BOOK 10 MAJESTY'S
(Sunday, May 27th, 2001)
Isabel sat on her bed in lotus position and rolled her neck to try and ease her tension. The strange dreams she had been experiencing had made her apprehensive and it been hard for her to get to sleep.
She had wondered about the origin of the dreams and had come up with several possibilities including someone else in trouble. But these dreams were different than the ones she'd had with Laurie and they somehow seemed familiar, almost like it were something just on the edge of her memory. Of course that realization, added to Max's revelation about his memory recovery, made Isabel speculate on which set of memories it might be, her human memories, that Tess suppressed, or her alien memories of her other life.
Since she had learned of Max's recovered memories, she had been fascinated and horrified by the possibilities. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she had always known there was a chance that one day they would return home, but as the years had passed it seemed less and less likely. She had accepted a long time ago that Earth would always be her home, and she had worked hard to have a regular human life.
Even when they had seen the message from their mother last year in the pod chamber, Isabel had still been in denial about her other life. It was so long ago and on another planet and she didn't remember anything about it. But now, with the memory recovery techniques Max had taught her, maybe she could remember, and that scared her. She had been ready to give up her life on Earth for Max, to return to Antar just a few days ago, but it had all happened so fast she'd hardly had time to think about it. The only thing that had mattered was staying with the only real family she had ever known.
But now she'd had time to reflect and she decided the next time a choice to go to Antar was offered, she wanted to be better informed. She wanted to know where they came from, what they were missing and perhaps the most frightening thing of all, what they really were.
Isabel expelled a deep breath, closed her eyes and tried to focus on the image Max had shown her of the beach, hoping to build on it. The ocean was an unexpected, deep red; a startling contrast to the cerulean blue of the sky above. A large rock jutted out of the sand nearby and pointed up to the three moons visible just above the horizon.
Max had been able to bring the memory to life, making it seem as if they were standing on the beach. He remembered the sounds and smells so clearly. In Max's memory, Isabel had felt the cool wind on her face and watched the lazy motion of the sea where it met the beach. She reached for those same images in her own memory but they wouldn't come to her.
No matter how much she concentrated, trying to bring the pictures to life, it wouldn't happen. The only thing she saw in her mind was a dull representation of what Max had shown her.
Finally she gave up and let go of the image she had seen in Max's head, and then she saw it. The image was only there for a brief moment, just a flash, but Isabel knew with certainty she had lived it before. She was near the same beach, looking out at the ocean, but it was at night and only a single moon had risen. And although she couldn't see him, Isabel sensed there was a man at her side, but he was definitely not her brother.
(Monday, May 29th, 2001)
(The Valenti House)
Jim slung his jacket over his shoulder as he quickly swallowed the last of his coffee and headed toward the door.
But before his hand reached the knob, Kyle called out to him, "Where are you going all gussied-up?"
Jim stopped, "Well I didn't want to get your hopes up but the city called me in to help out with the traffic school."
Kyle smiled, "That's great Dad!"
"Now don't get all excited," Jim warned, as he settled his hat on his head. "It could just be for a few weeks."
"That's okay. It'll help you get back into the swing of things," Kyle encouraged. "Education of the will is the object of our existence."
Jim nodded hesitatingly as he headed out the door, "Um, yeah. Right."
(The Evans House)
Philip poured himself a cup of coffee and took a seat at the table where Max was studying the paper. "Have you found a car you're interested in yet?"
Max motioned to the paper where he had made several marks, "Yeah, there are a few Wranglers at the Jeep dealership that are about six or seven years old and in good shape, for around five-thousand."
Philip nodded, "And with the money from the insurance, how much will you have to finance?"
"Nothing," Max said. "I've saved almost all of the money I made at the museum."
"Will it wipe out your savings?" Philip asked.
"No," Max assured him. "I'll still have some left."
Philip nodded, "I can't say I'm sorry to see the old Jeep go. It was army surplus and close to forty years old and I always worried about it breaking down out in the middle of nowhere. But I just can't believe someone would steal it, set it on fire and push it off a cliff."
Max nodded, careful to keep his face neutral, "It's pretty wild."
"Your mother and I bought the other Jeep for you kids to share..."
Max cut him off, "Dad, Isabel can borrow it any time she wants."
"I know," Philip nodded. "It's just that your mother and I don't want you to have to spend all of your money on a car so we decided as an early birthday-slash-Christmas present, for the both of you, that we would make up the difference of what the insurance didn't pay."
