posted on 15-Feb-2002 9:45:45 PM
Title: Whom among us Part one
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13 for now
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Author's notes: Future fic. Assumes that Liz has a lot more luck cutting Max out of her life after 'End of the world.' There's been a lot of furor over whether this qualifies as a dreamer fic, so watch out if you have no tolerance for rebel-ness.
Spoilers: End of the world. Scattered concepts after that.

Second author's note: Borders suggested I repost this to let anybody who has never seen this fic catch up before I start posting the new material from part eight, and Jennifer said it was okay. So here we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liz blushed. "Oh, nothing imp-"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The rest of..."

"Kyle? Alex, Maria??"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TO BE CONTINUED...

[ edited 5 time(s), last at 5-Jan-2003 2:46:29 PM ]
posted on 16-Feb-2002 12:41:14 AM
Title: Whom among us Part two
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13 for now
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Author's notes: Future fic. Assumes that Liz has a lot more luck cutting Max out of her life after 'End of the world.' There's been a lot of furor over whether this qualifies as a dreamer fic, so watch out if you have no tolerance for rebel-ness.
Spoilers: End of the world. Scattered concepts after that.

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

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

The message was short and to the point:

Hey, Whitman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Means what?" Michael asked sourly.

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

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

"It?" Michael prompted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Isabel's working on the housing issue," was all he said.
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To be continued...
posted on 16-Feb-2002 8:54:06 AM
Title: Whom among us Part three
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13 for now
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Author's notes: Future fic. Assumes that Liz has a lot more luck cutting Max out of her life after 'End of the world.' There's been a lot of furor over whether this qualifies as a dreamer fic, so watch out if you have no tolerance for rebel-ness.
Spoilers: End of the world. Scattered concepts after that.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What??"

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

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

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

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

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

"Tell it to the Quizmaster."

"Wh-"

"You heard me!!" Liz insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I think that's a good idea."

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

"What is it, Liz?"

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

"Amateur."

"You're here too!" Liz protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Twenty-two seconds."

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

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

Isabel! HELLPP!! Liz screamed mentally.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To be continued...

posted on 16-Feb-2002 11:32:41 AM
Title: Whom among us Part four
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13 for now
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Author's notes: Future fic. Assumes that Liz has a lot more luck cutting Max out of her life after 'End of the world.' There's been a lot of furor over whether this qualifies as a dreamer fic, so watch out if you have no tolerance for rebel-ness.
Spoilers: End of the world. Scattered concepts after that.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

Once again, Liz knocked nervously on a door.

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

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

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

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

"Whatcha need?" Pete interrupted with a sigh.

Liz blushed. "The laptop."

"For how long?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Scanner?"

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

"Printer?"

"Oh, yes."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

The bus driver made Alex's decision for him.

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Okay..." Max said somewhat uncertainly.

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

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

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

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

"The capsule," Max breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What?"

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

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To be continued...
posted on 16-Feb-2002 2:27:47 PM
Title: Whom among us Part five
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13 for now
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Author's notes: Future fic. Assumes that Liz has a lot more luck cutting Max out of her life after 'End of the world.' There's been a lot of furor over whether this qualifies as a dreamer fic, so watch out if you have no tolerance for rebel-ness.
Spoilers: End of the world. Scattered concepts after that.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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

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

And yet, here I am...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The others," Liz supplied helpfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Uhhh... two six five."

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Why are we... Ma-"

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabel frowned. "Max, I-"

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

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

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To be continued...

[ edited 1 time(s), last at 16-Feb-2002 5:25:47 PM ]
posted on 16-Feb-2002 9:39:23 PM
Title: Whom among us Part six
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13 for now
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Author's notes: Future fic. Assumes that Liz has a lot more luck cutting Max out of her life after 'End of the world.' There's been a lot of furor over whether this qualifies as a dreamer fic, so watch out if you have no tolerance for rebel-ness.
Spoilers: End of the world. Scattered concepts after that.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Whoa."

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

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

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

"Dude! Sorry to hear it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he reminisced as he went.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You look great to me!"

"Ran-"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Uh... yes."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To be continued...
posted on 16-Feb-2002 11:46:27 PM
Title: Whom among us Part seven
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: chris⊕chriskweb.net
Rating: PG-13 for now
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Author's notes: Future fic. Assumes that Liz has a lot more luck cutting Max out of her life after 'End of the world.' There's been a lot of furor over whether this qualifies as a dreamer fic, so watch out if you have no tolerance for rebel-ness.
Spoilers: End of the world. Scattered concepts after that.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex sighed again.

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You told me..." Max started.

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

"You gonna be okay?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To be continued...
posted on 19-Feb-2002 4:32:53 PM
Whom among us, part eight
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, based at Roswell stories: http://roswellstories.tripod.com
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


----------------------------------------------------------------------

Liz hurried down the last flight of stairs and across the small, empty landing, trying to make the huge metal tube she was carrying feel normal.

Max and Michael had broken into the nebula analyses lab using their powers, but they'd suggested that Liz carry the score over the stretch of ground where the risk of discovery was greatest, within the Physical sciences building. Because she was known to most of the students and professors, and might even be able to convince them that she had a perfectly good reason to be in possession of one of the Department's radio telescopes.

Liz pushed the blank metal door open carefully and peered out as well as she could. No sign of Michael and Max, no sign of anyone in fact. "Where are they?" After a second's thought, Liz propped the telescope up against a corner of the wall where it would be safe and unlikely to be noticed for a moment, and opened the door further, poking her head out and looking this way and that. Still nothing.

But it seemed like she had only just let the door swing closed when there was a knock upon it. Liz swung the portal open a third time and there was Max, Michael standing right behind him.

Liz didn't ask what had kept them. "Your turn," she said, hefting up the telescope and handing it to Max. "Take it back to base camp, ASAP. We move out at eighteen forty-five hours."

"What about you?" Michael asked. "Aren't you coming back to base camp with us now?"

Liz shook her head. "Got a few things to deal with at my place. I'll be there soon." She smiled at the two alien guys, pushed past them and out the doorway, heading back to her dormitory room.

* * * * *

Tess left her room and headed out into the rest of the apartment. Nobody her own age (in Earth terms,) was around. Bentor was staring thoughttfully at the laptop computer screen, and Ardra was struggling against Davin in a mockup game of 'Cantapheria,' a strategy game from their homeworld.

Shrugging, Tess headed over to her once and present tutor, Ardra. "Hey, where is everybody?"

Ardra seemed to welcome the excuse to not make her next move anytime soon. "Isabel is centering herself. Being this close to so many other young people is hard on her, I think."

Tess smiled sadly. They each had their burdens to carry, but what Isabel had gotten herself into when she began relearning her skills as a telepath was harder than most. "And Max? Michael??"

"Another raid," Davin said. "A radio telescope that Liz and Bent need to verify the object of our search - if we can find it."

"They left with Liz fifteen minutes ago," Ardra added. "Should be back soon, if everything goes according to plan."

Tess thought about that - and felt her mouth curling up in a disappointed pout. "Why didn't anybody tell me. I would've been up for a little larceny in a good cause... use my powers to keep anybody from seeing us, that sort of thing..."

"I suspect," Ardra confided, "that Max knew your powers needed a rest. He worries about you, and if the Kaffarras find us tonight out on the desert..."

"The desert..." Tess repeated questioningly, glowing inside a little from what Ardra had said about Max's concern for her. "What're we heading out there for?"

"To get a good view of the sky to use the radio gizmo with," Davin related.

"That's great," Tess bubbled. "I'll start getting things ready for the trip." She smiled and headed off into the kitchen.

* * * * *

Liz hurried back up the stairs to her residence hall, it was check-in time yet again. For one thing, she wanted to pack some more clothes and other essentials for the star-watching trip tonight - the clothes that she'd picked for comfort in Max and Isabel's warmly heated suite after getting soaked wouldn't be too nice out in the chill of a spring night in the desert. Also, Maria's regular telephone call would be coming through in ten - no, make that nine minutes, and Liz could really do with some good advice from her oldest, bestest friend in the whole wide universe.

It was with a considerable amount of surprise that Liz recognized the voices coming from further up the hall as she approached: "So I decided not to go out for the football team again last fall. I mean,

Zen meditation principles did a lot for my running game, but at a certain point, you have to ask yourself 'So what'? When everything's said and done, knocking other people down to catch a ball and carry it over a line just isn't a very enlightened pursuit, you know what I mean??"

"Kyle? Could you stop talking about Buddhism for just a second, please?!"

"Alex??" Liz hurried forward to see the two young men waiting across from her door. "And Kyle! What are the two of you doing here in Arizona?!"

"I decided that a visit was long overdue, Liz," Alex said, pulling his full height up from a squat and then bending down to give Liz a hug and kiss hello. "Kyle spotted me in L. A. and chose to tag along."

"What can I say?" Kyle took his turn to hug the still shocked Liz after Alex had let go. "It was either this or kraft dinner and ketchup at my dad's place again."

"You... you..." For some reason, in the confusion Liz's mind focused on that last tidbit. "You go back home to Roswell much, Kyle?"

The USC jock (or ex-jock) smiled. "A couple of times a month, I guess. I saw a screening of Maria's latest movie a few weeks ago, by the way. The scripts are getting better in her little 'film society.'"

"'Film company,'" Alex corrected offhandedly. "So, how have you been, Liz? We haven't caught you at a bad time, I hope?"

"Things are *completely* crazy around here right now," Liz confessed, looking up into Alex's eyes. "You wouldn't believe who just..." Something clicked, some little mannerism that Liz couldn't consciously identify, that gave Alex away. "You know, don't you, Alex Charles Whitman. You heard that Isabel's here, and that's why you've come."

"I resent that," Alex retorted, "at least I would, except that it's true. I'm sorry Liz, especially since that makes it look that I wouldn't get off my duff just to come down here and visit with you, which I should have, I know, but..."

"It's okay, Alex," Liz assured her friends' ramblings. "I've been busy too. So..." All of a sudden a ringing phone could be heard from the other side of the door into Liz's dorm room. "Oh, my god - that'll be Maria. Just stay right here --" Liz already had her keys out and was fumbling with the lock and the doorknob "-- I've gotta take this..."

The door flew open and Liz stumbled through it, orienting quickly on the phone and scooping the handset up. It had been only two rings so far, which was good. Maria had a tendency to hang up on the third or fourth ring. "Hey, it's Liz," Liz blurted out as soon as she had hit the 'TALK' button.

"Uh, hey Liz," Maria drawled lazily, obviously picking up the tension in her best friend's voice. "What's going on?"

Liz smiled weakly into the phone that could neither see nor relay on her facial expressions. "Well, let's see. *Everyone's* here in Arizona, for starters."

"Everyone?" Maria's voice picked up. "As in who??"

"Well, Alex and Kyle just showed up for starters. And..." Suddenly Liz remembered the warnings about not saying the names of the royal four where they could be overheard, because of the androids - and she had mentioned Isabel by name to Alex. Oh well, it probably wouldn't matter this time. Still, Liz reached out with her foot and closed the dorm room door soundly. "Max, Michael, Isabel, Tess, and their new friends," she whispered into the connection.

"Oh, boy," Maria whispered. She didn't seem to have any difficulty placing the reference to 'new friends,' which jived with the fact that Max had said Maria and Alex knew about his discovery of four other alien hybrids on Earth. "So... are they... I mean, Max and Tess, are they still..."

"Like you wouldn't believe it," Liz shot back, collapsing onto her bed. "Acting all lovey-dovey and married, the whole nine yards. Makes me want to gag." Actually, Liz hadn't been finding it all that bad lately - seeing how sincerely devoted Tess was to the man Liz loved and how much Max seemed to care about her in return, it was hard to work up that much bile. Still, hyperbole had its own pleasures.

"Oh, god," Maria breathed. "How are you dealing? If it were me, I wouldn't stand ten minutes without trying to slit her throat."

"It is you," Liz whispered, too quietly to be heard clearly over the phone, but instantly regretted it and resolved not to mention anything about Michael and Isabel to her best friend. "Don't worry about me, Mar, I'm fine. Max bumped in to me, asked for some help, and I'm doing what I can. It's the least I could do, for him."

"Okay," Maria said slowly. "You're sure you're fine? Don't need to unburden yourself any more with Lady Maria??"

"Positive."

"Okay, moving on then. What's the deal with our other guys, Alex and Kyle? Do you know why they showed up?"

"I think Alex was masochistically hoping to run into Isabel, and Kyle was bored. Nothing special there." Liz considered. "Oh, my god, something *else* happened that I have to tell you about, Maria. Boy, what a busy couple of days it's been!"

"I'm all ears."

"Okay, do you remember Pete Wilson? You met him at that New Year's Eve party in Baha."

"Oh god, like I could forget. You like Pete, you don't like Pete. You're going to ask Pete out, now Pete's dating your best friend. Boy, how is it you keep living in these kind of soap operas, girl??"

Liz tried to fight down a blush, even though no-one could see it. "Just bad luck I guess."

"Anyways, what's the latest development?"

"Pete asked me out."

"Oh, my god. You told him yes, right?"

"Um... well no, no I didn't."

"You told him no?"

A pause. "I told him I'd have to think about it."

Maria hmmmed as she considered that. "And this sudden bout of pensiveness - does it have anything to do with the fact that Maxwell Evans has returned to the picture, as spoken for as he may seem?" Liz stayed quiet for a long time, after which Maria whispered questioningly "Busted?"

"Not entirely," Liz insisted in her own defense. "I mean, yeah, the fact that Pete asked me out right after Max walked back into my life... it gave me pause, yes. Not that I expect to be able to get back together with Max, or anything. But... I really thought that Max was going to be 'the one.' Quote marks, capital letters, the whole deal, forever. Now I know better. So how the heck do I know about a guy like Pete?"

"Good point," Maria said slowly. "But let me ask you a question. How does *not* going out to dinner with Pete help you figure out if he is or isn't quote 'the one' end quote?"

