came from and ours are too extreme for us to just dump them together. We have to go over it item by item."

"I’d offer to help but I have a desk load of paperwork to plow through."

"Sounds like a Monday. Back to the old grind." He grinned at her.

"I’m going to get an early start. Meet you downstairs later." Liz stood up, pausing to give the mountains one last admiring look, then went inside. Max went to take his shower. The view wasn’t nearly as appealing now that Liz was gone.

Max entered the dining room to find Maria and Alex lingering over their breakfast. They were laughing over a newspaper article in Alex was reading from his laptop. It was all about the healthy percentage of people living in Colorado who believed aliens were living among us.

"So, Max. Maybe you should stay here in this state. You’ll be right at home," teased Alex.

"Oh, I don’t know about that. There just might be other things that make Colorado more attractive, huh, Max?" Maria asked innocently.

Max laughed with them and went to find Liz. Their laughter followed him down the hall. He peeked into her office and found her pouring over one of the legal documents he’d noticed the other day.

"Having fun?" Judging from her serious expression, he knew she wasn’t.

Liz made a face at Max and confided, "Translating lawyer speech is not one of my favorite activities."

"Want help?"

Her face brightened as she pulled a chair up for him and handed him the next one on her stack. "Welcome to the fairy godmother business. I bought Denny’s house and am having it restored. I plan to turn it into kind of a youth/community center complete with the latest computer equipment and free tutors. ‘The Harrison House’ sounds like a good name, don’t you think? We need to check these papers and make sure there is nothing there that will bite us."

Max glanced through the papers and whistled, "These are hefty amounts."

Liz shrugged, unconcerned. "This place is paid for and I really don’t need much money to keep me and my hobbies going. The interest on my investments keeps accumulating and that’s my fairy godmother money." She grinned happily. "And Christmas is a blast!"

"How do you keep your anonymity?" Max had to chuckle at her enthusiasm.

"We’re really sneaky. It’s half the fun." Liz smiled at Max then mock frowned at him. "But we have to get these done. Back to work."

"Slave driver." He threw her a kiss and obeyed. They worked all morning with occasional breaks for smoochies. They decided that it made the work more behrable.

Shortly after noon Maria stuck her head in and announced lunch. "I’ve fixed a nutritious and well balanced lunch for you both and then I recommend and will even insist on a nap. I want you both to be full of energy for the dreamwalking tonight. I have a date with a certain spiky haired alien and I am positively vibrating with anticipation!"

And in the end she had her way except they were successful in delaying their nap until late afternoon after they finished their work. After dinner they were sitting in the living room occupying themselves telling Liz stories about the pod squad, as Maria called them, and some of their shared adventures in high school and college.

Maria had been lying on the living room floor for the last hour. "I’m just getting in the mood, don’t mind me," she kept assuring her friends. She refused to get up no matter how much Alex teased her. Finally it was time for the dreamwalk. "Assume your positions!" Maria hollered with glee.

Laughing at her antics, Alex reclined beside her, took her hand and told Max, "Knock me out quickly before Maria does!"

Max placed Maria and Alex into a deep sleep and went over to Liz. He framed her face with both hands and touched foreheads. He loved looking into her eyes. "Ready?" he asked softly.

"Always," Liz said softly.

Max reached down and took her slender body into his arms and sat them down near Maria and Alex. Liz nestled in and leaned her head back on Max’s shoulder so she could look him in the eyes. She smiled up at him and let her love shine out. Max returned her look and was overwhelmed with emotion. He leaned down and kissed his mate, so grateful he had found her at last. His aura radiated pure love, was met with the love in hers and the two auras merged and surrounded them. He linked up and dropped into the dream plane.

Isabel was waiting. He embraced her and asked where Michael was. Isabel said, "He should be here any minute. Oh, Max. We’ve made some fantastic discoveries. Some of the original Al’Centrans stayed here on the generation ship. The Dissidents were totally surprised and they don’t have control of large portions of the ship. Michael is trying to make contact with them. We’re sure they will protect the women captives if we can get them to them." She looked up. "Here comes Michael."

"Maxwell! It’s good to see you. There’s only four more days before they open the portal for the next raid. I think I’ll be able to plant that damned beacon soon, but it’s turning out to be far more difficult than we thought it would be. Max, I don’t think we can prevent the next raid." He looked distraught.

Max and Isabel put their arms on his shoulders. "Michael. You’re doing everything possible. And it’s because of you that the captive women, yours truly included, are as safe as possible given the circumstances." Isabel brushed his spiky hair in affection and gratitude.

"Michael. I have full confidence in you. We’ll get this done. Do you have any idea where the next raid will take place?"

"Not a clue. Max, what’s up with Gregory and his group? There is something going on here among the Dissident’s leaders. I think they’re related, but I’m not able to get a lead on it. Watch your back."

Max brought their meeting to a close. "Thanks, Michael. Watch yours, too. Isabel, Alex will be here in person Wednesday night. But tonight I’m sure he’ll be dreaming of you…" He smiled at the expression on his sister’s face. They were so much in love and it showed. "Michael, I believe a very anxious Maria is waiting not very patiently. We’ll hold the connection as long as possible." He grinned at him and brought Maria into the dream plane.

"Michael!!!!" Maria flew through the mist and jumped into his arms. Isabel and Max laughed at their uninhibited greeting and left them alone.

He returned to the reality of Liz in his arms. She smiled at him when he opened his eyes. "Let’s give Maria as long as possible, Max. She and Michael really need some time together," Liz pleaded with Max.

Max shot her a teasing look. "You’ll have to do as I say, just like last time."

"Whatever you say, Max." She shut her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder, reaching deep within herself to supply energy to help sustain Maria’s visit to the dream plane. She drew on resources she didn’t know she had, giving selflessly and trying to maintain consciousness at the same time. Just when blackness was closing in on all sides she felt the link weaken and break. She gave a shuddering sigh and kept her eyes closed, too weak to do anything but lean against Max’s muscular chest. She could hear his strong heart beating and knew that it beat for her.

Max was aware just how drained Liz was. He gently lowered her to the floor. "Give me a minute to cover them up. They’ll dream happy dreams tonight." He smiled at his friends and covered them up.

Then he picked Liz up and carried her upstairs. He led her to the bathroom, carrying her nightgown for her and left her to get ready. By the time she staggered out of the bathroom he was down to his boxers and t-shirt, ready to help her into bed. He lifted her into his arms and placed her in bed. He turned out the light and joined her, wrapping her in his protective embrace. She snuggled in closer and was instantly asleep. Max kissed the top of her head and was soon asleep himself.



Liz was dreaming about Dave. She could feel his presence. Oh god, she could feel her son so clearly. It was real. It was. She could feel him like she always could before he died. Could a mother’s love reach all the way to heaven?

Reality hit like a bucket of icy water. Her son was dead. He burned to death in a fire. She knew this was true— she’d felt him burn and die. Dave’s incredible potential had been wasted. He had lived for such a brief time. God, she missed him so much.

Liz sat upright in bed. Each time she had this dream it was like losing him all over again. Her whole body was trembling with the tears she was trying not to shed. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself in a vain attempt to ease the agony tearing her heart to shreds. Liz bent forward until her head rested on her knees and then the tears came.

Max wrapped his arms around Liz and drew her against him. He rocked her gently and rubbed her back, trying to offer comfort and support. His heart ached in sympathy.

Gradually her heartbreaking sobs quieted and she said in an almost inaudible broken voice, "Thank you, Max." He held her securely in his arms but it was a long time before either of them went back to sleep.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:11:38 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Liz awoke just as the sun was peeking over the mountains and into her window. She looked over at the man whose strong arms had cradled her protectively during the night. She was admiring the strong planes of his face when his eyes opened and she was blessed with his smile. Liz reached up and stroked the hair from his face. She returned his smile and added a kiss. "Love you, Max."

"Love you, Liz." Max cupped her face with his hands and deepened their kiss. They spend a pleasant time kissing and caressing until at last Max drew back and said breathlessly, "We’d better stop." She was such an innocent thing, he didn’t want to take her beyond where she was comfortable.

Liz said seriously, "Is that what you want, Max?" She began to plant kisses randomly on his dear face. Her innocence had been stolen from her but she still had her heart and her soul and she wanted to give them to the only man she had ever loved.

Max looked into her dark eyes and read her love there. "I want what you want, Liz."

"I want you to show me how to make love, Max. I love you with all my heart and soul. I want to love you with my body, too." Liz gazed up at his beloved face, his eyes expressing the wonder of their love. She reached up to caress his face with a small soft hand, then pressed her lips to his, communicating her love and total trust.

Wordlessly Max wrapped his arms around her slender body and buried his face in her hair. "God, I love you, Liz." He gently held her close to his body, awed by this incredible woman. Max was totally humbled by her display of love and trust. Gently, he began her lessons of love.

A timeless interval later the two lovers were lying intertwined and enjoying their newfound closeness. Max was stroking the silky dark strands of Liz’s hair that had fallen over his chest. Liz was nestled along his side, her head resting on his shoulder. She idly stroked the contours of his muscular chest, planting an occasional kiss. She gave a happy sigh. "Thank you, Max."

Max drew her up so he could look into her eyes. "No, thank you, Liz, for giving me the most incredible gift." He smiled as he remembered the ‘born again virgin’ story and how cute she looked as she blushed when she told him. He reverently kissed her soft lips.

"Breakfast is almost ready!" Maria’s yell from the bottom of the stairs interrupted them.

Max groaned and chuckled ruefully. "I love that woman but she has the most atrocious timing." He gathered Liz’s beloved body close for one last embrace and said, "Lovely Liz, I’ll let you have the shower first. I’ll just lie here and plot my revenge on Maria."

Liz giggled and gave Max one more kiss. She climbed from their bed and unselfconsciously walked to her closet to get her robe. Smiling over her shoulder at Max she put it on and went to take her shower. Max rolled over and buried his face in the warm place she left and breathed in her scent.



It was a pleasant breakfast and someone’s ‘Maria-sensors’ were tingling. She was already in a extremely giddy mood because of Michael’s reaction to her news and as she watched Max and Liz interact, it was all she could do to contain herself. Alex just watched with amusement and smiled at the antics of his friends. He would do his celebrating when he had Isabel safely in his arms.

The buzzer announced that someone was at the gate. Liz had been expecting a visit from Julie and she was not surprised to hear her voice over the intercom. After pressing the gate release she went outside to await Julie’s arrival. Max briefly explained the situation to their puzzled friends. He went to the living room and watched out the front window as Julie got out of her car and was enveloped in Liz’s arms.

The two grieving women comforted each other and walked down to the lake for a visit. Max was sitting on the porch still watching almost an hour later when Liz walked Julie back to her car. Liz wiped tears from Julie’s face and hugged her again. Then she stood and watched as Julie drove down the driveway out of sight.

Max walked out to Liz and wrapped his arms around her from behind. He rested his chin on top of her head and waited in case she would to talk to him about her feelings. And if she wasn’t ready yet, he would just offer her his presence.

Maria watched from inside and empathized with Liz’s grief. She rested her hand over her developing child. She prayed that nothing would ever happen to her daughter.

Her daughter! Michael was ecstatic when he found out she was expecting and had a flash of them celebrating their daughter’s birth. They had decided not to tell everyone about their news until after all this Dissident mess was over. She gave a happy sigh and knowing that Max was the best medicine for Liz right now, went upstairs to work on her daughter’s quilt.

After a time Max and Liz came back into the house. Liz went into her office to gather the legal papers that needed to be sent back to her lawyers. Max went into the computer room to tell Alex that they would be going into town for a short while.

And so Maria was happily occupied with her quilt and Alex was industriously integrating files, both totally unaware of the disastrous event about to occur. Their first indication that all was not well was the sound of Liz’s jeep speeding up the driveway. Maria looked out Liz’s window and wondered at this until she noticed that Max was the only person in the jeep. She jumped up and ran downstairs, yelling for Alex to join her outside with Max.

Max burst from the jeep and Maria grabbed him. The rage and terror on his face sent icy spikes of fear into her. "Max!" she exclaimed. Alex came running up and took Max and Maria by their arms.

"They have Liz. Oh god, they have Liz!" He broke away from them and ran into the house. They followed on his heels as he ran into the computer room and began to pound out an email message to a trusted member of Gregory’s group here on Earth. Maria and Alex read over his shoulders.

They were shocked to read that Pokran had kidnapped Liz and that Gregory and Max had been unable to prevent it. This action proved that Gregory’s suspicions about Pokran’s loyalties were correct: he was a Dissident. The group was to initiate security measures to cleanse itself of any other Dissident infiltrators. Gregory would contact them later.

Alex quickly grasped the situation. He turned to Maria and told her to pack overnight bags for them and he would close the house up, they would be leaving immediately to help Max rescue Liz. Max heard him as he was finishing his message to the group and grimly nodded his gratitude. The three frantic friends ran for the jeep together. Max sped down the driveway and back toward town.

He briefed his friends as he drove down the road, trying to keep their speed at a reasonable limit. They couldn’t afford to be stopped by the police. "We’re picking up Gregory. He has technology that will be useful."

Tears streamed down Maria face. She was shaking with reaction to this horrible turn of events. The look on Max’s face was adding to the dread she felt when she thought about her vulnerable friend in the hands of those horrible Dissidents. Maria didn’t know how much more trauma Liz could endure before she shattered into too many pieces to ever be put back together. She buried her face in Liz’s favorite quilt. She didn’t know why but she had grabbed it on the way out of the house. But Liz always seemed to draw comfort from it. Maybe she would need it when they rescued her.

Alex prompted the silent Max, "What happened? God, I knew there was a good reason I didn’t trust that bastard Pokran! Why did he take Liz? "

Max’s voice was horrible to hear. The guilt and fear made it almost unrecognizable as his. "Alex, you can’t see auras, but if you could… Liz…" his voice broke on her name. "Liz has the most incredible aura, full of her spirit and radiant with her energy.

"When we parted she was literally glowing with happiness. She must have been irresistible to him. We ran into Gregory and Pokran on the way to the lawyers’ office. I stayed to talk to them and Liz went on alone. My god, I let her go alone."

Maria reached over and gripped his shoulder. "Max, this isn’t your fault!"

Max continued, "Pokran said he had an errand to run and he left. Gregory and I were talking about what Michael and Isabel told me. I felt Liz— I felt her reach out to me and saw a flash of Pokran’s face then I felt her fear and her pain and then nothing." Max stopped his narration to regain control of his voice. "When I told Gregory he tried to contact Pokran, but he was unable to locate him and so he contacted his ship."

Alex interjected, "He contacted his ship— he broke his own security rules?"

"That’s right. And I must say this— his genuine concern about Liz and efforts to help find her were reassuring. I didn’t think the guy had a heart." Max pulled into the driveway of a motel. Gregory came out and rapidly walked toward the jeep.

Max got out and helped him stow his bag in the back. Alex moved to the back seat and Gregory got in the front, still carrying a metal case. When Max got back in he turned to Gregory and said, "Do you have any more information?"

"We flushed two more Dissidents and were able to get some information from them. It’s not good." Gregory looked at Max with unquestionable regret. Max paled and swallowed hard. Maria buried her face in the quilt and began to sob as she assumed the worst. Alex pulled her into an embrace to offer comfort.

Max turned in his seat and placed his hand on Maria’s shaking shoulder. "Maria. Maria, listen to me. Liz is alive. I would know if half of my heart was gone." He gave her a little shake. "Maria, Liz and I are connected just like Michael and Izzy are connected to you and Alex as mates. Trust me when I tell you I’d know."

Maria raised her tearstained face and asked, "Really?"

Max insisted, "Yes. Liz is my mate and our souls are connected. She’s the reason I never settled down like Isabel and Michael."

Gregory looked interested in this revelation but then continued with what he was originally going to say. "We believe they plan to open the portal early. I have an instrument that will pinpoint the location of the portal after it opens. That’s the good news. The bad news is this early activation will most assuredly result in a shorter time that the portal remains open. And we still have not located the generation ship."

Max looked at Alex. "Will you drive, Alex? I want to try to locate Liz or at least get an idea of her general direction. That way we’ll be that much closer when the portal opens and we have its exact location."

Alex and Max exchanged places. Max leaned back in the cramped back seat of Liz’s jeep and closed his eyes. Maria gave him Liz’s quilt. "Here, I grabbed this as we left. Maybe it’ll help."

Max looked down at the quilt and told her, "It was the last quilt she made for her mother. Thank you, Maria." He brought the quilt up to his face and laid his cheek on the faded fabric, concentrating and at the same time relaxing, trying to sense his mate’s location. Everyone in the jeep remained as quiet as possible, trying not to offer any distraction. Max opened his eyes and pointed east. "That direction." Alex put the jeep in gear and headed east.

Maria looked curiously at Max. "How come all of a sudden you can do the locator-thingie like Liz did when you fell into the ravine? You couldn’t do it before when she ran away at the festival. What changed?" And Max could tell from her expression when she realized just what had changed. He just gave her a little sad smile then closed his eyes again, striving for a clearer contact. He could tell they were already too far apart for him to attempt telepathic communication. But Max got the distinct impression that she wasn’t conscious. He wondered if he’d be able to dreamwalk her.

