BOOK 10 MAJESTY'S
(Wednesday, December 19th, 2001)
Michael didn't even try to smother his yawn. "I really hate these early morning practices."
"So do I," Kyle agreed. "Even if I do have powers to practice now."
Michael smiled, "And a sweet new ride to bring you here."
Kyle turned to his new car with a smile. It was a red 1999 Mustang convertible. "It's great huh? Not as nice as my other car but is a convertible and I'm certainly not complaining."
"Well I am," Maria said. "Everyone is getting a new car but me."
Max laughed. "We don't have too much time before school, so let's see what Kyle can do." He motioned to the rocks he had set up and spoke to Kyle. "Try focusing on each one and moving it."
Kyle nodded and stepped forward. With an outstretched arm, he concentrated on the first rock, trying to focus the power like he had done before. To his satisfaction he felt the power rush down his arm and the rock started to vibrate and then tilt from side to side. Kyle focused on the rock even more, willing it to move, when suddenly it exploded.
"Whoops," Kyle said.
Michael and Max looked at one another and nodded.
Michael took a seat at the head of the two tables the others had pushed together. "So what do you guys want to do this weekend?" He looked around at the gang and there were shrugs all around.
"I guess we could go to a movie," Sean suggested.
"What about a video night?" Isabel asked. "We haven't done that for a while."
Maria and Liz agreed nodding.
Kyle turned to Max, "We could get an action film for once instead of all of this chick flick stuff we've been subjected to lately."
"Hey," Maria called out, "what chick flick stuff?"
Kyle rolled his eyes, "Oh, I don't know, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Four Weddings and a Funeral. All we ever watch is chick flicks."
"Now wait a minute," Liz argued. "What about Braveheart, The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, those are action movies.
"But they all have a love story," Kyle complained.
Isabel laughed, "Okay, just for Kyle, we'll get one action movie with absolutely no love story."
"Is there such a thing?" Maria asked.
Everyone laughed and the bell above the door drew their attention, and together they turned to see Brody enter.
"Hey Brody," they all called out.
Brody looked at Sean and then at Max, "Maybe we should talk outside, Max. I have a message from your friend Larek."
Max nodded, "It's okay, Larek. Sean knows the truth." He motioned to a free chair. "Tell us what's happening."
Larek took a seat at the table and got right to the point. "My men have discovered that Khivar's ship the Leptes, that originally brought his troops to Earth, returned to Antar sometime in June of this year."
Michael sighed, "So all of the skins have gone home?"
Larek shook his head. "Less than a month later it left Antar again. It was headed in the direction of Earth but we lost track of it on our sensors. The ship used a tremendous burst of speed we were unable to track."
Michael sat up straighter, "Khivar is sending more troops? How long will it take them to get here?"
"We don't know Khivar is sending troops," Larek said, "but it is a good guess."
"Guess nothing," Kyle said, remembering Liz's story of the future.
Max repeated Michael's question, "How long, Larek?"
"It's hard to say," Larek admitted. "With the level of technology at the time, originally it would have taken the Leptes almost twelve years to get to Earth."
"It didn't take them twelve years to get home," Liz pointed out. "The skins were on Earth last November for the summit. Did they upgrade the ship somehow?"
Larek shook his head, "The materials required to upgrade the ship are heavy metals that do not exist on Earth and our powers cannot create or manipulate them. They must be manufactured by machines."
Max nodded, "So the only way the ship could have gotten the extra burst of power would be the Granolith."
"But Tess left in the Granolith to go back to Antar, to save the baby," Kyle said. "How did it get back to Earth?"
"Tess must have taken the Granolith to Copper Summit and not back to Antar," Max deduced. "That's why Larek's people never saw her arrive, because she didn't."
"You're right," Liz agreed. "It wouldn't make any sense to send the Granolith to Antar and back to Earth so they could retrieve that old ship. They would simply send a new one. The Granolith was in Copper Summit until it left on the Leptes."