"Once again you have a point, Maria DeLuca."

"On the other hand, I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of being reunited with Max quite so quickly, young lady."

"Maria!!"

"Hey, I'm just sayin', girl. If I had even the glimpse of a second shot with Michael, I'd give it every single ounce of effort I had. Destiny be damned. And I think if you give Pete that answer without being one hundred percent sure that the ghost of Max Evans in your heart has been laid to rest, you'll never be sure who you really love."

"Eck," Liz groaned. "I *hate* it when you're right, Maria."

"Then how come we've stayed friends for so long?" Maria teased.

"Because this happens so rarely," Liz joked back.

"Okay, I'm feeling unappreciated now, you'd better hang up before one of us says something we'll regret."

"Okay, I will," Liz decided. But before she hung up, she whispered four words into the telephone mouthpiece. "I miss you, Maria."

"Miss you, Liz Parker." The line clicked and went dead.

After sitting and thinking about that conversation for a long forty-five seconds, Liz got up and started gathering up the stuff she'd wanted to grab. It didn't take too long, and when she stepped out of the door again, both Alex and Kyle were staring at her impatiently.

She didn't worry about that. "Well, I guess you guys had better come along," she said casually, leading the way back to the Congreve tower.

* * * * *

"Ahh-mah-nih-tah-lee..." Isabel softly chanted. "Ahh-mah-nih-tah-lee." It was her mantra - didn't mean anything, just a string of sounds to concentrate on while she was centering herself.

It was days like this when Isabel almost wished she hadn't been reborn on earth with her telepathic talent. Sure she could do things that in some ways were more impressive than anything the rest of them could do with the power, but with great power came great drawbacks.

Like feeling the thoughts and emotions of half a town at once, just below the level where she could pick them out individually. Ardra had told Isabel that back on the homeworld, most telepaths struggled with telempathic overload, but almost all of them could deal with it entirely using meditation techniques. Mantra as well as she might, Is never really felt it to be more than halfway effective. Who did Arda think she was, anyways? Isabel's mentor?! More like Tess's tutor. Ardra's telepathic talents were at best moderate.

It was at about this point that Isabel realized that she had slipped out of meditation into a mental ramble mode, and carefully tested the state of her mind. About as well as could be expected. And the clock read 7:20 pm.

What was going on outside? None of the group bothered Isabel while she was 'centering,' which was both comforting and frustrating in its way. Once Max, Michael, and Davin had fought off four Skin assasins alone rather than call for help while she was meditating.

Isabel rose gracefully from her cross-legged pose on the bed, jumped down onto the floor, and looked at herself in the mirror. She was wearing the tight black pants and muted yellow tank top that she had put on after waking up this afternoon, and her blonde hair was falling down with just a hint of wave to it. With an offhand mental effort, she tightened the golden locks into windswept curls, then caught herself and cringed. Androids. Well, hopefully such a small exercise of the power wouldn't be enough for them to tune in on.

Out in the living room, Ardra and Kenner were trying their hands at some game with Earth-style playing cards. "Hey, where's the rest of the gang?" she called out.

"They've left to begin observations for the space capsule outside of town," Kenner reported, as gruffly un-ruffle-able as ever. "We've been waiting until you finished your -- meditations."

Isabel almost growled. Would this mania never bow to common sense? Suddenly a new voice entered the conversation.

"Yeah, and getting pretty tired of waiting too, I have to admit." A familiar voice. Well, it had once been familiar, years ago. Now, it was just... recognizable. Isabel turned around. "Kyle Valenti. What are you doing here?"

Before Kyle could reply, someone else stepped into the hallway beside him, and it was all Isabel could do not to cry out in shock. Not because she recognized the face as that of Alex Charles Whitman. By now Isabel couldn't resist making general telepathic contact along with eye contact. And even at first 'glance,' there was something truly incredible about Alex Whitman's mind.

At first Isabel would have mentally labeled it 'inner peace,' but that was probably misleading. There was little that was peaceful about the outer layers of Alex's mind and essence - and deeper down, where Isabel was seeing what she was seeing, it was hard to say if such a description was even meaningful. What had caught Isabel's attention seemed to be some kind of deeply buried inner strength...

"Well, we should be heading off now," Ardra said, snapping Isabel out of her own thoughts. She noticed that the servitors had packed up their cards somewhere, and Ardra was pulling on a jacket.

Isabel sighed slightly and headed over to where she'd stowed her duffel bag in the bottom of a closet to pull out a coat that would be sufficient against the nighttime wind off the Arizona desert in February. Once she was ready, Isabel turned around and noticed Kyle and Alex also getting into jackets.

"Don't tell me," she drawled. "We have to take you guys along?"

"Hey, not my idea," Kyle shot back. "I just came here to visit with Liz. And what does our good Miss Parker do but drag me back here, wherever 'here' is and take off with your alien friends on us."

Isabel noticed out of the corner of her eye that though Alex didn't attempt to join in the conversation, his skin flushed slightly when Kyle mentioned 'just come here to visit Liz.' She didn't have to do a telepathic probe to guess what was on that young man's mind.

But she turned back to Kyle for more sarcastic banter as they left the suite. "Well, we didn't expect to run into frat week. I didn't even know we were going to bump into Liz here in Tempe. So I guess everybody has to roll with the punches, huh??"

"That was a lame comeback, Is," Kyle chided her. "What happenes to the legendary Isabel Evans wit? Oh - I forgot - it got traded in for the Guerin family obviousness, didn't it??"

Now it was Isabel who was blushing, partly because she knew Alex was listening. "How did you know about that?!"

Kyle's face was a study in seriousness. "I guessed. You just confirmed."

The five of them walked over to the elevator in silence. Trading barbs with Kyle Valenti had just lost its appeal. "So... how about the weather out there?" she asked vaguely.

The elevator door rang.

* * * * *

"God, what's taking this so long?" Michael grumbled, staring out into the sky. "We got Liz the gizmo that she needed. Maybe she just doesn't know what to do with it, huh?" He guffawed coarsely at Tess, who shrugged embarassedly, not commenting.

Liz had tactfully ignored a few other comments throughout the operation so far, but something inside her snapped. Standing up from her crouching position near the telescopic equipment and putting some distance between her and the delicate sensors before she spoke, she walked up to Michael. "Oh, I know *exactly* what I'm doing here - I'm attempting the impossible for you guys!! This radio signal is so faint that even *with* the portable radio telescope you guys so kindly 'liberated' for me, we have to narrow the scan to no more than a few square arc seconds of the sky to be sure of hearing it. Even just a few years ago, that kind of narrow focus wouldn't be *possible*!"

Michael shrugged slightly, which just spurred Liz on. "You don't get it, do you? Well, an arc second is an extremely *tiny* amount of apparent distance." She held up two fingers, almost, ALMOST touching, as a demonstration. "So small that you wouldn't even be able to see it with the naked eye - unless there was a bright star or something else in that arc second to draw your attention to it."

"There are something like eight hundred billion square arc seconds in the sky. Even with the calculations that Bentor and I have done, we've got margins of error that are several arc minutes long and nine or ten arc seconds wide. So *excuse* me if this is taking a while and DON'T TALK WHILE I'M TRYING TO WORK!!"

As Liz's rant finished, she noticed that everyone around was kind of staring at her. "Well, what are you all looking at?"

"Perhaps you should take a rest," Bentor suggested diplomatically. "I believe we have learned enough to continue making the observations without you." He gestured to himself and Max, who had been paying the closest attention as Liz explained the scanning procedure.

Liz forced herself to cool down. "No, that's okay. I'm okay. I'm cool, I'm cool..."

"Yes, you are," Max said softly, stepping up to her. "But Bentor's right too. You've been working so hard on this for what... seventeen hours now, in one way or another? All of the rest of us have taken some crash time. There are some sleeping bags in the van, maybe you should..."

"No," Liz shook his head. "There's no way I could sleep while you guys are finding out if my figures are any good or not..."

"Then maybe just take a walk?" Max smiled at her sheepishly. "You can come and take over for me in fifteen minutes or something." Liz considered making another protest, but decided to defer to Max's judgement.

"Okay, I'm on the bench. See yas in fifteen." She forced a smile, waved teasingly, and headed off towards the other end of the field. As she left, she noticed that an RV was pulling up. That'd be Alex, Isabel, Kyle, and the 'other' two. She didn't want to go over to talk to them or anything. So Liz just kept on walking into the darkness.

What was she doing here, really?? Well, she was here because Max needed her help. Which was all well and good on the face of it. But what about what Liz Parker needed? If any of the four of them had been nearly as concerned about what Liz said as about all their alien drama...

No, that wasn't fair. Max, Michael, Isabel... even Tess had never let her down when Liz had come to any of them for help... (though she'd hardly ever had reason to *ask* Tess for anything...) Not exactly. But what about --

'Future Max.' The one thing that Liz had wanted, that she had needed more than anything in the world, and that time-travelling turd had had to take it away from her. No - not just take it away. He'd made Liz jump through hoops to push it away, to find some way of throwing what she felt for Max so far into the muck that neither of them would want to go back and get it.

How dare he? Liz had never asked to have the fate of the world on her shoulders, never wanted to be mixed up in alien destinies or any of this other crap. She had found something incredible with Max, and it *irked* her to the very depths of her circulatory system to have to give that up, for a reason that was probably far-fetched enough to make anybody laugh out loud. "Oh yeah, I love Max, but I had to break up with him and fake losing my virginity to my ex because his future self came to me and told me that the world would be destroyed in 2014 if he didn't get back together with his alien bride." Sheesh.

God! She had understood the pain in Future Max's eyes, that this was costing him as much or more than it was costing her, and that was what had kept her from arguing further with his premise. Why did it have to be that particular moment in time, that particular line of events alone, which could save the world? Why not find some way of making Tess feel like she belonged that didn't involve handing over Max's heart? Why not find some other alien that Max, Michael, and Isabel could have teamed up with? For god's sake, why not just find some way to kick this Kivar's butt before he could invade the earth?!

The tapestry of time was complicated enough, there had to be *some* other way to divert the course of history. Or had to 'have been'. The soulmate ship had sailed...

* * * * *

It had been the West Roswell high spring dance of 2001. Against her better judgement, Liz had accepted Alex's offer to take her to the dance 'just as friends,' and up to this point she'd actually been having an okay time. Just hanging around, listening to the music, (someone had gotten this pretty cool teenage bluegrass group to play,) and, along with Alex, making mild and toothless jokes at the expense of other partiers.

"Where am I today, I wish that I knew,
'Cause looking around, there's no sign of you."

"Oh, hey, punch glass empty," Alex said, taking the plastic cup from her hand with a smile. "I'm refill-man." Liz smiled back as Alex headed around the edge of the dance floor towards the refreshments table.

"I don't remember one jump or one leap,
Just quiet steps away from your lead."

Liz knew that Alex had asked her to the dance tonight as much to keep his mind off his own heartache as to keep Liz's mind off hers -- Michael and Isabel had made it quietly clear that they would be coming together, their first public date. Maria had chosen a different way to deal - she had sworn off the dance and was sitting at home with a popcorn sunday and a romantic comedy triple feature on videotape. Liz had offered to make it a girl's night in, but Maria encouraged her to come here with Alex.

"I'm holding my heart out, but clutching it too:
The feeling is short of the love that we once knew,"

While she waited for Alex to get back, Liz moseyed idly closer to the dance floor to watch, maybe make some toothless jokes all by herself.

"Callin' this a home when it's not even close,
And playing the role with nerves left exposed."

And that's when she saw them - he looking incredibly handsome in a conservative tux, she much more beautiful than she deserved in a pale lavender gown. Max and Tess, slow-dancing.

"Standing, on a darkened stage. Stumbling, through the lie.
Others have excuses. 'I have my reasons why.'"

They didn't notice her, Liz could tell that much. The way they were staring so deeply into each other's eyes, how could they?

Liz just stood there, shocked, watching them. She had known it in her mind, that Max and Liz were together, but seeing it was something else entirely. Did it all end, everything that she and Max had been through, right here?

"We get distracted by the dreams of our own,
But nobody's happy while feeling alone, (you're not alone,)"

She had to admit that viewed objectively, it seemed sweet. If you didn't know them, Max and Tess looked like a cute couple.

"Knowing how hard it *hurts* when we fall --
...Lean another ladder against the wrong wall!"

Tess leaned up on her tiptoes to whisper something towards Max's ear. Max smiled and murmured a throaty word or two in response.

"And climb - HIGH - to the highest rung,
To shake fists at the sky."

And then, Liz didn't realize how it had happened, but they were kissing, a chaste but tender public kiss, right out there in the middle of the dance floor. As Liz looked on, too morbidly fascinated to turn away, Max and Tess seemed to begin to glow with a soft bluish light.

"Others have excuses - *I have my reasons why.*"

Nobody else in the entire crowded gymnasium seemed to notice anything on, except Michael and Isabel, who Liz just noticed, and who were also looking with surprise at Max and Tess, as they broke this kiss, still gently shining with blue light. But Liz somehow knew that the was no illusion, no mind-warp invented to rub her nose in the fact of Tess' final victory. If only because she didn't think Tess was a good enough actress to create such an effect without having given some sign of knowing that Liz was there.

After everything that she'd been through with Max and his friends, everything that she'd seen, now some quirk of fate was letting her perceive the awful truth.

"With so much deception, it's hard not to wander away (hard not to wonder...)"

Max Evans and Tess Harding had just fell in love.

Liz turned about and ran out of the gym, tears flowing down her cheeks as she went, oblivious to the fact that Alex was finally on his way back with the punch. She tore the sleeve of her dress on the jagged splinter in the gym door, and never even noticed.

In a way, Liz knew she had kept on running until she got to Arizona.

