Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12 [WIP]

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Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12 [WIP]

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:18 pm

One world’s population has already been annihilated.
Another has been destroyed beyond recognition.
The third has been tampered with by an ancient entity.

On a journey that spanned three lifetimes…
On a quest that brought him to a distant world…
In an adventure that taught him the meaning of love…
Came the…


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Rightful King



Title: Rightful King
Pairing: Mi/L
Rating: Teen
Synopsis: When Michael gets back the memories from his predecessor, Rath, and Liz accesses memories from Future Liz, they realize that Max is not the real King of Antar. Now, Rath remembers his real goal in coming to Earth and he’s not going to leave until he gets it. Liz, determined not to face another end of the world, knows her only hope is to ally herself to Rath and aide him in reaching his goal. Will she be successful or will she pay an even greater cost this time than in the last timeline?
Note 1: Antarian language [words and grammatical structure] link here.

Table of Contents:



~Introduction~


Jim Valenti looked down at the hardbound book laying on the table in front of him. Raised Antarian symbols were written across the front, and every once in a while a prism-like rainbow of colors appeared as if by magic and glistened across the front, then disappeared again.

“What is this?” he asked.

“It’s a book,” Nancy said.

“Yeah, I see that,” he said dryly.

“It’s Liz’s book.”

“Uh huh. Go on.”

“Do you, uh… do you know much about what happened in the last year?” she inquired of him.

“You know what, Mrs. Parker? It’s been a real long day for me and I’m darn near exhausted. I’d appreciate it if you could get to the point,” he evaded.

She worried her lip in a manner so reminiscent of Liz. “I know,” she said so soft he almost missed what she said. “I know everything.”

“You wanna be a little more specific?”

“Maybe you should read it for yourself. This,” she said pointing to the book laying on the table, “this book was written by my daughter. For me. It’s about the last year of her life here on Earth.”

He looked up from the book to which she pointed and met her eyes. And saw the truth.

“She saved our world. She saved all of us,” she said quietly.

“Yes, she did.”

She nodded. “Maybe you could bring this back to me when you finish.”

“I’ll do that.”

~Rightful King~


Antar – Doju Islands, Main Island


Prologue


From the distant hills, the dragons were keening their haunting lament. They rose on their haunches, wings extended and their heads thrown back. There was no escape from their dirge. With their voices they sang of their despair. With their minds they, of one accord, broadcast the utter devastation they felt.

The children’s voices were gone. Their emotional signatures, which had once filled the area with innocence and joy and exuberance, were missing. The delighted laughter of small boys and girls that he was used to greeting him were not there.

The King stood seemingly impassive, his face a perfectly blank slate and the walls of his mind firmly in place so that those around him could feel not a trace of emotion. In view of such an event as this, they needed a strong leader.

We have not been able to enter the Chamber, O King, the High Commander said telepathically. The Granolith has prevented us. He gestured toward the green energy shield surrounding the entrance to the Chamber.

I will go, the King replied.

But, Sire, how can you cross the barrier? Already one man was injured while attempting to gain access.

The Granolith will not prevent me.
It was all he planned to tell his officer, but then he changed his mind. What would it matter if they learned the truth now? The timeline was already ruined beyond anything his people could have imagined. Only the Granolith could save them now.

From beneath his embroidered tunic he grabbed hold of the thick chain and pulled it up, revealing the multi-faceted jewel, which hung from it. From all around him he heard gasps as he openly displayed what he had for years kept hidden.

It is a tikava! The King bears a tikava! he heard whispered from the minds of his men.

But it was his High Commander who voiced the surprise they all shared. My Lord, how is this possible? What does it mean?

I am not at liberty to tell you everything. The Granolith has not granted me that authority. But suffice it to say that the Granolith has been my friend since I was a small child and I have faithfully done its bidding, all the while being trained in secret by Rawuri.

But, Sire, this means you have acted as an Ambassador for years,
the High Commander said.

That is so.

But it is not the way of the Granolith to befriend a monarch.


The King raised his brow at the Commander but said nothing.

I… Forgive me, Sire. “One cannot always understand the ways of the Granolith”, he quoted.

The King nodded.

He turned from his men and headed toward the Chamber. As he approached the green field, he held out his hands. The green energy fluctuated momentarily and then disappeared.

Part One – Earth, Spring 2000

Departure


~Chapter 1~

A Little Dizzy


Her heart was beating so hard you could see it through her shirt and she was panting for breath. She clutched at Max for support, not even thinking about whom she was holding onto. God, Tess had killed Alex. She had almost been successful in bringing Max, Isabel and Michael back to Antar for their execution. And now she was leaving for that far away planet herself in the Granolith with Max’s unborn child…

Suddenly, the part of the Granolith that had shot Tess through Earth’s skies changed directions and angled sideways. And not even in a gentle curve as it should have. From the corner of her eye she had seen some hazy, object silently moving from the direction of the Granolith’s Chamber – moving so fast that it had overtaken Tess, knocking her out her ascending trajectory and pushing her in an entirely different direction.

Liz pushed away from Max and stepped away from the group. “That’s not right,” she said, not realizing she spoke aloud. What had she seen? What had the Granolith done? She squinted into the sky against the glare of the brilliant sun. “It pushed the trajectory off.” She shaded her eyes with her hand to better view its line of ascent. “What’s It doing?”

Michael moved next to her without her realizing it. He grabbed her elbow to get her attention. “What did you say?” he asked.

“Did you see it?” she asked. Liz was only dimly aware of Michael’s presence next to her, so focused was she on the overhead object. She felt strange, like something was happening – something outside of the total betrayal of Tess. “She’ll never make it off planet.” The hair all over her body seemed to stand on end and electricity sizzled in the air. Was she the only one who felt it? “I don’t think It will let her,” she murmured.

Her words startled Max. “What?” he asked as the Granolith disappeared from view. “But my son…”

At the disappearance of Tess, Max’s words broke through to Liz. She dropped her hand and turned to look at him. “I’m sure your son is just fine, Max. Tess lied about everything. I’m sure she lied about that too.” She turned back and stared up at the now empty sky. “Of course, what she does once he’s born…” she said under her breath.

The light grew brighter. Colors, unlike anything Liz had ever seen, swarmed around her. Eternity of time and space stretched out before her. It was too much; she wasn’t ready for this sort of perception…

Your love, loyalty and honor are rewarded… From deep within her mind were dredged memories of another lifetime, implanted unknowingly by Future Max. The love they shared, the life they lived, their experiences and knowledge… all of it, granted by this powerful mind. Ipaki, It spoke in Antarian. /Remember./

She was overwhelmed. Too much, she sent.

The gentle, powerful mind acknowledged this, sorrowing that she was not ready yet, and the colors and lights dimmed. As darkness descended there was a sense of another mind, familiar and comforting, tugging at her, pulling her back.

Liz. Liz, it called.

Michael. “It won’t let her leave,” she murmured aloud. No, not Michael.

She felt him affirm her mental acknowledgement even as he continued to tug at her, pulling and pulling, forcing her to return to the physical world around her.

“What won’t, Liz?” he asked aloud. He was holding her against him, bracing her so that she wouldn’t fall.

“The Granolith,” she said softly – so soft that only he could hear her. “It won’t let Tess leave our planet.”

“Come on, Liz, open your eyes,” he encouraged, “before my cousin sees you like this.” She felt him brush a strand of hair from her face and tuck it behind her ear.

“What is going on?” It was Max.

Too late.

But it was enough to shock Liz to alertness. She grasped Michael’s shirt with her hands and pulled herself up, fighting the remnants of dizziness left by her contact with the mind. She blinked her eyes open and tried to orientate herself… and was immediately confronted by Michael’s very dark eyes.

Rath?

But there was no response. He had already shut their brief connection.

“What happened?” Max demanded. He was at her side… but when she saw him she realized he was not her Max, not the Max from 2014 who had sacrificed everything to save their world.

“I’m fine, Max,” she said to her ex-boyfriend. “I just got a little dizzy. Michael… helped me.”

“You sure you’re okay?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Okay. Then let’s go. We need to get back before anyone suspects anything,” he ordered, instantly in a take-charge mode. He moved away to rejoin the rest of the group to hand out directions.

“Can you walk?” Michael asked after Max had stepped away.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, letting go of his shirt. His eyes were still very dark and she knew. Knew that, just as in the past timeline, he had regained the memories of his predecessor Rath. It could only be the work of the Granolith.

“You, uh… you better go to Maria.” She started shakily toward the group, with Michael’s comforting presence close behind.

Spring 2000

“Departure” Evening


~Chapter 2~

Remember


“Come on, Michael,” Liz called out over the edge of her balcony. She had sensed him hovering in the shadows, wanting to join her but uncertain of the welcome. “I know you’re down there.”

Michael appeared from around the corner of the building and stared up at her.

She wasn’t surprised he was there. After what had happened that day, she knew he would come. Probably he had stayed with Maria and her mom for a while, making sure they were okay. He would have gone to Max and Isabel’s house to make certain they had been able to get their hands on the video before their parents did. Then he would have stopped by Kyle and Jim Valenti’s to answer questions and see how Kyle was holding up. Liz, of course, would be his last stop.

What would she say to him? Should she tell him the truth about what the Granolith had done? And if she did, how much should she tell him? How much did he already suspect? How would he react? More importantly, was she right in thinking he had access to Rath’s memories or had that just been her imagination, and, if she was right, how much of Rath’s memories had he been able to gain access to?

Michael pulled himself over the ledge and stood on his feet. Silent.

“I’ve been expecting you,” she said. “Come on in. My parents went out to dinner at a friend’s. We can speak privately.” She turned and led the way to her room, crawling in through the window.

They sat on her bed.

“How is everyone holding up?” she asked.

“Isabel and Max – they’re tough. They’ll be fine after a good night’s sleep. Jim and Kyle – I don’t know. They’re devastated. Jim will get through it, I think,” he told her. “Kyle would prefer not to have anything to do with any of us anymore.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“What about Maria?”

“Hard to say,” he shrugged. “She’s Maria. One minute she’s angry and wants to kill Tess, the next she’s all over me because I stayed on Earth.”

“Sounds about right,” Liz agreed. “What about her mom?”

“She was starting to remember. Tess is… not as skilled at mind warping as she was on Antar,” he stated simply. “I had to repair the damage. She’ll be fine now. She won’t remember anything.”

Liz nodded. Michael was drained, bone tired. There was strain on his face and in the hunch of his shoulders. He felt so responsible for everyone, but then so did she. “Thank goodness,” she sighed. “Michael, when was the last time you ate?”

“I don’t remember. This morning, I think,” he said. “But don’t worry about it. Just talk to me.”

“Okay.” This was it – the time of reckoning. She wondered once again how much she should tell him. Would it be a risk to the timeline to tell him everything she knew? She did not want to undo whatever effects Max and she had had here. Then again, if he remembered being Rath… She blew out a nervous breath.

“You’re not risking the timeline.” He spoke soft to keep the tiredness out of his voice, but she felt it anyway.

“How can you be sure?”

“I just am,” he evaded. “What did the Granolith say when It contacted you?”

Ipaki – the Antarian word for ‘remember’.

Strange. She wondered again over the mind so gentle yet holding such great power. It had been a sensation she didn’t think she would ever forget.

“The Granolith said It was rewarding me,” she shrugged.

“For your part in altering this timeline,” he interpreted.

She blinked. “Yeah. How did you…? Oh,” she sighed. Of course. “Flashes. You know what we did because of flashes from Maria.” There was no real surprise. Her younger counterpart should have known better.

His nod was imperceptible. “What did It do?”

“The same thing It did for you apparently. It gave me my memories back.”

He neither confirmed nor denied her suspicion. “How many?”

“What do you mean? You want to know how much of the other timeline I remember?”

“How many timelines… period… do you remember?”

“There’s more than two?” she murmured in horror. “How many times have we lived to see the end of the world?”

“Only the Granolith knows.”

“So, what are you saying? That… that it’s just going to keep happening? Again and again and again?”

“No, Liz,” he said, taking hold of her hand. “No. This is the last time. You wouldn’t have been given your memories otherwise.”

She reached out with her mind and gently brushed against his, needing to know the truth. His mind was open and reacted to her by returning her touch.

“I wouldn’t lie to you.”

“Oh.” She could sense honesty coming from him. “All right. Then what do you want to know?”

“I need to know what you know… from the other timeline.”

“Oh, okay.” Of course he would need to know. Their lives depended on information and keeping one step ahead of their enemy. They couldn’t afford to allow what happened in 2014 to happen again. “Well, I guess what you most need know is that Tess…”

He shook his head. “Don’t tell me. I need to see it for myself.” He reached out slowly and cupped her cheek in his hand. Did she understand what he wanted? Would she allow him to do it?

“No, Michael,” Liz said, immediately putting up a mental block to prevent a telepathic connection. She reached up and gently grasped his hand in hers. “No. Maria would see. She’d see everything,” she said.

“She won’t know. I swear.” Michael leaned toward Liz until she could feel his warm breath on her skin. “I don’t let her get flashes.”

“But you…” She did not finish. In the other timeline he had always let Maria “see” him. Always. But this timeline was different… and not just because Max had come back and altered events. It was different in small ways long before Max had ever arrived, ways that she was still trying to sort out. Was this another one of those things?

His warm brown eyes were darkening and she could feel his alien side becoming more active. She had seen it before… in the other timeline… at the end, when, as General Rath, he had organized the final attack against their enemies.

“Please, Liz,” he whispered.

“But you’ll risk…” Everything. The kind of connection he would need to make was risky to them both.

Michael made a low guttural noise in his throat. “I’m not going to bond to you.”

Liz pulled back. “Are you laughing at me, Rath?”

“Never,” he denied, despite the obvious amusement in his exhausted features. “Never at you.”

“You better not,” she said quietly.

“Never,” he repeated.

He was knocking down her excuses one by one.

She stared at him, thinking. There were things she did not want him to see, even things she herself did not want to relive. Memories of another world best left locked away and forgotten. But then… this was Rath asking and what he wanted from her was important. This timeline had to be protected, the people kept safe…

So many people had given their lives to see this happen… including Rath.

He still had his hand pressed her cheek, and now he brought the other one up so that he held her. He leaned in until his forehead rested against hers. “Breathe,” he instructed. “Slow. In and out. Match your breaths to mine,” he instructed.

She knew. He had connected to her – to teach her – before… but then, he would not know about that and that sort of teaching connection was not quite the same as what he had proposed now.

This sorting and deciphering of two different timelines was confusing. Two childhoods intertwined with very different end results. Two sets of peoples that, like twin siblings, might look the same and have similar personalities, but could not really be the same at all.

In this one she and Michael had shared mutual friends but had never themselves been close, certainly not close enough to have connected. In the other – the one from which she came – they had been close friends. More than close friends actually. They had been family. And Michael and Rath both (depending on which was dominant at the time) had taught her and protected her and fought alongside her.

Would this Michael be any different now that he had Rath’s memories? Could she trust and rely on him in the way she had the Rath/Michael of her timeline?

Did this Rath have the skill and control necessary to form such an intimate connection without hurting her?

But then maybe it did not matter. What he learned from her could only help.

“Breathe,” he said again. “Keep your eyes on mine.”

Liz forced herself to put her thoughts aside and relax – relax until their breathing had slowed and synchronized and his eyes had darkened until they were black. Her internal mental walls began to crumble.

She felt him send out the calming telepathic sensations to put her mind at ease, and she made no attempt to stop him. She let him come to her. Gently. Tentatively. His mind reaching out to hers with unexpected tenderness and warmth. Trust me, he spoke in her mind.

I do, she answered.

He moved in further, silently, she noticed. Where are the flashes? she asked. He was deep within her mind now – in the far reaches where the Granolith had breached the barriers of her hidden memories - but, unlike with Max, no images flashed through her mind. It was strangely quiet.

Never, he whispered to her telepathically. I would never put you at risk. And there they were, all the memories from another lifetime. Under his tender guidance, they came alive for him… for them both.

Liz had never experienced anything like it. Not ever. He was remembering with her, sharing in her thoughts and feelings and impressions. Reliving all of it from her perspective, even the intimate, tender moments and the horrifying, despairing events. It was…

Benguela, he spoke telepathically, breaking the silent remembering.

I do not know that word, she returned. She had encountered much of the Antarian language in the last timeline, but that particular word was still foreign to her.

A Sharing between friends, he explained.

This?

Yes.

Even between people who are bonded?
she asked.

He paused his quiet perusal and she felt his regret slip through even before he answered. Yes, he told her, but you are not bonded and neither am I.

The bond is still with me; only Max is not.

It is the way,
he said and then relapsed into her memories, ending their brief conversation.

When he was done – when he was finished seeing what he came to see – he removed himself from her mind just as slowly as he had entered her. Tenderly. Careful not to cause any injury.

Physical sensations returned gradually and Liz found herself still in Michael’s confines, his hands cupping her cheeks, his forehead pressed to hers, their breathing still in unison. The last vestiges of Rath’s alien side lay subdued.

“Michael?” she whispered. His eyes were closed, but his mind was at last unguarded and she could feel his exhaustion, physically and mentally. It had been too much – the long emotional roller coaster of a day, the repercussions to deal with at night, and now the controlled use of his power to access her mind without hurting her. The connection had taken the last of his energy. She took his hands in hers and slowly brought them down. “Come on, Michael. Sleep. I’ll lock my door. My parents won’t know.”

He didn’t fight her. He was tired enough to know he didn’t have enough left in him to make it back to his apartment safely.

Liz covered Michael and then went to her window and shut it. She pressed her hand against the glass and let her energy pool into her palm. The glass blackened and thickened, creating a soundproof, impenetrable barrier. Part of her knew that such a precaution in this timeline was unnecessary, but the other part of her – the part that had lived through the war and was always on guard – insisted.

Then she crawled into bed next to him and pulled the covers up around her. She waved her hand at the lamp and it turned off, plunging her bedroom into darkness. She snuggled into her pillow, aware of Michael’s warm, comforting presence beside her, but she could not fall asleep as easily as he did; too much weighed on her mind.

What would happen now? Alex was dead, murdered by the woman Max had bonded himself to. Her friends were utterly devastated by the events that had occurred over the past few weeks. And now… now Michael and she had their memories back. What did that mean for this timeline? How did it change things? And, perhaps more importantly, why did she have powers earlier in this timeline than the last?

It was a long time before her troubling thoughts let her fall into an equally troubled sleep.

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It was still dark when Michael awoke. He slipped the covers slowly off him and quietly sat up in bed, trying not to wake her.

“Michael?” she murmured sleepily, awakening despite his efforts. “You leaving?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly.

“What time is it?”

“4:30.”

“Okay.” She rolled toward him and extended her hand, seeking his. She found the hem of his shirt instead and grabbed it. “You’ll have to fix the window to get out.”

He smiled, recalling that in the other timeline he had been the one to teach her that trick. “Thanks,” he told her.

“No problem.”

“Not the window, Liz. I meant thank you for everything else – for sacrificing your love when Max came back, for trying to protect the Granolith, for not giving up no matter how scared or unhappy you were… and for trusting me.”

She cradled his head on her lap and stared down on his prone form. There was no blood, but the damage from the blast was irreparable… even if they had the time.

“Thank you for trusting me,” he managed to get out between raspy breaths.

“Always,” she whispered.

“It was worth it, wasn’t it?”

She nodded. She had to fight the emotional walls she had erected in her mind, fight them so that they wouldn’t crumble, for it was no longer Rath standing so strong beside her but Michael Guerin. She had not seen him in a long time. Months. Maybe longer. “I want to believe it is.”

“It is. Trust me.”

“I do.”

“You have to finish this.”

“I know.”

“My men will hold off Khivar until you and Max get to the Granolith,” he said, “but you’ll have to hurry.”

She nodded. They would have to leave him. Let him die alone. She hoped death would come quickly for him.

“Liz,” her husband spoke from beside her.

“I love you, Michael. We both do,” she said. He hated displays of affection, but she wasn’t going to leave without saying it.

“Liz,” Max said again.

“Go,” Michael ordered.

Liz carefully lifted his head from her lap and set it on the ground. “Imabuli xoyan, ceiba tsuwen waun urangi,” she whispered. /May you find peace in the Granolith./

It was what his people said to those who had died or were about to die, and she half expected him to repeat those words back to her but he only said goodbye.

Just goodbye. As if he planned to see her again.


She forced the memory of yesterday – no, from the time period before – to take its place back in the far recesses of her mind and clapped her walls immediately into place. They had done what had to be done. That was all. And she did not regret the sacrifices they had to make for it.

“I’d do it again… all of it,” she whispered.

“I know you would.” He bent down and placed a tender kiss on her forehead. It was a thank you, not meant as anything more. “Try not to worry about anything, okay? This time line is not as bad as it seems right now.”

“Thanks, but I don’t need you to be strong for me, Michael,” she said. “I’ve already been through the end of my world. Nothing can be worse than that.”

“Sure it can,” he said softly, catching her hand in his. “You’re the sole survivor of a planet of 7½ billion people. And sometimes, Liz, living can be harder than dying.”

She had envied the dead sometimes, for the peace they had. But that was before. This timeline was different. She had no reason to envy them anymore, and every reason to want to be part of the living. “I’ll be okay, Michael.”

He squeezed her hand comfortingly. “Okay. I need to go,” he told her, “but I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”
Last edited by sablaine on Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Polar Attraction ~ Experience true love for the first time

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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:21 pm

Spring 2000

Day after “Departure”


~Chapter 3~

A Place to Start


Author’s note: Seriously, folks, click the link when you come to the “form” that Liz sees so you can get an idea of what she is looking at. Put the settings at [hyperpanes] 120-cell, [3-symmetry] tetrahedral, [stereo mode] color code and [color scheme] MMA. Then go up top and set the viewpoint to 0.175, the separation to –0.01 and the shell to between #38 and 44. And make it move at its max speed. That ought to make you feel seasick.


Image


Liz stopped suddenly as she was about to exit the apartment and Michael nearly ran into her. She was staring at the wall that ran from the right side of the front door. “Where’s the…?” She pointed.

“Where’s the what, honey?” her mother asked. She set the clean plate on the counter and reached for another dirty dish. “Did you forget something?”

“Mom, where’s grandma’s piano?”

“Liz,” Michael warned under his breath, but Nancy still caught his tone.

Nancy paused and studied her daughter. She wasn’t sure she heard right. “What?”

“But wasn’t it there…?” Liz asked Michael. She pointed at the wall.

He shook his head no. Of course how he knew was beyond Nancy. She could not remember Michael having ever crossed their threshold.

Liz stood, looking completely confused. “But I used to play…”

Michael shook his head no again.

She bit at her lip. She seemed confused. “Never mind, Mom. I…uh, never mind.”

“Sweetheart, Grandma sold her piano, oh…probably ten years ago,” Nancy said, puzzled as to both Liz’s question and the odd exchange between Michael and her daughter. “Don’t you remember or were you too young?”

“She did?” Liz asked. She appeared to think over her words. “I wonder why she did that.”

“Well, she certainly wasn’t getting any use out of it,” Nancy said, but she had a puzzled expression on her face. “She was gone so much that when that woman showed up on her doorstep and made her an offer she felt that she couldn’t refuse.”

“What kind of an offer?”

“Oh, something like $35,000 cash,” she answered. “I think she still might have refused on grounds of sentimental value, but she said the young woman reminded her so much of her sister – you know, the one you take after – that she let her have it.”

Nancy saw Michael press his hand against the small of Liz’s back and give her a gentle push toward the door.

Liz smiled at her mother as if nothing were amiss, though Nancy was quick to notice the smile did not quite reach her eyes, and said, “School. Gotta go.” She gave a small wave as she exited. “Bye.”

But before the door closed all the way, Nancy heard Liz say: “I don’t understand. I’ve played the piano all my life. How could this time…”


Image


Liz had taken her lunch and gone out to the football field to be alone, but she felt Michael looking for her and knew he would find her sooner or later. Probably sooner. Like a blind man tapping his cane, she could feel his mind brushing against hers.

She pulled small flowers out of the grass and tore them into small pieces, letting them fall back to the ground. The warm, spring breeze blew its desert scent around her – sand and wild flowers and sweet grass. Far in the distance she could hear the twitter of small birds. It felt good to be by herself. Despite the novelty of actually attending high school, the crowd of students had been overwhelming that morning. So much noise and confusion.

It seemed like years since she had been to school. She wasn’t used to so many people. Crowding. Pushing. Talking.

She had to close down her empathic senses completely in order to cope. Too many minds. Too many emotions. Too much sensory input.

Her head ached from it all.

But when Michael had come tapping, she had let him in. Just like that.

One voice. One mind. One sense of determination. Order to a chaotic world.

The pain in her mind ebbed to a tolerable level.

She lay back on the cool grass and let the warm sun soak into her skin. She closed her eyes and breathed in the earthy smells.

And felt.

Un-alone.

The ancient mind of the Granolith had awakened. It looked at her. Silently.

Her stomach churned.

What is it? What do you want?

What did It want? It had never spoken to her before… in the other timeline. Why now? Why this time? Why bring her here?

A single image flashed through her mind. Tess’s trajectory. Her trail across North America. Across the southern states.

I don’t want to know about her.

Another image flashed through her mind. The pod Tess had been shuttled in crash landing. A tremendous impact. Sand flying hundreds of feet into the air. It looked like an explosion.

Is she dead? She did want to know that.

Frothy water lapped again and again at the pod, like steady, sleepy breathing. A crack in the pod’s surface appear and a hatch opened. Tess’s curly head appeared. She looked beaten-up. She struggled to emerge, and finally landed in a heap on the wet sand.

Liz moaned and covered her eyes, as if she could block the image of the murderess from her mind. Her stomach lurched and the pain in her head intensified. No more. I’ve seen enough.

The Ancient Entity slipped away as silently as it came and Liz’s stomach immediately calmed itself.

She felt a cold shadow over her.

“Max was hoping to have a meeting with all of us at lunch to go over our cover stories,” Michael said dryly.

The idea was entirely ridiculous. Cover stories for what? Her parents hadn’t noticed a thing. Maria’s mom had been taken care of by Michael. Kyle and Jim Valenti only had to say that Tess had run away from home. And as for Bob, Max and Isabel’s jeep…well they were on their own with that one. It wasn’t her fault they had Michael blow it up and push it over a cliff. That was just…dumb, and she figured they deserved whatever they got for that one. She had no intention of getting involved in giving them a cover story.

Michael sat down on the grass next to her.

“God, he’s just so young, isn’t he?” Liz asked, looking up at her companion.

“So are we,” he said.

“No, we’re not.” She started to sit up and then lay back down. “Oh, still dizzy.”

“Granolith talk to you again?” Michael asked.

“No, just showed me where it drop-kicked Tess.” She glanced up at him. “Some beach in Florida, in case you’re wondering.”

Michael shrugged. “I was hoping for middle of the Sahara, but Florida’s good.”

“Any place as long as it’s not here, right?” She gave a small laugh. “You know, in my timeline we would have done anything to get our hands on her. We needed her. In this one? I’d like to protect this timeline from her. Protect the people from someone with her kind of power.”

He raised his brow. “You planning something?”

“Let’s just say she’s safe from me until Max’s son is born. Then all bets are off.”

“Maybe you should let me take care of her.”

“Nope. She’s my responsibility,” she said. “The events of this timeline are my doing and I’m going to fix them.”

“The Granolith created this timeline, not you,” Michael told her.

“And did it also create the murderess that’s running around right now?” She tried to sit up again and noticed that the dizziness had gone, although her headache remained. “Because as far as I’m concerned Max and I are responsible for creating a situation in which Tess could become so bad so fast.”

“She chose to become what she is.”

“That’s circular thinking, Michael. Totally logical but completely inaccurate,” she said. “No matter how you look at it, I played a part in the creation of a very dangerous and very powerful alien that no human is going to be able to stop.”

Michael scratched at his eyebrow. “And you think you can stop her on your own?”

“I could,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to have to, but I could if it came down to it.”

“Wanna fill me in on the details?”

She shook her head. “Not right at this moment,” Liz said, knowing there was still months to go before Tess went into labor. (A one-month pregnancy. Pfft. Where had Tess come up with that one?) “But I will when the time comes.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’m still working out the details.”

“That’s what I thought.”

She eyed him suspiciously, daring him to tell her why he was so amused, but he only quirked an eyebrow and remained silent; so, it surprised her when he reached out and threaded his fingers through her hair and over her ear. She felt the warm sensation of his alien energy flood quickly through her, and the pain in her head suddenly dissipated.

“No connection?”

“A connection isn’t needed to heal.”

“Oh.” She felt his amusement double.

“Besides, you wouldn’t have this problem if you had better control over your powers.”

“Better control?” she exclaimed. “You trained me.”

He smiled at her. “That was last time. Your powers weren’t as strong then. And there wasn’t much time to train you. This time you’re much stronger. You’re going to need a lot more training. And it’s going to take a lot longer to train you.”

Liz didn’t even need to think about his unanticipated gesture. She knew as well as he did that she was different and that she would need the training. “Okay.”

“No arguments?”

She shook her head.

“You okay?”

She shook her head again. “You were right. About living, that is. I feel like I’m waking up from a nightmare,” she said. “I’m shaky. Overwhelmed. Keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.” She took a deep steadying breath.

“I felt them, Michael. All these people.” She gestured absently toward the cluster of school buildings. “Especially with the, um… the upoko.”

Upoko. It was a miracle drug on Antar. It made powers stronger and let them accomplish things they could not have ordinarily done.

Khivar used it on Liz to increase her empathic powers, knowing what she would feel. Knowing that she would sense the pain and suffering and death of millions of people. Knowing that Max, too, would feel it through their bond.

He had meant to use it to send a message to Max: surrender unconditionally or we’ll hurt your wife. But Khivar had not counted on Liz’s resourcefulness. She took all the empathic pain. Absorbed it. Drew from it. Harnessed it. Then she turned it around and shoved it into the minds of every alien within her much increased mental range, forcing them to see the full, horrific scope of what Khivar had done.

It was an incredible blow for Khivar as many of his soldiers defected soon afterward.

“I remember, um… I remember feeling their pain, and some of them were tortured. And… I remember when they went silent, because, um…they were dead and there was nothing to feel anymore,” she said softly. She brushed at her wet eyes, but she wouldn’t let herself cry. “And every day there were less and less… voices… you know, um, mental voices to connect to. And then finally there was only…”

He reached out and pulled at the hem of her shirt, tugging her toward him. She buried her head in his chest and let him wrap a comforting arm around her.

“I felt all these people die. But now they’re here. Alive. Young. Happy,” she sighed. “It feels really strange.”

“I bet.”

Maybe she shouldn’t have opened her mind to them. Maybe she shouldn’t have ‘listened’, but she had. She wanted to feel human life around her again. Wanted to know the war was really over. Wanted some kind of confirmation that the choices Max and she had made at the end were worth it.

But there were more ‘voices’ than she was used to ‘listening’ to and the ‘noise’ they made was stronger. With a single push, her mind was able to empathically capture the sensations of millions of people…and she had not needed the upoko to do it. The strength of her ability frightened her.

She had collapsed her ability then, reining it in to those closer to her, to the students and staff on the school grounds. But their youth and innocence left her feeling empty and alone. Surviving the genocide of her people had aged her mentally. It had stripped her of her youthful enthusiasm. It made her feel different from her peers of this timeline. What did they know of war and death and suffering and fear?

She had closed down her empathic senses completely then.

She plucked at the fabric of his Pendleton with her index finger and thumb. “You, um…you ever feel lonely in a crowd?”