"Thanks Dad," Max said with a smile.
"So you had decided on another Jeep?" Philip asked. "We'll let's get your sister and go down to the dealership before they close."
(Wednesday, May 30th, 2001)
(West Roswell High School)
It had been difficult for Liz to pay attention in class with Max sitting next to her. During the class, they had shared longing looks and shy smiles and Liz had felt the butterflies building in her stomach for almost an hour. It had been just like the start of their relationship all over again, sweet and exciting, and when Max passed her a note and their fingers briefly touched, she felt her heart jump.
Eagerly opening the folded paper, she smiled at the simple message.
Go to a movie with me Sunday?
Liz turned back to Max with a smile and nodded.
(Saturday, June 2nd, 2001)
The gang exited their cars and stood in a group near the edge of the quarry. Max glanced around at his friends, remembering the last time they had all been there together. It had been when Topolsky had come back to town to tell them about the Special Unit and Pierce. And Alex had been there instead of Kyle of course, and Max released a sigh of regret.
"I'm not going to start off with a big speech," Max said. "I think we all know how important developing our powers could be to the future of the Earth. So I'll just turn the time over to Michael and Isabel."
Michael stepped forward, "Isabel and I have worked out a training schedule to develop our powers and for memory retrieval."
"We decided to work as a group at the quarry on Saturdays and Wednesdays. This place is remote and on that gravelly road, you can hear people coming for miles. Of course we're not limited to practicing those two days. We encourage everyone to spend at least a few minutes practicing every day."
He motioned to Isabel to continue.
Isabel nodded, "Then on Mondays and Thursdays we'll get together for memory retrieval practice. The sessions don't have to be held anywhere special. It's not like we will be blowing things up, but for the first few times, we'll go somewhere quiet so everyone can concentrate. Then we could just meet in our backyard or the park or something. If anyone sees us it will just look like we are meditating."
Isabel nudged Kyle with her elbow, "Of course anyone who does see us will think we've started our own chapter of Buddhists anonymous."
Kyle laughed, "Just remember that the next time you're about to make a lame Buddha joke. But if you don't want to go with the Buddha theme, I have a place set up in my backyard where I meditate. We could have the sessions there, away from prying eyes."
"That would be great Kyle," Isabel said, with a smile. "Okay I'll let everyone know where we're meeting Monday and after that we'll be at the Valenti's."
She turned back to encompass the others, "We are only scheduling the memory recovery sessions for an hour. Any longer and it's hard to concentrate. And again the recovery techniques are something that can be practiced every day, so we don't have to wait until we get together."
"Okay," Michael said, taking charge again, "Isabel and I decided that for today, Max and I would work with Liz and Isabel and Maria would work with Kyle."
Maria stepped forward and huffed sarcastically, "Uh, Hello. Human here with no powers. How am I going to help?"
Michael narrowed his eyes, "Isabel can teach you the meditation techniques and exercises for controlling powers and then you can coach Liz or Kyle. Okay?"
Maria was surprised by his answer. She had worried there was nothing she could contribute to the training sessions but Michael had thoughtfully included a job that would be perfect for her. She nodded with a smile, "Okay."
Michael slung his arm around her shoulders and kissed her on the top of the head. "Okay. Let's get started."
Kyle lowered himself onto an outcropping of rock with a sigh. He had been trying to harness his powers all day but he had been completely unsuccessful. Isabel had assured him she could feel the power within him but he just couldn't seem to make it manifest.
He watched Liz with a smile and a touch of jealously. Under Max and Michael's tutelage and with the help of her recovered memories of repressing her powers for months, it had been relatively easy for Liz to master a basic control of her powers. She had been working on turning all of the available rocks different colors; some solid and some with polka-dots or stripes. And now Max and Michael were instructing Liz how to use her powers to move the rocks.
With a wave of her hand, Isabel returned the colored rocks to their natural colors and walked over to join Kyle. She took a seat next to him, "Giving up for the day?"
Kyle shrugged, "Maybe I just don't have the knack."
Isabel shook her head, "I can feel the power in you. Maybe Tess mind warped you to stop you from using you powers like she did to Liz, or maybe it just takes a certain amount of time for the powers to develop enough for you to use them. You were healed months after Liz was."
"I guess," Kyle nodded. "I just feel like an idiot stretching out my hand and having nothing happen. You know, it's like standing there going Thundercats ho, or something."