* * * *

"Penny for your thoughts," a familiar voice said, jogging her out of her thoughts. Liz looked up and saw Max's face, dimly lit in the starlight as he stepped across the grass towards her.

"No sale," Liz answered before thinking about it. "So, what about the telescopes?"

"Alex is taking a turn," Max explained. "I wanted to talk to you in private. I'm sorry it it seemed like I was making you out to be the bad guy - er, bad person."

"Just a *little,*" Liz told him with a sigh.

"Well, that's not what I tought," Max asserted. "Michael was being a nasty jerk, which is a bad habit he's gotten into lately, and you put him in his place. End of story. Except... you seemed a little more irritable than you should be, Michael or no Michael. I thought you really could use a break, and didn't want to risk you breaking the surveying equipment if you lost your temper again before you got it." The teasing smile on Max's face let her knwo that he was just joking about that last part.

"And, you thought it would be a face-saver for Michael if you told him to shape up just among you guys, rather than take the outsider's side against him in public," Liz suddenly guessed. "Well, I guess I can understand that. We should be heading back over there."

"What's the hurry?" Max smiled again, a lazy smile that made him seem at one with the universe. "You're still on break, last I checked, Liz Parker."

"Okay, then what the heck are we going to *do* on my break?" Liz laughed back. "I'm bored stiff wandering around out here."

Max shrugged slightly. "We have the stars," he said, making a grandiose gesture up and around.

Liz couldn't fight a snort. "And what good does that do us?"

"C'mon, Liz, you're into this stuff now - you..." Max smacked a hand to his forehead. "You get technical data and theories shoved into your head all day until you're just *sick* of stars, don't you?"

Liz nodded. "Not quite, but almost, yeah."

Max considered that for a moment in silence. "I look up at the stars, and I wonder what they really look like from our home world. I remember a few facts, and tidbits, about the constelattions of our people, their legends about the stars, but I can't get the true sensation of how it *feels* to look up at another sky."

Liz grinned. "What kind of legends?"

"Well, let's see..." Max took a moment to orient himself, then pointed up at a bright star about fifty degrees above the horizon. "That's the one that earth astronomers call Deneb, right?"

"Um... yeah," Liz agreed after checking a few mental star maps of her own. "Also Alpha Cygni. A bluish-white supergiant, thousands of light-years away from Earth, but still first-magnitude -- one of the very brightest stars in our sky."

"My homeworld is considerably closer to it, so it's even brighter in our sky. Brighter than any true star is as seen from earth, probably even brighter than Venus at the height of its brilliance."

"Wow." Even though Liz could accept intellectually that this might be so on an alien world far away in space, it surprised and shocked her on a deeper level."

"According to the constellations that my people worked out long ago, Izmatar - our name for Deneb, is the brightest jewel in 'the crown.'"

"Oh," Liz commented. "You have a crown constellation too? Actually, we have two, as I'm sure you know if you were able to find Deneb. Cepheus and Cassiopeia, the king and the queen."

"Yeah, I know," Max agreed good-naturedly. "For queeens, we have what I suppose you'd call a 'Tiara constellation.' But it was Izmatar alone that became significant when the unified Monarchy of our world was instituted. For five hundred years that star signified the solidarity of our government, of our people. And it was a constant reminder that the first duty... of the king, was to the people for whose sake he ruled..."

Liz could tell by now that talking about this was upsetting Max for some reason, probably because he felt he had 'let down his people' in that other life so long ago. So she opened her mouth to change the subject. "So, do your people have a star of love??" Now, what had posessed her to ask about that?!

"Um... uh, yeah," Max said, recovering his composure. "Elendril, the heart of the bride. The bride and the groom are standing right next to each other, of course."

"Of course," Liz agreed quietly. "Maybe we'd better go back to the others."

This time, Max didn't argue with her.

To be continued...
posted on 15-Apr-2002 5:18:18 PM
Whom among us, part nine
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, now based at fanficarchive.net: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


----------------------------------------------------------------------

Isabel watched as Max headed off towards Liz Parker, swept her gaze across Bentor and Alex Whitman, busy with all the observational equipment Liz had set up, and edged her way over to Tess.

"Could I have a moment, sister?" she whispered. Tess jumped a little - Isabel didn't use that form of address often, though by the customs of their people it was justified, and led the way apart from the rest of the gang in a new direction.

"What's on your mind, telepath?" Tess joked once they were alone.

Isabel didn't feel like forcing a smile. "You... I think you know how hard it's been - struggling with my gift." Tess nodded, all serious now. "I -- tonight, I've caught a glimpse of something that might help, another mind which might be able to offer me some of the peace I've been missing. But the... personal situation is, well... awkward."

Tess looked back towards the crowd gathered around the telescopes, her gaze resting on Kyle Valenti for a moment. Isabel shook her head, and Tess caught the motion and move on. With Tess's somewhat uncertain second choice, Isabel signalled correct.

"Whitman?!" Tess breathed. Isabel nodded again. "Who'd a thunk it." Catching the beginnings of a glare from her sister-in-law, Tess quickly amended. "Not to say that Alex hasn't always been quite a guy. But inner peace?"

"There's more to him than cracking jokes and excitable energy, Tess," Isabel said with the quiet of certainty.

"Okay. And you said this peace he has could help you out? How??" From the look on Tess' face, Isabel could tell she had already guessed the answer.

"A core mind-link. After that, we'd always carry a piece of the other inside us - I think I'd be able to learn his peace, without any danger of taking it away. Not directly, at least..." Isabel sighed loudly. "But how could I ask that of Alex. Damnit, Tess, I broke his heart! I abandoned him!!"

If Tess Harding-Evans felt any surprise at being the bulls-eye for Isabel's vented frustrations, she didn't show it. "You had to," she whispered softly. "To do what we've done, over the past four years, you had to leave Alex behind."

"Did I have to hurt him so much??" Isabel flared. "And now, to even *think* about touching his life in an intense a way as this and then leaving again - I can't do it. I shouldn't do it, I just have to forget about it..."

Tess was shaking her head. "Just ask Alex about it. I have a feeling he'll surprise you. And if he doesn't have a problem with it, why should you??"

Isabel's face fell into a hard, bitter line. "If I'd asked Alex beforehand if he was sure he wanted to get involved with me, knowing I'd probably leave him, he'd have said yes. That doesn't mean he's better off now."

Tess considered for a second, then nodded a farewell and headed back towards the assembled company. Max and Liz were making their way back too, from the other direction, and Isabel could see Max's smile as he caught sight of his wife.

She also saw Liz's face fall when *she* saw that smile too.

* * * *

Liz tried to put the Max/Tess thing out of her mind as she walked back up to the radio telescope. "How are we doing?" she asked Alex and Bentor.

"The Perseus trajectory has been completely surveyed," Alex reported earnestly. "No trace of the radio signal we're looking for. We were just getting ready to take bearings for the zone you'd marked out in Taurus."

"Are you sure?" Liz turned to Bentor. "If we've missed something in Perseus, there won't be another chance to find it after that constellation sets. Not until tomorrow night." Liz left the words 'and tomorrow isn't good enough' go unsaid. They all understood that.

"I am sure," Bentor assured her solemnly. "In any event, Perseus is already close enough to the horizon that attempting to recheck it would be troublesome. We might receive false positives from human radio transmissions, bounced off the atmosphere and shifted in frequency. And Taurus is not much higher than Perseus. If we take the time to verify Perseus, Taurus will be close to the horizon by the time we could completely survey *there*..."

"All right, I *get it*!" Liz shot back. Bentor definitely didn't know when to shut up. He had a little bit of the 'commander data' quality about him - an endless fountain of facts and opinions, without an easy to use off switch. "So it's Taurus. We'll take a bearing by Aldebaran first, vector over to Hyades two and use that to find our 'zone.'"

"As you wish." Bentor waved her forward to the optical telescope they were using to take bearings on visible stars and Liz realized as she looked through the eyepiece that it was already oriented on Alpha Taurus, the star named Aldebaran. Ah well. Without a word Liz checked the telescopes viewfinder for the second-brightest star in the hyades cluster, and started making rough calculations on her scratch pad. Bear right by twenty degrees, and...

* * * *

Alex shot a look back at Liz and walked away. Now that she had returned, it was pretty clear that Alex was relieved of his duties as assistant star-watcher. Liz hadn't even been about to trust what he'd said about the Perseus trajectory. Whoever that Bentor guy was, Liz trusted his opinion more than she did Alex's own.

"Hi, Alex." He turned around and there she was. *Isabel*. Even though he'd known she was here in Arizona, and they'd ridden over to this deserted meadow at the same time, he hadn't really gotten a good look at her. Or maybe he could never get a good enough look at her.

Iz looked even more beautiful than he remembered from high school. Her golden blonde hair was short - just about shoulder length, and she was dressed unpretentiously in jeans and a light sweater. Over the past few years, she'd definitely grown up, but there was a strange way in which she almost seemed to be younger. At first, Alex had hoped that it was that she had lost the 'Ice queen' aspect, but that was definitely still present, for him at any rate. For so long, Alex had wanted to be the one who let Isabel take that barrier down.

She started to turn away, and Alex was jolted out of his stream of consciousness. She must think I'm a space case, Alex thought, just standing here and staring at her like that. "Hey," he called out loud, freezing Isabel's motion in mid-spin. "Did you want to talk to me about something??"

"Umm..." A pause ensued for many long seconds. "Yes, yes I did, Alex." She smiled faintly at him. "I wanted to ask you something, in fact -- I wanted to ask you... How've you been, Alex?"

That wasn't the question that was gnawing at her. This observation was so plaingly obvious that even Alex, master of the obvious that he was, felt no need to comment on it. Isabel was trying to get over the awkwardness of needing to ask him something unpleasant after all of their history, and both of them knew it.

"Umm... not bad." He smiled back at the young woman who had grown out of the girl of his dreams. "Computer science at Stanford not doing too badly. I'm following my heart, picking the courses I'm interested in, which means that I may be the one Stanford Comp sci graduate to end up unemployable, but hey. What can you do, right?" He chuckled a bit at himself, and Isabel smiled back. "What about you? Life as an alien rebel princess keeping you busy?"

"I'd say so," Isabel agreed, looking down at the ground they were standing on. "But I'm pretty sure I'm not having as much fun as you are."

Okay. He was starting to depress her. Enough of the small talk. "What did you really want to ask me, Isabel?"

Isabel's eyes slowly came back to his, their brown depth seeming to draw him in even in the dim light. "It... it's difficult to explain. Did... did Liz or anyone tell you that I've-- I've learned a lot about my powers, since we last talked??"

"Well... no," Alex admitted. "Like what?"

"I... I'm a telepath," Isabel blurted out. "I've been training pretty much non-stop at reading minds, influencing thoughts, and learning to work with the forces that underpin psyche itself. I..." Suddenly at a loss for word, she searched Alex's face for a response.

Alex's first reaction was... Okay, she can read my thoughts. She could probably tell when I was rehashing all those old fantasies about her. And she can probably tell that I'm thinking this right now.

His second reaction was... coool!!

Isabel giggled. Alex smiled back at her. This didn't seem to be so scary.

"But it's not all fun and games," Isabel sighed. "I've been having a bit of a rough time of it lately -- always having to shut out people's thoughts when I need a little peace and quiet inside my own head. Trying to balance not taking advantage of the people around me with the needs of the mission. Sometimes not even being quite sure where I end and the rest of the world begins."

"Hmm... yeah, I guess I could see that," Alex agreed vaguely. "Umm... why are you telling me this, Isabel?"

"Because...." Alex realized that, defying belief, Isabel was blushing. She turned so that she was facing away from the moonlight, probably trying to keep Alex from seeing her face clearly. "When I first say you again, back at the suite, I realized something, Alex. You have a really together mind."

"I... I do?" Alex didn't feel all that together right then.

"Yes, you do," Isabel repeated confidently. "And... I think that there's a way that you could spread the luck around. I mean, that you could help *me.*"

"Sure!" The word slipped out before Alex could censor himself. "Anything."

"Don't say that too quickly," Isabel warned him. "First, this can't be a gift with any strngs attached. I'm with Michael, we're happy together. I'm not gonna fall into your arms so grateful that... well, you get the picture."

Alex was about to protest that he hadn't been thinking any such thing, then decided he wasn't so sure that he hadn't been, on some level, especially if Isabel had felt the need to warn him. "I understand."

"And... this thing I'm asking - it's big. It's called a core mind-link. Probably a fair bit like those 'vulcan mind-melds' on Star trek - I'm not completely sure. The point is, I connect our minds on a deep enough mental level that each of us takes part of the other when the link is finished. I'll take your mental strength - well, not take it away from you, you'll still have it, just learn from it. Copy it, maybe, in a sense. But you..."

"I'd always have some piece of you," Alex breathed.

"Yes. I understand why you might not want that..."

"Why not?" Now it was Isabel that was surprised, almost afraid to meet Alex's gaze as he looked at her. "If I can't be with you, this would be the next best thing, right??"

Isabel couldn't find enough breath to speak for a few seconds. Then, "D-don't say that, Alex. You have no way of knowing how hard it might be... for the person you love to be as close as your thoughts and yet... unobtainable."

"Don't be so sure," Alex muttered darkly.

"For the rest of your life," Iz warned him.

"If I'm as strong as you say, I'll survive, right?" Alex countered. Isabel turned away again. "Do it. Right now, just do it."

"N--- no," Isabel's words came out half-choked, and Alex wondered if tears were on Isabel's face - and if she would let him see them if there were. "I won't do it now. At the very least, think about it. Decide if you have any questions for me about what will happen. Maybe before this is all over, if you've really given my proposal due consid... der... deration, then I'll go through with the link."

"I've thought about it for as long as I need to," Alex told her softly. "But I know I can't force you. Whenever you think I'm ready, or you're ready, or whatever needs to happen, I'll be waiting."