“Yeah,” he answered. “All the time.”


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“Parker?”

“Parker?”

“Parker?”

Liz felt a jolt come in from behind her and instantly became alert. She spun in her seat and looked at Jeff Croft, but he pointed at their teacher, Mr. Faulks.

School. Class. She quickly orientated herself to her surroundings.

“Miss Parker?” the teacher said yet again.

She turned back around. “Oh, me.” Right. Parker, not Evans. Parker was her name. She kept forgetting. “I, um…I’m sorry, Sir. I wasn’t paying attention. Could you repeat the question?”

He stared at her with a frown for a few seconds before answering. “1774. What is significant about that year…Parker?”

“1774,” she repeated. She racked her brain to recall the information. “Uh, you know, as I recall there were two important things that happened that year. The first was that King George really started making known his true feelings toward our colonies. He wrote: ‘The New England governments are in a state of rebellion, blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent.’

“And the second more important event was what we call the Boston Massacre and the British call the Boston Skirmish, which was nothing more than some young, homesick British soldiers taking shots at a crowd of men who were taunting them. Five Americans died. Seven were wounded*. It was a far bigger deal to us than it was to them, for obvious reasons. The event became a catalyst, a reason for Americans to start thinking about wanting to be free from British rulership.”

Mr. Faulks nodded. “Very true. Now the question is why. Why did the Boston Massacre become a catalyst? Anyone?”

Liz glanced back at Jeff, who was wearing a shirt that read: ‘What happens if you get scared half to death twice?’ Now there was food for thought.

What happens if you never stop feeling scared? Now that was an even better question.

Pfft. Jeff and his shirts. She had forgotten about his obsession.

“Thanks a lot,” she mouthed with a frown. He gave her a big, toothy smile before she returned her attention to the teacher.

No one had raised their hand.

The teacher moved over to the overhead projector and flipped it on, then placed a transparency on it. The picture splashed onto the whiteboard. “Who wants to tell me about this?”

Again no one raised their hand.

Jeff Croft shoved her again on her back. Her movement caught Mr. Faulk’s eye and he called her name with some relief.

She turned and glared at Jeff before answering. “It’s called ’The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in King Street’. It was a copper etching commissioned by Samuel Adams and created by Paul Revere, which was then painted and printed over and over again and sold throughout the colonies.

“It was war propaganda. It portrayed the British as the enemy shooting at innocent American citizens, when really the only people who were killed or injured were antagonists. But it had the desired effect. People saw the picture and got mad.

“There were a lot of Patriots at the time period, people who considered themselves loyal British citizens and wanted to continue being ruled by Britain. But once this began to be distributed, things began to change.” She shrugged. “It was a brilliant strategy.”

“Right you are,” her teacher replied.

Too bad they had not had any brilliant strategies during the war with Khivar, but the man was always one step ahead. Always. Until the end, when Max had gone back in time and changed the past. And even then, it had not been their past that he had managed to change. They had lost. Khivar had won. Totally.

But he would not win this time. Now she had to finish what Max and she had started and make sure that this time around she was the one that was one step ahead, that she was the one with the brilliant strategies. She didn’t imagine for one second that it was going to be easy, but she did feel she had a fighting chance this time around. This time she knew who her enemies were. And this time they had managed to wipe out most of the Skins already stationed here on Earth.

She knew it was going to come down to two things: removing the last of Khivar’s men from the planet and making sure that Khivar got a firm message that Earth was an unpalatable place to come to, that it had nothing to offer him.

She had some ideas, but they would need refinement. She would also need the help of her alien friends. And she did mean alien. At the very least she was counting on Rath to help her. But, if she could get it, she would also be grateful for the help of Ava and Vilandra.

Max, sadly, was probably going to be more of a liability than a help. If this Max was anything like her husband he would not be able to access his Antarian memories. Plus, he had bonded himself to one of their enemies and that bonding would have made him mentally vulnerable. Poor Max.

But he was the least of her worries right now. Protecting the people of Earth – that was number one. Blending in – that was number two. Adjusting mentally and emotionally to this time period – that was number three. Bolstering Max’s self-esteem – well, that could wait.

“Parker.”

She jolted to attention only to find herself alone in the classroom with her teacher. The bell had already rung and the students had vacated the room, and she had not even noticed. How had the time disappeared on her like that?

“I know you love my class, but you gotta go home.”

She gave him a half-hearted smile and then packed her notebook away in her backpack.

“You know, you’ve been kinda out of it today, Parker,” Mr. faulks said, interrupting her thoughts once more. “Everything okay?”

She shouldered her bag and stood up. “Um, I don’t know. I’m not sure yet.”

“Anything I can do?” he asked. “I’m a pretty good listener.”

She hesitated and then shook her head. The offer was tempting. If she made it sound like she was talking about Alex’s loss… but no. If she wanted someone to listen to her, she had Michael. She had no need for a human to comfort her. “No, I’m good. Thanks.”


Image


She sat propped up in bed with a pillow behind her back, tapping the unread book that lay across her lap. With every tap the cover of the book seemed to ripple like water and then change colors.

Tap. Sky blue.

Tap. Crocodile green.

Tap. Gravestone gray.

Max, she called telepathically. Max. Please answer me. She felt along their bond. Searching. Hoping that he was there somewhere.

Tap. Ballerina pink.

Tap. Sulfur yellow.

Tap. Midnight blue.

Sweetheart.

She opened up her empathic senses and pushed it out as far as it would reach. Thousands, then millions of minds lit up, one after another, and a cacophony of voices burst forth. The sensation of so many did not scare her as it had earlier, but it did make her feel… sad. Not one out of all the voices sounded like her husband.

She sighed softly.

Tap. Granny Smith green.

Tap. Cherry red.

Tap. Pumpkin orange.

And then she felt the concerned presence of the Granolith. Hovering. Watching. Waiting.

Tap. The book rippled and buckled into angles and cuts and sharp edges, and glistened in a rainbow of colors.

She withdrew her hand quickly and looked at what she’d done. A mild wave of nausea followed at the sight of the unnatural figures.

Liz waved her hand over the book and flattened the cover and blended the colors back into a dreary taupe. The golden title reemerged. The nausea disappeared.

She hastily pushed it off her lap and sank backward against her pillow.

The Granolith nudged impatiently at her mind.

No, she said to It. She didn’t want It. She wanted her husband.

It nudged again.

She sighed. I don’t suppose you plan on giving me a choice?

It touched her mind for barely a second and whispered in her mind. Yes.

She heard someone tap softly at her door. “Liz? Honey?”

“Yeah, Mom.”

The door opened inward and Nancy poked her head in. “You want me to heat up any dinner for you yet?”

‘No’ hung on the edge of her tongue, but the Entity seemed upset by the idea. “Toast,” she conceded. “And some ginger tea, if we have any.”

“I think we do,” her mother said, “but it’s probably pretty old.”

“Doesn’t matter. Dried herbs stay potent for a long time.”

“Okay, honey.” She shut the door and went off to the kitchen.

Liz immediately turned her attention to the Entity. Don’t connect with me until I have something in me. Both times it had formed a connection with her, she had felt very sick and dizzy. Something about it just unsettled her. She wondered if, perhaps, it was because it was so alien. Perhaps her mind did not know how to cope with its non-human differences.

It responded with something she interpreted as an affirmation.

She plucked at the stitching on her comforter, thinking. The Granolith was persistent, that was for certain. But she had learned something important in the last timeline: non-humans did not come to Earth unless they had an agenda, but in neither timeline had she managed to learn the Granolith’s purpose in coming to her world. People lived, fought and died because of the extraordinary Being, but in all that time It had never spoken to her. Now, she couldn’t get It to go away. Why?

She wished her husband were there to comfort her and help her figure out the answers. Max? she called again through their bond, her heart half expecting him to answer and her mind knowing he would not. Again there was no sense of him anywhere. His ‘voice’ had gone silent.

Just like all the other voices.

That was what had happened in her world. At the end there had been no human voices left. They had all been silenced by either death or enslavement on the distant Antar. Only Max and she had been left.

And now even he was gone.

She was truly alone.

She glanced toward her window and remembered their last dance together. His way of saying goodbye.

He was a romantic to the end.

What was she going to do without him? Without his love? Without his voice in her mind and heart?

Her mother returned shortly with the toast and tea, but Liz only took the food and set it on her nightstand.

Her mother hesitated. Liz sensed that something was on her mind that was causing her anxiety. “You okay, Mom?”

Nancy smiled hesitantly. “I think maybe I should be the one asking you that.”

“Oh, you mean because of Alex?”

“Losing him seemed to knock the ground out from beneath you,” she commented.

Liz opened her mouth to speak but found she had nothing to say. Alex was… She let out a slow breath. Alex was a casualty of a war that occurred in a completely different timeline. Changing things here had caused his untimely death and made her partly responsible. But she couldn’t exactly tell her mother that.

“You know, honey, it’s normal to feel hurt and sad and angry when someone dies. It’s even normal to feel confused for a while or guilty or even scared. And you might go back and forth; you might feel fine and happy and then feel sad again,” her mother said, sitting on the edge of Liz’s bed.

“Honey, have you cried yet?”

Liz tucked her hair behind her ear and thought about the total loss of life she had experienced at the ending of her world. She could still sense the Granolith waiting for her, listening, its concern prominent. “Crying doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t make bad things stop happening. It doesn’t make people we love come back.”

“It’s a place to start,” Nancy said. “It helps wash the hurt away.”

“If I started crying now I’d never stop.”

“I know it feels that way now…”

“But things will get better? I’ll get past this?” she interrupted softly. “I’d be naïve if I fell for those time worn clichés. I’ve just been through hell and back. My whole world has been turned upside-down. Nothing is ever going to be the same for me.”

“Oh, baby,” Nancy sighed.

“I know you’re trying to be nice and that you love me and you’re worried for me. Trust me. I feel it,” she sighed. “But crying doesn’t solve problems, Mom. Action solves problems. Doing something. I just… I just haven’t figured out what to do yet… but I will.”

Her mother nodded, a sense of relief slipping over her. “Okay.”

She must have figured that if Liz could think things through rationally that everything was going to be okay. Steady, strong, predictable Liz. What would she do if she found out who and what her daughter really was? She would probably run out screaming into the street like Maria had when she had learned the truth.

Liz reached over and took the teacup. She cooled it slightly with but a simple thought and then took a sip.

“Well, a good night’s rest ought to do me wonders,” she said softly.

Her mother took the hint. “I’m sure you’re right, sweety.” She gave her a gentle pat and then stood.

Liz was relieved when her mother left, shutting the door behind her. Now she could turn her attention to the Powerful Entity that was quietly waiting for her.

She did not know what to think about this Granolith. A Being that bent time to Its will? That could capture someone’s consciousness within Itself and transfer it to another? Whose very being was so far advanced over that of a human’s that the simple touch of Its mind made one feel sick? An Entity that people would literally kill to possess?

A Being that, despite Its awesome power, was gentle and kind? One that Rath – her Rath – had trusted and believed in and that her Michael had willingly died for?

What did it all mean? What did It want? Why did It want it from her? What did the Royal Four have to do with It?

Liz pulled the tea bag from the cup and slit it open with a gentle touch of her powers and emptied the contents in her mouth. Then she chugged it down with the rest of her tea, grimacing at the unpalatable granules of ginger.

Ginger was an anti-nausea herb. She wasn’t quite sure if the contents of one tea bag would work, but it was worth a try. At the very least it might tone down the nauseating effects of a connection with the Entity.

She took a bite of the toast, but it tasted like cardboard. But, then, almost everything had tasted that way for months, ever since she had been captured by Khivar’s men. They had forced her to eat – eat like the queen they presumed her to be – even though everyone around her was starving. So, she ate but, because she could empathically sense the hunger of those around her, she never felt full nor was she able to find any pleasure in the food.

Even when she had escaped captivity, she had trouble eating. She just felt…wrong…whenever she took a bite. Tasteless, bland food that refused to satisfy her.

Max had made her keep eating.

She forced herself to finish the toast, then dusted the crumbs away with a wave of her hand.

She waited.

Waited for what she thought was a long enough time for the ginger to have been absorbed by her system.

Okay.

The Entity brushed lightly against her mind, and she sensed that It was trying to form the barest of a connection with her to buffer her against Itself. The connection strengthened and locked into place. It made her feel lightheaded, but she thought she could handle it.

Matawia, It whispered in her mind. Zwibaba. /Look closely and understand./

A simple image appeared in her mind. A line.

Length, she said telepathically.

Another line followed, crossing in the other direction.

Breadth.

Then a third. From up above it plunged down through the intersection of the other two lines.

Depth.

Liz thought she understood. She reached out and added more lines, tracing them out with her index finger. She connected them, forming them into a cube. Ulua ko. /The third dimension./

The Granolith was pleased. She had understood.

Within the cube a new line formed – thick and strong – and it stretched out through the cube and beyond, far into the distance.

Time, she said telepathically. The fourth dimension. My dimension.

Yes,
it answered.

Then all the lines, including the time line, splintered and reconnected in unnatural and strange shapes. The new “shape” slowly spun and turned. It flowed and ebbed and pondered its movement. Its colors undulated like a cuttle fish. With every slight movement, the form seemed to shift into something completely different. Its shape was unsteady and impossible. Liz was unable to comprehend the new form. Her stomach churned.

So much for the ginger.

The fifth dimension. Ulua dur, she telepathed, trying her best to hang in despite the growing nausea. Incomprehensible to a fourth-dimensional being like myself.

Zwibaba.

I cannot.


Reluctantly the Entity breached the connection, severing Itself from her mind. The image was gone. Liz’s stomach began to settle itself.

What had the image been about? She wondered. Why was it important to the Granolith? Why show it to her?

She straightened out her pillows and settled down in bed. With a push of her mind, the lamp clicked itself off and her room plunged into darkness.

The Granolith was still present. Hovering. Watching over her.

They had learned the hard way not to turn down offers of friendship or answers to their questions. The lesson had been late in coming, too late to help their world, but maybe… maybe it could help this one. Even if it began with an incomprehensible shape.

I’ll try. Tu wana.

*Some sources state six were injured rather than seven.
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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:22 pm

Spring 2000

One Week After “Departure”


~Chapter 4~

A Decade Behind


True to her word she did try to understand what the Granolith had shown her. She gathered what resources she could find from the library at her school and the public library in town and did research on the Internet. When that failed to pan out, she even ditched school one day and drove over to the University of New Mexico and used their libraries. The books and articles she found at the University were finer scholarly works, but they still lacked what she was searching for.

“Need help?” one of the librarians had asked her.

“I don’t think what I need is here,” she told him.

“We have the most modern resources available,” he assured her. “I’m sure I could help you find what you’re looking for.”

“From my point of view,” she said, “you’re a decade behind.” Then she shouldered her bag and left.

She went out to the parking lot and sat in her car, contemplating contacting Serena, her friend from the other timeline. Ten-year-old Serena would be there, right on the UNM campus, working on her Masters. Even at her young age she might have answers for Liz, but Liz had to weigh out the repercussions. Would contacting Serena put her friend at risk? Did it risk the continuity of this timeline?

Her cell phone rang. She looked at the number that appeared on the screen and decided to answer.

“Yeah?”

“Where are you?”

“Albuquerque. What’s up?”

“What are you doing in Albuquerque?”

“Research. What do you need, Michael?”

“What research?”

She sighed. “Polytopes.”

“Why?”

“I wish I knew.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?”

“I didn’t realize I needed your permission, General.”

He paused. “Evans,” he said her name softly.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Look, I’ve got a homework assignment I’m having trouble with. Call it perspective.”

“What kind of homework?”

“I’ll let you know when I figure it out.”


Image


She never did contact Serena, considering it too dangerous to the timeline and to the small vestiges left of her friend’s childhood. Instead she stoically plunged through her week, attending classes, doing homework, working at the Crashdown, and avoiding Max except for the science class they shared. She forced herself to ignore her broken bond, refused to think about the timeline from which she came any more than she could help it, and just…tried to act normal.

Still she had moments when dark emotions bubbled to the surface and she found herself unable to ignore them. During one of those moments, she packaged up half of her wardrobe and drove it over to Goodwill, unceremoniously dropping it off and returning home. During another, she pulled all vestiges of her teenage past from her walls – photos, posters, and trinkets – and boxed them and stuck them in the attic.

Michael watched over her, but tried not to interfere. (He seemed preoccupied with Max and Isabel and Maria anyway.) The Granolith hovered, occasionally showing her the undulating form again but she did not understand any better then than she had in the first instance, nor did she stomach it any better.

And Max? Well, Max was an avoidable problem for most of the week for the simple fact that he no longer had transportation and was dependent on catching rides or walking. Even at school, where they had closer contact, she was able to steer clear of him by keeping tabs on him empathically. Only science class was unavoidable, but she was conveniently late all week and left as soon as the bell rang and he was unable to talk to her.

But she couldn’t put him off forever, so when he called and asked for some time with her she agreed.

The park had been his idea. He wanted somewhere quiet and pretty (maybe even romantic) to take Liz so that they could talk.

He brought bread with him, so they sat on the grass, on the edge of the man-made lake and fed the ducks and geese, which crowded around them. The birds quacked and honked and made enough of a ruckus to bring in all of their friends to share in the feast, but Max and Liz sat silently next to one another, postponing words that needed to be spoken.

Jeff Croft walked by with his girlfriend and a shirt that read: ‘If a man with no arms has a gun, is he armed?’ Liz offered to let the couple join them, but Jeff declined and moved on. It was just as well.

After too short of a time, the last crumb was eaten and the birds fled to a safer part of the lake. “I need to explain about Tess,” he began. “I need to explain why…”

She shook her head. “No, you don’t, Max. I already understand.”

“Because of Kyle?” It was just a question. There was no malice in his voice, nor was that an accusation.

“No, Kyle is… he’s just a friend,” she said. “He has nothing to do with what I know you were going through or how you reacted. You needed someone. I wasn’t available for you. Tess was.”

“You’re not angry?” he asked hopefully.

“I’m not angry,” she agreed. “You were exploring your alien side, learning about who you are, with someone you thought was a friend. I, uh… I understand that better than you might think.”

She felt his relief and gratitude as tangibly as if it were her own. And his love.

She did not want his love. Not from this Max – this Max who looked so similar to her husband but whose personality was so different. No, this Max was like a much younger, wayward little brother and she did not want to sense such feelings coming from him.

“Liz…”

She still hated to crush him, but no matter what he felt for her, no matter how grateful he was she couldn’t let him continue to have any hope for a relationship. She couldn’t get back together with Max Evans. Not in this timeline. “Max, this doesn’t mean we can just pick up where we left off.”

“Why, Liz? Tell me why,” he pleaded. “You had Kyle. I had Tess. We’ve moved on. Why can’t we…”

God, he was so young.

“I know you love me, Max, and I love you too, but… but it doesn’t matter anymore,” she said, “because no matter how much your human side is in love with me, your alien side is bonded to Tess. Bonded. I know you can feel it – feel her.”

Max looked horrified. “How, Liz?” he asked. “How do you know these things – about the Granolith and that Tess didn’t leave Earth and about – what did you call it - bonding?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she said as gently as possible. “The point is: I can’t be with you. Ever.”

“Why? Would it be so awful if you were?” He was so desperate.

Memories of both Max’s that she had known flashed through her mind. The way he used to stare at her. Their first kiss. Their wedding day. Quiet moments together. The way he touched her. Battling side by side against their enemies. The way her bond to him had kept her sane during her captivity. She ground her teeth together and forced her mind back to the present.

“I don’t want to do this,” she sighed.

“Do what, Liz? Talk to me? Tell me the truth for a change? What?” he demanded.

She opened her eyes and looked at him. “Hurt you, Max. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Then talk to me. Make me understand why we aren’t right for each other.”

“It’s not that easy,” she said. “Things have happened.”

“What things? Explain them to me.”

But she couldn’t. He wasn’t ready for the truth yet. His youth and his bond to their enemy prevented that.

She shook her head. “I can’t. Why can’t you just…” She paused, realization suddenly hitting her. “You can’t see because you don’t know what you’re looking for. You don’t understand what you’re seeing.”

“What are you talking about? Liz, you’re not making sense.”

“You have to kiss me,” she said dully, knowing she had to show him what he refused to admit.

“What?”

“Kiss me,” she repeated. “Please.”

Max didn’t need to be told twice. He leaned forward and entwined his fingers through her hair and gently kissed her lips.

“No,” Liz sighed, pulling away, “not like that. A real kiss, like before.”

Max bent forward and kissed her again. Deeper. More insistent. And Liz responded, opening to him. He pulled her toward him, pressing her body against his. And a connection opened, his love and affection and need pouring through, and the flashes began.

Suddenly, the connection slammed shut and Max pushed her away roughly. Liz watched him stand and quickly move away from the bench they were sitting on and begin retching in the grass.

She buried her face in her hands and closed her eyes and refused to witness the rest. She even shut down her empathic ability so that she wouldn’t have to sense his feelings of shame and remorse and regret.

When he was done he just stood there looking pale and shaken. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” was all he could say.

“Don’t be,” she said, glancing up long enough for him to see that she was visibly shaken by what she had been forced to do to him. “If anyone should be sorry, it’s me. I knew what would happen if you kissed me.”

He just stared at her, still not comprehending.

“Antarians bond for life. It’s not based on love or respect or mutual need. It’s a procreative cycle, a built-in drive. It’s something you have to do to propagate your species,” she explained as simply as she could. “In another time and place we might have fallen in love and married and you would have bonded yourself to me and it would have been perfect and we would have been… happy.” She spoke of her memories, recalling all too well the life of love and happiness she had shared with “Future Max”. Her eyes moistened at the recollections of the life she knew she would never have again. Max – her Max – was gone.

“But things don’t work out like we want them to. You’re bonded to Tess. No matter how awful she is, no matter what crimes she committed she is your wife. And that bond will prevent you from being with anyone else… even me,” she finished.

“No,” he whispered, finally understanding.

She saw the horror of the reality he had created for himself sinking in. “I’m so sorry, Max. I really, really am.”


Image


Michael found Liz in the evening as the sun was dropping low and the sky was painted with red and orange and pink. She was sitting on the grass, resting her back against a park bench. Her knees were tucked up to her chest and her chin was resting on her crossed arms. “This seat taken?” he asked.

She shook her head no.

He sat down on the bench near her. “I heard what happened.”

“Max told you what I did to him, huh?”

Poor Max. When she and her husband had maneuvered and changed the timeline, the Max of this timeline (much like Alex) had become the unsuspecting victim of a war he did not even know about.

“Well, the way I figure it, you only did what had to be done,” he said. He looked down at her.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” she spoke softly.

“Wasn’t meant to.”

“Aslora ta cortol duara,” she whispered in Antarian. /My heart keeps breaking./

He exhaled slowly and scratched at his brow. “You know, when we made the plans to come to Earth, we never factored in the human capacity to love. We had no idea how intensely humans feel that emotion or that, because of our human half, it would have such a pull on us.”

“How could you know?” she asked. “How can you understand something you’ve never experienced?”

“That’s true.”

“And now that you do know?”

“I think…” he began, “I think love is a very dangerous emotion.”

His words made her heart hurt all the more. She knew he did not mean them to stab at her already guilty conscience, but they did all the same. Love was their downfall. It was the reason the last timeline – and her world – had been destroyed. She could never make that mistake again. Ever.

Strange, though, that the ancient Entity had a different view on matters. “The Granolith doesn’t believe it’s dangerous,” she said, recalling its words.

Michael sat silently, contemplating Liz’s words. “The Granolith seems to like you,” he mused aloud.

Liz looked at Michael for the first time since his arrival, accepting the distraction from her disquieting thoughts. “Tell me about the Granolith.”

“Come sit next to me.” He extended his hand to help her up. She grabbed hold and let him pull her next to him. Then he wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

“We honestly don’t know much about It,” he began of the entity. “It is commonly understood to be an Entity that dwells in the fifth dimension. It is able to manipulate time and space…”

The fifth dimension. That’s what It wanted her to understand. It was a fifth dimensional being. It was helping her to understand what It was so that she would trust It in the way Rath did.

“…and one can only communicate with It through the mind of an interpreter,” she heard him continue.

“I’m sorry? What does that mean?” she asked.

“Despite our being a telepathic race, the Granolith will not speak to the common man. But in every generation there is chosen a special individual, an ‘Ambassador’ as we refer to them, and It will communicate with that chosen man or woman. If one wishes to approach the Granolith, one must first speak to the Ambassador, then the Ambassador will speak to the Granolith on behalf of the individual.”

“But It speaks to me and I don’t…”

“Our Ambassador is dead,” Michael continued, ignoring her interruption. “That’s what started the war.”

Liz waited for Michael to continue.

“There are always children, trained from infancy in the ways of the Granolith. When the Ambassador is old and nears death, the Granolith chooses a new Ambassador from among the children. But this time,” he said, “Khivar killed the Ambassador and all the children and there was no one left for the Granolith to choose from.”

It was an oversimplified recitation, with no emotion involved. Perhaps rehearsed long ago.

“What happened?”

“It left.”

“And came to Earth?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I believe It wants to choose a new Ambassador from among the inhabitants of this planet.”

From her planet? From Earth?

“That’s why you followed It.”

“Yes.”

There had to be some mistake. There were no true telepaths among the human race and thus none that could communicate with the Granolith in the manner he was speaking of. Unless… unless telepathy was not a requirement? She tried to reason it out in her mind but felt herself unable. She was still missing too many pieces.

“But what makes the Granolith so important to you?” she asked. “I mean, why leave Antar? Why follow It? Why not just stay and… learn to live without It until It returned with the new Ambassador?”

“I couldn’t, especially not as a man in my position,” he insisted. “Every move I make depends on the directions coming from the Granolith. The Granolith sees and manipulates time. If a there is a flawed outcome in one timeline, the Granolith will make sure it is corrected and a new timeline will form.”

“Like when my husband came back and asked me to help him change the past.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “The Granolith communicates directions to us to help us have the best life possible. How could I possibly fight a war or care for my people without the guidance of the Granolith? It would have been like being blindfolded. How would I know what to do? I can’t see into the future.”

“So… what? The Granolith is… It’s like your god, isn’t it?”

“Or a very important ally, yes.”

“You put all your faith in the Granolith, don’t you?”

“I have to. Too many people depend on me to make the right decisions.”

“I guess Khivar must have known that,” she surmised. “He used that knowledge against you. Your faith in the Granolith is your Achilles heel, so he destroyed your link to It.”

“Yes.”

“So, you came to Earth to follow the Granolith and… to help It find a new Ambassador?”

“Yes.”

He had given up his throne for a potential human Ambassador that might not even exist? At least, such a man had not been found in her timeline, but then they had been too distracted, too busy living their perfect human lives to go looking for him.

“But that means you let Khivar have the throne on purpose,” she said.

“Liz, understand, there is nothing the Granolith cannot fix. Khivar may sit on the throne now, but if the Granolith wanted it, a new timeline can emerge in which Khivar never existed,” he explained.

Liz thought about that. “You said there would be no more time lines.”

“For your world,” he answered. “Mine may be another story.”

Michael brought his arm back down and took Liz’s hand in his. “Come on. Your parents…”

“Hm?” She stretched out her mind toward them. “Oh. They’re worried about me.”

“You’ve been here a while,” he said. “You wanna head back?”

“Yeah, I guess I better.”

“Can I walk with you?”

“Of course.”

As they walked along the paved path, hand in hand, she thought about what Michael had told her. She didn’t remember him speaking much about the Granolith in the other timeline, other than the basic facts – that It was alive, sentient and important to those in power on Antar, the world from which he came. She supposed it was because, by the time he had got Rath’s memories, it had been too late to pursue his reason for coming to Earth; they had shortly afterward become embroiled in a battle for their lives.

She didn’t remember Maria mentioning anything about It either. She didn’t know what that meant. Had Maria known and simply considered It as unimportant or private? Was it possible that Michael had managed not to share that part of himself with her? Could a bond be controlled in that manner? Max and she had never tried to control their bond in order to keep things from one another, but then they had never had a reason to.

She thought she could understand why he might do that though. Sometimes there were things that happened that were too personal to share with anyone else. Like living in another timeline. How did one share something like that? Who would understand, really understand? Or maybe it was just too painful to share, like facing the end of the world. What reason would she ever have to explain to her human friends what it was really like?

In Rath’s case, he had faced warfare, death, and the cruel enslavement of his people. His world had fallen apart despite his best efforts. And rather than stay and continue to fight, he had seemingly abandoned his people. Who would want to “see” what he had gone through? Who would be willing to understand why he had done what he’d done?

But now he finally had the chance to do what he had set out to accomplish. He could find that Ambassador and return to Antar and save his people. Maybe the Granolith could even send the new Ambassador and him backward in time to prevent Khivar’s terrorism from ever beginning. He would never have to face the extinction of his world the way she had had to.

Maybe, she thought, that was the reason why the Granolith had spoken to her and had given her memories of the other timeline. Maybe that was why It wanted her to “understand” so badly. Maybe it was so that she could help him succeed this time around… because if Michael succeeded and was able to prevent the war on his planet from occurring, then it would rewrite events on her world. She would never have to face another end of the world.

“Hey, Michael?” she spoke finally, breaking the long silence. “I’ll help you find your Ambassador.”
Image
Polar Attraction ~ Experience true love for the first time

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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:23 pm

Spring 2000

Two weeks after “Departure”


~Chapter 5~

Wings of Madness


“Aaahhhh!!!!”

Liz burst through the door to the break room to confront Maria. “What happened?”

Maria pointed angrily toward the back door. “That… jerk… just turned me down again! That makes every day for the last two weeks. He won’t do anything with me. He, like, won’t even barely talk to me. What is the matter with him?”

Liz didn’t know what to say.

Maria strolled across the room and dropped down onto the couch. “My mom is right. Roswell is bad for us DeLuca women. The men here suck.”

“But Micha…”

“Michael’s an ass!” Maria snapped. “You know, the whole night before he was supposed to leave the planet… and-and then he walked out of the chamber, and the chocolate covered peanuts, unshelled…”

“Wait. What?” Liz asked. “Unshelled, chocolate covered peanuts?”

“Never mind. You just had to be there,” Maria snapped. “The point is that kind of stuff is supposed to mean something!”

“It is. You’re right, Maria,” Liz soothed. Unshelled?

“At least you were smart enough to dump your two-timing…”

Michael chose that moment to return through the back door.

Maria took one glaring look at him and declared, “I’m outta here. See you, Liz.” She got up and strode from the room.

Michael stood looking bewildered at her disappearing figure. “What happened now?”

Liz sighed. “How could you see everything in my mind and still not know what it is Maria wants?”

“What she wants is an 17-year-old boyfriend with a normal life,” he returned. “I can’t give that to her.”

He was closed like he always was when Maria was around. She couldn’t feel a thing from him.

“What can you give her?”

He shook his head. “I’m here to bring the Ambassador back to Antar. Nothing more. This isn’t my home. I can’t stay.”

She thought of the love he and Maria had shared in the last lifetime and of the child born of that love. They had been happy. Maria had been happy. But he was right; he couldn’t give that to her this time around.

“Maybe you should tell her the truth, you know, about who you are.”

“You plan on telling her the truth about your powers?” It was a challenge. She might not be able to feel him, but she had known him long enough to know when he felt backed into a corner and the hairs on the back of his neck were raised.

