posted on 13-Oct-2001 1:23:09 AM
Title: Adventures in Intstellar Diplomacy
Author: Nes
Email: spitfireness⊕hotmail.com
Rating: R
Category: Larek, Maria. Not larek/Maria
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot...sigh.


Added note post season: I stopped watching "Off the Menu" after about twenty minutes. Screw that. I started writing this way before then anyhow -and I like my version better.




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


Brody stood in front of the little mirror he kept on his office door. Nervously he ran his hands through his unruly hair.

Offering his reflection a dapper look, he said, "Well, hullo there, cutie. Fancy meeting here...in my workplace after I offered your boss an extra twenty for you, specifically, to deliver my lunch."

Bubble slightly burst, he tried again. "Maria, how's the sandwich biz?"

Sighing, he ruffled his hair and said pathetically, "Heard any good abduction jokes lately?"

Finally he gave up and collapsed into his leather chair. "Get it together, mate. You're a grown man...and she's dreadfully underage."

One more year til she was eighteen. Less, actually. One hundred and twenty-seven days point five. It was circled in crisp red ink on all his calendars.

Not this his intentions were dishonorable. Not with a sweet girl like Maria. She was so understanding...

"Mr. Davis? Brody?"

He loved the way she said his name. He waited for her to say it again before he unlocked the door.

A vision. Perfect skin and all that fluffy blonde hair.

"Hiya, Brody."

He doubled over suddenly, in shock.

"You okay?" She dropped the sandwich in her haste. She liked Brody Davis, maybe not in a 'gimme a kiss, big boy' capacity, but that's what made it okay to like him. He was safe. A good guy.

"I require your car."

"What?" Okay, Maria thought. Cancel good guy. Reevaluation time: maybe he's Demanding, Insistent Guy.

"Your car," he said again. He stretched his arms out towards her, jerkily like a marionette.

"The Jetta? Hello, independently wealthy dude, you have your own?" She attempted to rap her knuckles on his head but his hand swiftly caught hers.

"Come on," he tugged her towards the stairs.

"I reiterate, if only for dramatic purposes: What?"

"I need you to drive."

"Okay, she thought about it for a minute. "You're right. We really need to get you to a hospital. I'll drive."


***


"Do you think it's something to do with the cancer?"

"No."

"None of my business. Right."

"Actually it just has nothing to do with the cancer," he said calmly. "And we're not going to the hospital."

Maria looked at Brody, nearly swerving off the road. "What is going on with you? Why are you being so weird?"

She looked at the way he was sitting, all stretched out like a big cat. His mouth was missing its easy, mile-wide grin.

"You're not Brody."

He smirked and panic flooded her.

"You've been abducted! I mean, I've been abducted. I mean, you abducted us!"

"Swift one, aren't you?"

Her panic was soon replaced by irritation, sarcasm she could handle.

"I'm not going anywhere with you." She scowled at the alien wearing Brody's face.

He moved quickly to trap her face between Brody's hands. No, not Brody's hands, Brody wouldn't hurt her like this. Slowly, he said, "I'm in a hurry and I can't drive. I'd have to release my control of the human and let his body take control."

"Go teleport yourself or something," she ground out as he squeezed tighter.

"If it's not you, it'll be some other unsuspecting-" he pointed out the window, "random person. Oh, look at that fellow! He doesn't look busy at all."

"Fine," Maria agreed. She relaxed her face muscles and muttered beneath her breath. "I bruise easy, you know."

He smirked again, "I'll keep that in mind."

Don't let him get to you, girl. Stay calm, think fast. How could she use this to her advantage? This was an alien, what could he give her?

Information.

Max would appreciate it, maybe it'd give him a few full nights of sleep. And it might prove to Tess, Michael, and Isabel that the humans were not only helpful but belonged in the inner pod circle. Maybe she could wrangle some stuff on the granolith...

Smiling with new determination, she asked, "So where are we going?"

"North Carolina."

"Okay, that's across state lines." She thought for a second, "Change of plans, then."

"No."

"Hey, I agreed to this so and it is my home turf, er, planet so listen before you veto. This is my mother's car. M-O-M. You might be willing to incur the wrath of Amy DeLuca, but I'm not. You have credit cards, right?" She was sure Brody wouldn't mind. Fairly sure.

He produced a battered brown wallet. "Discover, Mastercard, Visa, and some cash." He flashed a stack of twenty dollar bills.

""Wunderbar," Maria said dryly. She relaxed a little, she was good at making plans. "What we need to do is bring this car back to my house and then take a taxi. We'll rent a car -I'm thinking Porsche convertible- and drive to Albequerque. That's where the nearest airport is. We'll hop a plane and be in NC in less than two days. And that's with a very incredible margin of safety."

"That easy?"

"You've got the plastic, then it's that easy." She shrugged. "Hey, take the wheel for a minute."

"I don't drive. That's why I need you," he pointed out.

"Advanced species, my ass. Come on, just keep us straight for two seconds. It's not hard." She reached for her purse with both hands giving the alien no choice but to grip the wheel. "Good job."

"Thanks." He eyed her cell phone suspiciously, "What's that for?"

"I gotta get us tickets. Plus, I have to tell someone where I am," she added challengingly.

When he didn't say anything she began to press the numbers of Max's house. Please let me get an answering machine, she prayed. Yes! "Hey, girlfriend. FYI, I'm pulling a 285 South with your not-a-boss- to the home of the Tarheels. No worries. Cover for me. Love ya."

She looked at the passenger, "See, that wasn't painful. Now hand me one of those charge cards, will you?"


***


Maria pulled into her driveway and put on the parking brake. "I've got to pack and leave a note. You stay. No, wait someone might see you. Come on."

When they entered the small house, Maria tentatively called out, "Mom?"

There was no answer so Maria told the alien, "She's not here." She pointed to the couch, "Relax, I won't be ten minutes."

"Five, we're on a schedule."

She scowled at him, "Sure, sure."


***


Maria stared at her closet, "Now what does one wear when shuttling alien emissaries?" She stuffed in two pairs of jeans, her favorite red v-neck sweater, a blue tank top, and three random shirts. She added a black blouse and knee-length patterned purple skirt, just in case.

"Sensible shoes, sensible shoes," she muttered as she grabbed a pair of sneakers and black flats.

Shrugging out of her Crashdown uniform, she put on another pair of jeans, the sneakers, and a blue shirt that read, Space case. Her mom had made it.

Don't think about Mom right now. Think about information. I'm like a secret agent of something. Yeah, secret agent.

Next she tackled her socks, toothpaste, toothpaste, brush, sunglasses and makeup. "Okay, what’s left? Ah, the unmentionables. Now what am sort of statement do I want to make? Please abduct me again? I really don’t mind being here? Or please don’t hurt me? None of the above. Efficient, independent, capable. That leaves out the thong."


***


"Stop getting antsy," Maria said.

"You've spent the last five minutes on the same sentence," he growled. "I'm beginning to wonder why I'm bothering with you."

"I’m trying to maintain the right balance of ‘urgent but not that urgent’ so my mom doesn’t freak out."

"Why write a letter at all?"

"So we don't get stopped by the highway patrol that my mom will probably call out if I don't leave a note."

"That's good enough," he grabbed the letter from her hand and shoved her towards the door.


***


The shiny of driving a Porsche had gone off after half an hour. Maria turned off the radio, three hours of blasting music with no conversation was not her idea of fun. Even if this was a business arrangement and she was (just a little) scared, she was not about to be bored.

She looked at the alien in Brody's body through hooded eyes. That sort of naming just wouldn't do. "I'm Maria."

He grunted.

"Let's set up some ground rules. You need me. I can drive. As an added bonus, I'm willing to accommodate and otherwise assist you. Not many humans can offer you that. All I ask in return is some civility and a little bit of info."

"Info?"

"To help me and my friends."

"Your friends?"

"You mean you don't-," Maria paused. She'd assumed this guy knew of her friendship with the royal four. If he didn't, she'd rather he not find out. "Brody and the other abductees told me. We have a support group. Like the AA but without the alcohol or the addiction of the twelve steps-"

"Any other ground rules?"

"Wear your seatbelt."

He buckled it obediently. Apparently, he was going to cut down on the ultra violence and be mature. But just in case-

"I want a guarantee of safety."

"A what?"

"For both of us. I'll take you to North Carolina. I'll even stay awhile to make sure Brody gets back okay but there will no sucking of my brains, no laser rayguns, no Vulcan death grip."

"My word on it."

"Okay." That's one battle fought and won, she cheered inwardly. "Now what am I supposed to call you?"

"I am Larek of Sa-Larekon."

"Sa-Larekon?"

"My planet," he said.

"How eponymous of you."

"You're taking this all rather well."

"Old hat. I've been kidnapped for vehicular purposes by an alien befoe."

Larek arched a confused, then eloquent brow, "Ah, your support group."

"Yeah, so what's in Carolina? A friend?"

He seemed to wince, "Not a friend, but someone important."


***


She turned into the parking lot of the Motel 6, blinking her eyes.

"What's this?" Larek infused Brody's English accent with a gravelly purr that Maria wasn't in the mood to acknowledge.

"It's a place to sleep. I don't have whatever alien power is keeping you awake and looking vibrantly fresh."

"Snippy," he leapt over the side of the car, not bothering to unlock the door.

"Some of us aren't so athletic after five hours of driving." She groaned, "Some of us also need to pee."

"Here, let me get that for you," he grabbed her suitcase and followed her to the motel lobby.

She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. Why was he being polite?


***


"Two single rooms, please," she told the night manager.

"Actually, make it one double," Larek corrected.

Maria looked at him suspiciously but didn't say anything. "Hey, this is a business arrangement," she hissed as they walked to their room. "But it's not that kind of business."

"I'm just trying to keep an eye on you. I don't want you to change your mind in the middle of the night and find myself stranded."

"Don't you trust me?" She smiled teasingly.

Larek grabbed her wrist tight and twisted, "In a word, no. You're convenient, but don't make a mistake here "I'm not your precious Brody."

He released her wrist with a snap and she rubbed it, "I kinda got that."

Larek had already dumped her bag and turned on the television when she got to the room.

"TV, how...mundane, and so typically male," she muttered.

He grunted noncommitally, "One of the few endearing things about this planet."

"On the behalf of the Terran Hospitality Wagon, thanks." She unzipped her case, "I'll just go take a shower -unless of course, you think I'll flush myself down the toilet and leave you stranded."

Without looking up, he said, "When's our flight?"

"At seven tomorrow morning."

"Be back by then," he turned back to the screen.

She shook her head in bewilderment and closed the bathroom door, "I can only try."


***


She emerged, hair wet, in a oversized night-tee to find Brody still glued to the television.

"So, uh, there's only one bed. Which side do you want?"

He leered at her.

"You know, you have the most annoying facial expressions."

He smirked harder, "I don't need to sleep."

Maria sat on the bed thoughtfully, "But Brody does. He also needs to eat. He loses weight every time you abduct him. You should feed him, it's the least you could do."

"The least?"

"He's got a life, you know. A job, a daughter. You interfere with all that and you don't even say thank you. Would it be so hard to leave a Hallmark in his pocket?" She paused, "Not that they make cards for that."

"God, you just go on, don't you?" He rolled his eyes, "What sort of nutrients would you recommend then?"

Maria smiled satisfied, "Pizza, duh."


***


"So you can possess anyone's body, huh?" Maria murmured. "Then why not, say, Harrison Ford?"

Larek bit into his fifth steaming slice of pepperonni, onion, sausage, pineapple, and mushroom deep dish "Scheduling conflicts."

Maria laughed, "Maybe we should have got a second pie."

A shadow crossed Larek's face and he lay the slice down.

"What's the matter? Did you chew too fast? The cheese is really hot, but that's the best part-"

"I didn't take over this body to eat your Earthling pizza, I have things to do that don't include taking care of a weak human. Important things." His mouth set into a thin line of displeasure.

"Well, why don't you explain it to me instead of being Mr. Grumpy." She sat against a pillow. "You promised me info and maybe if I know the 411, we can cooperate better or whatever. Come on, tell me about ye olde homestead."

Larek sighed. "Sa-Larekon is only a small planet in my solar system. The smallest, actually, but we're the only ones with nemriaw."

"Nim-rye-ow?"

"It's a sort of a crystal. We use them in our ships to go faster than the speed of light."

"Oh, it makes you go zoom" she nodded in understanding, it was like dilithium from Star Trek or something.