Isabel reached over, grabbed a couple of sandwiches out of the bag and handed one to Kyle. "It still couldn't hurt for you to learn some basic control techniques, then when you do get your powers you won't be blowing things up accidentally, like someone else we all know."
Kyle smiled, "Did Michael really do that?"
Isabel nodded, "It took Michael a long time to get his powers under control, but I also think it had to do with getting his temper under control too."
Isabel motioned to his sandwich, "So hurry up and finish and we'll try it again."
(Sunday, June 3rd, 2001)
Song Playing: Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode
Liz tried to concentrate on the movie but she had to admit the plot completely escaped her. She was too aware of Max sitting next to her in the dark theater, and just a moment ago she had realized that her hand was in his. She didn't know when it had happened or who initiated the contact, all she knew was that it felt good to be touching him again.
Max stayed perfectly still as he reveled in the sensation of holding Liz's hand in his own. Sitting next to her, he had been unable to think of anything but touching her again, and even though he knew it was too soon in their renewed relationship, he hadn't possessed the strength to stop himself. And as the movie started, he had carefully slipped his hand into Liz's, interlacing their fingers.
He breathed in and out slowly, feeling the beat of her heart in time with his own. It was almost like being in the same body, and Max thought back to a few days before when he and Liz had spoken to one another through the connection. Since they had first kissed and discovered the connection between them, he had longed for a stronger, more permanent link. And now that they knew the truth about their past, the possibility of their future together beckoned to him like a light through the fog.
Every day since they had learned the truth, he had felt more alive, more confident and he knew it was due to Liz being in his life, finally belonging to him. Max was eager to begin his life with Liz, too eager, because he knew there was a long way to go. They had just started to rebuild their friendship but every step in the right direction made his heart soar.
Unknown to him, Max had opened a connection between them and although Liz had not heard his thoughts she had felt his intense feelings and she squeezed his hand.
(The Evans House)
Isabel walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, scanning the contents. She had spent a long day attempting to recover her memories and she was tired. Knowing she should eat something, she poked dishearteningly as some the containers but finally reached for the carton of juice and setting it on the counter, and turned to get a glass. She poured the juice and raised the glass to drink, but a sound from the direction of the laundry room drew her attention.
She turned toward the sound but saw nothing and she shook her head, "Good one, Isabel. Now you're jumping at shadows."
She put the carton back in the fridge and turned to leave but stopped as she heard another sound from the same place. It was like a whisper or a sigh, and again she turned toward the laundry room again. "Max? Is that you?"
There was no answer and she placed the glass on the counter and walked toward the washing machine. "Hello. Is someone there?"
Raising her hand in front of her as she reached the arching doorway, she quickly scanned the small room but didn't see anything unusual and headed toward the door that led outside.
Startled, Isabel stepped back but stopped herself, "It's just the wind." She started forward again but noticed a wispy tendril of what appeared to be smoke, winding under the door. As she watched, the smoke became thicker and thicker, pouring out into the room. She stepped back as it swirled and coalesced, seeming to reach out toward her.
The sound came again and Isabel realized it was coming from the smoke. She backed a few more steps as the smoke advanced but suddenly she felt an icy touch on the back of her neck. She screamed as she whirled around but sagged in relief when she realized it was only wet laundry hanging.
"Isssaaa," hissed the smoke and she whirled back to it, but the sound of running footsteps drew her attention to the kitchen as her parents entered.
"Isabel?" her mother asked, concerned.
"I..." Isabel turned back toward the door but the smoke was gone.
"Isabel," her father asked, looking around the room, "what's going on?"
She shook her head, trying to figure out what was happening. "I'm sorry. There was just, um, a, um, just a huge spider that scared me."
She could see her father relax, "Oh, that's all right." He turned to her mother, "Diane, have you noticed a lot of bugs? Maybe we should call an exterminator."
"Well, I've seen some spiders around..."
Her parents' conversation faded into the background as Isabel opened the door and went into the yard. She looked around briefly, but nothing seemed out of place and there were only the usual night noises. "What is going on?"
She'd been having the disturbing dreams, every night for almost two weeks but this time was definitely not a dream. She hadn't been asleep tonight when she'd seen the fog and heard the whispers, and that disturbed her more than she wanted to admit. Something was happening to her and it was time she told the others.