Isabel pushed on deeper into the night. Alex didn't want to go back to the group, (and have to wonder if Michael knew about this little soap opera,) so he just turned and looked up at the moon.

* * * *

"No, no," Kyle was telling Ardra. "It's through enlightenment that a soul escapes the circle of transmigration and reaches Nirvana."

"Why would you want to escape transmigration?" Ardra countered. "Why would a soul want to run away from the universe?" Kyle started to say something, and the hybrid woman cut him off. "I know, I know... 'Existence is suffering.' That's a very depressing philosophy though, don't you think."

"I don't know," Kyle countered. "A lot of what I've seen and lived through would tend to back that up. And I mean, look at you guys. Exiled from your home planet, imprisoned in bodies that are half-alien to your original natures. Forced to go through these battles and oddyseys to regain your motherland... wouldn't you say that your existence is an arduous challenge?"

"A challenge, yes, but not a punishment," Davin put in. "There is suffering, yes, but there is also joy. You can't ignore either one."

"Moving on," Ardra suggested. "What about this 'enlightenment.' Who defined enlightenment?"

"It's not a question of defining it, it's a question of discovering it," Kyle countered.

"So... it's, what... the cosmos' standard of enlightenment? That all of you Buddhists are running around trying to figure out and live up to."

"Well..." Kyle stopped short and thought about that for a moment. "Well, I *guess* you could put it that way, but that makes it sound..."

Max stopped paying attention to the interspecies philosophical symposium and wandered over to the telescopes. Bentor had sat down on an old but sturdy wooden bench and Liz was running her fingers through her hair in a gesture of relief, so Max guessed that some part of the mission had just been completed. "So, where do we stand?" he called out hopefully. "Have you found our capsule for us, Liz?"

"Afraid not yet, fearless leader," Liz replied, favoring Max with a friendly smile. "We've checked out three of the routing possibilities that Bentor and I worked out earlier today. But that just means we're going to find it on number four, right?"

Max could hear the effort with which Liz was keeping her confidence up. "Well, let's find out. Where's number four?"

Bentor let a low-throated chuckle escape, which set Liz off into giggles for a few seconds. "We can't find out yet. The fourth zone is between Lyra and Saggitarius, which means that right now it's..." Liz oriented herself and pointed at the far side of the meadow - definitely down towards the ground rather than up into the sky. "There. It won't rise into view for another hour and a half, and testing conditions won't be good for about an hour after that. Radio noise bouncing off the atmosphere near the horizon, you know."

Max checked his watch and mentally added two and a half hours. "Will you have enough time to finish the survey before morning twilight gets in the way?"

Liz checked her own watch. "We'll be - Bentor?" She turned to the old alien sage for confirmation, and he gravely nodded. "We'll be fine."

"The twilight is not so important a factor in the radio survey part of the operation," Bentor added. "Earth's sun is not a notable producer of radio wave energy at this frequency. Once we have determined the boundaries of the range, we should be able to track it and continue making observations until sunrise."

"Yeah," Liz agreed. "So, if it's alright with you guys, I'm gonna nab a bed in that RV and catch some Z's. I am officially tuckered. Have someone wake me up in two hours, okay Bentor?"

"So it shall be done," Bentor answered solemnly.

Liz was already heading off. "Sweet dreams, Liz," Max called after her.

Liz stopped, and turned around, looking into Max's eyes. "We'll see." And then she was on her way again.

Max turned to raise an eyebrow at Bentor, only to find that the older hybrid had stretched out on the bench and closed his eyes. Like all of the Others, he could go to sleep anywhere and wake up on a timer cue. (Sometimes it seemed to Max like they were less sleeping than turning themselves off to recharge.) Max wandered off to think.

He wasn't sure quite what to make of this new Liz Parker. Confidant, take-charge, and dynamic. Sometimes, Max even thought she was flirting with him, even though she had to guess that he was commited to his marriage with Tess now. Or had he been flirting back? Max couldn't be sure. One thing was definite, though - Liz version 2004 was a welcome improvement on Max's last memories of her before meeting here in Arizona. "At least she's talking to me," he whispered to himself.

* * * *

(December 22 2000)

It was the Christmas season in Roswell, but Max wasn't filled with the holiday spirit. He and Michael had stood by and watched as a man died in the Christmas tree lot, hit by a car while they were looking for a christmas tree that would satisfy Isabel. And now, the dead man was appearing to Max in his mind, blaming him for his death, saying that Max should have healed him. It was driving Max out of his mind.

So, Max broke the unspoken agreement that had held for the last three weeks and went to see Liz.

She had been sitting at one of the tables next to the window in the Crashdown, wearing this cute pink holiday-type sweater and working on what looked like a list of last-minute shopping. He just stood there watching her for half a minute watching her before Liz looked up, and he caught the briefest possible flash of a smile before she buried it.

By the time Liz met him, just outside the door, she was all business. "Why are you here?"

"I... I need a friend," he told her softly.

Liz sighed, shaking her head, and taking a step away from the cafe door. Max steppen backwards, keeping the pace with her. "I... I can't help you, Max," she whispered.

"You have to!" he pressed. "Something... something terrible has happened, and... and I just need someone whose judgement I trust to help me sort through it. That's all it is, I promise..."

"I believe you," Liz said, cutting off Max as he was about to protest that this wasn't the first part of some scheme to get Liz back. "But... oh god, I don't know how to say this so you'll understand me. I want to be your friend, Max, but I can't yet. I'm not ready. And I'm not s... I'm just not ready." Max knew what Liz had kept herself from saying. She wasn't sure he was ready to be 'just friends' either.

"But I *need* you, Liz..."

"You're just going to have to go to someone else," Liz insisted, tears brimming up in her eyes. "Go to Tess, maybe." That last phrase was a low mutter, filled with resentment.

"Tess isn't a substitute for you!" Max flared. "And why is everything about Tess lately, anyways??"

"I hate to break it to you, Max, but it's 'been about' Tess for a long, long time," Liz sighed. "You've been refusing to accept it... which is flattering, really, kinda..." Liz chuckled half-wryly, "but your future is with her, and the sooner you can accept that, the better off we'll all be. Now seems like a good time to start."

Max started to protest again, but Liz jumped in and talked over him. "Don't come to me again, Max. If you don't want to talk to Tess, talk to Michael, Isabel, Maria, or just sit out here by yourself. But don't come back here. Not until I come and tell you that I'm ready."

"Are you *trying* to be a cold-hearted bitch, or do you not get how painful this is for me?" Max exploded, grabbing Liz by the wrist, not enough to hurt.

Liz looked up at him, and he noticed that the tears were now streaming down her face. "I could ask you the same question," she murmured ever so quietly, without breaking eye contact. "With a different terms substituted for the b word, of course." Max dropped her arm and turned away. "I know how hard this is for you, Max," Liz's voice continued. "But I can't give in on this. Please tell me that you can."

"I can," Max sighed, turning around again though he couldn't hear to look at Liz's face again yet, "on one condition. There's something that I have to ask you about that nobody else can answer. Give me a minute of your time, if not as a friend then for the sake of everything we've been through, and then I'll go."

Liz took a second to consider. "Alright."

"I... someone died last night," Max blurted out. "Someone who I could have saved, maybe, but didn't because I was too afraid of exposing myself. Too afraid of ending up in something like the white room. And this someone... he was like you. Not obviously, maybe, but he was..."

"I think I understand what you're getting at," Liz put in. "You're asking me if I would blame you for not having saved my life, if you hadn't?" Max nodded. "No, Max, I couldn't ever *expect* that out of you. You risked so much because of that day in the Crashdown, and put Michael and Isabel through so much. The consequences are only now starting to die down. And the stakes would get even higher if you were to be identified near the scene of another suspicious healing."

"It's not that easy, Max," the ghost said, suddenly blinking into existence behind Liz, talking over her head. "I wouldn't be here if something inside you didn't know that things have gone wrong. You need to restore the balance."

Max started to bite off an angry reply to the ghost, then stopped. He really didn't want to burden Liz with any of this stuff - it didn't have anything to do with what he'd asked of her. "Thank you, Liz," he said sadly, and turned and walked away.

* * * *

"Not a merry Christmas," Max mumbled to himself. He had hatched a plan to 'restore the balance' after Maria had told him about Brody Davis' little daughter with cancer, Sydney. Save the little girl's life as a way of making up for the life that he hadn't been able to save. But it hadn't worked out that way.

Sydney Davis had had a relapse and been taken to a special hospital in Phoenix. (Which wasn't far from Tempe, Max suddenly realized.) Max and Michael had actually gone to the hospital themselves, and Max had been toying with the thought of trying to help other kids as well as little Sydney.

But after a little bad luck had seen the two of them almost arrested and filled the hospital with security guards looking for two mysterious intruders, there had been nothing for it but to burn rubber back to Roswell as quickly as they could. Max had never even gotten inside the pediatric cancer ward.

And, as another dismal little note, when they finally got back to Michael's apartment, Tess had been waiting for them, her suitcase packed and quite bound and determined not to go back to Jim Valenti's house. Things had been said before Christmas dinner that couldn't easily be taken back.

* * * *

Liz woke up with a start. Was something wrong?? A dream! She had been dreaming...

Something about a car. Yes, Liz had been driving in the dream... (which was odd since it wasn't something she did often in real life - more of a public transit kinda girl...) Anyways, she had been driving down a long, lonely road in the dead of night, heading towards... Max? Yes, she'd told someone in the dream that she was meeting the love of her life, Max Evans.

Liz shook off the dream and reached out for her watch, pushing the button that made it glow visibly in the darkness. Her wakeup call would be arriving in a little more than ten minutes, if Bentor were as punctual as the alien 'Jeeves' he often seemed like. "Well, not really much point in trying to get back to sleep then," Liz sighed, sitting up further.

Pete's laptop was strapped safely into a little cargo stowaway next to the bed Liz had been sleeping in, and she reached out to free the valuable lump of circuitry into her hands. Boot back up out of hibernation mode... battery life is still at ninety percent, good. After a second's thought, Liz plugged her cell phone into the wireless modem and surfed off to check her email.

Spam, spam, disgusting spam, spam. A reminder about the starlight club social that had taken place earlier in the evening. Sales pitch for a registered copy of the demo word processor she'd been using.

Message timestamped 11:26 pm that night from pete_wil⊕desertnet.com Subject 'Just dropping a line.'

Smiling slightly in the darkness, Liz opened up the email.

"Hey, Liz. Petey boy here, as you might have guessed. Just thought you'd probably appreciate it if I left you a note to reassure that I got to my parents' place safe and sound. I don't know what all that stuff was about, back on campus, but that's okay. When you're ready to tell me, I'd like to know. But not pushing.

It would seem, to the casual observer, (I.e. me,) that your life is pretty crazy all of a sudden since your 'friends' came to town. So I'm going to take that question I asked you this morning, and put it up in the cupboard... yeah, here oughtta do -- just so that it's out of your way. Once things have settled down a little, you can take it back out of the cupboard and give me your answer.

I'm attaching three friendly hugs to this email in OOO format. Just in case you need them. :D

⊕---,---'---,---'----

Miss you already, Lizzie.

XXX

Pete

(Okay, I had really better hit send now, before I qualify as a stalker.)"

Liz grinned again, logged into her pager without much hope that Pete would be online... (it was almost four in the morning for god's sake... sure enough the only person online was a classmate who had been idle for five hours and obviously forgot to turn her pager off,) and hit the reply button. A knock sounded on the RV door.

"Hey, Miss Parker?" It was Davin. "Your wake-up call - except that you're already awake."

"I'll be out there in five minutes," Liz assured him, and turned her attention back to the computer.

"Pete,

Thanks for the hugs, and the reassurance. You're not crossing any lines.

Sure, for right now your question is probably best kept up in that cupboard where nobody'll bump it accidentally. But in the meantime do me a favor and keep being your sweet and charming self.

The rose is beautiful. I didn't have a vase for it, so I put it in a Java JAR file. ;)

XXXX back,

Liz."

As she got out of the RV, Liz noticed that a tent had been set up in the meadow. She sighed and headed back over to the radio telescope.

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 2-Sep-2002 8:14:49 PM
Whom among us, part ten
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, now based at fanficarchive.net: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Come on, admit it." The words drifted clearly into Max's mind as he woke up. He could tell, even before he opened his eyes, that Tess was lying next to him, snuggled into the crook of his arm the way she liked to do. The way *he* liked her to do, to be quite honest about it. As he looked vaguely around, he remembered that they were in the dome tent that Michael and Kenner had set up late the night before, and that he and his wife had crawled into a double-sized sleeping bag and fell quite soundly asleep.

Max got up carefully, not disturbing Tess as he gradually eased her out of his embrace, and looked down at himself. He had slept in his clothes, and aside from being a bit wrinkled they still seemed presentable enough. Michael and Isabel weren't in their sleeping bag - Kyle had taken it by squatter's rights, and Alex was snoring quietly nearby on a couple of blankets.

"Davin is right, Miss Parker." Bentor's voice reminded Max of the words he had heard as he awoke, and he silently pulled aside the tent opening and got out. Twilight filled the morning sky, which was now more blue than black, but Max could see from Liz's dark hair that she was still bent over the radio telescope, jotting out notes and adjusting the device every so often.

"He's *not* right," Liz declared, looking up to glare at Bentor and Davin, who it seemed were now acting as her two assistants. From this position, Liz obviously caught her first sight of Max, walking towards the telescopes' site, and at that moment her denial melted away. "Yes he is. **DAMNITT!!**"

"What's going on?" Isabel asked, walking up to the little group from another direction.

"Liz and Bentor's figures didn't check out," Michael announced from his vantage point on the old park bench. "The space capsule isn't any of the places where they thought it would be." Max looked at Michael with a definite 'warning glance,' anxious not to see a repeat of the dust-up last night. Michael shrugged apologetically, and forced a calm tone into his voice. "Well, it's not."