Max leaned back in the seat and made himself as comfortable as possible. He wrapped his arms around the quilt and entered the dream plane. Liz’s orb was nearby and Max called it over and looked inside. It was filled with mist, swirling with distorted nightmare images. He could feel her terror and refused to let her experience it alone. Enlarging the orb he stepped inside and once inside he could hear Liz’s screams. "Liz!! It’s Max!" He heard running footsteps and ran toward them, capturing Liz in his arms. She felt so real. He held her closely and pressed his face into her hair.

"Max! Help me! He’s after me." Liz was shaking so hard she could barely get the words out. The repressed memories of the attack she suffered as a young girl had broken free and joined forces with this latest traumatic event. The combined assault was more than Liz could cope with and she was in real danger of shattering beyond repair.

From out of the mist came an oversized figure. As it came closer Max recognized Pokran! Liz saw the nightmare Pokran and began screaming in abject terror, struggling to get away from Max so she could run.

The Pokran figure loomed over them just as Liz succeeded in breaking Max’s grip on her and she fled into the mist. Max tackled the nightmare figure as it began to follow her. He knew it wasn’t rational, but the real Pokran wasn’t available and he wanted to make *some* Pokran pay for making Liz suffer like she was.

As he was struggling with the giant Pokran another person ran up and began helping him. This young man was using martial art moves and Max recognized Liz’s son Dave with a shock. Together they subdued the giant and he dissolved into the mist. The dream Dave turned and looked at Max. "Thank you for helping me protect her, sir."

And Max was suddenly back in the real world.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:14:59 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Max opened his eyes and met Maria’s worried ones. He took a shuddering breath and rubbed his face in frustration. "East. She’s still east of us."

"One good thing about Colorado," Alex spoke up, "there aren’t that many roads in the mountains. I-70 seems to be it, if he’s heading east from here."

Gregory had the metal case open and was working with some instruments that were inside. "I’m not getting readings indicating that the portal is open."

Max closed his eyes again and tried to maintain the link he had with Liz. He must not lose her. He’d try the dream plane again shortly. Max was perplexed about the experience in Liz’s dream orb. He didn’t quite understand Dave’s presence. Maybe a mother’s love could reach all the way to heaven. Maybe Dave was reaching back and trying to protect her. Whatever, however, Max was grateful for his help in protecting Liz.

They were coming into Denver and the congestion of city traffic was causing slowdowns. Alex kept on 1-70 and was soon in the middle of town and still headed east. Max tried to get a better link with Liz and was shocked to hear her voice very faintly. **Max. They’re using the same place.**

**Liz! Hang on, sweetheart, we’re coming!** He tried to ‘path her but didn’t know if she was receiving him. He sat up straight and told Alex how to get to the racquetball club where the first raid took place. What a stroke of luck for them. "Gregory, Liz said they’re using the same place as the first raid. Is there any way we can get some backup ASAP? The change in plans might cause enough confusion that we might be able to rescue Liz as well as capture some of the Dissidents."

"I’ll contact the ship. This might be the break we’ve been needing." He consulted the instrument in the case on his lap. "The portal is open!"

Max leaned forward and listened as Gregory talked into his communicator. It sounded like the Loyalists were finally ready to make a big move. Max began to worry that Liz would be hurt in the action. Gregory was talking about storming the house the Dissidents had near the portal and then going through the portal to retake the generation ship.

"Max." Gregory paused his conversation with someone on the ship and leaned around toward the rear of the jeep. "How close is the scout ship to the house?"

"Approximately two miles," Max replied and Gregory went back to his planning. "Alex," Max said. "It will take about 15 minutes to get to the racquetball club, are you okay with the directions?" Alex nodded, his eyes on the road as he drove. "I’m going to try to contact Liz again."

Max leaned back again, cradling Liz’s quilt to help him make a strong contact. **Liz. Please answer if you can hear me.** He waited a few minutes and when he received no answer he dropped into the dream plane. Her orb was hovering nearby like it was waiting for him. He enlarged it and stepped inside. "Liz! It’s Max. Where are you?"

The mist swirled and Liz ran into his arms. "Oh Max. I’m so scared. He’s keeping me tied up and he just sedated me again."

Max tightened his embrace and when that wasn’t enough for him he lifted her into his arms. Oh, how he wished he could just step back into the real world and his love, his mate would still be in his arms. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you? We’re almost there. Can you tell me exactly where they’re keeping you?"

Liz shook her head. "We’re at the same house as before but there are no other women captives that I’ve seen."

The mist in Liz’s dream orb swirled violently and she actually faded from his arms for a moment. "Liz!" Then she was back. "Liz, what’s happening?"

Liz didn’t answer. She raised her head and looked at Max. "Max. This is important. When I was at my lawyer’s office I signed a paper giving my permission for you three to stay at my house and draw on my accounts. Max, I…"

"Liz!" With a shock that echoed to the depths of his heart, Max was suddenly standing alone in the dream plane. Returning to the reality of Liz’s jeep, he opened his eyes and quickly sat up. "Something is happening! We need to get Liz out of there NOW.

Gregory’s head flew up and he blurted out, "The portal! It’s gone!"

Alex whipped the jeep into the parking lot of the racquetball club parked it. He spun around in his seat and demanded, "What now, Max."

Max pushed on the back on Gregory’s seat. "Get out. I’m driving up to the house now. Something has happened to Liz!"

"No, Max. Let me check in with the ship first!"

Max pushed harder. "NO, damn it, Gregory. I’m going up there. Get out of my way right now!"

Alex got out of the jeep and pushed his seat forward. "Maria, please get out so Max can get into the front seat." He stared at Gregory as he said it and offered Maria his hand to steady her. She accepted it and exited the jeep. Max followed and got out the driver’s door. He was just getting back in when Gregory reached over and removed the keys from the ignition.

Gregory had been listening on his communicator since his announcement about the portal. He reached over and put his hand on Max’s arm. "Max. There is no one at the house or at the portal. My ship had completed enough repairs that they were able to transport the Dissidents that didn’t escape through the portal up to the ship. They are under confinement as we speak."

Max’s intense look did not lighten. "Where is Liz? Is she on the ship, too?"

"I’m checking on that right now." Gregory spoke into his communicator and waited for the answer.

When Gregory bowed his head and closed his eyes Max knew the answer. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands and tried to breathe. He closed his eyes and reached out with all his power, trying for even the slightest contact with Liz. Nothing.

But wait. He knew in his heart that she was not dead, her special place there was still occupied. She was just too far away to be sensed any other way.

Max opened his eyes and turned to Gregory to demand that he be taken up to the ship so he could go with them and search for the generation ship.

But Gregory spoke before he could get a word out. "They just received a signal from the locator beacon! Let’s get to the scout ship."

Max felt a rush of hope pour through him. He turned to Alex and Maria. "It would be best if you two stayed here. Take Liz’s jeep and go back to her house." He reached out and embraced them in a hug. His voice wasn’t steady when he told them about the legal paper that Liz signed just before she was kidnapped.

"Oh my god. It was one of her ‘feelings,’ wasn’t it, Max." Maria’s eyes filled with more tears.

"Take care of yourself, Max and all four of you come back safe to us." Alex was trying to maintain his composure but this sudden turn of events made his worry for Isabel and all of them flare up. He put his arms around Maria and they watched Max and Gregory run towards the woods where the scout ship was concealed.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:18:25 PM

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Gregory entered the scout ship first and immediately went to the controls. Max followed and planted himself in one of the seats. "The energy levels have recharged barely enough to get us back up to the ship. Was it necessary to use so much energy healing that woman?" Gregory knew how Max felt about Liz but he couldn’t help bait him. It did help him release some of his tension, but in a way that shamed him.

"Yes. It. Was." The temperature in the scout ship lowered several degrees.

Suddenly sorry, Gregory put his hand on Max’s arm. "I was out of line. Of course it was necessary. Please accept my apologies." He consulted the remote readouts from the healing chamber. "How was she injured?" he asked idly as he continued to make the scout ready for take off.

"She fell down a steep slope trying to escape. A tree broke her fall and caused the rib and lung damage." He looked directly into Gregory’s eyes. "I fell down there also and was about to fall all the way down into a deep ravine when she literally threw me a life line. She saved my life and in doing so, aggravated her own injuries."

Gregory threw the last switch and the scout ship’s engines activated and it began its journey to the main ship. "Yes, the readouts from the healing chamber indicated that they healed those injuries and some older ones. I’ll send the readouts to the ship’s doctor for further evaluation."

Max got up and went to see what the readouts said for himself. "Her uterus was regenerated? Did the records say what was wrong with it? I didn’t know she suffered abdominal injuries." He looked at the rest of the readouts. "She was attacked and brutally beaten when she was 13. Maybe the injury was from then."

"You said she had a son? The state of her uterus before the chamber regenerated it would have prevented conception— she was barren."

Understanding hit Max suddenly. This was what she wouldn’t talk about when he asked her about Dave’s birth. Somehow Dave’s birth had done the damage that the healing chamber had repaired. And that was why she said birth control wasn’t necessary when they made love. He didn’t care about this right now, he just wanted her safe in his arms.

Gregory interrupted his worrying. He wasn’t as hardhearted as he often appeared. He was operating under pressures that caused him to do things he normally wouldn’t. "Max, we’ll be at the ship in about 20 minutes. As soon as we dock the ship will break orbit and head for the generation ship." He sat down and let the scout ship do its work. "It was a lucky break that Michael finally succeeded in getting that beacon set off just now. The Dissidents’ loyalties must be falling apart if they would close the portal and strand most of their members on Earth."
Gregory watched Max continue to pace the small cabin, distraught over the loss of his mate. "Max. We will rescue Liz and the other women. You are spending energy worrying and pacing that you might need later. There is nothing that you can do at this moment in time."

Max stopped and glanced over at Gregory. "Liz used to tell me the same thing," he said sadly. "When she worried she called it ‘planning ahead.’" Max reached down and picked up Liz’s quilt. "I’m going to see if I can contact her in the dream plane. She said they were keeping her sedated a lot of the time. He wrapped his arms around the quilt and closed his eyes. He didn’t notice Gregory staring at the corner of the quilt that was turned over, exposing the Odd duck signature.

Max stood on the dream plane and for once her dream orb wasn’t nearby. He called to it in case it had floated away, but apparently she wasn’t unconscious anymore. And she was too far away to ‘path to. He returned to the real world. Gregory was still staring at Liz’s quilt.

"Where did you get that quilt, Max?"

"Liz made it. Holding it helps me make contact with her. The injuries she suffered during that attack when she was 13 left her powers damaged."

"Is she a full Al’Centran or a blend?"

"She was adopted. Her adopted mother was full Al’Centran but we don’t know about Liz."

Gregory looked over at Max. "We will get her back, Max. I know how much she means to you." //And you have no idea how much this woman I have never met means to me,\\ Gregory added to himself. But there was no time for these thoughts now; the scout ship was about to dock with the ship.

Captain Franklin met them as they exited the scout ship. He shook Gregory’s hand. "Glad to have you back, Gregory." He turned toward Max and stuck out his hand. "I’m Captain Franklin and I’d like to welcome you aboard."

Max shook his hand and replied, "I’m Max Evans. It’s a pleasure to meet you." //Okay, okay, enough with the pleasantries! Let’s get going!\\

Captain Franklin hid a smile as he accurately read between the lines of Max’s greeting. "We’re already headed for the generation ship. Let’s go to the briefing room and bring each other up to date." He gestured for Gregory to lead the way and he walked beside Max. "Before we get involved with planning this part of the mission, I want to express my gratitude for all your assistance."

"Thanks. I’m just sorry my part of the infiltration didn’t go as planned. You said Michael was able to get the beacon set off? Do you know if Michael and Isabel are safe?"

"As safe as any of the captives are, I imagine." He gestured toward the door Gregory had opened. "Here we are. Please have a seat and we’ll get started."

The captain made a round of introductions after everyone was seated. "First of all, Mr. Evans, we’ll give you a general overview of events but to protect the timeline we will keep you ignorant of specific details." Max nodded, more than ready for even partial answers to his questions. "In our time the presence of Al’Centrans on Earth is known and generally well accepted. In fact, I have Al’Centran blood as do some of my crew. We are a research ship, not a military ship. Our presence in your time is the unfortunate result of a catastrophic computer failure we had when testing a new style of engine. Some of the people on our ship decided that we were trapped here and mutinied.

At Max’s questioning look, the captain elaborated. "Those of us who are committed to protecting the timeline are mainly the scientists and ship’s crew. Unfortunately, political pressure forced us to bring various politicians and their supporters along on our maiden voyage. For the most part, the Dissidents came from this group. As you know, they decided to make a life here, disregarding the effect it would have on the timeline. The computer failure greatly hindered our efforts to locate and capture the Dissidents. That was when we decided to bring in local assistance."

Max asked, "Are you trapped here in this time or will you be able to return to yours?"

"If we can repair the computer, chances are very good that we will be able to return."

"And if you can’t?"

"We’ll deal with that when we have to. All of us who have remained loyal have sworn to protect the timeline so our families will be safe. There is no way to tell how they will be affected if radical changes are made now." He smiled grimly at Max. "Thanks for your concern."

Gregory spoke up. "Captain, gentlemen. If you wish, I have an update on conditions on the generation ship. Thanks to Mr. Evans, his sister Isabel and Michael Guerin." He nodded to Max in acknowledgement.

"The Dissident’s situation on the generation ship is not what they expected it to be. Some of our ancestors stayed there instead of coming permanently to Earth and they have aided the captives. In fact, they still control a great deal of the ship. The Dissidents are apparently having a loyalty crisis. Some of them went through the portal during the aborted raid and closed it prematurely. All the Dissidents who were trapped on Earth have been captured and are in the process of being questioned. We do not know how many Dissidents are on the generation ship and what parts they control."

"Mr. Evans, would you be willing to contact your sister and friend to get us this information?" the captain asked.

"Absolutely." Max took a breath and tried to control his rising anxiety. "When will we arrive at the generation ship?"

One of the men across the table spoke up. "With our damaged drive it could take as long as two days. If they succeed in moving the generation ship that time will, of course, change."

Max paled visibly at the thought of his fragile mate in the Dissident’s hands for that long. He clenched his jaw and tried to maintain his composure. A display of emotion now would not make the ship travel faster.

The captain stood up. "Mr. Evans, will you let Gregory show you to your quarters? He’ll help you get settled in. Rest assured that all that can be done at this time is being done." He shook Max’s hand again. "We will keep you posted. Please inform us whenever you are able to contact Mr. Guerin and Ms. Evans."

When Max was alone in his cabin he immediately stretched out in the bed with Liz’s quilt. He relaxed and entered the dream plane. Isabel was waiting for him. "Max! Things are in an uproar here! I think the Dissidents are fighting among themselves for control."

Max wrapped his arms around his sister. "Isabel, take extra care to keep yourself safe. You’re the only sister I have." He moved back but kept one arm around her. "Is Michael okay? The beacon’s signal was received and we’re heading for the generation ship as we speak."

"We? Max, are you on the ship with the Loyalists? What happened?"

"Alex and Maria are safe. They’re staying at Liz’s house." Max closed his eyes and turned his head away, trying to get control of the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him.

"Max, you’re scaring me. What happened?"

"Oh Iz, I left Liz alone and Pokran kidnapped her. He took her through the portal and closed it before we could follow." The raw emotion in his voice was painful to hear.

"Max, Michael and I will try to find her and get her away from him." She didn’t want to tell him that even the other Dissidents were afraid of Pokran. And if he had Liz, things didn’t look too promising for her.

"I’m extremely worried about her. She’s had too many traumas in her life and I don’t know how many more she’ll be able to take. She’s a strong woman, but everyone has their limits."

Isabel looked closely at her brother. "Why Max, I do believe you’ve finally found your mate."

His face contorted with anguish. "Yes, I have and I can’t lose her, Izzie. Please protect her until we can get there. I have to go now. Out of energy. I’ll be back as often as I’m able." Max returned to the reality of his cabin, exhausted. He wrapped himself in the comfort of Liz’s quilt and fell asleep.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:22:07 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY

Max slept on, emotionally and physically exhausted. He dreamt that he was sitting alone on the wide bench in front of Liz’s lake, wrapped in her quilt. The peaceful serenity of the scene was a balm to his emotional state. After a time he noticed a figure walking out of the woods toward him. Max sat up and peered intently in that direction. As it came closer he realized it wasn’t Liz. His heart sank and he felt her loss anew. He closed his eyes and lay back on the bench.

"Hello, sir."

A male voice close by startled Max and he sat up. His mouth dropped open. "Dave Parker?"

"In the flesh, so to speak." Dave sat cross-legged on one end of the bench facing Max, studying him as if he was making a judgment.

Max was amused by this evaluation and asked, "Whose dream is this?"

Dave smiled Liz’s crooked smile and Max’s heart lurched at the resemblance. "What do you say about sharing it? I haven’t done this much and as far as I know, we’re both sleeping."

"What we’re doing is called dream walking."