(Copper Summit, AZ)
Khivar rose from the chair and maneuvered the borrowed body to a panel on the wall that showed the night sky. He had tried for more than two weeks to contact Isabel through her dreams and tonight he had tired to get into her head when she was awake. He'd had some limited success in getting through to her but he didn't consider the progress worth the effort he had expended. The connection between them used to come so easily and now he was only a shadowy voice in her nightmares.
It was simply unacceptable. He wanted Isabel with him and it was time to aggressively pursue that end. He crossed to the communications array and activated a series of controls, "Nicholas, report to your office immediately."
Violent shaking and the sound of an explosion woke Lonni and Rath and they looked at one another for a moment before they leapt out of bed and ran to the window. Everything seemed unchanged outside but Lonni had a terrible suspicion about what had woken them.
Tess burst into their room, "What happened?"
Lonni advanced on her aggressively, "Nicholas took the ship home and left us here, that's what happened. And it's all your fault."
Tess' eyes widened, "He left us? But he said...."
She was cut off by a voice from the doorway. "No one has been left behind," Nicholas assured them.
"Nicholas?" Lonni asked. "What's going on here? Why didn't you go too?"
Nicholas shrugged, "Khivar is simply sending us some replacement troops and he asked me to stay here to make sure you didn't do something stupid, like running to Max."
Lonni scowled at Nicholas, "He could have made sure we didn't go to Max by sending us home."
Nicholas shook his head, "None of us are going home until this mission is finished."
(Monday, June 4th, 2001)
Max slowed the new Jeep as they reached the turnoff from the old Highway. The day he and Liz had driven the same road and been in the accident seemed like several lifetimes ago and his thoughts automatically turned to Alex. There were so many times Alex had helped them, even saving Max's life the terrible day of the accident, and Max still couldn't believe Alex was gone. He still couldn't believe Tess had so cavalierly killed Alex.
Max wanted to find Tess to take back his son but he often wondered what he would do to her. That day in the Granolith chamber when he'd discovered her guilt, he'd been angry enough to kill her and maybe he would have. He had never thought of himself as a killer but she deserved to die for what she had done. If she hadn't reminded him of their child… Max's thoughts trailed off as he refocused. She was the mother of his child and bound to him because of it but she was also a murderer and he would have to make a judgment when he found her again.
Max stopped the Jeep and he, Liz, Kyle and Isabel climbed out.
Kyle ran his hand down the shiny, black hood of the Jeep and called back to Max over his shoulder, "This sure is a nice ride, Max. What year is it?"
"Ninety-four," Max said. "It's practically new compared to the other Jeep."
Kyle nodded, "Much better than that old rust bucket."
"Hey," Isabel objected, "I have some good memories of that rust bucket."
Max glanced at Liz, remembering their many make-out sessions in the old Jeep and smiled, "Me too."
Liz caught his smile and his line of thought, blushed furiously and quickly changed the subject, "Yeah, um, so what's so special about this place?"
"When we were young," Isabel started, "our parents used to bring us here for picnics on Sunday and I thought it would be a good place to start our memory retrieval lessons. Unlike the quarry, there is soft grass to sit on and it is pretty remote and quiet."
Michael parked the Jetta nearby and he and Maria joined the others. They gathered the blankets and picnic supplies and organized everything in the shade of the trees.
When they were all settled, Max started, "I've taught Isabel the basic techniques of memory recovery and so we are going to pair off, me and Liz, and Isabel and Michael. Maria is familiar with the meditation exercises for controlling powers and will work with Kyle."
"So Isabel," Michael asked curiously, "have you remembered anything?"
Isabel shook her head, "No, not really."
(Capitol city of Roistar - formerly Tageonon)
(The Royal Palace - Laboratory)
Khivar watched Gragras, in the borrowed body of a Corporal, as he mixed human DNA with the other chemicals to create the new husks. Gragras was on the Leptes, en route to Antar, but even with the Granolith on board, it would take almost a month for the ship to arrive. It would take about that same amount of time to grow the new husks, even with the growth accelerators, but Khivar wouldn't waste the travel time.
Using the transverse thought projector, Gragras could complete the preparations for the new husks for the reinforcement soldiers on Antar, before the ship even arrived. And when Gragras and the Granolith were physically on Antar, he could oversee the harvest.
At the same time, new husks for the ships' crew were being grown on the Leptes. Gragras had started on the husks the day he had gotten the Granolith, and even though he had no growth accelerators, the power of the Granolith would cause the husks to mature in a matter of days.