“Oh.” She turned her eyes away and tucked her hair behind her ear. No, she had no intention of telling Maria about her powers. Maria seemed so young that all of Liz’s protective instincts just kicked in every time she looked at her. Besides hadn’t her friend been through enough? Didn’t she deserve to have a normal human life for a change and a little happiness?

She supposed at some point she would have to tell her something, but that would be later – hopefully much later – when she had figured things out a little better. And even then, she had no intention of telling her everything.

“That’s what I thought.”

Michael and Maria’s relationship was not her business, but it was easy to forget with the way Maria always confided in her. It was just as hard not to want to interfere. She knew what they could have together, that they could both be happy.

Max’s and her plan to change the past had affected even Michael and Maria. Michael – at least he understood. But poor Maria. She had no idea why she was hurting and Liz did not think she could tell her friend the truth. Had anyone not been hurt by what her husband and she had done?

She turned to go back to the tables she had been cleaning.

“Evans.” His voice was soft, with none of the bristle it had only moments before.

She stopped, her back to him.

“I can’t give her what you want either.”

She nodded. Barely. “I know.”


Image


The Granolith was nothing if not persistent. When the diner was finally cleaned and her parents had gone to bed, the entity joined her again, insistently tapping against her mind until she let it in.

Why is this so important to you? she asked, absently wondering if Dramamine might help with the physical distress she always felt when connected to the Granolith. Why do I need to understand this? Isn’t it enough that I know who You are and that I’ve agreed to help Michael find what You want?

The undulating, evolving shape appeared in her mind yet again for her to see.

I don’t have enough information. I’ve read what I could find. I studied the calculus. It’s over my head. My human brain wasn’t designed to understand this.

Alex might have understood. Serena definitely would have. But Liz? As odd as it sounded, she was just too human; her brain just didn’t want to work that way.

The image changed and a new form appeared. A sophisticated computer module. The module blinked to life and a holographic image of the undulating shape appeared above the flat surface, rotating, changing.

Well, that would be a start, she responded, but how would I get access to that kind of technology without stealing?

A new image appeared in her mind.

“Are you serious?” she grumbled.


Image


She slipped out her window and shut it behind her.

She felt bad for sneaking out on her sleeping parents. They would never understand or approve. They certainly would never want a daughter like her… not if they knew, that is. They wanted someone sweet and innocent and reliable, someone who would make their dreams come true. She could never be that for them. Not in this lifetime anyway.

She sighed softly and slipped her bag over her shoulder.

“You wanna tell me about that homework assignment yet?” a voice asked her from the dark.

Michael.

“Love to, but sadly I don’t have time.” She yawned and started across her balcony. She was too tired to be startled by her unexpected visitor. She was also too tired to care if he was there for a particular reason or to wonder why he was sitting outside her bedroom at night. She just wanted to get her errand over with so that she could return home and go to bed.

Not that she would actually sleep. The nightmares that constantly plagued her of late made her toss and turn most nights.

“Where you going?” he asked.

“Out. I’m going to go visit an old… acquaintance.” She had to push the word from her mouth.

“At 11:30?”

She paused by the lawn chair he was sitting on and stared at his shadowy form. “Good night, Michael,” she said quietly.

But he did not let her leave. Instead he reached out and took her hand and pulled her down to him.

Too tired to protest, she sank onto his lap.

“What have I done to make you think you need to take care of things on your own?” he asked quietly, sensible enough to keep his voice low so as not to alert her parents.

“This isn’t exactly the kind of thing I need your help with,” she sighed.

“Anything – anything – that involves sneaking out of your home in the middle of the night involves me,” he stated.

“11:30 isn’t the middle of the night,” she countered. “And I’m not exactly a helpless damsel.” Had he forgotten what the last timeline had made her capable of?

“I didn’t say you were.”

He took a breath and tried again. “Look, I don’t think there is one teacher at our school that would expect a sixteen-year-old girl to drive 200 miles away to do research for a ‘homework’ assignment, and I doubt Maria asked you to come over at this time of night no matter how mad she is at me. So, how about you tell me what is going on?”

“I don’t even understand myself,” she said, yawning again. “It, uh… the Granolith brings me here for god-knows-what reason. It is so alien that I don’t even understand what It wants half the time and I get sick every time It touches me, but, you know, It keeps trying to talk to me anyway. And, uh… and there’s this image It keeps showing me over and over and over…”

“What image?”

“This one. Look.” She reached up and touched his temple and formed the barest of a connection, then she held out her hand and concentrated. A small, spinning 120-sided icosahedra appeared, visible only to Michael and Liz. Then she dropped her hand and broke the connection. “That’s as close of an approximation as I can get to the actual form It keeps showing me. I don’t understand it – the form. Trying to look at it makes me really ill.

“But, you know, It wants me to understand, so I’m trying. I’ve done research everywhere, including UNM Albuquerque, but I keep running into the same two problems. I’m trying to perceive fourth-dimensionally what can only be seen in the fifth dimension. My brain isn’t meant to do that.

“The other problem is that my pitiful attempts to understand keep running into block walls. Humans have not yet reached a point in their development where they are capable of approaching this subject with firmly grounded math and science. Everything is still theoretically based. I cannot understand what my own people do not understand.”

“Then maybe you need to look outside of your people,” he said.

“Yeah, well, that’s pretty much what the Granolith said too.”

“It give you any suggestions?”

“Yeah. There’s this guy on the other side of town. Anapo Gudorian…”

“I remember,” Michael interrupted. “I saw him in the benguela. I can’t let you go a…”

“Michael,” she chastised softly, interrupting whatever he planned on saying. She could foresee an argument coming. She glanced toward her waiting ladder and wondered absently if she had the energy to engage him.

“I saw what he did to you.”

“That’s just it. He didn’t do anything to me,” she sighed. “No one is the same in this timeline. Everyone is different. It’s a whole different world. And this Anapo Gudorian has never done anything to hurt me.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s enough to know what he’s capable of.”

She rubbed her hand over her tired eyes and said softly, “We all do desperate things to save the ones we love. Some actions have to be excused.”

“Not that one.”

“Well, then, you’ll have to take up your difference of opinion with the Granolith, because It and I don’t happen to see things as black and white as you seem to.”

She pushed herself from his lap, but he rose with her and stalked after her. “I don’t believe you,” he stated.

“You don’t believe what exactly?” She turned and almost ran into him.

“I’ve been in your head. I saw how you feel.”

“And I’ve been in his…”

“One memory doesn’t constitute knowing how he feels!” he hissed, still keeping his voice lowered. “And it doesn’t excuse his actions toward you!”

“He hasn’t done anything I haven’t done!” she hissed back. Was there a point to reasoning with the man or had he already made up his mind?

“Like hell he hasn’t! He raped you!”

Mind raped, she corrected mentally, though the terminology made little difference to anyone in the know. Michael and Max of the other timeline had turned around and killed the man for what he had done to her.

“He showed me something I didn’t want to see! I turned around and did the same thing to thousands of Antarians!”

“You didn’t force it on them!” he ground out. “They always had a choice! He never allowed you that. He forced a memory on you that wasn’t yours. Made you keep seeing it until it was fused into your mind. He hurt you. He tried to destroy your bond to Max. And then he…”

Physically assaulted her. He had been desperate and she… had been the unfortunate focus of his grievances.

“Shut up! Just shut up!” The memory of it made her seal burn and she rubbed at her shoulder. “As far as I’m concerned that man was not the same person as this Anapo Gudorian. He is no more than a… a twin brother, and I will not treat him as if he were a criminal when he has committed no crime.”

“Yet.”

“You are placing too much emphasis on one man.”

“And is that how you felt when Max…?”

Killed him? Protected her from the person who gave her nightmares, the person that made her afraid to leave the house, whose forced memory haunted her to this day?

“Don’t… don’t even go there,” she hissed.

“Why not? Isn’t it relevant?”

She pressed her hands over her tired eyes. What was ‘relevant’ to a man like him? To men like him, she corrected. Michael and Rath. Two very different people sharing one mind. That had to be worse than what she was going through. She had a hard enough time merging the wisdom and experiences and person she was from the last lifetime with the youth and experiences from this lifetime, but at least her two personas were so similar that it was not an insurmountable task. But Michael and Rath? She did not think the memories and lifetime experiences of those two men were merging so neatly. Much as they had in her other lifetime, they seemed to mostly be one or the other. The body of knowledge the two had accumulated was accessible by both, but only one man at a time dominated while the other remained submerged.

“What a pair we are,” she murmured. Four people, two bodies. And a seal that hurt like crazy.

She removed her hands from her eyes. “Here, you’ve got to fix this for me,” she said. She pulled her bag from her shoulder, set it on the ground and began shrugging out of her jacket. Whether Michael let her leave her balcony or not, the least he could do was fix her seal.

“What is it?” he asked.

She dropped her jacket onto her bag and then pulled the neck of her shirt aside to reveal the painful seal. “Your relevance.”

“You’re still sealed,” he said quietly. “I thought you might be.”

He had suspected? She had been a little surprised herself. The Granolith had performed an interesting feat in not only opening up the body of knowledge left by “Future Max” but in transferring her personality and physical seal as well. It seemed…unnecessary. “Yeah, well, like I said, I’m still bonded; only Max is gone.”

“That’s not what it means,” he said. She saw him shake his head slightly in the dim light. “There are different kinds of bonds. You know the ‘kalitupe’ – the marriage bond. The marriage bond causes a secondary bond for the woman. It’s… it’s like on Earth; when you get married you take on your husband’s last name. On my world, the wife takes on her husband’s seal. It’s a family bond – the ‘kalihupe’ – and it identifies the family she married into.”

“This is the seal of the Aporo family?”

“It is,” he said.

“I don’t feel it.” Her bond to Max had been strong. Even in his absence she could still feel her bond to him. This family bond Michael spoke of – this kalihupe – she could not feel at all unless it became active, and then it was a physical sensation, not the mental pull she knew he meant.

“Don’t you?”

“No.”

“You let me sleep in your bed and look into your mind. You held my hand in the park. You agreed with no prompting to help me find the Ambassador. And what you did for me in the last timeline… How many times were we connected? Why did you leave your husband for a month and a half to train with me alone in the desert? Why did you follow my orders without question? Why did you let me hijack your bond? Why did you sit with me when I was dying?” he said quietly. “Why did you do those things?”

“Why wouldn’t I? You’re…” She stopped, suddenly understanding. In each instance, she had pushed aside possible consequences – utterly ignoring them – in order to help Michael, her husband’s cousin, not because of his rank and position to the Antarian people, but because of whom he was to her. And she felt comfortable around him in a way that went beyond friendship.

“Family?”

“Yeah.” It made sense. “Why didn’t I notice this before?”

“It’s subtle.”

“Subtle,” she repeated. That had to be the understatement of the year. She might not have a bond to her husband any longer, but Michael was telling her that she had a family bond – a kalihupe – to him, something that gave her a sense of belonging and comfort. She had him to rely on.

“So, can you fix it?” she asked.

“It’s psychological,” he said with a shrug.

“I’m sorry?”

“Your seal,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”

She blinked. “Well, I feel like I just got branded.” She took a good look at the man in front of her and in the dim light, could see the worry lines creasing his forehead.

He reached out and threaded his fingers through her hair, letting his warm palm lay across her ear. “It’s like this, Liz. If you can’t handle an honest conversation about Gudorian, how do you think you’ll handle facing him in person?”

“I expect that, much like everything else I’ve been through, it will give me nightmares,” she stated honestly.

“Nightmares. The man is a…” But he didn’t repeat his accusation from earlier. “I won’t let you be hurt again by him.”

“He won’t hurt me.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I think I do,” she said. “He doesn’t feel desperate anymore. I don’t know why, but he just doesn’t. He feels…” She paused to forge a narrow empathic pathway toward Anapo Gudorian. “He feels hopeful… He’s excited.” No, not excited. Expectant. Waiting. For her.

“Excited?”

“Now that’s funny,” she murmured. She lowered his hand from her hair and held onto it. She opened her mind a little further and was not surprised to find the Granolith’s presence hovering nearby. Che honuku ich, urangi nolog dla tu. Tu kalalaga kiempra yeh, che indal bissau umiki? she asked it. /You did not tell me he was expecting me. How does he know I will come?/

Urangi nolog ichemay, /You told him./ It replied, barely brushing against her mind.

Tu es bissau umiki? /How did I do that?/

Anapo Gudorian viongozi bissau yeh. /Anapo Gudorian will answer that./

It took her only a moment to let that bit of information sink in, then she let go of Michael and scooped her things and moved toward her ladder.

“Wait, Liz,” Michael said, grabbing her arm. “The Granolith?”

“Gudorian is expecting me, Michael. I have to go.”

Michael set his jaw decisively. “Hold still,” he said. He pressed the palm of his hand to Liz’s shoulder and forced her seal to inactivate itself. The burning pain ebbed.

“Thank you,” she sighed.

He traced along her throat and up to her chin. Because she had opened her mind even the little bit that she had, she could feel Michael and the possessive feelings he had toward her.

“I don’t want to be protected,” she whispered. “I don’t need that from you.”

“Too bad,” he whispered back, continuing to trace along her jaw line.

“I won’t be your distraction.”

“My what?” He paused.

“Family or not, you have a purpose on my planet,” she said. “I won’t be the reason you fail. I have to be secondary to finding that Ambassador of yours.”

“You are not a distraction.”

She caught his fingers. “You’ve been busy – school, work, dealing with Max and Isabel and Maria, and probably sorting through Rath’s memories and trying to make sense of it all. And somewhere along the way, you’ve been trying to figure out how to go about completing your assignment with the least amount of intervention possible. You should not be adding me into the equation… anywhere. Whether or not I’m capable of helping you, you can’t allow yourself to focus on me.”

“Liz…”

“We screwed up last time. We got distracted… and my world was destroyed,” she said. “I am not going to allow another world to be ruined. Not mine. Not yours. If what you say about the Granolith is true, then it’s the most important ally we have. You have to succeed and I have to do what it asks of me if I’m going to help you, but we will fail if you’re going to try to protect me.”

“We will fail if I don’t.”

“Why?”

“You’re the key,” he said. “The Granolith wouldn’t have brought you here if you weren’t. The Granolith wants me to find the Ambassador; I can’t do that without you. I need you.”

“You have me. You always have.”

“I don’t have you if you’re trying to go this alone.”

“I see.”

Che tromeri, /He waits./ the Granolith said.

“Bissau tu indal,” she replied aloud because she was irritated. /I know that./

She sighed. “Look, I… we… uh, I have to go. This is something I have to do. We can continue this discussion later, preferably when I’m not so tired. Okay?”

“Liz.”

“Mike, if you don’t let me go right now I swear I will blast you across…”

“I just wanted to say,” he interrupted, “that you can’t go alone.”

“Oh.” She felt disoriented. What had all this been about if he had no intention of stopping her? “Why didn’t you just say so in the beginning?”

“I tried. You interrupted.”


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Antarians had a complicated social structure that she was still trying to unravel. (Even Max had trouble grasping some of it.) From the patriarchal order to the many types of bonding to the concept of respect and loyalty being more important than love and affection, she felt she barely grasped the depth and deep meaning such a culture must have on a man like Rath (or Michael) but she was certain it had played a part in the confusing conversation that had taken place on her balcony.

The man should have been at home sleeping or at the very least, settling matters with Maria. Instead he had hidden in the shadows outside her bedroom window waiting to escort her to a man he felt he had rights to kill based on a crime committed in another timeline.

God, her life was insane.

Once, after Isabel had started regaining her pre-human memories and Alex found his life spinning in an uncontrolled fashion, he and Liz and Maria and Max had sat down and compiled a list of every famous quote they could find about insanity. Alex said it was therapy.

His favorite was: “I have my own little world, but it’s okay – they know me here.”

Maria’s was by Rita Mae Brown: “The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans is suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they’re okay then it’s you.”

Max was more pragmatic and took a liking to Mark Twain’s: “When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”

At the time, Liz had taken a liking to G. B. Burgin’s: “I suppose it is much more comfortable to be mad and know it, than to be sane and have one’s doubts.” But somehow, after managing to cheat death so many times and still finding herself unable to escape the alien abyss of insanity, she felt more comfortable with Charles Baudelaire’s: “Today I felt pass over me, a breath of wind from the wings of madness.” She was pretty sure it was a poetic tribute to her life. She should have it engraved on her headstone… assuming she was ever allowed to die.

Michael – he had not been there for their group therapy that night, but she knew what she would choose for him. “I feel like a fugitive from the law of averages.” William H. Maudlin coined that. It suited Michael perfectly.

Isabel, however, had been there that night. She had come in late, well after dinner had been cleaned up and the group had convened in Alex’s computer room. They never did find out how much she had overheard, but as she stood in the doorway she said, “I have one to contribute. ‘You should listen to your heart, and not the voices in your head.’ Matt Groening.”

Needless to say, after that Alex stuck with Dr. Sbaitso whenever he needed therapy.

Strange to think they were all gone but her. It just… it didn’t seem so very long ago when they were all together.

That was the funny thing about time. You never had as much of it as you thought.

Then again, sometimes you had too much.

She chewed on her nails as she pulled her mind away from her ponderings of the past and pushed in to the very near future and the fact that she was about to face the man who had haunted her dreams for years.

She should be terrified.

She wasn’t.

She did not feel anything.

It might have been her training. Rath might not have had as much time as he would have liked to teach her how to use her powers, but if nothing else, he had managed to drill through her head the mindset of a soldier in that month and a half they had spent alone in the desert. In every battle, in every confrontation and in every situation that should have scared her half to death, she was able to shut down her emotions and ignore the emotions of those around her and face things head on. Totally calm. Totally cool. Totally levelheaded.

She suspected he might have done something to her when he was in her head – changed the emotional pathways her mind took or something like that; she wasn’t really sure.

“I felt what he did,” Max had told her afterward, when they had taken a few days to themselves to ‘get to know each other again’, “when he connected to you.”

“And?”

He wrapped his arms tighter around her and laid his head next to her on her pillow. She could feel his warm breath on her. “I don’t know.”

“What does that mean?” she asked. He had not liked Rath connecting to her. It was like fingernails scraping a chalkboard, he had told her later; but because he knew it was necessary he had steeled himself and allowed it. “What did you feel?”

“It would be easier to show you,” he breathed.

“Okay.”

He showed her what it felt like from his end – the peculiar sensation of another man in his wife’s head and him fully aware of it the entire time. Rath had been careful. He had not triggered the defense mechanism built into their bond, but he had still done… something.

Her mind had been like a virgin beach at low tide. And Rath had walked barefoot across the wet sand, leaving behind a trail of footprints. Then the water had risen and washed away the tracks. When the waves washed out again there was nothing remaining behind as evidence that he had ever been there except her memory.

“Do you understand this?” she asked.

“I don’t know what it means,” he said. “You feel different.”

“Different how?”

“I don’t know.”


‘I don’t know.’ That was all he could say. He wasn’t like Michael and Isabel. He never regained his Antarian memories, so there were a lot of things he did not understand, which meant there were a lot of things she did not understand.

As for Rath, he wasn’t one for explanations.

But she had been different afterward just as her husband said. She was able to divest herself from her world’s onslaught, from battles, even from the atrocities she witnessed and experienced on her person.

Sometimes, when there a few days of quiet she would silently slip away and let herself break down and cry and rage, letting loose the emotions she had kept wrapped up so tightly within herself. Max seemed to understand, and he left her alone to pull herself together again.

But he hurt with her. Sometimes, to cope with her breakdowns and find a distraction, he would go blow up rocks with Rath or whatever manly things they found to do. He never asked her about the breakdowns afterward, just held her close and affirmed his love for her, making sure that once it was over and her emotions were back in check that those walls she had built up in her mind did not lock him out.

Then again, maybe it had nothing to do with Rath’s training at all.

It might just be that what she had gone through under Khivar’s hands was far worse than anything Gudorian had done to her. Weighed in the balance, Gudorian seemed like a pussycat next to Khivar.

“Wings of madness,” she murmured.

“Excuse me?” Michael asked.

“Nothing,” she said with a yawn. “You’ll need to park in the back.”

He turned the corner and pulled into the parking lot behind the pawnshop. He took a space and then turned off the engine.

“I could go in there for you and pick up the…”

“No,” she said. The Granolith was thrumming Its encouragement. For whatever reason, the ancient Entity wanted her to go herself, not send someone in her place. “I have to do this.”

It was worth it, wasn’t it?

I want to believe it is.

It is. Trust me.


The memory flashed through her mind so quickly that it took her breath away. Michael – her Michael would have wanted her to do this, too. No, he would have expected her to do this. He wanted her to finish what they started. He had died so that she could live. She could not let his death be meaningless.

She grabbed her bag with one hand and the door handle in the other and let herself out in one quick move. She slammed it behind her and started walking, not even waiting for Michael.

She made it around the building and to the front door before Michael caught up.

“Liz,” he called, reaching out and grabbing her shoulder.

She came to a dead halt and stared down in the direction of her feet. “Kiaha,” she said.
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Polar Attraction ~ Experience true love for the first time

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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:24 pm

Spring 2000

Two weeks after “Departure”

Gudorian’s Shop


~Chapter 6~

Pretzeled


The cat looked up at her with unblinking, staring, golden eyes. Its tail swished irritably and it gave a low growl.

Liz was not afraid of house cats, but this – this adorable creature at her feet was no ordinary cat. This was Kiaha.

She stood her ground. “Tu sempra cona heu Anapo Gudorian. Ona, ur igual tu. Intriaba.” She added the last almost as an afterthought. /I’m here to see Anapo Gudorian. Allow me to pass. Please./

Kiaha’s eyes grew rounder and the fur on his neck bristled at her words. His ears flattened back. Liz braced herself against Michael as the cat lifted a dainty paw from the ground. She watched with equally rounded eyes as the paw began to glow and the glow grew and crept until it enveloped its entire body.

As Liz and Michael looked on, the glowing cat began to change form. It grew bigger and bigger. Its legs changed into humanoid arms and legs and hands and feet. Its fur seemed to shrink into its body until only whitish fuzz covered the tanned skin beneath. The hair on the back of his head lengthened and hung over his shoulders onto the cement ground.

The glowing stopped and the shapeshifter slowly, slowly lifted his head to looked up at Michael and Liz in a predatory manner. He rose just as slowly from the ground, never breaking his feline stare. He rose until he stood at his full height, his bare chest not but a few inches from Liz’s eyes.

He had retained his feline features – the slitted eyes, the broad, flat nose, the rounded chin, the pointy tipped ears – and a mane of hair that fell around his shoulders. There was a beguiling, cat-like grace to his calculated movements.

She sensed that he had meant to intimidate her by shifting in front of her and taking on the naked and unnatural form of a…very large…cat-man. But it was not the first time she had encountered a shapeshifter, and she was not about to show fear or weakness before this ‘man’.

She craned her head back to look at him. “You know, Kiaha,” she said coolly, “you really shouldn’t shapeshift so often. It dulls your senses.”

“Culoare ichono darfor, tu?” he asked, his voice harsh from disuse. /Are you worth his loyalty?/

She swallowed tightly and felt as if every muscle in her body tensed and strained. She was aware that Michael stood with her, his hand still gripping her shoulder, and that he was just as irritated as she was. “Culoare ichono?” she repeated. After the hell she lived through in the last timeline? After what she was willingly putting herself through in this timeline to protect the inhabitants of this planet in this time?

She felt her powers start to flare up and she squelched them before they had a chance to do any damage. Kiaha did not know. He had no memories of the other timeline. He only knew that the man he had impressed on was hurting, and the fact that he was defending Gudorian said a lot about whom that man was this time around. She stuck out her chin. “I am,” she said.

“Inyoni cheono tromeri, zwibaba ur?” /Do you know how long he has waited?/ he asked.

“Ungura pediini*amba?” she guessed. /Fifty years?/

He shook his head. “Ungura durini cheono tromeri ota cheono tromeri duara cona ur,” /He has waited one hundred years and he continues to wait for you./ he explained none too patiently.

For me, she wondered. It was the same bizarre thought process that she had encountered from Gudorian in the last timeline. He thought she was someone she was not. Last time around, she did not understand; but this time she did and now that she understood more, she suspected he might even think she was the Granolith’s Ambassador.

It made sense in a strange sort of way. She was one of the few humans intimately associated with the Antarian royalty and it was easy to understand that he would assume the Ambassador would come from among that intimate group.

But why choose her? Why not Maria or Alex or Kyle or even Sheriff Valenti? Why did he focus on her in two timelines? It was just… bizarre.

But then so was Kiaha’s claim that Gudorian had waited for this said Ambassador for a century. How could that be possible? The Royal Four had not even arrived on Earth until fifty years hence.

Imabuli, when did you send him to? she checked.

The Granolith, which had been quietly hovering, came alive and brushed against her mind carefully. The night suddenly blazoned to life in a myriad of colors. To 1900 your time.

She shut her eyes and fought the dizziness and nausea that fell upon her with the barest of its touch. Why?

It answered. To find you.

I wasn’t alive one hundred years ago.
No wonder Gudorian had attacked her so ferociously in the last timeline. He had been desperate, probably half mad with grief because of his unrequited bond, believing, however insanely, that she could somehow end his pain. Do you not understand the pain of a severed bond? How could you expect him to live so long without her?

His faith makes him strong.


The dizziness grew stronger and she felt her legs grow weak beneath her. Michael pulled her close to him to support her. Tetrachromatic colors swirled before her eyes and her stomach churned.

I think there are things you do not understand about your own people, she grumbled.

She pulled away from the Granolith’s powerful touch and blocked it out from her mind. Her world reoriented itself. She steadied herself on her feet and gazed back to Kiaha’s face again.

“Urangi wera nui Imabuli? Urangi wera nahama nui Da?” he asked, his voice softening. /You speak to the Granolith? You openly speak to It?/

She shook her head at his words, choosing to focus on his earlier accusation. “Kiaha, tayu tu hahi elinengi urangi. Tu es bissau?” /Kiaha, I want to show you something. May I?/

Without giving him a chance to answer or Michael the chance to protest, she reached out and touched Kiaha, finding his hand and bringing it up to her cheek. A connection formed instantly, black and white images from his mind appearing, unprotected in his surprise.

She closed her eyes and opened a pathway in her mind to the pain she kept locked away deep within herself, the pain of her own broken bond and of the one she had once felt from Gudorian. It seared into Kiaha and he pulled away in surprise, breaking the connection.

“Liz!”

She blinked her eyes open again. Michael knew what she had done and reacted in shock, but she paid no attention to him. It was Kiaha’s reaction she wished to gauge. Did he understand what she had shown him?

“You,” he stammered in English, “you touched me. You opened your mind to me. You let me feel…”

Shapeshifters, she had learned in the last timeline, were an engineered race, partly Antarian, partly other alien races. They impressed onto the first person they set eyes on and were all but indentured servants for the extension of their lives, a race subjugated and disrespected and repressed. Because they often rebelled against such slavery, their nervous system was suppressed and their minds deprived of the ability to process sensory input in a normal fashion.

Friendships, bonds, and connections of any kind between shifter and other sentient beings were unheard of. It simply did not happen. And the few whisperings of such ‘debased’ occurrences were quickly squelched.

But Liz herself did not subscribe to such beliefs. She was not fond of shifters, but she respected them as sentient beings and as Antarian hybrids like herself.

“Yes, but do you understand?” she asked, dismissing Michael’s quiet fuming. She was sure she would hear his opinion of her reckless action later.

He stared.

“I have no words to convey to you how sorry I am for Gudorian’s suffering or for the fact that he has been in such a position for so long, but I want you to understand that, both personally and as an empath, I know what he is going through. I swear to you we will do the best we can to…” she hesitated. “We will do the best we can to set things straight. I promise you.”

He stared at her, all but lost for words himself. He was overwhelmed by the gift that she had bestowed upon him in sharing even the utterly devastating emotion with him. “You are indeed worth his loyalty,” he at last spoke quietly, and then added, “and mine.”

Michael’s surprise registered with her own, but the Granolith’s pleasure simply thrummed happily about her.

Kiaha seemed not to expect her to reply. His body took on the familiar glow and he shrunk and shifted back to his original form.

He rubbed the side of his body against her leg and purred and she could sense peace and acceptance from him.

She bent down and spoke to him once more. “Intriaba komatik piramalia cona tu esdla. Bissau dla molimo. Uri laimi urangi.” /Please don’t shift for my behalf again. It is not necessary and only harms you./

Kiaha turned and went to the shop doors. The glass rippled slightly and he walked through it like a ghost.

Liz yawned and rose.

She glanced at Michael. “It was the right thing to do,” she said.

He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. He kissed her forehead. “We’ll talk about it later.”

She yawned again. “You won’t win,” she murmured.


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Gudorian appeared at the door, propping it open, and preventing whatever response Michael might have been ready to give her. His outstretched hands were trembling as he approached them. “Oh, you’re – you’re here. This is wonderful,” he said, nodding his head vigorously.

“Oh, come, come, come. Come inside. You – you mustn’t stand out here. This – this isn’t a safe place even for one of us. Oh, come inside. Please come inside.”

He was stuttering in his excitement and Liz could sense his anxiousness to make a good impression on the two of them. In fact, she sensed he was a jumble of nerves inside and was trying desperately to hide that fact from them, so eager was he to please them.

She stepped forward. “We’d be happy to. Thank you, Sir.”

“Oh, y-you mustn’t call me that, Madam,” he stammered. “I am just Gudorian, your servant.”

She had paused as he spoke, hesitating just inside the doorway. “I find that hard to believe,” she said.

“I’m sorry?”

“You are not ‘just Gudorian’. Not to me.”

“How do you know me, Madam?”

She bit her lip as she tried to stifle a yawn. “Actually, I was wondering the same thing about you.”

Gudorian laughed nervously. “Of course you were. Well, let’s not stand around here gadding. ‘Time is wasting’, as they say here on Earth.”

He ushered Michael and Liz into his shop and shut the door behind him, locking it with his powers. Michael narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but Liz sensed no duplicity from Gudorian, only his desire for the safety and privacy for his honored guests. He’s fine, Michael.

Michael only raised his brow. He’s depriving a village somewhere of its idiot. Why don’t you let me put him out of his misery?

Michael!

Just trying to be helpful.
He shrugged.

“Oh, it brings me such joy to see the two of you together, if I may be so bold to say so.” He fairly bounced on his toes in his excitement, but without giving them the chance to respond he was off on another subject. “Well, I suppose you’d like to see the computer. Kiaha?” he called to his shapeshifter.

The cat darted from out of nowhere down one of the store aisles, dragging a black bag. It slid behind him with a soft whoosh.

Kiaha left the bag by Gudorian’s feet and then, just as quickly, exited the room.

Gudorian picked up the bag with trembling hands and dusted off the part that had slid across the floor. A bunch of dust bunnies fell back to the tile. “Well, you c-can’t expect perfection from two bachelors.” He laughed nervously.

He brought the bag to the jewelry counter and removed the contents, a flat, glossy, black panel that gleamed like polished onyx. He set it carefully on the glass countertop. “Ah,” he sighed, “I’m very proud of her. She took a lot of planning a-and, well, the parts weren’t easy to come by, but I… well, that’s neither here n-nor there. Come, Madam. Just touch it right here.”

He indicated a small area of the black panel that looked like a thin strip of sapphire inlaid into the surface. Liz reached out and touched the place and the panel suddenly came to life. The blue sapphire began to glow and the panel itself showed a fine crack running across its depth with white light shining through.

