BOOK 9 VERISIMILITUDE
(THE CONSPIRACY EXPOSED)
(Episode - Wipeout)
(Sunday, October 29th, 2000)
Liz released a deep breath when Ida and Nicholas left the Crashdown. It had only been due to Tess' powers that they hadn’t been discovered. The other Max had been right, they needed Tess. They were stronger with her.
Liz watched as Tess practically collapsed at the counter and saw Max go to attend her. Quickly Liz turned and ran upstairs not able to watch Max comforting the other girl. Everything was happening so fast; Max's distrust of her, his acceptance of Tess, and now all of the humans were gone, including her parents.
Liz went into her room hoping for some comfort from the familiar surroundings, but instead she found a basket of laundry her mother had obviously put there. She picked up a shirt and suddenly heard a sound behind her in the hallway. But she wasn't scared, because without turning she knew who it was, and spoke over her shoulder, "My mom always listened to Elvis Costello on laundry day." Liz turned to look at Max, "I am so scared."
"What happened to your family," Max started, "to all the humans. It's our fault."
"We haven't lost them yet," Liz said with a nod, looking at Max's sympathetic face. She had seen the relief on his face earlier when she and Maria arrived at the Crashdown. He had been almost weak with relief that she was still alive and she had felt the same way when she saw him. Her first impulse had been to race into his arms and never leave, but she had stopped herself. It was obvious Max still had strong feeling for her and Liz longed to tell him the truth, but instead she spoke aloud the words she had been repeating to herself for days, that now also applied to the current situation, "We have to stay strong."
"Yeah," Max said. He made a movement toward her, his only thought to offer her comfort but then he noticed her bed. It was the place where she and Kyle had been together and Max recoiled from it. He had been so relieved to see Liz alive that he had forgotten about what had happened, but now all of his anger and heartache came rushing back again.
Courtney carefully made her way down the alley. Michael had told her where to find the Granolith and now she just hoped she could make it there before her husk failed. It would be easy enough to steal a car since all of them had been left on the streets with the keys still in them but she had to find one that wasn't blocked in by other cars, and avoid Nicholas’ troops.
She was forced to stop again to catch her breath. Gasping for air, she leaned against the side of the building and her legs suddenly gave out. Courtney could hear the approaching footsteps and tried desperately to hide herself but she was too weak to rise to her feet. She crawled down into a doorway, hoping the skins wouldn't notice her but they were on top of her before she could get away.
The first soldier picked her up and slammed her against the wall, "I should kill you now, traitor."
"Go ahead," Courtney taunted. "Nicholas won't be mad at all that you denied him the pleasure."
The other soldier grabbed the first by the shoulder and pulled him away from her, "I've already alerted Nicholas. He'll be here in a few minutes."
Courtney sank down to the ground and closed her eyes, trying to conserve her energy. When Nicholas got there she would need all of her strength to hide the location of the Granolith from him.
Sooner than she expected, Nicholas was kneeling before her, "When my soldiers told me what they had found, I had to see for myself. What's the matter, Courtney? Too weak to run?"
"Leave me alone," Courtney groaned.
"You always were the social butterfly, Courtney. Always the first to make new friends, but what I want to know is, where are yours hiding?"
Courtney ignored his question. "I think I see a chest hair, Nicholas. Way to go."
Nicholas shrugged, "Fine. We'll do this the hard way." He grabbed her head roughly and forced a connection.
The pain of the involuntary connection was beyond what she expected and a cry was forced from her, "Ahh! Ahhh!"
Nicholas kept up a commentary as he watched her memories rush through her mind, "Let's see. You had scrambled eggs for breakfast. Then you slipped into that husk that punk stole from us."
"No. No!" she moaned as she realized she had no defenses against him.
Nicholas ignored her protests and continued his search, "Boring. Boring. Boring. Aha!" he exclaimed as he stumbled onto the image of Max saying that they would head to the school. Nicholas broke the connection, "School? On a Saturday? What a drag."