Gragras turned his borrowed body to speak to Khivar. "Sir, are you sure you don't want me to create more skins?" Gragras asked. "In our time on Earth, we have gathered enough DNA, that we could easily create an invasion force."
Khivar shook his head, "I don't think it will be necessary. Since the summit, Max is growing thin on supporters and Kathana has openly aligned with us. I think we can put an end to this without conquering Earth."
Max and Isabel had decided to schedule the group memory recovery sessions for only an hour because it was so intense. But to Max it seemed like no time had passed when the timer sounded because he had spent the time with Liz.
The picnic baskets were opened and the contents arranged on the blankets in total silence, each one of them lost in their own thoughts. They passed out plates and napkins and distractedly piled food on their plates, barely noticing what they were eating.
Finally Michael spoke. "That was way more intense than I expected it to be."
Max nodded. "Did you have any progress?"
Michael shook his head, "It's not like I saw anything or anyone, I just had familiar feelings. It's hard to explain, it's all so…" he trailed off looking for the words.
"Transient?" Max prompted.
Michael nodded, remembering the conversation when Max had tried to explain it to him. "Yeah, that's it exactly. It's like deja vu or something. It seems familiar but you can't really nail down anything with certainty."
Max smiled, "It does get better."
Michael nodded and turned to Liz, "What about you? Did you have a similar experience?"
Liz shrugged, "I didn't get anything but I'm still new to this having powers thing."
"And you?" Michael asked Isabel.
"I haven't gotten anything either," she admitted. "But I've had something on my mind the last couple of weeks and it's been hard to concentrate on anything else."
"What's going on Isabel?" Max asked concerned.
"I've been having these weird dreams that have me a little freaked out."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Michael demanded.
"Michael," Max warned, with the single word in a stern tone. He turned to his sister. "Isabel, What kind of dreams? One's like you had with Laurie?"
Isabel smiled at Max, glad he had defended her and shook her head, "No, they start out just like normal dreams and then there is this fog. I don't know why but it scares me and I try to get away but it comes after me, calling my name."
"That just sounds like normal nightmare stuff," Michael said softly. "It has been a really bad year."
Isabel shook her head, "You don't understand. When I am having a dream and I realize it, I can alter the dream or at least wake up when I want to but with these dreams I can't. It's like something or someone is getting into my dreams and controlling them." She paused and looked around, "And it's not just the dreams either."
"What else?" Max asked.
"I saw the fog in a dream walk the other night and no one else in the dream could see or hear it. And then on Monday I saw fog when I was awake."
Michael was instantly angry, "And you didn't tell anyone?"
Isabel's temper rose to meet Michael's, "I'm telling you now."
"Okay," Maria spoke up. "Everyone just calm down. Michael we know you're worried about Isabel, but yelling at her isn't helping."
Michael scowled but stayed silent.
Isabel continued, "We agreed not to keep any secrets and that's why I'm telling you."
"What happened when you saw the fog when you were awake?" Liz asked.
"I was in the kitchen at our house and I heard a noise coming from the laundry room. I went over and didn't see anything at first, but then the fog started coming under the door and it called to me. It seemed to be reaching for me and I backed away but I felt something cold touch me from behind and I screamed. Mom and Dad came rushing in and the fog was gone. I even checked outside but there was nothing."
"The fog touched you?" Kyle asked.
"No," Isabel said, shaking her head, "it was only the laundry, but I was already freaked out. I just panicked, I guess."
"And you haven't had any dreams since then?" Liz asked.
"No, nothing," Isabel said. "I'm almost starting to think I imagined the whole thing."
"Maybe it's someone else in trouble, like Laurie," Kyle said.
"I don't think so," Isabel said. "I'm still not entirely sure how I got those images about Laurie but this felt different. It's almost like there's something on the edge of my mind and I just can't focus on it."
"I know, " Maria said. "Maybe it's a memory trying to come through."
"Or it could be a new power," Liz suggested.
Max spoke up, "Well whatever it is, if it happens again, tell me."
Isabel nodded and caught Michael's eye. "I wasn't trying to hide anything. I just didn't want to make a big deal if it was nothing."
"We know that, Isabel," Max assured her. "No one is blaming anyone. We're just concerned." He looked pointedly at Michael, "Right?"
Michael nodded and then turned to Isabel, "Yeah. Just concerned."
