(Tuesday, September 14th, 2004)
(New York, NY)

The long, black limousine stopped in front of the warehouse. Sam exited from the driver's side and opened the door in the back with a flourish. Rath & Vilondra emerged first and stood to the side and then came Ava and finally Zan.

Nicholas watched the procession from an upper window with amusement; they were certainly putting on a good show. His troops had watched earlier as the shape shifters had planted a get-a-way car around the side of the building. They didn't know whom they were dealing with if they thought he didn't know their plan already.

As the hybrids and their entorage entered the building, Nicholas walked down the stairs to the meeting room to greet the Royal Four. He reached the bottom of the stairs just as they came into the room, Zan and Ava in the lead, followed closely by Rath and Vilondra, with the two shape shifters bringing up the rear.

"Welcome Zan, Ava," Nicholas greeted them formally with a bow, but turned it into an insult by disregarding their titles. "You may not recognize me in this form. You knew me on Antar as General Calles Nicaron, on Earth I am called Nicholas."

"Nicholas," Zan sized him up briefly and returned the insult, "are we ta negotiate with Khivar's servant?"

Nicholas smiled in admiration. He had only had brief interaction with Zan on Antar before his death but Khivar had continually reminded him not to underestimate the boy King. "I assure you Zan, I speak for Khivar." He stalked a few steps closer, drawing out the moment for effect. "But you don't speak for the Royal Four."

Zan held his ground and narrowed his eyes in suspicion, waiting for Nicholas to continue.

"Khivar has known of your plan in its entirety since before we left Antar." Nicholas motioned to Zan and the others. "Even though you are unaware of all of the implications."

Rath started forward. "What are you talkin' about?"

Nicholas glanced at him dismissively and turned back to Zan, "Keep a leash on the pit bull."

"Rath," Zan spoke the single word, but made it sound like a command.

Rath looked like he might argue, but Lonni's hand on his arm caused him to back down.

"That's better," Nicholas said with a satisfied tone.

"Why don't you say what you mean, little man?" Zan challenged.

Nicholas turned away from them and walked toward a window overlooking the street, and then suddenly turned back to face Zan. "I don't suppose you have ever heard of the Granolith?"

Zan studied the boy before him but his expression gave nothing away and he shook his head. "No, never heard of it."

"No," Nicholas mocked him, "you've never heard of it." He motioned over Zan's shoulder. "Why don't you ask your protectors about it. I know they've heard of it."

The four turned to the back of the room but the shape shifters were nowhere to be seen.

"Oh!" Nicholas exclaimed with mock surprise. "It looks like the shape shifters have deserted you," he gloated, and while their backs were turned, Nicholas raised his hand and sent a powerful burst of energy across the room that hit them and knocked them to the floor.

Zan struggled to get up but only made it to his hands and knees before Nicholas used another burst of energy to knock him down again. Zan belatedly raised his hand attempting to erect a shield, but Nicholas aimed a long steady stream of crackling energy at the heart of the shield and it crumbled in a matter of moments.

Zan sagged back to the ground, exhausted, breathing heavily, "Why?"

Nicholas laughed, "Why did the protectors abandon you?" His voice was scathing, "Why weren't you told about the Granolith, about the whole plan? And," he motioned to Rath, "what ever possessed you to get that terrible hair cut?" He turned back to Zan, "Although you and the former General obviously got a two for one discount at the barber."

Nicholas walked forward, his small body looming over them. "I guess the shape shifters know the same truth that we have discovered; you are not the real Royal Four. The real Royal Four are safely secreted away with the Granolith, while you were left here to our tender care." He smiled at the shock evident on their faces. "You still don't get it. You are copies, duplicates, decoys made to help keep the real Royal Four safe."

He gave the signal for his troops to fire, "And you are expendable." Nicholas looked up as a soldier ran into the room. "Report Lieutenant."

"The shape shifters have been allowed to escape as you instructed General."

"And the tracking device?" Nicholas asked.

"It was successfully planted on their vehicle."

Nicholas nodded. "Make sure those idiots trailing them keep them in sight, so they don't switch cars or something."

"Yes Sir, I will relay the message," the Lieutenant said with a short bow and then hurried away.

Ida approached Nicholas, motioning to the four bodies on the floor. "It's done, Sir."

"Excellent,” Nicholas said with a smile, “now we can get to the real Royal Four and the Granolith and go home."

"Why didn't you detain the shape shifters and interrogate them?" Ida asked.