It was Sunday but Courtney didn't bother correcting him, she knew she wouldn't last much longer. "I hope they kill you."
"You've become awfully chummy with them, haven't you, Courtney?" Nicholas sneered, as he continued to search through her memories. "Are you hiding something else? You are. You have a secret. What do you know?"
Courtney concentrated harder, attempting to keep him out of her mind, but he easily pushed past her defenses, causing her even more pain. "Ohhh!" The images of her memories rushed through her mind as Nicholas extracted them. Finally she saw Michael telling her where the Granolith was so she could save herself.
The Granolith," Nicholas said with genuine surprise. "That's a bonus. I hope he gave you detailed directions.
Courtney knew she was dying. Her husk was failing and she was having more difficulty breathing with every moment, but she didn't want to die. No matter how useless it was, she wanted to fight to live till her very last breath, but more than that, she wanted to live to see Michael on the Antarian throne. She couldn't let Nicholas get the Granolith, and as he outstretched his hand to connect with her again, she reached behind her and released the valve on her husk.
(West Roswell High School)
Max saw Isabel propped up against a row of lockers and ran forward, "Isabel!" He fell to his knees before her and tried to wake her, "Isabel."
Suddenly there was a sound behind them, "Ahem!" and Max turned to see Nicholas and what was left of the skin army.
With a flick of his hand Nicholas threw the three of them against the lockers and they collapsed unconscious. Nicholas created four pillars and his troops quickly tied the Royal Four to them.
The others woke up fairly quickly but Max continued to sag in his bonds and Nicholas grew tired of waiting. He slapped Max hard and he came groggily awake.
Max was confused for a moment. He woke to find himself bound to a pole but he looked around to see Michael, Isabel and Tess also bound, and it all came rushing back to him.
"What happened to you, guy?" Nicholas mocked Max. "You used to determine the fate of entire armies with the flip of a coin. Luckily for me," he motioned to the others bound behind him, "you continue to put your faith in the wrong people."
Nicholas walked behind Max and passed Isabel. He was furious at her for denying him in Copper Summit and he cruelly used her ignorance of the past against her and Max, "Does this scene feel familiar, Vilondra?"
Nicholas walked by Michael and continued to mock Max's leadership, "And your trusted second. The boy who spilled the secret of the Granolith to one of our exiled members." He faced Michael, "Rule number one of war, keep your big mouth shut. Courtney knew that. That's why she killed herself before I could get its exact location.” Nicholas smiled, not able to resist a little more mockage. “By the way, love the hair. Hope you win."
He returned to Max, "There's one more thing I need to know before we can all call it a day. Where's the Granolith?"
"I'm not telling you," Max growled.
Nicholas smiled, "Oh, you will."
With a wave of his hand, Nicholas pushed a steady stream of energy into Max's friends and they obligingly screamed.
"Wait!" Max said. "I'll take you there. Just you and me. This has nothing to do with them."
"Max, don't," Isabel said.
Nicholas laughed, "This is too easy. In the old days, I would've been no match for you but now..." he let his sentence trail off and grabbed Max's head, immediately forming a connection, brutally pushing through Max's memories, searching for the location of the Granolith. At first, the memories flashed before him but they kept returning to a single image of a dark-haired girl, who Nicholas recognized as Liz. Then Max started to struggle and Nicholas was forced out.
"Either way, you're going to die, Max," Nicholas said. "So why don't you just make this easy on yourself?" He tried to form a connection again but Max shored up his defenses, preventing a connection and Nicholas removed his hand in surprise. Max was stronger than he had anticipated.
Max sagged in his bonds exhausted and Nicholas suspected he had used all of his power to repel him. "Ready to tell me now?" Nicholas taunted him. He reached for Max's head again but a scream of rage erupted from Tess. A ball of fire started to build behind her and Nicholas backed away from her as the fire suddenly spilled past her and engulfed the others around him.
Liz and Maria had just finished filling in Alex on what had happened in the time the humans had disappeared.
"So that is why, like every car in Roswell simultaneously wrecked?" Alex asked.