(Copper Summit, AZ)
Song Playing: Behind Blue Eyes by Limp Bizkit
Tess used the remote to flip through channel after channel but nothing could hold her interest and finally she switched off the TV and tossed the remote aside. But she had to admit, it was worry and not boredom that distracted her.
At first, the deal she had made with Nicholas and Khivar had seemed like the answer to everything. She would get Max and the title of Queen and live in style on her home world. But as the days passed and she thought about it, the more she was concerned.
Khivar and Nicholas thought she was Max's wife Ava and they expected her to help them with the real Ava's powers but Tess didn't even know what Ava's powers were. Nicholas could come to her at any time and demand she use her powers and that would quickly put an end to her charade and her chance at happiness. She had to bluff them as long as possible because she didn't dare hope she could mind warp them for long. They were just too powerful.
Lonni might know what Ava's power was, Tess speculated. In their other life, Vilondra and Ava had been sisters-in-law and lived closely together. If only Tess could ask Lonni about Ava without raising her suspicions.
But that wasn't even her biggest problem. Tess placed a hand on her flat stomach and wondered what would happen when the truth about her pregnancy was discovered.
(Saturday, June 16th, 2001)
Jim pushed the door open, causing the bell to sound as he entered Amy's store. He hadn't been inside in a few months and he had forgotten how completely she dedicated her merchandise to aliens. He glanced quickly around, noting that Amy must stock every alien item produced.
A voice from the back called out, "I'll be right with you."
Jim had often wondered what Amy would think if she knew her daughter was dating the real thing. He didn't like lying to Amy and he was sure it was hard for Maria to do too, especially about the man she loved. Jim wanted to have a normal relationship with Amy. Sometimes he was afraid that the secrets he kept from her would taint any chance of happiness they had but he'd made a promise to Max to be there for them.
Amy came out of the back room and smiled when she saw him, "Jim, what are you doing here?"
Jim crossed to the counter, removing his hat. "I wanted to see if you were free for dinner tonight."
"Maria's going out with her friends, including Kyle, so that leaves both of our houses kid free." Amy covered his hand with her own, "So Jim, at the risk of sounding cliché, your place or mine."
"Well Amy," Jim said, taking her hand in his, "I got my first paycheck from the new job and I wanted to take you out someplace instead of cooking at home."
"Don't you like my cooking," Amy asked teasingly.
"I like it just fine," Jim assured her. "I just thought it would be a nice change, something special for a special lady."
"Why Jim, it almost sounds like you're courting me or something."
His smile got bigger, "Well, maybe I am."
(Saturday, June 23rd, 2001)
Sean slid onto one of the stools at the counter. "Hey Mr. Parker," he greeted. "How's it going?"
Jeff stopped in front of Sean, wiping the counter, "It's been pretty busy with my three best people off for the day."
"Oh, Liz and Maria and Michael are off?" he asked casually.
"Yeah. They're going on a picnic with the Evans' kids and Kyle Valenti and they took enough food for an army."
Sean nodded and carefully prodded for information, "Are there some good picnic places around here?"
"I don't know where they go," Jeff shrugged, "maybe the park." He motioned to his order pad. "Do you know what you want?"
Sean nodded, "Yeah, I know exactly what I want." Liz had disappeared for hours with Max and the others several times, and no one seemed to know where they were. Sean didn't know what they were doing but he was going to find out.
(Tuesday, June 26th, 2001)
Michael smiled watching Maria and Liz dancing around the dining room as they cleaned. Maria was using a mop handle as a microphone and Liz was backing her up on a saltshaker. They giggled as they twirled around, and Michael was glad that some of the playfulness was coming back into their lives. The last few months had been so hard on all of them but especially Maria and Liz.
He gathered a pile of recyclable boxes out of the back room and pushed open the door into the back alley, but stopped just outside when he saw a figure near his motorcycle.
"Hey!" he called out. Dropping the boxes, he advanced toward the man but before had taken more than two steps, the man ran. Michael jogged to the bike and briefly considered chasing the guy but a quick glance at the bike assured him everything was okay. Michael shook his head as he berated himself. "I'm getting paranoid. The guy was probably just curious."
(Thursday, June 28th, 2001)
(The DeLuca House)
Sean sat with Amy on the sofa watching TV. The cop drama had been something he had looked forward to seeing and Amy had joined him, quickly becoming enthralled in the action.
A group of thieves carefully planned a bank heist and executed it flawlessly but an off-duty cop stumbled upon the plot and now the thieves were trapped in the bank.