"Should've carried the two, huh guys?" Isabel wise-cracked, and her soft laugh choked away when she saw Max looking daggers at her. "Whoops, sorry."

"No, it's okay," Liz groaned, pulling herself to her feet and pacing away from the radio monitor. "I did make some educated guesses. Looks like they didn't pay off."

"*We* made educated guesses, Miss Parker," Bentor corrected smoothly.

"Yeah, thanks, Bentor." Liz smiled at him wryly. "That just means we BOTH look stupid right now."

Max spoke up, trying to get the subject away from placing blame. "Well, what's our next step now?"

"Back to the infamous drawing board, I guess." Liz walked over to stand face to face with Max, putting her thumbs into the pockets of her blue jeans. "Re-evaluate our assumptions and try to figure out if there's some way we can still track this thing."

"Not yet, Liz," Max heard himself saying. Liz stared at him, a trace of offense starting to gather in her face. "I mean, god, you're obviously wiped out and uber-stressed. You've been up most of the night, all day, and you were awake at the crack of dawn yesterday morning to help us steal the research on this thing."

"Eight o'clock is not exactly the crack of dawn, Max," Liz bit back angrily.

"And you were up in the middle of the night and wandering the campus the night before that," Max reminded her, not admitting that her correction was right because he didn't have to - and because that wasn't the point. "This isn't the right state of mind to be doing trajectory math, am I right??"

"I *have* to do it now, Max!!" Liz grabbed lightly onto his arm, and he could see the tears shining in her eyes even in the dim light. "This thing is getting close to earth and we still have no idea where to find it. I've already failed you once. To have a realistic shot, we'll have to locate it tomorrow night and there's still SO MUCH to be done..."

"Perhaps a compromise?" Bentor interposed himself into the conversation smoothly. "We work for an hour or two once we get back to the suite, lay the groundwork, and then take a break for sleep. That should strike an appropriate balance between the press of schedule and the need to think clearly."

Liz weighed that over. "I can do that. What do you think, your majesty??"

Max sighed. "It's okay by me."

"Then let's get going," Liz called out. He might be the king, but there was no question that she was in charge. "Wake up everybody else in the tent - they can fight for bunks in the RV if they're still sleepy. We need to get back to base camp now."

Max watched as Liz turned away. He was sure that at least two or three of those tears had slipped out of her eyes and were running down her face. But he didn't go after her, he went back to the tent. Now, where would Ardra and Kenner have gotten to??

* * * *

Alex wandered about the Arizona State campus forlornly, unable to shake his melancholy even in the bright sunday sun and surrounded by the beautiful university grounds. It was nothing like his dream, and that didn't just apply to the physical description of the college premises. Isabel hadn't acted anything like she did in his fantasies.

"Then again, when did she ever?" Alex muttered to himself. But the reality, if less thoroughly satisfying than his dream, had managed to be more interesting. Isabel Evans might not be head over heels in love with him, but at least he had finally won her respect - and she had won his all over again. That mental core-link that she had asked for...

Well, that was what it really came down to: no matter how much Isabel herself asked him to, Alex couldn't keep his feelings for Isabel out of the equation when he thought about whether to go through with it. And every part of Alex that loved her was telling him to do the link - for a couple of different reasons - to help her with this burden that was so obviously taking a lot out of her, to have a piece of her inside himself that he could keep forever, to be a small part of this mentalic journey that was such a huge part of her life now. Maybe even, in a very small and dark part of himself, the impulse to show Michael up by doing something that he obviously couldn't (or else Iz would have asked Michael to do it long ago.)

Sighing, Alex looked up, and noticed a familiar figure on a park-style bench in front of him. Kyle Valenti was sitting with his legs crossed lotus-style, his eyes closed, his hands resting casually on his thighs, motionless.

"Hey, Kyle!" Alex called out before he could think better of it. One of Kyle's eyes cracked open, and a clear look of frstration crossed his face. "Oh, I'm sorry - I didn't mean to disturb your meditation, or whatever. I can go if you want."

"No, it's okay," Kyle assured him, stretching his long legs back out and putting his feet down onto the ground. "What's up, Whitman?"

"Not much, just walking," Alex said, walking up and leaning his back against a tree a few feet from Kyle's bench. "A little too crowded with aliens up there - as I guess you realized yourself."

"A little too crowded, period," Kyle restated. "I have nothing against aliens, but yeah, Not much room to breathe in that suite, let alone meditate. So, what's on your mind??"

Alex considered. He and Kyle had never really become close, but with Liz so busy working on her star charts or whatever, he didn't exactly have a better choice for confidant here in Arizona. And he *did* want to talk to someone about it. "Okay, it's about... Isabel." He caught himself at the last second and almost mouthed her name at Kyle.

"Okay, 'Isabel.' Why are we whispering her name?" Kyle asked the last of that in a stage whisper.

"Because of the android bounty hunters wandering around campus?" Alex whispered back. "With super-hearing? Did anyone mention that to you??" Kyle shook his head. "As long as we're quiet about certain names and unusual words, we should be okay. I shouldn't have said the a-word, but I wasn't thinking."

"Okay," Kyle agreed, looking around them. No-one was nearby and sound wouldn't travel too well in an outdoor setting like this one. "So, what about *her*?"

"Umm..." Alex thought about how to answer that question without using 'unusual words.' "Did anyone mention that her talents have, um, blossomed over the past few years?"

Kyle considered a moment, then shook his head. "Nope, no-one mentions anything to me. Blossomed like how?"

"She... she can read minds, and affect them," Alex said, preferring that phrasing to a couple of different terms that might well be on an killer android's 'scan for' list. Telepathy, psionics, mentalics... (He had a wild notion of the alien bounty hunters breaking up a role players' club meeting in one of the dorms or harassing a few students talking about the latest sci-fi bestseller, but that wasn't really relevant right now.)

"Oh!" Kyle considered that for a moment. "Well, why is that fact brood-worthy for you??"

Alex sighed. "It's not, I was getting to that point. She mentioned, reluctantly, that she's having difficulty keeping her mental balance considering all of the stimulation of other people's thoughts..."

"Yeah, yeah, the 'Tam Elbron' effect," Kyle summarized. "And?"

"And, well... she said that she saw this big 'inner strength' deep inside my mind, and if she... well, basically mind-melded with me, she thought it could help her out."

"Like... well, never mind that," Kyle dismissed the analogy he had been about to make. "Well, do you want to do it?"

"Yeah... I think I do. But she says she's not going to go through with it until she's sure I'm ready. Tells me I'm not prepared for how intense it'll be. How much it'll affect my life once she leaves again. And you know... she could be right. I want to do this for her, but I'm scared too."

"Hmm..." Kyle considered all that for a second. "Are you *really* scared of it, Alex??"

"No," Alex blurted out suddenly, and then did a double-take. Kyle smiled enigmatically. "I mean, I know that I should be, but somehow I know deep down that if Isabel goes through with it, everything will be all right."

"Well there you go," Kyle suggested. "I always reccomend trusting your 'deep down.' Now all you need to do is find some way to convince 'her.'"

Alex thought about it a second, and decided he liked that plan. "Yeah. Well... thanks, and I think I'll let you get back to enlightenment now." He waved at the bench Kyle was still sitting on.

"Funny," Kyle said with a smile. "And good luck." He re-lotused his legs, closed his eyes, and started softly chanting something that Alex couldn't quite make out.

Alex smiled to himself, and started walking around the campus again, with a much lighter heart this time. Now, what line of persuasion would be effective against Isabel Evans??

* * * *

It was a week and a half after the spring dance. A number of people had told Liz that she wasn't talking much lately, and they were probably right.

Liz and Maria were serving shift at the Crashdown, and Alex was sitting on a stool on the counter, sucking down a strawberry shake as his own way of dealing with heartbreak. All three of them were all too aware of the fact that Max and Tess, Michael and Isabel were out on a 'double date' at Senor Chao's tonight. (The pod squad had apparently dropped the protocol of personally informing their human ex-sweeties of every social engagement, which Liz appreciated - she'd heard through the high school grapevine anyway, but by this point it was better not to learn about such things from Max's own lips.)

"I mean, he wasn't even any great shakes as a boyfriend," Maria was rambling, trying to make herself feel better about the whole situation by trashing Michael. "He gave me like *two* presents during the whole course of our relationship, a spice rack and a damn bottle of no-name shampoo and conditioner two-in-one. He'd pick his teeth at the table no matter how fancy a restaurant we were at. He put the Jetta through hell!! But, for some ungodly reason I was in love with him, so I rolled with the punches. And what do I get for all of my patience? *He* dumps ME to get with the girl who's been like a sister to him all of his life. I mean, what crime could I possibly have commited in a past life to deserve karma like this?"

"You should ask Buddha-boy that," Alex drawled, and took another long slurp through his straw.

The phone behind the counter rang, and Liz reflexively hurried over and picked it up. "Crashdown cafe."

"Hey Liz, it's Kyle."

"Wow!" Liz blinked in surprise. "Wow, that's freaky." She took the phone receiver half-way away from her mouth. "Maria, it's for you."

"No, Liz, don't hand me off to Maria, you don't have time." The earnestness in Kyle's voice tore through Liz's paper-thin veil of playfullness. "My dad just got called away on an emergency."

"Uh, okay..." Liz thought about that for a second. "Why are you telling *me* about it?"

"Because the emergency was a fight going down at Senor Chao's. I thought you'd want to know. I'm heading over there myself."

Liz felt as if her heart had been plunged into a pitcher of ice water. Senor Chao's. Kyle thought that Max and the gang were involved in whatever was going down there, and he probably had good reason. "You thought right, thanks." She fumbled the phone back to its cradle. None of the three of them (herself, Maria, Alex,) had quite figured out what the story was between Kyle Valenti and Tess, either before or after she had hooked up with Max, but Liz suspected that he cared very strongly for her, whatever you chose to label that caring. "C'mon guys," she told Maria and Alex quickly. "We gotta go. Alex, you came in the Rabbit, yeah?"

Alex nodded, a confused look on his face. "Wait a second, Liz," Maria spluttered. "We're on the clock here, we can't just..."

"Ryan!!" Liz called out to the cook in the back. "We're off. Emergency." She took off her apron and barette and strode towards the door, knowing that her friends would follow her.

By the time they got to Senor Chao's, the police had already arrived and crowds were milling at the scene. As Alex pulled over, Liz jumped out of the shotgun seat and ran over to an onlooker who seemed to be a year or two past high school. "Do you know what happened here?" she panted breathlessly.

"Well, a little - I was inside when it happened," he told her after a second's hesitation. "One minute everything's normal. then a couple of people in uniforms jumped this table of four kids - about your age, babe - and all hell broke loose."

"Uniforms?" Liz focused on that detail. "Like, what... army? Air force??"

The guy shook his head, as Maria and Alex drew carefully near. "No. Waitress, busboy, maitre d', that kind of uniform. But I don't think they actually worked for the restaurant, at least, I never saw any of them before they made their move, and I eat here about once a week, different days."

Maria put the next question. "And what do you mean by 'all hell broke loose'??"

The witness looked up at her, and immediately blushed a little when he realized he wasn't talking to just one cute girl. "I... I dunno if I should be talking about it. I mean, I haven't even given my statement to the police yet, and some of it sounds really weird. I'm not even sure if *I* believe it."

"Just tell us what you saw," Alex murmured, softly and encouragingly, and the guy nodded, somewhat buoyed.

"Okay. The first waitress pointed at some empty wine glasses on a vacant table - and they broke without without her touching them. Not just into a few pieces, but a lot of really nasty pointy glass shards. And then she looked at the four high school kids, and the shards started flying at them. Just before they were about to hit, this one kid waved, he had short hair, dark like yours," (he nodded at Liz here,) "and this wavy green wall thing appeared in mid-air, and all the glass bounced off of it. I guess that’s when I realized that something really weird was going on."

"Okay?" Liz took her turn to prompt again. "What happened after that?"

"The guy in the busboy's uniform grabbed a carving knife and he, like, leapt at one of the girls. This guy could jump like he was a cougar... or a, I dunno, a demon or something. The girl - she had long straight golden hair," he put in that little explanation as Alex was opening his mouth to interrupt. Alex gasped silently. "She tried to fight him off, but he was too strong for her. This spikey-haired guy tried to help, but the Maitre D' just looked at him and he was slammed back against the wall -- well, you knoe, one of those dividers between tables that they have?"

"Yeah," Maria nodded. "What happened next?"

"Well... the last of the four kids from the table, this babe with light blonde curls, she points and there's this bright white light that knocks the busboy away from her friend, just in time. The four of them crowd together and the green curtain of light appeared in a circle around them again. The other people, they're pointing at it and like blasting away with yellow fireballs - god, it was like something out of a video game - but they couldn't phase that shield. Finally one of them walks up to the curtain, and all of a sudden it's gone, and the four kids are nowhere to be seen. The other guys roar and start charging out of the restaurant. A few minutes after they'd gone, the police show up."

"Thanks for all your help," Kyle said, surprising Liz, who hadn't realized that Kyle had arrived and was listening too. The witness kinda nodded, a police person came up to him and the four human friends gratefully took the cue to fade into the background.

"Alien attack, obviously," Alex whispered softly. "Probably they made their escape using Tess' mindwarp trick."

"Yeah, but did those Skins catch up to them later?" Maria asked. "Where would they have gone?"

Liz thought a second. "Michael and Tess' place. Let's go."

Soon the four of them were at the apartment that Michael had been living in since he was emancipated, (over a year!) and that Tess had moved into at Christmas. The place was a mess - the front door had been blasted off of its hinges and was still burning slightly. Furniture was overturned all over the apartment, clear signs that the battle had come to them here as well. But no-one remained on the premises.

"Damn it," Liz muttered as Alex took the fire extinguisher from the hall and put Michael's door out. "We have to find out where they went next." Kyle turned to say something to her, and she cut him off. "I know that they don't want us 'involved' any more - quite frankly I don't care. I can't just go home not knowing if my friends are alive or dead."