"Thanks, it’s always nice to be able to name things." Dave studied his hands for a moment. "Sir, I want to thank you again for helping me protect my mother. I’m relatively new at this ‘dream walking’ and sometimes I can’t find her. I can feel that she is sad or needs me but I just can’t always get to her."

Max reached out his hand. "My name is Max Evans." Ghost or not, it never hurt to be polite.

Dave shook hands with him and looked like he had more questions. "That’s my mom’s quilt, isn’t it." He looked like an incredibly unhappy and lonely seventeen-year-old.

Max unwrapped from Liz’s quilt and placed it around Dave’s shoulders. He smiled sadly. "You look like you need it more than I do."

Dave’s eyes watered and he turned his face away, bringing the quilt up to brush his cheek. "Vanilla. It still smells like the lotion she uses." Max placed his hand on Dave’s shoulder and looked out at the lake to give him some privacy. "Mr. Evans, do you know what’s going on? Why am I here— on a space ship, for god’s sake— and why won’t they let me go home." Dave’s voice was so soft Max had to strain to hear it. "She thinks I’m dead, doesn’t she." A quiet sob escaped him.

Max suddenly didn’t care if he was dealing with Dave’s ghost or the real Dave come dream walking. There was no way he could sit there and let this anguished soul go uncomforted. He wrapped his arms around Dave’s quilt wrapped form and rocked him like he was his own son.

When he thought Dave was listening again he began to tell him what he knew of the situation. Part way through Max’s story Dave remembered he was seventeen and sat up straighter. Max released him and finished telling him about the present day Al’Centrans, the Loyalists and the Dissidents. He didn’t know if Dave knew of Liz’s present situation, but he didn’t mention it. Dave was upset enough. There would be time for that later.

Dave looked back at him. "Thanks." He cleared his throat. "Thanks for telling me the truth about what’s going on and especially thanks for taking care of my mother for me. She’s had it rough."

Max was touched and had to struggle to keep his voice normal. "It seems that it’s a full time job looking after that stubborn mother of yours, but it’s one that I will undertake whole-heartedly."

All of a sudden Max was struck with a realization. He didn’t know how, but this was not a ghost. This was Liz’s son! Her heart was right. He was still alive. "Oh my god. Dave— you’re alive!" Max leapt to his feet and faced his mate’s son, his face alight in joy. "Dave, we have to tell her!" Then Max remembered that Dave didn’t know about Liz. Oh shit. He wanted to tell him face to face. "Are you able to get to the cabin where I’m staying or should I try to find you? In the real world, I mean. Not dreamwalking. I’m in cabin 6B."

"Be there pronto! I’m just down the corridor. It won’t take me a minute to jimmy the lock."
Max woke himself up and sat on the edge of his bed. His head was spinning with all the incredible events that had happened in the last few hours. He stood up and began to pace, trying to figure out how to tell Dave about Liz’s current situation. All too quickly he heard a quiet knock on his door and when he opened it Dave slipped in and closed the door.

Dave reached out his hand and said, "Mr. Evans, I’m pleased to meet you in person."

Max shook his hand again and reminded him, "It’s Max, please. And it is definitely a pleasure to meet you. Your mom has told me a lot about you. Have a seat on the bed. I’ll take the chair. We’ve got a lot of talking to do." He chuckled a bit. "They lock you in your room? I know they are very serious about protecting the continuity of the timeline, but that’s a bit extreme."

"Oh, they let me out to get exercise; they have reserved a small exercise gym for my sole use to try and keep my exposure to their people to a minimum. In fact, I would appreciate it if you didn’t mention we’ve communicated. I don’t know what they’d do if they thought I knew too much about the wrong thing. They keep saying it’s important for me to return me to Earth, but it’s been so long, I don’t know if I trust them."

"How did you find me tonight when you were dream walking?"

"I dream of the lake often. Only it’s usually Mom sitting on the bench. I thought I remembered you from that other dream and went over to see for sure. Why could I communicate with you and not with my mother? I can see her and feel her sorrow but I can never make her see me or hear me.

A thought occurred to Max. "Dave, what do you know of your heritage? Has your mom talked about it?"

"I gather that you, your sister, and friend are, what did you call it? Al’Centran? Well, I think my grandma was, too, from the stories Mom told me. Only we didn’t know the name Al’Centran, we just knew she wasn’t from around here. Mom’s adoption was never a secret in our house. I don’t know what we are and I don’t think Mom does either. We can both do some things, you know, things most people can’t do. We’ve always kept it a secret just between us three. But I don’t think we were the same as Gram. She called us ‘odd ducks.’"

They sat in silence, each occupied with their own thoughts. "Dave, I don’t know if you already know this and, I want to reassure you that we’re going to do everything we can." Max paused and looked him steadily in the eyes. "There’s no easy way to say this so here it is right out: the Dissidents have kidnapped your mom and taken her through the portal to the generation ship I told you about."

Before he could add further details, Dave sprang to his feet and faced away from Max. "FUCK! Hasn’t she suffered enough?? Can’t she ever get a break??!" he yelled at the ceiling.

Max was startled at how rapidly Dave moved. The kid had incredible reactions. "Dave! The situation is bad, but there are still many things on our side. I told you my sister and friend are already on the generation ship and they know about Liz. They are already working to get her to safety. And the Al’Centrans who live on the ship will help them. We’ll be there in two days— less than a day and a half now."

Dave came back and resumed his cross-legged posture on the bed. "I am so ready for this all to be over." He leaned forward and scrubbed at his face. He didn’t know why, but he felt an instant trust in this stranger. And he believed his reassurances.

"Dave, do you feel like telling me your end of the story? What happened in Denny’s house? Do you know how you got here on this ship?" He had known Liz’s son for just minutes, but he already felt respect and fondness for him. He was dealing with an extreme situation with grace and courage. Max thought he knew where Dave learned how to do that.

Dave stood up and began to pace. "I think better on the move." In a moment he stopped and looked at Max. "Denny’s really dead, isn’t he."

//Just like his mother in so many ways.\\ "I’m sorry, Dave. His body was identified in the wreckage after the fire; they had his dental records so I’m afraid there is no question it was him. Who was the other body that everyone thought was you? There were no medical or dental records to tell them it wasn’t you."

"I don’t know. Den and I were involved in a big project and it was too late for me to get home so I stayed there. I woke up in the middle of the night and heard shouting and thumping around like someone was fighting. When I got downstairs Denny was lying on the floor and a man was spreading gasoline around. I ran over and found Denny unconscious.

"I had just started to drag his body outside when the gasoline ignited." Dave looked down at his hands and Max could see him trembling. "I started to burn. And that’s all I remember until they took me out of one of their regeneration tanks." He lifted his hands and studied them. "They grew me new skin. But I still remember what it felt like to burn."

He looked over at Max. "You said there were two bodies found in the wreckage? Then that bastard burned. Good." For a moment his face looked much older than his seventeen years.

Max wanted to erase that look from his face. "Dave, I’d like to try something, with your permission. I’d have to touch your face." Dave nodded cautiously. Max scooted the chair closer and reached out with his hand. "You’re the one who installed those incredible defensive reactions in your mother, make sure you don’t hurt me…"

He was rewarded with a smile so very much like Liz’s. "She wouldn’t let me give her the full out lethal ones like I wanted.

Max smiled reassuringly and initiated the connection. Then he began to show Dave scenes of his mom, happy ones. He shared the sound of her laughter when his sneakers got full of water, the pride she displayed when she showed him Dave’s computer, the peaceful look on her face as she sewed in front of her window with the sun on her hair, her small, still figure sitting on the bench saying goodnight to the lake. He ended the connection and sat back in his chair.

"Thanks," Dave said in a quiet voice as he sat there immersed in happy memories. He looked up at Max, a peaceful expression on his face. "You love her, don’t you."

"With all my heart and soul."

"I’m glad." Dave stood up and said, "I’d better get back to my room before they miss me."

"I think I can get the captain to let us get together without giving your visit away. I’ll talk to him as soon as I can. Go on back and get some sleep. I want us to try to link up and reach your mom."

"Dreamwalking?"

"Kind of. I’ll explain when it’s time." He walked to the door and peeked into the corridor to make sure it was empty. "The coast is clear."

Dave walked out the door then turned around and stuck his head back in. He raised his right hand and gave Max the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper." The gleam of amusement in his eyes grew, spoiling the stoic face he was trying for. He nodded and closed the door.

Max laughed and shook his head. Liz was right about his sense of humor.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:26:11 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

The next morning Gregory knocked on Max’s door. When Max answered it he offered to show him the way to the cafeteria for breakfast. On the way down the corridor Max said, "I have a report for the captain. I talked to Isabel last night and I have something else to discuss with him."

"Normally you will report to me, but I’ll let him know and get back to you. Here’s the cafeteria. Enjoy your breakfast." He left Max and continued on down the corridor.

Max was finished with his breakfast when Captain Franklin joined him. "Good morning, Mr. Evans. Gregory has informed me that you have more information for us."

Pushing his breakfast tray away and sitting back, Max began his report. He relayed what Isabel had told him and then began his ploy to be introduced officially to Liz’s son, Dave. "Our connection wasn’t as strong as it was when Alex and Maria were in the link. I got the impression there was more she wanted to tell me but we ran out of energy. And I wasn’t able to contact Liz. I can feel that she is still alive, but with her shields and other difficulties it was only my energy directed towards the link."

"Oh, yes, Gregory said you weren’t sure what she was."

"She’s my mate," Max said bluntly, giving the captain a direct look. "Her heritage is irrelevant."

"Pardon." Captain Franklin had the grace to look embarrassed. "I phrased that poorly. Please continue."

Max nodded his acceptance of the apology. "My point is this: Maria and Alex helped strengthen the link with their mates, Michael and Isabel, and we were able to maintain a longer, stronger connection. I have no such help now and my energy levels are not up to an extended link at these distances." Max leaned forward, elbows resting on the table and continued. "And since Liz is unable to help maintain the link from her end, I don’t think I will be able to make contact with her."

"I don’t see why that is so important. Isabel and Michael can keep us informed of what’s happening.

"Neither Isabel nor Michael have direct contact with one of the Dissident’s apparent leaders. Remember they reported that there was fighting among the Dissidents. They won’t be trusting Michael as much. Pokran has not let Liz be taken away from him to be kept with the other captives and she has the opportunity to find out what is going on at a higher level." Max didn’t mention that Pokran evidently had a healthy respect for Liz’s self-defense skills and was keeping her sedated most of the time.

Captain Franklin sat back and crossed his arms. His face was impassive as he considered the decision he must make. Would admitting that they had Liz’s son Dave on the ship cause risks to the timeline? Or would that be balanced out by the gains they would achieve with inside knowledge Liz might give them?

Finally the captain spoke, "Mr. Evans. I am forced to take a gamble that I am not comfortable with. What I am about to tell you will undoubtedly upset you but I want you to hear me out before you speak."

Max kept his face impassive and just nodded. He was reminded of the gambles Liz had taken and how the long odds had played in her favor.

"There was a splinter group among the Dissidents who believed that if they could prevent the development of certain scientific advancements that the drive we were testing would have never been invented. They set out to do just that. They located the individual in your time who, when he was an adult, would be instrumental in the development of these advancements. One of the Dissidents attempted to murder him but we were able to save him. Unfortunately, he was severely injured. But we have healed him and he is still on this ship. It’s not safe to return him until all this is settled."

The captain paused and gathered his thoughts. "Mr. Evans, the young man I am speaking of is Dave Parker, your mate’s son."

Max sprang to his feet and turned away from the captain to conceal his face. He didn’t want to show that he already knew about Dave’s presence on the ship and he also didn’t want to display his sudden anger at the unthinkable grief that Liz had had to endure unnecessarily. Max was totally unprepared for how strong that anger was. Intellectually he could appreciate the Loyalists’ concern for the timeline, and that they felt they had to take extreme measures to protect it. But having seen and felt first hand how their decisions had affected Liz…

When he had control of himself he returned to his seat. He knew his expression was not pleasant, but it was the best he could do. And if his aura offended the captain, so be it.

"Mr. Evans, I realize this is difficult for you, but we have only done what we felt we must, given our circumstances." He looked at Max, his face an unspoken plea for his understanding. They needed the cooperation of Max, his sister and friend. Having Al’Centran talents available to help with this situation could make the difference between success and failure. He offered Max some information in hopes that it would help his cause. "When we were healing young Mr. Parker our doctors needed to perform certain genetic tests. These tests determined that Mr. Parker has Al’Centran genetic markers. If our computer was fully operational or if we still had a genetic scanner— the Dissidents took the ones we had— I could tell you if he was a full Al’Centran or a blend. We were only able to get partial results, so we know he has the genetic markers, but we don’t know the percentage."

Max opened his mouth to speak and when no sound emerged, closed it. He cleared his throat, refocused his thoughts, and tried again. "I want to meet her son. If we can link there is a better chance of contacting Liz." He paused and gave Captain Franklin a direct look. "As soon as possible, if not sooner."

"Mr. Evans, against my better judgment I am allowing you to meet Mr. Parker. Please do not tell him what I told you. He must be allowed to develop without prior knowledge of his future."

//Too late for that, I’m afraid; but I have confidence in Dave’s judgment.\\ Max nodded anyway and then stood up. "I’d like to begin now, if you please. If you tell me his cabin number I will go introduce myself."

The captain told him and Max reached out his hand to shake the captain’s hand. "Thank you for giving me this information. Only the knowledge of the difficult situation you’re in keeps me from showing you just what unimaginable suffering Dave’s ‘death’ inflicted upon Liz. I’ll let you know immediately if and when we find out any information." Max turned and walked out.

Max stopped outside Dave’s door and tried an experiment. **Dave, open the door, please. It’s Max.** Almost immediately the door flew open and Dave appeared with a startled expression on his face.

"Wow. That was an unusual experience. Mom and Gram are the only ones who have spoken to me in my head before." He stepped back and gestured for Max to enter. "I take it you’re here with the captain’s blessing?"

Max had worked hard to get his emotions under control on the way to Dave’s room. Once they had Liz safe he would deal with the new information he had been getting about her. He took a deep breath and faced his mate’s son. "Dave, I know we just met, but I need you to trust me enough to link with me. If we both work together we stand a better chance of reaching Liz."

Dave didn’t hesitate. "Let’s get started right now. She needs us."

"Do you get ‘feelings’ like your mom?" Max asked curiously.

Dave nodded, "Sometimes."

Max refocused on what they were attempting to do. "Lie down on the bed and relax your body. Clear your mind and let me direct what happens. I’m going to take you into the dream plane."

"Is that like dreamwalking?" Dave asked as he did what Max told him.

"This is done while we’re awake, we just enter another form of consciousness. It takes energy and by linking together, we’ll be stronger." Max pulled the chair close to the bed. "Close your eyes and relax as much as possible. I’m going to touch your arm and connect with you. Then I’ll take you into the dream plane."

Max connected with Dave and instructed him where to focus his attention. Then he slowly shifted the mental gears necessary to enter that other plane of reality. Max felt the usual soft wave of distortion ripple around him as they entered in the dream plane.

"Wow! This is surreal!" Dave exclaimed.

Max chuckled at his delight. "Those floating ‘bubbles’ are dream orbs. When someone is asleep, one of these forms. We can call specific ones to us and see inside. We can also ‘dreamwalk’ and participate in specific dreams. Al’Centrans have the ability to enter the dream plane while conscious.

"This is how I’ve been communicating with my sister Isabel and our friend Michael. Our regularly scheduled meeting is for later tonight. We’re here now to try to find Liz’s dream orb."

"Can Mom enter the dream plane?"

"I don’t honestly know, Dave. As far as I know only Al’Centrans have this ability. You are here this time because I brought you." Max realized that he hadn’t told Dave about his Al’Centran genetic markers. He could only hope that the news would not upset him. "Dave, did the doctors ever discuss your heritage with you?"

"Nobody talks to me, Max. They don’t tell me anything." Dave’s voice betrayed his frustration.

"Please trust me when I tell you they believe that keeping you in the dark like this is for everyone’s benefit. I don’t like secrets; there have been too many of them in my life. I’ll tell you more about the situation later and we’ll decide what else you want to know— and it will be your decision— but now I’ve got some news that I hope won’t upset you."

Max turned and faced Dave. "You are Al’Centran like your grandmother was and like I am. We don’t know if you’re a full Al’Centran or a blend. You have the ability to enter the dream plane on your own, now that you know how to do it.

"So what you’re delicately trying to say is that one or both of my parents are Al’Centran."

Max looked searchingly at Dave, trying to gauge his reaction.

"Max, I don’t care what I am as long as it doesn’t prevent us from rescuing my mother. And I really don’t care what heritage my birth father was, as far as I’m concerned I have only one parent and she needs our help right now."

Max smiled at the determined teenage. "You are so much like your mother." He looked around to see if Liz’s dream orb was nearby. "First, we need to see if Liz is sleeping or unconscious. Help me call to her dream orb. You just concentrate on the person and if they’re not conscious, their dream orb should float over. My sister Isabel says the orbs make specific tones and she sings them toward her. I’ve never been able to do that. When you are more familiar with the dream plane you might discover your own method."

Dave pointed to a dream orb that was approaching them. "What about that orb? It looks like it wants us to notice it."