"Anyhow, we're the only ones who can mine and process nemriaw so we're important and it keeps us safe, out of politics. Or it has, until lately."

A frown graced Maria's face, she didn't like the sound of this. "What changed?"

"Kivar," the word was laced with hate.

Maria hid a small gasp and tried to play dumb. "Kivar, what's that?"

"It's a who. And he wants to control the nemriaw"

"Okay, I'm guessing you couldn't just share then."

Larek stood abruptly, "That's enough for the night. I thought you were tired."

"I was, but now I'm in listening-mode. I've got a second wind -and it's sympathetic."

He moved towards the door, "I'm going for a walk. Go to sleep, Maria."


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

Larek sat on the hood of the Porsche convertible, laying back against the windshield. He looked at the strange five-fingered hands, turning them over.

'I will never get used to this,' he thought. How long had be at this business, possessing human bodies? How long had the war lasted?

He remembered Anna Salion, his disastrous first experience. The riotous twisting of entering a female body. He shook at the memory, the mistake had not been repeated.

Then came Brad Hatter. What had he been? An accountant? No matter. He'd died seven years ago. Gunshot wound in a mugging.

So needless. The body should've been good for twenty more years. Larek had to waste months searching for a suitable body.

Finally, Brody Davis. Larek pulled and knowledge easily from the human mind -he had a daughter, Sydney and once a wife. The abductions had driven him a little mad.

No matter, Larek cut off the stream of trivia. He had more important matters to concentrate upon.

He let himself think of the pressed snowfields and crystal pink crevasses of Sa-Larekon. The moon so blindingly bright...

Kivar's "diplomatic" ships surrounding Sa-Larekon in a neat ring, capturing all the nemriaw tankers...you couldn't see all that from the surface, of course. But you could never ignore it.

He snapped his teeth in anger. He could kill Kivar with a song in his heart.

But he wouldn't. Oh, smart Larek. So-clever Larek, caught in his own trap. When Antar had fallen, Larek had begun taking steps to protect his own planet. He divorced himself from all association from Zan -oh, it was bitter!- and sent emissaries to Kivar. Sa-Larekon transformed into the Nemriaw Mining Guild and cut itself from the rest of the system in everything but business transactions. They'd made themselves innocuous, but useful. Why bother conquering us? We already do all you wish.

But Larek had a deeper plan. Slowly, he had decreased the export of nemriaw until it had reached a trickle. Ten years ago FTL had become all but myth, the only ones with the ability left were Kivar and he didn't have enough in reserves to deploy a trash barge. Larek had been apologetic, the deposits were gone, he'd told them. The natural mountain growths kept ships from scanning for the true quantity of nemriaw available. Larek had stockpiled his own army of quick fliers and warships in preparation for the day when Kivar was weak enough to be defeated. And the day was closer everyday, with FTL eliminated, there was almost no commerce between the planets and an economic depression had settled firmly over the system, but most of all on Antar. Antar was a desert plan that produced luxury items like cactus wine-creme, ivory, and precious jewelry, but no food. That's why the ancestors had left Antar to colonize the system in the first place. This made the Antarians superior, we are the direct-line, the true-descendents, they claimed. Arrogance was moot now. The people of Antar were starving, angry, and letting Kivar know it. The people of Antar were starving, angry, and letting Kivar know it.

Larek smiled, the Antarians might just kill Kivar for him.

But somehow Kivar had found out. Maybe it'd been the training missions the fliers had taken on the surface. But they'd been so careful to stay undetected...and Khivar wasn't supposed to waste nemriaw on dectector-satellites...

No matter. Kivar had found them out. He'd sent a fleet -Larek apparently hadn't been the only one stockpiling- and a message. Larek was to report to Nicholas. Report! As if he was some lackling toady of Kivar's to order around. But Kivar held his people, his planet hostage and so Larek was on his way to Nicholas.

"Just like a lackling toady," Larek shook his head and frowned sadly. "And dragging a human in tow."


***


Maria switched off all the lights in the hotel room and shut the curtains. She moved to the bed and reached for the phone. She just sat for a moment. Her fingers dialed the number to Alex's by heart.

He answered before the first ring had finished.

"Whitman Residence!"

"Alex..."

"Where are you? I've been so worried. Are you okay?"

"Calm down, Alex. I'm in a hotel a little out of Albequerque."

"Do you want me to come get you?"

"No need to come galloping in on your shiny white steed. Thanks for caring, though."

"Maria..."

"Shh, and I'll tell you what's going on."

"Michael and Max are all set to tear the Musuem apart, looking for clues. They're more than willing to tear Brody apart."

"That's why I called you, sweet bud of mine. Now listen because I don't know when he'll be back. I'm not actually with Brody. I'm with Larek."

"Larek?"

"Yeah, Max met him in New York, it's a long story. Have Max explain, it'll give him something constructive to do. Anyhow he needs to get North Carolina and I kinda-sort volunteered to take him."

"You volunteered," Alex waited for a reasonable explanation with deadly calm.

"Well, maybe not so much in the strict Webster's definition of the word but you know how Max and Isabel and all don't really know much about their past lives? Well, Larek knew them so I figured I could get some useful information about Vilandra and everything. He's already mentioned Kivar. He's practically ready to spill his guts. We're like bosom buddies but with more personal space." Maria lowered her voice to a whisper, "I think I can get some information on the granolith."

"It's not worth it," he said hesitatingly. "Come back home."

"It is, too," she said. "And you know it."

"How much do you know about the guy, really, Maria? North Carolina, what could an alien want there? Maybe he's got a hidden agenda."

"Yeah, like he's going to take me to his home planet. I seriously doubt that. Besides, he doesn't know I know about him and Kivar. He doesn't even know I know Max. I need to know what he knows. But he doesn't know how much I know."

"It sounds all very complicated, Maria. You keep dropping the word 'know' and it's making me nervous."

"I'll use a new word," she assured him. "I'm totally under deep cover, though."

"Could you expain that? I'm feeling nervous again."

"He thinks I belong to an alien-abductee support group."

"That's just the stupidest-"

"Hey, we live in Roswell, don't we?"

Alex sighed deeply. "Are you sure about this?"

"The sure-est."

"Would this Larek hurt you?"

"Oh, he's very gentle. He wouldn't hurt me." Much, she amended to herself.

"Will you call me tomorrow? Everyday?"

"If you promise to keep Michael and Max in check."

"As much as I can."

"Then I'll call as often as I can."

"You better get to sleep, Maria. You've gotta stay on your toes."

"Too right," she agreed. "Sweet dreams, Alex."

"Be safe, Maria."

With a lighter heart, she hung up the phone and lay against her pillow. She drifted into a doze filled with visions of alien worlds and people, finally ending with her in Princess Leia's metal bikini.

'That's not a very good color on me,' she said right before falling into a deep sleep.




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


Her waking was sharp. The linen beneath her was worn and snagged and the light filtered through the window at the wrong angle. Not her bedroom. Too quiet. From the corner of her eye, she saw him -his head cocked to the right, but staring straight at her. Her eyes narrowed in concentration, disapproval? She made an involuntary cough in her throat, was surprised by how weak she sounded.

Swiftly she sat up, her feet bouncing on the carpeted floor. She met his eyes and announced, "I have to pee."

Larek straightened his head, but did not change his expression. "You tend to."

Head held high, she made her way to the bathroom. "Great way to start the day," she muttered under her breath.

While showering, she reviewed her last night's conversation with Alex. Ready to spill? That was laughably far from true. Wouldn't hurt her? Hadn't he already? She rubbed her wrist thoughtfully.

Now how can I work him? Obviously, he's not going to go for the friendly, sympathetic ear. And I can't very well sit under a blinding, bright light and pretend I'm Dick Tracy. I guess the original plan's best: be capable, clever, and accomplished. Maybe he'll start to trust me.

She snorted. Then she put thoughts of doubt away, she didn't need them to trip her up.


***


They waited in airport lounge, Maria reading a magazine from the gift shop. Larek only sprawled indolently, his stare scaring away children and businessmen. Maria wondered how he could stretch his body over the uncomfortable metal-frame seats.

Suddenly he rolled his neck and stared at her, "Entertain me."

She put the magazine down. "I am not your cruise director."

"Entertain me or I'll play with the children."

Her mind boggled and hid at what his idea of playing was. "We've got a deal against threats."

"I'm not threatening you; I'm threatening them."

She shook her head, "You're a real asshole."

"All part of my charm," he smiled disarmingly. "Now, entertain me."

"What do you want? A good game of twenty questions? Or maybe truth or dare?"

"Nothing so high maintenance. Talk to me."

He was staring at her again, it was unnerving. At least when she'd been driving, she could avoid it.

Talk, she could handle though. Maria DeLuca, living chatterbox. Professional mouth. Oh, wait that makes me sound like a whore. "My name is Maria DeLuca. I'm sixteen. I'm a waitress at the Crashdown. My hobbies are singing-"

"Oh, and what did you do on your summer vacation?" Larek asked with false brightness.

She glared at him. "You said talk, I talked."

"I also said entertain. Now tell me about your precious Brody."

"He's not my precious anything. And I would think you would know more about Brody than I could tell you."

"But I want your perspective. He's quite fond of you, you know."

"We're friends," she said flatly.

"Oh, but dear Brody just longs for more. He, as they say, has the hots for your sweet, tender, and moist underaged flesh."

"Don't make him sound so dirty!" She blushed as people turned to look. "And don't talk about me like I'm a cake."

"You're a delicious dish." Larek conspiratorially leaned towards her. "He is though, isn't he? Dirty? Do you know he pays extra for you to deliver his supper? Would you like to his know his exact, intimate thoughts?"

She glared fiercely at him. "Stop it. I won't hate him."

Larek rubbed his hands together in glee. Now this was frustration-relieving entertainment! "He likes to rehearse-"

"Rehearse!" The exclamation escaped her.

His face was malicious, triumphant. "Greetings, conversation, approaches come-ons ."

Maria colored.

"Northwest Airlines. Flight 2108-3A. All aisles."

"That's us," she said, standing and grabbing her bag.

Larek followed, silently, but with a knowing smile on his face.


***


Maria had plugged herself into her walkman almost immediately after boarding. She'd never actually been on an airplane before, but she was sure it would be fun. They'd managed to get window seats by themselves, too, so they weren't cramped. She sat beside the aisle though, and she began to notice one child pointing to Larek.

She removed her earphones and heard, "Mommy! That man looks like he's gonna cry."

A little girl appeared beside her. "Don't be scared. Looky, I've flown five times. I got wings." She brandished a gold pair of pilot's wings."

Maria looked at Larek for the first time. His face had gone white and taut. His hands gripped the armrest and he was looking straight-forward. Maria leaned over the empty seat between them.

"Are you going to be okay?"

He paused in his fright to give her a quick glare.

The little girl eeped and ran back to her mother.

"Now look what you've done," Maria said. She smiled, "You couldn't possibly be frightened of flying could you? Big, advanced space-traveling alien man that you are? All implacable resolve. Is all that resolve turning into trembling gelatin?"

"You little-"

"Oh, look at the sky!" She continued spitefully. "I've never been up so high. And the land looks so tiny. Imagine if we crashed right now. I'm not sure if the height would kill us or the fire? Do you know?" She turned wide, innocent eyes to Larek.

"It's your shoddy Earthling craftsmanship, I don't trust! What's this creation put together with? Cardboard and parcel string?"

"We can only hope," Maria smiled. He was really quite attractive when frightened out of his wits. Yes, this was definitely the way she liked him.

Larek groaned and Maria's smile widened as she handed him the vomit bag -not a moment too soon.

Round two, she thought. And the score is tied.


***


Last to leave the plane, Larek had sufficiently regained his color and peace of mind to give Maria a look. A cruel look that promised she would pay for his agonies and diminished dignity.

Unperturbed, Maria hopped up and spread her arms like plane wings. "Vroom," she hummed and "flew" all the way to the automobile rental office where Larek secured a station wagon. Quite a change from the Porsche, but it was the darkest-tint vehicle they had.

Maria's eyes had widened when Larek had made the one request. So he didn't want someone to see them? Huh.

She drove in silence towards the hotel she had chosen back in Roswell. Larek had showed no preference in that.

He had not said a word the entire drive and only stood behind her when she'd checked them in. She gave him his room key and led him to the elevator.

"Separate rooms this time," she explained. "But they have an adjoining door so don't freak on me."