"Yeah," Liz said. "The drivers just weren't there anymore."
"But it didn't seem like any time passed at all," Alex said. "How long was I, you know, gone?"
Liz shook her head, "I don't know. It seemed like forever, but I guess it was only a couple of hours."
"And you, Maria, Kyle and the Sheriff only escaped because you were out-of-town."
"But it caught up with us eventually," Maria said.
"What do you mean?" asked Alex.
Maria explained, "First the Sheriff disappeared at the UFO center, then Liz in the car." Maria grabbed Liz's hand remembering. "Then Kyle and I got to the billboard with the rod thingy, and he attacked a skin and then disappeared, and I was all alone. I put the jumper cables on the green rod and I must have disappeared too because the next second the rod was destroyed and Liz and Kyle were back."
"That's weird though," Alex said. "Why didn't Kyle and the Sheriff disappear at the same time. They came into Roswell together." He motioned to Maria, "And why did you disappear last?"
Maria shook her head, "I don't know."
"I have a theory," Liz said, "but I guess we'll never know if I'm right."
"Well let's hear it," said Maria. "I'd certainly like to know."
"The Sheriff was the first to disappear. He was attacked and injured by that skin guy in the Crashdown, and Kyle said he was really agitated just before he dissolved. His adrenaline levels would have been elevated from everything that happened. What if he just reached a critical level and then, poof, he shifted."
"Okay," said Alex, "how does that explain the rest of you?"
Liz nodded, "Just before I disappeared, I was really upset about Max. I was so scared he would die. I remember that I was yelling and I couldn't seem to sit still."
Alex nodded, "So you're adrenaline levels were elevated too."
"And then Kyle fought another skin guy," Maria said, picking up on Liz's theory, "and he disappeared. But Kyle saved me. I was getting really freaked out that Liz disappeared and he calmed me down. He made a joke and it made me laugh. But I got really worried when I couldn't get the cables on the rod, and then finally I figured it out and I was so excited but worried about what I would do if it didn't work..."
"And then you disappeared," Liz finished.
"Yeah," Maria nodded.
"It seems like a pretty sound theory," Alex said.
Liz shrugged, "It doesn't really matter. I'm just glad everyone is back safe."
(Monday, October 30th, 2000)
Tess had watched Max staring at Liz all through their Biology class with growing anger. Even after Liz had caused him so much heartache, she was all he thought about. Tess had thought Max would turn from Liz completely, but it hadn't happened. It looked like Max was willing to just forget the whole thing.
But Tess wasn't going to let that happen. She had a perfect plan that would humiliate Max and force him to forget Liz, and she knew just the person to execute it. She looked around to make sure she wasn't being observed and took a seat next to Pam Troy. "How's it going?" Tess started conversationally.
Pam glanced at Tess dismissively, "Whatever."
Tess smiled, "Have you heard the latest about Liz Parker?"
Suddenly interested, Pam turned back to Tess, "What do you know?"
"Well it seems that Miss Goody-two-shoes Parker isn't as pure as she wants everyone to believe."
(Copper Summit, AZ)
(Onboard the Leptus)
Normally Nicholas would have been transmitting his report to Antar but in times of great import Khivar would possess one of the soldiers specially trained for that purpose. Nicholas had been forced to report the destruction of most of his remaining troops to Khivar, and as he had once predicted, Khivar was not pleased with his failure.
As Nicholas watched Corporal Raltos, who housed Khivar's projected consciousness, pace back and forth before him, he related in detail the events that had transpired in Roswell the day before. He told Khivar of the Royal Four's capture and his attempted interrogation of Max.
“And what information were you able to retrieve from him, Nicaron?”
I almost had the location of the Granolith, but surprisingly Max was mostly able to keep me out of his mind. All I really saw were repeated flashes of the human girl Liz, who worked for Vanessa. I was about to try again when Tess screamed and invoked a huge fireball, catching us completely off guard. The only reason I survived was because I dropped to the floor and shape shifted to fit into the pattern of the tile. After they left I found Ida. She had better reflexes than the rest of us and used her speed to escape, but she was somewhat singed. And other than myself, she was the only survivor."