Max picked up her line of thought, "And now it's headed back to Earth on the ship, bringing more troops."
"So the baby wasn't sick, because Tess must have been in Copper Summit for months." Isabel said. "And now we know Tess was working with Nicholas."
Liz caught Kyle's eye and smiled sympathetically, knowing this must be hard for him, now that he remembered loving Tess. Kyle smiled back and nodded, acknowledging her concern.
Max looked at Larek, "So assuming the ship was upgraded on Antar, and using the Granolith, how long would it take to get back here?"
Larek shrugged, "A few hours."
"That means Khivar's troop have been on Earth for months," Michael pointed out. "What have they been doing all this time?"
An hour later, Liz locked the Crashdown's front door behind the others and turned back to Max. "You're thinking about Tess."
Max nodded, "We know she lied about how long the pregnancy took and now it looks like she was on Earth at least part of the time we thought she was gone."
"And you're wondering if she went back to Antar on the ship," Liz said, "or if she could still possibly be in Copper Summit."
Max shrugged, "It doesn't matter where she is now. We can't take my son from her until he is born."
"But knowing where they are would give you some peace of mind," Liz suggested as she took his hand in hers. "We could go to Copper Summit and see if we could find out anything. There are hills surrounding the town that would provide excellent camouflage."
Max squeezed her hand, "Thank you for the suggestions, but it's just too dangerous. I don't want to risk any of us now that we know there could be a new set of troops there."
"Or," Liz said speculatively, "I could try to astral project there, to see what's going on."
"No Liz, you can't," Max protested.
"I can stay invisible to them," Liz reminded him, "no one would even know I was there."
"It's too dangerous," Max said. "We don't know what kind of powers the skins have. It's possible some of them could detect your presence…" He shook his head, "I can't lose you, especially now."
Liz nodded and pulled him into an embrace.
Max wrapped his arms around her and sighed. "Larek said he would keep investigating. We'll wait a while and see what he can find out before we go running in to what could be a trap."
Max knocked on the Valenti's door. For a few minutes nothing happened and he knocked again. This time he heard movement inside and the Sheriff called out. "Just a minute."
Jim finally answered the door and Max smiled when he saw the trace of lipstick the Sheriff had missed on his lips.
"Oh, Max," Jim greeted, "Kyle isn't here. Can I give him a message?"
"Actually, I came to see you," Max said.
Jim nodded, "Okay, come in."
Max wasn't surprised to see Amy. "Hey Mrs. DeLuca."
Amy ran a hand over her hair, smoothing it down. "Hi Max, how's it going?"
"Fine," Max said.
"We were just, um, planning the wedding," Jim said. He turned to Amy, "Max needs to talk to me about something."
Amy nodded, "Okay, I'll go into the kitchen and give you boys a minute."
Max waited until the door closed behind Amy. "I'm sure Kyle will fill you in but I wanted to tell you this myself."
"Sounds serious," Jim said.
"It could be," Max agreed. "Today we learned that Khivar has most likely sent more skin soldiers."
"Their ship went to Antar and returned to Earth months ago. I think it's a pretty good guess it brought back more troops."
Jim nodded. "If the troops have been on Earth for months, what do you think they are waiting for?"
"We don't know," Max admitted. "Larek is trying to find out more but I thought you should know in case anything weird starts to happen."
"Like all of the humans disappearing again?" Jim asked.
"Something like that," Max nodded. "We should all be on the lookout for anything unusual."
(Friday, December 21st, 2001)
Rath had watched the group from outside the Crashdown for over an hour, waiting for the restaurant to close. Max was there, Michael and so were Maria and Liz and a guy that Rath didn't recognize. Maria and Liz were working and the others were sitting in a booth, talking. There were only two remaining customers and finally they got up to leave.
Rath was hesitant about approaching Max and the others anywhere but a public place, afraid that they might shoot first and ask questions later. So even though the other human guy was there, Rath squared his shoulders and strode to the door.
