~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ (July 15th, 1947)
(New York City)
Cuerena slowed the truck as she entered the heavier traffic of the city. She had been driving for almost a week, only stopping to fill the truck’s gas tank. She had changed the appearance of the truck and herself several times to lessen the possibility that she would be found but she had seen no signs of pursuit either human or alien.
As she maneuvered through the streets, she thought back to the other time she had been in New York. It had been eight years ago and she and the other shape shifters were looking for human DNA donors for the pods, and their search had led them to New York. They hadn't discovered any donors but they had decided New York City would make an excellent place to set up the decoy clones. They had chosen a part of town that was mainly used as warehouse space and even picked a building.
And that was where Cuerena was headed now. She would take a space in the building and house the developing pods there. The other shape shifters would all know where they were located and would easily be able to find them if it was necessary.
Cuerena turned the corner and with a gasp of surprise, pulled the truck to the side of the road. The building they had chosen was no longer there. Instead there was a large construction site and the accompanying sign read,
Future site of the
to be completed in 1952.
The entire block had been leveled for the construction and there was nowhere left to house the pods. Cuerena exited the truck to look around the area for an alternative site but after a few inquiries she found it was a hopeless task. Many of the surrounding buildings were being renovated or destroyed and there was no space available for lease. She would have to take the pods elsewhere to house them but she worried about how the other shape shifters would find them.
While she was considering what to do, she overheard a conversation of two near-by men.
"When they started construction on this behemoth," the first man said, motioning to the Gainswaith building, "they were forced to abandon an entire section of the subway and sewer tunnels underneath and build new ones. That means a lot of extra work for our company."
"So what do they do with the old tunnels?" the other man asked. "Fill them in? Wall 'em up?"
"No, they just reroute a section or two of track," the first man shrugged, "and leave the rest down there."
Cuerena turned back to the truck. If there really were sections of tunnel beneath the building that weren't being used, it could be a perfect answer to her problem. It would mean no rent, or nosy landlord or neighbors, and she could leave a message on the new building telling the others where they were.
She locked up the truck and went into the tunnels, in search of their new home.
(Abandoned Sewer Tunnel)
Cuerena carefully anchored each of the pods to the wall of their new home in the abandoned sewer tunnel. It would be decades before they hatched and this sheltered room would be a perfect sanctuary.
She looked around the bare concrete walls. She was a protector and was capable of living in very sparse surroundings but when the duplicates emerged she would have more homey comforts in place. Even though these clones weren't the real Royal Four, they were derived from them, and Cuerena felt they deserved some consideration.
She could never tell them the whole truth about what they were, of course. To be useful as decoys, they had to believe they were the Royal Four, should the need arise. They would have no memories of their past and all memories about the plan and the royal codes had been carefully blocked.
Cuerena ran her hand over the surface of the duplicate Vilondra's pod. They had not blocked her memories of Khivar as they had with the real Vilondra. There was little chance the duplicate would remember her past life without help and they would receive no assistance in recovering their memories. It had been agreed that the decoys would not be told about the past in any great detail, they would only be given a general outline, but Cuerena had often wondered what she would tell them if any of them did have memories from their other life.
She supposed she would just have to deal with the situation if and when it arose, but for now her duty was clear. Protect the pod at all costs.
(January 25th, 1965)
Nicholas had been in New York for more than a week, observing the squad of soldiers that were assigned to the area, hunting for traitors. In that time he hadn't witnessed anything unusual and had intended to leave in the morning, but then he had seen the Antarian writing on the side of one of the buildings called the Gainswaith Tower. The Antarian symbol for knowledge had caught his eye first. It was cleverly concealed within a larger pattern of meaningless symbols on the building and as he had scanned the pattern, he saw more Antarian words.
There was not a sentence or even a coherent thought, but the words were there none-the-less. Instantly dismissing the probability of coincidence, Nicholas was left with only two options: the message had been left by traitors within his organization, or it had been left by the supporters of the Royal Four.
It was obvious the message was written in some kind of code but he had never been gifted in cryptography and doubted he could crack the code alone. He decided to avoid contacting the soldiers in the area for help until he could determine if one of them had written it and that would mean investigating more closely.
First, Nicholas cautiously interviewed the Gainswaith building's owner and architect and discovered the original plans had not called for a design, and each thought the other had done it on a whim. Then he tried to track down the person who had done the work, but no one involved with the construction would admit to making the pattern.
And now totally convinced the message had been put on the building deliberately, Nicholas concentrated on searching the area around the building for any otherworldly activity. He interviewed residents and business owners, workers and the homeless, but no one remembered anything out of the ordinary, and when he asked about the symbols on the building, most admitted they had never before noticed them.
Then Nicholas carefully searched the Gainswaith Tower and the surrounding buildings but he could find nothing suspicious. And that point, he decided to reveal himself to his troops.
After the man had asked her about strange occurrences and then the symbols on the Gainswaith building, Cuerena had carefully kept him in sight. It was obvious he must be part of Khivar's troops who had shot their transport out of the sky almost twenty years ago.