Nicholas sighed and shook his head, "If you were the Royal Four would you tell your plans to your protectors?" He shook his head, "But the shape shifters will lead us to them."


When it had become apparent that Nicholas had known the Royal Four before him were not the real Royal Four, Cuerena had started to project an image of herself and Sam and they had silently slipped out the back as planned. It pained her to know the children she had raised would die but she had no choice. They had to protect the real Royal Four. The future of a planet and its people depended on their survival.


Nicholas picked up the trithium amplification generator and turned it to the royal transmission frequency. "Zan I know you are listening. I have killed the decoys you sent to us. Do you really think Khivar is that stupid? He has known your plan in its entirety from almost the moment you left Antar."

He paused for effect. "But Khivar has grown weary of the war. If you tell your followers to lay down their weapons and you return the Granolith to us, perhaps we can work out a deal for you to return home."

He smiled, "You have twenty-four hours to respond."


(Max and Liz’s apartment)

Max stared apprehensively at the orb where it lay on the table. He had not given it a second thought since Sam had left it with him two days ago. But just a moment before, a shaft of brilliant blue-white light had suddenly burst from the object. He had been studying at the table and the shock of the unexpected activity had caused him to fall out of his chair.

He gingerly picked up the orb and turned it over in his hands studying it carefully but there was no sign of the light. He was about to put it down again when a thought struck him. Curious, he concentrated and sent a small rush of energy into the object but almost dropped it when the voice sounded from it.

"Zan I know you are listening. I have killed the decoys you sent to us. Do you really think Khivar is that stupid? He has known your plan in its entirety from almost the moment you left Antar."

"But Khivar has grown weary of the war. If you tell your followers to lay down their weapons and you return the Granolith to us, perhaps we can work out a deal for you to return home."

"You have twenty-four hours to respond."

Max sat down heavily on the chair, shaking his head in disbelief. Those people had murdered the decoys sent in their place. Murdered people at a peace conference! The more he thought about it the more unbelievable it seemed.

And suddenly it occurred to him. It was unbelievable because it wasn't true. It was another of Sam's tricks to try and get him to accept his destiny but he wasn’t going to fall for it.

He angrily snatched the orb from the table and channeled a burst of energy into it. "I don't know what kind of game you are playing this time but I don't want any part of it. I am sick of this whole thing and I just want it over with."

Max wasn't surprised by the answering voice projecting from the orb.

“That is all we have wanted for years, a decisive end, but not even your death achieved it. Your followers are still causing quite a nuisance...”

Max cut him off, "You can cut the crap. I know there is no peace conference. It's just another trick and I'm not falling for it."

"Then let's cut to the chase,” the voice continued. “Khivar is willing to let you return to Antar on the following conditions..."

"Let us return," Max sneered. "I'm not going back to Antar!" he bellowed. "I will never leave Earth, I will never leave Liz. What is it going to take to get you to believe that?" He stopped the flow of energy and threw the orb across the room with a roar of anger.


He turned to the sound of his wife's voice. "I'm sorry Liz. I didn't mean to wake you."

She advanced into the room, looking around for signs of trouble. "What happened?"

He turned away from her, sighed heavily and shook his head. "It's just another of Sam's tricks. I wish he would leave us alone."

Liz stepped closer to him and ran her hands over his shoulders. "Max you are so tense. You have to learn not to let him get to you."

"I know," Max agreed. "It's just hard when I know his main goal in life is to take you away from me."

"No one is going to take me away," Liz said softly, as she wrapped her arms around him from behind. She could feel the energy running through him. "You're practically vibrating with anger. Let's take a walk down by the river like we used to. It will take your mind off of all of this for a while."

Max turned in the circle of her arms and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "That sounds like a good idea."


Nicholas stared at the dead com-link in his hand. "Liz? Who the hell is Liz?" With a shrug he turned to the communications officer, "Tell me you got a lock on the location."

The Lieutenant hurriedly made adjustments to his instruments and then turned to Nicholas with a smile. "Yes General, we have the exact coordinates. Zan is in Cambridge, Massachusetts and we have an address."

Nicholas strode to a console and pulled up a map of Massachusetts. "Sergeant," he bellowed, "get me the soldiers stationed in Boston, immediately! And use the new encrypted frequency!"


As Sam and Cuerena droved back to Cambridge they set the trithium amplification generator to monitor all of the frequencies used by the skins, hoping to discover if they were being tracked. And when Nicholas' voice broadcast from the amplifier, neither of them was surprised.