Each section of the panel opened like the cover of a book – the left panel lifting up to the left and the right panel lifting up to the right, revealing the equivalent of a computer monitor within. The panels continued to open until they lay flat on either side of the monitor. Upon each of the panels Antarian symbols then lit up – and Liz realized they were double keypads, whose symbols, when used in the correct combinations would form to make the glyphs that made up the written language of the Antarian people.

That is so cool, she telepathed to Michael.

“A-allow me to show you how it works,” Gudorian said, his pride and contagious excitement felt easily by Liz.

He laid his hands across the keypads and let his fingers fly over the symbols. Liz felt Michael slip his arm around her waist as the two of them watched on. Mathematical, numeric symbols were appearing and combining in a way that reminded Liz of some of the programming she had seen Alex use when he was working on his computers.

“Michael,” she noted, “that’s vigesimal – your number system. It’s base 20. I thought maybe based on your language… but I was never really sure.”

“Yes, yes,” Gudorian answered for Michael. “Our math, calendar, measurements, system of weights – its all vigesimal. M-maybe more complex than your metric system here on Earth, but it is what we use.”

“Algorithmic or dialectic?” she shot at him. It was an important question. Humans primarily used dialectic math. It was what was taught in schools and what was used in the space programs. It was how humans thought. But ancient humankind had an entirely different school of thought based on algorithmic mathematics, and it influenced their culture, religious beliefs, science and architecture. What the Antarians used would likewise affect their culture and beliefs and would likely be reflected in the great entity, the Granolith.

“A-algorithmic, although dialectic has its place as well.” He glanced at her appraisingly. “You will do just fine on her, I think.”

He touched one more symbol combination with his shaking hands, smiling at Liz almost shyly. From the back of the computer slid one more hidden panel. Above this new octagonal shaped panel, a beautiful, glowing, long-stemmed red rose appeared, rotating in a slow circle above the panel.

“A holographic imager for your form that the Granolith has revealed to you,” he stated, gesturing toward to computer’s special feature.

Liz smiled in confusion. “Sir…”

“Gudorian, Madam.”

“Gudorian, I – this is all so amazing, but…” How did he know about the Granolith’s form?

“I try, Madam.”

“How is this powered?” Michael asked.

“Ah, th-that’s the beauty of it, Sire,” he said. He slipped one of his fingernails gently into a small space at the front of the computer and lifted the monitor up, revealing the technical workings inside. “It’s powered by matter and anti-matter.”

“Hm.” Michael looked more closely. “Quid core processor?”

“Of course.”

“Magnetic quantum containment?”

“Yes, Sire,” he said. “Only the best for our Am…” He coughed. “For Madam.”

Michael nodded.

“Guys, you’re speaking techno-babble,” Liz commented. “I’m a scientist, not a computer geek.”

“Do you understand the concept of superluminal communication?” Michael asked her.

“Yeah. The words,” she answered, stifling a yawn. “They mean faster-than-light communication.”

“Achieving that requires the use of quantum particles,” Michael told her, no doubt drawing on the ancient knowledge of Rath. “The particles are separated, with nothing in between them. The state of one set of particles is altered. That causes the particles of the other set to alter their state. The process is referred to in English as ‘quantum teleportation’ or ‘superluminal communication’.”

“And what if someone gets hold of this computer and presses the wrong button or I spill something on it or drop it or…?”

“There is no danger, Madam,” Gudorian said. “The quantum particles are magnetically contained to prevent them from interacting with their environment.”

Liz ran her fingers through her hair. “Wow, this is, um… this is incredible. I never expected anything like this. It must be the most advanced piece of technology on our planet.”

“Madam, compared to what y-you will do for us, this is… it is nothing.” Having said so, he averted his eyes from Liz face and occupied himself with closing the computer.

“Gudorian, how did you know I would come here tonight and that I needed this kind of computer and about the form?” When he hesitated, she added: “The Granolith said you would tell me.”

“Why, Madam, you explained all this to me ten years ago.”

“Ten years ago?” She would have been six years old and in first grade at the time. It was impossible. “I couldn’t have.”

“I a-assure you, you did,” he stated in all seriousness.

“I commissioned you to build me this exact computer?”

“You did.”

“Ten years ago?”

“Yes.”

“Me?” she asked again. “You’re sure it was me?”

“Madam, y-you are quite unforgettable,” he sighed. “Is that not right, My Lord?” he asked Michael.

Something in Michael had relaxed as Anapo Gudorian spoke. It was almost as if Michael understood the man’s words – not the computer parts, but the other things Gudorian said – and that they made sense to him in a manner that eluded Liz. “It is,” he answered Gudorian.

“There. There. You see?” Gudorian said.

Liz glanced up at Michael, but his face revealed nothing.

Looking back at Gudorian, she saw him thumbing through his pockets and pulling out small black tiles marked with Antarian symbols. He laid them out on the counter as he found each one.

“Now, you will have some s-some subjects to brush up on, Madam, if you are to do this,” he said. “But I trust that will not be a problem. Just insert these books into the computer at this portal and the lessons will show up on the screen.”

“What kind of lessons?”

“I-I’ve tried to focus on math. I have an introduction,” – he touched the black “book” tile – “to our vigesimal system – the basics of how it works and how it is used in our society. I have a couple more advanced courses, including how to translate vigesimal numbers into binary. And then f-finally three to bring you up-to-date on our calculus.”

“And these?” Liz asked, indicating the ones he had not gestured to.

“Science,” he stated. “Sometimes in order to understand, you need a m-more well-rounded point of view.”

It was true. She was a biologist, not a physicist. She had studied other sciences but none of them had ever been her focus. She would need the understanding of particle physics, quantum physics and mathematical physics to accomplish what the Granolith asked of her. Smart, smart man to have thought of that.

Not only that, but gaining a better understanding of Antarian science would likely help her to understand the math used by its people. Antarian science had a very different focus than Earth science. It wasn’t that it was more advanced because, for that matter, both civilizations were on equal grounds. It was the thought patterns and the drive behind the science that made the difference. For example, Liz had learned that the Antarians had very few electrically based technologies and no fossil fuel dependant technologies at all. Instead, they were, as a people, far more competent with sound based technology. Likely, the civilizations’ math followed suit, driven by different thought processes and directed in a different manner. Understanding one (in this instance, science) would help her to understand the other (the hoped for, calculus).

“You’ve thought of everything,” she said.

“Thank you.”

“Sir…”

“Gudorian.”

“Gudorian, have we worked out a payment arrangement?” she asked.

“I was paid in f-full when you commissioned me ten years ago,” Gudorian answered dutifully.

And we’re back to this ten years thing, she sighed inwardly.

Maybe it’s true. Michael shrugged.

She eyed him suspiciously, sensing that he fully believed Gudorian’s strange words.

I would have been six! I didn’t know you or the Granolith or Gudorian then!

You sure?

Michael.

Hey, if you think you’ve got time pretzeled so easily…

I never said that.
As a matter of fact it had become apparent to her recently that time was far more complex than even Serena had surmised. But how could Liz have commissioned Gudorian ten years ago? How was it possible? It just didn’t make sense.

“I know it all seems very confusing right now, Madam,” Gudorian continued, “but you might think of it as a paradox of time. You see, your future lies in my past and my future lies in what you do with my past.”

“I don’t understand,” she said slowly. She glanced toward the clock at the back of the store and saw that it was nearly one in the morning. Could it be that she was just too tired for any of this to have made sense? She fought a yawn and lost.

“No, but you will. You will.” He reached out to pat her hand, but she pulled away before he could touch her.

“I… Forgive me, Madam. I did not mean…” he was quick to apologize.

“I’m sorry. I reacted without thinking.” She hesitated, then offered her hand.

He took it gratefully within his own still trembling hands. She felt the strength of his emotions deepen at his gentle touch – fierce loyalty, past regrets, deep grief, hope and expectation. The pain of his broken bond, much like her own, was present too, still throbbing after all these hundred years, longing for his Tuavaero.

She disentangled herself from his emotions, and found herself inexplicably retreating to the safety of Michael’s mind, seeking his comforting presence. He wrapped himself about her telepathically, with an unexpected rush of warmth.

“You are very tired, I think,” Anapo Gudorian said.

“I am,” she said gratefully. “I would like nothing more than to crawl into bed right this minute…”

“Yes, I remembered,” Gudorian said, dropping her hand. “I h-have got it all ready for you.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Y-your accommodations, Madam,” he said.

Liz was about to protest – there was no way she was planning on spending the night in Gudorian’s shop – but Michael beat her to a response. “Thank you,” Michael said. “We’d be grateful.”

Michael!

He pressed his hand to her back and compelled her to follow Gudorian as the man led the way. Antarian hospitality must never be rejected without good cause.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Fifteen minutes ago you wanted to put the man out of his misery and now you want to spend the night here?


This night was too much for her. Between the dispute with Michael on her balcony to her short confrontation with Kiaha to the incredible computer Gudorian had presented her with at no cost to the spontaneous offer of a place to stay for the night and Michael’s acceptance… She couldn’t wrap her mind around all of it. Talk about wings of madness.

It will be fine, he said.

That’s what you think.

She pressed her teeth together, determined not to allow her armor to crack.

Old, familiar feelings threatened to return – remnants of the parallel timeline from which she came – but she squelched them. One night at Gudorian’s wasn’t a big deal, she reminded herself. She was spending the night at the kind bequest of a gentle, generous man and at the insistence of her husband’s cousin, her “family” as Michael had said earlier. And in the morning she could take her computer and leave. She would be fine.

She turned toward the back of the store, down an aisle of Earth-made computers, cameras and video game units. Her tired eyes glanced passed the equipment without really seeing any of them; her mind was focused elsewhere.

Until she saw the portrait hanging against the wall.

She halted, nearly causing Michael to trip over her. “I’m sorry, Michael. I just…” she mumbled.

Then, without realizing that her feet were moving again, she stepped out of the electronics aisle and over into the next, her eyes never leaving the painting. She paused in front of a glass display case that housed rifles, handguns and shotguns and rested her hands on the countertop and leaned forward, staring upward.

“That’s incredible,” she breathed softly. It was the portrait of an Antarian dragon, wings outstretched and painted against an ethereal sky, avanisi clouds billowing in the background, their edges tinted a brilliant gold by the sunset.

But it was the dragon herself that truly held Liz’s attention. She had been more than just painted on. The artist, in all his brilliance, had manage to make her soft scales gleam in the light of their ‘sun’ so that even in the artificial lighting of Gudorian’s store, a metallic, prismic coloration seemed to emanate from her body. “She’s beautiful.”

Gudorian’s voice brought her back to reality. “I forgot to ask you last time you were here,” he spoke. “How do you know my Tuavaero?” he asked about the dragon in the portrait.

She glanced over her shoulder at the two men whom had followed her – Gudorian, whom was hovering close by, and Michael, whom was again standing at her side, hand pressed to the small of her back – and once more tried to fathom why they both believe it possible that she had been there ten years ago. “I’ve seen her before,” she said.

“When?”

How did she answer that? She could not tell him the truth.

“I saw her,” she said carefully, casting her eyes away from him at the veritable armory in the case, “through your eyes. I saw… felt… what she means to you.”

“And what does she mean to me?” he asked carefully.

Liz stared back up at the portrait of the beautiful Tuavaero. Memories of the dragon’s fresh, earthy scent flooded her nose, the feel of warm wind rushing at her brushed against her skin, and the sensation of the powerful muscles of the dragon in flight tickled at her. The memory was so powerful and real that for a brief moment she felt like she was really riding dragonback, expecting at any second to hear Tuavaero’s voice in her mind.

She felt Michael nudge her telepathically and she pulled her mind back to Gudorian.

“She brought color and meaning to your world,” Liz answered. “She gave you a reason to draw breath. When you were with her you felt like forever was a possibility, that anything that you thought of and dreamed of was sure to happen. She was so stunningly beautiful that every time you saw her you thought of avanisi clouds. She was the only one you ever needed or will ever need. And, even though she is dead, you remain loyal to your bond to her just as she expected you to do…” Her voice trailed off and she was unable to continue, fearful that her own emotions might slip out and with it the flood that always followed.

“You do understand how I feel.”

“Yes,” she swallowed.

“But you’ve never been to my home world, have you?”

“No.”

“Then how?”

She shrugged. “I’m an empath. I feel things.”

“I thought I had shown her to you in person but I didn’t, did I?”

She shook her head.

“I m-must have connected to you… I don’t remember doing this. I don’t know why I would have done that.” He was abashed. Liz could see from the corner of her eye that his trembling had grown worse.

“It’s not important, Sir,” Liz soothed.

“But the pain it brings…” he said. “You wept for her.”

How could he know she was at times reduced to tears over a dragon that was not hers? She opened her mind slightly from within the confines of Michael’s but sensed only confusion on Gudorian’s part. He did not seem to understand any better than she did.

She shrugged her shoulders as she retreated back into the comforting warmth of Michael’s mind. “It comes with the territory of empathy. I’m used to it.”

The Granolith, who had remained uncharacteristically unobtrusive, brushed gently at Liz, momentarily distracting her and lighting up her world in a tetrachromatic array of color variations. She instantly steeled herself for the nausea she was used to following but her connection to Michael abruptly deepened and the nausea was remiss.

You’re buffering me, she noted.

You’re tired, he explained simply.

She glanced about her, seeing through the entity’s ‘eyes’ with a comfort she was not used to. Temperature and energy forms became visible. Even the emotional states of those around her had entered a spectral range and could be seen rather than felt.

Look, Michael instructed.

Look? At what? But even as she wondered, prompts appeared in her mind directing her back toward the portrait of Tuavaero.

She returned her gaze to the painting. A glowing stria of light of a color she could not name ran in a diagonal line from the upper left hand corner slowly across the painting, alighting at last on the signature on the lower right hand corner. L. Aporo. It seemed to glow brightly and then fade back into the picture.

Liz leaned closer to the painting, trying to make sense of it.

Ur zwibaba? /Do you understand?/ the Granolith asked.

But she did not.

Instead of answering, she turned toward Michael and repeated the question to him. Do you understand?

He shrugged.

It says ‘Aporo’. The artist is from your family line. Is there another Aporo living here on Earth?

Besides Max?

Yes, besides him.

Not that I’m aware of.

Then do you understand this?
she repeated. She could sense that even with their deepened connection that he was a holding a part of himself away from her, but it was nothing unusual; he always held back.

Michael scratched at his brow as if he did not know.

Parev tisaope. Kwa hahabu pama, /This is crazy. Nothing makes sense./ she sent tiredly to the Granolith.

Aloka yeh, the Granolith replied. /In the future it will./

“Does it hurt?” Gudorian asked, his voice gently drawing her back into his world.

“I’m sorry?” she said with a yawn. “Does what hurt?”

“Empathy?”

It was a loaded question, but naively asked. She paused before answering, weighing the truth in her mind. “Sometimes,” she evaded.

He nodded gravely. “Such a gift is a rarity among us. It makes you all the more valuable.”

He was wrong though. Her empathy was an ability that made her particularly vulnerable. Khivar had proved that to her time and again during her period of imprisonment with him.

“Come, Madam, My Lord,” he said. “L-let me not keep you any longer. Your accommodations…”
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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:25 pm

Spring 2000

Two weeks after “Departure”


~Chapter 7~

Conundrum


He led them to a windowless room in the back of his store. It was a room Antarian in nature, Liz noticed. It was simply decorated and devoid of wall hangings. One table was set off to the side with a single jeweled container set upon it, probably filled with scented oil if Liz’s memory served her correctly. And there was a low ‘bed’ off to the other side – round instead of rectangular. It was lined with furs and fur-covered pillows.

“Veda,” /Thank you./ Michael said.

“Thank you,” Liz repeated. She did not want to spend the night in Gudorian’s shop, but she was tired and the bed looked warm and inviting to her tired eyes.

“I-it is to your liking?” he asked nervously.

“It is,” Michael said.

“Good. Then I will leave you,” he stated. “’Pleasant dreams’, as they say.”

“Good night,” Liz told him.

Michael nodded in Gudorian’s direction as the elderly man stepped backward through the doorway. He paused then, his hand resting on the doorknob. “If it is not too much to ask, I-I would request one th-thing from you, Madam.”

“Yes, Sir?”

“Gudorian,” he corrected yet again.

She waited for him to continue.

“When the time comes, I w-wish to remember,” he said. Liz frowned, uncertain as to what he meant but too tired to ask him to explain. “You will make request of the Granolith for me?”

She nodded.

“You will not forget?” he entreated.

She shook her head. “I won’t forget,” she said. “I’ll ask the Granolith.”

“Veda,” he said, seemingly satisfied. “Good night.”

“Good night,” she told him.

When the door closed at last and Gudorian was gone she closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“You okay?” Michael asked.

She nodded. “Just tired. Exhausted really,” she corrected, “which is a good thing for you, because otherwise I’d be really mad at you for making me spend the night here.”

“So, you’re not mad?” He was asking for clarification and she got a brief sense that she had hit on an old insecurity of his and instantly felt regret.

“No. I’m sorry I said that. It was my sleepy mouth running away with me.” She rubbed her tired hand across her forehead. “I’ve been in worse places; you know that. And at least this one comes with a comfortable bed… and you.”

Liz turned and wrapped her arms around Michael’s midsection and rested her head against his chest. She thought she could hear his heart beating. She felt him respond in kind and hug her to him.

“I really am sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not,” she said. “You went out of your way to be here with me tonight so I didn’t have to face him alone. You always do that. You’re always there for me when I need you. I just… I forget to say ‘thank you’ sometimes.”


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Old habits of a bygone timeline still survived within her and she had tried to go to bed with her clothes and shoes on and her bag wrapped within her arms, as if she were still living in hiding and had to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Only Michael’s prompting had been able to make her recognize what she was trying to do, but it had not driven the timeworn instinctive survival mindset from her. At his request she had actually stripped down to her underclothes, leaving her shirt, pants, shoes, jacket and bag lying carefully in a corner and had crawled into bed, but she felt unreasonably ill at ease and her stomach was full of butterflies.

Michael had crawled into the soft furs next to her and wrapped his arm around her. He spooned tightly against her and she could feel his warm breath on the back of her head. But his comforting presence did nothing to ease the dread that drifted through her.

Seeing Gudorian and Kiaha brought back too many old memories and threatened to open up wounds that had never healed properly. And so, tired though she was, she was afraid to close her eyes. If she stayed awake, she could keep those old memories at bay; but if she closed her eyes they might return to her in her dreams and possibly, because of her Antarian heritage, spill over into Michael’s dreams as well.

It was called ‘dream sharing’ or ‘kermes benguel’ among the Antarian people, and it was a common enough occurrence. It was considered normal among family and friends. But nothing about Liz’s life was normal and, even though Michael had already seen the things she had lived through in the last timeline, she hardly wanted him to have to relive them again. Once was enough.

Besides, what he had done before with the benguela, when he had connected to her and viewed her memories, might as well have been the equivalent of skimming a book. Emotional nuances and subtle details were lost to him. What he had seen was merely an overview, so to speak.

Exposing him to the full brunt of her dark memories through the kermes benguel was not something she wanted to do to him. She did not want him to feel the depth of her pain and loss. She did not want to hurt him in that way. She wanted to protect him from herself.

She yawned as she tried to fend off the sleep that was determined to overwhelm her.

“You need to sleep,” he whispered.

“Don’t worry about me,” she whispered back. “I’ll fall asleep once I relax.”

Like maybe tomorrow when she was back in her own bed, she told herself, and in no way a threat to Michael.

“And when will that be?”

Liz breathed out softly. “Go to sleep, Michael. We can’t both of us waste Gudorian’s fine ‘accommodations’.”

He was quiet for a moment. Then he said: “You won’t hurt me.”

She pressed her teeth together. “Are you a telepath?” She didn’t remember either of Michael’s carnations in the past timeline being able to pick up on her thoughts so easily. Had her Michael/Rath simply not shared that part of himself with her or was this another one of those inexplicable timeline differences?

“You think loud.”

“Great.” She adjusted the pillow under her head.

“Hey,” he whispered.

She found where his hand was draped over her stomach and reached for it. “Look, I get nightmares. Lots of them,” she admitted. “I’m, uh… I’m afraid of what seeing Gudorian might have triggered. I’m afraid of what you’ll see if you…”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine.”

Michael pulled her closer to him. “I can take whatever you give.”

“I don’t want you to,” she hissed.

He moved so quickly she hardly knew what happened. One minute he was spooned against her and the next she was flat on her back, pinned beneath Michael’s large frame. He hovered over her, his face so close that she could feel his warm breath on her skin. “Family sticks together. As long as I’m here, we work together to find the Ambassador and we take care of each other. And if I see your dreams…”

“No.”

“We’re family,” he repeated firmly. “We share the same seal. We stick together.”

Maybe it was delirium from fatigue or perhaps it was just the ludicrousness of the confinement, but Liz suddenly found it hard to contain the laughter that bubbled within her. She turned her head to the side to cover her amusement with a cough.

“You think this is funny?”

She coughed again and cleared her throat. “Were you this much trouble on Antar or is this just a neat little quirk of your human side?” she whispered.

“I was perfect. Never caused any trouble.”

“Uh-huh. Is that why they called you ‘Restless’?” (“Rath” meant ‘restless’ in their language.)

They didn’t call me anything. I called myself ‘Rath’.”

“Really?”

“Uh huh.”

“Why is that?”

“Three occupations,” was his answer.

“Three? I only know about the two,” she whispered. “What was the third?”

“You haven’t figured it out?”

“No.”

“Maybe…if you go to sleep you’ll see it in my dreams.”

“Bribery?”

“I’ve been known to use it before.”

“Okay.”

Michael rolled to the side then and lay next to Liz, draping his arm back across her. She moved her hand so that it fell across his chest so that she could feel the rise and fall of his breathing. “By the way, Evans,” he said, “I have nightmares too.”


Image


Garbled words. Foreign. But full of pain.

Dragons rearing on their haunches. Flying without their riders. Attacking men!

People screaming.

Chaos.

And Tuavaero lay dying. Her blood pouring out on the ground.

He laid his cheek on her great head. He cried shamelessly. Pacal wakwael urangi, tu teldla, he spoke in her mind, and Liz understood because he wanted her to understand; he wanted the memory firmly implanted in her mind so that she could never forget. /I cannot live without you./

Cona tu, pacalhunapi, /Survive for me./ the dragon spoke to him.

Tuavaero, his dragon, was tired. He could feel her giving out. She would not survive. But what would he be without her? A dragonless rider could not survive.

Tuavaero heaved a painful, shuddering breath and tried yet again to break through her rider’s grief. Parsa lapahi temal, she telepathed to him. Lo suila temal, kayam tu pacal piramalia yeh. /Help the chosen one. Help her and I will live again./

Kilwa tu yeh, /I will die./ he said.

Cha, pacal urangi yeh, /No, you will live./ she said within his mind. Ota Imabuli arhara urangi nui suila yeh. /The Granolith will take you to her./

Vivan? /Where?/

Tsayeb iyotaki sempra. /Far from here./

Tuavaero had tried to prepare him – had been trying to do so for years. She said she heard whispers from another time that ran parallel to this one. Voices long dead would awaken. Minds reunited and made whole. She would die, she said, but he would survive. Survive. And travel to a far away land to seek the chosen one, the one who was marked. The one who would save their world.

The connection dimmed. The vision stilled and Liz became aware of where she was and of the two men who held her captive. She was no longer on Antar, mourning the passing of her dragon – no, not hers but Gudorian’s – but on Earth.

Anapo Gudorian stood in front of her, pushing her up against a brick wall. His face was marred by fury and grief; hers by tears. “I waited a century for you! And for what?” he cried. “You ignorant, selfish woman! Look at you!” He ripped her fabric from her arm, revealing her shoulder. He pressed his glowing hand to her bare skin. Fire burned within her.

She screamed and tried to pull away, but she could not fight against two of them. Not against him and his shape-shifting cat.

He pulled his hand away from her seared flesh and grabbed her chin. “Look at that, you fool!” He forced her to look down at her shoulder and the glowing seal he had revealed.

The memory of the dying dragon’s pleas and the rider’s devastating grief were lodged firmly within her mind. He was looking for the sign, the mark that would tell him he had found the one his dragon had asked him to help. But she did not understand why he would be looking for it in her.

“It’s my seal because I bonded to Max,” she sobbed. Because he still held a connection to her, his pain was mingled with her own and she was unable to avoid the despair he felt.

“You were supposed to marry Zan!”

“I did marry Zan!”

“No, you married his cousin!” He forced his mind deeper into her again, searching for the mark he knew must be there, but he could not find it and so in his rage he tore away at her bond to Max.

Maaaaaaaaaax!!! She screamed within her mind, calling for her husband but was unable to reach him. He could not protect her; the cat had attacked him first and rendered him unconscious, while Gudorian held her.

And then she heard the unexpected words. Urono noré, /You are safe./ he whispered to her.

Michael?

They cannot hurt you. Urono noré. Come with me. I will keep you safe.


Suddenly, inexplicably, Gudorian’s connection to her was violently severed. The pain it caused tore through her body like sharp knives. If she had not still been held by the two men she would have crumbled under its force.

“Gungari?” the cat being demanded. /What happened?/

“Da ruheh suila. Ifuono poeuli,” /It protected her. She is marked./ he answered in surprise. “Suila, ru kalalaga teldla.” /We cannot touch her./

Come with me. I will keep you safe, Michael continued to whisper.

No, I have to understand. Tuavaero would want it. I need to know what she wanted. She tried to push Michael away.

But he had a firm grasp of her and would not let her. Let it go, Liz.

Her dream-memory looped and she once again saw her dragon fall from the sky. Pummeling. Crashing onto the ground.

She ran to her. Tuavaero!

Tuavaero tried to lift her great head but was too weak. Her injuries were too bad. Blood was pouring out of her and covering the ground. Her eyes were losing their fire. She was dying.

Liz. Come with me.

No, I won’t leave her!


She ran to her dragon and kneeled in the pool of blood so that she would be close enough to lay her cheek on Tuavaero’s great head. Her bond to her dragon was slipping, weakening as her dragon weakened. There was so little left to hold onto. She cried shamelessly. I cannot live without you.

But Tuavaero would not rest until she had convinced her rider to do the impossible. Survive for me, she said.

She was so tired, Tuavaero was. Her strength was giving out. Liz knew there was no chance her dragon would survive her injuries and when Tuavaero died, she would die too. She would take her own life to escape the pain of losing the bond to her only friend.

Tuavaero heaved a painful, shuddering breath and tried yet again to break through Liz’s grief. Help the chosen one, she telepathed to her. Help her and I will live again.

She closed her eyes. How could she do this when her heart was breaking? I will die.

And suddenly she was awake. She inhaled sharply and stiffened, realizing where she was and that the link she felt to the great dragon was gone. Severed. The beautiful Tuavaero with her glowing fire-colored eyes was dead.

She buried her face in her pillow and sobbed soundlessly, her back heaving under the strain. Michael murmured soft words to her, but she could not comprehend what he said. Her only coherent thought was to shut her empathic power down as tightly as she could before she accidentally unleashed the force of her grief on anyone within her telepathic range.


Image


Nightmares continued to fleetingly haunt Liz, and in turn Michael, but none pulled her in as deeply as the first. And, finally, morning arrived.

“Hey,” Michael said, gently nudging Liz. “Time to get up for school.”

“Oh goodie,” she murmured.

“What’s the matter?” he asked lightly. “Didn’t you sleep?”

“I slept great,” she said with a yawn. “How ‘bout you?”

“Can’t complain.”

Michael waved his hand toward the overhead light and turned it on. Liz blinked as her eyes adjusted to the light.

“You’ve got dark, uh…” He pointed a finger at her eyes.

“Oh.” She covered her eyes.

“You know how to fix that?”

She sat up. “Yeah. I better go do that. I don’t want Gudorian to think we passed a bad night. It would hurt his feelings.”

She crawled out of the bed and went into the bathroom where she could see herself in the mirror. “Oh… man. Look at me.” Her hair was mussed from restless sleep and her face looked pinched and, of course, there were the dark circles under her eyes.

She waved her hand over each cheek and then over each eye, using her ability to smooth out her features and bring color to her complexion; and then she ran her fingers through her hair, again using her power to get out the tangles and add some curl.

Michael was already dressed when she got out of the bathroom. He had even straightened out the furs and pillows on the bed. She didn’t know how he moved so quickly.

She picked up her clothes from off the floor and set to putting them on while Michael sat on the low bed and watched. “You know, it’s such a conundrum,” she began softly. “How could what we – Max and I – did have affected Gudorian so much? I mean, he’s not even the same person as he was before… in my time. It doesn’t make sense.”

Her blouse and pants on, she sat on the floor and pulled on her socks and shoes. “I feel like I must be missing huge pieces of the puzzle, like I know there’s this much bigger picture here but I can’t see what it is.”

“You’re one of the smartest people I know. I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” Michael said, but Liz sensed the cautiousness in his answer.

She looked up from tying the laces on her shoes. He knew things – Michael did – because Rath knew things. What was it he wasn’t telling her? What pieces did he hold in his hands that she needed? In many ways he was just as much a part of the conundrum as all the other things and people she wondered over in this timeline.

When would she figure it all out? And would it be in time to secure the continuation of life on her planet? Failure was not an option.

When she finished dressing, she and Michael left their room and met Gudorian in the front part of his shop. He gave her the computer he made for her, still wrapped in the black bag, setting it carefully in her hands.

“May I call you if I have any questions?” she asked him about her computer.

“O-of course, Madam,” he replied.

Impulsively she threw her arms around his neck and kissed his weathered cheek. “Thank you.”

He touched his cheek where she had kissed him. “It w-was my pleasure.”


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Somehow she made it through her day at school. She felt like she was in a daze and she probably missed most of what the teachers said. Practice, however, had given her the ability to act completely normal despite what she felt inside. She smiled, chatted with Maria, answered questions in class, and acted as if it were any other day.

Her mind, though, was a million miles away. All she could think about was getting home and working with her computer.

At last the final bell rang and she was free. She dropped Michael off on the street near her house where he had left his motorcycle the night before, then headed home.

After a power nap and dinner with her parents, she holed up in her room studying the first of Gudorian’s book tiles, the one covering basic Antarian vigesimal math. She found that, once she actually spent the time to actually think about it, their system of numbers and counting wasn’t nearly as complicated as she had thought it would be. It was just… different.

All her life she had worked decimal (base ten), dialectic math in which objects had specified properties and either existed or did not exist and in which statements were either true or false.

Antarian vigesimal (base 20) numbering was just a different way of thinking, as was their preferred algorithmic method of working math problems. The algorithmic approach appeared to be concerned, not only with the existence of objects but also with the credentials of an object’s existence. Problems worked in this manner might get a different answer than one worked dialectically, but the answers were just as valid.

Liz actually found it kind of exciting, intellectually speaking, to study the material and found that she went an entire evening without thinking about the loss of her husband or the end of her world.

Over the course of the next few nights, she continued in fascination to study Gudorian’s material. As the problems posed and explained grew in complexity, Liz found that keeping a notebook and pen by her side was helpful. Page after page began to be filled with equations and notes, most of which she wrote in Antarian glyphs since that was the language she was studying in.

Her studies provided her with a much-needed distraction and she felt calmer and more content than she had in a long time. Even at night, her nightmares were less troubling as her mind continued to think over what she was learning in her dreams. She fell asleep with the computer across her lap. If she awoke from a bad dream, she simply continued on from where she left off. And in the morning, she set her alarm to go off well before it was actually necessary so that she could work some more.