She had been shocked when he asked about the Antarian symbols, but she had coded the message using one of the Tageonant battle codes only known to the closest household royal staff and she wasn't afraid he would decipher the message. There were over a dozen Antarian characters on the wall but the message itself was very simple if one knew the code. Through a process of elimination and clues it simply said, below.
But she was worried that he was so close to her charges. Whenever she left the tunnels, she donned the appearance of an older homeless woman and physically sealed the entrance to the chamber. That's what she had done three days ago to get fresh supplies, when she had run into the man asking questions. He appeared to be in his early twenties and had introduced himself as a student of NYU, saying his name was Tom. Then he had starting asking questions.
At first, Cuerena hadn't been suspicious, writing it off to just another weird New Yorker but when he had asked about the symbols, she'd worked to keep her features carefully still. She'd told him that she had never noticed the symbols before and he didn't seem surprised, obviously having gotten the same answer from others.
He had dismissed her quickly and she'd slipped behind one of the buildings and changed her appearance in order to observe him. Then she had carefully tracked him for three days as he systematically searched the Gainswaith Tower and every surrounding building. She had hoped, when he didn't find anything, he would simply leave but when he had finished searching the last building, he shifted into the form of a child.
Cuerena had never known Khivar to use shape shifters in his troops, but she wasn't an expert in his military tactics, and immediately decided to follow the shape shifter to see what he was up to.
(January 28th, 1965)
Nicholas knocked on the door where his troops were living as a family, waiting impatiently for the answer. All troops inserted into communities outside Copper Summer were assigned to five-man teams, posing as families. This family consisted of a mother and father, sister and brother in their late teens, and a grandmother. He thought it unlikely that any of this group were traitors but he needed to investigate every possibility thoroughly. The soldier posing as the daughter was his occasional lover, Katian, and Nicholas knew she was as loyal to Khivar as himself. If she had discovered even a hint of treachery, she would have alerted him immediately.
Finally, the door was opened by the woman he recognized who posing as the mother, Linda.
And she gasped as she recognized him. "Sir, what an unexpected surprise."
Cuerena followed the enemy shape shifter to the house and watched as he was admitted. She was not close enough to hear what was being said but when the door closed behind them she moved around the side of the house to the room where they were sitting and pressed her ear against the window.
She couldn't catch every word but she heard enough to realize that the shape shifter was a superior officer to the people in the house, posing as a family. She never heard his real name, assuming Tom wasn’t it, the others simply called him sir or General. He asked them about the writing on the Gainswaith building and they said they had never seen it. He theorized that either supporters of the Royal Four or traitors had left the message and he ordered the soldiers into pairs to start an immediate search for other messages. Cuerena drifted back into the bushes as the groups left the house and changed her appearance again in order to follow the General and the girl he called, Katian.
It didn't take Cuerena long to see why the General had divided the troops as he had. He and Katian waited in the shadows around the corner and once the others were out of sight, they doubled back to the house. The General changed his appearance in the alley and now he wore the face of the young man in his twenties, Cuerena had met.
As they approached the door, Katian reached out to open it but the General slammed her back into it and took her lips in a rough kiss. "It's been a long time," he said huskily when he released her.
Katian nodded, "Let's not waste any time. The others will be back in two hours."
As they disappeared inside, a plan was already starting to take shape in Cuerena's mind that would make the General want to forget about New York forever. It would be too dangerous for her to try and confront all six of the enemy soldiers but with a little of her power applied in the correct places, hopefully she could bring them all down.
(February 1st, 1965)
Nicholas awoke in the bed he had shared with Katian, with a giddy feeling. He had always been one to keep his feelings under control, but the last few days with his lover had made his thoughts turn to more tender things. For the first time in his life, he was in love and as he showered and dressed, he made plans for their future together.
First they would finish the investigation of the alien writing and then Nicholas would take Katian back to Copper Summit. She would be given a promotion and moved into his house so they could be together all the time. He should have felt ridiculous, being in love. He was no kid and he'd had his share of beautiful women, but there was just something different about Katian and he wanted to spend his life with her.
He opened his door and started toward the stairs but he was distracted by Katian's whispered voice coming up through a vent.
"Were you able to get a message to the others?" she asked.
"Yeah," answered the soldier posing as her brother, Henry. "The head of the resistance sent the reply that we should take the message off the building and then act surprised when the General finds out. And hopefully he will turn his investigation in another direction."
Nicholas was stunned, and for a moment he couldn't move. There was silence below, but after a few seconds, Nicholas heard the distinct sounds of kissing and he felt his heart break.
"I hate that you have to spend time with him," Henry hissed. "I want to kill him for touching you."
"Henry," Katian sighed, "we have to careful. You know it disgusts me to be with that toad, but it won't be for much longer and then we can be together."
The rage within Nicholas built to the boiling point instantly. He couldn't believe he had been so stupid to fall for her act. Katian had played him like a pro, with her soft kisses and professions of love. He knew love was for fools but he had let himself believe and followed her like an idiot.
In an instant, the love he had felt for her turned to a searing hatred, and at that moment he wanted nothing more than to see her die. Barely aware of his actions, he bounded down the stairs and burst into the kitchen where Katian and Henry were sitting at the table and with two well-placed blasts of energy, he turned first Henry and then Katian dust.