Khivar stopped pacing, "What do you mean? Tess engulfed your troops in a fireball?"
"Yes," Nicholas answered, trying to read the expression on the borrowed face. "Why do you sound so surprised?"
"She was never capable of anything like that in her former life. She was an empath."
Nicholas shrugged, curious but unconcerned. "Perhaps the cloning process somehow gave them more power. Jensto said it might be a possibility."
"Perhaps," Khivar said distractedly. "This is an interesting turn of events. I will have to consider the implications. But of more urgency is your present course of action.”
Nicholas sighed, unwilling to report another failure to Khivar, “My liege, all of the surviving troops are all confined to the ship because their skins have completely failed. I am the only one who can move around freely. The troops think I am keeping my skin alive only with the use of my powers.”
Khivar nodded, “This setback might force me to send you a new compliment of troops, even though I really don't want to waste the resources to do that."
Nicholas knew that Khivar had initially tried to keep the fact that the Royal Four had been sent to Earth a secret, but word had rapidly spread throughout the system. Zan's supporters had used his rebirth as a rallying point and Khivar had been forced not only to defend his position on Antar but he was constantly fighting with the four other planets as well. Khivar needed proof of Zan's death to dissolve the rebellion and bring the system back under control.
While they were discussing Nicholas' course of action, Khivar conceived a plan. They would use the royal communication frequency to send an invitation to a peace summit, to the Royal Four. Khivar would offer a deal to Max, as Zan was now called. If Max accepted, they would all return to Antar with the Granolith and Khivar would simply have him executed. If Max didn't accept, Khivar would see to it that the leaders of the other planets blamed him for the continuation of the war and they would turn against him. Either way Khivar would benefit.
Nicholas ordered a Lieutenant to send the invitation on the royal frequency, while he and Khivar went over the details of the plan.
(New York City, NY)
(The dupes home)
A bright shaft of light suddenly emitted from the orb that Ava had been using as a paperweight. Zan and Ava looked at one another and Serena reached for it apprehensively. The others shape shifters had agreed they would only use the orb in the case of an emergency.
Lonni grabbed the orb before Serena could reach it and sent a burst of power into it activating the message.
This is Nicholas Crawford, Khivar's representative on Earth. In light of recent events, his Majesty Khivar Roistar invites the Royal Four to attend a peace conference to discuss a cessation of the hostilities that have plagued the five planets of our system. Khivar wishes to extend a hand of peace at a place and of your choosing.
All five planets will be represented and of course the discussion will include terms for your return to Antar.
We eagerly await your reply.
Lonni excitedly turned to the others, "We can go home."
Zan shook his head, "It sounds like a trap to me. When we answer the message they’ll find out where we are."
Lonni sighed, "Zan do you have to be such a chump. The war can't last forever. Maybe they really want peace."
"I don't believe it," Zan said.
Rath took up Lonni's side immediately, "We can at least go and see what they're offering."
Serena, knowing the message was not for them, spoke up, "I think Zan is right. It would be just like Khivar to try and lead you into a trap."
"Zan," Lonni protested, "It might be the only chance we have to go home."
Zan grabbed the orb from Lonni and slammed it down onto the desk, "Shut up Lonni.
"This decision affects all of us," argued Rath. "We should all get a say."
"Yeah Zan," Ava said. "Maybe we should just listen to what they have to say."
Zan scowled at Ava and she immediately backed down. "Nobody is going to any peace conference," he growled.
Ava nodded and slipped her arm through his, “You’re right baby, it’s probably a trap.”
Zan continued to scowl at her until she released his arm and backed away. Then Zan turned his gaze on Rath, "And there's not going to be a vote. I'm the man. We do what I say."
Rath held his gaze until Lonni broke in, "Boys, chill."
Rath gave Zan another measuring look and Lonni touched his arm, "Rath, let it go. Let's take a walk."