By the end of the week, the anomalous shape the Granolith had shown her so often seemed less troublesome and impossible and more like something she might be able to recreate with the help of her new studies and computer.

This is really going to happen? I’m really going to be able to understand the form well enough to program it into the computer? she asked the dizzying presence of the Granolith, staring absently at the dancing rainbow of colors that spun through her room.

You will, It replied proudly.

And then what?

That depends upon you.


Liz wanted to ask the ancient entity what that meant, but It severed Its link to her mind and went to sleep, or at least that was how Liz thought of It; she could sense It was alive and nearby, but its mind had turned inward. The rainbow disappeared and the dizziness ebbed away.

She suddenly felt very lonely.

She looked down at her notes and sighed. Clipping her pen to the page she was working on, she shut the notebook and set it aside.

She climbed out of bed and removed her ruddy-colored quilt and her pillow.

Then, after carrying them to her window, she climbed out onto her balcony, where she curled up with them on one of her lawn chairs. But instead of looking at the stars as she usually did, she held out her hand and made the Granolith’s undulating form appear above it. It spun and convulsed and changed colors like a cuttlefish while she watched it.

Slowly she closed her hand and the form disappeared. “Yes,” she said softly. “Yes, I will.”
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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:25 pm

Spring 2000

Three Weeks After “Departure”


~Chapter 8~

Family Not of This Earth


“How could she do this to us?” Isabel murmured. “We trusted her.”

“She could have asked,” Maria said. “All she had to do was ask. Alex would have helped her.”

“Any of us would have,” Isabel said.

Liz knew Isabel and Maria were speaking more to themselves than to anyone else, but the remarks stung regardless. They had trusted Tess, despite every misgiving they had. And why was that? Because Max and she had concocted the plan to change the past by keeping Tess around.

Was it worth it? Her head told her yes. Tess’s extended presence had brought about the end of the Skin forces on Earth and given them precious time – time to cull those few remaining that were loyal to Khivar before they could pose any danger to Earth’s inhabitants.

But her heart told her the price – Alex’s life and Max’s unforeseen bond – was too great a payment. Her friends were weary and heartbroken, fearful and distrustful. And she and her husband were the cause of that. All of it.

So, was it worth it?

Rath would have said yes. He had given his life to give Max and her the time they needed to get to the Granolith and carry out their plan.

She gritted her teeth together and refocused her mind on the task before her. Giving into guilt, blame, and despair were not going to help anyone, especially not the 6½ billion ‘any ones’ that weighed constantly on her conscience… Besides, now and in front of her friends was not a good time to be letting herself fall into one her dark moods.

Someone brought a slice of pizza to Liz. She looked up to see Max hovering over her. Things had been strained since the park, but at least he was not angry with her. Of course he was too plagued by guilt to feel much of anything else.

She shook her head. “Thanks,” she said, “but I’m not hungry.”

He nodded and went away.

Liz finished taping the bottom of the moving box and flipped it over. She began filling it with more of Tess’s things, wondering how the girl had managed to collect so much stuff.

They had gathered at the Valenti’s – Max, Isabel, Maria, Michael and Liz – to clear out Tess’s things. It was the least they could do for Jim and Kyle.

It was a fairly silent affair, with no one being in the mood for laughter and games, and so they had made quick progress – boxing, taping, and stacking – with an occasional bite of pizza to break the monotony (except for Liz whom refused to eat at all). Soon enough the closet, dresser and bedroom were entirely emptied.

“Where should we put the boxes?” Isabel asked as soon as the last box was taped and labeled.

“I figured we could just put everything in the garage,” Jim answered.

“No,” Michael and Liz spoke at the same time.

They glanced at one another and Liz mouthed ‘sorry’ and indicated that he should be the one to speak. He nodded.

Michael scratched his brow as he addressed Jim. “We’re not going to risk you again. We need to store this in a place where, if Tess comes back, the person is capable of defending himself. I’m the best qualified,” he said. “We’re taking these to my place.”

Jim nodded his head in agreement, Max had the good sense not to argue with Michael’s authority for a change and Isabel managed to look relieved.

“I’ll go unlock my car,” Liz said softly, pushing herself up from the floor.

The group followed Liz’s lead and began moving the boxes out to Liz’s and Maria’s cars.

After a while Liz noticed that Michael had disappeared. She found him back in Kyle’s room tracing his fingers along a portion of one wall.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“There’s something here,” he said.

He pressed his palm against the wall. His hand glowed briefly and the wall seemed to ripple like water. He put in his hand and pulled out a container, elaborately jeweled.

Liz came closer to examine it. She traced her fingers over the ornaments. Gold. Silver. Ruby. Emerald. Turquoise. Lapis Lazuli. Coral and Aquamarine. “I’m going to guess 18th to 19th century. Made in the Kingdom of Nepal?” she surmised. “I saw similar artifacts at Nacedo’s house.”

Michael opened the container and he and Liz looked inside. Liz frowned and bent her head in closer and sniffed the contents.

She whipped her head back up and clenched her fists. “Oh… geez!” she said between gritted teeth. “That explains everything.” Her face looked pinched.

“It explains what? What’s in there?” Maria asked.

Liz turned to her friend, whom had entered the room unawares. “Upoko,” she stated flatly.

“What?” Maria asked. “What’s that?”

“Let me have it, Michael,” Liz said, returning her attention to him and the container he held. “I’ll flush it.” She reached for it, but Michael grabbed her hand.

“No,” he spoke.

“What is it, Michael?” Max asked, coming in behind Maria.

“Michael,” Liz said again.

“No, Liz,” he repeated.

She felt him brush gently against her mind. If she makes it back here, she will want her things – all of them, he spoke.

Well, she can’t have this.

Do you think she hasn’t gotten any more from whomever supplied this to her in the first place?

Nacedo’s dead.

Do you think he was her only source?


“What’s going on?” Now it was Isabel’s turn.

“Drugs,” Michael answered her, though he never took his eyes from Liz.

“I don’t understand,” Maria said. “You guys can’t even handle a sip of alcohol. Why would Tess do drugs?”

“Fine,” Liz said softly. “Do what you want with it.” She started to walk away but was prevented from doing so because Michael still had a firm grip on her hand.

She looked back at him.

Our friends don’t understand, he telepathed.

I know.

Be strong for them.


She nodded and forced herself to relax. “I’m going to go get something to drink. Here.” She handed Michael the keys to her car.

Michael let go of her hand to take the keys and Liz left the room, her face devoid of all emotion.

She made it out of the house and down the driveway before she realized Isabel and Maria followed her.

“Liz, where are you going?” Maria asked her.

“I’m going to walk over to the Circle K and get something to drink,” she said, without turning around.

“Why?” she asked. “Why can’t you drink soda or water from the house? Why do you have to leave? What’s this all about, Liz?”

“I just need a break, Maria,” Liz answered. “I’m tired. Tess’s stuff is getting to me.”

“And - and it’s not getting to the rest of us?” Maria continued. “Come on, Liz. What’s really going on? What’s that poko stuff?”

Liz paused her stride and took a moment to organize her thoughts. She turned. “U-poko,” she pronounced. “It’s an Antarian herb. It increases powers.” She shrugged.

“How do you know?” Isabel asked.

Liz shook her head slightly as if she did not know.

“Why is that bad?” Maria asked. “What happens?”

Her memories of the effects of upoko on her own powers flashed through her mind. She bit her lip and clamped down on the emotions the memory evoked.

Be strong. Be strong, she reminded herself.

“Mindwarping isn’t dangerous, not even in the hands of someone as unskilled as Tess,” she said. “But you give her upoko? Now her power becomes too strong for her to wield controllably.” She looked at her friends and the incomprehensible looks on their faces. “Do you understand?” she asked. “The upoko turned her power into a murder weapon. It’s what she was on when she killed the Skin forces at our school… and it is the reason Alex died.”

“The reason Alex died,” Isabel murmured, and Liz could see the dawning of understanding on her face, perhaps due to a familiar feeling relating to Vilandra’s old memories.

“Liz…” Maria began.

“Enough, Ria,” Liz interrupted. “Enough. I… I don’t want to do this right now.”

She turned and headed for the sidewalk.

“You can’t just tell us that and leave,” Maria complained. “What about the upoko?”

“Let Michael handle it,” she answered without turning.

Image


She was halfway to the store when she realized she wasn’t going to make it. The dark mood that she had tried to avoid earlier was strengthening its grip on her. Her nightmares were about to intrude upon her day. She turned off on a side street and followed it to the end, then turned down another street.

Then she sat down on the curb and buried her face in her hands.

Silent.

Letting her memories wash through her.

The sickness that followed the dropping of the biological weapons – That had been Khivar’s first line of attack. Why fight when one could just wipe out most of the population with disease? He had dropped bombs everywhere, at all the key locations on Earth. Sickness had spread rapidly – a disease that caused rashes, fevers and internal bleeding, then unconsciousness and death.

There was no cure. She knew. She had tried to find one. She had lost her parents and Alex to the first wave as well as nearly 4 billion other people. But they were the lucky ones, she later realized. Their suffering was temporary and they found peace in death.

Then the invasion began and the hunting and rounding up of the 3½ billion survivors into camps and prisons. Cities lay empty. Doors unlocked. Homes uncared for. Businesses closed. Schools silent of children’s voices. Governmental systems shattered. Money was worthless.

Chaos ensued. Humans killed each other in their confusion and incomprehensible grief and failed attempts to satisfy their most primitive needs of food, clothing and shelter. But in the end, it had not mattered if one were an educated urban-dwelling inhabitant or a rural tribesman; each shared the same fate: captivity, enslavement, cruel treatment, and inhuman conditions.

Some managed to evade capture for a while by going into hiding, but Khivar had technology that was able to identify human signatures. There were very few hiding places that could protect one from that. One by one, those in hiding were discovered and the inhabitants captured. That was how Maria had been found. Isabel as Vilandra had tried to protect her, but she was only one person and the soldiers that came to take Maria had overwhelmed her and killed her. Maria had died in their arms.

Of course, by that point Liz was no longer entirely human. Vilandra, Max, Rath, Michael’s daughter Madison and Liz were able to hold out much longer than the rest, but their lives were in constant danger. They lived in fear and anxiety.

Liz was forced to keep her empathic senses open much of the time to sense if there were any of Khivar’s men nearby. Even though it was nothing more than a shallow use of her ability – it never extended more than a quarter mile in any direction - it was still exhausting mentally and emotionally.

Those were dark times. But they were about to get darker.

In a surprise attack, Madison and Liz were captured. They brought before Khivar himself. Handsome, handsome man. Insanely brilliant. With the soul of a devil. He felt he had his prize – Zan’s wife, true queen of Antar. Aiza Liz.

Max, who was already sick with fear and guilt at her capture, was sent a personal message by Khivar. Knowing that he would see and feel what Liz saw and felt through their bond, Khivar killed Madison – slit her throat the old fashioned way, then sat and watched her die in Liz’s arms.

Liz had felt Vilandra and Rath connect with Max in order to control him and keep him from doing something rash in the heat of the moment. The effects of their connection were felt by Liz through her bond and let her keep her head despite her grief and horror.

But Khivar’s messages weren’t through. In the three months that followed, Khivar continued to send messages to show Max his strength and power and to prove Max’s weakness. He discovered all sorts of cruel and ingenious methods of tormenting Liz to get to Max, but his final message was his greatest mistake.

He gave her upoko.

The drug forced her empathic ability wide open, extending its reach farther than she had ever achieved even with Rath’s help. Millions of ‘voices’ sounded in her mind. Suffering. Chaos. Fear. Despair. She couldn’t push them out and she couldn’t stop listening. The pain was overwhelming.

She thought she remembered screaming.

The effects the ‘message’ had on her husband were bad. Rath and Vilandra had attempted to control him and, when they were unable, finally rendered him unconscious.

Then Rath did something she had not known was possible. Still connected to Max in his unconscious state, he had hijacked their bond. Everything that made Michael and Rath who they were flooded into her – their strength, passion, warmth, determination.

He told her not to fight the upoko and not to fear it, but to give in to it. Let her powers extend as far as they wanted to. Absorb as much as she could…


She pulled her head from her hands. She was out of breath and ribbons of power were skittering painfully along her skin as if she were still fighting the effects of the upoko. Her empathic senses were wide open, stretched as far as they could, listening to the no longer devastating cacophony of emotions of the billions of people who lived on her planet. She tugged on her powers, reeling them in and shutting the voices out.

She was shaking and her heart was pounding madly in her chest. She had to get her powers under control before someone saw her or, worse, before she hurt someone, but how did she go about doing that? She had always had Rath or her husband to help her before.

She had to think about it scientifically. Energy was the ability to cause change, right? It did not matter what form it appeared in – heat, sound, light, movement, chemical, nuclear, electrical, her powers… It was simply the ability to cause change. It could change forms and transfer from one object into another and it was still energy. Energy never went away and it was never created anew; it was always there. Moving from one object to the next. Converting from one form to another. So… so all she had to do was transfer her Antarian energy somewhere else, right? But where?

She looked around, searching for the easiest, most obvious resource.

“Telephone cables,” she whispered. It might disrupt all the local phone calls for a few minutes, but at least it wouldn’t hurt anyone.

She pushed herself up from the curb, moved passed a couple of houses to the nearest cable, and then she grabbed hold of it and forced her energy into it. The Antarian power naturally converted into sound energy as she released it and she felt relief as it drained from her body.

She stepped toward the telephone pole and leaned her back against it with a soft sigh.

Two and a half weeks and she was already falling apart. Despite the fact that Khivar was no longer on Earth and humans were safe and despite the fact that history had been unwritten, she was falling apart. Why? Because her world was gone? Because her timeline no longer existed? Because the people she had loved and trusted and grown to depend upon – most especially Max, Vilandra and the Rath of her time period – were no longer there to protect and buffer her?

Because this world she now found herself in was too safe, and all the feelings and emotions she had held in for so long were now ready to come out? Was she ready for them to?

What a strange world she found herself in. Everyone was different. Max. Gudorian. Even Tess. Who would have thought that someone who carried within her the memories of Nakuombia Ava could side with a man like Khivar? What kind of world was this? What kind of world had she and Max created?

Oh, it had been so easy to conceive the plan to change the past. Executing it had been difficult…and deadly. But then they had all planned on dying. No one had thought they would live, least of all Liz.

But then she had. Lived, that is.

And with her life she was faced with the consequences and responsibilities of her actions. Life and death were placed in her hands. Everything she did from this point on mattered. ]

Everything.

And that meant that no matter how safe this world currently was, she did not have the luxury of falling apart. She had a job to do. An important job. A job that depended upon her strength and ability to focus. Max had once told her that his life was in her hands. Well, now she had the lives of some 20 billion sentient beings in her hands – human, Antarian and dragon alike.

She pushed herself away from the telephone pole and began walking again, one foot in front of the other.

Her bond ached.

Her head ached.

Her heart ached.

But she was okay. She could keep her focus. She could stay strong. She could do what it took to finish what her husband and she had started. She could protect the voices of all those who had cried out in pain, protecting them in this timeline so that they would never have to suffer again.

Image


Liz was sitting on the curb in front of the convenience store with a bottle of water when Michael drove up in her car. Before she had the chance to get up, he turned off the car and stepped out.

Walking over to where she sat, he bent down. “That your lunch?” He tapped the bottle with his finger.

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

He made a low noise in his throat. “Come on,” he said, taking her arm with his hand. “Looks like we both need to eat.”

“You had pizza,” she protested.

Michael smirked. “I’m a growing boy.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Right,” he said. “Try that on someone else.” He tugged on her arm and helped her to rise. “You having a bad day?”

“No worse than anyone else. Why?” she asked.

“Don’t know. Just thought Valenti’s screaming phone was kind of suspicious. You know anything about that?”

She sighed. “I might.”

“Well?”

Liz shrugged. “My powers went a little haywire. I dumped them into the phone lines.”

“Hmph. Never would have thought of that.”

He held the store door open for her.

“That’s it?” she asked as they walked into the store. “You’re not going to, like – I don’t know – lecture me or something?”

“Would it do any good?”

“No, not with the mood I’m in.”

“That’s what I thought,” he said.

He bought her nachos…with sugar. He said she needed the sweet and spicy. Perhaps the alien changes in her were affecting her taste buds because it actually tasted pretty good.

The food did nothing to affect her mood, however, which remained dark, her thoughts far away on another Earth, with a people that no longer existed. What made them different from the people that existed on this Earth? Why were the differences so pronounced? What had caused them? There had to be an answer. Max and she couldn’t be responsible for all of it.

Or was there no answer at all? Liz was way out of her league when it came to time travel and parallel universes. Perhaps parallel universes were like a family of children born to the same mother and father, with each child looking uniquely different from his or her siblings. Was it possible that the answer was as simple as that?

She bit her nails as she thought. The problem with assuming there was no answer was that nothing about her dealings with aliens was ever simple. And the Granolith – the powerful Entity that was able to manipulate time itself – was certainly one of the most incredible and complicated Beings she had ever encountered, so it seemed likely that the ‘no answer’ conclusion would NOT be that simple.

What was she missing? It was so frustrating!

She took a deep breath and tried to calm her thoughts. It wouldn’t do anyone any good if there were a repeat of her powers going haywire as they had earlier.

Perhaps if she started with simple questions… It would be like working with one piece of the puzzle at a time. Find the place for the first piece. Move onto the second. Find the place for the second piece. Move onto the third… And so on. Until the entire puzzle was filled and a clear picture had emerged.

She glanced over at Michael, whom was driving her car. “Michael?”

“Yeah?”

She drew a breath and readied herself for the first question, the first piece of the puzzle. “Maria never had a seal. My Maria,” she clarified. “She never had one. Why didn’t she have one?”

Michael set his jaw.

“And Madison – she never had one either.”

“Little girls don’t have seals,” he said.

“What about Isabel?” She had never actually bothered to ask Isabel about whether or not she was sealed; she had simply assumed that she had one. Now she had to wonder.

He shook his head.

“Why not?”

“Females don’t receive their seal until they bond to their husband. Until then they belong to their birth family in name only. When they bond they receive the seal of their husband’s family to show they belong to that family now.”

“What, like a farmer brands his cows to show they’re his property? Are women property in your culture? Am I… property?” she asked. Maybe the questions weren’t fair or even proper, but in her dark mood she was determined to know the truth.

He glanced briefly at Liz and she saw that his eyes had grown very dark at the discusson. Very dark. She sat up a little straighter.

“You are a gift,” he said, stressing the difference. “There is nothing more important, nothing greater that a family… or its people… can give than one of its daughters. We value the women that come to us as wives. Protect them. Honor them.”

“As what? Chattel?” she asked. She was being irritable and probably unfair, but right at that moment she wanted answers.

“Chattel does not speak to a man’s mind and heart.”

Liz silently considered his words for a moment before continuing. “You have pretty words, Rath, but I can’t help but wonder if you don’t consider me the property of your family – like a servant or something – someone that you might expect to do as you want or…”

“No,” he cut in. He set his jaw again. “You are not a servant. You are family.”

She waited for him to explain.

“Think of it this way: Isabel is my cousin because she was born into the Aporo family. Ava, who by your culture’s standards is also my cousin, is only referred to as the ‘daughter of my mother’s sister’, as ‘piaka ia ano’n kletapia’. She was born into the Nakuombia family. She is not my cousin. The maternal line is not even considered family. My mother’s parents are not my grandparents. Her siblings are not my aunts and uncles. Their children are not my cousins. Only my father’s side is family.

“You, however,” he continued, “I consider to be a closer family member than Isabel. She will bond and leave to join her husband’s family. You will always belong to my family.”

She licked her lips, all the thunder taken away from her argument. “I’m sorry.”

He shrugged. “Your concern is understandable.”

“So, uh, why didn’t you… I mean, the Rath of my time bond to Maria and why did he make her think that he had?” Maria – her Maria – thought she was bonded. She may not have been sealed but she insisted she could “feel” her husband and every once in a while referred to a flash she had seen.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I wasn’t there.”

“You wanna hazard a guess?” Liz pushed.

He pulled the car into his complex and drove into a parking space. He removed the keys and held them in his hand. Without looking at Liz he answered: “Protection.”

“For whom?”

“Both of us.”

She nodded. After the torture Khivar had put Max and her through, she thought she could understand Rath’s reasoning. Bonding was an unbelievable experience, a wonderful, beautiful expression of love, but it was also a potential weapon of pain and agony. She knew she would never willingly risk such a thing again. Never. She never again wanted to see anyone hurt the way Max was. And she certainly never wanted to feel the pain of a second broken bond.

“Yeah, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t want to bond either.”

“I never said I didn’t want to bond.”

She glanced at him askew. “Well, we all make sacrifices in times of war. It’s what being a good soldier is all about, isn’t it?”

She might have said more, but then she heard a tap at her window. She opened her door to find Jeff Croft standing there with a T-shirt that said: ‘I hope the world doesn’t end on a day when I’m already in a bad mood.’

“Nice shirt,” she commented.

“You like it?” he asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said, managing to keep the sarcasm out of the tone of her voice. “It kind of puts everything into perspective. You know… nothing like having a positive attitude when your whole world is ending and you’re about to die…”

“That’s what I thought,” he said with a smile. “Well hey, I saw you guys moving boxes into Michael’s apartment. You want me to lend some muscle?”

“Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks,” Liz says.

Rath stepped out of the car and stood by the driver’s side door. Liz glanced over at him. “Looks like we got some help.”

Image


She did not know what Rath did with the upoko, but she certainly did not see or smell it again nor did she ask about it. Instead she helped along with everyone else (Jeff Croft included) to bring the boxes into Michael’s apartment and set them up in an out-of-the-way corner.

When she was done, she left and went home, spending the rest of the afternoon and early evening studying more of Gudorian’s Antarian math lessons. There was something cathartic and soothing to her mind in the working of the complex problems and only near exhaustion itself was able to tear her away from her studies.

By then the evening was well along and the first stars were making their appearance in the night sky. It was a warm spring night and Liz sat in her lawn chair, head resting on a throw pillow and legs covered with a colorful crotchet blanket.

Without any real thought, she opened her mind to listen for the emotional voices of her friends and was able to pick them out effortlessly, something she had never been able to do before. “Even I’m different,” she said to herself. Her alien changes had begun at a much younger age, they were much stronger than any ability she had shown in the previous timeline and they were continuing to grow by leaps and bounds, at a rate that astounded her.

But, being more concerned with her friends’ well-being, she did not let her mind focus on that. She listened for Max and Isabel first. They were both at home – she did not know how she knew that, but she did – and separate from each other, possibly in their rooms. Max was busy letting his conscience beat him up over his guilt, while Isabel was trying to contain the grief that threatened to overwhelm her.

Moving on in her empathic rounds, she held onto her dear friend Maria’s signature and found her to be in a state of fury, a fury that was directed at Michael. She could not sense Michael at all, as he must have had his mental walls pulled up tightly, but she could tell from Maria that the two were together. The volatility of their relationship in this timeline disturbed her more than she cared to admit; she did not remember it being like that before.

She moved on and found Kyle meditating, attempting on a spiritual level to control his fear, distrust and betrayal, emotions that were so heightened that it was painful for Liz to feel. Her heart began to pound within her chest and she unconsciously pressed her fist to her breast as if to stop it. Poor Kyle. He was more hurt than any of them.

She was half tempted to give him a nudge, to push at the part of his mind that controlled anger. If he got angry then maybe… But no. Kyle had to heal in his own way, in his own time.

She left him then and looked in on Kyle’s father, Jim. She found him to be sad and worried, his protective parental instincts in overdrive. It was not only his biological son that he was concerned about, but all of them – Max, Isabel, Kyle, Liz, Michael, Maria, even Tess. Her heart melted for him.

She called out to her husband then. We had to do it, didn’t we? We had to at least try to make things right. But, god, Max, how did we screw things up so bad? But there was no answer and, unlike her friends whom were easy to sense, she could not feel him at all.

She opened her mind and stretched out her senses as far as she could. Billions of minds lit up. Like the rumble of voices at a baseball stadium, their emotions rushed at her.

Humanity, she knew, had a long way to go before it reached its adulthood. There was so much for her people still to learn, so much for them to try to achieve. Life on Earth was fraught with problems, but she still hoped and believed that what her husband and she had done in using the Granolith to send Max into the past had somehow made things better, that human civilization now had a fighting chance to live and grow and thrive.

Still, as she listened to the brilliant array of emotional voices, she wondered if there had been a better way of going about things – a way that wouldn’t have hurt the people she loved so badly. Was it really necessary for Alex to die and Max to bond himself to their enemy? Was it really necessary for her friends to suffer?

So lost in her thoughts was she that she did not hear her mother crawl through the bedroom window or grab hold of the other lawn chair and drag it across the balcony. She did not know her mother placed the chair next to her nor did Liz notice when her mother sat down. She was unaware of all of it.

It was only when her mom actually touched her, placing her warm hand on Liz’s arm, that she startled to life. The touch had caused a sort of psychic invasion, like a zap of electricity, and her empathic powers collapsed in upon themselves.

She gasped. “Geez… Mom. Don’t sneak up on me like that.” Her heart pounded within her chest from the fright she had taken.

“Sneak up on you?” Nancy exclaimed. “I made enough noise to wake the dead.”

Liz did not answer, instead gazing above at the glittery sprinkle of stars and pulling her blanket up around her shoulders. ‘Wake the dead’, she thought, repeating the words in her head; she had never realized what a disturbing phrase that was.

“You tired, babe?”

“Yeah,” she sighed. “Tess had more stuff than I realized.”

“So, what made her run away?” Nancy asked, plunging right in.

Liz pondered over that one. Tess was part of the complicated puzzle of this timeline. So little was known about her, yet she had been such a big part of all their lives. What specifically motivated Tess and why had she allied herself to Khivar?

“She wasn’t running ‘away’ so much as she was running ‘to’,” she finally answered. “She… made a lot of problems for herself here, not the least of which was getting pregnant…”

“She was pregnant?”

“Yep.”

“And the father?”

“Max.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“I wish I were,” she said. The five-star V-shaped constellation was just becoming visible in the heavens, marking the gateway to the faraway Whirlwind galaxy from which the Antarian people came. Why run to Khivar? she wondered. Of all people, why run to him? Didn’t she remember what he was like? “So, um… she decided to leave and seek sanctuary with, uh… you know, I don’t even know how to explain it… with a not-so-good guy named Khivar. Butukognosti Khivar. He… was a friend of her Dad’s. High political rank. But, unfortunately for her, her plans were derailed and last I heard she was hiding out in Florida doing who-knows-what.”

Liz made a disappointed clicking noise with her tongue. “So, all in all, I’d say today really sucked. In fact, uh… you know, when we were going through her stuff we found drugs, so that just capped our already perfect opinions of her.”

“Wow, honey,” Nancy sighed, “that’s a lot to deal with at your age.” She patted Liz’s arm in a gesture of comfort.

At the mention of her age, Liz shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She wasn’t as young as her mother thought she was. For that matter, she wasn’t even the same species as her mother thought she was. And she certainly wasn’t the naïve, innocent girl her mother assumed her to be.

Nancy tried again. “What do you see when you look up there?”

“Life,” Liz answered without a thought.

“Life?”

“Well… yeah.” She dropped her steady gaze from the heavens and looked at her mother, really looked at her. “I mean, think about it. By human count, there are one hundred twenty-five billion galaxies in our universe, with anywhere from ten million to one trillion stars per galaxy. Can you really say that in all that vast space we are alone? I don’t believe that. I don’t believe for one second that Earth holds the only life in our universe.”

Nancy chuckled. “You believe in extraterrestrials, huh?”

An old memory of her husband flashed through her mind and she smiled. “Um hm. But, as I hear it, they prefer the term “not of this earth’.”

“Not of this earth?” Nancy did not understand the joke.

Liz bit her thumbnail and berated herself for teasing about something that her mother could not possibly understand. “I’m just kidding.”

“Ah,” Nancy hummed. “And what do you think about these extraterrestrials? Are they benevolent or evil?”

Liz quirked an eyebrow. “Well, they’re – they’re like us for the most part: sentient beings, with their own thoughts and ideas and belief systems and cultures. Some are good and kind and have a lot to offer. Some are wicked, even evil and dangerous.” Like Khivar.

“Kind of like the movies?”

Liz knew when she was being baited, but she responded anyway. “No. No, that would be too easy. We’re talking about sentient beings. Being sentient requires a minimal level of intelligence in that they recognize that they are alive. If you consider that a sentient being might have the technology to travel to our planet, that would require knowledge of science and mathematics broader and more advanced than our own. This means that any extraterrestrial we might ever encounter would be equally, if not more, complex than us.”

“You’ve thought a lot about this.”

She bit her lip. “Oh, you know… star gazing, science classes…” She looked askance at her mother and added tongue-in-cheek: “Plus I’m pretty sure I go to school with a few aliens.”

Nancy laughed then. “So, you going to stay out here communing with the stars all night or you gonna come in and watch some television?”

“I’m going to stay out here for a little longer, then tuck in for the night.”

“In the house or outside?”

Liz laughed. So, the other night when she had fallen asleep in her lawn chair, her mother had seen her. “Oh, you noticed that, huh?”

“I saw.”

“Well, I thought I’d try for the house tonight.”

Nancy patted Liz’s knee. “Good girl.” Then she got up to leave.

Liz watched as her mom moved across the balcony toward her window and it occurred to her that something was even different about her mom, something in the way she moved. She frowned, studying her walk and the way she spaced her steps.

Her eyes widened and she sat forward when she realized what the difference was. “No limp,” she whispered to herself. Her mother’s characteristic limp was missing. How was that possible?
Image
Polar Attraction ~ Experience true love for the first time

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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:27 pm

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Kalen [aka irish2000], Lisa [aka ladygloria] and Krissi [aka lilmisspolarwhore] for without them this chapter simply would not exist.

Spring 2000

Third Week After “Departure”


~Chapter 9~

He Spoke the Truth


In the other timeline, after her two attackers, Gudorian and Kiaha, had left, Liz had sat on the ground next to Max. She had no powers of her own at that time as they had been much later in coming and so she had been unable to rouse her husband. She couldn’t contact him through their bond either because he was unconscious. Instead she sat, huddled near his chest, clutching his hand to her breast.

Alone.

Waiting.

Waiting for Michael to come rescue them.

Half expecting that Gudorian and Kiaha would return at any time.

Jumping at every small sound.

Afraid to move.

Afraid to breathe.

Afraid that the sound of her pounding heart in her ears would give her away.

It had seemed like an eternity before Michael came.

But then he had.

“What happened?” he had demanded.

She forced herself to look up at him. The seal on her shoulder was burning and she was still shaking and her clothes and hair were probably still a mess, and for the first time in her life she felt small next to him. “We were attacked.”

“By Skins?”

“No.” She shook her head slightly. She hesitated, struggling for the words, struggling to keep her voice from trembling when she spoke them. “By an Antarian man and his shapeshifter.”

The memory Gudorian had implanted played out again her mind – Tuavaero falling from the sky, kneeling in her dragon’s blood just so she could get close enough to lay her cheek upon Tuavaero’s head, wishing she could die rather than live without her dragon – this dragon that was not hers, that she had never seen, that she would spend the rest of her life grieving for…

She wretched her mind back to the present, forcing herself to focus on the situation at hand, and held onto Max’s hand a little tighter. Her husband was breathing but his breaths were shallow. His clothes were torn and he was covered in scratches. And, even though she had a small sense of him through their bond, she could not feel his heart and mind.

Michael’s footsteps came closer and he bent down next to her.