"Zan I know you are listening. I have killed the decoys you sent to us. Do you really think Khivar is that stupid? He has known your plan in its entirety from almost the moment you left Antar."

"But Khivar has grown weary of the war. If you tell your followers to lay down their weapons and you return the Granolith to us, perhaps we can work out a deal for you to return home."

"You have twenty-four hours to respond."

"So we sacrificed them for nothing," Cuerena said softly, mourning for her charges.

"We had no choice," Sam said.

"I know," she agreed.

"I don't know what kind of game you are playing this time but I don't want any part of it."

Cuerena grabbed for the amplifier as soon as she heard Max's voice, but in her haste she knocked it onto the floor of the car. She fumbled around for a moment before her fingers touched it and she started to activate it but Sam stopped her.

"Wait. Max has already stopped broadcasting."

"Do you think Max was on long enough for them to track his position?" Cuerena asked.

"I don't know,” Sam said, shaking his head, “but we can't risk using the amplifier to contact him. If the skins haven’t detected him yet, we can’t risk leading them to him. There is an exit in another few miles, we will have to wait and call him on a pay phone."


Nicholas spoke into the amplifier to Captain Evos in charge of the troops stationed in Boston, "Captain Evos have you received the images of the Royal Four I sent you?"

"Yes Sir, General," Evos said.

"Do you understand your instructions?" Nicholas asked. "Because I would hate to tell Khivar this entire mission was ruined because of your incompetence."

"General, we will follow your instructions to the letter," Evos assured him.


The answering machine clicked on after the fourth ring of Max's phone and Sam slammed the receiver down with frustration. It didn't make any sense. The orb must have been in Max's apartment when he answered Nicaron, because Max had answered too quickly to have taken it anywhere.

Sam looked at his watch. Only ten minutes had passed since the transmission had ended. Surely that would not be enough time for the skins to have gotten to him.

He quickly dialed Max's number again and impatiently waited, only to get the machine. "Max this is Sam. You are in danger. Your transmission may have been tracked. Leave immediately and head to our house and we will get there as soon as we can."

Next Sam dialed their house and a grumpy, sleepy Michael answered on the third ring, "Yeah?"

Sam didn’t waste time on pleasantries. "Max is in danger. Our enemies may know where he is and he is not answering the phone. Cuerena and I won't be able to get there for an hour. You must go to Max’s apartment and make sure he’s safe."

Michael was suddenly awake, "Yeah, I'll leave right now."

"Take Alyssa with you,” Sam suggested, “her talents are quite useful. And Michael, be careful. The enemy may be waiting for you."


(Harvard Campus)

Song Playing: Be Near Me by ABC

Max sat contentedly on the bench with Liz nestled in his arms, the sound of the water soothing away the troubles of the world. He stroked her soft hair and she snuggled her head closer into his chest. The times when they were alone together and it was quiet, like this, he felt the closest to her. He could hear her heartbeat and her breathing, and it was as if they existed only for each other.

And even though she was all he had ever wanted and he loved her completely, there were times when he had a strange sensation that something was missing between them; as if there were parts of Liz he didn't have access to. Even when they made love, it seemed as if there was a more intimate way they could have been joined that was just out of his reach, and his soul longed for a closer bond between them, a connection he didn't know how to achieve. A spiritual bond of body, mind and soul.

Max placed a kiss on the top of Liz's head. "I'm glad you suggested a walk. I feel much better."

Liz raised her head to look into his face. "Yes, you seem more relaxed." She reached up and ran her hand down his rough cheek. "Do you want to talk about what happened tonight?"

Max shook his head, "Not tonight. I don't want to ruin the rest of the evening."

He leaned down and kissed her and she welcomed him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him closer. He deepened the kiss and lowered her down onto the bench, cradling her head in his hands. He kissed a trail down her neck and softly nibbled the sensitive spot just below her ear. Liz's gasps of pleasure were driving him wild but they also reminded him they were in public and he moved up to brush her lips with his. "Let's go home."

Liz nodded her agreement.

They walked slowly, their arms wrapped around each other, laughing and stealing kisses until they finally arrived at the apartment. Liz waited for Max to unlock the door, but instead he turned her to him and surprised her with an eager kiss. He pressed her back into the door and planted tender kisses all over her face, worshiping her. "Liz, I love you so much," he breathed in between kisses.

"I love you too," Liz gasped.