"Umm..." Maria called from the window. "Liz, you might want to take a look at this." Liz hurried over to the window, just in time to see a black car rocketing down Maple street at what had to be better than sixty miles an hour. "I hate to say this, but... reinforcements?"

"Could be," Liz agreed. "Which means we follow that car."

But by the time they got down to the car, the Skin reinforcement vehicle was gone, and all that they could do was follow in the direction that they had seen it go. There was no mistaking the crowd of onlookers and gossippers that were still gathered at the West Roswell High parking lot though.

Alex parked again and they got the story from someone who had seen some of the action. It had been a horrific climax to the spread-out battle -- with Max and his friends killing several of their alien attackers (including one of the 'reinforcements,') whupping the butts of the rest, and taking off in the Jeep, heading for 285 north.

"I... I guess that's it," Maria said softly. "They're okay, at least for now, and I don't think we can chase them any more, Liz."

"Yeah." It felt like something inside Liz was dying. "Nothing left to do."

It was much later that night that Liz found the note, stuck between two loose bricks outside her balcony window. (How had he managed to get it there, amidst all the confusion of the alien attack?)

"I was hoping to be able to tell you this in person, that I'd have time to figure out how to say the words in front of you. But it looks like my time just ran out.
Our enemies have shown up. I couldn't bear to endanger any of the people I love... like mom and dad, you and the rest of the gang. But you'll be safe if they know that we've bailed on Roswell.
I wish it didn't have to end like this between us. But the road that my life is on has been leading me away from you, and I think you saw that before I did. May all the joy and happiness that a life can hold in this world come to you, Liz, and then a piece of me will be happy too. I'll miss you always, Liz my friend.
Max."

Liz cried for a while, and then she put the note in between the pages of her diary and went back to looking at college catalogues...

...And woke up in the spare room in Max's suite in the Congreve tower, shook off the weird dream and headed into the washroom to freshen up before heading back to work.

* * * *

"We're getting nowhere," Liz finally admitted about two hours later. "We're talking about looking for a needle in the mother of all haystacks here."

"I dunno about that Liz," Alex put in. "We can take about a dozen of the likeliest-looking possibilities..." he started ticking off points on the huge whiteboard that had been set up in the living room. "...and these three, and maybe this one. That wouldn't be too many to check tonight."

"And what if it isn't in any of them?" Liz flared. "We'd be screwed. We relied on guesses and what we thought was likely last time, and got nowhere with it. I will *not* depend on taking any more chances."

"Well, what else would you recommend?" Bentor asked mildly from the couch. The guys switch seemed to be permanently stuck in the 'mild' position, but Liz refused to let it bug her.

"I dunno... there's just got to be some better way to solve this than by trying to construct trajectories by guesstimate and verifying them with the radio telescope. Some way of scanning the whole sky for your stupid space capsule, like a radar pulse that it would bounce back to us, or..." Liz stopped and sighed. "I'm dreaming, I know. But still..."

"Man, we are all *idiots*!!" Davin burst out. Liz hadn't even realized that a second 'Other' was following their planning meeting, but as she turned to Davin what he said started to sink in, and a hopeful grin spread over her face.

"Does that mean what I really want it to mean, Davin??"

"Whatever kind of engine that space capsule has, it'll be quantum resonant," Davin explained, for whatever that was worth. "If we send out a pulse of microwave energy in the upper microwave band, it'll flood the crystal chambers enough to send a similar non-directed pulse out from the engine compartment. We'll be able to track it using that."

"And can we actually generate a microwave pulse strong enough??" Alex asked.

"With the granolith we can," Bentor filled in. "There's a good chance it'll show up on some of Earth's satellite, but I think that's an acceptable risk under the circumstances."

"So it's back to Roswell?" Alex filled in. Davin nodded.

"Okay," Liz said. "Round everybody up, as quickly as possible. By the time we've driven to Roswell, found this thing's signature, and measured its trajectory, things could be getting tight."

A lot of hurry and hubble filled the suite in the half hour that followed. Liz dived into the logistics energetically, aware that the sun was setting already and time was ticking away on them.

"Okay... what else?" Liz asked, looking over the living room.

"Ohh... the laptop!" Michael exclaimed, putting it into hibernation mode and unplugging the power source. "Don't want to forget that."

"No, of course not," Liz agreed out of reflex, and then thought about what she was saying. "Wait a second... this is Pete's laptop!"

"Uhh... so?"

"Well, he's gonna want to use it when he gets back from his parents' place," Liz explained. "I borrowed it for the weekend, but I can't just take off with it "

"Like hell you can't!" Michael exploded. "Liz, we need this thing..."

"Like hell I can!" Liz fired back at it. "Michael, I'm not gonna break a promise just so..."

Max stepped into the living room. "Michael, what's going on here?"

"Liz wants to leave the laptop here in Arizona," Isabel called out from the sidelines, which in this case was standing next to the whiteboard.

"Look, I realize that not having it would make things a little more difficult..." Liz started.

"Try impossible!" Michael flared back. "I've seen how much you guys use it... and the most difficult part is still ahead - calculating the capsule's precise course once we've located and determining where, and when, it'll touch down. You'll be at it for a month if you try to solve that with pencil and paper."

Liz turned to stare at Max. "I promised Pete that he'd have it back by the end of the weekend, Max. I can't break that promise." She couldn't help but think of the sweet email that he had sent her last night.

Max considered things for a moment. "Do what you have to do, Liz, but make sure you keep a copy of all your working notes. I'll buy another laptop once we hit Roswell." He glared at Michael and Isabel. "Is everyone satisfied??"

Isabel looked back unapologetically, expressionlessly, but Michael had the decency to hang his head a little. "I'm sorry, Liz, I wasn't thinking."

Liz nodded as she took the laptop from him. "It's okay, Michael." Then she turned around and left

TO BE CONTINUED...
posted on 11-Nov-2002 6:14:51 PM
Whom among us, part eleven
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, now based at fanficarchive.net: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


----------------------------------------------------

Alex sat in the back of Michael's RV as it sped down the highway towards the New Mexico border. Towards Roswell. Somehow that name still affected him, even though it seemed like everyone he associated with Roswell had been there in Arizona, except for Maria... and his parents, of course. Roswell was where everything he'd been avoiding for years had happened... it was where he'd spent his teenage years, and where his life had become something both better and worse than 'ordinary' for a few months. How he felt about returning he couldn't even tell.

"Hey... play something!" someone called out. Dimly, Alex realized it was the alien hybrid he'd heard called 'Davin.' It was only then that Alex really clued in that he was still holding his trusty bass guitar across his lap.

"What?" he asked, feeling stupid as soon as the word was out of his mouth.

"That's your instrument, isn't it?" the alien asked. "Play us a tune!! A long journey with no time to stop chills the heart and numbs the soul. A little music will be good for what ails me."

Alex couldn't help but smile. "Okay." He clipped the shoulder strap back around his body and tuned the bass' strings with the ease of long practice, then set it back across the lap and began to play, not even sure what would come out.

A strong, up-tempo harmony filled the vehicle... now where the heck had he heard this and filed it away into his subconscious? Ahh, yep. As Alex's brain made the connection, he realized his voice was starting to give words to the first verse...

"After all this time, I guess I finally made it through...
All the darkness, to the point of being over you.
Now and then my mind runs into your old memory,
But it ain't quite as big a deal as it used to be;"

Kyle, Tess, and Kenner were all watching and listening to him play by now... Ardra had even woken up, but they seemed to be enjoying it, so Alex threw himself into the upswing for the chorus:

"Now I KNOW-OW-ow,
Even though - you're not here,
You will never be too - far away.
Any-WHERE-ERE-ere,
You'll be there, like a whisper inside me
Each and every day.
If I win or I lose... ....
You will always play a small part
Like a *fla=ame*... you'll remain,
In your own little corner of my heart.

I thought every kiss you gave me,
Time would just erase...
I waited for the day
They'd disappear without a trace.
Finally I realize, that even though you're gone
There'll always be an ember of you,
Burning on and on!"

As Alex led back into the second chorus, some of the others were joining in too, he couldn't quite tell who was singing and who wasn't, but it was a great feeling.

"Now I KNOW-OW-ow,
Even though - you're not here,
You will never be too - far away.
Any-WHERE-ERE-ere,
You'll be there, like a whisper inside me
Each and every day.
If I win or I lose... (if I win or I lose,)
You will always play a small part
Like a *fla=ame*... you'll remain,
In your own little corner of my heart."

Rather than lead into the instrumental, Alex got creative and medley-d his way into a completely different song, a haunting melody starting to fill the vehicle.

"Cutting through the darkest night,
Are my two headlights...
Trying to keep it clear, but I'm losin' it here,
To the twilight.
There's a dead end to my left, there's a burning bush -
To my right,
But you aren't in sight...
You aren't in sight..."

Kyle and Ardra apparently knew the tune, because they started humming along as Alex headed into the bridge.

"Do -- you -- want -- me??
Like -- I -- want you?

Or am I standing still?
Beneath the darkened sky.
Or am I standing still??
With the scenery flyin' by...
Am I standing still?!
Out of the corner of my eye,
Was that you -- passing me by??"

Alex turned a little so he could face forwards towards the direction the RV was going in as the second verse began.

"Mothers on the stoop,
Boys in souped-up coupes,
On this hot summer night.
Between 'fight' and 'flight'
Is the blind man's sight,
And the choice that's right."

Alex almost forgot the words when he noticed something in the momentary shine of a highway streetlamp. In the shotgun seat, Isabel's face was in profile. Had she been listening too??

"I, uh, I pull the window down,
Feel like I - I'm gonna drown
In this strange town.
Feel broken down...
I feel broken down.

Do -- you -- need me??
Like -- I -- need you?"

Why should it matter if Isabel was listening to these songs? Somehow it did, though, as if something very deep and personal was being exposed here, but only Isabel could see it. (Which would kinda make sense, given her powers.) Not that the notion of letting Isabel see his secrets was a bad feeling, just... unexpected.

"Or am I standing still?
Beneath the darkened sky.
Or am I standing still??
With the scenery flyin' by...
Or am I standing still?!
Out of the corner of my eye -
Was that you... ah, passing me by??

Ah, sweet sorrow, she said 'call tomorrow.'
Sweet sorrow, she said 'Call tomorrow!'

Do -- you -- love me?
Like -- I -- love you?"

Hmm... how long before he could make a break away from this and get to the third song in the medley? (All good medleys had at least three songs.)

"Am I standing still?
Beneath the darkened sky.
Am I standing still??
With the scenery flyin' by..."

(It would have to be at the end of this chorus, no sooner, darnit.)

"Or am I standing still?!
Out of the corner of my eye -
Was that you... ah, passing me by??"

(Bass riff fades to almost silence... and then morphs into something considerably more mellow and folksy.)

"Hey Mona Lisa - who was Leonardo?
Was he Andy Warhol?? Were you Marilyn Monroe???
Hey, Mozart! What kinda name is 'Amadeus'?
It's kinda like Elvis... you gotta die to be famous!!"

Looking back up towards Isabel... it almost seemed to Alex that he could read *her* thoughts.

"I may not go down in history...
I just want someone, to remeber me.

I'll probably never hold a brush that paints a masterpiece.
I'll prob-ly never find a pen that writes a symphony.
But if I will love, then I will find,
That I have touched another life, and that's something.
Something worth leaving behind.

Hey, Midas; They say you had the magic touch,
But even all that shiny stuff,
Someday it's gonna turn to dust.
Hey Jesus!! Musta been some sunday morning.
In a blaze of glory!!
We're still tellin' your story.

I may not go down in history.
I just want someone to remember me."

Isabel stood up from the front seat and stepped back into the living area.

"I'll prob-ly never dream a dream, and watch it turn to gold.
I know I'll never lose my life to save another soul.
But if I will love, then I will find,
That I have touched another life, and that's something.
Something worth leaving behind.,."

As he headed into the instrumental solo, it suddenly dawned on Alex that he had no idea how to finish. The final bridge to the song was so horrendously inappropriate that he doubted he could even force his lips to say the words, with Isabel right there. Finally, he just worked up a few flourishing chords to the guitar and tried to end it like that. There was silence for a few seconds.

"Interesting choice," Kenner whispered softly.

"Nice picks, Alex," Tess told him.

"Okay, show's over," he laughed, putting his guitar back into the case. "I wanna try to get some sleep."

"Alex?" Isabel said softly, capturing his attention like a gunshot. "Could I talk to you alone before you turn in?"

"You can try," he joked faintly. "There's not a whole lot of 'alone' to go around in this car." Isabel smiled slightly in agreement, and in about a minute they were sitting in the back with at least the illusion of a shred of privacy.

"Were you trying to tell me something?" Isabel asked softly. "With those choice of songs?"

Alex knew what she meant. Carrying a piece of someone you loved in your heart forever, love lost, and making a legacy... all three were concepts that touched on the idea of Isabel mind-linking with him before she left him forever. "Not really. I pulled those tunes out of the thin air, though there could be a connection through my subconscious mind."

"Oh," Isabel said softly.

"What I have to tell you, I'll tell you straight out without any hidden messages," Alex continued. "I want to do this, for my own sake and more importantly as something that I can do for you. I don't get why you're being so skittish about letting me go through with it."

"I think you do," Isabel told him quietly. "If you stick by that choice, I won't refuse to take you up on your offer. But I'm going to give you a little bit longer to think about it, okay??"

"Fine, whatever," Alex agreed with a smile. "A day, or a week, isn't going to affect my decision." He smiled at her. "You know, I wasn't killing when I said I could do with some sleep."

Isabel grinned. "Allow me?"

Alex blinked. "You can do that??"

"A little trick I've picked up along the way, yeah. Are you ready to go to bed?"

Alex looked down at himself and shrugged. "Yeah, whatever. It's not like I need to be in my jammie-jams first."