Liz was just approaching the door to lock it when Rath suddenly appeared through the glass and she stopped with a surprised gasp and started to back away. "Max!"
Max looked to the door just as Rath pushed it open. He jumped up from the table and ran to put himself between the Michael look-a-like and Liz.
Rath stopped when Liz called out and watched Max rush to defend her, noting with mild curiosity that they must be back together again.
Michael was slower to react but he took up a position next to Max and raised his hand before him. "What are you doing here?"
Rath was careful not to make any sudden moves. "Yo duke, chill. I ain't here to start nothin'." With a jut of his chin, Rath motioned to Kyle, who had taken up a position behind them, "And you wouldn't want to start nothin' with your friend here."
Max held Rath's gaze, "Kyle knows everything."
Rath glanced at Kyle. Of course he had heard the name from Tess, but he had never seen him and simply nodded.
"Where's Lonni?" Liz asked, looking around as if the other version of Isabel would materialize out of thin air.
"She ain't here and she's not comin," Rath explained. "She sold me out. Cut a deal with Nicholas, so I came to make my own deal with you."
"Why should we believe you?" Michael asked. "You and Lonni killed Zan and tried to kill Max."
Rath nodded, "I thought Ava would rat us out. Okay, yeah, you got me," he admitted, with a jerk of his head. "I helped Lonni kill Zan, but it was all her idea. I didn't really have nothin' against Zan but Lonni wanted him outta the way, and that girl gets what she wants. I knew I could either help her or end up the victim of a convenient accident myself." He turned to address Max. "And duke, I didn't even know you," he said with a wink. "It wasn't nothin' personal."
Rath glanced around at the others and then back to Max. "I never trusted Lonni, she was always just out for herself. But you duke, you's the man, and a stand-up guy. I know you'll honor any deal we make."
Max sighed, the irony of the situation not lost on him, and asked the same question he'd asked Rath and Lonni at the New York conference. "What kind of deal, Rath?"
Rath shrugged, "All I want is your personal guarantee that I'll get transportation off this rock when you go home."
Max nodded, "And even if we believe you, why would we help you?"
Rath looked around at each of them. "I've got information about Nicholas and Khivar and their plans. And Lonni doesn't know I'm on to her so I could be like a spy, double-‘O'-freaking-seven. Report back with new stuff I learn." His eyes stopped on Max again. "I can also tell you about Tess."
Max surged forward angrily, "Tess? What about Tess?"
Rath smiled with a shake of his head, ignoring Max's outburst. "She really played you, duke." Then he turned his gaze to Liz, and spoke directly to her. "And I've got somethin' you want."
Jeff watched the strange encounter in the dining room, through the diamond-shaped window in the door to the back. At first, he thought Michael had radically changed his look, but within a few seconds it was obvious that the other guy wasn't Michael. Jeff guessed the newcomer must be a relative of Michael's because they looked so much alike, but Jeff knew Michael was an orphan and he had never mentioned knowing about any of his family. Then he'd heard Max call the newcomer something that sounded like Wrath.
It was also obvious that Max and the others didn't trust Wrath and if what Jeff had heard was true, he couldn't blame them. Jeff had come downstairs to get some milk and had only caught the end of the conversation but he'd heard Michael say that Wrath had tried to kill Max. But now Wrath was trying to make a deal with Max, volunteering to be a spy of some kind and he had also offered something to Liz.
Jeff wondered if it was some kind of gang thing but he couldn't imagine Max and Michael being mixed up in that. And then there was the cryptic request Wrath had made to Max about taking him off this rock when they went home. Even if Wrath was an orphan too, how would Max know anything about where he was from?
Jeff knew who Tess was and Wrath obviously had some information Max wanted about her. But who were these other people that Wrath had offered to spy on? Lonni? Nicholas? Khivar?
Isabel curled her legs underneath her on the sofa and sighed with contentment. She had been spending a lot of time alone with Hale lately and they had grown very close. Of course Hale didn't know her secret, but it was nice to be away from the alien stuff sometimes.