Walking over to the hovering orb, Max looked inside. He reached out and touched it and knew it was Liz’s. He enlarged it and motioned Dave closer. "It’s hers. Step inside with me. Remember this is her dream, not her reality."

Max and Dave entered Liz’s dream. The mist inside was moving slowly, stirred by their entrance. "Mom! It’s Dave!" There was no answer. "Max, this is her dream, shouldn’t she be here?" The mist began to thicken.

"Can you feel her, sense her presence, Dave? I have a general awareness of her, but nothing localized." The mist grew thicker.

"MOM!" Dave called out, looking worried. He turned to Max, "Is there something wrong? Is this how it should be?" The mist was thick enough that he could barely see Max. "Before when our dreams merged I could at least see her, even if she never responded to me."

Max took hold of Dave’s arm and stepped out of Liz’s orb. "Dave, I think they have her too heavily sedated for us to make any contact with her." He tried not to think about the ramifications of that.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:31:09 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Max began to call for Isabel or Michael. Maybe they knew something. "Dave, I’m trying to contact my sister or Michael. It’s early for our regular meeting, but maybe we’ll get lucky. I’m going to give you their images so you can help me call." Max telepathed their images to Dave. They both called and were rewarded by seeing Isabel running toward them.

"Oh Max! It’s good to see you again. They have really tightened security around us and no Dissident is allowed to be near us alone. They have to bring at least two others. I think they’ve realized that they won’t be getting any more women and that there are not enough to go around." She accepted Max’s hug and hugged him back tightly.

"Is Liz being kept with you? We were unable to make any sense out of her dream. It was just an ever-thickening mist. We eventually had to leave so we didn’t lose each other in there." Max released Isabel for a moment. "Iz, I’d like you to meet Liz’s son, Dave. Dave, this is my sister Isabel." They nodded to each other in greeting.

"Max, I’m sorry, but Liz isn’t being kept with us. We’ve heard that Pokran keeps her locked in his quarters. The other Dissidents are not pleased."

"What else can you tell us? Have the Al’Centrans who stayed on the ship agreed to help you? We need a complete update as rapidly as possible. We need to save our energy so we can make contact later tonight." Max looked grim.

"We’ve made contact and they have made plans but they don’t want us to be moved over to their parts of the ship until you are ready to come aboard. They think that they can move us safely in all the confusion that will be occurring. They’re afraid that the Dissidents will initiate search and destroy missions if they show their hand too soon. They are pretending to negotiate with the Dissidents to find a peaceful solution."

"Is there any way they would side with the Dissidents?" Dave sounded worried.

"Oh, Dave, I trust them. They are a true and wonderful group of people. When you get here and all this is settled you’ll be able to find out for yourself." Isabel moved over and hugged Dave. "I met your mom when they first captured us. She is an incredibly brave woman and I know she’ll come out of this okay. Not once did I see her even begin to give up."

Max put his arms around their shoulders. "We’ll get her back safe, Dave." He stepped back and continued, "Izzy, we have to go now. We’ll be back every three hours to see if you or Michael have anything else to tell us."

"Bye for now, guys." Isabel kissed Dave on the cheek and gave Max one more big hug and then she was gone.
Max turned to Dave and tried not to smile at the blush on his face. "Let’s get back, Dave." And he returned them to the reality of Dave’s cabin.

Dave sat up. "Wow. That was quite an experience." He caught Max’s amused look. "The dream plane, I mean."

Max stood up and stretched. "Dave, I want you to get some rest. We’ll be using all our energy to do these check-ins. I’m going to report to Gregory but I’ll be back in time." He left Dave’s cabin and went to give his report.

Dave stretched back out on his bed, hands behind his head, thinking about the new things he was learning. He wanted desperately to contact his mother; he could feel that she was terribly afraid and he wanted to protect her from her nightmares. Closing his eyes, Dave went back to the dream plane and looked for his mother’s orb. It floated over to him like it had missed him.

Remembering what Max had done, Dave enlarged the orb and entered it. The thick, dark mist still dominated everything. Dave could feel his mother’s fear. "Mom! I’m here! Help me find you!" Dave called out loudly. He began to run frantically through the mist, calling out to her but never finding her. He could hear her sobbing in fear, he could hear the sound of her running footsteps but he could never reach her.

Finally, unable to continue any longer, Dave collapsed into a gasping heap, listening to, but not able to reach his distraught mother.

Dave returned to reality to find Max sitting in the chair, studying him with a resigned expression. "You have a good heart, Dave Parker. Were you able to help her?" Dave didn’t even bother trying to look abashed at being caught dreamwalking instead of resting. He just shrugged and smiled a sad, crooked smile so like his mother’s that Max’s heart spasmed. Max looked down for a moment to collect himself and then continued, "There’s good news. We’re going to be there a lot earlier. The computer repairs are progressing faster than they had anticipated and that has helped with the engines. ETA is sometime tonight."

Dave’s face all too clearly showed his exhaustion and sadness. "Can’t get there quick enough for me." He sat up and rubbed his face in frustration. "Max, I couldn’t reach her. I could hear her and feel how afraid she was, but I just couldn’t find her in that damned mist."

"Lie back. You’re going to take a nap whether you like it or not." Dave opened his mouth to speak. "No, don’t argue with me. Liz let me do this when she needed to rest." Max reached out and put his hand on Dave’s forehead and ‘encouraged’ him to sleep.

Then he leaned back in the chair and tried to take his own advice. Not much time was left before they would try to contact Isabel. Max tried to doze, and surprised himself by succeeding.

His internal clock woke him when it was time. He looked over at the sleeping teenager; his face looked so young and defenseless. Max decided to let him sleep through this contact, he had used up so much energy trying to reach Liz alone.

Max made contact with Isabel and quickly returned. They didn’t have the energy to spare for anything but giving quick reports. The good news was that the Dissidents didn’t know they were coming. The bad news was that Pokran was still keeping Liz locked away where no one could get to her. He stepped quietly out of Dave’s cabin and returned to his before he called Gregory and made his report. That done he picked up Liz’s quilt and brought it back to Dave’s cabin. Maybe it would give him the comfort it used to give her.

When he entered Dave’s cabin again he covered him up with the quilt. Dave seemed to sense it and curled up on his side, nestling his face into its soft folds. Max watched him, an affectionate smile on his face. Then he stretched out on the floor, determined to sleep until the next contact time. He didn’t want to be caught short of energy when he needed it. He set his internal clock early enough for them to eat a late lunch before the next contact. then, filling his mind with pleasant memories of Liz, he drifted off to sleep.



Max awoke to a gentle tapping on Dave’s door. Opening it, he was surprised to see Gregory, but he stepped aside and let him enter. Max put his finger to his lips and shushed Gregory when he started to speak. Max whispered, "Let the kid rest. He’s had it rough." He gestured for Gregory to take the chair and he sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. Gregory was studying the sleeping teenager. He reached out and touched the ‘odd duck’ signature on the quilt. Max remembered his reaction the first time he had seen Liz’s quilt. "Are you a quilt fan? You seem fascinated by this one."

Gregory looked up, startled. He’d been unaware Max had noticed his reaction. After thinking for a moment he seemed to come to a decision. "So this is her son? I haven’t met him yet. They were trying to keep him isolated." Gregory stood up. "They told me you two haven’t eaten lunch yet. Would you consent to eat with me?" Max nodded. "Exactly when I’m from is still off limits to him, you understand."

"Please stand over by the door. No need to startle him by having him wake up with two people standing over him." //And you may not know it, Gregory, but you don’t want to startle this young man.\\ Max reached down and gently shook Dave’s shoulder, initiating just enough of a connection to reassure the awakening teenager. "Hey, wake up, Dave. It’s time for lunch." He smiled gently at him. It’s not easy to wake up with two relative strangers staring at you. "Dave, I don’t think you’ve met Gregory."

Dave stood up and offered his hand to Gregory. "Please to meet you, sir." They shook hands. Dave’s stomach growled and he rolled his eyes. "Did someone mention lunch?"

Max laughed, remembering his own noisy stomach and Liz’s reaction. It was a good memory. Impulsively he ‘pathed Dave and shared it with him. He was rewarded with an amused expression on Dave’s face. The communication and Dave’s reaction happened quickly and Max didn’t think Gregory had noticed. It was rude to exclude him, but that was a private memory and he didn’t want to share it with Gregory. "Well, let’s not keep a starving man waiting, Gregory."

They all headed for the cafeteria. During lunch Gregory made an effort to get to know Dave even though he wouldn’t answer any questions about himself. Max was mostly quiet, thinking sad thoughts but trying to keep them off his face. He missed Liz dreadfully and he’d known her for less than two weeks. What must it be like for Dave to be kept away from everyone and everything familiar?

Finally it was time to contact Isabel. Max said, "Gregory, it was nice talking to you, but we have an appointment with my sister Isabel. Dave, are you ready?" He and Dave returned to Dave’s cabin. On the way there Max worked on getting positive thoughts firmly planted in his public mind. He didn’t want to bring Dave down by exposing him to his sad thoughts.

When they were all settled in Dave’s room Max made the suggestion, "Dave, let me show you how to initiate a connection then I’ll let you bring us into the dream plane. It’ll be good practice." He reached over and touched Dave’s arm to begin. Once they were connected he ‘pathed to him, **Alright, Dave did you feel how I did that?**

**Yes, thanks for showing me. Get ready ‘cause here comes the dream plane.** And he brought them smoothly into that separate reality. "Will Mom’s orb be waiting nearby like it was the other times, Max?"

"That isn’t how it usually works, but your mom is unusual… I mean that in a good way."

"Yep, she’s unique..." Dave looked at Max with a wicked twinkle in his eyes. "Sorry, the rest of that sentence has been consigned to joke hell. Mom sent a lot of my jokes there." He rolled his eyes and gave a crooked smile. "But that’s where most of her duck jokes came from." Dave looked over Max’s shoulder. "Hey, there’s Isabel!" He waved and shouted, "Hi, Isabel."

Max turned and greeted his sister. She looked tired and stressed. Max would be glad when he had her back safely and she was her normal happy self. "Hey, Iz. Anything new to report?

"Not really, I haven’t even seen Michael lately. We usually check in with each other here in the dream plane since it’s so difficult to communicate in the real world.

Dave looked thoughtful for a moment then asked, "Isabel, you said you knew my mom? If you linked with us maybe we could find her in her dream orb. All we can see in there is dark mist."

"Oh, Dave, I don’t know if I have what it takes to go into Liz’s dream. Last time I tried that flames roared up all around me so close that my dream self caught on fire. It was a horrible experience and not one I’m anxious to repeat." Isabel shuddered, then noticed that Dave had turned white as a sheet.

Dave closed his eyes and turned away from them, attempting to hide his distress. He groaned and rubbed at his face. Wasn’t it bad enough that he had been burned in that fire? Why. Why. Why did his mother have to experience it along with him? He knew the instant Isabel told about the fire in his mom’s dream that she had been linked with him when the fire had burned him. The memory of the agony and terror flashed across his mind’s eye, blinding him for a moment.

Isabel turned in confusion to Max, not understanding why Dave had such a severe reaction to her statement. Max ‘pathed the answer. **Izzy, Liz has that dream because Dave was badly burned in a fire set by the Dissidents in an attempt to kill him— that’s another story and I’ll tell you later. He just realized that his mother experienced that burning with him and when the Al’Centrans on the space ship transported him out of the fire, she thought he had died.**

**God, Max. I had no idea. What can I do to fix this?**

**Iz, you had no way of knowing.**

Isabel went over to Dave and turned him to face her. She put her hands on his shoulders and looked him squarely in the eye. "Dave, I want to help you find your mother in her dream orb. She helped me when we were first captured even though it cost her a beating." Isabel cringed when she said that last part. Dave probably didn’t need to hear that part, either. //God, where is my brain lately?\\ She gave his shoulders a little shake, trying to get a response from him. "Please forgive me for being thoughtless earlier when I said I wouldn’t help."

Dave’s face was closed off, displaying no emotion, but he could see the remorse clearly displayed on hers. "Isabel, don’t be so hard on yourself. This whole business is more than anyone should have to endure. I would be pleased to accept your help."

//Poor Dave has had to grow up so fast.\\ Isabel looked over her shoulder at her brother. "Well, Max. What are we waiting for? Let’s find Liz." She reached out a hand for him. "Your mother is a unique individual; I must admit I’ve never heard of anyone being lost in their own dream orb."

Max and Dave shared a quick, sad smile at Isabel's choice of words. Seeing Liz's dream orb hovering above Dave, Max reached out his hand and it approached him. Dave and Isabel moved to stand on either side of him and Max put his hands on their shoulders. "Dave, remember how to initiate the connection?" Dave nodded. "When you're ready then." Max relaxed his body and prepared his mind for the effort he knew would follow.

They connected and used their combined energies in a futile effort to clear the dark mist from Liz’s dream orb so they could find her. Finally they had to stop, their energy depleted. Dave dropped out of the connection and out of the dream plane a sad ‘thanks’. Max and Isabel exchanged worried looks and said good bye.

Max returned to the reality of Dave’s room to find it empty. There was a scribbled note on the bed. ‘Gone to the gym to work out— Dave’. Max decided to follow Dave and be there in case he needed to talk.

After asking directions from a passing crewman, Max quickly walked down the corridor. The small gym was empty except for Dave when Max entered. He had already changed into sweat pants and was stretching out. Max sat against the wall and watched. Shortly Dave rose to his feet with cat-like grace and began slowly going through a series of martial arts moves. His face was impassive but his aura betrayed his distress. Dave continued, gradually speeding up his movements until he was a blur of motion moving across the mat. Soon the motions no longer resembled a stylized dance. They were violent, barely restrained, as though Dave fought demons only he could see.

Dave continued until sweat ran freely from his body. He slowed his movements gradually, until he was again at rest, breathing deeply but not out of breath. Max could see that his aura had cleared slightly and when Dave turned to look at him he said, "Remind me never to make you angry at me." Max chuckled, "And I thought dealing with your mother was difficult…"

Dave flashed him an engaging grin and began walking toward him. "Did I hear you volunteer to be my sparring partner?"

Max laughed and shook his head. "I’m smarter than I look.

Dave sank to the floor beside Max and stretched out full length on his back. "If you’d like, I’ll teach you sometime." He took a deep breath and rolled to his side. "The good guys have to stick together, you know."

They sat there for a time in silence. But it was a good silence, each comfortable with the other, not needing to fill space with unnecessary talk. When Dave was rested he turned to Max. "There are clean sweats in the locker room. Go get changed and I’ll teach you how to fall without getting hurt."

"And why would I need to know that?"

"Because you’re going to be doing a lot of falling," Dave told him with a wicked gleam in his eyes.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:33:02 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

After Max and Dave had cleaned up from their workout they returned to Dave’s cabin. It was almost time to contact Isabel again. The exercise had refreshed them more than a nap could have. Maybe Dave had vanquished some of those demons he was fighting when Max first saw him. And although Max was sore in new places, he felt more at ease.

They connected smoothly and entered the dream plane. Max let Dave take charge of this; it was good experience for him. When all of this was settled and they had Liz back safely Max thought it would be fun to teach Dave more about his powers. He was a great kid.

Isabel was nowhere in sight and she didn’t come when they called. Max tried not to show his worry, but Dave picked up on it anyway. "Max, I have a ‘feeling’ that she’s okay, she just can’t get to us right now."

Smiling affectionately at him Max nodded. "Let’s see if we can reach your mother. Her dream orb is hovering right over there." They called it over and it floated between them. "Let’s try something different, Dave. Stand opposite of me with the orb between us." Dave moved like he asked. "Dave, can you see auras?" He nodded yes. "Okay. What we’re going to do is enclose her orb in our joined auras and project our feelings."

"And what feelings are you talking about, Max?" Dave tried to keep the mischief out of his expression but was not totally successful. He really approved of this man who loved his mother but he couldn’t help teasing him.

Max was more successful in keeping his face impassive but his eyes gave away his amusement. "I don’t know about you, but I’m trying love and security."

"Yeah, sounds about right. Let’s be about it, then." They poured out their feelings and their auras glowed blindingly with the strength of their love. The dark mist in Liz’s orb lightened but they still could not get any sense that she was any more un-lost than before. "She feels better, more safe. But she’s still lost in the mist." Dave gave a ragged sigh.

"Dave, we may have to face the fact that we won’t be able to help her until we have rescued her from Pokran. Once we have her physically with us things will be better."

Leaning forward, Dave planted a kiss on the orb and whispered, "Hang on, Mom. We’re coming." Then he straightened up and with one more sad look at the orb, left the dream plane.

Max gathered Liz’s orb in his arms and cradled it close to his heart. Then he concentrated on transferring as much energy into it as he could. Maybe she needed some of his strength. When he was finished, he also gave it a kiss and released it.

When Max returned to Dave’s cabin he stayed stretched out on the floor, his mind occupied with memories of Liz. He hadn’t known her for that long but she was definitely entrenched in his heart. Max concentrated on that place inside where their love glowed strongly. He knew that as long as it was there, she was still alive. Max shuddered and refused to even think about losing the love of his life, his mate, when he had just found her.