Isabel smiled at him, and Alex knew no more.

* * * *

About twelve seconds further on down the road, Max drove on in silence. Liz peered back into the rear seat. Bentor was sleeping quietly. **It's probably tiring for such an old soul to keep up with the rest of these guys, even though he's in a thirtysomething body.** Liz sighed to herself.

"There's... there's a few things I was wanting to talk to you about," Max said softly, not moving his eyes from the road ahead.

"Uh... oh!" Liz replied quietly, squelching the urge to check around and see if there was anyone else that Max could be talking to besides her. "Umm... like what??"

Max sighed. "I hardly know where to start... everything in my mind seems so confused. Maybe I should begin by apologizing for bringing you into things this time. You would have been better off if I hadn't asked you for your help."

"Are you prepared to face the possibility of not finding this thing??" Liz countered. "Because without me, you wouldn't have had a chance. I'm happy to help, Max, really I am."

"We might have figured out how to use the Granilith without you," Max pointed out in defense of his team.

"Would you know how to use the information we hope to get from it?" Liz argued back. "Bentor knows some of the theory, but he's not good enough to build a trajectory on his own from that kind of data. The rest of you would be no help. Besides, without me you wouldn't have even gotten the basic low-down on this Lightning Bolt thingee. You'd probably have gotten into trouble with campus security for sneaking around the astronomy labs in the dead of night while everybody was around, and then..."

"Liz!" Max said, cutting her off. Liz stopped her ramble and stared over at Max.

"Yeah?"

"What would or wouldn't have happened without you here... that isn't really the point, is it??"

Liz sighed. "I guess not. Then what is."

"I..." Max growled in frustration at himself. "Why is it so difficult for me to say out loud what we're both thinking about? I know how hard this must be for you, Liz. Because... because I'm with Tess now."

Hearing Max say the words so bluntly hit Liz like a wave of ice. Sitting there in the front seat, she found a part of her mind focusing on the song that was softly playing on the radio. ("Looking back, over the years... on all the things I've always meant to say...")

"And... and what about you, Max?" she forced herself to say in what seemed like a shaky voice. "Is it hard for you?? To run into me again and remember the old days? For me to tell you about the guys I've been dating at university? Seeing Pete kiss me??"

("But the words didn't come easily. So many times, through empty tears...")

"It's... is that really the point?" Max asked softly.

"Just answer the damn question!"

("To all the nights I tried, to pick up the phone -- so scared of who might be answering...")

"Okay, you want an answer??" Max muttered. "It's been difficult, yes. You were a chapter in my life that never really got closed, and so it throws me off balance."

("You try, to live your life, from day to day. But seeing you across the room tonight -- just gives me away.")

"But Tess is your future, right?" Liz pressed bitterly. "She's your destiny, and your present. I'm just a loose end from your past that never really got tied up neatly, and it bothers you."

("'Cause the heart won't lie.... Sometimes life gets in the way.")

"Not just my past," Max insisted. "I mean, maybe not, if we don't let ourselves be that to each other. I felt something hit me, Liz, from the first time I saw you back in Tempe." He swatted his sternum demonstratively with a free hand. ("But there's one thing that won't change, I know... I've tried. The heart won't lie...") "*I missed you, Liz*" He enunciated each sound in the phrase clearly. "Not just like an old friend I've grown apart from. Seeing you so suddenly was like a part of my life that's been empty for years just, all of a sudden came back. And I don't want to lose it again."

("You can live your alibis... Who can see you're lost inside a foolish disguise??")

"What are you asking me, Max??" Liz said dully, knowing not to get her hopes up too high.

("The heart won't lie...")

"Can't you feel it too, Liz??" Max asked. "When this is all over... we can't go back to our seperate lives again. We need to stay in touch... stay CONNECTED... I'm not sure of the details yet. Maybe we can find a place to stay near Tempe until you're finished your degree..."

("Long after tonight... Will you still hear my voice on the radio??")

"I dunno, aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself, Max??" Liz replied with a humorless chuckle. "I... I *do* feel what you're talking about, but you're also right that it's *hard*. Hard to see you sharing your life with Tess, in the way that I used to think I would... and now I know I never will. I'm not sure if I wanna sign myself up for a regular dose of that." She laughed again, trying to take the edge off what she was saying, and not succeeding very well. ("Long after tonight, after the fire, after the scattered ashes fly...") "Plus... are you sure you can make plans to come back to Arizona? Maybe when we find this capsule, it'll bring news that you're needed back on your home planet, and tell you how to get there. I'm not about to pick up and move to an alien planet, I'll have you know Max. Maybe once... but definitely not now."

("...Through the four winds blown, and gone, will you come back to me?")

"I guess that's fair enough," Max said, and he reached out and touched Liz's fingers slightly, and that simple contact was like a surge of heat rushing through her body. Could he feel it too? For an instant, Liz thought she had a flash, of that moment in the Crashdown where Max had said he would be coming for her. But she wasn't sure.

("You try, to live your life, from day to day. But seeing you across the room tonight -- just takes me away-ay.")

"How... how long until Roswell?" she mumbled vaguely.

"Umm..." Max looked at the odometer. "Another three hours or so. You wanna see if you can get any sleep?"

"Nah, I'm not tired," Liz sighed, and started staring out the window at the nighttime landscape beyond.

("'Cause the heart won't lie...")

"Umm... Max?" Liz asked, not looking away from the window

"Yes Liz?"

"Being with Tess..." Liz paused a moment to actually deal with putting the thought into words. "Does... does she really make you happy?"

("... Sometimes life gets in the way... but there's one thing that won't change,")

"Yeah, yeah, she does," Max assured her.

"Then I'm happy for you," Liz heard her own voice say.

("... I know, I've tried...")

* * * *

Around a planet known to its people as Ishzkver, more or less... not far distant in the galactic scheme of things, circled a small, dead, airless moon. Within a crystallized dome on this moon, Ishzkver 4, a being sat and patiently watched a device on which he could monitor real-time transmissions from a probe.

He had travelled far, unimaginably far, over the past few [years], and had further yet to go. And yet, try as he might, he had been unable to find a way to make the relatively short side trip to Earth physically, as he would have liked to. This probe would have to serve as his proxy...

Another being entered the dome - a Zxygahtsien, one of the species that inhabited the planet below, who had built this structure, like dozens more upon the same moon, and permitted him the use of it. #Yes?# our friend inquired of the visitor, using an artificial device to convey the message in the Zxygahtsien mode -- which involved no sound, only symbolic patterns of color.

#Most humble apologies, your G--#, the native flashed, using his body to respond to the color patterns our friend had shown on an artificial display screen. From previous experience the traveller could understand these patterns, but was physiologically unable to generate them himself.

#Just Sanren,# our friend interrupted with his screen. #I am only a living creature, now, with no honors that you or the least of your people are not equally entitled to claim.#

#Sanren,# the other began again without comment. #Humblest of apologies, but I intruded only to inquire if there was anything else your gr...# He caught himself just in time. #...if there is anything else you require.# For long moments Sanren did not move to program another flash. #All our people are most sincerely grateful for your assistance, Sanren.#

#It was a fair trade,# Sanren replied. #For the probe you launched for me, the technology it carries, the use of this installation...#

#It was not,# the native countered. #These things are a poor recompense for all that you have done.#

#Then you are quite welcome,# he flashed, weary of arguing against native courtesy. #But for the next three revolutions of your planet, I require nothing other than to left alone in this place. Then I will leave your people and continue on my journey, our mutual debts cancelled out.

#As your honor wishes. My apologies.#

#It's alright,# Sanren flashed with a smile, even though his facial expressions generally meant little or nothing to the Zxygahtsien. His courteous host bowed in the manner of his people and slithered backwards out of the dome.

Sanren sighed and watched his readouts once again. Soon, the probe would land upon the surface of planet Earth. Then, Sanren would face the moment of truth.

Would he find the family that he had lost so long ago -- find it on this curiously backwards world?? The odds were easily thousands or tens of thousands to one against them being able to find the probe before Sanren had to leave.

But he was nothing if not a creature of hope.

TO BE CONTINUED...

posted on 13-Nov-2002 8:46:17 PM
quote:
Sternbetrachter originally wrote:
I think that A/I are slowly getting somewhere! (I know that's the uc board, but dreaming is allowed)


Hehe.

For the record, I asked for this thread to be moved to the uc board because of the max/tess and michael/isabel elements. The board classifications are arbitrary and broad, so I hope it'll be allowed to bring some CC elements into this fic later on. *big*

Thanks for all the fb everybody!! *bounce* Ta ta for now.
posted on 5-Jan-2003 2:45:19 PM
Whom among us, part twelve
Author: Chris Kenworthy
Email: Chris_Kenworthy⊕yahoo.com
Disclaimer: No, I don't own any of the Roswell characters. I don't plan to steal them and lock them up in white rooms either. ;-) I just let them out to play from time to time and see what happens.
Distribution: Distribute anywhere you like, now based at fanficarchive.net: http://www.fanficarchive.net/
Feedback: YES PLEASE!
Category: Roswell future-fic
Rating: PG
Summary: Liz's life changes when, as a university junior, she runs into Max again.
Spoilers: Up to 'end of the world,' kinda


----------------------------------------------------------------------

Kyle sat restlessly in one of the small seats of the 'Pod Squad's RV, crammed in between the driver's seat and some kind of a storage chest.

His usual routine had certainly gotten shaken and stirred this weekend, and he could tell that that feeling was not exactly unique to him. When Max and Isabel Evans had gone to Tempe, Arizona, they had unknowingly set off a chain reaction of events that had, among other things, led Kyle right into this seat, barreling down Route 70 on the stretch between Alamagordo and Roswell, the final leg of their trip that had started at the Arizona State campus.

It wasn't that Kyle resented the sudden disruption in his life. Way back when, he had normally upset when the alien shenanigans intruded on his idyllic high-school existence, but the days of being a football jock at West Roswell High were far behind him now. He'd felt himself drift into a repetitive groove at University, and was glad that something had come along to jostle him out. But still...

He looked towards the passenger seat, and there was Tess, still, Staring off into the distance ahead of the RV, where Max and his small team of Liz and Bentor led the caravan from the second car. Once, so long ago, Kyle had been wondering if he was falling in love with Tess Harding. Had even wondered if she loved him, though she had never hinted at it. And then, she and the rest of them had left Roswell without any goodbyes, choosing their destiny and their mission instead of the people they had met in the alien capital of the US. That seems to have settled that question.

Now, Kyle wasn't sure how he felt about Tess, about any of them. The nagging questions were chattering in the back of his mind, where he couldn't quiet them entirely, preying on his peace of mind. Well, when all else fails, bite the bullet.

Kyle got up, put his hand on the back of the passenger seat (which only took one step forward,) and cleared his throat, trying to get Tess' attention. She shook herself as if startled slightly, and looked up to face him. Something nostalgic stirred in Kyle as those crystal blue eyes locked with his. "Hey, you wanna talk? I'm... a little bored."

Tess was silent for an instant, and then nodded. "Sure. Davin." She nodded at the slightly older-looking hybrid and undid her shoulder belt, getting out of the bucket seat.

"Send someone else up here, 'kay?" Davin whispered softly. "Just to make sure I don't drift off." He needn't have spoken, though, as Kenner was already heading forward into the cockpit of the trailer.

"So..." Kyle sighed as Tess settled into the seat opposite him, feeling a little nervous because Davin and Kenner were well within earshot. The entire RV was short on 'out of earshot,' of course, and it didn't seem like Tess had any secrets from these people, but still.

"So," Tess replied with a reassuring smile.

"We hardly spoke a word to each other beyond 'hello' when I turned up in Arizona, did we?" Kyle blurted out awkwardly. "I mean... well, there was a time when we were close, wasn't there? Living in the same house... and even after you left our place we spent a lot of time together, right??"

"Of course we did," Tess admitted, with a trace of bemusement in her voice. "You remember it as well as I do."

"Well then..." But Kyle couldn't find the words, yet. Tess cocked her head slightly, as if from that angle she could better read his face.

"Are you upset that I never said goodbye??" Kyle shook his head, but without conviction, since that was a part of it. "Max left Liz a note when we left... did you know about that? No, I guess you wouldn't have. I didn't find out about it for more than a year." Tess sighed. "I'm sorry. I would have handled things some other way - almost any other way - if I had had a choice. But I didn't. What was, was, because that was the way it had to be."

"And now you and Max are husband and wife," Kyle said slowly, trying to keep any trace of emotion out of his voice as he said the words. "For real, now."

"We are," Tess was staring at Kyle again. "Kyle, are you..."

"Did you know I was going to ask you to the spring dance??" Kyle blurted out. "I had it all planned out... the limo, the tux, the corsage for you. I went to your locker to ask you, Monday morning a week before the dance, and Max was there with you, the two of you, laughing and touching each other. I could hardly even say hello before you were telling me how excited you were to be escorting *him* to the festivities."

"Oh, god," Tess breathed, a mortified look on her face... and then her mouth quirked slightly in a long-ago amusement. "I wondered how you ended up with Arlene Peterson."

Kyle didn't dignify that with a response. "I fell in love with you that spring, Tess, and no sooner did I realize it than you weren't there for me anymore. Within a few weeks, you simply weren't *there*. Period. It took me a long time to figure out how to stop falling."

"Kyle..." Tess whispered, more serious now. "I... I never realized you felt that way either. You were very important to me, especially at that time in my life, but... what can I say? Max is the only man I've ever loved. If there was something I could have done, to spare you the pain, then I would have, but..."

"You couldn't," Kyle muttered hollowly. "That's the way love is. No matter how foolish or inappropriate it is, there's no way to keep it from running its course. That's the beauty, and that's the horror of it." He sighed. "I... I didn't really mean to throw all this in your face, Tess."