She showed him how to use the card key and excused herself. "I'm going to take a shower. I guess you'll go do whatever you were in such a hurry to do."

Larek took the key out of her hand, entered, and locked his door behind him. Automatically he turned on the television, appreciating the white noise. He sat on the bed and put his head on his temples to clear his mind of the last of the airplane ride. It'd been years since he'd gotten on a plane, he'd always avoided it. But now he was in North Carolina. Where Nicholas was. Where Kivar had ordered him to be.

With a human. Why was she still here? Why did he allow her to stay? He'd used to her get here. Maybe he'd find further use for the girl. At least she was entertaining. He didn't think about his problems when he was baiting her. It had been a long time since he'd been free to banter with anyone. Since he'd found anyone whose mind wasn't so filled with nemriaw, survival, and power-seeking willing to banter with him.

Mind settled, he knocked on the adjoining door.

"Come in," the girl's sang out.

"You need to be more careful," Larek said. "I could have been anyone."

Maria sat down, toweling her hair dry. "No, from your tone, I don't think you mean anyone. I think you have a specific someone in mind. Who shouldn't I open the door to, Larek, and why?"

"Later," he shrugged. "You must be hungry. Let's go."

I guess he's feeling social, Maria thought. She grabbed her lip gloss and wallet, "Well, since you asked so graciously."

He bowed with court graces and extended his arm to her. She took it, mentally shrugging. He can be mean, then gentlemanly. He's an alien, I can't expect to understand him or predict what he'll do. At least I'll only have to deal with him a little longer. Until I find out about the granolith and get Brody back safely. I owe it to Sydney.


***


Larek took control once outside the hotel and the city. He steered her, seemingly haphazardly, from street to street. In fact, he was trying to tag and avoid anyone who might be associated to Nicholas and check out potential escape routes. For the latter, the rooms the girl had chosen shared a balcony. Beneath the balcony were hedges. Thorny, but manageable for landing in an emergency. For the former, he saw neither humans nor husks bearing the energy signature of his home system. He'd have to be careful with the girl. Too much time spent in his presence would mark her.

Finally he directed them into a local restaurant, filled with college students. He let the girl order for both of them, not averse to nourishing his human host at the moment. He had an odd presentiment and did not want to waste any of his own energy to support his host's.

Munching around a carrot stick, the girl spoke, "There's so much here. So much green. And the university looks huge. Did you see the fountains with magnolias floating in them?"

"You can play the tourist tomorrow," he said. He had a meeting and surely that would keep the girl out of trouble.

She quirked an eyebrow, "Oh? I have permission."

"Shop to your heart's overflowing joy. Take a school tour. I'll supply you with a card. I'm sure dear Brody won't mind."

She visibly flinched and declined. "The tour is a good idea, maybe I could come here for college," she said wistfully.

"Maybe," he said noncommittally when the waiter brought their food.

"What's on your calendar? Hot date?"

"As I said when we met, I have an important appointment to keep."

"Does it have to do with the nemriaw?"

"Everything has to do with nemriaw," he said a little bitterly. "Why? Will you miss me?"

"Desperately!"

They continued familiarly, frequently verbally clawing one another in a mutually satisfying fashion. When they had returned to their hotel, Maria felt a surprising compulsion not to part company. She was feeling a little lonely and was not quite ready to call Alex.

"Larek?"

He looked at her questioningly

"Want to come in?"

"A nightcap, you want," he leered. "Aren't we the forward one?"

"Shut up and get in." She pushed him inside. I got you here, as per our bargain. Now I want my information."

"You're darling when you act intimidating," he said. "Shall I get the clippers to declaw you?" He settled himself in a chair across from her. "Well, it's information you want. Let us begin at the beginning."

Maria held her clever remarks back as Larek closed his eyes. His voice was low but the shades of Brody's native accent hid the strong compulsion for Maria to listen, and remember.

"We came from Antar, once called Ahra An. Once called Paradiso, once called Heaven. Once called Home when the green wide sea met the mountains. We rose like the mountain and spread to all points of the land, overflowing with wisdom and magic. It was a good time, a resting time, a golden time.'

"This was the past," his voice became harsh. "The land changed. The mountain crumbled, the tree withered. None knows why. Perhaps it is the turn of the wheel, the cycle of the season. None cares. Those days are gone.'

His voice returned to gentle chanting. "We left Antar, spreading to other lands in search new Heaven. Venturing even beyond our sun, but always returning to Antar, where the granolith is. The granolith, last vestige of magic. Last vestige of belief. Some say it keeps us whole, some say it can revive the dead, and unweave the weft of time. It is the last vestige of memory.'

"It was the last vestige of memory. Until Zan, Last Lord, removed it under threat of Kivar, Un-King. Now it is lost. We have no memory. It is a dark time, a war time, a crying time. So shall be until the granolith is come back. Come back to Antar, once called Ahra An. Paradiso no more, Heaven lost."

Maria remembered to breath just before Larek opened his eyes. His eyes were more blue now.

"That's beautiful."

"It's bullshit," Larek scowled. "The granolith might be a real rock, but the stories are old. Fairytales."

"So no one believes in it?" She herself wanted to believe. Unicorns and gremlins had always intrigued her as a child.

"Oh, they believe. That's what makes it dangerous. No, it's dangerous without all that...crap. Even if the granolith could do those things, no one knows how to use it. The granolith is dangerous as a symbol. It's been used to confirm the lordship of Antar for generations. Without it, Kivar has no authority beyond force. Oh, he's the only one in control but it's a hard time for us politically. Right now, if Kivar can get the granolith, he can claim legitimate rule and all those superstitious morons on Antar will bow to him, even if they're starving. They'll think they're at least legitimately starving. What's more, the superstitious morons on the other planets will acknowledge his overlordship over the system." Larek gritted his teeth.

Pushing down feelings of betrayal for Max, she said, "Would that be so bad?"

"It's wrong," he snarled. "Zan was my friend!"

"Oh," she said.

"And, yes, he truly is a bad ruler. He cares nothing for his constituents or his planet. He cares only for himself to the point of idiocy, to the point of megalomania. He has no heirs. Nor is there any need for them. There won't be anything left of us to rule by the time he's dead. Nothing.'

"I won't that happen to Sa-Larekon."

Maria only nodded, wondering what Max would do with this information. He was gonna wig.

The gleam of smoldering anger and righteousness left Larek then. "That's enough bedtime stories for tonight. Lock your door." He left through their adjoining door and locked his own side.

Maria washed her face, trying to absorb the information. Larek was...his fanaticism scared her. It explained some things. Definitely. Shaking her head, she reached for the phone and the slight comfort of Alex's voice.


posted on 13-Oct-2001 1:24:15 AM


"Whitman Residence," a soft voice answered. A female voice.

"Liz?"

"Oh, Maria, I've been waiting for you to call," Liz rushed to say. "Alex had to go but he asked me to stay."

"Must've been pretty important," she was a little hurt.

"Michael and Max want him for some hacking into the musuem files."

Maria scowled, "I told them to leave Brody out of this."

"I think they're feeling threatened by you. I think the expression is, "sister's doin' it for herself."

"Welcome to it. Life's rough out here on the front."

Liz's voice tinged with worry. "Are you okay? We worried-"

"Hey, babe, I'm about to hit the sack. Tonight was...intense."

"Intense?"

"He told me about the granolith today. Seems we got a purty special rock out there." Maria retold Larek's 'fairy tale.'

"Time travel," Liz's voice trembled.

"Oh, Larek thinks that's pretty ridiculous."

"Oh, of course-"

"Something big's going down tomorrow. I wonder who he's meeting? He's got super serious face. It's only about a six on the annoyance-meter, but packs a big wallop on the scare-me scare. Maybe I should tail him?"

"Maybe not so good an idea. What if he catches you?"

"Point," Maria yawned.

"You need to sleep. I'll tell Alex you called?"

"Send him my smoochies."

"What am I, chopped liver?"

"Sorry, sister, I'm sending some Zen hugs your straightaway."

"Sweet dreams, Maria. Be safe."

"That's what I keep telling myself. And funny, I seem to be hearing it from a lot of other people, too."




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

Larek turned the television off when the various carrot juicer and psychic hotline infomercials changed into syndicated reruns. He unlocked his side of the adjoining door and felt a momentary anger when he found the girl's side unlocked. He pushed the door open silently until he saw that she was still sleeping.

She was scrunched into the lower corner of the bed, the pillows long forgotten and untouched. Knees to her chest, hands clasped over knees. She looked like a lump with long yellow hair fanned around her.

More to pass the time than anything, he wrote on the hotel stationary reminding her to lock her side of the door. He found tape and stuck it to her forehead, using enough tape to cover her eyebrows.

Well, at least she wouldn't miss it. He inspected his masterwork and, nodding to himself, decided it was quite adequate.

Next he pulled several bills from his pocket and lay them on the nightstand. He was sure she'd need some sort of cash. It was Brody's money anyway. He looked about the room once more before returning to his own room. He went to the elevator, stopping only to hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the girl's door.


***


He took a cab to the Holiday Inn Express and asked the desk what room Nicholas Crawford was staying in.

"Mr. Crawford?" The clerk said, plucking a post-it from her computer monitor. "Mr. Crawford transferred hotels this morning. Are you Mr. Larek?"

"Yes." He gritted his teeth, Nicholas was playing games.

"Mr. Crawford left you a note." She handed him an envelope.

Larek,

Unfortunately the Holiday Inn Express just could not meet my needs. I've been forced to move to accomodations more suited to my lifestyle. Please be so kind as to meet me at the Hilton, Penthouse.

Yours,
Nicholas


***


Maria rubbed her head, then scratched at it. Pulling eyebrows away with tape, she screamed herself awake.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" She read the note and cursed the alien. So much for tailing him, Larek had already left for his mysterious appointment. "Pointy-eared, fox-nosed stupid alien!"

Then she spotted the money and remembered the local shops just outside her door. I've gone greedy, she shook her head but pocketed the cash. It'd be rude to return the money now. Who knows what he might do? I might be interfering with some weird Sa-Larekon-onian-y-whatever custom. Can't do that -it would be undiplomatic.

Maria DeLuca, Queen of Rationalization and Alibis.

She dialed room service for a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and buttered toast. When the tray arrived, she dug in. Predictably, in the middle of perfectly salted eggs over easy, the phone rang.

"Hullo," she hesitated.

"Hey Maria," returned Alex.

"Dude, you sound...hungover," she tried not to be offensive. "How'd you get this number?"

"Caller ID. The desk clerk patched me through to your extension. You know you really should use an assumed name or something if you're undercover."

"Huh. I never thought of that. Kinda figured, nobody important knows who I am, anyway. You know, none of the Skins anyhow."

"What about your mom?"

"Ah, but I didn't call my mom. Thus no caller ID, thus no problem."

"Yeah, by the way, about your mom..."

"She's okay and everything?"

"You could say she's under police protection. Twenty-four seven police protection."

"Cryptic."

"Sheriff Valenti took her for a romantic getaway."

"Stop. Gross. Too many details."

"Yeah, well, the man has his uses. But Kyle's got a little too vivid a fantasy life to be comfortable with the idea of...twenty-four idea police protection. He's got a bone to pick with you."

"Oh, god, just stop before my head explodes from the visual cues. And tell Kyle I'll bring him back a T-shirt of something."

"But what about me!" Alex whined.

Maria laughed, "A snowglobe tailored to your specifications."

"Much better," he approved.

"Hey, I'm kinda scared to ask but...what funny stuff were you up to last night? I thought you were gonna keep the kids in check. Sorta in loco parentis."

"You ask too much, lady." He groaned and sighed. "Hey, I gotta go. The pod squad's meeting to form contingency plans."

"Wow, you say that last part with gusto."

"I think the word is repulsion. Anyhow, I gotta check in and do damage control or the next thing you know Isabel'll be dream walking you and-"

"Gotcha. You hustle. Tell them okay. Liz tell you about the granolith."

"Yeah, heavy. Another good reason I need to go. I'd hate for them to start experimenting with it."

"Big boom?"

"Something like that. Tonight?"

"Most definitely."

"Be-"

"Safe? Yeah, I know. You, too." Maria hung up the phone.


***


Two large men met Larek at the elevator landing. He noted that both were armed. He produced Nicholas' invitation and they showed into a sitting room.

Nicholas sat in front of a big screen television, sunglasses perches atop his head. He nodded faintly without removing his eyes from the screen.