The cop called his headquarters, "It looks like we've got a hostage situation."
"Hostages," Amy said softly. "That crazy man in the UFO museum held us hostage."
Sean had never heard Amy talk about that night and turned to her with a question on his lips that died when he saw her face. Amy was staring straight ahead, lost in her memories.
"He tied us up," she continued, "and kept rambling about aliens."
Sean watched his aunt carefully, waving his hand in front of her face, but she didn't seem to notice.
"He had a gun. He pointed a gun at us."
Amy had never talked about that night afterward and Sean had often wondered what Max had said to his aunt to get her to agree not to turn Brody in.
Amy continued to talk, becoming more agitated and Sean started to worry, "Amy?"
She didn't respond and he tried again in a louder voice, "Aunt Amy?"
Amy shook her head and quickly looked around, "Did I fall asleep?"
"Yeah," Sean said softly. "You were talking about that night at the UFO museum."
"Oh, the night we all got trapped there because of the power outage," she nodded. "Yeah, it could have been a lot worse though."
"Yeah?" Sean asked.
"The police got us out of there pretty fast, I mean we could have been trapped there for days, with the metal door malfunctioning like that. Of course I didn't want to say anything at the time and worry anyone but it was lucky no one got hurt."
"No one got hurt," Sean repeated woodenly, as his hand automatically went to his stomach. Granted, his wound hadn't been bad but how could his aunt forget?
Amy continued, "You know it's funny you should mention that night. Sometimes I have nightmares about it."
"What kind of nightmares?" Sean asked.
"Well, really it's the same dream every time," Amy said with a laugh. "I dream the owner, Brody, took us as hostages."
Sean's mind raced as Amy continued. His aunt really didn't remember what had happened that night. At the time Sean had thought it was strange, one minute Amy had been ranting about turning Brody in and the next she was okay with a cover up. He thought Max must have convinced her to change her mind, but obviously something more sinister had happened.
Had Max hypnotized Amy somehow or brainwashed her, or had he slipped her some kind of drug? Sean shook his head, he didn't know what exactly had happened but he did know Max Evans was responsible. And maybe whatever he had done to Amy, he had also done the same to Liz and that's why she had taken his back.
(Friday, June 29th, 2001)
(The Evans House)
Diane looked up as Max entered the house and smiled, "Hey, honey."
Max dropped his things on the floor and sank down onto the sofa, "Hi Mom."
"Long day at work?" she asked casually, attempting to start a conversation that would lead to her real question.
Max shrugged, "Just the usual."
"I guess you'll be working a lot of hours now that school is out."
"Yeah, I guess," Max said non-committally.
In the weeks since Alex had died, Diane had seen the tension in both her children but Max was always so quiet, she had been afraid he wasn't dealing with it well. But in the last couple of weeks, Max had seemed lighter somehow, like a giant weight he had been carrying was suddenly lifted. "And you'll be hanging out with your friends."
Max smiled a genuine smile, "Yeah."
Diane noticed the change in his demeanor immediately and was glad Max had good friends that he felt comfortable with. "And what about Tess? I haven't seen her around lately. You two were studying so much together, I thought you might be getting close."
The smile immediately left Max's face. "No, we weren't and she won't be coming over any more because she left town."
"Oh that's too bad," Diane said. "She seemed like such a nice girl. Maybe she'll come back for school in the fall."
Max shook his head as he gathered his things and rose. "She's not coming back," he said gruffly.
As Max left, Diane wondered what she had said to upset him. It was possible he had been falling for Tess and was upset she had left, but Diane knew Max would never tell her so she just had to trust that his sister and friends would help him work through it.
Maybe she should ask his father to talk to him.
(Jake's Pool Hall)
Sean pushed open the door of the pool hall and stood just inside as he let his eyes wander around the room. He hadn't come to the pool hall since his release from juvie because of his parole, but this was the best place in town to get information.
"Hey DeLuca," someone called from the back and Sean recognized the voice immediately.
"Paulie," he called back with a smile, as he wound his way through the tables. "How's it going, man?"
Paulie grasped Sean's hand, "Man, I heard you were in juvie for another six months."
Sean shrugged. "I got out early," he paused dramatically, "for good behavior."
Paulie roared with laughter and the other guys with him joined in. He turned to them, "That's a good one. Sean DeLuca on good behavior." He motioned to one of the guys near the pool cues on the wall, "Hey Tommy, toss DeLuca a cue. Back in the day, the man was quite a hustler."