(Max & Liz’s Apartment)

Captain Evos and his troops had arrived at the apartment just minutes before, but even that had been enough time to determine no one was there. One of his men had found the orb with the Antarian symbol on the floor, so they knew this was the correct apartment, but Zan was gone. The Captain was just about to contact his General with the news when he received a message from a Corporal he had posted outside.

"Captain," the Corporal whispered into his communicator, "Zan is headed toward you. He is with a woman, she is not one of the Royal Four."

Evos looked to his men, "Zan is coming with a woman, who is either a human or a protector. Eliminate her but be careful not to permanently damage Zan."

He signaled the Corporal, "When they enter, come in behind them to block the exit." He quickly signaled for his men to hide, and after a few moments the front door rattled and muffled voices were heard outside.


Max kissed Liz hard, as if he would never get enough of her, and she kissed him back with the same intensity. No matter how many times they were together it was never enough, he craved her all the time. It was as if she were a lost part of him that made him complete in every way and when they were away from one another he felt broken, torn. Without ending their kiss, he reached behind them, opened the door with his powers and pulled her inside.

He was so engrossed in Liz that the blast of energy that briefly illuminated the room surprised him completely. At first he didn’t realize what had happened and stumbled back, but Liz sagged in his arms and he looked down to see blood rapidly soaking the jacket she was wearing. He dropped to his knees with Liz in his arms just as the door burst open behind him. Instinctively Max reached to heal Liz but they were both thrown across the room as a blast hit him squarely in the chest.

For a few moments Max was disoriented; the room and its occupants wavered before him, muffled voices the only sounds. He blinked several times attempting to clear his head and when he could focus, he looked up to see a man he did not recognize with an unfamiliar weapon pointed at him. Max struggled to move but his limbs were leaden and suddenly he knew they would both die. Sam had been correct; Max had led their enemies straight to them, and because of him Liz would die. It was the thing Max had always feared. Her involvement with him had killed her. Who and what he was, had killed her.

Max realized that the man who stood before him was speaking to him.

"...the effects of the blast are not permanent. They will wear off in a matter of hours." The man noticed Max's hand twitching, "Your powers will not work." He held up a black, pentagon-shaped device. "This is blocking them."

Max refocused on the man's face. It was a human face, a kind face. "Save her," he croaked.

The man glanced at Liz. "She is human," he said unsympathetically.

"She's my wife," Max gasped. "She's everything."


Michael stopped the car in the alley behind Max's apartment and turned to Isabel and Alyssa, to go over the plan. "Alyssa and I will park in the front where we can be seen. If they are not using an amplifier to block our powers, Alyssa will mind warp them into seeing us kissing outside and we’ll sneak in the front, while you," he motioned to Isabel, "come in the back."

"And how do we know if they are using the amplifiers to block our powers?" Isabel asked.

"I don't know," Michael said irritably, and then a thought occurred to him. "Keep trying to change your nail polish color every couple of steps. If you can't do it then you will know."

"I know that we're screwed," said Alyssa. "If our powers don't work, we should wait for Sam and Cuerena. We don't know what kind of weapons the skins might have."

Michael shook his head, "Sam and Cuerena won't get here fast enough. We can't wait." He motioned into the back seat with Alyssa, "Besides we have weapons."

Alyssa gingerly picked up a crowbar with two fingers. "This is not my idea of a weapon."

"Sam told us how to kill the skins,” Michael said. “Guns won't work, and we don't have access to a flame thrower, that’s the best we can do."

"Max and Liz may be hurt in there," Isabel interrupted. "Can we just get on with this?"

"Okay," said Michael, refocusing on the plan, "if our powers don't work, we will distract them in the front. Isabel, you go in the back when you hear me call for Max and hopefully you'll take them by surprise."

Isabel got out of the car, taking the crowbar, Alyssa had rejected, with her. She sneaked around the building until she was at Max's back bedroom window and used her powers to open the lock, climbing quietly inside. She stopped at the bedroom door and heard the muffled sound of men's voices. Someone was already in the house. She concentrated on turning her red polish to blue but nothing happened. No powers, she thought. She took a deep breath, and for the first time she was scared about what might happen, but there was no choice. Slipping behind the open door, Isabel waited for the signal.


Michael parked the car down the road from Max's apartment and he and Alyssa slowly made their way to the door, carefully concealing their weapons behind them. The walk was eerily quiet, as if there were no other living thing for miles, but when they were about half-way to the door, Michael noticed it was standing open. "The door is open," he whispered urgently. "That’s not a good sign."