Rath knew Lonni must have an idea and he backed down with a smile. "Yeah, let's get outta here."
Rath waited until they were out of ear-shot, "So what do you have in mind?"
"What makes you think I have something in mind?" Lonni asked innocently.
Rath smiled as he slipped his arm around her waist, "Because I know you."
Lonni frowned. "This may be the only chance we're ever going to have to get off this stinking planet and I'm not going to let Zan just throw it away."
"He's powerful and he's got Ava and Serena backing him," Rath reminded her.
"Ava won't be a problem," Lonni said confidently. "And as for Serena, I think it's time to cut the apron strings."
"Okay," Rath agreed, "and the summit?"
"Let's take care of Serena first. Then we'll send them an answer."
"How do you want to do it?"
"I say we get Ava to lead the shape shifter into a trap and you shoot her from behind."
"Ava likes Serena," Rath said. "She won't help us."
Lonni smiled, "She will if she thinks we are just going to talk to her."
Lonni pulled out her cell phone and dialed Ava’s number. "Ava, it's Lonni. Rath and I are gonna get a slice. Why don't you come with us?"
Rath crammed pizza into his mouth and let Lonni do the talking.
"You want to go home, don't you?" Lonni asked Ava. "And be the Queen again?"
"Of course," Ava started, "but Zan..."
Lonni cut her off, "Zan is just being stubborn. If we could convince Serena that we are ready to go home, she could help us talk to Zan."
"So why tell me?" asked Ava.
Lonni smiled, "You are so close to Serena, we thought you could help us change her mind."
Ava looked at Lonni and Rath, wondering about their real motives but she nodded. "Okay. When do you want to talk to her?"
Ava had a lot on her mind as she and Serena walked through the underground tunnels, heading for the surface. Lonni had planned their route and picked a spot where she and Rath would just happen to run in to them. The plan was that the three of them together would be able to get Serena to see their side about returning home.
As they walked, Ava decided to broach the subject without the others, "Serena, why are you so against going to the summit?"
"If I thought it was real I wouldn't be against it," Serena explained. "But you don't remember our enemies. They would say anything to draw you into the open and then kill you without a second thought."
"But it could be our only chance to return to Antar," argued Ava. "Are you sure it isn't a real conference?"
"Yes," agreed Lonni, stepping out of the shadows. "How do you know for sure?"
Serena was surprised by Lonni's sudden appearance but not alarmed, and she continued with her answer. "If the conference were real..."
Her answer was cut short as a blast of energy hit her in the back and seared through to her chest. With a look of total shock, Serena put her hand to her chest and collapsed to the ground.
Ava stood in stunned horror as Rath emerged into the light to stand beside Lonni. "What did you do?" Ava asked, her voice breathy.
"She would have never understood," Lonni said. "She was always spouting all of that crap about preparing to return and how we weren't ready. She would have blocked our return to Antar any way she could and we would never have been able to convince Zan. But with her out of the way it'll be no problem to get Zan to go home."
Ava looked at the still form of the shape shifter, "You didn't have to kill her. We could have persuaded her. She was our protector."
"Hmmpf. Some protector," Rath said. "Couldn't even protect herself."
"But what will Zan say?" Ava asked.
"He won't say anything," Lonni said as she loomed over the smaller girl, "because he won't know."
"I can't keep something like this from him," Ava protested.
"You can and you will," Lonni said, her tone soft but menacing. "Because if you do tell him, Rath and I will say that you were in on the plan from the beginning and then you chickened out. Who do you think Zan will believe anyway?" Lonni paused to let her words sink in. "You," Lonni asked pointing to Ava, "his former wife, who he hasn't so much as touched in months, or me, his beloved sister?"
Ava winced as Lonni's taunt hit a nerve. She wasn't sure who Zan would believe and reluctantly agreed. "Okay," Ava sighed.
"Good," Lonni purred, putting her arm around Ava’s shoulders. “There’s nothing to worry about. It will all be okay. Once we get home you and Zan will be married again, and you’ll live happily ever after as King and Queen.”
