(Thursday, October 19)
The next day Max hurried down the hall, eager to get to the Physics class he shared with Liz.
Now that he’d figured out something was going on, he was anxious to discover what it was, and only Liz could tell him.
But Max wasn’t sure where to start with Liz.
He had been so horrible to her, accusing her of betraying them when they were in Congresswoman Whitaker’s office, and yelling at her when they had spoken in Copper Summit. And just a few days ago he hadn’t even said a word to her when she had left the UFO Center with Kyle and Maria to try and destroy the alien device.
He’d been such a jerk to not notice that she was in pain too.
Yesterday he’d seen the cautious look on her face when she’d come into their class and it had broken his heart. Liz had expected him to lash out at her, and he was devastated by it.
In order to get Liz to open up to him, he had to get her to trust him again.
He took his seat in class and waited, facing the door, for her to arrive. It seemed to take an eternity, but finally he could see her down the hallway.
She walked with her head bowed, her arms crossed, clutching her books to her chest as if they would protect her. The light of happiness and contentment was gone from her as if someone had shut off a switch inside her. And he knew it had been switched off. He had done it.
She looked completely miserable, and it was all his fault.
As she walked through the door her eyes slid to his, and once again he saw her brace for his reaction.
His chest felt heavy, but he smiled at her. “Hey, Liz,” he said softly.
For a split second he thought he saw a spark of something in her eyes as she smiled back. “Hey, Max,” she practically whispered.
The heaviness inside him lessened just a little.
Their teacher, Mr. Seligman, walked into the room just as the bell rang, drawing Max’s attention away from Liz. It was obvious to Max even in his distracted state that Mr. Seligman had something on his mind.
Instantly he began to speak.
“A black hole,” he said excitedly. “That's what's left after a star dies. And that's exactly what happened last week, my friends.”
“The spectacular, stellar, implosion of a red giant, unheard of in the history of astronomy. The first time a post main sequence star burning in its prime, suddenly and without warning, violently exploded in a supernova of a hundred million degrees and disappeared. A process that typically takes many thousands of years.”
“What could have accounted for this, remarkable loss?”
Max felt a jolt of apprehension rush through him. He had a terrible feeling that they were all in danger.
(New York, NY)
Lonnie and Rath arrived at the street corner for their meeting, looking around for their contact.
“He’s not here,” Rath grunted.
Lonnie shrugged. “We’re early.”
Rath shifted around, anxious for some action. He looked at Lonnie where she leaned against the building, waiting, and motioned to the hot dog vender a few steps away. When she shook her head he approached the stand. “Two with everything,” he said with a jerk of his head.
The vender started to make his order, and while the man was distracted, Rath’s skilled hands pocketed two bags of chips, a Snickers and a couple of cans of Coke.
Rath paid, and returned to Lonnie, taking his place beside her and handed her a Coke. He stuffed half of the first hot dog into his mouth, chewing nosily, and talked around the food. “So where is he?”
“Charming as ever I see, Rath,” the new voice said.
Rath ignored the remark about his eating habits, stuffing another large bite into his mouth. “’Bout time you showed up.”
Lonnie stepped forward. “Nicholas,” she greeted.
He smiled and turned, speaking to her. “Congratulations on getting Zan to agree to come to the summit,” he said. “I assume it wasn’t as difficult to talk him into it as you thought.”
Lonnie shrugged. “I guess I was wrong. I thought he’d be all uptight about it, but he was excited to go. I guess Zan’s as sick of living on this rock as we are.”
Nicholas glanced around as he spoke. “No chance the spiky-haired King or his leather-clad Queen are going to walk in on our little meeting, is there?”
Shaking her head, Lonnie laughed. “No way. Zan and Ava took off for Vegas right after they found out about the summit.”
“And you let them go?” Nicholas asked angrily. “He has to be at the summit.”
“Chill,” Lonnie said. “They didn’t say, but I’ll bet they went to get married and have a quickie honeymoon.” A smirk raised the corner of her mouth. “They’ll want to be a good little King and Queen, properly wed, for when we go home.”
“Awww,” Nicholas hummed, “too bad they won’t make it to the actual coronation ceremony. Khivar wants Zan dead before that.”
“Of course he does,” Lonnie agreed. “That’s the whole point of the summit.”