Nicholas was still savoring the look of surprise and fear on her face as the other members of the family rushed into the room, stopping suddenly as they saw the telltale flakes of skin floating around him.
"What happened, Sir?" asked the senior officer.
Nicholas whirled to face them and with a blast of power, forced them to their knees. "Either you are harboring traitors, or you are traitors yourselves."
"No," the senior officer instantly denied. "We are loyal to Khivar."
Nicholas advanced on him with an outstretched hand. "We'll see about that."
Cuerena watched from outside as the General tortured and executed each of the soldiers. And then, looking far older than the twenty years of his adopted body, he sank down into one of the chairs and put his head in his hands.
It had been obvious to Cuerena that the General was in love with Katian and she had used it against him in the most painful way she could think of. Her powers made him overhear a conversation that had never taken place, causing him to think Katian and Henry were traitors and blame the writing on them. The plan had worked better than she anticipated because of the General’s raging temper and now she just hoped the experience would make him forget about the investigation and leave.
After a few moments, the General took out a device that Cuerena couldn't see, and spoke into it.
"Walt, we need a new team in New York. I want them here tomorrow. And tell mom I'll be home the next day."
(August 15th, 1990)
(Abandoned Sewer Tunnel)
Cuerena had watched in anticipation as the fluids within the pods had solidified to a thick, viscous consistency, knowing the time had come for the clones to emerge. Lonni had pushed through the membrane first, followed closely by Ava and Rath but Zan had not emerged until almost an hour later.
As she had cleaned and clothed the small clones, Cuerena wondered what they would be like. There were many theories about the behavior of clones compared with the originals. And even though Antarians had been cloning for generations, there was no accurate way to predict how they developed. The few clones that had been created and given back their memories had been exactly the same as the originals.
The clones in her charge would not be given their memories though, and there was also the added unknown of the human DNA. But perhaps the biggest variable was the fact that the original genetic material had been separated into two clones. It posed the possibility that some traits would be absent in one set of clones and present in the other set. For example, one of the New York clones could have a bad temper, while the other in New Mexico did not. Or it was possible they could be identical.
Of course, Cuerena would get a chance to find out for herself when her charges came of age and she returned to Roswell to be reunited with the others. She would leave the duplicate clones in New York with a communicator, in case they were needed, and then concentrate her energy on the real Royal Four. It wasn't fair and perhaps it was wrong, but it would help ensure the survival of her people and put an end to Khivar's treachery and evil.
She looked at the four sleeping children, so small, so innocent, but it was all an illusion. They had been created for one purpose only. To die.
(August 21st, 1990)
Cuerena spent the first few days with the clones simply talking to them and teaching them English. The children learned quickly and after a week, all four of them were chattering away as if they had been raised with the language for years.
She had given them their original names, as she had been ordered, and would start their instruction today. The clones would be given an education that would include all manner of math, science, literature and art, and they would also be taught about Earth as well as the basics of their own planet and language. And when their powers started to develop, a regime would be included to train the clones to master their abilities.
It would be about a year until the clones started to show any signs of their powers. Cuerena had placed a neural inhibitor in the children's genetic code that would suppress their powers until then. But when it wore off, the children would have to control their wildly unpredictable and awesome abilities. That is why their education about their powers would start today, along with their other lessons.
"Children," Cuerena called out. "Come and sit here," she motioned to a small table with four chairs, "and we will begin."
She waited until they were seated and then started with the history of their past, as she had been instructed. "We are not from this planet, Earth. We come from a planet very far away called Antar. On our planet you are known as the Royal Four." She motioned to each of the children as she spoke, "You are Zan the King, Ava his Queen, Vilondra his sister and Rath his counselor."
The children looked at one another as Cuerena continued. "On our planet there was a great war and your former selves were killed. You were created from the genetic material of your alien predecessors and human subjects. You were given human form so you could live safely on this planet undetected until the time comes for your return. I am Cuerena, your guardian, and I will protect you from danger and keep you hidden."
"As you mature, you will regain you memories of your other life and develop powers that will aid you in your fight against your enemies. When it is time, you will return to our planet to oppose the usurper and his factions and take back your rightful places as the rulers of Antar."
(June 10th, 1991)
The sound of running feet and shouts startled Cuerena out of her studies and she jumped up into a defensive position just as the children entered the room.
"Cuerena, guess what?" Lonni exclaimed excitedly as she bounced into the room just slightly ahead of the others.
Cuerena relaxed as she realized there was no danger. "What happened, Lonni?"
Ava blurted out before Lonni could speak. "Zan got his powers."
Lonni turned on her angrily, "Ava!! I was going to tell her!"
Ava shrank back against Zan and he automatically came to her defense, "Don't freak out, Lonni."
"What happened?" Cuerena asked.
Lonni looked at Zan, waiting for him to tell the story but he motioned to her. With a smirk, she started, "Rath and Zan were playing handball and Zan fell and hurt his hand and it was bleeding and he healed it."
Rath pushed forward. "Are we all gonna get healing powers?"
Cuerena looked at her charges. "Each of you will have the ability to heal simple wounds but only Zan has the ability to heal more serious wounds and life-threatening injuries." She turned to face him. "Zan, your healing power is much stronger than the others. It is a special ability you were born with and you will have the ability to bring someone back from the brink of death."