Ava nodded hesitantly.
Lonni smiled. “Tonight, I want you to take my brother to a movie or something to keep him occupied while Rath and I talk to the summit people."
Ava glanced down at Serena's body. "What about her?"
Lonni indicated a large crack in the wall of the tunnel with a jut of her chin, "We’ll wall her up in there."
Lonni waited until Zan and Ava left for the movie before she slipped the orb into her pocket. Then she and Rath took the train to the last stop, before activating the orb. "This is Vilondra Tageonant calling for Nicholas Crawford."
She was answered immediately, "Vilondra Tageonant, acknowledged. Stand-by."
(Copper Summit, AZ)
It had been a few hours since the message had been sent and Nicholas was beginning to wonder if the Royal Four had received it. He was about to have it rebroadcast when a Lieutenant burst into the room interrupting his conversation with Khivar.
"Your Majesty, General, we have received a reply, but it is not from New Mexico as you expected. It's from New York."
Nicholas turned to look at Khivar with surprise but Khivar comprehended the situation immediately. "The duplicates perhaps? Jensto did tell us that two sets of clones were sent to Earth, the real Royal Four and a set of decoys." Khivar turned to the Lieutenant, "Did the caller identify themselves?"
"Yes, your Majesty," the Lieutenant answered with a low, formal bow, "it’s Vilondra. She is awaiting your reply."
Nicholas dismissed the Lieutenant with a wave of his hand and turned to Khivar with a shrug, "They might know the location of the Granolith."
"It is possible, but unlikely," Khivar said, "but even if they don't, they could be useful in another way. It is probable that the duplicates believe themselves to be the real Royal Four. And to be effective as a decoy, the duplicate Zan would have to be able to pass as the real Zan. We could bring the duplicate Zan to the summit and use him to get Zan's followers on Antar to surrender and accept my government."
Nicholas nodded, "And the Granolith?"
Khivar motioned to the amplifier, changing the subject, "It is interesting that Vilondra contacted us don't you think?"
"Maybe she remembers you,” Nicholas suggested. “Do you want to handle this yourself?"
Khivar shook his head. "No, she is not the real Vilondra. I want you to find out as much as you can from her and then I will decide what to do."
Nicholas picked up the amplifier and spoke into it, "Vilondra, how lovely to hear from you. I am Khivar’s representative on Earth, Nicholas. Are you calling in regards to the summit?"
"Yeah," Lonni said sarcastically. "Why don't you start by calling me Lonni, Nicholas," she said getting right to the point. "I don't know what Khivar wants from this summit, but I will help in any way I can. I just want to go home."
Nicholas laughed, "Khivar wants the Granolith."
"Never heard of it," Lonni admitted. "What is it?"
Nicholas shrugged, "Just a religious piece of junk that the people of our planet worship. It's about ten feet tall, a big, black cone-shaped thing with a crystal at the base."
Lonni shook her head, "I've never seen anything like that."
"You're sure you don't have it?" Nicholas asked. "Maybe Zan knows where it is?"
"No, sorry," Lonni said. "If we had, it would be yours no problem. What would we want with some religious thing?"
"What indeed?" Nicholas asked, and then quickly changed the subject. "Why didn't your brother contact us?"
"Zan's a little shy," Lonni purred.
"Too shy to come to a peace summit?" Nicholas asked.
"What's in it for me if I get him to come?" Lonni asked calculatingly.
Nicholas laughed, "If you get him to come and tell his troops on Antar to lay down their arms, I will provide you with passage home."
"Okay," Lonni agreed. "Give me a few days to work on him. I'll contact you again when I have news."
Nicholas switched off the amplifier and Khivar spoke first, "We will still have to deal with the real Royal Four to get the Granolith, but if this Zan can get his followers to back down, it will make things much easier."
(Monday, November 6th, 2000)
(New York, NY)
Over the next week Lonni, Rath and Ava continually bugged Zan to change his mind and accept the invitation to the summit, but each time he flatly refused. With each refusal, Lonni grew more desperate and she and Rath tried every trick they could think of.