Nicholas raised his eyebrows, and she stepped closer to him, adjusting the collar of his shirt. “You didn’t think we were stupid enough to believe that Khivar really wants peace, did you?” she asked. “And that’s why you called this meeting. You’re going to guarantee us a trip home, because we’re going to take care of my dear brother for you in a way that no one can prove it has anything to do with Khivar.”
“And do we have a deal?” Nicholas asked, pinning her eyes.
“Zan dead, for a ride home,” Rath said, finally speaking up. “Sounds fair to me.”
“Yes,” Lonnie added softly.
“Deal,” Nicholas said, still focused on Lonnie. He let his eyes slowly move down to her breasts and back up. “Just make sure he gets to the summit in one piece. We need him there or this whole thing is off.”
“Don’t worry,” Lonnie said smoothly, smiling at him. “My brother will be there, looking all kingly so you can have your little summit. Just tell us when you’re done with him.”
“I’ll be in touch,” Nicholas said.
“Later,” Lonnie said, holding his gaze for a long time, and finally winking before she turned away.
Nicholas smiled as they walked up the street. Those two were thugs and idiots, he thought, but they were useful. And from the signals Lonnie was sending him, he was sure the association was going to be quite pleasurable as well. A dalliance with the princess was an added bonus of this whole thing.
It certainly hadn’t turned out as Khivar intended. The summit wasn’t meant for the New York clones. After all they were just the backups, in case something happened to the real set, but the backups needed to be eliminated too.
It was just a bonus that Zan could attend the summit and get his people on Antar to stop their war against Khivar. Then Khivar could take his time and concentrate all of his attention on getting the Granolith away from Max and killing him. It was a win, win situation.
The strange death of the star had been on Max’s mind all through class, so much so that he was still thinking about it when the bell rang. He gathered his books and turned for the door, but he’d been so preoccupied that he didn’t see Liz until she was next to him.
“Hey,” she greeted nervously. “Kinda weird about that star, huh? Kinda sad.”
He nodded agreeing, and also amazed that she’d been thinking about the star too. They had always been so in sync.
When he didn’t speak she continued. “It just doesn't seem that something burning so bright could just, burn out.”
Max nodded again. He was thrilled that she’d approached him, and he didn’t want to screw it up. “Yeah,” he said softly. “It doesn’t seem possible.”
“Well,” Liz said looking down, “something unusual must have happened to make it go out like that.”
Max was perfectly aware they had stopped talking about the star and Liz had just admitted that something unusual had determined her actions toward him.
He practically felt like he had to hold his breath or he might scare her away. “You’re right,” he agreed. “It would never just end like that unless something forced it to go against its nature.”
Liz met his eyes again and he swore he saw a look that was somewhere between hope and gratitude.
He smiled. She’d just proved him right. She hadn’t wanted to hurt him, but she’d obviously felt she had no other choice. He paused, wondering if he should press her for more information.
It was the first time she’d admitted, even inadvertently, that anything was wrong. But he didn’t want to put any pressure on her, or make her regret talking to him, so he decided to take it slow.
Leaning in, he lowered his voice. “There have been lots of alien-related things going on around here lately.”
He was so close that he could smell the sweet scent of her; bath products, shampoo, and the delicate fragrance that was just Liz. More than anything he wanted to touch the soft skin of her face, run his fingers through her silky hair, and press his lips to hers.
Liz nodded, her breath coming faster, her eyes never leaving his. For several long seconds they held each others’ gaze, and Max believed they were in perfect understanding.
And then she smiled, breaking the moment. “Yeah,” she agreed softly, “who knew Roswell would become the galactic hub for alien phenomena?”
Max smiled at her joke, letting her out of the intense conversation. She’d opened up to him, and if he didn’t try to force her, she’d do it again.
“Well,” he said, teasing her back, “I’m sure they’ve all heard about the great food at the Crashdown, on the alien grapevine.”
Liz’s smile widened. “There’s an alien grapevine?”
Max’s heart lightened. It was like old times, joking with Liz, being able to talk to her. It felt good to just be with her.
They started out down the hall together as he answered. “Oh sure,” he said. “You can’t believe them. Aliens gossip worse than old women.”
With a scowl, Tess watched Max and Liz from down the hall.
She really didn’t care if Max was still pursuing Liz. After all, she was his wife, his destiny, and once they returned to their planet it was the only thing that would matter.