"Love that Sailor Moon. She's so feisty," he turned the television off and turned to Larek.

Nicholas gestured to the couch. "Have a seat."

Larek warily complied and waited for Nicholas to make all the moves.


***


Maria happily wandered the streets of Chapel Hill, her brand new purple-tinted shades matching her violet and white outfit. The sunglasses had only been first blood, now she was getting down to serious shopping.

Mentally she made a list of definitely/maybe/because I have-to's. She would definitely get Alex, Liz, and Max gifts. She'd get Kyle a gift because she promised. She might get Isabel a gift just because she was easy to shop for and she liked to see people smile. Tess might rate because it'd be like a psychic cue. Whenever Tess saw her gift, it'd be like Maria saying, "Nyah, nyah, I went on the holy fact-finding mission and you didn't!" Michael. Now Michael wasn't exactly one to appreciate souvenirs but it just didn't seem fair to leave him out when everyone else was getting a gift-

She wondered if they sold asbestos.


***


"I like New York," Nicholas said casually. "Do you like New York?"

Larek shrugged noncommitally.

"I love how the whole city's just in shadow. All those tall buildings. Shadow," he nodded approvingly. "That's the last time we saw it each other, Larek. It was a regular reunion in the Big Apple. Me, you, Kathana, Hanar, and Sero. All those memories! Good times, good times."

"Indeed."

"You know the only one missing was...Zan! But then we had his...replacement, Max Evans," Nicholas rolled his neck to look at Larek. "You two seemed quite chummy. But then again you and Zan were always the best of friends, weren't you?'

Nicholas tapped his fingertips on the leather couch. "Now what did you tell him then? Ah, that you were at his father's funeral, coronation, and wedding."

"So were you."

Nicholas made a face.

Larek continued, "And if you recall, I also told him that it was all anicent history."

Nicholas wagged his finger in the way only a teenage boy can, "Uh, uh, Larek. Not ancient history. Not until Kivar has the granolith -that's when the new age can begin."

Larek oppressed the urge to grind his teeth, Earth was getting to the Skin leader. He sounded like a bad movie. "So what would you call the last fifty years, Nicholas?"

"An intermission."

"I thought you'd call it exile."

"I'm not being punished with this body, Larek. I have a comission. What is life after all without purpose?" Nicholas smiled slyly. "But enough philosophizing. Kivar wants the granolith."

"Yes," Larek agreed. He would let Nicholas play his games but he would not ask any of the question Nicholas wanted him to. He would not be manipulated.

"You're going to get it for him."

Larek, shocked, said nothing. Did nothing.

"It's been confirmed that Max Evans holds the granolith. He's holding it. Go to him. Build a bond based on your friendship with Zan. Make him trust you."

"Do you honestly think it will be that easy?"

"Max is young," Nicholas said. "He's a lost, little lamb. He's turning to humans for help. He even trusted Nasedo. Surely you, Larek, his oldest friend will be trusted." Nicholas flicked the television back on and turned away. "And if you don't, the only thing left on your planet will be the nemriaw."

Larek knew it for a dismissal. He stood stiffly but left silently.

"Follow him," Nicholas ordered, still not turning away from the television. "She really is feisty. And such short skirts, too."


***


Maria returned to the hotel room laden down with shopping bags. Most of the items featured a mean-looking goat-thing. A Tarheel they called it? She wasn't sure but Liz, Tess, and Isabel were now the proud owners of plush goat-thing stuffed animals. She'd gotten Alex his snowglobe and Kyle a poster of the UNC Women's soccer team. Max rated a school sweater and she'd gotten Michael a highlighter.

But it was a blue highlighter. With stripes!

She'd had a lot of fun. Several of the stores carried school supplies and pads of paper to test pens on. She'd written, "Go Duke" on every single one.

She felt very naughty.

And satisfied.

She'd even bought Larek a gift. Several in fact.

She struggled with her bags to get her key out of her jeans and into the door slot when someone relieved her of the packages.

"Let me get that."

"Hey, Larek, I didn't even hear you." She opened her door.

"Yes, I noticed. What if I'd been someone else?" He said sharply.

She closed the door behind them while he deposited the bags on the bed. "Yeah about these vague warnings. Who is this mysterious someone I'm someone to be so scared of?" she said scornfully, her bright mood deflated. "I thought you were supposed to protect me and whatnot."

He grabbed her shoulders and shook her, "Look at me. This body is human. There are some things I cannot even protect myself against."

"Wait," she said. "So no lasers shooting out of your eyes or super strenth or faster than a speeding bullet?"

"Not even a Vulcan death grip."

"But-"

"Brody Davis' body is a vessel. I can do small things. Very small," he said a little wearily.

"Oh. Wow," Maria sat, feeling a little bad. "So, uh, bad meeting?"

He looked at her coldly and Maria felt her world begin to shift.

"Do not take this out on me," she said, backing away to the far side of the bed.

The cruel glint faded and only weariness remained. "Let's get out of here."

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


Larek and Maria ate at Spanky's again. Maria'd gotten no choice, Larek had once again strong-armed her. It wasn't the restaurant that she had a problem with, it was the dragging. Would Max heal her a new arm if Larek pulled it off? That couldn't be too hard. And then she'd be like a starfish-

"What?" Maria realized that Larek talking.

"I haven't finished my business yet. You will be accompanying me tomorrow." Larek still had the nagging feeling that he should not leave her alone. Stronger, in fact. He looked at her purple and white polka dot halter and jeans. "We'll find something suitable for you to wear tonight."

"Suitable?" She said scathingly. "This ain't Rodeo Drive and I ain't Julia Roberts. And you are definitely not Richard Gere so -oh, I'm going with you. Okay." What luck! What total luck, she'd be getting information from the source. No, not luck. Karma. She had been such a good girl. Okay, he might want to dress her in tin foil or something but it was for a good cause, right. And it wasn't like anyone was going to see her but Larek.

He speared a piece of steak and continued, "You are not to speak. While I enjoy your puny attempts at wit, others of my kind are not so accepting.of unsophisticated jesting."

"Unsophisticated!"

"Why, oh, that word too long? How about 'vulgar,' that only has six letters. You really should try to extend your vocabulary seeing how it is your language."

Maria glared but was relieved that he felt mellow enough to banter.

"So are you getting new duds, too?"

"Perhaps."

She clapped her hands, "Cool, it's a group project. A makeover, we'll be like best friends."

"Only if I get to paint your toenails."

"Well, sure since I won't be letting you near my eyebrows."

"Like that?" He smirked.

"Oh, yeah," she made it sound like a threat.

"I did tell you to lock your side of the door," he said smugly.


***


Larek looked at Maria critically. "You've got big hips. Are you sure you're a human female? You could be a cow."

"Moo," she said before executing a catwalk turn. She loved the way this skirt swished around her calves. It was a deep crimson silk. Silk, she sighed. Just like the black silk top and everything item she'd tried on. Even the pantyhose. Larek had dragged her (again) into a small women's shop named Babette's Hanger and asked Maria her size. Once given, Larek had picked out a mountain of clothing and thrown her into the dressing room.

Maria squashed down her inner cry for funk and color. Sure, she felt like Country Club Barbie but at least there was no poodle accessory and she wasn't dressed as Country Club Barbie's dowdy dowager Aunt Louisa.

Did she mention it was all silk?

"That'll do." Larek nodded. Only two other outfits had been approved of, a navy shirtdress and a cream and chocolate painsuit. He'd already picked out the appropriate shoes. He asked the saleswoman for the name of a nearby jeweler's.

Outside and dressed in the shirtdress, Maria said, "Did I say that I wasn't Julia Roberts? Cause I was way wrong. Where'd you learn so much about fashion?"

"Fashion," he looked at her. "It's strategy. I'm outfitting you for war. And now for the ammunitition." He pointed out the jeweler's to her.

It was like Tiffany's or something. There were women with frou-frou hats and the frou-frou hair to match. Saleswomen were serving champagne on silver platters.

There were open boxes of Godiva chocolate everywhere!

"Close your mouth," Larek whispered. "Act like you belong here."

"There isn't a place close to this in Roswell. I thought these stores only existed in movies." She picked up a chocolate truffle and popped the meltingly delicious morsel into her mouth. "Oh, yeah, I belong here. Baby, I belong."

A saleswoman came to assist them but when she could not tell Larek the origin and complete history of a ruby torque, he imperiously waved her away.

"You know about gems, too?"

"I watch a lot of television," he said with a straight face.

"I told you I'm from a mining planet. I know rocks."

The manager appeared then, obviously eager to please. He sold them the ruby torque, a rope of black pearls, a white pearl necklet and matching pearl earrings, and a gold bracelet with jade inlay.

"There is jade on Antar," he offered. "No pearls, you need oceans for that."

"What about on Sa-Larekon," she said. Maria had dollar signs spinning around her head. She was gonna wear this stuff? And silk. Oh, my.

"Diamonds," he said. "Like that."

Her eyes followed his pointed finger to an exquisite tiara of silver worked to look like leaves. Diamonds like chunks of pink ice were carved to form blossoms. Unconsciously she moved towards it. She almost said, "Ooh, shiny," but just stopped herself.

"You don't need anything like that, of course." Larek interrupted her worship.

She wanted to stomp her foot. "Can't we return all that other junk and just get this?"

"The point is to make you look elegant and refined enough to be my companion. Not to make you look like Queen of Tottto."

"Totto? What is that? The dog planet?"

He ignored her. "You are to be an ornament. Not a flashing neon sign."

She pouted, "You really have stuff like that on your planet."

"Oh, ours are much, much bigger."

Her eyes become round with acquisitiveness, "Can I come visit?"

He laughed a little. The girl was very entertaining.

"Are we gonna dress you up now?"

"No."

"But you said-"

"Do put away that face. It doesn't affect me. My clothes don't matter. I am not an ornament, I am wholly acceptable in and of myself."

She seemed to hesitate. "Could we wash them? Just a little?"

"Beg your pardon."

"You've been wearing them for three days. At least. You are grody."

"Maybe a change of clothes would be in order."

"And dinner?"

"You are forever eating."

"Hey, being this pretty and charming and all around perfect expends a lot of energy. I've got metabolism like you wouldn't believe."

"Pig."

"Thought I was cow."

"You're a hybrid."


***


Bushed from shopping, Maria decided to order room service. Brody followed her into her room. He looked around while she made the call. Their rooms were very similar only she had luggage.

She turned to him, "Larek, you want for anything?"

"No."

She turned back to the phone, "Twenty minutes? Neat."

"What did you buy?" Larek lifted one of her shopping bags.

"Gifts, souvenirs. Touristy things." She grinned, "I got you something."

"Me?"

She smiled shyly, "Well, I saw them and I thought of you. Here." She thrust a bag at him.

Smiling back, he opened the bag and pulled out several books. "Hmm, How to Get Your Way with a Smile. Courtesy for Dummies. Emily Post's Manners. Nobody Likes Mean People."

"It's a theme gift."

"You set me up." His eyes lit with delight.

"Take that, Eyebrow Guy."

"Thank you, I will," he patted the stack of books fondly. "I might get cold tonight, this will make excellent kindling."

"Promise to choke on the smoke?"


***


Maria and Larek lay comfortably on the floor watching television.

"So when you do this whole body-snatcher gig, what happens to your bod?"

"My bod, as you call it, stays on Sa-Larekon."

"Well, yeah, but is it under guard or is it just sitting on a toilet somewhere?"

"It's under guard," he said shortly.

"Good because the toilet thought was disturbing even to me," she shook her head. "Okay, so why don't you just come to earth. You said you have big zoomy, zippity spaceships."

"We're not exactly neighbors, you know. It'd take years to get here."

"Oh," she said. "So these people you're meeting or whatever, I thought they were in your solar system. You're neighbors, why don't you just hop on over to their pad?"

"Because they wouldn't answer the bell."

"You mean they're not at home? Which means, they're here. So they made the long drive to Earth, but you won't? I don't get it."

"I told you I'm using Brody's body as a vessel? Well, they have their own. Husks, they're called."

"Like skins?"

He looked at her sharply.

"Like corn?" She said desperately.

"No, not like corn. You were right the first time, like skins."

"Why don't you have a skin?"

"Because I have no desire to stay on Earth. But there are pros and cons. The skins can use their extra-, their Superman like abilities. But they can never return home. Then again, they can endure Earth longer than someone like me."

"Whatcha mean?"