Finally Lonni was forced to admit that they wouldn't be able to convince him and she contacted Nicholas to tell him. "Zan won't come to the conference," she blurted out.
Nicholas swore, annoyed that this plan was not working out either. All of his remaining troops were now confined to the ship and even if Khivar sent reinforcements today it would be four years for them to reach Earth. Nicholas was on his own. With Tess' demonstration of power he was worried that Max and the others were regaining their former stature and he felt a sense of urgency to get the matter resolved. But he was not sure he could handle them alone.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him that might be just the answer to all his problems. Perhaps he could get Lonni to do his dirty work for him. He spoke into the amplifier, "Lonni I may have a solution to your problem."
"And what is that, Nicholas?" she asked sarcastically.
"Are you aware of the other set of pods that were sent to Earth?"
The question caught Lonni completely off guard, "No. What are you talking about?"
Nicholas smiled. This was too easy. He knew the best lies were couched in the truth and he let Lonni draw her own conclusions. "Two sets of clones were created from the genetic material of the Royal Four and sent to Earth. A real set and an inferior set designed to act as decoys should the need arise."
"And what does this other set of clones, the inferior set, have to do with me?" Lonni asked.
"Well," Nicholas drawled, "I just happen to know where they are, and if you can't convince your Zan to go to the summit perhaps the other Zan will be more cooperative."
"You don't know Zan," Lonni argued. "He won't just sit by and let all of this happen around him."
"Then maybe he has outlived his usefulness," Nicholas said simply.
(Episode - Meet the Dupes)
(Tuesday, November 7th, 2000)
(New York, NY)
"They contacted us again last night," Rath said to Zan. "Same invite. We gotta tell 'em something."
Zan was sick of this conversation, "Tell 'em no."
"Yo," Lonni jumped into the conversation, "you sayin' we ain't going to the summit?"
Zan smiled, knowing his answer would annoy Lonni, "That's what I'm saying."
Rath was instantly angry, "Yo, that's messed up, duke. This is the only time we've ever been contacted."
Zan shrugged, uncaring, "Whatever. That's it."
"We tell 'em no, they won't ask again," Ava spoke up.
Zan was surprised by her outburst. She rarely went against him, rarely had her own opinion. He had tried to follow his destiny and be with her but he had felt like he was betraying himself, and in the last couple of months he had started to put a distance between them. He had been with her physically but she had never really known him, and she had never owned his heart. He knew she was scared that she was losing him and her new attitude was simply an attempt to interest him, but it only made him pity her. He turned to her with a smile that was more of a grimace and said the words that were sure to upset her and the others the most. "Tell 'em hell no."
"What is up with you, man?" Rath asked. "I'm tired of you. I'll go by myself!"
Zan was amused by Rath's temper. Rath often fronted, but backed down quickly when Zan called his bluff. Zan stepped close to Rath and spoke softly, "They don't want the number two. They want the Royal Four."
"Why don't we go and see what they gotta say? Why don't we go and get the answers?" Rath asked.
Zan raised his voice for the first time, angry that the others didn't see the threat in the invitation, "What if it's a setup?"
"No, it's not a setup! They need us!" Rath assured him.
Zan stepped closer to Rath, "I'm the man. Don't forget."
Rath held his ground and for a moment Zan thought he might actually challenge his authority, but Lonni intervened.
"Yo, guys," Lonni interrupted them, "It's been a mad, long day. Let's just chill." She spoke in Rath's mind, Back off and we'll go ahead with the plan.
Rath held Zan's gaze a moment longer and then stepped back with a smile. Lonni's plan would get rid of Zan permanently. "Yeah. You the man," he agreed with Zan.
Rath stepped behind Zan, next to Lonni, and looked over at her. Lonni had been able to speak in his mind since the first time they had gotten together physically, and over the next year it had solidified into a permanent connection. He was not capable of speaking to her telepathically but she usually understood him with a single glance. She signaled her intentions with a look and a nod and Rath knew the time had come.