"Uh, Max?" Dave hesitantly spoke up. "Are you alright?"

"Sure, Dave. I was just thinking." Max got to his feet and stretched. "How about getting some dinner?"

Gregory was already in the dining room and he motioned them to join him. All through dinner Dave entertained them with stories of Liz. Max knew it did him as much good as it did Dave. They both loved to talk about her and Max shared some of the lighter moments he’d had with her. Max didn’t mention her grief at his ‘death’; Dave didn’t need to hear about that. He knew his mother loved him and he’d felt that grief when they shared dreams.

Captain Franklin approached them as they sat talking after dinner. "Do you have time to join us, Captain?" Max asked courteously. He had been making his regular reports to Gregory and he wanted to become better acquainted with the man who might be making difficult decisions that would effect people he loved.

"At a later date it would be my pleasure, Mr. Evans. I’m on my way to a meeting and saw you in here. I have some good news for a change. The engineers have informed me that we will arrive within transport range of the generation ship at approximately 10:30 tonight. Please pass that news on to Ms. Evans and Mr. Guerin. Gregory will be in touch with you to give you further details." Then he stood up and took his leave.

Max also stood up. "Gregory, it was a pleasure talking to you. I think it would be wise if we got some rest before we contact Isabel at 9:00. Ready to go, Dave?" They bid Gregory good-bye and went back to Dave’s cabin.

At Max’s insistence Dave had been ‘encouraged’ to sleep again. He needed to conserve his energy and the time would pass faster for him. Max wished he could join Dave in sleep, but so far it had eluded him. He had given up and left the cabin to take a walk around the ship when he met Gregory in the corridor.

Gregory briefed him on the raid they were planning to make as soon as they were within transport range of the generation ship. They wanted to coordinate it with raids made by the Al’Centrans Michael and Isabel had contacted. He gave Max the briefing paper and asked him to pass the information along. Gregory continued on and Max stood there and re-read the paper. So much was going to depend on luck and timing.

Max put the paper in his pocket and walked the corridors until it was time to contact Isabel. When he got back to Dave’s cabin he found him awake and ready. Letting Dave control the connection and transition to the dream plane again, Max concentrated on the details of the raid. He wanted to be sure it was as foolproof as possible.

To his great relief, Isabel was waiting for them. She flew into his arms and almost strangled him with a hug. "I guess you’re glad to see us, Izzy. We missed you last time."

"Sorry, Max. I was busy getting the other captives ready. We want to be prepared to move at any moment. Oh, I’ll be so glad to have this all over!" She looked over at Dave who was looking around for Liz’s orb. "Hey, Dave."

Somewhat distracted, Dave answered, "Hey, Isabel." His attention was obviously occupied with his search.

Max ‘pathed an image of the plans for the raid and asked her to communicate with the generation ship’s Al’Centrans and instruct them in their part. "Iz, can you tell me where Pokran’s quarters are? Is he still keeping Liz there? Are there guards or other things we need to know about?"

Isabel answered his questions as thoroughly as possible, surreptitiously watching Dave as she talked. She was concerned at how distressed his aura was becoming. **Max, something’s upsetting Dave.**

They both turned to look at Dave and he burst out, "Max! Isabel! I can’t find her dream orb and I can’t sense her anymore! I’m afraid she’s… " He didn’t continue with his sentence. If he said the words they would seem more real and he did not want them to be reality.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:35:26 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

"Ohhhh, Dave." Isabel made a sympathetic sound and moved to his side, ready to offer comfort if he would accept it.

Max quickly moved in front of the distressed teenager. "Dave, I’d know if she was dead. Give me your hand." Max placed Dave’s hand over his heart and connected. Max showed him the place Liz occupied in his heart so he would know that she still lived. He showed him the love and connection he and Liz shared. It was a personal thing, but Dave needed the reassurance that his mother was still alive.

Tears of relief ran unnoticed down Dave’s cheeks. "Thanks, Max." Isabel wrapped him in her best mothering hug and he accepted the comfort he so desperately needed. Being separated from all that he knew for over six months was bad enough, but when he thought his mother was truly gone, it was more than he could bear. After a few minutes he straightened up and wiped his face dry, unembarrassed about his emotional display.

They were all slightly teary eyed as they said good bye and good luck to each other. If all went well they would be reunited that very night. As one, they left the dream plane and returned to their separate realities.

Without a word being spoken between them, Max and Dave went to find the captain. They were going on that raid, no matter what objections he might offer.

But in the end, they had to agree to leave Dave safely on the ship. Max knew of his importance to the timeline and didn’t press the issue. It was a measure of Dave’s growing respect for Max that he accepted his word that it was necessary for him to stay behind. Max ‘pathed the image of the Dissident’s area of control to the men finalizing the raid. He clearly indicated Pokran’s quarters and he insisted on being with the group that would rescue Liz. Even the captain agreed that he could join that part of the raid.

Max was extremely grateful that Isabel and the other women captives would be spirited away right before the raid started so he didn’t have to worry about her being injured in the battle. If only he could say the same thing about Liz. He could only hope for the best. They spent the remaining time finalizing the plans.

And then it was time. Dave walked him to the transport room. They took their positions and the room disappeared around them. They reappeared in a storage room as planned. The groups separated, each with their own mission. Max’s group headed directly for Pokran’s quarters.

Max couldn’t believe they didn’t encounter any of the Dissidents on their way there. Maybe the raid was a total surprise like they had planned and hoped for. They were almost there when Max felt a sharp pain in his heart.

Liz! Something was happening to Liz! Against the orders he had to stay in back of the group, he ran ahead and hit the door to Pokran’s quarters with his shoulder. It burst open and Max ran into the room followed by the rest of his group.

The first thing Max saw was Pokran straightening up from Liz’s still form, an empty syringe in his hand. He dropped it and ran out the other door. The men in Max’s group ran after him.

With a wordless cry Max scooped Liz up and ran from the room. She hung limply in his arms, her body cold and clammy. Only the faint feeling in his heart reassured his that his mate still lived. He ran as fast as he could toward the safety of the storage area where he had transported in. He ran as if her life depended on it because he was desperately afraid it did. Max had to reach the medical center and get her into a healing chamber and let it deal with whatever god-awful drugs Pokran had been giving her.

Max reached the door leading down into the storage room and triggered the return signal on his transport device. Dave was waiting when they materialized and he draped Liz’s quilt around her and tucked it in. "MOM!" he exclaimed. "Max, is she… please, tell me—"

"She’s still with us, Dave. But we need to get her into a healing chamber right now. It looked like Pokran deliberately overdosed her." And without another word, Max took off down the corridor at top speed with Dave following closely.

Max burst into the ship’s medical center and shouted for help. He rapidly explained what had happened to Liz and one of the doctors tried to take her from his arms. Instinctively he resisted, knowing that she needed contact with him to keep her anchored in this world. "Let me carry her. We need to stay in contact!"

"Please, do as he says. She needs us." Dave held his mother’s icy, limp hand as he pleaded with the doctor.

"Don’t waste any more time then. Bring her into the treatment room." The doctor led the way and had the healing chamber door open waiting for them.

Max placed her inside and Dave maintained his grip on her hand. Max reached for Dave and Liz’s joined hands and initiated a three-way connection. "We need to stay with her. She’s almost gone." He placed his forehead on Liz’s arm and concentrated on sending her strength and love. He felt Dave add to his efforts. They infused her with their energy, willing her to use it to return to them.

They gave their energy freely until they were dangerously drained. Dave slumped down against the side of the healing chamber, never losing his grip on his mother’s hand. Max was hanging onto consciousness with all his will power. He would not fail Liz. He couldn’t live without her. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder and new energy flowed into him. Max didn’t question who had come to their aid, he just channeled the energy into Liz.

After a time Max heard the doctor say, "Her physical condition has stabilized. You can release the connection now." Neither he nor Dave released Liz’s hand. They had almost lost her and they needed to touch her for their own reassurance. Max sank down beside Dave. Liz’s arm dangled between them, Max leaned his head against it and Dave held her hand.

Max opened his eyes and when he could focus he saw a very pale Gregory sitting on the floor not far away. "You?!" He was astounded at the identity of the energy donor. "Gregory, I have no idea why you would do this for us, but you have my gratitude."

Gregory smiled tiredly and got shakily to his feet. "I owe this woman a debt and it’s still not paid up." Max raised his eyebrows in question. "I’ll explain some other time. I have to attend to other duties now." Gregory turned to go but was stopped by Dave’s voice.

"You have my thanks also, and whatever help I can give you, Gregory." Dave’s eyes slowly closed and he fell into an exhausted sleep still holding his mother’s hand. Max smiled tenderly at the sight and closed his own eyes as sleep overtook him, too.

A short time later Isabel came into the treatment room and saw her brother keeping vigil beside his mate. Tears came to her eyes and she dashed them away impatiently. Liz had to live. She had to. It just wouldn’t be fair for her lonely brother to finally find his mate only to lose her.

Not wanting to disturb him, but needing to be physically close after their separation, Isabel sat beside Max and leaned against him. He stirred and put his arm around her, never quite waking up. She sighed and closed her eyes, feeling safe for the first time since she had been captured.

Several hours later the door to the treatment room opened again. Michael quietly walked in. He turned and smiled his thanks to the nurse who had showed him where to find his friends. She had told him about Liz and reassured him that they had the drugs out of her system and that she should wake soon.

Michael pulled up a chair and slouched down in it, trying to find a comfortable position. He’d just wait here until everyone woke up. They had been apart too long.

The chief medical officer and his assistant entered the room the next morning and were taken a little aback at all the company the unconscious woman had. Their movements awakened the adults, but Dave slept on. Isabel leapt up and almost knocked Michael over with her hug. "God, Michael, it’s so good to have you safe."

Michael returned her hug more freely than he ever did as an awkward teen. His love for Maria had matured him and he was able to express his feelings securely. He said, "Ditto," knowing this would make her laugh. It was his standard response from those years when he’d been afraid to admit to his feelings. He was right. Isabel laughed through her tears and mock-punched his arm.

Max watched their reunion with relief. The three of them had never been apart for such a long time and it felt good that they were back again. He didn’t want to release Liz’s hand so he stayed where he was and just smiled at them.

Since he and Dave were occupying one side of the healing chamber the doctor went to the other side and began to examine Liz. When he was finished he consulted the readings on the instrumentation on the side of the chamber. He made doctor sounds and walked around to consult with Max.

Dave woke up at this point and looked around at all the people crowding the treatment room. "Hey, Iz. Morning, Max." He greeted the ones he knew, nodded politely at Michael and then focused on the doctor.

"Mr. Evans, Mr. Parker. Would you care to come into my consulting room?" he began.

"Actually, no." Max and Dave spoke as one. Dave looked at Max and nodded that he should continue. "This concerns all of us so, if you please…"

"Very well. The healing chamber has removed all traces of the drug from Ms. Parker’s system and has re-hydrated her. There is no physical reason for her continued unconsciousness and frankly, I’m at a loss. She should have awakened by now."

Max had also been growing concerned with Liz’s continued unconsciousness. But she was alive! He could feel her there in that special place in his heart. Why wasn’t she waking up? There had to be something they could do.

Dave turned to look at him, his aura displaying his distress. "She’s lost in her head, Max. That’s what the dreams were about. She’s lost and can’t find her way back to us." This was the final blow. The traumatic events of the last six months crashed down upon him and Dave buried his face in her quilt and cried like a lost child. His heart wrenching sobs brought tears to all their eyes.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:37:24 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

Max knelt down and embraced them both. His love for his mate reached out, searching for her, refusing to give up. A connection formed automatically between the three of them and Max and Dave found themselves back in Liz’s dream orb. The mist inside was so dark they almost couldn’t see each other. Linking hands so they didn’t become separated they called out to her. "Liz!" "Mom!" They waited and called to her some more, but still she was lost.

Determined not to give up, Max tried a different method. He recalled the feeling of incredible awe and wonder he had felt when he realized that Liz trusted him unconditionally. He remembered his admiration at her bravery in facing her grief without letting it destroy her enjoyment of life. His mind replayed the sound of her laughter, the gleam of mischief in her eyes that had entranced him during their tickle fight on the porch. He let the feeling of total completeness that filled him to the core of his being pour out, the completeness he felt only because she occupied that aching, empty space in his heart. Max gathered all of this and wrapped it in his love for her and sent it out into the mist. His love shone out like a beacon and he hoped it guided her back to him.

They waited and still the mist did not part and show them what they most wanted to see: the small dark-haired woman they both loved. Dave dropped to his knees, tears streaming down his face. Max rested his hand on Dave’s shoulder and an idea came to him. One of the strongest instincts a mother had was to protect her child. Max instructed Dave to send out images of the times when he needed his mother and she was there for him. Max kept his hand on Dave’s shoulder and fed him energy.

Dave’s mind was filled with the feeling of unconditional love and acceptance that his mother radiated. He remembered how his soul basked in that radiance and how it helped him to become a strong and confident person. He remembered how his mom had not let him withdraw into himself when his powers first manifested. She found ways to bring him into contact with his peers until the fear and uncertainty caused by the knowledge that he was so very different were replaced by a growing confidence in himself and a belief that he was as good as they were, no matter the differences they had. He remembered the gratefulness he felt but couldn’t express.

He remembered how she had resisted his teasing pleas for more and more computer equipment. Instead, she had suggested ways he could acquire the money himself, providing the opportunity for him to earn those wonderful feelings of pride and accomplishment he felt when he finally had his dream computer setup established. He recalled how gently she had supported him when he first began to fall in love with Julie, how she let him talk around the subject as he explored this new feeling that was growing.

Dave’s memories of countless instances of his mother’s love for him began to pour out of him and stream away into the dark mist, searching for the person who had made him possible. Finally all that was left was the first memory of her that he had: the security and warmth and love that had surrounded him while he was still in her womb comforted by the sound of her steady heartbeat. He concentrated on that and projected his continuing need for her.

Peering into the mist Max exclaimed, "It’s starting to lighten, Dave!"

The mist began to swirl and the area near them began to clear. They heard her voice, faint and weak. "Dave? Max? Where are you? Are you here?" In a small trembling voice, "Are you real?"

Max called out, sending his strength out to her in hopes that she would accept it and use it to find them. They needed her so much. "Liz! Come to us! We need you. We love you. Come to us."

Dave added, "Mom! I’m here. I’m really alive! Come find me! I need you and I have one unbelievable hug deficit." He held out his arms, waiting, hoping for the small, slim figure to fill them. Suddenly she was there. Wordlessly she flung herself at them. Dave enveloped her in his arms, wrapping her tightly. They were both crying, both trying to talk at the same time.

Max watched for a moment, tears of joy washing the strain of the recent worries from his face. He was just turning away to give them privacy when Liz and Dave each reached out an arm and invited him into their embrace. He could see Liz’s anxious expression. She asked, "Max? Are you going away?" Her small hand reached out for him like a lifeline.

Max turned around, his face alight with love. "I will never go away." //I’m not alone anymore.\\ He stepped forward and completed the circle. Their auras blended and merged and the resulting golden glow shone out as strong as the sun breaking through storm clouds.

Liz raised her head and said wondrously, "Look!" A glorious triple rainbow appeared shining brightly against the last of the dark mist.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:39:16 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

Max, Liz and Dave returned to the reality of the healing chamber. They sat up and Liz tried to hug and kiss both of the men in her life without letting go of either of them. She was laughing and crying at the same time, her face and aura glowing with nearly blinding happiness. She ended up with her face between Max’s and Dave’s, her arms gripping their necks in almost a stranglehold.

Liz turned and kissed her son’s face, "Thanks for helping me find my way back, Dave." Then she turned to her mate and touched her forehead to his, "Love you, Max. Without your strength and love I wouldn’t be here."

Isabel’s face was wet with tears as she watched her brother’s joy as he hugged and kissed his mate. Looking forward, Liz saw Isabel for the first time. "Isabel? I’m so glad you’re safe now!" Isabel brushed her tears aside, went forward and threw her arms around her brother and his ready-made family. His aura clearly indicated that his heart was now complete.

Surfacing momentarily from his overwhelming happiness Max noticed Michael was standing apart, a wistful expression on his face. He looked like that emotionally isolated teenager he used to be before Maria’s love had given him the security he needed to truly grow up. Max reached out with the arm that was around Isabel. "Michael." He let the pride and love he felt for his friend show clearly in his face. This mature, responsible adult was the main reason Isabel and the other captives were safe. "Impressive job, Michael." He hooked Michael’s arm and drew him closer, squishing Isabel accidentally.

She squeaked, but grabbed Michael and kept him from moving away. It just felt so good to be together again. "Liz, I want to formally introduce you to ‘Spike’." Her voice was amused as she looked aside at Michael to see his reaction. But he was feeling too good to even try to pretend to be offended.

Totally comfortable and not at all stressed with the closeness, Liz squirmed around in the mass of rejoicing people and tried to see Michael. Finally she saw his spiky hair and tried to keep a straight face as she acknowledged the introduction. "Michael. I’m pleased to meet you. I’m glad you and Isabel are safe now. Maria will be so happy to see you." Liz remembered his impending fatherhood and wondered when he was going to tell his friends. It wasn’t her secret to tell so she couldn’t congratulate him.