"The control of a human body is difficult. It takes days of preparation and even longer to fully recover."

She pursed their lips. "Is that the only difference? Mode of transportation? You took the sub, they took a plane."

"There are political differences."

Knew that, she nodded. It's a planetary like division. "So there's body snatchers, corn huskers, and- is that it?"

"Then there are the hybrids."

"Oooh, like me? Cow slash hog."

"Sort of."

Larek and Maria continued in their easy conversation until Maria fell asleep. He looked at her peaceful face and debated doing something nasty. No, not tonight, he'd learned about a lot about humans. She'd been useful. Let her sleep.

Tomorrow she would meet Nicholas.




---------

Maria took extra pains shaving her legs and applying her make-up the next day. Larek was all hyper about taking her to the meeting and she didn't want him to channel the hype into kabloo-ey-sized anger.

She twirled for him when he entered, also wearing his new clothes. Brooks Brothers all they way, but he hadn't taken out Brody's earring.

"You look like a pirate."

He shrugged, "You'll do."

She pouted.

He bent one knee, "You are ravishing beyond my eloquence. You are blinding in your beauty. The brilliance of your eyes and the fairness of your complexion but compliment your dimpled knees."

"Very nice," she nodded.

"I watch the Spanish soaps."

"You know Spanish?"

"Don't you? Oh, yes, you can barely mangle English." He raised his hand, "Now where was I? Ah, yes. Your hair outshines the stars. Your nose is pert and pulchritudinous."

"Pulchritudinous!"

"Masterpiece Theater was on last night, too."

"Sure, it was. Now go on."

"Your arms are of equal length and have little need for electrolysis?"

"Little?"

"Slim to none?"


***


They took a cab to the Hilton.

Maria nodded approvingly in the elevator, "Lush digs? Have you been slumming it?"

He leered down at her, "In more ways than one."

"I'm truly stung." She put her hand on her heart and a wounded expression on her face.

"Now remember what are you supposed to do?"

"Shut my mouth and look cute?"

"Good girl." Her patted her on the head.

She narrowed her eyes, "Maybe I could bark, too? Or bring them their newspaper?"

"No need to go overachieving. I appreciate the thought, though."


***


The armed men met them in the elevator lobby.

"There's no invitation for the human."

"She's my guest," Larek interpposed smoothly.

"As you are Nicholas' guest."

Larek decided it was better than letting her wander the city alone. At least he'd be in the next room. He missed the paleness of her face. It disappeared before he shot her a look that she was to obey.

She nodded awkwardly and sat down on the divan one of the men pointed at. She'd mentally named him Burly Man One. No, not man, Skin. He was a Skin if Nicholas was here.

Nicholas. Oh, god, oh, god. Isabel had identified him as slime -dangerous, methodical, creepy slime.

She'd never met him in their creepy cult town. That was good. Or in Roswell.

But he was related to that bitch, the Congresswoman. She winced. Nicholas had never actually met her but what if Vanessa Whitaker had told him about Liz's best friend.

She began to tremble, remembering Larek's voice, There are some things I cannot even protect myself against.

Burly Man One looked at her trembling form and smiled.

Oh, this was bad. This was Mission to Mars, Wild Wild West, Battlefield Earth, Batman Forever, the Spice Girls movie bad.


posted on 13-Oct-2001 1:25:32 AM

"Ah, Larek," Nicholas looked up from his seat. Maps were spread before him. "I was just picking out real estate."

Larek saw that the maps were of the various planets of the Earth system. Several parcels of land were circled in red.

"Switzerland? I would've that Jamaica would suit you better," Larek said without emotion.

"Oh, it does. That's on this one," Nicholas indicated another map. "And I'll take a lot of comfort in the Alps and milkmaids when Kivar finally crushes Antar under his heel."

"And you believe he'll leave this system alone?"

"It's bathwater to him." Nicholas made a dismissive sound. "But I am resourceful enough to live quite pleasantly."

"Kivar has a long arm."

"As you should know," Nicholas smiled. "How's your little planet holding up under siege anyhow?"

"Siege?" Larek said innocently. "I thought it was a diplomatic junket?"

"Come now, Larek, we're both mature adults-"

Larek eyed Nicholas' adolescent form insultingly.

The skin continued, "And we both know that those are warships in your orbit. Now what are you willing to do about it?"

Larek stalled, "This infiltration of yours will take time. I can't stay in this body much longer." If he could just return home, maybe, maybe he could stir up enough trouble on Antar for the fleets to return there. Maybe, maybe.

Nicholas grinned winningly, "I've been authorized to provide you with a skin."

Larek recognized the new threat. They could force him into a husk without his consent and without his true form. He would never go home. He'd be stuck on Earth and live fifty years if he was lucky.

Nicholas continued, "Human bodies have their benefits." He smiled slyly, "But I expect you know about that. I hear you brought a pet."

"More like a travel guide or personal assistant. A servant."

"Rasa tells me she's a looker."

Larek assumed Rasa was one of the armed men outside. "You wouldn't expect me to surround myself with ugly people would you?"

"Wise man," Nicholas nodded approvingly. "I love a pretty package. I want to meet her." He pressed a button on the table, "Rasa, escort in the trinket."

Maria walked in, head held high.

Nicholas circled her. "She's a little skinny. Nice gams though. You should shorten her skirt, show them off."

Maria tried very hard to stay still.

Nicholas stood in front of her and she looked down at him. "She's a babe," he said to Larek.

Larek nodded noncommittally.

Nicholas turned back to Maria. He picked up her hand, turned it over to her palm and kissed it. "Charmed to meet you, lovely."

Maria resisted the urge to run and wash her hand off. Or just chop it off and be done with it. Ick, she thought, I'll never be able to use it again. I'll probably get gangrene.

She forced herself to look into his eyes.

"And what is your name," he asked.

"Nancy," she lied.

"Doesn't equal your gorgeousness."

But he didn't recognize me, right? That's good.

Nicholas turned back to Larek. "Maybe when we've finished our business, I can borrow her."

"I don't think you're old enough," Larek said smoothly.

"Neither is she. But well, that's for later," Nicholas said in dismissal as he returned to his maps.

When they got back in the elevator, Maria sighed with relief.

Larek turned to her curiously and steadied her with his hands. "Why'd you lie to him? Nancy?

"He was freaky," she told the truth. "He scared me. I didn't even want to hear him say my name."

"Good instinct," he nodded. "Let's go back to the hotel. You look tired."


***


Maria fell asleep as soon as she hit the bed. The entire cab ride back she'd replayed the morning. Out of the frying pan, she thought. Those guys had been armed! And what if Nicholas had recognized her.

She began to shake at the thought.

Larek went to the bed and lay his hands in her hair. He massaged her scalp until the trembling subsided and she began to snore.

Brave bird, he thought. I wouldn't've liked Nicholas to touch me either.

He covered her with the blanket and returned to his room. He had some thinking to do. Nicholas had offered him, no, threatened him with a skin.

Larek shook his head. Got to clear my mind. He turned on the television and picked up one of the books Maria had given him. Huh, he thought, maybe I can charm Nicholas into leaving me alone.

He laughed doubtfully and planned an evening to cheer the girl up. He wondered, did she like to dance?


***


Maria's dreams were filled with skins. She remembered the one in the Crashdown. He had been big like the ones with Nicholas. She'd almost died then. It replayed in her mind, her screaming.

There were images of Nicholas, a huge Nicholas picking up a plastic Maria as if she were Country Club Barbie. He whispered to her, "Trinket, trinket, pretty Trinket." Then there were images of Nicholas opening a box and pulling out an Inflatable Maria Doll. He put to his mouth and began to blow it up-

Maria woke up when the phone rang. She picked up the phone gingerly, unable to shake off the unease of her dreams.

"Hello," she whispered.

"Maria!" Alex said.

"Alex, oh, god," she cried a little.

"Maria, you didn't call last night. And when you didn't answer the phone this morning, I was so scared."

Maria cradled the phone to her, "I met Nicholas."

She heard the phone be sharply pulled from Alex. "Maria, this is Isabel."

Maria felt a little betrayed. "Put Alex back on."

More softly, Isabel said, "I remember Nicholas. Even when I was Vilandra, I thought he was creepy. His eyes just...you remember when the skins came to Roswell? I tried to distract him by letting him catch me. He tied me up and he said the...worst things. If his mother hadn't been there..."

It comforted Maria to know Isabel, who acted like a mighty unmoveable Amazon, had been shaken by Nicholas, too.

"I'm okay," Maria spoke up. "He told Larek he wanted to borrow me, but Larek doesn't like him."

"Maria, come back home. It's too dangerous."

Maria smiled, it meant more coming from one of the poddies.

"Soon," she said. She tried to lighten the mood, "I've got prezzies for everyone."

"Really?" Isabel did love getting gifts.

"I'm coming home with a load of stuff myself. You'll go gaga when you see the stuff Larek got me."

"He's giving you gifts?" Isabel said, "Spill."

"Oh, that's just business. Now tell me what you were doing over at Alex's, girl."

Maria could almost see Isabel blushing over the phone. She smiled and granted Isabel mercy. "So Vilandra thought Nicholas was off the creep-o meter, too, huh?"

There was a gasp from behind and almost before Maria could register it, Larek had moved from the door and slammed the phone down on the receiver.

"What do you know about Vilandra?" He yelled and shook her.

The phone began to ring shrilly and he put Maria down long enough to pull it out of the wall.

In the silence, he advanced on her and she moved to the far side of the room.

"What do you know about Vilandra," he said again, more quietly, but with a glint in his eyes.

Maria shook her head, too scared to answer.

"You lied to me!" He yelled again. He kicked over one of the armchairs and looked at her again. He whispered, "And to think I felt sorry for you. Scared for you?"

The television crashed to the floor. She wished he would yell again.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly.

"You know Max Evans, don't you? The whole mutant lot of them? They sent you."

She shook her head and stiffened her back against the wall.

"You lied to me," he said. "Manipulated me."

He advanced on her again and Maria closed her eyes.

"I felt sorry for you," his voice was low. Dangerous.

There were footsteps.

Nothing happened.

When Maria opened her eyes, he was gone.




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

Maria could still hear the television blaring from Larek's room. Happy Days was on. She winced at the laughtrack.

She moved slowly towards the open door and peeked in. Larek was gone. She turned the t.v. off and returned to her room, closing the door behind her.

She looked at the chaos. Her own television fizzled, the glass broken.

I gotta get outta here. She looked at the dead phone, I'll call Alex from the airport.

Maria changed into her jeans and a shirt. She stuffed the gifts and the jewelry into her bag. Silk doesn't travel well, she thought, and the jewelry. Well, I can always sell the jewelry.

She counted out the last of the cash, Just enough for a bus ticket. Maybe some food. Her stomach grumbled and she remembered the stocked little fridge. Five dollar coke, she thought. Larek can afford it. Jerk.

She sighed. He did kinda, sorta have a right to be mad. If she was gonna be honest, she would've been pissed herself.

And would she have held back?

She scavenged coke, chips, and chocolate from the honor bar. "Chockful of nutrients," she murmured.

I'm still gonna book, she thought. This place is crawling with trouble. But maybe I should get Larek to come with me? Then I wouldn't have to take the bus...

And I could laugh at him on the plane. That would be fun.

She heard sounds coming from next door. Larek was back. I could apologize, she bit her lip.

"Room Service," there was a knock on the door.

She didn't order any-

That was the oldest trick in the book!

She ran out to the balcony she shared with Larek. She locked the glass door behind her just as Burly Man One burst into the room.

"Open up!" She pounded on Larek's door. "There are skins here. We have to leave. Larek! Larek!"

The door slid open and Nicholas stepped out.

"Hello, Nancy," he doffed his shades. "Or should I say Maria?"




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


Maria woke up wearing the silk dress and not wanting to think of why, and definitely less how.

Yow, she thought. Time for a mental checklist.

Am I all tied up? Check.

Can I see anything? No.

Do I know where I am? No.

Is the cavalry coming?

Okay, she thought calmly. There are two schools of thought on this.

One, Alex and Isabel know they can't reach me. But they're across the country. So they're out of the game for at least a couple days unless Isabel can turn into Flash Gordon.

Two, Larek. He might think I just bailed on him. Also, let's not forget he hates my stupid Earthling guts. And even if he was inclined to help me, he doesn't know where I am. And even if thinks it's Nicholas, would he help me? I've got 'Liability' written on my forehead now.