Sean caught the pool cue easily, "I don't know if I still have the touch. Not many pool tables in juvie. Probably smart not to provide the criminals with weapons."
One of the guys wracked the balls and Paulie motioned to Sean to break. "So what're you going to do now that you're out?"
Sean struck the cue ball, sending it hard into the other balls, and they scattered around the table. "I'm looking for some information on a guy that screwed me over."
Paulie took his shot, dropping a stripped ball into a side pocket. "What guy?"
"He goes to school with you," Sean said casually. "The name is Max Evans."
(Saturday, July 30th, 2001)
Liz wiped off the last of the tables and quickly stacked the chairs on them. Cleaning the Crashdown was hard work but she had done it so many times that she could do it without thinking, and it freed her mind to ponder other things. And tonight, as she mopped the floor, her thoughts were occupied with the familiar subject of Max and herself.
Since they had gone to the movies together, Max had been careful to keep things between them on a purely friendship level. It was as if he had sensed her reluctance to move too quickly. It was true she had enjoyed being with him and holding his hand. It had felt so right and so familiar but she had also been a little afraid of what the small intimacy might lead Max to think about their future.
Liz did love him but she still needed time to sort out all of her feelings about everything that had happened and figure out exactly how she and Max fit into each other's lives. She was his friend and she supported him whole-heartedly but she didn't know if their relationship would ever progress beyond that. But as she had told Max, she did want to try again.
Liz sloshed the mop into the bucket and cruelly wrung out the excess water before slapping it onto the floor, scrubbing ruthlessly at the spilled food. The work would exhaust her body but it helped to clear her mind.
Once again Liz plunged the mop into the bucket but she suddenly stopped, a prickling sensation on the back of her neck making her feel like she was being watched. She had experienced the same sensation several times over the last week, but each time, she had seen no one. She was beginning to think she was paranoid, but quickly turned toward the front door and scanned the area outside the restaurant. She couldn't see anyone but it was dark and the sensation remained as an overwhelming feeling of malevolence settled over her and a shiver raced up her spine.
(Sunday, July 1st, 2001)
(Copper Summit, AZ)
Tess, Lonni and Rath entered the UFL building where Nicholas was waiting for them.
"You summoned us?" Lonnie asked angrily.
"Yes," Nicholas said, as he indicated the chairs across from him. "I need to talk to you three about something."
"Like going home?" Lonni persisted. "You've been stalling us and my patience is wearing thin."
Nicholas smirked, "You'll go home when I say and not one minute sooner. And Lonni, your constant nagging is trying my patience."
Lonni grudgingly sat down, "Fine. What do you want to talk about, Nicholas?"
Nicholas nodded and began, "New troops will be arriving in a couple of days. After we get them settled in, either Wednesday or Thursday, I will hold a briefing and introduce the three of you to them."
"So?" Rath asked sarcastically.
Nicholas stared him down until he looked away. "So, I don't want there to be any problems," he turned his gaze to Lonni, "or accidents. Khivar is sending these troops to Earth for a reason and we don't want the three of you screwing up any more."
"Screwing up," Lonni ground out. "It is only because of our screw up that Khivar has his precious Granolith."
"Yes," Nicholas agreed, "but because of two of your screw ups, Max continues to be a thorn in Khivar's side."
(The Evans House)
Philip knocked on the door-frame to Max's room and poked his head in through the open door. "Can I talk to you, Max?"
Max turned from his desk and put down the book he was reading. "Sure Dad."
Philip took a seat on Max's bed. "Your mother is a little concerned about you, and she asked me to talk to you."
"What about?" Max asked apprehensively.
"Well she seems to think you're having girl trouble. Your friend Tess was coming over quite a bit and now she just seems to have disappeared from your life. Did you two have a fight? Is it anything your mother or I could help you with?"
There were times, like now, when Max wished he could tell his parents what was going on in his life. He knew they loved him and he respected their advice. But since the truth was out of the question he simply shrugged and gave his father the Earthly version. "For a while, Tess and I were close but it was over almost before it started. It didn't take too long for me to see she wasn't who I thought she was."
His father nodded, understanding, "I'm sorry Max. Do you want to talk about it?"
Max sighed. "Not really. It's over and she's gone."
"You're mother said Tess left town. Was it because of your breakup?"
"Not exactly," Max admitted. "Tess just figured out there was nothing here for her. There never was."