They continued forward slowly for another few steps and Alyssa whispered, "I have no powers now."

Michael nodded his understanding and put plan B into action. He stopped as if seeing the door open for the first time and gestured toward it. "Max's door is open. Something's wrong."

They both walked to the door, looking around carefully and when they reached the stoop Alyssa flattened herself against the building while Michael called out, "Max? Max, you okay?"

Max's answer chilled him to his bones. "Michael, it's a trap."


"Captain," another man called, drawing the Captain's attention away from Max and Liz. "Rath and Ava have just arrived."

"Leave the door open," the Captain called. "Rath will investigate. Let them come inside so you can have a clear shot and they can't escape."

Hope briefly surged through Max; Michael was there. Even though the skins refused to help, maybe he could save Liz after all. He could still feel her heartbeat and hear her fragile breathing. If Michael could destroy the device blocking his powers, he could save her. He struggled to sit up so he could warn Michael but he was only able to rise up enough to prop his shoulder against the wall, the sofa still blocking his view of the door.

Max waited, hoping to warn his friend of the danger. He imagined Michael coming up the sidewalk, noticing the open door and creeping slowly toward it.

Suddenly he heard Michael's voice, "Max? Max, you okay?"

Max yelled for all he was worth, "Michael it's a trap!"

It came out louder than Max had hoped and the Captain whirled toward him. With a hard kick to Max’s shoulder, the Captain knocked him back to the floor, his head striking the solid tile surface with a sharp thud.


At the second word of Michael's signal, Isabel was already halfway down the hall and when she heard Max's words, she was practically on top of the man standing over him. The final few steps seemed to take an eternity as she watched the man kick Max and knock him to the floor, but he was so engrossed in his task that he didn't see her. She put all of her anger into her swing and the crowbar connected with a satisfying pop to his back, turning him instantly to dust.

The three other men in the room whirled toward her and she was thrown back into the kitchen counter as the blast from a weapon caught her in the shoulder and she sagged to the floor stunned.

She watched as Michael and Alyssa came in the front, catching another man off guard and turning him to dust. Michael's bat knocked the weapon from the hand of one the two survivors, and he grabbed it as he and Alyssa dived behind an overstuffed chair.

Isabel tried to get up as Michael and the skin soldier took shots at one another from behind the furniture, but her body seemed to be paralyzed. She anxiously looked to her brother and saw him lying with Liz a few yards away.

Liz was clasped to him, her chest covered in blood and Max was not moving. They were too late. Max and Liz were already dead. Isabel looked back down at the pile of dust at her feet that had been a man. He had killed Max and Liz. Isabel felt the tears well up in her eyes, her brother was dead and everything was lost.

Suddenly she noticed a black, pentagon-shaped device lying close to the pile of ashes. It must be the amplifier Michael had described. She looked down at the crowbar still grasped in her hand; it was only inches away from the amplifier. If she could smash it, they could use their powers.

Isabel tested her fingers, getting a tighter grip on her weapon and tried to lift it, but it barely moved. She let it sag to the floor again, feeling as if she had tried to lift a car. She concentrated all of her strength and energy into lifting the crowbar. It might be the only chance that Max had.

She felt it rise an inch and then another, and she used its weight to slam it back to the floor, but she aimed wide and it glanced off the side of the amplifier. Isabel relaxed for a moment and then slowly lifted the bar again to an even greater height and carefully aimed it at the center of the amplifier. The bar dropped and hit the target with a satisfying crack. Blue-white energy arced from the amplifier for a moment, before it exploded in a shower of sparks.

"Try your powers now," Isabel called out.

Michael threw a powerful blast into the center of the sofa, sending splinters of wood and tufts of stuffing flying across the room.

Alyssa whispered to him, "I will hide you from them, wait five seconds and then go."

Michael nodded and Alyssa shut her eyes to start the mind warp, but a blast hit nearby and she slowly slumped into his arms. For a moment Michael was not sure what had happened, but when he saw the gaping wound in Alyssa’s back, he raised his hand to attack.

But before Michael could take aim, a blast hit him in the chest. And as he slid to the ground, he saw a fifth skin soldier they had missed.


Isabel couldn’t see what was happening, but the sounds of energy blasts filled the room suddenly, and then everything went quiet.

“Michael, Alyssa are you okay?" Isabel called out.

But there was no answer.

"Michael!" she yelled.