Is the calvary coming? No.

She paused. What do I have? Silk dress. Silk pantyhose. Shoes. Okay, here's the plan: I distract Nicholas by pulling up my dress and flashing him. Then I disable Burly Men One and Two by throwing the pumps at their heads and giving them concussions. Finally I tie them all up with the pantyhose and run like hell.

Oh, yeah, she told herself sarcastically. That's a Grade A plan.

Now think...maybe if I did the noodle dance? Noodle, use your noodle. Concentrate, this is getting you nowhere. Okay, I can bang my head against the wall until I'm unconsious and maybe I'll get luck out and Isabel is dreamwalking.

She lifted and dropped her head tentatively. Nope, the bed's too soft.

Bed!

Ohmigod, ohmigod. I'm going to be violated by a slimy alien prepubescent midget.

Calm down, Maria. I got myself into this, I can get myself out.

This is all Larek's fault.


***


Maybe this isn't a bad thing, Larek thought as he walked down the sidewalk. Perhaps if I explain things in calm and rational manner, she'll introduce me to Max and he'll take my side against Nicholas.

And we'll all live happily ever after.

Sucker, he told himself.

What is she to them anyway? What does a human have to do with Antar?

He admitted she wasn't a bad choice as far allies went. Resourceful, quick on her feet. Certainly better company than he'd had from most humans.

Could she be one of the humans Sero had gossiped about? The ones the hybrids loved? He'd laughed when he'd heard it. Caring about humans? Impossible.

He shook his head and looked up at the approaching hotel. His balcony door was open. He hadn't left it open.

Larek remembered that nagging feeling not to leave the girl alone.

Cursing, he began to run.


***


The blindfold was pulled from her face, wrenching her head up violently.

"Hello, lady."

Maria blinked. Nicholas was standing over her and the punk was smiling.

He sat beside her spread-eagled body and spoke to her conversationally. "You know, Maria, what I can't figure out is how Larek got his hands on you. He's always been very hands-off on the hybrids. So why would he be buddies with Erath's pet human?"

"Yes, I know who you are. Maria DeLuca. I know what you're thinking. Suave, charming, and all-knowing? Can't keep your hands off me?" He leered at her, "You want me."

"I want to hold your head under water, does that count?" She snarled.

"Delightful," he caressed her cheek. "I can see why you're a magnet. You've attracted both Erath and Larek. You should be careful, girl, or you might end up with a crown on your gorgeous little head."

He continued playfully, "Do you want to know how I figured out your secret identity?"

"I'd like to know what it takes to shut you up. Maybe after you hit puberty, your voice will hit a tolerable register. One that's not just limited to dogs." Maria didn't care much. If I can get my hand untied that I could hit Nicholas' off-button. Stupid knot, she thought. I shoulda been a girl scout.

"Come now, you can do better than that."

"Maybe if you hadn't hit me so hard. You want wit, easy on the fists.""

"Note to self: try better next time." He smiled and said nonchalantly, "Courtney loathed you."

Maria looked up curiously and Nicholas brought his face down closer, almost nose to nose.

"I caught her. But, of course, Courtney killed herself before she was of any use. I expect you'll want to give me a little something for getting rid of her." He made a suggestive, smooching noise.

"She was never any competition."

He sighed. "I don't doubt that you could hold your own."

"Your confidence is making me all tingly."

"Erath -Michael is what goes by now, I think? Michael told Courtney where the granolith is. He only felt kinda bad for her; he loved you. What sort of state secrets did he spill in between your legs?" He put his hands against her temples, "Let's see."

Maria shook her head wildly, trying to dislodge his hold. She kicked her feet helplessly. Oh, god, stupid Michael. Why'd you have to bring me to the granolith chamber? You idiot, you couldn't do something else, like give me flowers? Anything else that wouldn't make me a target?

"Oh ho, so you like silk, do you? I've got to remember that for next time I tie you up."

"I'll die-"

Nicholas wagged his finger at her, "Don't go making promises. Now, hush, I'm busy."

He closed his eyes and continued to drain her, "Larek doesn't know who you are? Typical. Too caught up in his own scheming to remember anyone else has a brain."

Maria was too caught up in the pain to scream. She lost control. It was like a storm in her mind as Nicholas pierced it.

Nicholas removed his hands from her hand and opened his eyes. He tapped her skull thoughtfully, "I know something's in there or you wouldn't fight me so hard. Now why can't I find out?"

He continued tapping, giving Maria a dull headache.

"Eureka! I'm going the wrong way. I've got to rewind."

Maria tried to open her eyes, but the lids fell. She couldn't think. Too tired.

Nicholas pressed his hands back to her head harshly. "Sleepy, aren't you?"

He slid his hands down her face. "I wouldn't be a good host if I exhausted you." He smiled cruelly, "Let's wake you up."

His hands stopped at her neck.

Maria tried to opened her eyes again, they fluttered weakly.

"I can give you energy. Neat alien trick. Thing is, it might hurt. So brace yourself."

He tightened his hands in a strangling grip until they began to glow. Heat spread down her body like lightening. It whipped over her breasts and belly. Her body twisted. Her back arched off the bed and she screamed.

"There, there," Nicholas said comfortingly. "Soon it'll all be over."


***


A gentle hand lay over her heart, tapping lightly as if was keeping the rhythm of her heart. Telling it, now, beat now. Stop. Again. Stop.

Her head was cushioned by something soft. Warm. Safe.

She smiled and stretched. Opened her eyes.

"Hey, babe. Want some O.J.?"

Maria flinched and launched herself off Nicholas' lap.

He put his hands up and laughed, "Guessing you're a coffee person? Don't drink that stuff myself."

"Yeah, might stunt your growth."

"Nice to see you at full strength, Little Miss Likes-to-Fight. Missed that fiesty Hurricane DeLuca."

Maria flinched at the childhood nickname, she grabbed her head in present and remembered pain. "You got that outta my head! Stay outta my head!"

He shook his head sadly, "I'm out, I'm out. Geez, you humans are so fragile. A little mind-rape and you fall all to pieces."

"Now come here," he patted his lap. "And I'll feed you breakfast. We've got a long day ahead of us and I can't do my work if you're distracting me with your all screaming and your fainting."

"No," she pushed herself backwards against the wall and stumbled. "You're a bad boy."

"Yes, Maria, I am." He patted his lap again. "But I have Oreo-O's and the nice carbs will make it all better.


***


Larek reached the room, sweating. Automatically, he wiped his brow. He paused and looked at his wet hand. He'd never actually experienced sweat before.

Strange business, perspiration.

He knocked on the girl's door. "Hello," he rapped on the wood. "Hello? Earth Girl?"

No, that wasn't right. "Maria?"

No answer.

Squinting, he looked at the doorknob and saw the faint glow of power. Damnit, he thought. He unlocked his own door, also noticeably tampered with. His room was as he left it, television on. Adjacent door locked.

But the balcony door was open, the curtain flapped a little. Maria's door was locked.

He returned inside the room and unlocked his side of the door joining the rooms. She would lock it this one time. Larek jimmied the knob a little before finally kicking it in.

Her television crackled. If it hadn't exploded by now, it probably wasn't go to. Both chairs were overturned now. The bed was covered with clothing. Her toothbrush was in it's case.

"She was packing," he realized. "Like a rat from a sinking ship."

But the fact remained that she was gone and she had left the toothbrush. Maria wouldn't do that.

He folded all her clothing back up, more to occupy his body than anything. Then he lined up her shoes. He realized that the navy dress and the red stilettos were missing. As motley as the girl's wardrobe tended to be, Maria wouldn't do that either. She would've worn the matching navy pumps.

Add the power signature on the lock and it seemed that the girl had been abducted. Unwillingly, this time.

He sighed and sat down on Maria's bed. It wasn't really his gig to save her. Let Max and his band of merry men take care of their own.


***


Nicholas leaned back against the wall, "So now I know your favorite color and all of Max's most ticklish spots. You like tapioca. It's fair to medium useful to know that Larek's afraid of flying but what I want is the dirt."

He neligently twisted her face to his. "Why do you have to have such a cluttered skull? Do you really need to know all the words to all Madonna's songs? No. No one does. No one cares. I want to know where the granolith is."

Maria spat on him. That's what Robert DeNiro would do, she thought, and everyone knows Robert DeNiro doesn't die in movies.

"Breakfast in bed, I give you. You're so ungrateful. I feed you, I clothe you, I give you energy from my own body. You're tearing out my heart here, Maria."

She shrugged carelessly. "What can I say? I can't get Vogue out of my mind. It's a catchy tune."

"Your insults are lacking bite, Maria. If you would just tell me where the granolith is, I wouldn't have to break you this way. Your mind's already starting to deteriorate."

She gave Nicholas her patented "Bite me, retard" glare.

"Larek's not going to come for you."

"I know," she said.

He threw up his hands in frustration. "Enough chit-chat, if you're going to give me the quality abuse, I'm not going to waste my time."

He slapped his hands back on her temples, digging in his nails. The screaming started immediately this time as rifled through her memories. He inspected and discarded them carefully, until he finally hit a wall.

This is where the secrets are, he thought. This is what she's guarding.

Narrowing his eyes, he shaped his own mind into a drill and prepared to bore through the wall. He grunted in frustration. Human minds were badly planned. Too little pressure and it all went poof. Too much pressure and it all went poof.

Finally, he stopped and called out, "Rasa, call downstairs for new linen. She's wet the bed




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


Larek sat, television on. He was trying to ignore the neat stack of clothing he'd carried into the room.

Nicholas has her, he thought. What could Nicholas want with her?

Stop. That way lies madness. Try to be cheerful. Nicholas doesn't have me.

That silver lining seems to be made of lead pipe.

He snarled in frustration. He imagined the maps with Nicholas' red circles imposed over Maria's body. Pieces to be saved, pieces to be...not saved.

Shame, she was such a nice thing. She'd bought him books. He glared at the books as if to say: this is all your fault. But he had the funny presentiment that if he, say, hid the books in the bathtub he would still be worried about the girl.

Larek knew what Nicholas was capable of and he remembered the girl's trembling. She had been scared of Nicholas. Hell, he was scared of Nicholas.

But he had responsibilities. He wasn't on Earth on a pleasure cruise. He was supposed to be obeying Nicholas, not planning-

Larek bit his tongue. He most definitely was not planning anything.

Purely on a hypothetical footing, Larek thought to himself, it's not like I could do anything. My control of this body wasn't meant for anything more strenuous than walking and talking. I can't do MacGyver, I can't even do Matlock.

He gripped his hands against the chair, frustrated. Oh, clever Larek, helpless again? Can't save my planet, can't even save a human.

Larek was pulled out of his self-esteem issues by the ringing of the phone. That can't be Nicholas with some sort of idiot phone call for an idiot ransom? He can't be that stupid?

He picked up the phone, "Hello?"

"Hello," a young man's voice said. Not Nicholas, though. "Uh, are you Larek?"

Curioser and curiouser. "Yes."

"Oh, uh, may I speak to Maria? Please?"

"She's not here right now."

"Okay," the boy continued politely. "I'll try again later."

There was a pause as Larek waited for him to hang up.

"No, wait, that's not what I meant, about calling back later." The boy sounded nervous. "I'm Maria's friend. One of Maria's many, many friends. I need to know if she's okay, you know, like healthy and whole."

"I couldn't tell you. She's with Nicholas."

"Nicholas? Do you mean with as in-"

There were sounds of a scuffle another voice came on the line, "Brody, this is Michael and if you've even hurt a hair on her-"

More noises and another boy got on the phone. "Larek, this is Max Evans."

"Are you going to make juvenile threats, too?"

"No, I'm not. Any threats I make are not going to be juvenile." Larek detected a hint of steel. Like Zan. Maybe, maybe. Max continued, "I would like to know where Maria is though. She's under my protection."

"Good job then," Larek scoffed. Finally, someone to blame. "You try to pass the girl on to me like some funny-nosed Mata Hari and put her right in the hands of Nicholas. I don't suppose you'd consider putting me under your protection, too? I have an absolute death wish and I think you're the man to make my dreams come true."

Max ignored the insults, "I might. If you get Maria back."

Interesting. He was getting offers from all corners. "Now why should I bother? She's a human. All Nicholas is going to do is have a spot of fun with her. You might even want to look on it as a good thing. Nicholas is concentrating on the girl and not looking in your direction. Take the opportunity. Do something king-ly."