The movement of his hand startled her and she flinched. But he did not seem to notice, instead bringing the curve of his index finger under her chin and forcing her to look at him. His eyes were darker than she remembered, but maybe that was just because of the dim lighting of the alley.

“Are you hurt?” he had asked, his voice soft.

“No,” she told him, although she was not really sure. Her shoulder still burned like fire. Her head was throbbing painfully, too, but she could not be entirely sure whether it was her own pain or the remembered pain of her dragon… Gudorian’s dragon. But it did not matter anyway; she was human, a being of no consequence.

His brow drew together in a crease above his nose. “That’s not true,” he stated keeping his voice low.

“Please,” she said, still struggling against the memories of the old dragonrider, “could you just help Max?” Max was the one lying on the ground unconscious and, unless Michael helped him, she would have to call for an ambulance… and she knew she could not do that.

Michael nostrils flared as he let out the breath he had been holding and he let go of her chin. He moved to the other side of her husband and knelt down beside him and placed his hands on her prone husband’s body. He closed his eyes, using his powers to feel for injuries. She saw a glow emanating from his hands.

“Che tasina nescapa mola,” he whispered to himself, but she heard and understood. /Great damage was inflicted upon him./ Understood because Gudorian, in his lack of control, had given her more than a single memory. In raping her, he had opened his whole mind to her.

“Indal,” Liz murmured. “Teltel ichemay urangi temal?” /I know, but can you help him?/

Her agreement startled him and the glow disappeared from his hands as he hastily looked up at her, his gaze intent, a million indecipherable emotions playing out across his face. “What has he done to you?”

She stared back at him uncertainly, unwilling to reveal the depth of the crime committed against her yet afraid to offend the man before her.

“Liz?”

“Please,” she begged, refusing to answer. “Please just help Max. Please don’t make me lose him too.”

“You have my word,” he answered, but he still kept his gaze on Liz, searching her face. Waiting.

Despite the ease of his promising words, his intent stare unnerved her and she squeezed her husband’s hand even tighter. His dark eyes held her prisoner.

“Who are you?” she managed finally, breaking the silence that hung between them. “Are you Zan?”

He hesitated, still intently studying her. “Zan is a title, not a name,” he said at last. “It means ‘king’.” The last was said almost as an afterthought.

His words rippled through her, shaking her to her very core.

“Is that who you are?” She licked her bruised lips. “Are you the king of Antar?” she asked.

“Khivar is Antar’s king.” But he was evading the truth and she knew it.

“The dragonrider, the man, Gudorian… He said Max wasn’t Zan. He said…” She swallowed. “He said you are.”

Michael took a minute to answer, as if he were gauging just how much he should or should not say. But finally he said: “He spoke the truth.”

She closed her eyes. “Oh. God.” Everything – everything – she had seen from Anapo Gudorian’s mind must be true.

Tuavaero’s eyes were growing dim. The great dragon was dying. ‘I cannot live without you,’ she cried…

She must have held her breath because suddenly she felt Michael’s hand on her shoulder, gripping her, giving her a soft shake. “Breathe, Liz,” he ordered.

Her moist eyes flashed open and she pulled away from his touch.

He was leaning over Max with his hand still poised midair where he had reached for her. And even though he had frozen, she could see his temple pulsing in determination.

His eyes dropped downward to rest for a moment on her shoulder and then back up to her face. Holding her attention.

A tear escaped and rolled down her cheek.

Shame flooded over her. “I’m sorry, Michael.”

“For what?” he asked.

“We didn’t protect you. I… God, I didn’t protect you. I wasn’t strong enough.”

“It is not important,” he reassured her.

She nodded and another tear rolled down her cheek, followed by another. “Yes, it is.”

“No, it is not,” he gently disagreed. “I am not quite as important as you think I am.”

“But you are Zan.”

“I haven’t been Zan in a very long time.”

He stretched toward her again and this time she did not flinched away. He grazed his fingers over her shoulder, lowering the fabric of her shirt to her arm to reveal her glowing seal.

“Why did Gudorian pick me?” she asked. If the man had wanted information about Zan, why not seek to find such information in the minds of her husband, Max, or her sister-in-law, Isabel? Why turn to the mind of a lowly human?

“He thought you were someone you are not.”

“Who?”

“My queen.”

Without giving her a chance to ask another question, he pressed his fingertips to her bared shoulder. She gasped as her seal was forced into dormancy.

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“What is this?” Liz asked when Michael slid a plate toward her across the counter. She paused her perusal of her notes to look at the meat and veggies stir-fry.

“Try it,” he said.

“I didn’t come down here to eat.” Actually, she had sat down at the Crashdown counter rather than in her room because she felt lonely and she wanted to be where other people were. Alone in her room, she was feeling unusually distracted, her mind locked in a persistent loop of trying to feel along her bond for her husband. She thought that, maybe, if she sat among the living she would focus better.

It had not worked. Her mind was not her own that evening. Even though her tired eyes tried to study her notes, she found her thoughts wandering far away to another place and time. To Michael.

Michael regarded her with a raised brow and tossed the white hand towel over his shoulder. “Clean the plate.”

An order. Not a request.

He went back to the kitchen and Liz stared at her food. Every once in a while it hit her how far down the once great King of Antar had come: working in a small, family-run diner as a short order cook, living in a run-down apartment, the way he humbly looked out for those close to him, even those of the lesser human species. And now he was making her a meal because she didn’t eat enough.

He was something else, Michael was. No matter what role he took on – King, General, soldier, teacher, lowly human – he showed how extraordinary and special he was. He was a born leader, a natural. People looked up to him. They followed him without question. Even Liz herself felt the pull to live up to his expectations.

She let out a sigh of surrender, set her pencil down and pushed her notebook aside. It was not as if she was really getting much out of it anyway. She pulled the plate closer and picked up a fork.

She stabbed at a cut of beef on her plate and shoved it into her mouth… and resisted a sigh. Sweet and spicy. Michael had used his alien magic on it.

Maybe she was hungry after all.

She heard noise in the kitchen so she figured Michael had returned to his work, probably satisfied at getting his way.

In the days following the transference of Tess’s things, Michael had begun a grueling training program for the two of them. It was far more intense than anything he had done with her in the past lifetime and Liz struggled to keep up with his routine, her school schedule and her Antarian lessons at home. She was exhausted all the time, barely able to keep her eyes open in school, running on automatic during the day and struggling to work through her evening studies despite the fact that she pulled herself off all the Crashdown time slots.

Forget eating. Even if she had wanted to eat (which she did not), she did not have the time. Her schedule was brutal.

And Michael was a perfectionist. He had Liz meet him at 4:30 every morning at their school, where they began their workout in the darkened field. He worked her until half an hour before school started, then continued where they left off once school was ended. He was determined to drill her until she could perform as well as he.

It was why he was especially concerned with how well she took care of herself. He wanted her to eat and eat healthy. And he wanted her to get enough sleep at night.

“Well, get in line, buddy,” she told him the first time he tried to make her go to bed early. “‘cause the Granolith’s got me on Its own program. I have to study what I can, when I can.”

“Make time during the day,” he countered.

“When?”

“Quit your job.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Listen, Evans,” he said, “if it’s your Dad you’re worried about, I think he’ll understand you wanting to focus on your studies for the last few weeks of school. And if it’s money…”

“It’s not,” she jumped in.

“I can take care of you,” he finished.

“Look, let me worry about me.” She had saved up plenty of money in the bank that she could use without even touching the $35,000 her Grandmother had left her. She would be fine for a while. Besides there was no way she was going to let Michael take care of her; he had enough of his own financial headaches to worry about. “I’ll – I’ll talk to my Dad, okay?”

“Okay.”

And so she found herself bound to a schedule and a routine – rigid and tight, but workable – and so well put into place that neither her parents nor Maria nor any of her close friends were ever the wiser. And that was fine with her because she did not want to explain things anyway.

Except that Liz was wrong about one thing…

Kyle knew.

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Liz stifled the shiver that the early morning air threatened her with. A glowing hint of the sun’s imminent rise hovered on the horizon, but it had yet to make its appearance, yet to bring light and warmth to the day.

“Are you ready?” he asked, intruding into her thoughts.

“Of course I’m ready.”

“I meant,” he said slowly, “are you ready for me?”

At his words a thousand thoughts coalesced in her mind – battles, death, leveled cities, the wanton spill of blood, Khivar’s leering face, and Michael and Rath’s steady presence leading her.

“Liz?”

“It’s why I’m here, isn’t it?” she asked. “Let’s do this.”

And the sun peeked its eyes over the horizon.

The day had begun.

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It was not as if Kyle wanted to be at school watching the sun rise over a Styrofoam cup of hot coffee. It was just that it was better than being at home. Anything was better than being at home, the place where Alex had been murdered and Tess…

He let out a breath.

Even his Dad was avoiding the place, working overtime, finding excuses to go somewhere, anywhere as long as it wasn’t there.

Tess had taken everything away from them. Not just from his dad and him. From all of them. She had destroyed them all. Toyed with their minds. Shattered their unity. Fragmented their group. At school Maria was hanging out with a bunch of musicians and after school she went her own way doing who-knew-what. Max and Isabel stayed close to one another, walking the hallways together and leaving for home as soon as school was over with whomever could give them a ride. Liz stopped eating lunch all together and, other than a few times he had seen her talking to Maria or Michael, she simply seemed to have nothing to say to anyone. And Michael seemed even more closed-off than usual…

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“I thought you said,” she grumbled, placing her hands on the bar, “that we weren’t going to use our powers.” She jumped up, her arms supporting her weight, and pulled herself onto the parallel bar. She swung up and stood, one foot on each bar and faced Michael, who had, with a single leap, landed squarely on the parallel bars.

He leaned toward her as if to intimidate her. “I said you weren’t going to use your powers.”

She slammed the palm of her hand up into his jaw and drove into him with her shoulder, shoving him backward, but the space gave him room to bring his leg up and kick her abdomen…

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Kyle tried to push the disturbing thoughts from his mind as he walked along.

The sun was casting a cheery, orange glow across the school, highlighting shadows and edges and corners. The birds were beginning to welcome the morning with their songs. It figured, didn’t it? No matter what twisted shape his life took on, the sun still rose and set and time continued to move forward… without taking much notice of him, apparently.

He headed out toward the track, hoping to avoid students who would be arriving within the next half an hour to begin their day. He did not want to see anyone. He could not stand around carrying on conversations as if his life was normal and there was nothing wrong. He could not pretend like that.

What was he supposed to say when they asked him how he was? “A little under the weather. Thanks. I keep having these nightmares about carrying Alex’s body…

Right.

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Michael grabbed her arm as she fell, and she felt his power ripple over her skin. Earth’s gravity seemed to slip from her shoulders and fall to the ground as the ripple moved down her leg to the area she was sure was broken. “Your balance is off,” he stated, drawing her back up to the bars.

Bone knit itself back together and the intense pain eased.

As he let go of her, gravity seemed to reform and Liz balanced herself back on the bars, putting weight on her newly healed leg. Angry. Angry that her body did not seem to work the way she wanted it to.

“What’s wrong with your body?” he asked.

“Stop reading my mind,” she said.

“Stop thinking so loud.”

Liz swung at him but he blocked her strike. She swung at him again and once again she found herself blocked. They renewed their sparring, stepping around on the bars…
changing places…
………punching…
……………blocking…
…………………kicking…
………………………striking…
……………………………dodging…

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The sun’s rays stretched higher, moving visibly in the distance. Wavering like heat rising from the desert floor. Lighting up the hills and land, but casting shadows across everything standing upright – trees, shrubs, buildings and the sparring figures.

Kyle stopped to one side of the bleachers and stared at the silhouetted figures sparring in the distance atop the parallel bars. They were moving in ways that should have been impossible considering where they stood. It was surreal.

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Liz jumped to the ground and set off after him as he ran toward the track. Darn him for insisting on not using powers. If they were in her world – the other world – and he was really her enemy, she would have blasted him already. Struck him down were he was.

Maybe then she would not feel so winded.

God, she hated being so out of shape.

Stupid 16-year-old body.

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Male and female. That’s what the figures were. Kyle knew, not only because they were bringing their battle closer to him, but because the shadows were fading as more sunlight spilled over the earth. The petite, distinctly feminine and large, masculine figures became readily apparent.

Neither seemed, at first glance, suited for fighting. The man was too large and bulky and the woman was too small. They were unlikely partners. And yet, their speed, agility, and fierceness said otherwise. It was like watching a choreographed Chinese movie where the actors used karate and other types of Asian-based fighting… only this was in Roswell, New Mexico and these were not actors.

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He had her pinned against him. His arms were tucked under her armpits and bent at the elbows, and he had brought his hands up to lock them behind her head. She was immobilized; her arms were uselessly hanging beside her and she was standing on tiptoe.

His breath on the back of her neck.

Yes, he had her, but…

He spoke softly in her ear. “You never answered my question.”

…she was hardly defenseless.

Gritting her teeth, she brought her leg up and slammed her foot back into his knee. His grip on her loosened enough to give her some movement. She smashed her head backward onto his face. As he released her, she twisted and plunged her elbow into his stomach. “Oh, yeah?”

She pivoted, knees bent, hands out, ready for his countermove. “What’s that?” she asked.

Ignoring the blood running down from his nose and the obvious pain he must have been in, Michael kicked out, striking Liz mid-torso. She was sent reeling backward and hit the ground with a heavy thud.

“What’s wrong with your body?”

He was close. Standing over her. Waiting. Maybe waiting for her answer.

She rolled and tried to sweep his legs out from under him, but he jumped out of the way, turned and ran.

Again.

God, why couldn’t he just stay in one place and fight like a normal hu… Antarian being.

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The man ran across the field until he reached the opposite end of the bleachers. Still moving, he leapt into the air, legs pumping as if he were climbing seemingly invisible steps.

Kyle dropped his coffee, which spilled out into a steaming puddle at his feet.

Crap.

The man landed squarely on the very slanted railing, paused a moment to look back at his female partner and continued running upward.

Aliens.

He should have known.

The woman alien… or whatever she was… pushed herself from the ground then, catching his attention, and Kyle narrowed his eyes to try to get a better view. She tilted her face up to gaze at her partner’s retreating figure as he reached the top of the bleacher railing, where he stood precariously waiting for her.

She touched the back of her head with her fingers, then brought them back before her face to see them.

The sun suddenly pulled itself from its resting place at just that moment, casting brilliant, burning light from its glowing orb.

Casting light over her face.

Liz’s face.

Kyle caught his breath.

No.

There was blood on her hand.

He tore his gaze away from her and looked up at the man.

The man who stood fierce and proud, waiting. Legs spread at the vertex of railing. Hands on his hips. Staring down at the injured Liz Parker.

“Well?” Guerin called.

Kyle was going to kill him…

Without bothering to give answer, Liz dropped her bloody hand and stormed the bleacher stairs. She raced headlong to the top and attempted to body slam Michael’s legs with her shoulder, but Michael merely stepped aside and allowed her to bash herself into the rails instead.

She turned toward Michael with her arms raised as if she were ready to strike, but stopped at the sight of Michael’s extended hand. She seemed to hesitate, although that may have been Kyle’s imagination, and then she reached her hand out toward Michael.

Michael pulled her up to the upper rail with him and steadied her with his other hand. She held onto him stiffly and glanced down to the ground far below them, then back at Michael. Kyle’s heart sped up a bit when she wobbled slightly.

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Liz raised her chin. “I’m not scared,” she said.

“You are.”

“Not of this. Not of you,” she answered him.

“It’s a long way down,” he said.

“I’m not scared of dying.” She let go of Michael, wobbling slightly but maintaining her precarious balance. Her head hurt, but the wound was only a surface wound, something she could easily fix later. “Besides,” she said, jutting her chin out in defiance, “you always catch me when I fall.”

He put his hand out to steady her again, but she grasped his hand with hers.

“Always,” she repeated.

She stared at him, watching the depth of color in his eyes flicker briefly, feeling the power struggle within him through their physical connection flare in ember-like fashion before burning out.

Abruptly Michael let go of her hand and shoved her backward and attempted to kick her, but Liz was ready.

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Kyle craned his neck up to watch them as they moved backward and forward, kicking and thrusting, pivoting and striking, landing and blocking blows, each step and movement more dangerous than the last.

His heart raced in his chest, but he was a helpless spectator.

What the hell were they doing?

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Michael bent down into a crouch and turned his back to Liz, gripping the bars with his hands. He kicked his leg out toward her in a sweeping motion. She was caught off-guard.

Liz’s eyes widened in surprise as her balance slipped and she tottered and fell.

Catch me, she sent.

She closed her eyes and let out her last breath.

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She did not make a sound as she fell, but Kyle thought afterward that he remembered calling her name. His heart was pounding. The inevitable had happened and Liz…

Michael dove after her.

Catching her in his arms as she fell.

Hugging Liz to himself.

Falling with her.

Slowing their descent with his powers…

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“You lost your balance,” Michael said. His arms were still tightly wrapped around her, his chest heaving from exertion beneath her cheek.

“I know,” she said, attempting to catch her own breath. Even before she had taken his hand to climb on the railing she had known she would fall, just as surely as she had known he would catch her when she did, and that, somehow, he would help her to land on her feet.

Liz, being afraid to die….

“I wasn’t afraid, Michael,” Liz told him.

“I know,” he said before reverting to telepathy. That’s what happens when you survive and you know – you know – you should have died.

“No, you don’t understand,” Liz said. She pulled away and ran her fingers over the painful, still bloody area at the back of her head.

Michael reached over and brought his hand to rest over hers. She stood still as warm healing power flowed into her from Michael.

“Thanks.” She glanced up at him and saw that his nose was still bloodied from when she head-butted him. “Healed me before you healed yourself?”

She rummaged through her pocket and found a tissue. “Here.” He let her clean the blood from his face, but she hesitated when it came to actually doing even such a minor healing herself. “I can’t…”

“You can,” he stated simply. “You just don’t know it yet.” He brought his hand to rest over hers again, but this time she felt him tug at her own powers, directing them to heal his nose.

“How did you…?” but she never finished her sentence because Michael was shaking his head at her.

He brought her hand down and wrapped it in his. “One subject at a time,” he said.

She bit her lip. So he was going to pursue that line of conversation.

“You can’t let your lack of fear make you careless. Living is a gift…”

“I don’t know about that,” she interrupted.

“Listen to me,” he said. “Living puts you one step ahead in the game and you have to use that to your advantage.”

“What ‘advantage’? I lived. So what? So far I don’t see what living has changed.”

“Liz…”

“I may be one step ahead but it doesn’t matter because it still feels like Khivar is only one step behind! Time is closing in around us and Khivar is breathing down our necks!”

“No,” Michael denied calmly. “He’s not.”

“What are you talking about? You saw what happened…”

“I saw what happened… then,” he stated pointedly. In the last timeline, he added telepathically.

He dropped some of his defensive mental walls then and let her feel him – feel his confidence.

She took a breath and forced herself to relax. “We made mistakes we cannot afford to repeat.”

“We won’t.”

Liz regarded him silently.

“Trust me,” he said.

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Valenti.

Michael ground his teeth together as he observed him from a short distance away. The young man had seen far too much that morning and now he was leaning against the brick wall of the building across from the girls’ locker room, waiting for Liz to come out. He had questions he wanted to ask of Liz, questions that were so prominent in his mind that even Michael could see what they were. Kyle’s unexpected attention to the matter was not necessarily unwanted; it just needed to be postponed long enough for Liz to stabilize and come to terms with her role in this lifetime.

Isolate this area, he said to the Granolith.

Done, the great Entity answered.

He felt pressure from the ancient Being gently pushing people and their prying eyes away from the location where Kyle stood.

Secured, It spoke within his mind.

Thank you, he sent.

Michael stepped around the corner of the building to face Kyle. He crossed his arms. “Waiting for Liz?” he asked.

Kyle managed to look unsurprised at Michael’s sudden appearance, but he also did not take the bait, instead crossing his own arms and turning more toward the girls’ locker room.

“She doesn’t know you saw us and you’re going to keep it that way,” he stated.

“Or what?” Kyle spoke, not even bothering to face Michael. “You’ll beat the crap out of me like you did Liz?”

“I went easy on her.”

Kyle dropped his stance of feigned indifference. He stepped away from the wall and glared at Michael. “Like hell you did! You almost killed her!”

Michael moved his hand quickly toward Kyle and used his power to fling him back against the wall and pin him there. “What you saw this morning you are going to keep to yourself.”

“Why?” Kyle demanded, not even bothering to struggle with the alien power that held him. “What the hell’s going on, Guerin?”

But Michael could sense that Liz had finished up inside the building and was now moving toward the exit. He dropped his hand, releasing Kyle. “Just remember what I said,” he told him.

He turned to leave but Kyle rushed forward and grabbed his arm. “No, I want you to tell me…”

The door to the girls’ locker room started to open.

Michael stared down Kyle. “Nothing. Is going. On.”

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Liz opened the door, expecting to find Michael waiting for her, sensing he was nearby, but found Kyle standing dumbly in the open corridor instead.

“Hey,” she greeted softly.

“Hey,” he repeated, facing her with a frown.

She sensed his confusion, frustration, fear and anger – emotions all too common for him in the past few weeks – and knew there was nothing she could do for him. “You okay?” she couldn’t help but ask.

He stuck his hands in his pockets. “Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that?”

Liz tucked her hair behind her ear. Poor Kyle. The last lifetime had not been so hard on him, but this one…? “Listen, Kyle. I… I’m sorry.”

“For what?” he asked.

“I should have, you know, done more to protect you,” she said. “I never should have…”

“To protect me?” he interrupted. “What are you talking about?”

“I mean Tess and Alex and, god, everything that’s happened. I should have tried harder to keep you out of this whole alien abyss.”

“You did try,” Kyle told her. “I didn’t listen.”

“No.” She shook her head.

She felt Michael tug at her mind.

“Liz, is there anything you want to tell me?” Kyle asked.

She shrugged.

Give me a second, she telepathed.

“Like what, Kyle?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Anything,” he answered. “Is there anything I should know about?”

Michael stepped around the corner of the Home Ec. Building and leaned his shoulder against the brick wall. Now, he insisted. Breakfast. Locker. Class. There’s not a lot of time.

Liz let out a breath. Fine.

“Kyle?” she said, patting his arm to drag his attention away from Michael. (Why did Kyle feel threatened by Michael’s presence?) “Look, don’t worry about anything, okay? Everything’s fine. I know it probably doesn’t seem that way right now, but it is. I… I, uh…”

Could we?

“Whatever,” Kyle said.

“…promise,” she finished.

I’m coming. Tu heru.

“If you change your mind, I’ll be around.”

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He did not think she had even heard his last words. She was already walking to Michael.

What was it between those two? What did they know that no one else knew? And why – why – did it involve otherworldly fighting that he had only ever seen in the movies? Had Khivar somehow managed to threaten Liz through Tess before Tess left? Was that why she was training with Michael? Or was something else going on?

And what did she mean when she told Michael: “We made mistakes we cannot afford to repeat”? What mistakes? And how dangerous were they?

God, Liz had not been acting sane since… well, since she had pretended to sleep with him to get Max to back off. Kyle could not get her to confess then and she certainly did not seem like she had any intention of confessing now; and if Michael had his say, she was not going to be confessing anything anytime soon.

Nothing was making sense anymore.

He wondered if anyone else knew, but somehow felt that he was the only one that had stumbled upon Michael and Liz’s secret.

Liz reached Michael then. “Okay,” Kyle heard her say. “I’m here. But school still doesn’t start for 20 minutes, so we don’t need to rush.”

“You need to eat.”

“I’m really not hungry.”

Michael’s brow rose. “Did I sound like I was giving you a choice?” He pressed his hand to the small of her back and ushered her away.

But he glanced back as he was walking.

Back at Kyle.

Remember what I said.

Mouth agape, Kyle touched his hand to his forehead.

Had Michael really just spoken to him telepathically?

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“So? What? You just take yourself of the schedule without telling me?” Maria asked.

“Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s just that it’s…”

But Maria was on a roll. “Do you realize I had to work with him tonight?”

“With Michael?”

Maria had come up to her apartment after work, interrupting Liz’s studies for the night, but Liz had sensed her coming and so had time to put her computer away, open her math book and set out some already-finished work.

“Yes, Michael! Do you know he’s still refusing to go on a date with me?” she asked. “I mean, this is, like, three weeks now.”

Liz chewed on the end of her pencil.

“I mean, I’d chalk it off to Michael being Michael, but I’m not stupid. I can tell that he doesn’t want me around.”

Liz did not know what to say. Why Michael had not ended things with Maria was beyond her comprehension and really not her business. But Maria – Maria was her best friend and she was most definitely her business, and Liz hated to see her friend hurt.

“It’s like he’s a snail, you know?” Maria continued, oblivious to Liz’s inner turmoil. “And I’m like… I’m like the shell. Like this worthless shell that he can just shed any time he wants. Well, you know what? Maybe I don’t need to ride on his back anymore…”

Liz watched Maria pace as she spoke. She couldn’t make heads or tails of what her friend was saying. Even her Maria filter had failed her. “Are you still studying bugs in Mr. Schulman’s class?” she interrupted.

“Maybe what I need to do is, like, get off of him. I mean, who needs him anyway?” Maria continued without acknowledging Liz. “And, while I’m at it, maybe I should throw a little salt his way…”

“Ew,” Liz said. “Maria!”

“Sorry. It’s just that…”

“You’re done. I get it… I think.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m – I’m done, Liz. I’m so done. I just want off this crazy ride that is Michael and me.”

“I know.”

“You know what I wish?”

Liz shook her head.

“I wish Alex were here so that the three of us could just have, like, a humans only night to…to…”

“I have my own little world, but it’s okay – they know me here.” Alex’s words rang through her memories. Alex – both Alex’s really – would have understood Maria’s feelings, but would not have felt that way himself. Just like the Alex Whitman of this lifetime, the Alex of the previous timeline had hung around for years hoping for Isabel’s heart. He had finally won his prize, only to have it ripped away from him when Vilandra made her appearance. But he had come to love both women and, by his own choice, stuck the strange relationship through all the way to the end.

“To commiserate the folly of getting involved in interspecies relationships?” Liz finished for her.

“Yeah.”

Liz nodded. “He would have understood. He might not have agreed, but he would have understood.”

“I know. He always had my back,” Maria said sadly. She leaned her back up against Liz’s dresser. “God, why’d it have to be Alex? Why’d she have to take him away from us?”

Liz slumped down onto her bed, the burden of responsibility for the alterations of this timeline weighing, as always, heavily upon her. Alex was gone, unintentionally sacrificed in the process of trying to save 7½ billion lives. Her husband, Max, had disappeared, literally. All of her friends were hurt. And Michael and Maria’s relationship was in shambles.

She hoped it was worth it. She hoped that she had not made her friends sacrifice so much for nothing.

“I don’t know,” Liz murmured. “We just… we never saw that one coming. We… It just came out of left field.”

“What’s up with the ‘we’ business? It’s not our fault,” Maria said. “It’s their fault. We’re innocent bystanders.”

Liz rubbed her forehead, which was beginning to ache. “Well, you are,” she spoke under her breath.

“Look, ‘Ria,” she said aloud, “what specifically has Michael done.”

“You mean ‘the snail’,” her friend grumbled.

“No, I mean ‘Michael’,” Liz snapped. “What has he done besides be too busy for you?”

“Nothing,” Maria answered. “That’s just it.”

“What’s just it?”

“He’s done nothing,” she repeated. “He, like, doesn’t call me. He doesn’t eat lunch with me at school. He doesn’t try to have, like, conversations with me; he just nods in my direction if he sees me. He doesn’t bring me lame gifts anymore, like that stupid corndog air freshener that he had wrapped in that ridiculous bacon gift-wrapping paper. I have no clue what’s going on in his life because he’s completely clammed up. He stopped by a couple of times to check on me and my Mom, stayed, like, five or ten minutes and then left…”

Maria’s list went on and on, but the gist of it was that Michael simply wouldn’t go on an official date with her. At least that was what Liz got out of it. It seemed that Maria wanted hugs and kisses and presents and lots of attention. Well, what girlfriend wouldn’t? But Michael? He was not living up to Maria’s ideals of boyfriend material, and Maria, after everything she had been through lately, was not okay with that anymore.

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She rubbed her shoulder absently as they walked. Their morning training session had been particularly tough on her that day.

“Still sore?” Michael asked.

“Oh, yeah, uh… you know, it’s no big deal,” she said. She was used to pain. In point of fact, the aspirin she had taken the night before for the headache that had plagued her throughout the night had done nothing for her. Her head had continued to ache through the night and well into the morning, but she had managed through the training session anyway.

“Can’t defend yourself if you’re tired,” he commented as they made their way through the crowed hallway.

“And I can’t sleep if Maria’s keeping me awake to complain about you. Figure out that equation,” she bit out a little harsher than she meant.

Jeff Croft, who was passing by her from the opposite direction, accidentally bumped her already sore shoulder. “Sorry,” he apologized, pausing to check and see if she was okay.

“It’s all right. No problem,” she said between gritted teeth, moving her shoulder in a small circular motion to check for rotation.

She glanced at his T-shirt, unable to help herself. “I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming, terrified, like his passengers,” it read.

Jeff smiled, seeing her read his shirt. He pointed his fingers at her like guns and made a clicking sound, then continued on, heading toward his first period class.

Liz returned her attention to Michael. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”

He shrugged as if it were no big deal.

“So, how do you do it?” she asked.

“Do what?”

“I mean, school and training sessions and working at the Crash and everything else you do,” she explained. “‘Cause I feel like I’m burning the candle at both ends already. And if I throw anything else into the loop, like Maria last night, I just end up feeling like a zombie. Where are you getting all your energy from?”

“I sleep in class.” He shrugged.

“Amazing,” she mumbled under her breath. No wonder he never graduated. No, she corrected, no wonder the Michael of her timeline had never graduated. It had not, however, stopped him from going on to become perfectly successful in life, from marrying the woman he loved or from being the most wonderful father ever. She could still remember all the times she had caught him lying on the couch with his little daughter, Madison, draped across him, both of them sound asleep. Those two had been joined at the hip…

“No,” she murmured. The memories tore at her heart. She did not want to think of them.

“No what?” Michael asked.

“Um, you know what? I think you’re right,” she said. “I need some sleep.”

What good was school to her in this lifetime? She had already lived the life she wanted. She had fulfilled her goals of graduating valedictorian, going to Harvard and becoming a molecular biologist and marrying the man of her dreams. She wasn’t going to relive that life. It was gone. Buried in another lifetime along with all her hopes and dreams. So, really, what good was school to her in this life? It wasn’t going to help her.

She needed to focus on what was really important – working with Michael and the Granolith – and she could not do that if she was exhausted. She needed to get some rest. “You mind if I go crash at your place?”

“Go ahead,” he said. “But you might want to sleep on the couch ‘cause the sheets…”

She waved away whatever he was going to say. “You know what? I, uh… I so do not care if you haven’t washed the sheets since you moved in or if they’re ladled with flashes of you and Maria. I just want a bed to sleep in for a few hours. I’m not picky.”

He reached into his pocket for the keys to his place, but she waved those away as well. Who needed keys when she could slip the lock open with her mind? “It’s okay. I’ll let myself in.”

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Kyle crossed his one hand over to the opposite arm and brought his other hand up to curl his fingers over his lips. He planted himself next to Michael as Liz walked away.

“I want to go what’s going on, Guerin,” he stated.

Michael tore his gaze away from Liz’s backside long enough to glare at Kyle before returning look at her.