"Maybe it's best that we actually had it out," Tess said, attempting a faint smile. "Oh, look! We're heading into Roswell."

Kyle was all too happy to remain quiet and watch the old familiar landmarks, rendered into ghosts by the combination of night-dark, streetlamp, and headlight.

* * * *

"Right through here." Liz focused on Max's voice as she climbed on her hands and knees through the hidden tunnel behind what was left of Isabel's pod. So many years later, threads of alien substance still hung down and brushed Liz's forehead and cheeks, making her skin crawl. She nerved herself not to back up and leave.

And then she was through, or at least her head was, and the granilith room opening itself up in front of her. Liz had never been here, but she couldn't help recognize it from Maria's descriptions. She'd always expected a much bigger space, but that mysterious inverted cone said it all. The Granilith. Capital T, Capital G.

This is what brought Future Max back, Liz thought, so intensely she was actually surprised she could help but give voice to the words. This is what ruined my last hopes for a true reunion with Max.

But the Granilith just hummed along, as blissfully unaware of how much she despised it as only an inanimate thing could be. Belatedly Liz realized that she was still blocking the entrance tunnel and scrambled free.

"Hey, Liz, over here," Max called the pedestal at the base of the cone. A control unit of some kind? Tess was standing beside him, looking disgustingly radiant in a gown that looked like it had been poured from the Milky Way itself. When had she changed into *that*??

"What *is* the Granilith, exactly," Liz asked as she walked up to the pair of them. "Did you ever find that out??"

"Pretty much," Max told her, smiling obliquely. "Primarily, the granilith functions to facilitate the genetic alteration of living things. It has a large store of reseve power though, to perform quantum reality manipulations, and that's what we'll be using tonight."

"We don't need to touch any of the Granilith's higher functions at all," Tess continued, breathlessly. Smiling at everyone. "We just need to release a pulse of energy and see what it bounces off, out in space. Care to do the honors, Max??" She waved at the pedestal, which was flashing a large, lime green circle as if it was a huge push-button.

"Delighted," Max agreed, reaching out and tapping the indicator.

A pulse of what seemed like ripples in the air emerged from the Granilith cone and spread out through the room, fading as they did so. "Don't worry," Max said, to no-one in particular as far as Liz could tell. "That was just a small side effect. The true energy pulse was directed outward."

Liz nodded vaguely, and then gasped in shock. A cloud of those ripples in the air seemed to be surrounding her, closing in on her. "Max, help!!" she called, trying to reach him, feeling ironically like Super-man trapped in the time window, unable to touch Lois Lane through it. (Now where had *that* image come from??)

Max and Tess were looking at her with less concern than annoyance visible on their faces. "Liz, what's with you??" Tess asked as the bubble of ripples closed in around her body.

Once anything was clear again, Liz could tell instantly that she wasn't where she had been. Brilliant starlight shone all around her. Slowly she realized that she was standing on a small hilltop, her feet suddenly bare against the the white sand underneath them. She couldn't see the plain that this sand hill presumably rose out of - it was shrouded in darkness. But everything right around her was brightly lit, though the stars didn't seem THAT luminous. It was as if the light came from nowhere at all - she couldn't even see it directly, just the things that it illuminated.

"Liz!" The voice came from behind her, and Liz thought she recognized it as she spun around, then she was distracted with realizing that she was wearing a purple flowered sundress. A sundress that she distinctly remembered cutting into ribbons, if it came to that. The air was warm and dry against her skin, not too hot.

And then Liz actually looked at the man she was now facing. "Max. Future Max??" His appearance was unmistakeable, every detail of the leather clothing, the long dark hair, even down to the tiniest bit of stubble above his lip. "Do... do you recognize me??" she blurted out. "Not just that I'm Liz, but..." She trailed off, not sure how to put it into words.

"I remember," Future Max assured her, with a smile. "I remember coming back for you. Back through time. I remember telling you about our wedding. I remember dancing with you on your balcony, just before I had to leave. Liz, I still believe..."

Liz shook herself out of the magic of the moment. "Do you remember what you came back to do? How we got you to leave me and fall in love with Tess?"

Future Max's face frown in perplexity. "No... no, I don't," he admitted.

"And *how* do you remember?" Liz continued. "You left because your timeline had collapsed completely. So where are we now??" She looked out over the hillside to the dark plain beyong, confused herself. "What is this place?? Is it the future?"

"This is Esparoweel," another familiar voice. Liz turned around and was somehow unsurprised to see Maria. She looked seventeen again, with her hair flowing down from two pins in the back, wearing a red spandex top, a miniskirt, green boots and a pair of tights that were almost hot pink. (When did Liz remember that outfit from??) "It's, well... some kind of place trapped between the dimensions."

"How did we get here?" Liz asked.

"The granilith brought us all here," Maria replied. "Don't you remember that much, Liz??"

The granilith... yes, she did remember. All of a sudden, another cloud of ripples appeared, 'depositing' Isabel a few yards away from them. "Isabel??"

"Alex?" Isabel turned toward's Liz's voice, but her eyes had no recognition in them.

"She's in pretty bad shape," Maria muttered softly. "Not that much left."

"Alex will be here soon, Isabel," Liz blurted out for some reason, and then turned back to Future Max. "Can we... talk? Alone, you know??"

"It's not too safe to wander far from the hilltop," Maria pointed out.

"Wait a second." Future Max waved a hand, and Maria and Isabel vanished. Liz blinked in surprise.

"Where did they go?"

"They're right here, but neither group of us can see, hear, or even touch each other," Future Max told her. "Wow, I didn't know I could do that."

Seized by a irresistible impulse, Liz leaned up on her tiptoes and brought Future Max's face down to meet hers. She'd never kissed Future Max, though she'd wanted to. While they were sharing that magic dance, especially, she'd wanted to. She'd been waiting for the right moment... and then he was gone. In more ways than one.

When his lips touched hers, it took her breath away and ran tingly, hot and cold sensation down her arms and her legs. She smiled, and lowered her arms, not caring that one of the straps of the sundress slipped off her shoulder, and brought her hands up beneath Future Max's jacket, Soon they were tumbling to the soft white sand, and kissing again.

An image flashed into Liz's mind. Herself, Max, Tess, and Isabel. Back in the granilith chamber... they had received an echolocation from the space capsule. Good for them.

Wait a second... herself??

"What am I doing back there?" she whispered.

"Back where??"

"I'm still in the granilith chamber. I can *see* myself there. Why am I still there??" Liz could see herself opening a pad of scratch paper and starting to make rough calculations, in point of fact.

"I'm not that good about explaining..."

"Then drop the obscurity field," Liz snapped, opening her eyes. Future Max groaned. "Drop it!!"

Future Max waved a hand slightly, and Maria, Isabel, and Alex popped into existence. Alex? Yes, he was here too now, and making up for lost time with Isabel, apparently.

"Why am I still in the granilith chamber??" Liz asked Maria. She closed her eyes to check on the gang. Yes, Alex was there too now, though she couldn't see Isabel.

"Why... why wouldn't you??"

"I..." For a second Liz couldn't think of an answer to that. "How can I be here and there at the same time??"

"Well, aren't we all??" Maria shook her head. "I'm back in Roswell, aren't I? When the granilith frees us, one part of us stays behind in Roswell, while the true believer inside us comes here."

"The true believer??" Liz repeated.

"The part of you that never stops trusting in the first love. The part that will never accept destiny."

It was starting to hit home. "So... that Liz Parker who is in the Granilith chamber..."

"She's accepted reality," Alex filled in, in between kisses. "She's moved on, the more fool her. Put Max behind her."

Liz considered that, and shuddered.

"But *you* don't have to!!" Maria insisted, "Here in Esparoweel, you never have to admit that. You can stay here, forever, with Max." She looked at Future Max. "Or the closest available approximation. Sometime, I know that the granilith is going to free Michael too, and then he'll come to me."

"But wait a second," Liz muttered, feeling confused. "When were *you* freed, Maria? The only time you've been to the granilith chamber was years ago, and in all that time you *never* moved on, you never lost faith in Michael."

"I'm sorry, Liz."

Liz waited for the end of that... and then it struck her that everything had changed again. Some strange trick of Esparoweel?? No... reality was hitting her.

The whole thing had been a dream. She was waking up in the RV... and Davin was watching her from the door. "I didn't mean to wake you up, Miss Parker."

"No," she yawned, "it's alright. What is it??"

"The granilith test run was successful. As soon as you're all set to plot a course, we can finally find our capsule."

Liz smiled at him, as she remembered what had really happened. As the caravan arrived in Roswell at around 1:30 am, it had suddenly hit them that there would be no computer stores open until the morning. Michael, Isabel, and Davin had headed up to the Maideckizne rocks and the granilith chamber, to test whether they could get an echo from the capsule. Everyone else had taken to bed in the RV, or the tent that had been pitched next to it in the park, until the morning.

"What time is it?"

"Not quite 5 am. You should get back to sleep."

"No, I couldn't." Not after such a weird dream, at least. Davin smiled and closed the door, and Liz crawled out from under the covers and pulled her clothes from last night back on. She tried to get out the door without looking at Max and Tess sleeping in the double bed, all sweetly cuddled together. And failed miserably.

As she walked through the streets of Roswell in the pre-dawn hours, Liz found her feet taking her towards Maria's building. (She had only been there once, almost a year ago, but from the regular phone calls she knew that Maria was still living there.) Step down through the well-flora'd courtyard and knock on the door.

No answer, of course.

Something inside Liz was unwilling to wait to see her best friend. Sure, it was early, but not early enough that Maria would be uber-pissed, right? And Maria DeLuca being herself, there would have to be, somewhere around here...

Ah, there it was, Third flower-pot from the left, just as Liz had guessed, Buried just underneath the surface of the potting soil was a small metal object. A 'safety key.' She took it to the door and made her way in, locking the front door again behind her.

It took a while for Liz's eyes to adjust to the dimness inside, with heavy drapes drawn over all the windows, but she didn't want to risk waking up a room-mate, (or apartment-mate, Liz supposed,) by turning on a light. Once she could make out the dimness well enough, Liz carefully tiptoed down the hall and into the room that she knew was Maria's, pulling up a chair beside the bed.

"Mare? Sorry to wake you up so early, but, well... surprise!!"

"Go away," Maria moaned without opening her eyes, and rolled over to face the wall.

"Not a chance," Liz whispered. reaching out to shake her friends' shoulder slightly. "Maria, it's Liz. I know it's early, but, well, I kinda need to talk to you."

"Liz??" Somehow that got partway into Maria's sleepy brain. "You can't be Liz. Liz is in Arizona, I just talked to her yesterday."

"It was the day before yesterday," Liz corrected, "and it doesn't take that long to drive from Arizona to Roswell. Sorry I forgot to let you know we were coming last night, but everything was crazy."

"Liz??" Maria repeated again, turning back over and opening her eyes. "Is it really you??" Obviously the light wasn't bright enough for Maria to make out Liz's face, because she flailed an arm out and switched on the small lamp on the bedside table, wincing at its brightness a second later.

"Yeah, it's me, bug," Liz laughed... somehow dredging up that nickname from over twelve years ago. "Surprise!!"

"Boomer," Maria laughed, and gave Liz a big hug. "So, what are you doing here in Rosw..." She broke off, guessing part of the answer. "Chechoslovakian-related??"

"What do *you* think," Liz shot back, laughing.

It was not quite fifteen minutes before Maria was quickly cleaned up, dressed, and the two of them leaving the apartment, to avoid waking up Maria's apartmentmate. "So... you're here to use the Granilith to trace this space capsule thingee??" Maria repeated as they walked up the courtyard steps.

"That's the plan," Liz confirmed. "Michael brought you in there that one time, didn't he??"

"Yeah, not long after they found it," Maria confirmed. "Why??"

After a slight pause, Liz started retelling her dream. By the time she was done, Maria was shaking her head and trying to keep from letting a laugh escape.

"Girl, you got some serious Max Evans issues," Maria laughed.

"So... you wanna tag along with the merry men?" Liz asked. "Everyone *else* is."

"Sure, what the heck," Maria laughed. "So... how tight to Michael and Isabel..." she apparently couldn't keep from scoffing at the two names together, "seem? Really??"

* * * *

Too many people were crammed inside the Granilith chamber - the REAL one this time.

"So, Max..." Maria whispered, sidling up beside the hybrid king. "Just what have you been putting my Lizzie through??"

"What?" It took a second for Max to get his mental balance. "Look, I'll admit that this situation hasn't been ideal for anybody. But it was Liz's idea to help out, and I haven't been keeping her here..."

"If you two are just going to bicker about me," Liz called out, "can you go out and do it among the pods?" She turned to Isabel. "Another pulse." Isabel obliged, touching the granilith base and making the necessary mental command. Liz clicked a stopwatch at the same time, then turned to Bentor. "Do these energy pulses travel at the speed of light??"

"Uh, yes, take away perhaps half a percentage point. Why... you are seeking to use the elapsed time as a measure of distance??" the seer guessed.

"Got it in one. We need to identify this thing's precise position in space as well as we can, and there's no time to match it against the old course plans we drew up. Three measurements to pinpoint an object in space, that's altitude, azimuth, and distance for us." A light appeared on one of the walls of the chamber, that had been jury-rigged into a primitive display screen, and Liz stopped the chronometer. "Okay... we'll wait five minutes before doing it again,"

Once the ritual had been repeated, Liz nodded, began a printout from the laptop computer that Max had purchased for her in town, and closed the lid. "That's it," she announced to Max, who had been waiting silently all this time, though Maria had left, perhaps in search of Michael Guerin. "We've got an estimated landing point, and now that I know where this thing is, we can watch along the way for course corrections."

"That... that's it?" Max muttered. "Do we have to get going right away??"

"If we have any hope in hell of catching this thing, yes we do," Liz replied sharply.

"Where's the estimated landing point??" Isabel asked.

"Alberta."

TO BE CONTINUED...