Finally the doctor’s assistant broke them up, insisting on completing Liz’s examination to insure that nothing had been overlooked. Max didn’t want to leave Liz but at that moment the intercom buzzed. A nurse answered it and the captain’s voice was clearly heard requesting that the chief medical officer’s along with Max, Isabel and Michael’s presence in the debriefing that was scheduled to start as soon as they could get there.

Accurately reading the expression on Max’s face, Dave reassured him. "I’ll stay here with Mom."

Max clapped him on the shoulder, "Thanks, Dave." He leaned in and gave Liz a kiss. "I’ll be back as soon as I can." She brushed her hand lightly over his cheek and returned his kiss, suddenly too overwhelmed to speak."

When Max, Michael and Isabel entered the briefing room, the captain and his officers stood up and gave them a standing ovation. After they were all seated the captain began the debriefing. "Mr. Evans, Ms. Evans, Mr. Guerin. On behalf of the whole crew and myself I want to thank you for your assistance. There is an excellent chance that we will be able to repair our computer with the help of the Al’Centrans who stayed on the generation ship. And once the computer is repaired, we will have a good chance to return to our own time.

Max looked relieved at that news, but then a negative thought intruded. "Um, Captain, have you decided what you’ll do if you aren’t able to return to your own time?"

"We’ve had this discussion and decided to stay on the generation ship if we are unable to return. In our time, the presence of the generation ship is not widely known so we won’t disturb the timeline."

"But your families…" Isabel’s voice was filled with compassion.

"Our families will be safe. We’ll just have to be satisfied with that." The captain’s voice was firm. He gathered his thoughts and continued the briefing. "We’ve taken the last of the Dissidents into custody and they will be dealt with harshly when we return."

"And if the worst happens and you are forced to stay here in our time, what will happen to them?" Michael had had the closest association with the Dissidents and knew how ruthless they were.

The captain’s face was grim. "The Al’Centrans from the generation ship have established small bases in the asteroid field. The Dissidents will be marooned on one. We will provide supplies, but they will never leave there."

He continued. "Our computer repairs are progressing on schedule. We will begin the return trip to Earth later today. You and your group will be returned to Earth."

"And Dave?" Max wanted to be sure on this point.

"Young Mr. Parker is extremely important to the timeline. He must go back, but Mr. Evans, Ms. Evans, Mr. Guerin, I must ask that you not tell him any more about the future. If he has too much knowledge, it might influence his actions and change what we have worked so hard to preserve.

As the briefing continued, Max began to feel uneasy. He attributed it to being separated from Liz so soon after her ordeal and tried not to show it. He reached out and attempted to ‘path Liz, but couldn’t make contact. But instead, he felt Dave’s mental touch.

**Max!** Dave ‘pathed to him in a panic. **The doctor’s assistant is going to hurt Mom! He took her into the next room and locked the door. I can feel her and she’s really scared, but she won’t answer me when I try to ‘path her. She’s got her shields powered up big time and I can’t get through them.**





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:42:14 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

Max sprang to his feet in alarm. "Captain, something is happening to Liz! Dave just ‘pathed me that the assistant is trying to harm her!" He didn’t wait for a response and ran from the room. It didn’t take him long to reach the medical center. Dave was in the waiting room trying to get the lock open on a door on the far wall.

"Stand away, Dave!" Max said urgently.

Dave backed away, face pale with fear and anger. "They’re supposed to be on our side! What are they doing to her, Max? She’s so scared!"

Max didn’t bother to finesse the lock open, he just directed the force of his anger at it and it dissolved. He slammed the door open and ran into the room, unprepared for the shock he received. The assistant had Liz strapped down to a table and was trying to connect some type of device to her head. She was struggling soundlessly, totally lost in panic.

With a wordless roar, Max used his power to fling the assistant away from Liz. He rushed over to her, trying to soothe her and release her from the table at the same time. As soon as he touched her she tried to reach out for him. "Max!"

"Liz! I’m here now, no one will hurt you." He struggled only for a second with the straps before losing patience and using his power on them. Released, Liz moved toward him, to be met by his open arms. He swept her up and moved away from where Dave had the assistant pinned against the wall.

Isabel, Michael and the captain entered the room at this point. "What took you so long?" Max demanded.

Michael looked at his friend, his frustration evident. "You took the only elevator that was nearby, Maxwell." He and Isabel positioned themselves between Max and Liz and the rest of the people who were trying to enter the small room, their stance communicating their willingness to defend their friends.

Captain Harris took control of the situation. "All right! Everyone just stop where they are!!" He went to an intercom panel and called for security. He pointed at the group guarding Liz. "Stay there." Then he strode over to Dave and the assistant. "Mr. Parker, I’ll thank you not to inflict any more damage on my personnel." Dave glared at him and opened his mouth to speak. "No arguments. We’ll get to the bottom of this without violence."

Dave said between gritted teeth, "I haven’t hurt him YET. If he gets near my mom again, he’ll have more to worry about than a bloody nose."

The security men entered at this point and the captain directed them to either side of the assistant who was looking worse for wear. Blood was streaming from his nose and he had a nasty scrape on his jaw.

The assistant looked around in shock! Why were they restraining him?! He’d only been doing his job when that woman had attacked him. He began to protest his treatment. "Why am I the villain here? I was the one attacked!"

Dave lunged toward the assistant and one of the security men restrained him, not realizing that he was able to stop him only because Dave permitted it. "You were hurting her!! Why were you trying to put that contraption on her head?! Why did you have her strapped to the table!! You’re a doctor— you were supposed to be helping her!!"

"Dave, come here." Liz’s voice broke through Dave’s anger. He gave the assistant one last glare and went to his mother’s side. She reached out for his hand and gripped it firmly. **I’m all right now, Sweetie. Stay with me and we’ll be okay.** She looked up at Max, concerned with the anger she saw so openly displayed there. **Max. Please look at me.** She placed her still trembling hand on his cheek, guiding his eyes down toward her. **I’m safe now, Max.** And whatever else she was going to say was smothered in his fierce embrace.

**Oh god, Liz. Are you sure you’re all right? What happened? He didn’t hurt you, did he?** He felt Liz send him reassurances and calmed somewhat. He placed Liz on her feet and into Dave’s arms, not questioning that he would be there to protect her.

Max strode up to Captain Harris and said, "I believe we’re owed an explanation for this assault on my mate." His expression was stern and commanding and the captain met it firmly.

"Let’s all go into the waiting room. It’s larger and we can sit down." Captain Harris directed the security men to escort the assistant. As they were all finding seats, he noticed that Michael and Isabel hadn’t relaxed from their duties as guards; they kept themselves between Liz and his crew. Her son had his arm around her and was glaring at anyone who got too near. And Max was visibly torn between his duties as leader and his instinctive need to hold his mate in his arms. Liz won.

Gregory and the chief medical officer entered the room at this point. Captain Harris indicated that they should remain standing near the door. The room was crowded enough at this point and he wanted to ensure his security men had room to operate if necessary.

Max noticed they were blocking the doorway and ‘pathed to Gregory. **Gregory, please don’t block the doorway. It makes Liz nervous and she doesn’t need any more stress right now.** Gregory looked startled and moved aside, taking the doctor with him.

Captain Harris turned to face Liz. "Ms. Parker, were you harmed?" When Liz shook her head he continued. "If you please, then, tell us what happened."

Liz opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the assistant. "Why are you treating her like she’s the victim here? She attacked me!"

"Silence!" The captain’s voice was not loud, but it’s commanding tone had the proper effect. His stern look softened as he turned back to Liz. "Please continue, Ms. Parker."

"Thank you, Captain." Liz tried to compose herself and not show her distress. Max and Dave were barely under control themselves and she didn’t want to be the trigger that set them off. She began in a small voice. "After you all left for the meeting the assistant wanted to examine me. I wasn’t comfortable around him and since I knew I wasn’t hurt, I’m afraid I wasn’t too cooperative. I just wanted a shower and to be alone with my son."

She smiled at Dave, looking at his beloved face. It was so good to have him back. "Dave stayed in the waiting room and I went into the examining room. The assistant said there was a shower located there. He followed me into the room and closed the door. I wasn’t aware that he’d locked it until later when Dave tried to get in." Liz patted Dave’s arm, willing him to stay calm.

"He took me by the arm and tried to make me get onto the examination table. He wouldn’t tell me what he was going to do, he just kept insisting that I do what he said." Liz’s face paled at the memory but she kept her expression calm.

She took a firm grip on Dave and Max’s hands, both for comfort and to keep them from doing something rash. "I felt him trying to force his way into my mind. We struggled. I gave him that bloody nose that is so colorfully decorating his face and uniform and when I turned to run he tripped me. I fell and hit my head. When I came around he had me strapped to the table and was trying to put something over my head. I believe you know the rest."

She ‘pathed reassurances to Dave and Max. **I truly am okay. Let’s just get finished with this and go home.**

Max’s rage was incandescent. "Captain Harris. If this kind of treatment is standard, I’m afraid I seriously misjudged your people."

Both the captain and the chief medical officer objected to this characterization. "Let me assure you, Mr. Evans, if this is what really happened, the assistant will be disciplined harshly."

"Do you doubt her word and the evidence we saw with our own eyes when we had to BREAK THE DOOR DOWN TO SAVE HER FROM BEING MENTALLY RAPED!!?" Max’s voice rose until it was a harsh shout when he finished.

**Get a grip, Max!** Michael ‘pathed to him. The stress of the mission had forced him to sharpen his telepathy skills; they were almost as reliable as Isabel’s now. **We won’t let them get away with this, but yelling won’t help.**

**Your anger is upsetting Liz.** Isabel knew just the angle to take. Max visibly calmed himself, but his eyes did not lose their intensity. Liz leaned her head against his arm, drawing strength and comfort.

The assistant chose this moment to blurt out more in his own defense. "There was nothing wrong with what I was doing! As a doctor I have to extremely strong telepathic skills. When I touched her arm I couldn’t read anything at all from her. The readouts from the scout ship’s healing chamber and our main healing chamber clearly revealed her heritage to someone with the intelligence to read them. A mere human shouldn’t have an aura like she does nor shields strong enough to keep me out. I was attempting to augment my power with the scanner when I was so rudely and violently interrupted."

He glared self-righteously at Max and Dave. "The trauma she went through with the Dissidents may have damaged her. She needs treatment."

"Did you stop to consider that what you were trying to force on her was just as much a trauma as what the Dissidents put her through?" Gregory’s icy voice cut through the stunned silence.

The chief medical officer glanced at the captain. "If I may?" At Captain Harris’ nod he continued, "Security, please escort this individual to his cabin and see that he stays there."

After the protesting assistant had left he turned to Liz. "Ms. Parker, you were treated abominably and I hope you will not judge all of us by my assistant’s behavior. I’m afraid his inappropriate and excessive pride in his mental capabilities led him to do things that were not proper." He looked back at the captain. "He will be dealt with, you have my assurance on the matter."

"May we go now?" Liz asked in a small voice. //This mere human has had about all she can take.\\

**I heard that, Liz Parker,** Max ‘pathed to his mate. **Don’t let what that idiot said upset you.**

**Quack.**

The sad tone of her telepathed voice tore at his heart. "Captain, I believe we’ve all had enough for now. I need to get Liz someplace where she will feel safe. May we be excused?" Without waiting for permission, Max scooped Liz up in his arms and walked out.






Edited by - ColoradoGal on 09/16/2001 14:47:14
posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:45:45 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

The rest of his ‘guards’ followed him into the corridor. "Bring her to my cabin, Max?" Dave asked. **I’ve been there long enough for it to absorb some of my vibes. Her ‘mom-sense’ should pick them up easily.**

//He’s right. These subliminal clues should make her more at ease-- better than my cabin; it’s as sterile and impersonal as a hospital room.\\ "Good thought, Dave." Max smiled warmly at his mate’s son. Such an impressive young man.

"Max, put me down. I can walk." Liz attempted without success to get down.

"Hush up. I want to carry you." **Do this for me?** Max sent her a telepathic kiss and was rewarded when Liz snuggled up close to his chest.

Dave led the way while Michael and Isabel followed Max and Liz, still in guard mode. Dave opened his cabin door and stood back for the rest to enter. When he followed them in he found Max sitting in the chair with Liz still in his arms. It didn’t look like he’d be letting her go any time soon. Dave smiled and went to sit beside the chair, taking the hand she held out to him. Michael and Isabel sat on the bed.

Isabel leaned forward and rested her head in her hands. "Is it over yet? I want to go home. I want to see Alex."

Michael wrapped her in a comforting hug and rocked her. "Hang in there for a while longer, Izzy. You’ve been great. I don’t think we would have rescued all those captives unharmed without your inside help."

"Thanks, Spike." Isabel’s voice was muffled against his chest, but her amusement was clearly heard.

They spent some time catching each other up on the events of the past two weeks. Everyone started to relax and release the tension that had gripped them for too long.

The group had fallen into a companionable silence when there was a knock at the door. Dave got up and opened it, startled to see Gregory waiting there. "May I come in?" he asked hesitantly. Dave looked at Max for his okay then stepped aside, gesturing for Gregory to enter.

"I believe this is yours, Liz." Gregory handed her the quilt he found abandoned in the healing chamber.

"Thanks," Liz said shyly, hugging the quilt to her chest.

"Liz, aren’t you a little old to have a security blankie?" Michael looked at her curiously.

Liz laughed and snuggled unabashedly into her quilt. "Nope."

Gregory straightened and looked at Max. "It is my pleasure to tell you that we’ll be entering Earth orbit early tomorrow morning. We’ll drop you off wherever you want in the scout ship."

There was general good cheer and approval for Gregory’s announcement. He stopped at the door before he left and faced Max again. "Max, Liz, would you be so kind as to drop by my cabin this afternoon?" When Max nodded okay he looked at the rest of the group. "I’m sorry to be rude and exclude you good people, but the matter is personal."

"Well, that was interesting," Isabel commented when Gregory had left. When Max and Liz offered no further enlightenment she stretched back out on Dave’s bed, thinking pleasant thoughts about her reunion with Alex.

The next to knock on the door was the Chief Medical Officer. He didn’t enter the room, but spoke from the doorway as if uncertain of his welcome. "Ms. Parker, may I speak to you privately?"

Max stood and let Liz up. **Do you want me to go with you, Sweetie?** In answer Liz reached for his hand and took him with her as she walked out the door. Max closed the door and stood close to his mate, ready to back her up in any way she needed.

The doctor, plainly intimidated by Max’s expression, cleared his throat and struggled to make this encounter less threatening. "Thank you," he began. "Let me apologize again for my assistant’s actions." Liz nodded without speaking. "Will you two accompany me to my office? There are some things we need to discuss." He turned and led the way down the corridor.

When they were seated in his office, the doctor consulted a file that was displayed on the screen on his desk. Going into doctor-mode he folded his hands and looked at the couple seated across from him.

"Ms. Parker, I hesitate to release you from our care without completing the examination that went so wrong today, but I can see from your aura and the expression on Mr. Evans’ face that there is very little chance of that."

"I’m fine. I just want all of us to go home." Liz had on her stubborn face and she had a white-knuckled grip on Max’s hand. Max had on his ‘whatever she says goes’ expression. The doctor didn’t have a chance.

The doctor pressed a button on his keypad then reached over and picked up a stack of papers from a slot in the wall. He placed them into a folder and put them on his desk. "I printed out your complete medical records. Although it wouldn’t be a good idea to show them to a present day doctor, you can take them with you. If you wish, I will go over them with you."

When Liz hesitantly nodded, he continued. "What I know of your history is second hand, so I might have to have you clarify some things for me, if you’re willing." Another nod. "The scout ship healing chamber’s records were brought to us when Mr. Evans came aboard. From my understanding, you were injured escaping from the Dissidents and Mr. Evans placed you into the healing chamber. It was successful in healing your serious injuries, including repairing the damage it found to your reproductive system."

Max had heard this before but had forgotten it in the urgency to rescue Liz. He glanced over at her and saw her face pale even further. He sent her reassurance through their strengthening link. She sent back a telepathic kiss.

Liz nodded at the doctor and said in a strained voice, "The damage occurred when my son was born."

Beaming at them like he was personally responsible, the doctor continued, "It gives me great pleasure to tell you that you are no longer barren." He watched the smiles the couple exchanged and evaluated their auras. After giving them a moment to process that information, the doctor continued with his summary. "The healing chamber here on this ship successfully removed the drugs the Dissidents had given you and countered what little damage it found. I have your assurance that you suffered no other injuries?" He looked at Liz for confirmation and received it. "Would you talk to one of our counselors? You’ve been through so much lately. It would do you good if you could talk to someone."

"No." Liz was firm on this point.

The doctor was just framing his objection when Max spoke up for the first time. "Don’t push her on this." He looked over at her and his love shone clearly. **I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk, Liz. In your own time, in your own way.**

Seeing the devoted look Max gave this small woman, the doctor realized she didn’t need a stranger to help her through the trauma. He continued giving his summary. "The scout ship records and our own tests have established your heritage. I believe there was some question about this in light of your, shall we say, talents? My report also tells me that you are aware of Al’Centrans and what that means in the way of the different powers than humans normally do not possess.