"Can I heal animals, and humans too?" Zan asked, eager to learn about his ability.
Cuerena nodded, "Yes, but let me caution you against using your powers on humans. As we have discussed before, most humans won't understand that you are different and it could be dangerous if you reveal yourselves to them."
"But I could heal a human," Zan said stubbornly.
"Yes," Cuerena agreed. "You have the power to heal humans." She motioned to the others, "All of you can heal on a small scale, simple wounds and broken bones. But only Zan can heal larger wounds or diseases. It takes a great deal of power to manipulate living flesh and bone on a large or very delicate scale, and not everyone is capable."
She turned to Zan. "You could heal a human from a life threatening wound but it would present a problem. In order to heal a human on the verge of death, you would have to alter their cells to make them able to regenerate themselves. The cells would become like your own, part human, part Antarian. Over time, the human would become immune to the diseases on this planet and their life span would be extended just as yours. The human would slowly change, perhaps developing powers of their own and eventually every cell in their body would be like yours. In essence, they would become a hybrid like yourselves."
Zan, Lonni thought to herself, everything is always about Zan. She stepped forward to focus Cuerena's attention on her. "So what are my powers?" Lonni asked.
"You will all develop the basic powers to manipulate matter," Cuerena said, "but as for your unique powers Lonni, I do not know. When you were engineered, you were given your own capabilities but you were also given an advanced human brain, so it is possible you could develop new powers you didn't have in your other life. As for the specific nature of your powers, I just don't know. On Antar the nature of your power was a closely guarded secret, as with all females, so we will just have to see how it manifests."
(September 7th, 1992)
Zan struggled through the thick, blackness that appeared to be everywhere around him. He had been looking for a way out for what seemed like forever, but the more he fought against it, the more hopeless it became. The blackness was a tangible thing, its weight pressing down on him, chilling him to the bone and threatening to consume him. He called out, hoping someone could hear him and lead him out of the seemingly never-ending night.
As he continued to struggle, a voice whispered his name and he turned quickly toward the sound. In the distance he thought he saw the flickering movement of a soft, golden light and he moved toward it as quickly as he could. With every step, the light seemed to grow in intensity but it was as if the blackness refused to let him go, making each movement harder than the last.
"Help me!" he called, afraid he would never escape the chill of dark.
The light flickered briefly and rapidly grew in intensity until it was so bright he was forced to cover his eyes. Suddenly the darkness released him and he fell forward and quickly scrambled on hands and knees toward the source of his salvation.
The light receded as he approached and Zan gasped as he realized the golden light was being emitted from a small girl. It was a part of her, surrounding her and it welcomed him with a promise of warmth and love. He crouched before the girl, desperately trying to see her face, but it was obscured by her long dark hair, blowing across her face.
She reached out to him, taking his hand and pulling him to his feet as she once again spoke his name. "Zan."
Where their hands met, her warmth rushed into him, chasing the cold from his body and for the first time in his short life he had a sense of belonging and home.
Her hair shifted in the breeze and for a brief moment he thought she would be revealed to him but she released his hand and stepped back, and the intensity of the light started to obscure her again.
"Wait," he called, "who are you?"
Somehow he could feel her disappointment and as she was entirely engulfed in the golden light, she whispered a single word. "Love."
Zan rushed forward but the light faded until only a small flickering flame was left and the girl was nowhere to be seen. Zan felt the chill of the darkness start to seep into him again and called out desperately, "Wait! Where are you? Don't go! Come back! Come back!"
Zan felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and fearing the darkness was back, struggled against it, but he was suddenly jolted awake by Cuerena's soft voice.
"Zan, you are having a bad dream."
He blinked at her uncomprehendingly for a moment and then realized the truth. The girl he had been so desperate to see, the one who had saved him, was not real at all. She was only a dream girl.
(December 3rd, 1992)
Cuerena hurried down the tunnel with the groceries. She didn't like leaving the children alone for long, fearing what could happen to them. They were growing into their abilities and becoming quite powerful but they were still only nine-year-old children.
As she approached the entrance, she could hear raised voices and she sprinted the last few yards.
"Get off me Rath!" Cuerena heard Zan call out angrily.
"Make me!" Rath replied.
"You're such a baby, Zan," Lonni taunted.
"Get off right now or you'll be sorry and you too Lonni!"
Cuerena entered the room just in time to see Rath holding the smaller Zan to the floor with a knee in his chest, as Lonni egged him on.
"What are you going do, you big baby?" Lonni said in a singsong tone.
Suddenly a burst of power erupted from Zan, throwing Rath across the room and knocking Lonni to the ground. Zan and Rath got up at the same time and Rath rushed toward Zan.
Seemingly unconcerned, Zan watched Rath running at him with a raised hand.
But Cuerena interceded, stepping between them and grabbed Rath's hand before he could follow through with his intended action. "Stop."
She had always felt strange disciplining the children because she had been raised to respect her station in life, but she couldn't let Rath's behavior go unchecked. "Rath, Lonni, this is unacceptable behavior. Zan is our King and we must show him respect."