“How long have you been able to control your powers?” Kyle asked.

Michael ignored him.

“Why are you going all ‘Matrix’ in the field every morning?” he tried again.

He still received no response.

“How long have you been able to heal? How long have you had telepathy?” He shot off two questions at once.

Students brushed passed them on their way to class, oblivious to the exchange between the two men.

At the far end of the hall, Liz pushed through the glass doors and they swung shut behind her.

Michael turned toward him then and Kyle almost took a step backward in surprise. Michael’s eyes were fluxing, changing from light brown to black and back again.

“It’s not your business,” Michael stated.

“It is if it involves Liz,” Kyle said, determined not to be intimidated.

“She doesn’t need you to protect her.”

“I didn’t say she did, Fezzik,” Kyle replied blandly. “But you wouldn’t have learned so much about your powers if you didn’t think it was necessary. And the two of you wouldn’t be launching full-scale war maneuvers every morning unless something were up. Now tell me what the heck it is!”

Michael clenched his jaw tightly and Kyle saw the vein pulse in the other man’s temples. His eyes were still fluctuating colors too.

“I can’t tell you,” Michael stated simply.

“Why not?”

“I can’t take the risk.”

“What risk?” Kyle demanded to know.

Michael’s eyes finally settled on black and the rapid flux ended. “You’re a good friend, but Liz has to find her own way in this. She cannot be interfered with.”

“Then explain what’s going on to me.”

“Tell me something, Valenti,” Michael said. “What does the Buddha teach you about patience?”

“He said: ‘Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without,’” Kyle said. Had Guerin really asked him a question about Buddhism? “But what does that have to do with you and…?”

“You want answers,” Michael said abruptly. “You think finding them will make your life normal or bring you peace, but you are looking ‘without’. Find peace within yourself first and then everything else will fall into place.”

“You’re explaining Buddhism to me?” he asked incredulously, bringing his hand to his chest.

“What is it they say here?” Michael paused in thought. “‘When in Rome?’”

Kyle stared at Michael.

“When you find what you’re looking for, Valenti, come back and I’ll tell you what you want to know,” he said. “Until then, no more questions from Liz or me.”

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“A few hours” turned into most of the day and Michael had to wake her up when he got home from school.

He sat next to her and brushed some stray hairs away from her face. “Feel better?” he asked.

She looked up at him through sleepy eyes. “Yeah.”

“I warped your teachers into thinking you attended class,” he said, “so you’re covered for today.”

“Thank you,” she murmured in quiet amazement.

“You ready to do some more work?”

“Yes, I just need a minute to heal myself. I was too tired this morning.”

Healing turned out not to be as hard as she thought it would be. She did not know if it was just because her abilities were stronger in this timeline or if she had unconsciously learned from her husband. Whatever the case, once Michael had shown her how to do it, she had picked up the skill with an ease and comfort that surprised her.

Michael understood and left the room to give her the space to concentrate.

The headache had dulled itself while she slept, but it had not gone away. There was nothing she could do about it, though, as it was connected to her ever increasing powers. She would just have to ignore it.

The shoulder – now, that was something she could fix. Michael had dislocated it earlier that morning when he kicked her. She had put it back into place and healed it enough that the pain wasn’t overwhelming, but she had not had enough energy to heal it all the way.

She closed her eyes and focused inward at the axillary nerve, tendons, ligaments and collagen fiber cross-links of her injured shoulder. The axillary artery was fine, but there was minor damage to repair on the others and swelling to reduce. She slowed the flow of blood through the area as well, then checked for any fractures. Seeing none, she turned her mind outward again and sat up, her shoulder free from pain.

She got out of bed and got dressed and joined Michael in the living room.

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“What happened?” Michael asked. He peered around the hanging heavy (punching) bag.

She was furious, not that he had anything to do with it. She took a step backward and let him look.

He scratched his brow at the sight if her standing there with her arm stuck inside the bag all the way to her elbow. “You weren’t supposed to use your powers.”

“Just help me get out of here,” she said irritably. “Get this off of me.” She indicated the leather boxing glove on her left hand.

He un-strapped the glove and slipped it off her.

Slivers of her alien power were sliding and zipping across the skin of her hand. It did not hurt like before, but she had definitely lost control somehow.

It was ridiculous, she thought to herself. She did not know how to ‘ghost’, to walk or move through solid objects as Kiaha and Michael could. It was not that it was an impossibility; it was just that she had never shown such an ability before. She was not even sure she knew how she did it. Yet now, not only did she suddenly appear to be capable of such a feat, but her powers were going wonky and she had her arm stuck inside a heavy bag.

She gritted her teeth and tried to get a hold of her wayward energy. She closed her eyes and took deep, calming breaths. When she felt relaxed enough, she tugged on the powers, reining them in. Then she shoved her mind at the heavy bag, making the molecules in the bag quiver and dance, shoving them aside so that she could slide her arm back out.

“Of all the stupid, ridiculous…” she said under her breath as she took her other glove off and threw it on the floor.

“Well, that’s one less thing to teach you,” Michael said.

She got the sudden sensation that he found the entire situation amusing.

“It’s not funny,” she said accusingly. Above her one of the overhead fluorescent lights fizzled and popped.

She walked grumpily from the small, little-used workout room and headed toward the back lot of Michael’s aging apartment complex. There, in the far corner under a shade tree, were some telephone cables that ran from tall, wooden poles down to the ground.

She grabbed hold of one of them and let loose all of her excess energy into it.

“You know, there’s an easier way to take care of that,” Michael told her.

“Yeah, I know,” she said grumpily. “But Max isn’t exactly here, so I do what I have to.”

“You could take a new mate, bond again,” he said gently.

She stared down at her hands, now free from energy. “Right, ‘cause I’m just so desperate that I’ll jump into bed with any Antarian man, huh?”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

Liz took a breath and blew it out. “Look, I… I miss Max so bad. You just have no idea. The idea of taking a new mate is… well, it makes me feel unfaithful, like I would be betraying him and his memory.”

She sniffed. “Besides, there are so few Antarian men here. And I know too many things. Things about you,” she said, braving a glance up at him. “Even if I wanted to bond to someone else, which I don’t, I couldn’t because it would be a betrayal to you; my mate would see everything about you from my mind.”

“So,” he said, sticking his hands in his pockets, “you plan on living the rest of your life being a menace to telephones everywhere?” His words were light and careful, but his eyes betrayed his seriousness.

“Yeah. Pretty much,” she stated.

Michael nodded solemnly, then turned slightly toward his complex and changed the subject. “Come on. Let’s go back to my place so I can see what you can do with your new power.”

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It was evening and the Granolith had been dancing on the edge of her consciousness for more than an hour and Liz had been trying to ignore Its presence for just as long. She was reviewing some of the last lessons in Gudorian’s math tutorial – algebra, trigonometry and analytic geometry – in the Antarian vigesimal system, lessons that were important because the calculus that followed would build on everything she knew up to that point.

She sipped the last of her tea – a special concoction with ginger, catnip, chamomile, cardamom and peppermint that she had put together to once again try to ward off the nausea she knew would follow contact with the Entity – and finished scribbling notes.

Hold your horses, she telepathed to It. It was an English expression with no Antarian equivalent, but the Granolith seemed to understand.

Liz closed her notebook and clipped her pen to the cover, then folded the computer back together so that it appeared to be nothing more than a flat, glossy black panel. She gathered her things together and took them to her closet, setting them high up on the shelf.

A tap on her door startled her and she instantly reached out with her senses to see whom it was. “Come in, Mom,” she said.

“You know, you have an uncanny ability to know who it is,” her mother said as she entered.

“I’m sorry?” She shut her closet door and turned around toward her mom.

“You always know who is at your door before it’s open or who is calling before you pick up the phone.”

“I do?” She had not noticed. Her empathic sense must have become so innate that she hardly realized when she was using them.

“Um hm.”

“Interesting,” Liz said noncommittally. “So, are you and Dad taking off?”

“We are,” Nancy replied. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve got some homework to catch up on,” Liz answered, “but you guys have a good time.”

“All right, honey.” She walked across the room and gave Liz a hug and kiss. “Smile,” she said, pulling back and looking her daughter over.

Liz gave her a half-hearted smile.

“You don’t do that enough lately,” she complained.

“Well,” Liz said softly, “there’s not much to smile about.”

Nancy shook her head. “When did life become so hard for you?” she asked rhetorically.

Liz looked away from her mother’s sympathetic gaze.

“Well, you have a good night, sweetheart,” Nancy said softly. “Dad and I will be back around 11 or 12.”

“Okay. Night, Mom.”

After her parents had gone, Liz stepped through her window and out onto her balcony. She turned to the brick wall on her right that was over her planter stand and pulled out a loose brick. She took out her journal* and replaced the brick, then sat down on her lawn chair.

It had been ages since she had looked at her journal, let alone written in it. At least a year in this lifetime. Longer in the last. She did not think she had bothered since Gudorian and Kiaha…

Her world had felt so unsafe. The attack had left her feeling vulnerable and frightened and insecure. And learning who Michael really was… Well, she couldn’t put any of it into words. In one night her entire world had changed and she just did not know how to cope.

By the time she had learned how to stand on her feet again, she had lost interest in writing.

She sighed and opened the small book, browsing through the pages and reminiscing over her youth and innocence.

… what is he thinking right now? Is he also obsessed, tortured, going through one sleepless night to the next, wondering what's going to happen between us?

… The tough thing about following your heart is what people forget to mention. That sometimes your heart takes you to places you shouldn't be. Places that are as scary as they are exciting, and as dangerous as they are alluring. And sometimes your heart takes you to places that can never lead to a happy ending… And that's not even the difficult part. The difficult part is when you follow your heart, you leave normal, you go into the unknown.

And once you do, you can never go back.


“I pinned that one, didn’t I?” she murmured.

She turned the pages and kept reading.

… Have you ever had a moment when you're with the one person in the world you want to be with and the wind is blowing through your hair and the song that just describes your entire soul happens to come on, and then the person that you want to be with happens to love the same song and suddenly you realize you're listening to it together? And no matter how crazy your life has gotten there's this one moment – this perfect moment – where you could just say that no matter what happens, nothing can take this moment away from me.

Her eyes teared up at the words and she turned away momentarily, biting her thumbnail. She did not know why she was doing that to herself, making herself read things that she knew would make her feel like crying. It was just that there was a part of her that wanted to forget everything she had ever been through and everyone she had ever loved so that the pain would go away; but there was this other part of her that wanted the pain, that needed it. And that part knew that forgetting meant losing everything that had ever been important to her and she just could not let herself do that.

She looked back down at the memories she had penned with her own hand. Swallowing hard, she continued to read.

… I've always been the one who comes through in the time of a crisis. I do what's necessary, and I don't panic. But seeing Michael so sick and having no way of knowing what was wrong or how to help, made me scared. Scared that one day, something could happen to Max and I wouldn't know how to help this person who means so much to me. Who means everything.

She choked on the words, a strangled cry coming forth from her throat, and she found herself reaching for her husband. You do mean everything to me, Max. Everything. And I am so, so lost without you. If I didn’t have Michael here keeping me focused… She closed her eyes feeling along their bond, looking for any sign of Max. And when she couldn’t feel him, she had to take deep breaths to keep from crying. I love you. Always.

But even as she sent the words, she felt guilty. She had no right to indulge herself like this. Michael was counting on her to stay just as focused as he, and the Granolith was still waiting for her, hovering but patiently refusing to interfere. She could feel It.

She turned the journal over and lay it face down on her lap. I’m sorry, she telepathed to the gentle Being.

It reached out a tendril of Its mind to connect with hers. You miss him.

The confusing rush of colors and sounds that defined the Entity flooded through her like a refreshing cold, brisk wind. She leaned back and drew a breath of relief. Somehow her connection to the Granolith made her loss feel a little less painful.

Well, she sent with an inward sigh, there’s always something to miss no matter where we are in life. It is human.

It is Antarian too.

Yes, I believe it is.

Yet you suppress your grief.

It makes me weak.

You are wrong,
the Granolith told her. It makes you strong.

Already sad and struggling to control her wayward emotions, Liz had nothing to say to that.

It took only the tiniest push from the Granolith at her fragile inward walls to make her give way to tears, her walls crumbling into nothingness.

The tears slipped silently and steadily down her cheeks for a long time. The sunset danced across the sky and the first stars appeared. Darkness descended in its nightly cloak of black and sprayed the sky with scatterings of twinkling pinpoints of light. She saw none of it.

All the while the Granolith stayed, Its gentle, tendril-like consciousness remaining with her as a comforter until, finally, she fell asleep in exhaustion.

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She woke sometime during the night and found herself covered by the quilted comforter from her bed. She slid her hands quickly along it, searching, and relaxed once she found the flash she was looking for. “Oh, my mom,” she whispered. Her parents must have come home and gone looking for her because she saw her mother return with her quilt and lay it over her.

“Journal,” she murmured, panic rising. She threw back the quilt and felt her lap. It was not there. She sat up hastily and dropped her feet to the ground to stand but her feet landed on something. She bent to pick it up and felt relief when her hands landed on a book – her journal. She hugged it to her.

She stood and moved across her balcony to the brick wall and removed the loose brick. She held out the book to place it inside the opening only to have the journal fall open in her hands. The tea lights hanging from her wall shone on the page.

…lately I've been having these feelings, like I'm changing inside, and part of me doesn't want to change. Part of me always wants to be my mom's little girl. But the thing is, these feelings are strong...dangerous, undeniable. It's like I have no choice. It's like...chemical.

“Strange,” she whispered. She had written that entry almost a year and a half ago… but only in this timeline; in the other she had never penned those words. It still felt strange to know that she was changing so much earlier in this timeline. It just did not make sense. Why was it happening? Why were things so different?

She reached up and shoved the book into its hiding spot and replaced the brick.

Liz stepped back and pressed the button on the side of her watch, lighting up the digits.

3:56 am.

She had to get to school.

*Journal quotes are taken from Season one episodes of the television Roswell series.
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Polar Attraction ~ Experience true love for the first time

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sablaine
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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:29 pm

A special thanks to KeriAnne, who wrote the entire opening scene between Michael and Maria. I don’t know how she did it, but her work is just amazing. Thank you, Keri.

Spring 2000

Four Weeks After Departure


~Chapter 10~

More Than a Title



“What do you mean: ‘Is there a reason I came here’? I came by to see you,” Maria stated pointedly.

“Yeah. And?” Michael had let her in, but he had not let her move any further into his apartment than his front door.

“What the hell is your problem, Spaceboy?” Maria exclaimed in frustration. God, how could he keep hurting her like this? How could he not see that he was hurting her? Sure, he had been hatched, but so had Max and Isabel; if they could act human then so could he!

Maria took a shuddering breath. She was not going to cry. She was NOT going to cry. She desperately wanted to reach for her cedar oil but that would be a sign of weakness and there was no way she was going to give Michael that. Not after… She was not going to show weakness.

So, instead of crying, she started to yell. “Who do you think you are, Michael?!” she demanded, her small index finger jabbing him in the chest with each word and forcing him to step backwards, allowing her further entry into the small apartment. That’s right, Michael, she thought to herself. You better be scared of me. The irony that a genetically reincarnated former alien general was backing away from her was not lost on the blonde.

“You’re supposed to be my boyfriend, Michael. We’re in a relationship! People in a relationship don’t just push each other away. They don’t ignore each other. Especially a-after what w-we did!” Oh, god! Now she was stuttering! She was not going to cry! “Or did you think you could just use me and then walk away?”

He made no attempt to respond to the accusation, instead simply looking at her in stunned silence. Oh god! That was it, wasn’t it? He had been going to leave; they had all been prepared to leave! That was why he had cooked her that dinner, why he had let her in and shown her flashes, that was why he had slept with her! Because he was running away and wouldn’t have to deal with it! Because he was leaving!

But he had changed his mind. He had decided to stay. He had stayed for her, hadn’t he? Then why was he shutting her out?

Maria felt so confused. Every second that Michael did not speak was like a knife twisting in her heart. She wanted him to say something, anything. She wanted him to take her in his arms and kiss her and tell her that everything was going to be okay. She wanted to feel his lips trace a line of fire down her neck, his rough hands to… Focus, Maria!

He still had not said a word. Angry tears burnt at the back of her eyes but she refused to let them out. She refused to give him that satisfaction. “Why are you avoiding me?”

Michael’s mouth dropped open in shock. “I am not avoiding you,” he protested. “We see each other every day at school, at work…”

“That doesn’t count,” Maria hissed. “Occupying the same physical space and spending time together are not the same! You’ve barely said two words to me over the last month other than ‘order up’ or ‘pass the Tabasco’!”

She was standing in the middle of the living room now. Somehow she had managed to back him up against his couch. She knew that she had him cornered. Alarm bells should have been going off in her head because Michael didn’t handle being cornered, but she was too caught up in her own pain and anger to hear the quiet voice in the back of her head that was telling her to take a deep breath and a step back. (Funny how that voice always sounded like Liz.)

“It’s been a month, Michael. Are you sorry about the whole night-before-you-were-supposed-to-leave thing? Are you scared because you let me see you? I mean, what? What is going on?” A single tear found its way past her defenses and escaped down her right cheek. She never noticed his eyes darken.

“You saw what I let you see.” The words were calm, impassive. Cold.

Maria shivered at the detached tone of voice. Something in his voice was different. She’d never seen Michael like this before, never seen him so ridged and detached, and it only served to make her more confused.

She stole a quick glance back at the door before meeting Michael’s icy gaze… No, she was not going to let him simply push her away like this. She had sacrificed her pride by coming here but she was not going to sacrifice it further by running away. She needed answers and she was determined to get them. She was going to figure out whatever his problem was so she could fix things between them.

“I saw what you let me see?” She grimaced at the shrill pitched of her voice and forced back a sob. “What exactly is that supposed to mean?” she asked as she took a small step backwards.

“It means that you think all there is to me is that I hatched out of a pod, I have alien powers and I’m some emotionally scarred foster kid that you can fix,” he growled menacingly.

Maria shook her head in denial even as his words struck something of a cord in her. That was not true. It could not be true… There was more to them than that. God, her hands itched to reach for her cedar oil. This was not how she had expected this would go. Why were they still arguing? They should have gotten past that already… She should be in his arms, on his bed while his lips…

“That’s not true,” she said in a small voice as she took another nervous step backward. Another tear escaped down her face but she made no more effort to wipe it away than she had the first one.

“Face it. You never knew me and you never will.” His tone was more resigned than cold as the words slipped out of his mouth. His eyes seemed to have lightened somewhat in color, returning to their burning gold. She tried to read them as he turned away from her and dropped his large frame unceremoniously down on the old, worn-out couch that she had just recently had him pinned against.

“You think I don’t know you?” Maria demanded, following behind him. “God, you’ve been weird ever since Tess left. Where is this coming from?” Please, Michael, I need you. Don’t shut me out.

The only reaction Michael gave her was to pinch the bridge of his nose and fix his gaze on the TV screen in front of him. Although his eyes were locked on the TV he seemed not to be taking any notice of the hockey game in front of him, not even reacting when one of the teams scored a goal.

She wanted to scream or yell. She wanted to break something. How could he ignore her? How could he use what he was using to ignore her? How dare he? Her blood boiled with rage. She was just about to turn on him when the sound of the refrigerator opening caused her to spin around in her seat and stare gap-mouthed into the kitchen.

Oh, god! Who was here? Who had been witness to her little outburst? Was it Max? Did Michael have a girl here? Was that why he hadn’t wanted to let her in? Her hand suddenly flew to her mouth as she tried to think over what she had said. Had she said anything that could put them in danger? Anything that could put them at risk?

Shock changed to bewilderment at the realization that there was nobody in the kitchen. The refrigerator had opened seemingly of its own accord. As she watched, a Snapple flew out and hovered in mid air. The fridge door shut behind it. The lid came off and neatly placed itself in the trash container, which obligingly opened up for it, before the Snapple made its way to Michael’s waiting hand. It was like watching something off of ‘Charmed’!

She stared at Michael in disbelief. Her jaw was moving but no words would come out.

He took a slow sip from the Snapple, his eyes never moving from the TV set.

“H-how…?” she muttered suddenly finding her voice. “How did you do that? W-when did you suddenly get control of your powers like that? Even Max doesn’t have t-that sort of control…” She suddenly gave into the urge to reach for her cedar oil, uncapping the stopper and taking a deep breath. Her eyes never left Michael and his eyes never left the TV set.

“You’d know,” he replied dryly and took another mouthful of his drink.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean!” Maria snapped. Rage. She could handle rage. She could understand rage.

“You spend enough time with him,” Michael replied, his eyes seeming to darken as they remained focused on the TV. “Logical that you’d know the limitations of his abilities.”

“Are you accusing me of...?”

“No.” Michael cut her off. “Just stating a fact.”

He turned to look at her. “Tell me something. Be honest. Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

Maria blinked at the abrupt subject change. She studied his face trying to understand what he was really asking her. His jaw was clenched, his eyes unreadable and suddenly seeming impossibly dark. She briefly wondered if it was the lighting of the room or her imagination, but some instinct told her that it was something else. Something in the pit of her gut twisted. That warning voice at the back of her mind was trying to break through again but she did not want to hear it. She refused to hear it.

She suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to pull away from Michael, to put some space between them but she held her ground. “What?”

“It’s not a hard question, Maria,” he replied in a gentle voice, talking to her almost as one might talk to a small child. “I’m using small words.” His patented smirk crossed briefly across his lips before his expression turned serious again. “What are you going to be doing in ten years?” He watched her intently, almost as if the fate of the world hinged on her answer.

“I don’t know. Singing? Writing music?” she replied frowning. “Where are you going with this?”

“Will you have a family?” His voice was soft, almost kind. For a moment his eyes seemed to get a far away look as if remembering something.

Maria shivered. What was she missing? It was like she was looking at a puzzle but she only had half of the pieces and the picture on the box was faded. “I…?”

“Family?” Michael repeated. The way he asked the question made her feel like their entire relationship depended on her answer.

“Besides you?” Her answer was unsteady. Liz was family. Her mother was family. Why did he have to be so cryptic? Michael’s gaze remained steady, unreadable. Why were his eyes so dark?

“Kids?” The question was little more than a whisper.

“I… uh… I don’t know. Not if I’m traveling around the country I guess.” She looked down at her hands and then up at him. “I’ve never really thought about it. Do you want kids? I mean, we don’t even know if we c-can… if that’s possible… And I thought after Hank...?” She frowned. “I got the feeling you wouldn’t want kids…”

His face still gave away nothing, no answers. She hated when he did this, when he put up his stonewall. She hugged her arms around herself. It was not exactly cold but something in his eyes, his body language unsettled her. Her eyes moved to the hand still holding his Snapple but even that gave nothing away.

“Antar or Earth?”

Her eyes snapped back towards his still impassive face. “What kind of a question is that? Earth, obviously.” She rolled her eyes. She was starting to wonder if he had slipped as he got out of bed this morning and smacked his head. Yes, that would explain it. “Michael…”

“In ten years…” he replied thoughtfully, “I’m going to be on Antar.”

“Y-you what?” Maria’s hand reached reflexively around the vial of cedar oil that she had returned to her pocket. Concussion – that was the only explanation. Her eyes began quickly scanning his head for any signs to prove her theory. Maybe she should call Max? Something was definitely wrong. Was Michael sick?

“In ten years I’m going to be back on Antar,” Michael replied more firmly.

Maria shook her head in disbelief. He had not said that. He could not have said that. “No,” she whispered, the word escaping her lips before she could think about it. “You s-stayed. I-I thought… You said this was your home. Why are you saying this, Michael? Why are you doing this to me, to us?”

Tears were openly streaming down her face now. “Michael…” She bent forward and gripped his arm desperately. “I love you. I need you. Why? Why are you doing this? Didn’t you stay for me? For us?”

He looked down at his arm and then back up at Maria. “I stayed because the Granolith didn’t want me to leave.”

Maria pulled away from him and started wiping furiously at her face. Unable to contain her emotions, she pushed herself to her feet. “What do you mean: ‘it didn’t want you to leave’?” she growled. “It’s a machine!”

“It’s not just a machine,” he denied.

His eyes were distant again, un-focused. What was wrong with him? Again the thought crossed Maria’s mind that maybe she should call Max.

“It wasn’t time.”

“It wasn’t time for what?” Suddenly she wished that she’d dragged Liz along for this little conversation. She gripped her forearms, her acrylic fingernails digging painfully into the exposed flesh.

“I was sent here for a reason.” He was looking at her like she was stupid.

God, she wanted to reach out and slap him! She fought to repress her violent tendencies, instead falling back on sarcasm. “Yeah, which your makers, like, unfortunately didn’t explain.” Her nails dug further into her arms causing small spots of blood to form around some of her fingertips but Michael was oblivious.

His eyes still held that un-focused look and she was starting to wonder if he was even talking to her, if he even realized that she was still in the room. “It was encoded into us.”

“What was encoded into you?” Michael, you’re scaring me.

“The reason.”

“The reason.” Maria echoed back dumbly. This was it; Michael had finally snapped. She’d known it was going to happen. She had just hoped that they would have a few happy years before it did. ‘What do we do with the insane alien?’ her mind hummed to the tune of ‘What do we do with the drunken sailor’.

Max. Max could help.

Or maybe Liz? She would know what to do. Liz always knew what to do.

What was that voice in the back of her head saying? What was her ‘Liz-voice’ telling her to do? Humor him. Right, okay. Stay calm. Humor him. That was what Liz would tell her to do. She could do that.

“Okay. Fine.” She carefully unfurled her fingernails from her arms, grimacing at the crescent-shaped marks they left behind. “And what was the reason, Michael?”

“We’re looking for someone.”

“Looking for someone,” Maria echoed back as she resisted the urge to ball her hands up into fists.

“We can’t leave until we find her.” There was something eerie about his tone of voice, almost reverent.

“Her?” Maria asked in a trembling voice. Why did she feel like her heart was being ripped out of her chest. Why was he doing this to her? “Who?” she demanded more forcefully.

“It’s not you.”

Oh, god! She wanted to be sick. She literally wanted to be physically ill. She took an involuntary step backwards. “Why?’ she whispered. “Because I’m not an alien, o-or a hybrid? I-it’s not my fault I’m completely human…”

“Yeah. Completely,” Michael replied, seeming to focus on the last word.

Maria swallowed hard. “S-so what? Now you have a problem with my genetics? My god! You sound like Nacedo, like Tess.” Suddenly a thought hit her. “It’s Isabel, isn’t it? You want Isabel… you…” She knew she was getting hysterical but she didn’t care.

“It’s not Isabel,” Michael replied firmly, his eyes suddenly coming back into focus and meeting her gaze.

“Then WHO!” she demanded.

“Her identity was encoded into us so that she would go undetected. She was to be located, trained and presented to the Granolith.” He shook his head. “And then, at her order, we’re leaving. I’m leaving.” His eyes were suddenly distant again. “Going home.” Absently he raised the Snapple to his lips and took another long sip.

Maria could not take it any more. How could he just sit there and tear her heart, her world to shreds? She looked down at the ground in front of her and then back up at Michael again. His eyes had returned to the TV screen, his body language dismissive. She could not breath. Suddenly it felt as if all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.

She trembled as she turned away from him and crossed the short distance to the door. Her legs felt shaky, unstable, as if they would betray her at any second.

Her trembling hands wrestled with the doorknob, her first attempt at opening it failing. Finally she managed to wrench it open.

She glanced back at Michael and quickly regretted the action. His eyes were still focused on the TV.

She forced down the rising sob that threatened to escape her throat as she escaped his then suffocating apartment. The door slammed behind her but she did not care. She got twenty, maybe twenty-five steps away from his apartment before sliding to the ground in tears. The rough wall behind her offering no more comfort than Michael had.

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Kyle stood at his usual place under the bleachers, watching the silhouetted figures of Michael and Liz sparring in the distance. The jabbing-punching-blocking movements of their arms were so fast that he had a hard time seeing who was making which motion.

He did not know why he kept going back to watch them every morning. He just did. Maybe it was because if he had stayed at home, in bed, he would have had to relive the day Alex died…

He wished he did not remember, but he did. And his nightmares? They kept getting worse. In his dreams Tess came back. She killed Alex over and over again. She entered Kyle’s mind and took control of it; he tried to fight her but she superimposed images over his eyes. She made him take Alex in his arms as if he were a piece of luggage.

A part of him knew it was Alex, but, even though he wanted to keep fighting Tess, his own fear and horror at the situation made him relinquish control to her so that he wouldn’t have to know what was really happening. He gave his mind to a killer. He gave it to her…

Over.

And over.

And over…

Each time was the same. Alex always died and Kyle always let Tess take control of his mind. He never fought back. Never.

Not like Liz and Michael. They would have fought. They did fight. Every single day.

He watched Michael grab Liz’s hand and bend it backward, twisting her arm behind her back. The movement was hard and fierce and violent enough that it should have broken her hand, but even though she cried out, she ignored her pain and pulled back into Michael and thrust her hand up and smashed his nose. Michael pulled her hand up higher behind her back, forcing her to bend over. She kicked back at his knee as hard as she could.

How did Liz do it? He had Buddhism to guide him. Liz had nothing. She had no religious faith.

Kyle wanted to walk away from all of it – from the entire alien drama – but he could not. Buddhism taught him not to walk away from pain and suffering. Pain and suffering were part of life, things that had to be accepted, and he had to remember that, no matter how bad matters might seem, they would pass given time.

But even if he did not have the wisdom of Buddha to guide him, he still could not have walked away. He could not walk away, because Liz had not walk away. And until he knew why, he would have to suffer patiently.

He watched Michael release Liz and prepare to strike back. The half-alien seemed to gather himself as Liz turned toward him and bent slightly, arms out, ready to defend herself. But Michael stood ready to take unfair advantage of his heritage, and Kyle saw the tall man’s hands take on an eerie glow in the dim morning light.

Kyle could not figure it out. Michael could heal, he could speak telepathically, and he could move like Keanu Reeves in the “Matrix”; he had somehow, some way mastered his alien powers in a way that none of the others had, yet Liz, who was only human, was able to hold her own when she trained with him each day. Maybe Michael really was going easy on Liz, as he had said, but it still left dozens of unanswered questions, like: Why was he training Liz Parker in the first place? Why not Max or Isabel? Why were Michael’s powers suddenly so finely honed? What were they preparing for? And why weren’t they telling anyone else?

Kyle watched as the glow, that had at first only touched Michael’s hands, began shimmering over his entire body like a shield-like suit of armor. Kyle had never seen anything like it, but while he might not understand what the glow meant, Liz certainly did. “Michael!” he heard Liz snap at the tall man. “It’s not…”

But she was not given the chance to finish because at that moment Michael launched himself bodily at Liz. Liz leaned back and her hands flew up to as if to protect herself. And then… those same hands began to glow. Glow. And Michael flew backward through the air some twenty feet before he hit the wet ground.

Liz had powers.

He could not believe his eyes and stood rooted to his place beneath the bleachers, his heart racing and questions flying through his mind so rapidly that he could not sort them out. How could Liz have powers? She was human, wasn’t she? Or had something about contact with them have changed her? Was he being mind-warped?

Even though the morning light was only just casting its pinks and oranges and golds and even though Liz and Michael were a short distance away, Kyle thought he could see Liz’s face well enough to read her. And she certainly did not seem in any great shock to have suddenly come upon alien powers.