Nasedo had taught her not to get attached to Earthly things. He had taught her to focus on the mission, and her goals.
It didn’t matter in the long run what Max did with Liz, because in the end she would be the one going back to Antar with him, and would be crowned his Queen.
But, Tess admitted, she did feel a jolt of jealously and anger. She had done everything to get his attention, including following all the instructions Liz had given her, and Max still wasn’t interested in her. He’d been nicer to her, accepted her more, and he’d even opened up to her the night she’d found him crying in the park.
She’d thought she really had a chance with him after that night.
Never had she seen anyone so devastated as Max had been when he’d told her that he’d seen Liz in bed with Kyle.
Of course Tess hadn’t thought it was a big deal. It was just sex, after all. But it was obvious Max thought Liz had betrayed him in a fundamental way.
At the time, Tess believed Max would never want Liz again, and in the next few days he’d been cruel to her, and even accused her of betraying their secrets.
Tess had been thrilled. She’d thought that finally Max would forget about the human and turn to her, like it was meant to be. And when she used her powers to save them from the Skins in the school, she’d been sure he would finally see how valuable she was to him.
But it hadn’t happened like that. Max was still keeping her at arms’ length, and here it was, not even two weeks later, and he was following Liz around like a love-sick puppy again.
Well, Tess told herself, Liz had given her good advice. When she’d stopped pressuring Max, he’d been more receptive to her, and she had made some progress with him. She would just have to bide her time and keep her eyes open for any opportunity she could use to her advantage.
It wasn’t like they were returning to Antar anytime soon. She still had time.
Max knew Liz was working at the Crashdown that night, and he couldn’t stay away. He and Liz had gotten along so well at school and he was eager to keep mending their friendship. Not to mention he always wanted to be close to Liz. There was nothing that made him happier.
He took his homework and spread it out in a booth in Liz’s section, planning to stay the whole evening. And when she came into the dining room from the back, he greeted her with a smile.
Liz saw Max when she pushed open the door and her heart jumped. She had been so happy all day because Max had softened toward her, and they were getting along so well.
She returned his smile, and her whole body felt lighter as she approached his table. She felt so much better now that Max didn’t seem to hate her.
“Hey, Max,” she said. With a nod of her head she motioned to his papers, “What are you working on?”
He looked down briefly and then back up to meet her eyes. “Well, I’ve got some trig, history and of course the physics homework.”
Liz nodded. She and Max were in physics together and she hadn’t started on the assignment either.
Max’s eyes followed the curve of her neck, and watched her long dark ponytail swing around her shoulders as she glanced at his papers. She was so beautiful.
When she looked up, he met her eyes. “So what time do you get off?” he asked, trying to sound casual. “I can save the physics homework until last and we can do it together.”
She smiled, feeling more relieved than she could believe. Max actually seemed like he wanted to mend their friendship.
“That sounds great,” she said. I get off at eight, but it should be pretty slow. I bet I can get Maria to cover for me and come over earlier.”
Max was so happy. He felt like Liz had just agreed to go on a date with him.
“Okay,” he said, trying to keep the elation out of his voice.
He was so excited that Liz was trying to be friends, but he wanted more. He wanted things between them to be like they were, and he didn’t want to wait.
“Liz,” he said softly. “About what you said this afternoon.”
She looked up meeting his eyes, and he could see something close to panic. Instantly he knew he was pushing her too fast.
With a sigh he changed what he was going to say. “That star dying. I’ve been wondering about it all day, and I think you’re right. I think someone must have done something to it, and maybe it means something.”
Liz looked at him, concerned. “What do you mean?”
Max scooted forward, closer to her, and lowered his voice. “This afternoon I went over to get my paycheck from Brody, and he said that he picked up a signal.”
Liz leaned closer too. “What kind of signal?” she whispered.
“Brody said there was a signal near here, and one on the east coast, like someone was trying to make contact,” Max explained. “And it made me think that maybe somehow the star dying was connected to the signal.”
Liz nodded. “I guess it’s possible, but what can we do about it?”
“I think we should all meet at the UFO Center, tomorrow night,” Max said. “We can see what everyone thinks and go through Brody’s research and see what he’s found out.”
“Yeah,” Liz said. “That’s a good idea.”
She motioned over her shoulder to where Michael and Maria were arguing in the kitchen. “I’ll let them know about the meeting, and I can tell Alex tomorrow at school.”