Rath glared at them, but under Cuerena's gaze and a nudge from Lonni, he finally relented with a small bow of his head. "I'm sorry, your Majesty," he said stiffly.
Lonni held her head high. "Sorry, Zan. We just got carried away."
Zan accepted their apology and Ava rushed forward, from where she had been hiding, to fuss over him.
Cuerena entered the makeshift kitchen and started to put the groceries away. Lonni and Rath were getting more willful and disrespectful with each passing month and she wished she knew how to handle the situation better. This hadn't been the first time she'd had to separate the boys. It seemed as if they were always fighting, Rath constantly challenging Zan's position as leader. She couldn't let Rath harm Zan but she knew he would never respect Zan if she kept interceding.
Zan had always been smaller and quieter than Rath, who seemed to attack everything with the same head-on stubbornness. But Zan had surprised her today with his power. She had not known he possessed the strength or the control his action required, she just hoped it gained him some ground in the battle. If Rath respected or feared Zan's powers enough, he would back off.
(February 27th, 1993)
The burst of blue light that emitted from the orb surprised Cuerena more than she would have thought possible. She and the other shape shifters had agreed to maintain complete communicator silence except in emergencies and she was worried about what could have prompted them to contact her.
Cuerena crossed to the table where the orb was sitting. It was lucky the children were out playing so she didn't have to explain what was going on. She picked it up and pushed a stream of energy into it, to retrieve the message.
A blue light floated into the air before her and transformed into a human woman. At first Cuerena was confused but the woman's words quickly revealed the truth.
If you are seeing me now, it means that you are alive and well. I take this form because it will be familiar to you, and it will help you to understand what I am about to say. You have lived before. You perished in the conflict that enslaves our planet but your essence was duplicated, cloned, and mixed with human genetic materials so that you might be recreated...
Cuerena listened to the entire message and then she passed her hand over the orb, erasing it permanently from the memory. It was not meant for her charges and there was no reason for them to hear it.
(May 15th, 1997)
Ava looked across the dinner table at Zan with a sigh. She had loved Zan her entire life but he had never returned her affections. When they had first come out of the pods Cuerena had told them about their destiny and since then Ava had been waiting for Zan to acknowledge her place in his life. They were great friends but any time she mentioned their future together, Zan pushed the subject aside. Over the years, Ava had grown more impatient and now that they were fourteen, she felt it was time to move past mere friendship.
Rath and Lonni had accepted their destiny eagerly, coupling with the ferocity of wild animals even at their young age, and Ava had to admit she was jealous of the close relationship they shared. And Lonni and Rath often teased her about not being able to capture Zan's interest. Ava wished she could simply use her powers on Zan to make him see her like she wanted but they had practiced together so many times that Zan could tell when she was using her powers. He was far more powerful than she, and easily blocked her attempts to use her powers, so she had no effect on him.
Ava had reminded Zan many times of their duty and it hadn't done any good, but then her eyes fell on their protector and an idea suddenly came to her. "Cuerena," she started casually, "tell us again about how connections are formed."
If Cuerena noticed anything odd in her request, she didn't show it and started the story she had told them before. "Most of our people, who possess power, are able to make some form of connection through touch. Some of these connections are weak and some are strong, it usually depends on the amount and type of powers the participants have. The connections are stronger if there is some kind of common bond between the participants such as a family relationship or friendship or a romantic involvement.”
“Almost all of our people with power are able to form connections through sexual intercourse. These connections are the strongest because the participants’ consciences momentarily merge and unlike other types of bonds, it is difficult if not impossible to hide anything from one another. Most connections are temporary and can only be reestablished through physical contact, but in some rare cases the connections are particularly strong and are always open between participants. They can speak to one another telepathically and send emotions and sometimes images, and some are active even across great distances."
Cuerena continued but Zan rose from the table, having heard enough, and left the dwelling. He walked quickly, confidently navigating the disused sewer and subway tunnels, until he reached his special place. Zan had found it when he had been exploring a few years ago, and now he went there whenever he needed some time alone.
It was an abandoned subway station that had been built in the thirties and was elegantly decorated with murals, tile work and colored glass. The ceiling rose twenty feet above his head, formed of interlocking arches that were supported by ornately carved columns. The light fixtures were made of colored glass and when Zan used his powers to illuminated them, a rainbow of colors and patterns danced along the planes and curves of the walls and ceiling. To Zan it was a magical place where he often indulged in daydreams, most of which included his dream girl.
He would pretend the station was a ballroom in a faraway palace, filled with ladies in swirling gowns and men in stately uniforms. And as he stood observing from the sidelines, the dancers would occasionally part, revealing to him glimpses of a beautiful girl with long brown hair in a sapphire-blue gown, standing across the room. He would duck and bob attempting to see her more clearly but she always seemed just out of his reach, disappearing behind the twirling couples.
Frustrated, he would finally walk across the dance floor, ignoring the strange looks his breach of protocol earned him, and boldly take his dream girl by the hand. They would say nothing to one another, not even exchanging names, and he would lead her onto the dance floor, the other couples automatically parting for them as he took her into his arms. The two of them would dance the night away, losing track of the time because they were only focused on each other.