There was a pause on Max's end. He heard a muffled exclamation.

Max returned, gritting his teeth, "She knows where the granolith is."

"She what? And you sent her here? And you think you deserve to rule a planet?"

"Shut up," Max said. "She's got a mind of her own."

"Don't I know it," Larek murmured. "Does Nicholas know?"

"Where the granolith is?"

"No, that Maria knows."

There was another pause as Max consulted with the rest of the girl's friends. "It's possible."

That's a big honking yes, Larek thought. "Now in addition to your protection, what else are you prepared to offer me?"

"What do you mean, what else?" Max sounded less like a king and more like a sixteen-year old boy.

"Well, you didn't think I was going to do it out of the goodness of my heart?"

"I order you as the king."

"Not on my planet. And last I checked, not actually on yours, either."

"You bring Maria to Roswell, safe and-"

"Not a hair split," I understand."

"And then we'll deal."

Larek hesitated.

"Are sure you can bring her out?" Max said.

"Of course, I can. I could have gotten the girl back an hour ago if I'd cared."

"Well, now you have a reason. Call me as soon you two are safe. Maria knows the number."

The phone went dead and Larek hung up the phone.

Larek muted the television. He was going to have think. Nicholas, arrogant bastard, was probably holding her at the penthouse. Expecting Larek to let it go-

Maria knew where the granolith is. The whole time. He swore. He was going to have to get her out soon. It might already be too late.

It's decided, he thought. I'm going to rescue the human girl. And it's not because I've gone soft. I'm doing it for purely selfish reasons.

Comforted, he returned to his previous line of thought. Now what would Matlock do?

posted on 13-Oct-2001 1:26:34 AM
Author's Note: I truly tried to be genius but I am afraid it became Saved by The Ball however, I stand by my solution. I think that cj [I love you, cj, come back! I can't write this story without you!] said it best:

"It's not Saved by the Bell...if it was, Larek would have built a robot for no apparent reason and impersonated a bell boy. I think the plan was great for Larek; like Maria he seems to get by on brazenness and being a bit more clever than everyone else. If he had gotten a machine gun he'd have dropped it on his foot."



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


Larek watched the way the mouth moved and found that if he spoke through his own nose and pursed his own lips, he sounded just like the man on television.

A little higher, a little breathier and he made an adequate woman. Just barely.

He turned the television off and reached for the phone. He put it back down.

He sighed. Was he truly so desperate?

He picked the phone back up.

"Police Department, please." The desk connected him.

"You have to help me," he said frantically. "My sister's gonna kill me."

"No, I'm not reporting an assault, I'm reporting a missing girl!"

"No, it hasn't been forty-eight hours."

"What do you mean you can't do anything? My sister's going to kill me. I promised her on our grandmother's grave that I would keep Maria safe. My dead grandmother's grave, don't you understand? She said, oh, if you lose my daughter, I'll kill you and do you know what I said? I said, oh, Maria needs a vacation. Let's go on vacation. Don't worry about it. I told my sister not to worry and look what happened, she's going to kill me."

"Yes, we are tourists. I'm her uncle."

"She's about seventeen. Blonde hair. I have a picture. Do you want a picture?"


***


He turned the television back and flicked the remote until he found a program that provided the correct background noise for a bar or poolhall.

"Got a tip for ya," he sniveled.

"I understand there's no reward money, I just wanna do my part, you know, be a upstandin' citizen."

"Hey, lady, I ain't go no name. Now listen up, there's a group, a ring. They's taking kids. Outta towners."

"Whaddya think they takin' 'em for?"

"Maybe I got kids at home, ya know. I gotta heart."


***


Larek turned off the television, cleared his throat and reached for the phone again.

"Hello, is this the police department?"

"Oh, you have to help me. Someone took my son, we were just shopping and suddenly he was gone."

"Yes, we are tourists. In from Connecticut. How did you guess?"


***


"I can't talk for long," he whispered. "I work at the Hilton and I'm not sure if I should be calling."

"I can't tell you who I am. But there were two men -big men. They carried in an unconscious girl. Teenager. Blonde. Pretty."

"She looked drugged. And *they * looked mean. I think they have guns."

"They're in the Penthouse, yes, the Hilton. H-I-L-T-O-N."


***


Larek waited across the street and watched the police escort Rasa and the other Skin out in handcuffs.

He smirked, hoping they were tight.

Ten more minutes and Nicholas left. Also with police escort but, unfortunately, no cuffs. They made eye contact and Larek waved. Nicholas frowned but didn't dare call attention to himself.

Larek counted on it.

Twenty more minutes and still no Maria.

Finally he went into the building.


***


A man stopped him at the elevator and flashed a badge. "You can't come in here."

"My niece," Larek cried. "They told me they found her here!" He pulled out the photo he'd found in Maria's wallet. "This is her."

The police officer looked at the picture. "She's over this way, but I have to warn you first..."

Larek turned the corner and saw Maria huddled in the corner of a bed, rubbing her wrists and ankles. He went to her.

Someone pulled him away. A woman. "You're family?"

"Her uncle."

She looked at him suspiciously but went on, "There's no obvious external damage except for her wrists and ankles. She was tied up. Tight, there are welts. I'm more concerned about the internal damage."

"Organs and such?" Larek knew what the woman really meant, though.

"I'm talking about a psychological harm," she said gently. "They appeared to be...torturing her. She seems to be in shock."

He looked at Maria across the room. I'll just bet, he thought. "Let me go to her."

"Of course," the woman said. "But don't excite her."

He bent down on his knees in front of Maria and lifted her face to his eyes.

She spit.

He wiped the spit away with his sleeve, never letting go of her chin. "It's me."

"Larek?" She touched his ear. "No games?"

He shook his head. "Do you want to know what you ate for breakfast?"

"No, I believe you. Nicholas never pretended to be anyone else. I just...wanted to be sure." She looked at him. "Get me out of here? Please."

Maria pretended to more stable than she really was. Larek lied and said they wouldn't leave town. It took a bit, but they got out.

In the cab, Maria was quiet.

She hesitated outside of her hotel door, "I don't really want to go in there."

Larek nodded and led her into his own room.

She sat down in a chair and said, "I'll call for the next flight out. Just give me a minute to change into something clean."

He nodded and said, "Your clothes are in here. Take a shower. I'll go next door and pick up."

She smiled gratefully, ran her fingers through a curl and grimaced. "Yeah, it feels like I stuck my head in a tub of butter."


***


Maria smiled when she saw that Larek was watching television. The familiarity was comforting.

"Our flight's in two hours," she told him.

"Sit down," he said.

She sat across from and flinched when he touched his fingers to her temples.

"Relax. Trust me. Think about watching me on the plane. Counting the vomit bags as I fill them up."

She leaned her face forward in his hands.

Larek shook her by the shoulders. "Come back," he yelled.

"What?"

"Where were you just now?," he asked back.

"You just did this," she mimed his hands on her temple and then your hands, like, moved and you were shouting like a clown threatened to eat you."

"Clown," he shook his head. "You were out for fifteen minutes. Looking straight ahead and just mumbling. Strange things. About virgins and playgrounds and la isla bonita. I thought you didn't know Spanish?"

"Yo hablo Madonna," she shrugged vaguely. "Fifteen minutes though?"

"Tell me about what Nicholas did to you. No, first, tell me did Nicholas get what he wanted?"

"No," she shook her head. "He was just about to go back in when the cops came in. How did you do that by the way?"

He explained his endeavor into voice simulation.

"That is so Saved by the Bell! I cannot believe you did that. My life was on the line and you," she shook her head. "Forget that. I'm glad you went that route because it worked and here I am, Material Girl and all. And I know you could have just left me."

She moved to hug him and Larek shrunk back.

"Right. What was I thinking," she moved away. "Nicholas. Well, he did the face-touchy thing and it was like, like he was in my head and he could just look at things. But then I guess I'm a hard nut to crack," she smiled faintly," so he had to keep trying.'

"But it was also like he was draining my energy, not just my mind, and I kept fainting on him. He really was not down with that. So he put his hands here," she gripped her neck lightly, "and he –it hurt so much. It was like I'd touched a live wire. Like I was a live wire.'

"Things are still really mixed up in here." She tapped her skull. "I remember him feeding me and just whining on and on."

"That sounds about right for Nicholas," Larek nodded. "Grumbling, bitchy shit."

Maria agreed. "So how come you can do the face-touchy thing, too? I thought you were low on the super power foodchain."

"I am," he said. "I couldn't drill into you the way Nicholas could. That's a big whammy. I can only whisper. All I did was touch your mind, tried to see if there were holes."

She looked at him questioningly and he nodded.

"Rhode Island sized or Texas?"

"Let's say Iowa. But there are a lot of them."

"Oh," she frowned. "How do I...fill them up?"

"You don't. You can't. You relearn."

"That's not an option, Larek. Those memories belong to me. I don't care if I have to bore a hole into Nicholas' head and drink what drips out, I need them back."

He thought she'd be that way. "I can fix them if you let me."

She looked at him expectantly.

"It's our proximity. We've been around each other for days now, we're in sync."

"Good, good," she nodded.

"But we can't take the plane."

"Why?"

"Several reasons. One being Nicholas probably expects us at the airport."

"Then why are sticking around here? Nicholas knows this place, too."

"He was taken into protective custody. He's a minor, they probably won't let him go until his mother comes for him. And since I'm his mother, it'll be awhile."

"Can't he just mojo them?"

"Yes, but so many people and all that crap, it'll take him awhile. Enough for us to make plans."

"Right," Maria took a deep breath. "What are the other reasons?"

"It'll take time." He didn't let her interrupt. "I won't be able to fix you in Roswell. The others will interfere."

"They mean well. They're my friends. They care." She defended them.

"More than that, they'll throw us out of tune. And I promised them I'd keep you intact. You are not. I have a healthy sense of self-preservation, I'm not setting foot in New Mexico until you're finished."

"You promised?"

"They called," he explained. "You're to call them back. You can call from the bus depot."

"Bus? Why can't I drive? Right because I might not even remember how."

"I don't want to die," Larek said. "And I have no idea what will set you to gibbering again."

"Wonderful bedside manner," she commented.

"I'm glad you're up to joking," he said truthfully. "Now pack your bags so we can leave."

She paused, "So you're coming back to Roswell."

"I've got to deal with Max."

"Just like that? You're gonna have your little meetings with him like you had with Nicholas?"

He looked at her. "You tell me. Is your friend like Nicholas?"

"Of course. We're the good guys."

He looked at her flatly.

She turned to the door again. She turned around again. Larek was convinced she wanted whiplash.

"Why can't Max do it? You know, fix me?"

"Since he's got me covered on the super powers front, you mean? Because he may have the strength but I have the knowledge and the skill. Because he's just as like to jackhammer the rest of your mind away as heal it."

"Good point," she nodded.

She stopped again. He sighed.

"So they trust you?"

"No."

"Should they?"

"Maybe. Not yet. Maybe."




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


Ignoring the crackle of overhead speakers, Maria turned to Brody. "So what's the number?"

"The what?"

"The number. You know, to call."

"So now I'm supposed to be Miss Cleo?" Larek grimaced. "Maxi Pad said you knew it."

"Ooh, don't call him that to his face," Maria said.

Larek gave her a fierce glare.

"Right, back to business. She turned to face the phone, closed her eyes and let her hand run over the dialpad. After several rings, someone picked and Maria released her held breath.

"Mrs. Parker? Oh, I was wondering if you could tell me where Maxi -I mean Max Evans is? And what's the number at Alex's? Oh, don't worry, you know me, I'm the stereotypical flake." Maria faked light laughter.

She smiled at Larek, "See, I'm not that bad off. I bet I could totally drive a car."

Larek depressed the ringer on the phone, hanging up on Mrs. Parker. "Just call your friend."

"Well, if you're gonna be all Luke Perry charming about it, I can't help but do your bidding." Maria's fingers made quick work of the phone number and Alex answered a little breathlessly.

"Hello?"

"Alex?"

Larek turned so that his back faced her, ostensibly looking for threats.

"It's me. God, Maria are you okay?"

"Not a nick. I'm resilient. I bite back. I'm General MacArthur. I'm Teflon-"

"You're evading," her friend said pointblank. "Maria babe, you can tell me."

"I've just got a few scabs and scars, huge gappage in my memory. But enough about me, how are you doing? How's the Whits?"