“So,” Liz said, straightening up and changing the subject, “what can I get you while you study?”
“Cheeseburger and fries,” Max said.
Liz jotted it on her order pad. “And a cherry Coke,” she added.
Max smiled, and nodded. “Yeah.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll get this out to you in a few minutes, and I’ll join you as soon as I can.
Max watched her walking away and was filled with a feeling of warmth and contentment that he hadn’t felt in months. He and Liz were perfect for each other. Even after all the problems and heartbreak, he was more sure of that than ever.
Zan and Ava had driven for two days straight, barely stopping to eat and sleep, and they had made it to Roswell more quickly than Zan had thought possible.
It was late when they arrived in the small city, and he drove the black car down the dim main street. Most of the businesses were dark, closed for the day, and the only illuminations were the streetlights and the few signs still on.
Zan knew what building he was looking for, and he didn’t expect it to be open, he just wanted to mark its position so he could find it tomorrow.
His informer had told him about the Café where he would be likely to find the Roswell four, as he had started calling them in his mind.
It seemed the other clones liked to hang out at an alien-themed restaurant.
Zan thought he was prepared for it, but when he saw the large neon-trimmed space ship that appeared to have crashed into a building he was surprised. He hadn’t expected anything as elaborate.
For some reason he felt almost drawn to the place, and had the overwhelming need to get a better look.
Turning off the headlights, he pulled the car into a space across the street from the Café, and turned to Ava. “Wait here,” he ordered. “I’m just going to check it out.”
Before he could open the car door, the lights on the faux spaceship blinked off, and the whole diner was plunged into almost complete darkness.
Zan was actually glad. The lack of light made it much easier for him to get a look. He exited the car and jogged across the street, staying in the shadows as he approached the front window.
Even though most of the lights were off inside, there was enough illumination for him to see. His eyes flicked around the room, noting the huge mural on the wall depicting the ’47 crash, aliens of every description decorating the room, and the specials board featuring such items as Orion Onion Rings and Martian Meatloaf.
It was like the Disney version of the crash, and he shook his head, wondering if he should be amused or horrified.
He was about go back to the car when movement inside the café caught his attention.
A door leading into the back of the restaurant swung open, and Zan felt his breath knocked from his body.
A small, dark-haired girl walked into the room carrying a tub of dishes that she sat on the counter. She was dressed in a turquoise and silver uniform and her hair was pulled back in a ponytail that bounced behind her as she moved. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She was beautiful and graceful like no one he had ever seen before, and instantly he felt a rush of desire.
The desire wasn’t surprising. He was a guy. But the moment he saw her, emotions rushed through him so quickly he could barely recognize one before the next one hit; happiness, excitement, hope, belonging, surprise, triumph and love.
In an instant he felt more for this unknown girl than he had ever felt for Ava. He was drawn to her, he wanted to be with her, and incredible as it was he knew he was in love.
Suddenly she turned and looked directly at him.
Zan knew it was dark enough that she couldn’t actually see him, but somehow she felt him, knew he was there.
He felt a rush of satisfaction. She didn’t even know of his existence but she was drawn to him. She was the one he’d been waiting for all his life.
But he stayed motionless. He would go slowly with her so he didn’t mess anything up.
Liz stood transfixed, staring into the darkness. An awareness shot through her and she was sure something or someone was out there even if she couldn’t see anything.
Her heart pounded in her ears and she felt her stomach flip. Max, she thought. He must be outside watching, like he used to.
They’d had a great night studying, but a few times Liz had seen him staring at her and she knew it was because of what she’d said to him about the star. Max was smart, he’d picked up on her double meaning immediately.
And maybe it had been foolish, but Max seemed to understand her completely, and she’d thought maybe it would make it easier for him. He’d been in so much pain that she wanted to do anything to help him. And as selfish as it was, she couldn’t stand him hating her when she loved him so much.
She knew he was confused. He kept asking for answers she wouldn’t give, although this afternoon she’d given him a huge hint. And now she was sure he’d have even more questions.
More than anything she wanted to go to the door and invite him inside and explain everything, but she couldn’t. He would have to keep wondering.
For long moments she stood looking into the darkness where she knew he had concealed himself. And then she turned away, and walked into the back before her tears started.
Never Underestimate Destiny|
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