With a sigh, Zan sank down onto the sofa he had made from an old bench. It was a beautiful dream, but he had never shared it with anyone because he knew they wouldn't understand. If Rath or Lonni found out, he would never hear the end of it. Zan the romantic, the dreamer, they would mock. And what would Ava say if she found out he was daydreaming about someone other than her?
He had heard the lectures from Cuerena, Ava and the others about their destiny more times than he could remember, but it just didn't feel right to him. Cuerena had told him he and Ava were married in their other life, but in this life the feelings he had for her didn't go beyond friendship.
He knew what love felt like because he had been in love since he was nine years old. Unfortunately the girl who had captured his heart was not real, but she had visited his dreams almost every night over the years. Sometimes he would simply get a glimpse of her or only hear her soft laughter, but other times she came to him and chased away his loneliness and fears. He had never actually seen her face but they had a connection like the ones Cuerena had described. He could feel her emotions and hear her voice even when she didn't speak.
But she wasn't real and he knew he would have to face that. He was fourteen and a King and as he grew older, he knew the others would expect more and more from him. They were pressing him to accept his destiny and he didn't feel like he had any other choice. And no matter how much he loved his dream girl, no matter how perfect they were for each other, his dream girl was just that, a dream. She was someone his unconscious had invented to fill the empty spaces in his heart.
A noise drew Zan's attention to the tunnel and he watched Ava emerge from the darkness. Zan felt a slash of disappointment because she had found his special place but knew it was his own fault for being careless enough that she had been able to follow.
He sat silent, as Ava crossed to him, noting her confidence. Ava had accepted that they were meant to be together since they had first been told. She had never questioned it.
"Can I sit down?" she asked.
Zan scooted over making a space for her. "Sure."
Ava sat and looked at Zan. She had followed him because she had assumed he was upset. "Do you wanna talk about it?"
Zan shook his head, "No." How would he explain to Ava he could never love her because he was in love with a dream? She wouldn't understand and he didn't want to hurt her.
They sat in silence for a few minutes and Ava started to get nervous. Maybe it hadn't been a good idea for her to follow Zan. He seemed so sad and her presence didn't seem to be helping. She couldn't imagine what was wrong and she wondered if he wanted to be alone. "Do you want me to leave?"
Zan studied her face, seeing the nervousness and uncertainty creep in. He didn’t want to hurt Ava, she was his only real friend and ally. He had to accept his destiny, but in order to do that, he also had to accept that he wasn't meant to be happy.
Zan shook his head, and answered her with a sad smile. "No."
Ava scooted closer to him with a smile, placing a hand on his shoulder, sure that Zan was finally coming around.
Zan didn't move as Ava closed the distance between them and pressed her lips to his, but he squeezed his eyes shut to stop the tears that suddenly threatened. He knew this had to happen but he felt his heart break because he was betraying his love.
(April 12th, 1998)
Since they were children, Lonni had become more and more resentful that her little brother was King simply because he was male. She was the older sibling, she was just as smart and capable as Zan if not more so because Zan had the annoying habit of worrying about right and wrong according to human terms. But they weren't human and Lonni didn't feel they had to live by human rules. Occasionally she could get Zan to see that and those were the times they were the closest, but he always got caught up in his conscience in the end.
She and Rath understood one another better than she and her brother ever had, probably because of their connection. They had become lovers at fourteen and even though the connection hadn't formed for almost a year afterward, it had helped bind them together. Lonni was able to read Rath's emotions and she was able to speak in his head, and even though he couldn't do the same to her, they had developed a kind of mental shorthand that allowed them to work together like a well-oiled machine. Also in their favor was the one major interest they had in common.
Lonni often thought it seemed like a small thing to base a relationship on, but their common goal and mutual lust had so far been enough. Both of them disliked Zan and resented the fact he was in charge but even together they weren't strong enough to take Zan on. Most of the time, Lonni and Rath acted like the loyal sister and friend they were suppose to be, but from time to time they would test Zan to see if they were strong enough to oppose him.
Over the years they were becoming stronger, but so was Zan, and Lonni could see they would never win going directly against him. Any plan to get rid of Zan would have to include a surprise attack. There was also the additional problem of their protector. Cuerena supported Zan in whatever he decided and she would have to be dealt with before they could move on Zan.
But Lonni was patient and they had time. They just had to wait until the time was right and they would take out the shape shifter and Zan.
(August 5th, 1998)
Zan rounded the bend in the hedge maze just in time to see the dark-haired girl disappear around the corner ahead, her soft giggle urging him after her. He hurried down the path but rounded the next corner even farther behind her, only catching a glimpse of the white dress she wore as it disappeared around the next wall. He ran faster and faster but she was always ahead of him, just out of reach.
Around the next corner, Zan skidded to a halt as three paths opened before him and he had no idea which direction his dream girl had gone. He quickly searched for any sign of her but seeing none, he called out playfully, "Where are you?"
A soft giggle echoed and he turned toward the sound.
"Zan," she called out.
With a smile, he ran down the left path and continued around a few more turns before emerging into the center of the maze, where he stopped, suddenly breathless.