Isabel leaned her head on Hale's shoulder and took his hand in hers. "I'm glad you suggested watching a movie at your house. It's nice to be together without everyone else."
Hale smiled, "I know how close you are to your friends, I never thought I'd hear you say that."
Isabel shook her head, "I love all of them and I wouldn't trade them for the world."
Hale squeezed her hand, "I know that. But sometimes you have to take some time just for yourself."
"Yeah," Isabel agreed. "Some time just for us."
Hale leaned in closer and cupped her cheek in his hand, whispering, "And I know one very good way to spend that time." He closed the distance between them and took her lips in a searing kiss.
Max asked Rath to wait outside while they discussed the situation, and as the door closed behind him, Michael was the first to speak.
"I don't trust him."
Max shook his head, "Neither do I but he could be telling the truth. Lonni would do anything to get what she wants."
"You want us to trust him?" Maria asked incredulously.
"No," Max said. "Of course not, but he could have useful information." He glanced at Liz and then quickly away. "If he could tell us about what happened to Tess and my son..." he trailed off quietly. "And it could help us to be ready for whatever is coming next."
"Rath only said he wanted a ride home," Kyle interjected, "that's not so much to promise if he can give us any information."
"That's what he said," Maria drawled sarcastically, "and to me the whole thing looks too good to be true. What if he's just leading us into a trap? And how does he know anything about Khivar or Tess?"
"We know more than they think we do," Michael said, "so why don't we ask him a few questions and see if he is jerking us around."
Max turned to Liz, who had remained silent, and saw her studying Rath through the window. "Liz, what do you think?"
She pulled her attention away from Rath. "I think he's telling the truth."
Michael rolled his eyes, "You're too trusting, Liz. You believe everything anyone says."
Liz shook her head. "It's just a feeling I have but I think we should listen to him." She turned to Max. "He said he has something for me, and for some reason I think it's important. Really important."
"He's just messing with your head, Liz," Maria said. "What could he possibly have?"
"I don't know, information maybe." Liz shrugged and looked around the group. "I can't say why, but I just have this overwhelming feeling that we need to make a deal with him."
"That's good enough for me," Kyle said.
Max nodded, "Me too."
"Are you sure?" Maria asked. "You know what he's capable of."
"At least let's check him out," Michael said.
Max nodded, "Okay, let's check him out."
Michael walked to the door and motioned for Rath to come back in.
Max stepped forward as Rath entered. "I have a question," Max said, "just so we know that you're on the level."
Rath nodded, "Okay, shoot."
"How was Tess', um, health when you last saw her?"
For a moment Rath looked puzzled and then he realized what Max was really asking. "Right, I get you. You want know about your kid."
Max nodded. "When was he born?"
"No, duke," Rath denied, "he's not born yet. I know Tess told you the baby would come in a month, but that was just to get you to leave with her."
"And he's okay? He's not sick?"
"He's fine," Rath said. "And growin' like a weed, according to Tess."
Liz stepped forward, "Then Tess is still in Copper Summit."
Rath froze, realizing what he had inadvertently given away and then a slow smile lit his face. He focused on Liz. "Yeah, you're right," he said with a wink. His voice lowered seductively, "I heard you're a smart one."
Maria stepped between them, "Down boy."
Rath smiled and looked around the group. He could tell they were still hesitant to believe him but he had anticipated their skepticism and played his trump card. Looking past Maria, he focused on Liz again, speaking directly to her. "I know you don't believe me, but to prove my sincerity I'm going to return something that was taken away from you."
Liz searched his face for any clue. "What is it?" she asked softly.
Rath shook his head, "You'll never believe me. You have to see for yourselves."
Jeff was still in shock as he watched the group go out the door. Max had gotten Tess pregnant, and Liz knew and had still taken him back?
Jeff didn't know what was going on, but he was going to confront Liz as soon as she got home.
The figure watched from the alley, as the gang left the Crashdown, and he carefully noted the presence of the Michael look-a-like.