Isabel watched horrified as three skin soldiers picked themselves up off the floor and knew she was the only one left. She struggled to move as they advanced toward her, but they turned to look at Max.

One of the men knelt down over Max to feel his pulse, "He is alive."

Isabel noticed that the skins seemed to breathe a little easier and she felt a tremendous weight lifted from her shoulders, Max was alive and maybe the others were too. "What have you done to him?" she asked the skin soldier who seemed to be in charge.

"He is unconscious."

"What about Michael and Alyssa?" she asked hopefully.

The skin soldier looked at her with a blank expression. "We had no need of them."

Tears pricked her eyes, but Isabel quickly picked up on the words. "But you need us," she said softly. "What's going to happen?"

"We will wait for General Nicaron."


Sam stopped the car on the next street down from Max’s apartment and morphed into the body of a skin soldier he had seen at the peace conference, while Cuerena donned the guise of Nicholas. They changed the color and model of the car and then drove to Max's apartment and parked boldly in front.


(Max & Liz’s Apartment)

The skin corporal watched out the front window as the car stopped in front of the apartment and he was relieved to see General Nicaron get out. They had accomplished their mission as instructed and they would be honored as heroes. Finally, after all of the long years on this planet, they would be going home.

"Lieutenant," he called out, "the General is here!"


Max awoke to a pain in his head and for a moment he didn't remember where he was. He tried to sit up but the action was not only difficult but painful. He glanced down and saw Liz lying across his chest and the memories came rushing back. With the hand that clutched her, he quickly felt for a pulse and sagged in relief when he found one. "Please stay with me Liz, just a little longer," he whispered.

He looked around for the men that had attacked them but instead saw Isabel sitting a few feet away. She was watching something past the couch he couldn't see.

She must have come with Michael, Max thought and vaguely and wondered how long he had been unconscious. Then the sound of voices drew his attention. The attackers were still there. He looked back to Isabel and noticed the crowbar in her hand. She had come to help them but had obviously been hit by the same weapon they had used on him.

Max absently followed the length of the crowbar to its end where it was resting on the pentagram-shaped device the man had shown him earlier, but now it was scorched and partially melted on one side. For a moment the implications did not reach his fuzzy brain but suddenly he remembered; the device had been blocking his powers.

Liz was still alive and he could save her. Max concentrated on building his powers like he had never done before. He might only get one chance to heal her before the enemy tried to stop him. When he felt he was ready, he channeled the power into her to establish a connection but a pain ripped through his head with a blinding intensity that forced a cry of agony from him.


The faux Nicholas, followed closely by his aide, entered the room and quickly took in the situation. Michael and Alyssa were lying in a pool of blood by the door, Isabel was sitting on the floor with no visible injuries, but Max was nowhere in sight.

Cuerena turned to the men who were standing at attention and spoke with Nicholas' voice, "Report!"

The Lieutenant stepped forward. "As instructed General, Vilondra and Zan have been detained and the rest eliminated."

"Where is Zan?" Cuerena asked

The soldier motioned to the sofa, "He's back here."

Cuerena rounded the sofa and stopped, shocked by the sight before her. Liz lay on top of Max and they were both covered in blood. She crossed to them, knelt and felt Max for a pulse. "He's alive," she said with relief.

"Yes Sir," the Lieutenant answered.

Cuerena stood and motioned to the Lieutenant, "Go with Major Grester to our car and help him get the equipment."

The Lieutenant snapped to attention and Sam followed him out the door. When they were out of sight of the others, Sodan sent a burst of energy into the Lieutenant's lower back, breaking the seal on the husk, and he disappeared in a poof of ashes.

Sam turned to go back when a sudden cry came from inside. He sprinted the last few steps to see Cuerena and the two remaining skin soldiers standing over a now conscious Max. He used the opportunity to quickly dispose of the other two skin soldiers and then bent to see to his King.


Max recoiled from the pain, stopping the healing. He had never felt anything so intense before.

He looked up to see two soldiers and a boy standing over him and he wondered if they would kill him now. But, first one and then the other soldier dissolved before Max’s eyes, and a third man knelt down next to him. The man raised his hand and a bright light briefly blinded Max. When he looked again, Sam and Cuerena had replaced the man and boy and Max thought he must be hallucinating.

Sam's eyes quickly ran over Max's body. "Max, where are you injured?"

"They shot me with some kind of weapon, but Liz is dying. You've got to help her."