"Well, Ms. Parker, you are an enigma. You are clearly human but you apparently possess powers similar but not exactly like Al’Centrans have."

Liz’s face revealed nothing to the doctor and somehow she had shut down her aura too, giving him no clue how she was taking this news. This further increased his curiosity. The few times he had seen this human woman her aura had been strong and strangely compelling. "Is there any way you would consent to letting us study you for a short while? The information would be very valuable…"

Liz shook her head and lifted her chin slightly. "I am what I am." She looked at the doctor, still revealing nothing of her reactions. "I don’t think you could get through my shields. And I can’t imagine what use I would be to your study would be except as a scientific curiosity."

Wave after wave of desolation washed over her, chilling her to her core. She didn’t belong anywhere. She really was an odd duck and this time it wasn’t a familiar joke. The numbness began to spread.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:50:46 PM

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

Max caught the edge of her emotions and just that small exposure made him catch his breath. He’d felt alone growing up as an Al’Centran among humans, even though he had Isabel and Michael. Liz had just found out she was very likely unique.

He sent out the warmth of his love to counter the chill and continued to pour his affection and acceptance of her unique self into the link. He knew it wasn’t dignified and this wasn’t the proper place, but he pulled his mate into his lap and added the warmth of his arms to his efforts to fight off that chill her soul was suffering.

Max had had about enough. "Are you finished, Doctor?" He wanted to get Liz back to the room among people who loved her, people who accepted her and valued her as a person, not as a scientific oddity. He stood up, Liz still in his arms. "We’ll be going now." His expression and aura left no room for argument.

When he reached the corridor Liz said, "Let me down, Max. I’m a grown woman and able to walk on my own." She had her shields powered up and he could see that Cleopatra had won the struggle.

"Walk with me, Liz. We won’t go back to the room for a while." He led her toward the small gym where he and Dave worked out. He knew it would be empty and he used his powers to seal the door to give them privacy.

Max turned her toward him and lifted her face to his, trying to see through those dark eyes he loved into the depths of her wounded soul. "You aren’t thinking that your heritage will affect my love for you, are you, Duckie?" He called her that deliberately, knowing that was just what she was thinking.

Her doubt didn’t offend him; he knew she’d had too many shocks lately to be thinking like her normal logical self. The strength that he so admired would get her through this. And this time she wouldn’t have to do it alone. He would be there beside her, behind her, wherever she needed and they would get through this together.

"Oh, Max." Liz gave a ragged sob and flung herself into his waiting arms like she was coming home. She accepted the warmth and love that flowed out from him, needing no more words. His embrace said it all.

Max initiated a connection between them and their growing link as mates allowed it to be a complete two-way connection. Her shields were no longer an obstacle; they were in her mind. Max was able to connect through the link their hearts shared.

He welcomed her into the warmth of his heart and was moved to tears when she was able to open herself completely for the first time. This timeless communion between the two lovers healed both of their hearts of any loneliness or sense of isolation that still scarred them.

**Will you stay with me forever, Sweetling? Will you always fill that empty space in my heart? Will you marry me?** Max’s ‘pathed voice was gentle and loving.

**I think I just did.**

Gradually the connection ended, but the link between Max and his mate stayed strong. Liz looked at him and gave him a joyful kiss. "Love you, Max."

"I’d like to love you more thoroughly, Duckie, but not on a cold and dirty gym floor. You’re still not recovered from all that’s happened." This was neither the time nor the place for their loving. But he returned her kiss with interest, then he placed his hand over her womb and smiled at her.

She knew where his thoughts were because hers were there with his. "So how would you feel about being a daddy sometime, Max?"

Max grinned happily and gave up being responsible. He got to his feet and threw Liz over his shoulder. "You haven’t had your shower yet, have you, you stinky woman." Max carried her into the shower and stood her back on her feet, but didn’t release her from his embrace. Liz reached up and cupped his face with both hands, her love clearly displayed in her face and aura. Max returned her gaze and the soul mates spent a long moment lost in each other’s eyes.

Liz finally did get her shower and Max took it with her, reveling in this new intimacy. He used his powers to dry her hair and took advantage of the abundance of soft warm towels to make a nest for them on the floor. Then he did his best to start that baby they both wanted.

After their loving Max used his powers to alter some sweats to fit Liz’s tiny frame so she would have clean clothes. He looked down at her, his adoration for her shining on his face. Liz reached up to brush the hair off his forehead and opened their link further, just because she could. She felt so complete when she was with Max.

Max was leaning down to kiss her when his stomach announced it was time for lunch. Liz got the giggles and bent down to kiss his noisy stomach. "Let’s go gather our family..."

Max continued for her, "…and have a nice normal meal with nice normal conversation."

After lunch, Liz and Max stopped by Gregory’s cabin as he requested. He welcomed them into the living area and Liz stopped in her tracks. Displayed proudly on the wall was the nagging quilt! It was faded and tattered in places, but she recognized the quilt that had nagged her so unmercifully to finish it.

Stunned, she walked over and turned back the corner, not surprised to see her Odd duck signature. Smugly, the quilt bragged of its child. Liz listened to it patiently, proud of its accomplishments. When it was finished, she patted it affectionately and turned around, wonderment and questions all over her face.

Gregory smiled at her expression. "Would you like to sit down and I’ll tell you the story about how that quilt got in my family?"
Mystified, Max and Liz sat on the couch together, their hands linked like their souls.

"Once upon a time…" Gregory began his story the traditional way, a gleam of mischief in his eyes. Max hoped his face didn’t show his astonishment at this display of humor. He hadn’t even considered that Gregory had a sense of humor.

"Once upon a time, almost ninety years ago a young orphan child was in the middle of a crisis of faith. She was ten years old, past the prime adoption years and was facing years of foster care instead of a permanent family. She decided to run away and live on her own. But she was too young to survive on the streets and a friendly police officer rescued her from a very bad situation. She was cold and dirty and scared.

"Taking pity on the shivering child, the friendly police officer went to the trunk of his cruiser and took out a quilt. There were other quilts in there, provided by an organization called, for some reason, Project Linus. But this quilt was the perfect one for this little girl.

"Sitting beside the scared little girl he began to tell a story of the quilt that talked. This quilt never quit talking. Every time he opened his trunk it would demand, "Have you found my child yet?" It never quit nagging the police officer!

"But today it was happy. It had found its child. The police officer gently wrapped the quilt around the little girl and she smiled bravely at him. At that moment the police officer’s heart was won. He pulled strings and called in favors and that very day he took the little girl home to his wife.

"The quilt stayed with her as she grew up, offering warmth and comfort through life’s normal trials. She grew up, married and had a daughter. This daughter grew up and had a son who went on a great adventure. And on the night before he went on this adventure, his mother gave him the quilt to provide comfort and support when he was far away."

Liz’s face was wet with tears. Gregory said gently, "Thank you for helping my grandmother find her family."



posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:53:42 PM

CHAPTER FORTY

Liz and Max walked slowly back to Dave’s cabin, sharing their thoughts easily through their link, each feeling more and more complete the longer they were together. Liz looked up at Max and her love radiated with such warmth that Max felt it on his skin. If this was even a small portion of what Dave had felt growing up, it was no wonder he was such a great kid. He looked back at this small woman who had such a large and giving heart. He glanced around the corridor and seeing no one, he stopped and swept his mate into a tight embrace, burying his face in her silky hair.

**That was quite a story Gregory told us, Liz.**

**It was so good to see that nagging quilt. It was so proud of Gregory’s grandmother.**

**Liz,** Max began hesitantly, **Can you really talk to your quilts?** He had thought that she was just playing a game when she talked to her quilts. Now, he wasn’t sure. And if they took Gregory’s story at face value, his grandmother’s adoptive father could talk to quilts also. Well, if one could accept the existence of his ‘alien’ powers, it was logical to accept the existence of paranormal powers in the human race, rare as they seemed to be.

She looked up at him, an amused look on her face. "Quack!!" Liz laughed at the expression on his face and duck-walked away from him down the hall, quacking quietly as she went.

She sprang back up and spun around. "Hey, Max! Can we contact Alex and Maria?? I know we’re going to be home in the morning, but that’s too far away." She danced back up to him and threw herself into his arms, never doubting that he’d catch her.

Giddy with happiness Liz reached up with both hands and drew Max’s face down to hers. "Please?" She planted a quick kiss on his lips.
Max grinned at Liz’s antics. He’d never seen her so happy. He’d never been so happy himself. It would be a shame not to spread their happiness around. "Wonderful idea. But Michael and Isabel will have to settle for dreamwalking since I’m not there to bring Maria or Alex into the dream plane."

"To put it delicately… ‘huh?’" Liz looked confused.

Looking carefully at her aura and checking their link to gauge her reaction he explained, "As far as I know, a human can visit the dream plane only when an Al’Centran brings them there. Everyone creates a dream orb when they sleep, but the dream plane seems to be an Al’Centran thing." He sent love and acceptance of her uniqueness through the link.

"Thanks for explaining, Max." **And thanks for the reassurance, too. But don’t go into overprotective mode whenever something like this comes up. I told you when we first met that I’m a tough old bird and I can handle it.**

**You’re not tough! I found you quite tender!** And he began nibbling Liz’s neck, holding her as she squealed and tried to get away. Then realizing that they were still in the corridor, Max settled for just tucking her close to him and continuing their walk back to Dave’s cabin. Max couldn’t wait to get back to Liz’s house.

They turned the corner, still gazing into each other’s eyes and ran into Captain Franklin. Blushing, they made their apologies. Captain Franklin looked at the couple and accurately judged the reason for the collision. He was struck by the radiance of Liz’s aura. It made him happier just to experience the fringes of it. It must be incredible to be mated to a woman who could generate such an aura.

"Ah, Mr. Evans, Ms. Parker. It is good to see you looking happier." When Liz and Max exchanged a look full of their feelings the captain had an idea. "Is there anything I can do for you two? Captains do have certain powers, you know." He wondered if they would get the hint. His conscience had been bothering him when he thought about the hell this small woman had been put through because of the Dissidents. If they would allow him to perform their marriage ceremony he would feel that he had made a small step toward reparation. He stood patiently while they communicated.

Max turned to face Liz, tilting his head to put their foreheads in contact. Gazing into her beautiful dark eyes, he became lost for several moments. When Liz sent him a telepathic kiss it reminded him of the question at hand. **Liz Parker, will you marry me tonight while we are traveling through the stars?**

**Max Evans, I will marry you whenever and wherever you want.**

Max sent a telepathic chuckle, **That’s good, because I don’t think present day authorities will recognize a marriage officiated by a man who hasn’t even been born yet. We’ll have to do this again when we get home.**

**I know, but if we allow him to do this for us it will make him feel better.**

Max was amazed at Liz’s sensitivity and compassion for a man who had allowed her to think her son had died horribly. Max felt that he was one incredibly lucky man to have her for his mate. He wrapped her in a tight embrace and faced the captain. "Captain Franklin, we would be honored if you would consent to marry us."

Captain Franklin beamed with delight. "I’ll tell Gregory and let him get started making arrangements. We don’t have much time." He shook Max’s hand in congratulations and continued down the corridor a much happier man.

Max and Liz returned to Dave’s cabin to break their news. Their happy faces alerted their friends and family that something momentous had occurred.

Liz walked over to her son and took both his hands. "Dave…" She looked at her son, so newly returned to her and was overcome with joy. She threw her arms around him and held him close, forgetting what she was trying to tell him.

Michael and Isabel looked on, mystified. Max knew what had happened to Liz’s train of thought so he rescued her. "Dave, what your mother is trying to tell you is that she has consented to be my wife." He was rewarded with Dave’s happy expression.

Dave didn’t seem to have any more words than Liz did at the moment; he just continued to hug his mother. After a moment, he reached out his hand to shake Max’s hand. "Welcome to the family, Max."

Isabel squealed with joy and launched herself at her brother. Max barely released Dave’s hand in time to catch her. "Max!! I’m so happy for you." She turned and hugged Liz and Dave. "Liz, we’re going to be sisters!" She gave Dave a peck on his cheek. "Hello, nephew-to-be!" Only Alex’s presence would have made her happier.

Watching this emotional display from his seat on Dave’s bed, Michael grinned. It was about time Max found some happiness. He got up and walked over to the happily talking group. "Well, Maxwell, it took you a while, but you’ve finally found someone who will put up with you." He punched his friend on the arm playfully. "Congratulations to you both. Well, to all three of you, I guess."

And that reminded Michael that his own family would soon equal three and his grin widened. He and Maria would make their announcement when they were reunited tomorrow morning. Their dreams would definitely be pleasant tonight. He wondered if Maria would like to make this a double wedding.

His expression displaying his happiness, Max broke the rest of their news. "The Captain wants to perform the ceremony tonight. Gregory is making the arrangements."

"Yeah, it looks like the bride will wear sweats." Liz said with a laugh. She was too happy to worry about details like that. A knock at the door interrupted the laughter. Michael answered it and stepped aside for Gregory to enter.

Gregory stood just inside the door, not wanting to intrude on their happy moment. "Liz. Max. Please accept my congratulations." This had come out rather stiffly, but he continued. "Liz, would you allow me to walk you down the isle? I know we’re not family, but I would be honored if you would allow this."

Liz gifted him with a radiant smile. "Gregory, your offer makes me very happy. Thank you for thinking of me."

Gregory flushed with pleasure at her response and stepped outside into the hall to retrieve the package he’d left there. Offering it to Liz he continued, "My friend would like you to have this dress for your wedding since you have none of your own. She’s not as small as you are but I think Isabel will help you make it fit." He cleared his throat and tried to finish with his announcements. "The ceremony is scheduled for 7:00 tonight. I’ll come pick you up." Pausing at the door before he left he added, "Thank you for allowing us to do this for you."

There was a silent pause after Gregory left, everyone processing the new developments. Then Isabel took possession of the dress Gregory had given Liz. She turned to the guys and announced happily, "Out! It’s bad luck for the groom to see his bride in her dress." She pushed Max toward the door. "You can see her at the wedding, not before!"

Laughing, Max allowed her to evict him from Dave’s room. Michael and Dave were next and they found themselves facing the closed door as they stood in the corridor. "Well, I guess we’d better make ourselves presentable. We can use my cabin," Max offered. Smiling wide enough to split his face, he led them down the corridor.





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:56:55 PM

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

Leaning against the closed door, Isabel contemplated her future sister-in-law. She remembered the frightened and desperate woman who had won her admiration and was pleased with the transformation she observed. "You positively glow with happiness, Liz. We’re all going to need sunglasses to protect our eyes from your aura!" She walked forward and opened the package with the dress. "Now let’s see what we have to work with!"

"Oh, Isabel, I’m so happy I can hardly contain myself. Who would have thought my life could make such a wonderfully joyous turnaround so quickly. Pinch me. I think I’m dreaming." When Isabel reached for her arm she moved away, laughing. "No, I’ve changed my mind. If I’m dreaming I don’t want to ever wake up."

They chatted happily as Isabel used her powers to tailor the dress to fit Liz’s petite form. "Maria’s going to really scold you for getting married without her." She began to arrange Liz’s long dark hair into an intricate style.

"What can I say? Your brother swept me off my feet!" Liz laughed happily. "We’ll have to have a legal service when we return anyway." At Isabel’s questioning look she explained. They both had a good laugh at the paradox and continued their preparations. Using her powers liberally, Isabel soon had Liz looking very bride-like. The dress Gregory’s friend had given Liz wasn’t a traditional wedding dress, but the white silk dress made an adequate substitute.

Admiring herself in the mirror Isabel had created out of one of the wall panels, Liz turned to see the back of her dress. "You do great work, Isabel. Thank you so much." She twirled happily. "Just wait ‘til Max sees what you’ve done!"

"You realize we have to have dinner here. We can’t let Max see you until it’s time for you to walk down the aisle." She checked her watch. "Thank goodness we don’t have long to wait."

"Oh, I’m too excited to eat!" Seeing Isabel’s stern look, Liz added, "But I guess I’ll just have to force myself. Why don’t you go eat with Max and Michael and just bring me back something. So much has happened, I really need a break to just think."

"I’ll bring your dinner back," she agreed. "Boy, am I going to have fun teasing Max," Isabel said with a gleam in her eyes as she left.

Not long after, Liz heard a quiet knock. **Mom, is it safe for me to come in?** She rushed to the door and opened it to let Dave in. She wrapped him in her arms, unmindful of her dress or hair. "Wow, Mom, you look beautiful!"

"Oh Dave, I still can’t get over it. Every time I see you I am overwhelmed with happiness. I’ve got my son back again!" Eyes misting over, Liz hugged her son again. **Are you okay with what’s going to happen tonight?**

**You can really pick husbands, Mom. Max is a great guy. I’ve started his hapkido lessons so you can’t take advantage of him.**

"You be good, David Parker, or I’ll tell Julie!" Seeing Dave’s face she smiled and continued, "Oh my oh my, are you going to have a surprise for her tomorrow!" Liz hugged her son tightly. They hadn’t had many chances to talk alone since she’d been rescued. "Now, sit yourself down and tell me what’s happened to you since… well, you know what I mean." She still couldn’t say it.