"Maria, what do you mean huge gaps?" Once again, Alex's voice dropped into seriousness.

"Just your standard, run of the mill, not out of the ordinary, totally normal-"

"Maria-"

"Nicholas mind-raped me," Maria said quickly, not noticing Larek watching her from the corner of his eye. "No biggie."

"He...did he touch you, Maria? In...places?"

"No, officer, he didn't touch me," Maria said sarcastically. "And you're asking the wrong questions, Alex. This is a debriefing, act like it. I don't have that much time. Put Maxi Pad on the line."

"Ooh, Maria don't call him that to his face," Alex said. "And don't think we're not gonna have a talk about this later either. I love you, blondie."

"Same to you, bassface." She smacked him a kiss over the phone.

"Girlfriend?" Max's voice cracked a little.

"Yo," Maria said. "It's me alive and kicking."

"I hope you kicked Nicholas a good one."

"Yeah, I did," Maria said well-aware that Max was probably caught in an ugly (and stupid) circle of self-blame. "Right in the chin, well-worth being kidnapped."

Max laughed weakly.

"Are you taking care of everyone, your highness?"

Max remembered who he was supposed to be, "Of course, Maria. Now how are you handling things on your end?"

"I have got my greedy little hands on mucho info. And at little cost I might add."

"You mean-"

"All Top Secret secrets are secret," she said in a chipper tone.

"Good job," Max said. "Hey, Michael wants to talk to you."

"Who?"

"Michael Guerin."

"Who?"

But no one answered Maria's question.

All she heard was the sound of the phone being handed over. A gruff, medium-textured voice. "Hey."

"Hey." She was supposed to know this guy. She tried to think. Michael...No dice.

"You doing good," he said. It wasn't really a question.

"I'm fine, thank you," Maria answered politely.

"Max says you're doing good work. Must be everything I taught you."

"Taught me? Right. Couldn't do it without you."

A pause. She must've said something right.

Michael spoke again, tentatively, "You know what I said? Before. About stopping?"

"Hey, you're talking to the girl with a mind like a sieve."

He laughed briefly. "Well, I never stopped. I need you to know."

"Quitters never win," Maria said.

"Uh, yeah."

Larek appeared by her side, "Our bus is leaving. Wrap it up."

"Chill, spaceboy, before you go all hanging-up on me again. Let me finish speaking to my dear friend Michael." She turned back to the receiver to say goodbye but all she got was the dialtone.

She turned to Larek, shrugging.

He took her bag from her hand and hefted it onto his shoulder. He quirked his eyebrow at her, "Do you even know what a sieve is?"




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


"Your face is going to freeze like that," Larek warned.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Larek smirked. "Good, you're snarling. I was afraid the dimples had set in permanently."

Maria looked at him blankly, "Did you forget your Grape-Nuts or are you being snotty cause you can't help but obey your baser instincts?"

Larek looked at her seriously and responded in a falsetto. "I'm resilient, I bite back, I kick ass. Girl power!" His voice returned to normal. "Oh, please. I thought you trusted these friends of yours so much, you can't tell them you're less stable than Mariah Carey?"

"So I fronted a little," she huffed. "I'm just protecting them."

"Uh huh," he swung onto the bus and gave the driver their tickets.

"Protecting you, too, O Snarky One." She sat next to the window while he stowed her bag. "You gave your Jedi bond on my safety and now you're all eager to have them on your back?"

Larek sat, "I can't question your integrity without gettting interrogated?"

"What? You want me to take the insults graciously?"

"That's my point. Could you answer the question without inserting more question marks into the conversation?"

"Could you?"

"Kidnapped, tortured, and nearly killed all in one day. And yet," he let it hang.

"And yet?" Maria ventured.

"And yet you still talk. What does it take to shut you up?"

"A fireplace and a tea cozy."

Larek mulled it over, "Will we be throwing you into the fire?"

"No."

"Ruin my fun." He pouted.

"I think I had more fun with Nicholas. Do you think he'd take me back?" Maria fluttered her eyelashes.

"Only if you told him where the granolith was," Larek said in a lower voice.

"The what?" Maria lied. "Your big rock slash national symbol, you mean. If I told him it was in Disneyland, do you think he'd believe me?"

"That depends. Is that where it is?"

"Wouldn't you know better than me?" Maria looked into Larek's eyes. "Since it's your Lincoln Monument not mine."

Larek looked at her intently. "Max said you know where the granolith is."

Maria snorted, "Max also thinks I'm a size five."

Larek paused, "Are you saying you don't remember where the granolith is?"

"Should I know," Maria asked worriedly. Suddenly, the bus hit a bump and Maria's shoulder hit the window with a large thump. She clutched at it, grimacing, "Damnit, where'd he learn to drive?"

Rubbing her shoulder, Maria turned back to Larek, "If it's that important do you wanna, you know, try to find out?" She gestured towards her temples and leaned forwards invitingly.

Larek only patted her other shoulder. "No, don't worry about it. It's not important. We'll get your memories back for you and all will be well." He smiled. "I'll take care of everything."




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

The bus moved slowly away from the municipal buildings and lampposts into stretches of rolling verdant hillside and pecan trees.

Enclosed and surrounded as they were by strangers, Maria and Larek lapsed into thoughtful silence. It was a new thing. Usually, they did their reflection apart. Shared company led to involuntary mutual abuse. The brain to mouth express train, with no stops at Sensitive or Deep Deliberation, and most certainly not at Tact.

Maria turned her body to face the window, but was still unable to block out Larek's presence. She watched the clouds move to mask the sun.

Why did I lie? Somehow she did know where the granolith was. It was a part of her now. The slant of sunlight as it entered the chamber only to be absorbed the strange natural light of the pods. The width of the grooves caused by erosion. The dust that lay nowhere. All hers. She smiled, a human and she was claiming ownership. Or it was claiming her. Whatever.

Oh, that'll work when Larek finds out I lied to him (again). I'll just tell him the granolith made me do it.

Who knows? Maybe it did.

Nope, she refused to believe it. I make my own decisions and I own up to them. I will not blame an inanimate, if glorified, chunk of geologic peculiarity. I can't blame Larek and I can't even wholly blame Nicholas.

Shit. I jumped into this. All by myself.

Look at me, I'm raving Celine Dion.

Screw this. It is all Nicholas' fault.


***


He closed his eyes.

Snow.

Rose-tinted glaciers.

Snow.

Ice-capped mountain.

Snow.

Why couldn't he just picture the damn snow?

I just want to go home.

To Sydney.

To Sydney?

That was the wacko's kid.

Baby. Sweet apple-cheeked, honey-crowned princess.

He remembers Tuesdays at the Boston Rialto to watch Sparkle Pony Princesses, some cheap rip-off of some American cartoon from the last decade. It showed between episodes of The Jeffersons and Mork and Mindy on a station out of Atlanta that their flat couldn't pick up. So every Tuesday, he took Sydney to the Rialto with a trunk of her ponies and a tiara on her head. He remembers Laura complaining about the cost. Eventually finding Laura, hearing Laura in the room next door. Her flushed and smiling face when he pounded on the door. So satisfied-

Larek brought his mind to the fore and slammed Brody's personality down.

He'd been in the body too long.

Fuck.

He opened his eyes.


***


"We stop in a couple minutes," Maria told him. "We're almost outta Charlotte. Then we're going across the mountains into Tennessee."

Larek looked at her curiously, as if seeing her for the first time.

"What," she protested. "I can't be knowledgeable about the geography of this great nation?"

He was still looking at her funny.

Okay, so the kid in front told me." She looked at him. "What?"

"Your hair. It's so shiny."

"Thank you," she said politely.

"Fluffy, as well."

"Thank you, as well," she mocked him. "Now back to the matter at hand. We'll be stopping at Eagleton which reportedly has many an eatery. Having not eaten in...well, a way long time this gives me an edge of gustatory anticipation. But, because I am selfless, I have decided to let you pick our place of nourishment. So Italian, Chinese, German? Dunno about you but Ich leibe bratwurst."

"Whatever. You stuff your human face. I have things to do."

"Hey now. If I'm not mistaken you're wearing a human face, too. Granted, not an attractive one- Wait. Things to do? Like what? Is there an inter-dimensional portal under the Eagleton City Hall? No, don't tell me. There's an Aldebaran princess trapped beneath the Main Street gas station and general store and only you can save her."

"I'm going to pawn the jewelry."

"I hope you're talking about that hoop in your ear. My jewelry is off-limits."

"I paid for them. And someone has to keep you in bratwurst and spaetzle."

"They were gifts! Ammunition, remember?"

"And you fought. Move on. You don't need them."

"But I want them," she said, ignoring the fact that she'd planned on selling them earlier. "And what about the credit cards?"

"Traceable."

"Oh, like Nicholas knows how trace a credit card. And does he even know Brody's name? No. Brody doesn't matter to him, it's just a body. So no name, no prob."

"You're not giving Nicholas enough credit."

"I, of all people be they six-fingered or pointy-eared, am capable of giving Nicholas enough credit-"

"You just want-"

Maria crossed her arms. "Fine. The pearls, the white ones only. After that, you can sell your body to science."

"Thank you so much."


***


Bairstow. Chicken Fried Steak with country gravy. Dr. Pepper. And oddly enough a waitress named Agnes.

Maria shook her head and spooned up buttered corn. It'd only been two days but they seemed to blend into an unholy forever of bus, diner, and hotel. She hated eating by herself. Larek, as always, was off doing Larek-things. In approximately fifteen minutes (that was forty-five to eat), he would return and they would check into a hotel. At seven the next morning, they'd return to the bus depot and get on the first bus that was heading in the general direction of New Mexico giving them both time for Maria to be 'fixed' and enough of a loose schedule to avoid Nicholas.

She folded her napkin. In the hotel, Maria would shower and Larek would watch television. Sometimes they would talk. Usually, no. Then at seven-thirty, Maria would put her face in Larek's hands.

And she was born again.

Painfully.


***


Sucking hunger mama love warm hole swimming sweetheart me


loud


hurts -light hurts- sound hurts hands - cold


***


Maria put down her fork, chewed, and called for the check. Nicholas' "mind rape" and Larek's "recall" were not all that different. Figured. It seemed that everything aliens did, they did with style -and pain.

When Larek clamped his hands down on Maria's skull, it was This is Your Life, Spock Style.

Dichotomy. She was herself, Maria the observer. And Maria, the object. She felt every emotion she had felt when she was five and her father left. Sadness. Anger. Loss. But now she also understood with the maturity of an adult.

And she was not sure which was worse. Her father was actually (Miracle of miracles!) been something, she'd remembered. So fast forward past the piggy back rides and "I love you's" and to the point of...


***


Where she knew what was going to happen. And in her mind she screamed to Little Sweet Innocent Maria, don't! Don't hug him! Don't say good-bye! He's not coming back, don't smile!

Maybe this time he'll stay.


***


Of course he hadn't. Maria the Seventeen-Year Old knew that. Had prepared herself for it. But it still sucked.

She was wrecked all over again.

Larek hadn't explained what was going to happen. She'd been scared that he'd be coming along for the ride, plumbing her memories. Finding out too much about her. About the granolith.

But she'd had no choice. I just gotta be me. Completely.

Okay. Personal inventory.

Mom's name? Amy Anne DeLuca.

Favorite color? Lavender.

First broken bone? Femur. Stupid swings.

Hobbies? Singing, tying my shoes, and talking.

Best buds? Alex Charles Whitman. Elizabeth Claudia Parker.

Life's Ambition? To be on Kids Incorporated.


***


She was still trying to figure out the mystery of Michael when Larek came into the restaurant.

He slid into the booth opposite her and waved Agnes off. She could see a key in his fist, probably for the hotel. Larek crossed his arms and didn't say anything so Maria looked away.

Right. Back to this Michael.

They were deep enough into her memories now that Maria remembered a boy, a sullen boy. One of the three newbies when she got into the third grade. Quiet. Not someone she'd ever spoken to. She tried to connect the image with the voice she'd heard on the phone. Raspy.

Obviously apart of the Roswell Paranoia League, Extraterrestrial Division. And from what Max and Alex said, someone important. A best friend? A boyfriend?

She had a boyfriend? She wondered how far they'd gone. Second base? Was she that kind of girl? Yeah, probably.

"Ready to go?" Larek said, pushing bills onto the table.

Maria nodded and stood. She could daydream about her possibly hot boyfriend later, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger time. Total Recall.


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


To be continued...