Sam held up the weapon he had recovered. "This is just to paralyze, but you are bleeding."

Max shook his head, "It's Liz's blood. I have to help her, but there was so much pain when I tried to heal her."

Sam cradled Max's head in his hands gently. "You have a head injury, a concussion."

"You help Liz then,” Max said. “She can't die."

"We don't have a lot of time," Sam said, ignoring Max's request. "We must get you out of here."

Max shook his head, "Liz is more important than anything else. Without her I am nothing. I order you to help her!"

Sam glanced at Liz dismissively, "She is beyond help."

Max watched helplessly as Sam reached to take Liz from his arms, and a cry of soul-deep anguish was torn from him. "NO!!!!"

Song Playing: One More Time by the Cure

Max erected a shield that threw Sam back across the room, cutting himself and Liz off from the protectors. The pain sliced through his head but he fought through it, concentrating all of his love and energy into his wife. It was more difficult, almost impossible to form the connection because Liz was unconscious, but Max forced his way past every barrier he encountered until finally he was in.

The damage was extensive and Liz had lost a lot of blood. In the connection, Max could see how close to death she really was and he almost despaired. In another few minutes she would have slipped away, but he stubbornly refused to let her die.

He had promised Liz he wouldn't let anything happen to her and he intended to keep that promise. She believed in him, accepted him, loved him without reservation and he would do anything for her.

Carefully Max concentrated on mending every tendon, muscle and tissue, as the pain built in his head to an impossible level, and a scream of agony was torn from him. It felt as if his head would burst as he used every last ounce of strength he possessed to breathe life back into Liz's body. He could feel himself weakening, exhausted by the pain and the use of his powers and he knew he wouldn’t have enough strength to save her, but he couldn't stop.

Max tapped into his own life force and used the energy to ensure Liz would live. He felt his life literally draining out of his body but he fought to continue. Max knew he didn’t have the strength to save them both but there was no decision to be made. What he had said so many times before was still true. Liz was the best part of him, she was everything to him and he couldn't live in a world that didn't include her. He would never be able to forgive himself for letting her die.

As he poured his energy into her, he had a vision of a future where he and Liz shared a lifetime, laughing, loving, growing old together. The happiness and love they shared washed over him and through him filling his soul with hope. He knew without a doubt, even though they were from different worlds, they truly belonged together, and somehow in another time, another life, they would live the life that had been stolen from them.

The last of his strength was slipping rapidly from him and the connection between them was growing weak but still Max didn't stop. He could no longer feel the world around them, there was only the connection he had with Liz. It was as if they were floating in a warm, calm sea with no one or nothing to distract them from one another. Their souls brushed gently against one another and then slipped eagerly together, joining, two pieces that completed a whole. Max knew instantly that this was what he had been yearning for, what had been missing between them. This was the way it should have been between them, how it was meant to be. Every thought and every emotion should have been freely passed between the two of them, a true blending of minds and souls, and Max mourned that they would never fully experience it.

The Liz in the connection opened her eyes and gently touched his face, as tears rolled down her cheeks. "Max, you should have let me die."

Max shook his head, "I couldn't. I love you too much."

"There aren't words to describe how much I love you," Liz whispered and kissed him softly.

They wrapped their arms around one another for the last time. And now completely satisfied that she would live, Max allowed the beckoning darkness to engulf him, his last thought sending Liz his love.


Isabel watched in horror as Max healed Liz. The protectors tried desperately to stop him, trying to penetrate his shield, and yelling that he was risking his own life, but Max didn't appear to hear them or care if he did.

Max’s scream of pain chilled Isabel to her soul, and tears rolled down her cheeks as his shield disintegrated and he collapsed. She knew without a doubt her brother had traded his life for Liz's.

Sam quickly checked Max for a pulse and when he didn't find one, his whole body sagged in defeat. They had been so close to succeeding but all of the fighting, all of the suffering had been for nothing. Max had chosen one human above everything else.

Cuerena went to Isabel. "Are you injured?"

"I was shot with that weapon too," Isabel said softly.

Cuerena used her powers to lessen the paralysis in Isabel’s body. "That will help. It will wear off completely in a few hours." She tried to help Isabel to her feet, but the younger woman resisted.

Cuerena looked at her. "We have to go, Isabel. The enemy will be here soon."

Isabel shook her head trying to hold back her tears and when she spoke, her voice hollow. "It doesn't matter. Everyone is dead."