Lonni bounced the basketball past Zan toward the street, and as she expected, he reached for it. And when Zan leaned forward, Rath used his powers to push Zan into the street.
At first, Zan though it was a joke. He had felt the burst of power that had knocked him into the street but it hadn't been enough to injure him and he thought Lonni and Rath were playing with him. Then suddenly a bright light illuminated the street and he turned to stare unbelievingly as two headlights of a large truck, rapidly bore down on him. He might have been able to get out of the way before the truck reached him but he was frozen in shock. Lonni and Rath, two of the people he trusted most in the world, had betrayed him.
Rath raised his hand and used his powers to increase the speed of the truck. Zan didn't move as the truck barreled over him and Rath released it from his powers. He carefully approached Zan's still form, alert for any sign of life. Lonni brushed past him and knelt next to Zan, and Rath called out a warning "Careful, make sure."
Lonni ignored Rath, leaning over her brother and looked into his eyes. He was still alive but she could tell by his shallow breathing it was only a matter of moments. "You should have listened to us, your Majesty," she sneered.
Zan's eyes hardened and he breathed out a single word, "Traitor."
The driver of the truck stopped down the road and ran back to where Zan was laying in the street.
His footsteps alerted Lonni and she motioned to Rath. With a flip of his hand, Rath threw the driver into a wall, knocking him unconscious.
Lonni stood and turned to Rath, "You fixed up the place to dump his body."
Rath nodded, "Just like you said. Down the alley under the pavement."
"Okay," Lonni said. "Let's get him outta here. Somebody might report this even if it is New York." She motioned to Ava, who had stood on the edge of the sidewalk the whole time, "Get over here and give us a hand."
Lonni's voice directed at her snapped Ava out of her shock. "What have you done?" she asked in a whisper.
"I'm getting us home," Lonni said simply.
Zan could do nothing as Lonni and Rath lifted his body. He could feel his life force, literally pouring from him.
Lonni called out to Ava, "Clean up the blood in the road and on the truck and then follow us to make sure there's no trail."
Zan wondered briefly if this was what had happened on Antar, ending his other life. He had been so worried about enemies from outside but it was his closest friends he should have watched. His sister and his best friend had betrayed him and he had never even suspected a thing, but somehow their actions didn't come as a complete surprise. What had surprised him was Ava's involvement. He knew that she loved him and even thought he couldn't return her feelings, he had trusted in her loyalty completely.
Zan didn't want to die, but he knew there was nothing he could do to stop it. He had lived his life as he chose but his one regret was that he never found his dream-girl.
As his vision blurred and everything went dark, Zan’s thoughts returned to the faceless, dark-haired girl who had haunted his dreams since he was a child. Zan felt a terrible sadness that he would never know who she was or why she came to him in his dreams. And as if his thoughts had conjured her, suddenly she was before him.
Zan reached out to her as her long, dark hair swirled in the breeze, shifting across her face. For a heartbeat he thought she would be revealed to him, but her features were obscured by the warm, golden light that originated from within her; his love as elusive as ever. The light flared and rapidly grew in intensity, surrounding him, flowing through him, and even though Zan had not seen his beloved's face, a feeling of peace and perfect contentment, that he had never known existed washed over him, enveloping his entire being. For the first time in his life he felt the joy of true love and willingly surrendered his life.
And as Zan released his final breath, the light from a red giant star, that had exploded hundreds of years before, finally reached the Earth.
Rath dumped Zan's body unceremoniously into the grave he had prepared and used his powers to quickly cover it, leaving no trace that the concrete had been disturbed. Then he turned his back on his former friend and King without a backward glance and walked away as if Zan had never existed. He noted that Lonni had already taken the orb from her pocket and he jogged over to where she and Ava were standing.
Lonni pushed a stream of power into the orb and looked at Rath with a smile as she spoke. "Nicholas, we're gonna need a new King."
BOOK 9 - VERISIMILITUDE|
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