The girl sat on a stone bench with her back to him, her long hair and gauzy white dress swirling in the warm breeze, and Zan thought he had never seen anything so beautiful. As he slowly approached, he noticed the slight golden glow illuminating the skin of her exposed arms and shoulders, and he reached out to touch her. He trailed a light hand down the soft skin of her arm, causing a more intense glow to trail after his touch, and when he reached her hand, their fingers intertwined.
At that moment he had never wanted anything more than to kiss her and as if she heard his thoughts she whispered, "Close your eyes."
He reached up with his free hand and touched the side of her face. "Let me see you. Please, just once."
He briefly felt her sorrow, and again she said, "Zan, close your eyes."
This time he obeyed immediately and was rewarded with the sweet touch of her lips on his own. It was over too briefly and he reached for her, but his hands only met empty air, and when he opened his eyes, he was in his own bed.
Zan could still feel the touch of her lips on his, so different than kissing Ava, and with a sigh whispered, "My love."
Unknown to him, Ava was awake in her bed just a few feet away and heard his words.
She sighed sadly, somehow knowing he wasn't dreaming about her. Even though they were together, Ava had never felt the type of closeness with him that she expected, that she craved. It always seemed as if Zan were holding a part of himself back from her, and no matter what she did, she would never really know him.
(October 17, 1998)
Rath watched Ava across the table with a growing sense of annoyance. The diminutive blonde had whined and pouted all through dinner, doing anything to gain Zan’s attention.
Rath had resented Ava for years, feeling she didn’t deserve to be the Queen of their planet. She was weak, pathetic. Ava seemed to have no thoughts of her own, no opinions, simply content to echo whatever Zan wanted. She seemed to live her entire life for Zan, only defining herself as an extension of him.
But the joke was on Ava, Rath thought, because even though Zan was with her, Rath could tell Zan didn’t love her. It was painfully obvious to Rath that Zan was simply with her because he thought was his duty.
Rath and Lonni had often joked about Ava privately and teased her when Zan wasn’t around. Lonni had more contempt for Ava than he did and Rath followed Lonni’s lead in his treatment of Ava.
Finally Zan left the table, telling them he wanted some time alone. Rath waited until he was out of the room before he threw a french fry at Ava. “See that retard?” he asked, motioning to the door where Zan had left. “You’re so worthless even your own husband doesn’t want you. Why don’t you get a life instead of living his?”
“Shut up, Rath,” Ava huffed. “Zan loves me.”
Rath rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right.”
(March 2nd, 1999)
Lonni awoke with a start. She'd had the dream again.
Memories of their other life had always encroached into Lonni's sleep but they had only been glimpses, fleeting images, feelings. In the last few days however, the memories had started to come to her when she was awake and they were more clear, more solid. One memory held her interest more than the others but it always ended before she could see the outcome.
There was a beautiful golden-haired man and they had been in love, but so far she had been unable to remember who he was. The images and emotions of the dream still lingered in her head and she quickly shut her eyes, concentrating on them, trying to pull the truth from the dream.
She could see herself in an elegant room, enjoying the attention of the handsome suitors who surrounded her. She was Princess Vilondra. Every man in the kingdom desired her and every woman envied her. She wore the most elegant gowns and the most wondrous jewels, her style setting the fashion for the entire kingdom. She danced with one partner after another, giving attention to all but preference to none, twirling around the room, her golden beauty drawing all eyes to her.
The memory slowly faded to be replaced by another.
She and a male companion were walking along a path in a garden, softly illuminated by the light of the moons. She turned toward him and his face was revealed to her as he stepped closer, out of the shadows. She traced his handsome features with her fingertips and he pressed her hand to his lips. She shivered with reaction, anticipating the feeling of his lips on hers and as she raised her head to accept his kiss, she whispered his name. "Khivar."
(July 25th, 1999)
Cuerena ended her lesson and the others left the room but Zan kept his seat. Once again their protector had told them about the situation on Antar but when Zan had started to ask questions, she had carefully diverted to other topics, and Zan realized it wasn't for the first time.
Whenever he asked how the plan to send them to Earth had been conceived or how and when they were to return to Antar, she claimed ignorance. Cuerena had always told them they held the answers, and eventually they would remember, but Zan had no memories from his other life and as far as he knew, neither did the others. They wouldn't know anything about their world if Cuerena hadn't told them.
She claimed they were royalty and maybe it was true, but for over a year Zan had known they weren't being told the whole truth. There were just too many things that seemed wrong. They had no memories of the past, no ship, no alien weapons or artifacts and only one protector, who seemed to be ignorant of much of the plan.
But Zan trusted Cuerena. She seemed sincere and obviously cared for them but maybe she had been ordered not to reveal certain things to them. Then the obvious question was, who had given her the orders?
Cuerena looked at Zan. "Do you have a question about the lesson?"
Zan studied her for a moment. Perhaps everything she was doing was for their own good, but he still had doubts. He just knew so little about the situation. "What was your life like on Antar?"
The question took Cuerena completely by surprise. "What do you mean, Zan?"
He shrugged, not really sure where he was going, but was suddenly interested. "Did you know me?"
Cuerena shook her head, "No, not really. I was a scientist in your employ."
"You weren't a protector?" Zan asked surprised.