Sam advanced toward her but Isabel held up her hand as a warning and a gave him a look of steely determination. "I will stay with my family."

Sam and Cuerena looked at one another and Sam spoke softly. "We cannot be captured. There is one final thing to lose."

Cuerena nodded in agreement and suddenly remembered a theory she had been working on years ago on Antar. She cocked her head to the side, considering the possibilities and then turned to Sam. "There may be a way to save us all."


Isabel watched the protectors leave and then she sank down onto the floor beside Max and Liz. The gentle rise and fall of Liz's chest told Isabel she was alive. Isabel reached out to wake her sister-in-law, but stopped and let her hand fall back. Liz was peacefully ignorant of Max's death and all too soon she would learn the terrible truth.

Isabel used her powers to clean the blood off of Max and Liz and repair their clothing. They looked so peaceful together, Max clinging to the woman he loved even in death.

She reached down and brushed a stray lock of hair out of Max's face. She, Max and Michael had been everything to each other for so long, she couldn't believe they were really gone. Michael and Max had been her only family and she didn't know what she would do without them.

A movement from Liz drew Isabel's attention back to her sister-in-law. She and Liz had grown to be good friends over the last few years and Isabel was glad because now they only had each other. Isabel noticed tears running down Liz's face, she was crying in her sleep; somehow already aware that Max was gone.

"Liz," Isabel called to her, as she shook her shoulder.

Liz opened her eyes and called out, "MAX!" She tried to sit up but Max's arm was still wrapped around her, holding her, and she turned toward him. Liz reached out to touch Max’s face. He was still the handsome man she loved and he looked peaceful, as if he were asleep, but she knew better. Max was gone. "Oh Max," she gasped, as she laid back down on his chest and cried sobs of soul-deep aguish.

Isabel let her sister-in-law cry for a few minutes before reaching out to move Max’s arm away, and she touched Liz with a comforting hand.

Liz turned to Isabel and they embraced, their shared loss bringing them closer.

"He died to save me," Liz whispered.

Isabel nodded. "I know, and that’s why we have to go. More skin soldiers are coming."

Liz shook her head, "I don't care. I'm not going to leave Max. These skins can't do anything worse than what has already happened."

Isabel stood shakily and drew a resisting Liz with her. "My brother's last wish was that you were safe and I'm going to get you out of here before this General Nicaron gets here."

A voice from the door startled them both. "But I'm already here."

Nicholas paused to take in the situation around him, raising an appreciative eyebrow at the amount of carnage. He turned his attention back to Isabel. "Vilondra, it's nice to see you again," he said smoothly.

Then his eyes roamed over the smaller woman at her side. "And you must be Liz."


Cuerena and Sam altered their appearance again and changed the model and color of the car before driving to a nearby park.

Sam stopped the car and turned to Cuerena, "So what is this idea of yours?"

"First it is only a theory and it may not work, but at this point I don't see any other alternative."

Sam nodded for her to continue.

"When I worked with the Granolith on Antar, I discovered it was capable of producing a tremendous amount of power, and according to the calculations I made, I believe it could be used to tear a hole in time-space."

Sam narrowed his eyes in disbelief. "It's a time machine?"

"It wasn't intended to be, but with the right programming it should be possible." Cuerena paused, remembering everything that had happened the last couple of days. "We have nothing to lose."


Nicholas cursed as he let Vilondra's unconscious form sag to the floor. He had carefully searched the memories of both the women but neither of them had even heard of the Granolith much less knew of its location. He spared a glance to the boy-King still lying on the floor where he had died. Max hadn't even known of the Granolith's existence according to the information he had gathered from them.

Somehow the Royal Four had been separated from the protectors and only in the last year had they been reunited. They knew practically nothing of the past, only what the protectors had revealed to them.

And then Nicholas’ understanding dawned. "Of course the protectors," he bellowed, as he slammed his fist into the wall. "I can't believe we had them and let them go." He turned to Major Grester at his side, "Tell me those two soldiers are still following the shape shifters."

Grester spoke briefly into his amplifier and then addressed his General. "They are heading west on interstate 90."

Nicholas indicated Max, Liz and Isabel with a jerk of his head. "Load them into the transport. We have two shape shifters to catch."


As they drove, Cuerena explained her plan. "We will use the Granolith to go back before Max and Liz have had a chance to fall in love. Then Max will accept what his is, accept us, and the mission can continue as planned."



Part 5
Book 6 Main
Book 6 Timeline

Alpha & Omega

Back to Main