Dave smiled affectionately, understanding her completely. God, he’d missed her. He’d missed talking to her and seeing her love for him shine so clearly in her aura. He’d even missed her bad duck jokes. Giving a happy sigh he rested his cheek against hers.

They settled down on the bed to have a good talk, catching up on events in their lives. They sat there, hands linked, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, but always rejoicing in the fact that they were together again. Dave conveyed his approval of Max and watched his mother’s eyes shine as he told her of their escapades in the dream plane and how Max was teaching him to use his powers. Liz told him about Julie’s visits and how she was doing. When she told him about her plans for Denny’s house Dave agreed it was a fitting memorial for their friend.

Isabel opened the door to Dave’s room and was touched by the sight of mother and son, auras blending together in love. Her lucky brother was getting a fine family. She and Alex had been putting off starting a family of their own. If only their situation were different… She’d love to change the decision she’d reluctantly made.

"Here’s your dinner, Liz. Dave, you just have time to get a shower and get dressed!" Isabel hurried them along. When Dave was dressed she told him to go the ship’s chapel and wait there. He and Michael were going to be Max’s best men.

And suddenly it was time. Gregory knocked at the door and held his arm out for Liz when she opened it. Smiling with unrestrained happiness Liz took the arm he offered and they began their walk to the chapel. Gregory didn’t have much to say, being almost overwhelmed with the effects of Liz’s aura. //Max Evans is one lucky man,\\ he thought in admiration.

Isabel followed, silently amused at Gregory’s reaction. She really couldn’t blame him though. Apparently when Liz was happy her aura grew stronger and radiated her happiness like a sun. She hadn’t noticed it being this strong when they were captives together. It was just a regular strength one then, displaying whatever emotions Liz was feeling. //Boy, it’s a good thing she doesn’t radiate her distress like she does her happiness!!\\

She laughed silently at a new thought, //An aura like Liz’s will quickly train Max to keep her happy. Not that he’ll need much, if any, training for that. He is *so* besotted!\
Reaching the small chapel, Isabel stepped in front of Gregory and Liz, ready to precede them down the isle. She paused and looked toward her brother, her eyes filling with tears as she watched his face and aura light up when he caught sight of Liz. //God, and I hate women who cry at weddings!\\ Isabel brushed her tears away but new ones took their place.

Hearing her musical cue, she started down the isle, smiling through her tears. **I wish Mom could have seen this, Max.**

**She’s watching from heaven, Izzy. Can’t you feel her?**

**Oh, Max. I’m already crying. Why did you have to say that?**

**You look good in tears, Iz.**

**Thanks, Max. But I know you haven’t taken your eyes off your glowing wife-to-be since she appeared in the doorway. Will she always glow like that?**

**She will, if I have anything to do with it.**

Gregory and Liz had reached Max and Gregory handed her over to the man who made her glow so happily.

Max and Liz faced each other, hands linked, hearts linked. They exchanged a loving look and for a long moment were lost in each other’s eyes.

**Psssst. Aren’t we here for something, Max?** Michael felt Max needed prodding to stay focused.

Max refused to be hurried. He loved looking into Liz’s eyes and seeing her love shining back at him. When they were ready, Liz and Max’s joyous voices repeated in unison the words that would join them forever.

"With all my heart and soul I take you to be my mate.
I will love you through the good and the bad,
through the joy and the sorrow.
Together we will face all of life’s experiences
and share one another’s dreams.
We will rest in each other’s hearts forever. "

**Love you, Max.**

**Love you, Liz.**

Captain Franklin put his hands on their shoulders and turned them around. "By the authority vested in me by the World Alliance of Nations, witnessed by your friends and family, I have the pleasure to pronounce you husband and wife."

Max’s aura shone as brightly as Liz’s. He drew her close and they kissed their first kiss as a married couple. Overwhelmed with his happiness, Max lifted Liz up and twirled her around. Their friends and family clapped and cheered. When he stopped twirling and set her down, Dave claimed her for a congratulatory hug.

Captain Franklin stepped up to shake Max’s hand and claim a kiss on the bride’s cheek. "We’ve had refreshments delivered to Dave’s cabin." He ‘pathed to Max, **My apologies for confining your party to the cabin.** Max nodded his acceptance.

Gregory approached the new couple and happily offered his congratulations. He and Liz exchanged a happy smile, thinking of coincidences and quilts. "Mrs. Evans," Gregory began, amused at being the first to call her by her married name, "Let me express my gratitude once again and say that it was an honor to meet you. It will make a great addition to our family’s stories."

He turned to Max. "Max, I’ll take this opportunity to say goodbye. I won’t be able to see you off tomorrow— duty calls. But I wanted to again express my thanks for your help." He shook Max’s hand and as he turned to leave Liz’s hand on his arm stopped him.

She reached up on tiptoes and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. "Thanks for everything, Gregory." He blushed beet-red and nodded, stumbling over his feet as he turned to go.

Max ‘pathed a chuckle to Liz. **I believe you’ve flustered the poor guy.** He turned to look at his bride, intending to tease her further, but when their eyes met he was lost again.

Michael saw Max begin to lose himself in Liz’s eyes yet again. He walked up and put his arm on Max’s shoulder. "Earth to Max… Earth to Max… Maxwell, shall we move this celebration to Dave’s cabin?" Getting no response from the spellbound bridegroom, Michael looked to Isabel for help.

Laughing she walked up to the entranced couple and interposed her face between them. Max blinked several times and focused on his sister’s laughing face. "Max, we need to move back to Dave’s room. Can you walk and gaze into your bride’s eyes at the same time?"

Michael picked Liz up and began walking toward the door. "Follow the carrot, Maxwell. OUCH!"

"Who are you calling a carrot, Spike?" Liz was amused at their solution, but she wanted down. Now.

"Oh, Michael, you have no idea how much danger you’re in!!" Dave’s amused voice got his attention and Michael put Liz back on her feet. Taking his mother’s hand he urged her toward the door. "Come on, everyone! Party’s in my room." **I’ve always wanted to say that!** he ‘pathed to him mother.

**Dave! Behave yourself.** But her admonishment wasn’t serious, she recognized ‘Dave-humor’ when she heard it.

**Behave yourself, mother mine. Your aura is totally out of control— yeah, now you blush! I thought we’d all have to put on sunglasses when you were walking down the aisle.**

**Wedgie…** Liz sent an image of the last time her super secret weapon had gotten Dave, just as a reminder. She watched his face as the image reached him and laughed aloud. "Gotcha."

Max walked up and took Liz’s other hand. "I heard you’re hosting the party, Dave. Let’s get out of the hall before they call Security down on us for disturbing the peace!" And they actually did make it to Dave’s room without incident.

"Hey look, Mom! Champagne! Here’s Gregory’s note. It’s from Captain Franklin and him." Dave held the note out toward Max, who was closer.

Max looked at the note, then laughing, read it aloud for everyone:

" May your glasses be ever full.
May the roof over your heads be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour
before the devil knows you’re dead.

"He goes on to say that his grandmother was Irish and the Irish know the best toasts. And not to worry about the champagne— he altered it so it has no alcohol."

"Hurrah for that! Pour me a glass!" Dave’s happy shout made everyone laugh. He played the proper host and filled everyone’s glasses with a flourish.

Isabel raised her glass and said:

"Here’s to the groom with bride so fair,
And here’s to the bride with groom so rare!
Here’s to their marriage: one soul in two bodies."

"Thanks, Izzy." Max raised his glass toward his smiling sister.

Michael stepped up and in a comic Irish accent gave his toast to the newlyweds"

"May the luck of the Irish
Lead to happiest heights
And the highway you travel
Be lined with green lights."

"Maybe we’re Irish instead of Czechoslovakian, Maxwell," he added as they sipped their drinks after his toast.

Getting into the spirit of things, Dave raised his glass and faced his mother and Max.

"As you slide down the banister of life,
May the splinters never point the wrong way."

**Dave!** Liz sputtered into her champagne.

**You get the idea, Mom. You always said it the thought that counted…**

And the party continued until Max took his bride by the hand and led her to the door. Turning to face their friends and family he said, "Thank you all for making this a memorable wedding. We’ll have to do it again sometime soon…" His eyes gleamed with mischief as he reminded them that they really would have to do all of this over again. Max raised his glass and toasted them:

"May your troubles be less
And your blessings be more.
And nothing but happiness
Come through your door."

Tossing his empty glass to Dave he opened the door, "We’ll see you in the morning. ‘Night everyone." **Race you to my cabin, Liz…**

**Max! You’re so bad!** "Good night, all. Sweet dreams." **On your mark, get set…**





posted on 15-Sep-2001 2:59:39 PM

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

Five very happy people were gathered around the hangar, waiting for the pilot who would be taking them back to earth. The cloaking device would keep the ship concealed from radar or human eye so there wouldn’t be a worry about UFO reports or (gasp) military intervention.

Michael and Isabel had very satisfactory visits to certain dream orbs the night before and were not waiting very patiently. In fact, they were in the middle of a just-for-fun argument about who would be the first out the door when the ship landed. Max watched with affection, a happy grin on his face.

**Dave, are you doing okay? You’ve been isolated for so long and now you’re in the middle of a very lively bunch of relative strangers.** Liz was just where she wanted to be: Max on one side and Dave on the other. Max had explained about her ‘happy’ aura and she was trying without much success to tone it down.

**Uh, Mom, you’re the one with people problems. Remember me? Your rabidly social son?** Dave leaned over and pressed his cheek to Liz’s. **Thanks for looking out for me anyway.**

The pilot appeared, ushered them into the ship and saw that they were all strapped in. He grinned to himself at their irrepressibly happy expressions. The trip didn’t take long and soon they were there. Max had pinpointed their landing location for him earlier and he competently set the ship down directly in front of Liz’s house.

Michael and Isabel rapidly undid their seatbelts and dashed for the door. Laughing and pushing, they managed to exit at the same time. Max, Liz and Dave paused to thank the pilot and walked toward the exit. Liz wasn’t about to let go of either of her guys’ hands so they had their own laugh at the awkward way they got through the doorway.

They could hear Maria screaming with delight before they reached the ground. They arrived at the foot of the ramp to find four ecstatic people greeting each other. Max herded them toward the porch to give the pilot room to take off.

Dave was the only one who actually watched the ship take off. The way it gradually faded from view as the cloaking device activated fascinated him. And the engine of the ship was totally silent, further sparking his curiosity. His subconscious immediately began working on ways to re-create this marvelous technology. Lost in thought, he didn’t hear Max speaking to him. Liz gave a little tug on his hand (which she still had not released) to get his attention.

"Dave, if I can get their attention, I’d like to introduce you to two more of our friends." He was looking with amused affection at the antics of the reunited couples. He doubted they even realized the ship had taken off, they were so wrapped up in each other.

Maria looked up at this point. Her dream last night had prepared her for Michael’s arrival, but who was the young man Liz was holding onto like she’d never let go? Max could tell when it hit her. She didn’t know what to do first. Scream, run hug Liz, run hug Dave, keep hugging Michael. Too many decisions for her overloaded mind to make. So she did the only thing she could: she tried to do them all at once and was remarkably successful, although Michael claimed he suffered hearing loss in the ear she screamed into.

Eventually Dave was properly introduced and they had all found seats in the living room. There was much laughter and talking as they brought everyone up to date on what had been happening. Maria and Alex were happily surprised at the news of Max and Liz’s marriage and Maria was even happier when she realized that they’d have to do it all over again and she’d get to help with this one.

Liz was reluctant to bring up the news of her heritage and newly fertile status. It was all too new and she wasn’t ready to talk to their friends about it. **Thanks for understanding, Max.** She sent him a kiss and then settled back in his arms. There would be time enough later to talk about all that. She wanted to enjoy the festive mood of their friends.

Eventually there was a lull in the conversations and Maria gave Michael a significant look. Clearing his throat, he stood up and prepared to make their big announcement. Maria knew part of it, but not the part that he was adding. "Um, well, I guess you need to know this, guys." He looked back at Maria, trying to keep his expression blank. Looking over at Dave he thought, //Oops, better clean this up.\\ Clearing his throat again, he began a totally different announcement than he had started to give.

Letting his joy clearly show on his face he said proudly, "I’m gonna be a daddy!" He reached out a hand to draw Maria to her feet. Turning her to face him he looked down at her dear face. "And I’d really like to be a husband, too. Maria?" Shocked by the second part of Michael’s announcement, Maria could only squeal and hug her spaceboy.

After everyone had exchanged hugs and congratulations, they settled back down and the conversation turned to the new baby. "I hope she doesn’t get Michael’s hair," Alex teased with a shudder.

"Or his tendency to blow things up…" added Isabel. A sudden thought struck her. "God, what are we going to do if she does inherit Michael’s powers? How will she ever grow up without having to keep so much of herself secret?" She didn’t mean to bring the mood down, but she remembered how isolated she had been until she’d let Maria and Alex into her heart.

Alex accurately read her mood and drew her closer under his arm. He knew this was why she hadn’t wanted to start their family. Hiding a melancholy sigh, he kissed her cheek to show he understood.

Liz watched her friends face the reality of keeping secret their Czechoslovakian heritage without stunting their children’s growth and development. **Max, have you noticed how much land there is on the other side of the lake?**

**Pardon?** He had no idea where she was going with this.

**It seems to me that there is room enough for two or three houses there and still not be crowded. Lots of privacy, controlled access, great neighbors already established…**

It came to Max in a flash of happiness and pride what she was asking. Totally speechless, Max pulled her into his lap and hugged her tightly. **Love you, Liz!**

Their friends looked on, mystified. Max recovered enough to formulate words and he relayed Liz’s proposal to them. Maria rushed over and wrapped her arms around Liz and Max, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She drew back and grinned happily at Liz, "We’re going to be neighbors!"

"Neighbors with a built-in baby sitter," Dave added, grinning back at Maria to show he was all for the idea. He loved kids and hoped to have a whole passel of them himself. His mother may not have known it but she had solved a problem Dave had worried about since his relationship with Julie had gotten serious. Not that they were going to have kids any time soon, but he definitely wanted Julie to be the mother of his kids.

Liz was gratified with their reaction and happy that her friends would be close to her. Roswell was too far away. Looking down at her grinning son where he sat at her feet, she knew he approved. She reached out her hand to him and squeezed his larger hand with her small one. Liz hoped that she and Max would soon have news their own to share. Wonder how Dave would like being a big brother?

Isabel seemed the most affected by Liz’s offer. She sat in silence, happy tears streaking her face as she realized that there was no longer any reason for her not to start having the children she and Alex wanted so desperately. Alex hugged her to his chest and let her hide her face against his neck.

Alex looked over at Max and Liz. "Thanks." This simple word was not adequate to express the feelings overflowing his heart at this moment, but it was the best he could do. Max’s proud look and Liz’s welcoming smile let him know they understood.

The rest of the day passed happily and soon it was late afternoon. Liz happily cooked dinner with Max and Dave’s help. Dave put in the extensions for the table and Max brought the extra chairs up from the basement. The dining room was crowded, but pleasantly so. And yes, they had a nice normal dinner, with nice normal conversation.



Michael, Maria, Isabel and Alex left the next morning right after breakfast and headed for Roswell. They’d be back as soon as they made arrangements for the sale of their houses.

Michael and Maria were in the biggest rush. They wanted to get their new house completed before winter set in. Alex and Isabel planned stay in Roswell and oversee the sale of the two homes before they came back to start their house.

Walking out to the porch, Liz found Dave rocking, a serious look on his face. She took a seat in the other rocker and silently held out her hand for his. Physical contact with her son was a comfort she had been denied for too long. They rocked together for a while, happy just to be together.

Liz looked at her son and was amazed at how much he’d grown while he’d been ‘gone’. He was a man now. His eighteenth birthday had passed that week and too much had been going on for even his mother to remember the day. She’d make it up to him, though. She was already planning the menu to include all of his favorite foods.

They kept each other company in silence for a while and she knew with a mother’s instinct that he was troubled by something near to his heart. Correctly guessing the subject of his thoughts, Liz stood up, reached into her pocket and drew out the jeep keys. She handed them to Dave. "Julie hasn’t left for her semester abroad. She put it off until next year. Want to go surprise her?"

"Mom!" Dave wrapped her in a big hug and swung her around. "You’re my favorite mom, you know that, don’t you?" Dave started for the jeep then stopped and turned around, a concerned look replacing the extreme happiness of a moment before. "What will I tell her? She knows me too well for me to get away with a lie."

"Tell her the truth, then. Just not all of it. You were kidnapped and held against your will. You were saved and now you’re back home and you don’t want to talk about it." Liz walked up and ruffled Dave’s hair. "I can tell you from personal experience that just having you back is going to be good enough." Dave gave her another happy hug and ran for the jeep.

Max came up behind Liz, wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on her head. They watched Dave drive down the road together. The house was suddenly empty of the happy crowd of friends and family.

"Want to go say 'hello' to the lake, Max?"

"Actually, no." Max took Liz by the hand and led her toward the door. "I’d rather go say 'hello' to the bed…"


THE END