"All shape-shifters are engineered to serve," Cuerena explained. "I had the protector training we all receive, but it was determined that my natural ability for science would be wasted as a protector."
"So why were you sent with us?"
Zan absorbed the information with a nod. "Cuerena, I know you aren't telling me everything. Why are you keeping things from us?"
Cuerena's instant reaction was denial but instead she curiously asked, "How do you know I'm not telling you everything?"
Zan shrugged, "It's just a feeling I have. What you do tell me feels like the truth, but it isn't everything."
Cuerena sighed, "I don't wish to keep things from you, but when you conceived of the plan, you laid it out in a very specific way. I am simply following the orders of your former self."
"And if I ordered you to reveal everything?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"I would have to refuse."
Zan nodded his understanding and Cuerena left. He knew she meant her revelations to be comforting but they had been just the opposite. His former self had engineered their lives so they would be ignorant and Zan wondered what terrible secret he hadn't wanted them to know.
Cuerena's thoughts turned to Zan as she entered her quarters. He put up a good front for the others but she had seen through it for years. Whenever he thought he was alone or thought no one was watching, he let down his guard. Zan developed his powers and did his lessons but he was miserable in his life and Cuerena had figured out that the main reason was, he didn't love Ava.
Zan always tried to do the right thing and he and Ava were together as a couple as they were supposed to be, and she could see that Ava was mostly happy with the arrangement. And even though Zan did and said all of the right things, Cuerena knew the smile he wore never came close to touching his eyes or his heart. She wished there were something she could do to help him but she didn't know how.
Cuerena sighed. These clones had been made to be expendable and even though she knew she shouldn't have let herself come to care for them, she had. But she couldn't let her concern jeopardize the mission and she pushed the tender feelings to the back of her mind and concentrated on staying detached.
(September 16th, 1999)
Once Lonni had discovered how to bring her memories out, she spent a great deal of time trying to remember everything she could about her other life. There were a lot of things she couldn't remember and some of the memories were still very vague, only disjointed images and sounds, but she could remember her love for Khivar and her elegant life as a princess, and she wanted that back. But while she was trying to recover memories from her life, she had discovered something totally unexpected about Ava.
Lonni had not uncovered the whole truth about her brother's adoring wife, but the bits and pieces she did remember, definitely proved that Ava was not what she seemed. Lonni had laughed aloud when she had unraveled the memories, anticipating torturing the other girl with the information. Lonni had disliked Ava since they were children because she was always following Zan around and sticking up for him. Ava seemed to have no opinions of her own, only echoing what others said and Lonni had found that Ava was easy to manipulate and enjoyed tricking her to voice opinions she knew would make Zan angry. And it never failed to amuse her when she had made Ava cry.
But now that Lonni knew the truth about Ava's past, she could use it to turn Zan permanently from her. She anticipated Zan's reaction to the news with a cruel smile, but her calculating side immediately came to the front. If she used the information now, it would be fun, but it could be more valuable in the future and Lonni decided to keep it to herself.
(Episode – Pilot)
(September 19th, 1999)
Zan ran as fast as he could, dodging trees and bushes, pushing branches out of his way. The soft golden light was receding into the distance at an alarming speed and a dense black fog rushed in to fill the places the light had abandoned. Zan was propelled by a sense of urgency he couldn't account for, only knowing he had to reach the light.
"My love," he called out, fearful something might happen to her. But she didn't stop or even slow her pace and he pushed on at an even greater speed.
The trees became more and more dense, their rough branches clawing at him as he ran, but he was unmindful of the small injuries. The fog swirled around him, obscuring the ground but still he raced on.
The trees became so dense that Zan was forced to slow his pace and the encroaching darkness grabbed at him, surrounded him, trying to suck him in. He struggled against it but it was too strong and rapidly overwhelmed him, pulling him to his knees. Then the blackness rushed past him, quickly obscuring everything until the soft golden light was all he could see.
Zan waited for the light to grow and chase the darkness away, as it had so many times before but he could see instantly that something was wrong. The light flickered as if it were a candle in a strong wind, stuttering alarmingly for a handful of moments, keeping rhythm to the beat of his heart, and then it was gone.
"NO!" he cried, struggling furiously to reach the place where the light had been, but the darkness held him fast. He lashed out with his power, wildly pushing everything away from him and suddenly he was free. Crossing to where the light had been, he collapsed to his knees to find only a single glowing ember that was rapidly dying.
"My love," he whispered, as he carefully gathered it in his hands. "Don't leave me."
He pushed his healing power into it, and for a moment felt a blinding pain slash through his abdomen, but when it was gone the ember's glow started to intensify. It burned brighter and brighter, growing in strength, chasing away every trace of the darkness until only he and the light remained. Slowly the outline of his love was discernable in the illumination and she reached out to touch his face.
Through the light Zan could see her smile, visible to him for the first time.
Suddenly Zan jolted awake, sweat covering him, knowing he had almost lost the person who was the most important to him. And even though she wasn't real, he didn't know if he could live with himself if she had died.
END OF BOOK 5 - ERSATZ HEIRS (THE DUPES)
In BOOK 6
(July 15th, 1947)
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