Rather, the intensity of her look had given way to sheer delight. A huge smile spread across her face and she began laughing – really laughing, a holding-her-gut kind of laughing – in a way that he had not seen her laugh in a long time… since before the aliens had walked into their lives.

If he were not so scared, Kyle probably would have laughed with her. It was pretty funny seeing the big lug fly through the air like that.

Kyle watched Michael get to his feet looking upset (but not surprised) with Liz, but his next words made it was clear he was downright proud of the stunt she had just pulled. “You want to play like that, do you?” he asked as he began to take long steps toward her. Liz stepped backward. “I think I’m going to have to teach you a lesson.”

Liz’s eyes grew round and she turned and took off running, laughing hysterically, and Michael took off after her. They ran across the edge of the field and then disappeared around the side of the gym building.

Kyle blew out the breath he had not realized he had been holding and studied the bleachers over his head. Did he dare leave his hiding place to follow them?

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He had her backed up to the wall and held her hands above her head. She was panting from physical exertion and from her efforts not to laugh at Michael or at her predicament.

What did I tell you about using your powers when fighting?” he demanded of her.

“In which life?” she asked innocently. She was half tempted to use them on him right then but thought better of it because of his proximity.

Or she could knee him in the groin.

She must have been thinking “loud” again because moved his leg in between hers and pressed his hip against her body, pinning her between him and the wall like a Liz sandwich.

“It was instinct,” she protested.

“Instinct could get you killed,” he said.

She sighed, giving in. While Michael frequently used his powers in her presence, it was only to up the ante, so to speak, and to make her stay alert and focused. She was too quick to make the easiest move and it hindered her abilities. She needed to relearn physical combat and, when she had mastered that, she needed to relearn how to incorporate her alien abilities into that combat. “Anyone can use their powers, but not all people can fight hand to hand combat,” she replied dutifully.

“So using your powers to throw me is…?” he prompted.

She knew she was supposed to say it was cheating or breaking the rules or something like that, but the image of his ungainly pose he had as he flew away from her flooded her mind again. She lost the battle of wills at the image and started rolling with laughter again.

“Okay,” he said.

He pulled her roughly away from the wall and, holding her hands in one hand and her legs the other, he picked her up and tossed her over his shoulder, walked across the cement deck and…

“Michael Guerin!” she yelled.

…threw her into the pool.

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“…Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me…”

She was singing in the shower, feeling cautiously happy for the first time in… Well, she was not certain how long it had been since she had felt happy. Months in this lifetime. Two years in the last.

It must have been the long cry from the few nights before. Maybe her mother was correct when she said that crying was a place to start healing.

Maybe.

Or maybe it was like the rainstorm that always seemed to follow a thorough washing of your car. Maybe her good mood was just a precursor to something dreadful.

Well, whatever it was, she was not going to concern herself with it then. Peace and contentment were far too fleeting for Liz, and she thought she would like to hold on to them for at least a little while.

Switching the lyrics to the French variation, which she thought was prettier anyway, she continued to sing:

“Un dernier verre de sherry
De chéri mon amour, comme je m'ennuie
Tous les jours se ressemblent à présent
Tu me manques terriblement
Da da da da da da da…”**

She washed the conditioner from her hair, enjoying the hot water massage her head and back. She had long since healed any injuries she had received in the morning, but the memory of the cold pool water was still with her.

Oh, Michael. When he had realized just how much energy her unusual good mood had given her, he had thrown her into the pool to cool her off.

And jumped in right after her.

So, there they had been, fully clothed, in their school’s pool. Even their shoes were still on. They would have been in such trouble if they had been caught, but they never were and so Michael had continued his training in the freezing water.

It had been enlightening; Liz had to give it that much. She had never been trained to fight in water; there had been neither need nor time where she had come from. She had not the first clue how to defend herself or what techniques to use, but Michael was both patient and demanding of her and she had started to ‘get it’ by the end.

Of course, once she had started to ‘get it’, he had switched up on her and told her he wanted to work on something else, effectively ending their combat training session for the morning. So they had climbed out of the pool and dried themselves off with their powers.

Michael had returned to the pool then and stepped out over the water, hovering above it by several inches. It was an interesting trick. She had seen here and there before, when a soldier had propelled himself into the air, using solid air as a step, but she had never been taught how to do it. Yet, Michael not only wanted to teach her, he had provided the incentive to learn: make the air solid enough to stand or fall into the cold waters of the unheated pool again.

Which she did.

Repeatedly.

But after nearly half an hour she thought she was actually getting the hang of it. She could actually stand on the air for almost a minute before she lost control of it and fell back into the pool with an undignified splash. It took all of her concentration, but she had actually done it.

She felt pretty proud of herself.

She turned off the shower and dried herself.

Wrapping the towel around her small frame, she left the bathroom to find some pajamas to put on.

She was surprised to see her mother in her room putting some folded clothes away.

“You were singing,” her mother said.

“Yes, well…”

“And you’re smiling,” Nancy continued. “A real smile too. You having a better day today?”

“Yeah, Mom,” Liz nodded. “I am.”

“I’m glad.”

“Me too.”

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She was so desperate for music, any music really. Weeks earlier, when she had realized she was not supposed to be musically inclined in this timeline, she had left well enough alone, but with her improved mood she found her desire for music had come back to her with a force that would not be ignored. It seemed like forever since she had been able to play her piano or any instrument for that matter. And her teenage collection of CDs was desperately wanting. She hoped she was not being selfish to want just this one thing.

She slipped out in the evening as the sun was beginning to drop low in the sky and headed out to Euphonies, a music store she frequented in the other timeline. She had known the storeowner well back then and had spent a lot of time and money in that place.

Entering the store, her eyes sought out the establishment’s owner, Monsieur Pierre-Louis Fournier, but he was preoccupied with two young men whom were looking at drum equipment. Monsieur Fournier and Liz nodded at one another, a mere acknowledgement of the other’s presence.

She would wait.

Never much for drums herself, she gazed longingly at all the other instruments setting out – guitars, pianos, harps, and horns. Such a temptation. Such a hungry temptation.

She licked her lips. She was here for CDs, not instruments, she reminded herself. CDs. She had no right to touch an instrument, let alone bring one home.

But she was unable to quench her longing. Would it really hurt if she just played around for a little while? Who would know?

Liz moved across the store and made her way over to the stringed instruments. She picked up one of the display guitars and ran her fingers across the strings reverently, smiling a little at the sounds her touch made. She made a contented hum in her throat.

Finding a nearby stool, she sat and set the guitar over her thigh. She rested the toes of her foot on the bar that ran across the bottom of the stool to raise her leg to a more comfortable position and leaned in over the instrument. She plucked a few chords, checking to see that it was tuned properly and made a couple of adjustments.

Satisfied, she closed her eyes and let her fingers feel their way over the strings, strumming a melody written long ago in another place and time. The lilting strains lifted softly into the air and she sang the words she had years hence learned by heart.

The song washed through her soul like a breath of fresh, crisp air. For Liz, who was so immersed in the music, that one single moment hung suspended in time, separate and encapsulated. She was alone and at peace in a place that no one could touch, where the wounds on her heart did not exist.

It was what always happened when she played. She was lost to the world around her in a place safe and soothing. The walls around her could burn down and she would never notice. And when the music came to an end and her fingers stilled themselves, she would open her eyes surprised to find that the world still existed and lived and breathed.

“So,” said a decidedly masculine voice as her song came to a close, “Madame Elizabeth has returned to us.”

She blinked, momentarily disorientated. “Bonsoir, Monsieur Fournier,” she greeted softly.

“Bonsoir. It has been far, far too long,” he said.

“It has,” she replied, unconsciously mimicking his accent, but her mind was already awakening and warning sirens were sounding. Too long? Yes, it had been “too long” for Liz, but there should have been no time for the Monsieur for he should not have known Liz at all. She may have frequented his music store in the last timeline, but she had never gone to Euphonies in this one.

“Comment allez-vous?” he asked. /How are you?/

“Je vais bien,” she answered. /I am well./

“I am pleased you have come back,” he said. “You are alone this evening?” He looked passed her as if he half expected her to have been accompanied by a companion.

Drawn in by the pull of his gaze, she found herself looking behind her as well. Then she shook her head slightly to reorientate herself and looked back at Monsieur Fournier. “Yes, I am.”

She gazed at him curiously, hands still poised on the guitar that she held cradled on her lap. She knew him…of course…due to an inexplicable set of forces, but how did he know her? And, more importantly, why?

“Ne dites rien de plus,” /Say no more./ he said, abruptly business-like.

She rose and replaced the guitar on its stand. “I actually came, Monsieur, to look at some CDs.”

His eyes fairly twinkled at her words and he smiled a smile that stretched across his whole face. “Oui, of course,” he said, his strong accent coloring his words. “You see, I remembered. All these years I did remember. And I have been setting them aside for you. So, if you would not mind joining me in my office,” and here he gestured in that direction, “we will see if you approve of my selection.”

Liz found herself at loss for words as she followed. ‘Remembered’ what? ‘Set aside’ what ‘selection’?

But then, once in his office, she saw him pull from his cabinet a large, rectangular, Russian lacquered box in Fedoskino style, with dainty ladies painted across it, and inside were dozens of CDs. He handed the box to her and let her sort through them.

She took out CD after CD: Les Tziganes Ivanovitch, Bruno Pelletier, Ismael Ló, Hélène Ségara and so on, music from countries all around the world and ranging from traditional to folk to popular. It was an amazing collection.

And it was exactly the sort of international pieces she had come to Euphonies looking for.

She looked at Monsieur Fournier uncertainly. He could not have known – she had not even known herself that she would come until the last minute – yet he knew her by name, when he should not have, and he had the very thing she had come for and he gave every indication of having known of her for years. In point of fact, he knew she spoke French. How was it possible? What did it all mean?

“It meets with your satisfaction?” he asked.

She opened her empathic senses to get a feel of him. He was entirely human, that much was certain, so she knew there was no alien funny business involved. And she sensed that he genuinely was familiar with her.

“Oui, Monsieur Fournier. It is…” Perfect? Amazing? Yet another perplexing piece of the puzzle? “…exactly what I was looking for tonight.”

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Singing.

Liz had been singing.

Of all things, Nancy thought. Her tone-deaf daughter had been singing. And not just singing. She had been singing well. Really well. The sound of running water might have drowned out the words themselves, but her voice…

Liz was growing up so fast that Nancy felt she could hardly keep up. “When did it happen?” she asked herself. “Where did my baby go?” It seemed like yesterday when Liz was just a newborn, so small and helpless in her mother’s arms. Nancy could hardly believe that Liz was really hers and that no one could ever take her away. Now she was growing up so fast that Nancy hardly knew her own daughter.

Liz was like a fledgling, ready to fly. Nancy wanted with all her heart to clip Liz’s wings and keep her safe – life was so hard on kids these days – but she knew better. Liz had to leave the nest and learn to cope on her own, even if that meant facing heartache and loss.

And clearly Liz was doing just that.

She just wished that Liz’s growing up did not have to make her a stranger to her own family. Liz rarely confided in her mother any more and, when she did, Nancy felt like she was getting only half the story. Liz was still the same sweet, gentle soul she had always been but the last two years had made her was distant and introspective. And the last month and a half… Well, Liz had just changed; that was all.

Nancy was just having trouble pinpointing the source of the change. It was more than Alex dying and the Tess fiasco. She had thought that was all it was at first, but she had been watching Liz and she knew… deep down she knew there was something more even if she did not know what that “something more” was.

She frowned, trying to puzzle out her daughter, as she lifted the freshly laundered sweaters up onto the shelf in Liz’s closet.

It was purely by accident that she knocked the notebook off the shelf.

It flopped open as it fell, landing in a confused heap on the floor.

Nancy picked it up and browsed through its pages. Her frown deepened. Page after page was covered by strange little symbols. It did not look like any language Nancy had ever seen. Was it, perhaps, a secret code? And, if it was, then what did the few scrawled English words mean?

She set the notebook on Liz’s bed, left the room and then returned with a dictionary. The English words were clearly ones she had seen before – at least they seemed familiar – but she could not place their definitions. There were words like ‘vigesimal’ and ‘algorithm’ and ‘isomorphism’ and ‘permutation’, and it turned out each of the few English words Nancy saw were specifically related to math in one way or another. But why and what did they have to do with the strange little symbols?

It was very odd.

So was Liz playing around with a secret code? It would be like her to try something like that. Her mind was always moving faster than the speed of light and she had the tendency to preoccupy herself with books and research and documentaries and experiments. A secret code would be just a new sort of puzzle for someone like her.

Nancy put the notebook back where she found it and finished putting the rest of Liz’s clean clothes away.

She still did not know what to make of this odd… thing… Liz was working on, but she would figure it out sooner or later. She would just have to keep her eyes open for the right opportunity to ask Liz what it was all about.

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Liz was only half paying attention to class, still trying to figure out what exactly had transpired at the music store the night before. How, she continued to wonder, did Monsieur Fournier know her? “It has been far, far too long.” That was what he had said. Then he had proceeded to hand her the box of CDs that she had apparently commissioned him to collect for her. To top it all off, he claimed that she had told him to charge her “account”.

And what account was that? Liz had no idea. She checked her savings account in the morning only to find that no funds had been withdrawn.

It was like déjà vu. First Anapo Gudorian had insisted that he knew Liz from ten years hence. And then Pierre-Louis Fournier had gone and made a similar declaration. And both men had claimed to be commissioned by her.

She had been able to disregard Gudorian’s avowal because he seemed a sandwich short of a picnic basket, but she could not so easily do so with Monsieur Fournier. He was far too lucid.

It made no sense.

Much like the black and white chart of chemical elements on the black board, she was still missing key elements to the greater puzzle.

She took a deep breath and tried to pull her mind back to the discussion at hand.

“What about humans?” the teacher asked his class. “What elements are humans made from?” He gestured toward his laminated chart.

A room of blank faces greeted him.

“Come on, folks,” he encouraged. “What do you think people are made out of?”

A few students raised their hands.

She glanced at Max out of the corner of her eye, turning her head ever so slightly. He was sitting at the table next to her, still depressed and, like her, his mind anywhere but on the discussion at hand.

He had been withdrawn ever since she had confronted him over his bond to Tess, and Liz knew her relationship with Max would never be what it once was. He was polite but distant and their conversations (when they occurred at all) were always brief, as if he was uncertain where he stood with her any longer.

He was a sweet, sensitive soul who had seen too much fear and pain and heartache in the past two years. At least, in the other timeline, he had always had her to pull him through the rough times, but whom did he have in this one? He was so alone, Max was. Alone and lost and scared. Thrown into the role of caretaker when he could not even take care of himself.

God, he was young. Too young for the tremendous weight placed on his shoulders. He had made so many bad decisions, burned so many bridges, and hurt too many of the people who cared about him. He had dug a hole so deep that Liz was not sure he was capable of digging himself out, not without help at any rate.

She bit her lip.

“Liz?” he whispered.

She turned her head toward him and his beautiful eyes that let one see into his soul. God, those eyes. And she reminded herself that this – this was not her Max.

“How did you know I was bonded to Tess?” he asked, still keeping his voice to a whisper.

She shook her head slightly and held her finger to her lips. “Not now,” she mouthed. And she turned her attention back to the teacher.

No, not her Max at all.

“Come on, Liz,” he tried again.

Liz shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She was not in the mood to have another confrontation with him, not if it was going to be as uncomfortable as the last one, and especially not if it were to happen during science class. “Can’t this wait?” she hissed.

“Please.”

“Wings of madness,” she grumbled under her breath. Quietly she pulled a lined paper from her folder and set it on her desk. Two years of Czech contact. I learned things, she wrote.

She saw the teacher snap the lid off the highlighter and begin highlighting as the students named off some of the correct ones: oxygen, magnesium, zinc, calcium, carbon…

You knew about the Granolith before we did, he wrote back.

Yes. And Isabel knew about Vilandra’s past before the rest of you. The Czechs let things slip.

But you knew about bonding. You knew what would happen. And about the upoko. How?


A tiny rivulet of green, alien energy coiled up her finger and across the back of her hand, when she read the words. She quickly lowered her hand to her lap and rubbed it against her pants, transferring the energy through friction to the neutral material.

She took a couple of slow breaths to calm herself. Max did not understand what he was asking. He was just young and naïve.

Jeff Croft, who was sitting off to the side, got cocky and asked the teacher if arsenic was an ‘ingredient’.

It was.

She picked up her pen again to answer his question.

A few of the students followed his lead and started throwing out elements they believed impossible to be part of the human make-up: aluminum, chlorine, titanium, sulfur. They were wrong. The teacher highlighted those too. The class laughed.

I told you, she wrote, biting back her agitation. People let things slip. They talk without realizing what they are saying.

“Parker.” It was the teacher. Liz would not have noticed he was speaking to her if the class hadn’t become suddenly silent and all eyes turned toward her; it had been a month and she still wasn’t used to being called by her maiden name.

She put the cap back on the pen she was holding and set if down on the desk.

“You wanna fill in the blanks on the rest?” He held out the yellow marker.

Liz bit her lip and stood, discretely sliding the notepaper toward Max as she rose. She gave Max a brief irritated glare. He could have waited, been more discreet… god, anything.

Then approaching her teacher, she took the marker from his outstretched hand and went to the board. She knew the answers. She was a molecular biologist after all.

She read them aloud as she colored in the rest of the boxes: barium, boron, bromine, cesium, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, gallium, hydrogen, iodine, iron, lead, lithium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, rubidium, silicon, silver, sodium, strontium, tin, vanadium.

Aware of the surprise felt by students and teacher alike, Liz put on her most innocent expression before turning around. She handed the highlighter back to her teacher.

The teacher held a paper in his hand, which had scribbled on it the answers to his questions. He ran his finger down the list double checking her answers as if he couldn’t quite believe she had every one right.

He looked at her in some amazement. “Very good, Miss Parker,” he said. “You nailed ‘em all.”

She smiled and then turned to return to her seat when her eyes caught Jeff’s T-shirt. It read: ‘There is no future in time travel’.

Her innocent smile disappeared from her face as she contemplated that, but Max’s furious glare squelched any further thoughts regarding that matter like a cold bucket of water tossed onto a blazing fire. The teacher had fallen quickly for her act, but apparently Max was not as easily taken. If anything, he was more upset than before.

She clamped down on her empathic power, blocking the emotions of everyone around her and returned to her seat.

The teacher turned back to his class as Liz sat back down. “All of these elements, ladies and gentlemen,” he spoke, “come from our earth. Now what is interesting is that ancient people seemed to understand this instinctively. For example, the Shilluks of Africa taught that men were created from sand. Other stories and mythologies say that people were created from clay or mud…”

You knew I would get sick. I didn’t even know that, Max wrote.

Liz sighed softly and took the paper and set her pencil to it. He just wasn’t going to let the matter drop. Because you don’t ask questions!! None of you do. You have all these “visitors” all the time and you never ask them things. You’re all in the dark. It’s dangerous. I can’t live like that. I won’t live like that. Afraid to live. Afraid to find things out. Afraid to take risks.

Liz glanced up to see if the teacher was paying attention to Max’s and her inattention again, but he was embroiled in a discussion of the mythological explanations of the appearance of man on Earth.

I’m going to keep asking questions, keep researching, keep poking my nose into places where it’s not wanted because I need to know. This is life and death. Mine. Yours. Maria’s. All of ours. And I’m always going to be one step ahead. And what happened to Alex is never going to happen again – not if I have anything to do with it.

She shoved the paper at Max, whom read her words over carefully.

“Liz, I…” he began to protest in a whisper.

But Liz raised her hand to stop him and shook her head. Then she gathered her things and slid over to the desk across from hers, away from Max. The discussion was at an end. She would tell him no more.

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She was snooping again. Not that she could really count the first time, since it was entirely accidental that the notebook fell from the closet.

She almost felt guilty about it, too – almost – but Liz had been so different lately and Nancy was worried. At first she thought it was the grief her daughter was experiencing over Alex, but then she began to slowly realize there was more to it than that.

Then she thought that maybe it was because Liz acted far older than her sixteen years; it was in the way she carried herself and in the way she spoke and in the way she related to her parents. But she decided that wasn’t it either.

Maybe it was the notebook and the strange symbols within that got Nancy to thinking. Liz was not different because of losing Alex or because of all the teenage drama confronting her or even because she was growing up. She was different because there was something in her life that she was hiding, something secret. Something she was trying to protect.

And Nancy was determined to find out what that secret was.

By whatever means she had to.

And so she went snooping – in Liz’s drawers and under her dresser, under and behind Liz’s bed, in her desk, in her bathroom, even out on the balcony. But it was not until she went back to the upper shelf in Liz’s closet that she found her first clue.

It did not look like much – nothing more than a large, smooth, black rectangle. She pulled it out from under that strange notebook of Liz’s and looked it over, tracing her fingertips over its glossy surface. It was metallic and cold. She turned it over in her hands and noticed that she could bend the strange object as if it were paper and that, as soon as she loosened her grip, it would reform back to its original shape. Strange.

Still, that probably would have been the extent of her investigation of the object if she had not accidentally triggered the opening mechanism.

Within her hands the black object came alive and very slowly separated into three panels: a square center piece of a duller black material and, on either side, an attached rectangular panel covered in symbols – symbols remarkably similar to the ones in Liz’s notebook.

“What have we got here?” she whispered.

She took the object to Liz’s bed and sat down, laying it across her lap to examine it better. She touched some of the symbols.

Without knowing what she was doing, she managed to activate yet another feature of the black, metal… thing. The strange object turned itself on – the middle panel blinking on like a computer monitor – and more of those symbols appeared, white against a black background, and scrolling in long lines down the screen.

“Oh!” The unexpected computer activity startled her and she pushed it from her lap in a rush. It slid in one swift motion from her lap and landed face up on the floor.

She moved her feet aside and looked down at the strange thing.

It was like no computer she had ever seen, whether in shape, language or design, and its alienness frightened her. The symbols on the screen kept moving in long lines and alternating from one symbol to another as if they were running some unknown program.

And then, all of a sudden, the program ceased running and the screen went dark.

Nancy let out a breath she did not realize she was holding and leaned forward…

…only to be startled once again when three symbols appeared, and a soft, feminine voice emanated from the contraption. “Intriaba tocuatl bhunara.”

Nancy’s heart beat rapidly in her chest. What had she done?

“Intriaba tocuatl bhunara,” it repeated.

She hesitated to touch it again, but knew she needed to shut the strange machine down.

Carefully she reached down and plucked it from the ground with the tips of her fingers and transferred it to the bed beside her.

She pushed more of the weird symbols on the keypads to either side of the screen, hoping to get the darn thing off. But it didn’t turn off.

The three symbols flipped over, one at a time and vanished. Then two new symbols appeared in their place. “Poko kehuatl,” it said.

From the top of the screen another panel slid open and Nancy watched wide-eyed as a holographic image appeared. Spinning slowly. Undulating its colors. Writhing. It seemed like parts of the form were missing, in that there were dark areas and blurred areas, but she was not completely sure since her mind was unable to grasp its exact shape.

A wave of motion sickness hit her. Her stomach heaved.

“Intriaba tocuatl bhunara,” the computer said, the three original symbols having returned.

“Oh god.” She had to get it off.

She pushed more symbols… and more… but could not seem to get it to turn itself off again. She was feeling sicker and sicker looking at the shape. Her movements became frantic.

And then a combination of symbols was hit simultaneously that had the desired affect. The shape disappeared, the screen darkened and the computer began to fold itself back together again.

But it was already too late for Nancy. She pushed the retracting computer away from her and darted to the bathroom, just making it to the toilet in time to lose her lunch. When she finished she felt chilled and weak and her hands were trembling.

She sat back and leaned against the wall. “What was that thing?” she whispered, truly frightened.

Then, still sick as could be, she forced herself to rise. The last thing she needed was for Liz to come home from school and catch her like that. She took the now feared computer and put it back in Liz’s closet and shut the doors.

Nancy left her daughter’s room and went to her own and crawled in bed, pulling the covers up to her chin. She closed her eyes against the spinning sensation of her room and wished she could sleep, but was too deeply troubled to do so.

Image



The Granolith had been hovering a lot lately, especially since Liz began working to program the fifth dimensional shape into her computer. Its presence had long since stopped disturbing her mind and had become almost a comfort. Though It rarely spoke to her, she had begun to see Its watchful interest as a friendly gesture and felt a little less lonely every time It came around.

That day, however, she was not in a pleasant mood and felt more than a little sorry for the Entity, whom could not have found any pleasure in her unhappy company. Not only was she still troubled over her encounter with Monsieur Fournier and her confrontation with Max, but when she arrived home and took her computer and notebook from the shelf in her closet she was hit by consecutive flashes of her mother.

“She’s spying on me?” she whispered fiercely to herself between gritted teeth.

Rather than confront her mother, whom she could sense was worried and disturbed, she took her things out to her balcony, got comfortable in one of her lawn chairs and tried to relax to the soothing voice of Georges Brassens.

It did not work quite the way she was hoping though, because, as soon as she heard the soothing strains, the pain of her mother’s headache hit her through her empathic senses; and the more relaxed the music made her feel, the stronger the pain came through.

The Entity was hovering, too, and brushing against her every so often in a way that Liz knew was Its way of saying It wanted to talk.

I have a question, she telepathed to the Entity after a while, trying to ignore her mother’s throbbing headache.

The Granolith reached out to her mind and Liz felt a tentative connection form. The expected wave of dizziness spun through her and her balcony shimmered with tetrachromatic colors. The nausea she had grown accustomed to, however, was decidedly missing.

I don’t know if it’s my place to ask, she said, and I definitely don’t understand the question…

Ask,
the Granolith said.

Anapo Gudorian wants to be allowed to remember.

I understand. It will be as he wishes,
It answered.

She waited but when the Granolith said nothing more, she asked: So, what does that mean?

The same thing it meant for you.

He wants to retain his memories from this lifetime?

Yes.


She chewed on the inside of her cheek. Why would he ask for that? What had he gained from this life besides a century of suffering?

She made a humming sound in her throat and paused the CD playing in her CD player. The pain immediately dimmed to nothing. Excuse me for a minute, she sent, then she rose unsteadily to her feet. She was willing to tolerate the dizziness in order to talk to the Granolith, but she did not have to put up with unnecessary pain.

She carefully crawled through her window and walked through the apartment to her mother’s bedroom.

It was dark inside and her mom was lying quietly in bed, but Liz found she could see perfectly well through the gentle Entity’s eyes. Inanimate objects such as furniture took on a shimmery gleam, their color depending on the material they were made from; and her mother glowed brightly, her energy and temperature and emotions showing in a brilliant visible spectrum. “Hey, Mom?” she whispered, tiptoeing across the room.

“Hi, honey,” Nancy murmured.

Liz kneeled down by the edge of the bed. “Not feeling so good?”

Now this was more familiar. In the other timeline he mother had lots of days when she was not feeling well and took herself to bed.

“No.”

“Feeling like this all day, huh?”

“Since this morning.”

Liz bit her lip. That was a long time to feel sick for only one quick view of the form – the form, which she was far from completely programming in. “What happened?”

Nancy hesitated, then said: “I don’t really know.”

Liz nodded, noting the way the gossamer colors dancing over her mother had shifted so quickly at the half-truth she spoke. “Okay,” she said softly. “I guess we’ll let that stand for now.”

Through the Granolith’s eyes she saw her mother’s heartbeat quicken at Liz’s mild admonishment.

She ran her finger through her mother’s hair. “You know, there are, um… there are these pressure points in your temples that will take your headache away.” Liz slid her fingers lower to her temple and reached out with her other one to the other side.

Her mother was already looking at her, so the connection was easy to form. She was ‘in’ within seconds and found the throbbing, dilated veins she was looking for, repaired them and moved out just as quickly. Nancy never noticed a thing.

She gave her mother’s temple a little rub and then withdrew her hands. “There. How’s that?” she asked.

“The pain’s gone,” Nancy murmured.

Liz nodded. “Okay, well, I’m going back outside to my balcony,” she said, sensing her mother’s surprise and confusion but feeling no need to answer the woman’s unasked questions. “And you should probably get up and go get something to eat. Your blood sugar is really low.”

She patted her mother’s arm and then rose as steadily as the dizziness allowed for and left the room.

She worries for you, the Granolith spoke within her mind.

Yes, well, I’ve 6½ billion people that I’m worried about, 20 billion if you include the lives on Antar. She did not mean anything unkind by her words, but simply that from her perspective she felt her mother’s worries insignificant – her one life compared to the billions of others, including her mother, weighing in the balance. Liz was living on borrowed time and she meant to use that time to the best of her ability to save the lives of as many people as possible, without letting anyone or anything interfere with that. And her mother would certainly interfere with that borrowed time if she were allowed to put her daughter on some kind of pedestal of worry.

She returned to her balcony as she had said and stood at the waist high wall overlooking the alley street below. Her hands rested on the wall’s top edge for support, lest she topple. Thank you for helping with Gudorian, she said. Now, you wanted to tell me something?

She watched Max Evans walk from across the street, where he worked at the UFO Museum, to the Crashdown Café below her. Looking for her no doubt. She narrowed her eyes. There was little chance her father would let him up with her mother feeling unwell.

The connection must be deepened.

I understand.
While it was true that, given time, she seemed to be adjusting to telepathic contact with the great Entity, feeling the physical effects less and less with each consecutive connection, she still knew that the deeper the connection, the more likely she would be to feel the nauseating side-effects.

The Granolith’s presence seemed to expand within her. Multiple tendrils of Its consciousness uncoiled and stretched through her mind, filling her.

The world spun around her and she closed her eyes. She felt like she was being lifted from the ground.

Her entire being seemed filled and contained by the Entity. It wrapped Itself around her like a warm blanket and she let herself relax within Its grasp.

Falling.

The Granolith’s thoughts became her thoughts. Its understanding and knowledge and wisdom opened to her touch. Its sentience expanded in seeming endlessness throughout the universe. Time appeared as nothing more than a child’s puzzle.

It smiled.

Light and sound exploded and shattered shards crisscrossing across time and space.

She blinked and opened her eyes.

Her connection to the Granolith remained silently wrapped around her but her familiar balcony was gone. She found herself standing in a newly paved parking lot in front of a three-story, cream-colored hotel. A large blue sign resting high on the hotel’s tower identified the building as the Sleep Inn. Green grass, green trees, green bushes, green everything surrounded her and a rich blue sky stretched itself out above her, with lazy white clouds drifting slowly by.

Where am I? she asked.

At home.

Home? She was still at home? This place was not home.

But understanding was already filtering to her through her connection to the Granolith. She still stood on her balcony, but it was in body only. Just as in months previous when Isabel had helped her to send her consciousness out Max in New York, the Granolith was now hijacking this same ability of hers to send her to…

The location appeared in her mind. Stony Creek, Virginia.

Uncertain of her surroundings and immediately on guard, Liz instantly reached for her empathic sense only to find them blocked.

No, not blocked.

Focused.

Focused onto one single individual.

There were others around. She saw them in the parking lot as she walked forward and in the lobby of the hotel when she entered, and she heard low murmurs coming from the rooms as she walked along the long corridor. But empathically, they might as well have not existed at all because she was entirely deaf to them.

Only the one.

Small and innocent.

Sensing its mother’s pain but not understanding it.

Ti eba. /The baby./

Tess and Max’s baby.

Liz could feel its heart, its seal and, more important, her connection to it through the kalihupe. Ti eba was her family. Her nephew.

She understood now what Michael had tried to explain to her, that the Antarians regarded those with the same seal as ‘family’ whether or not they were related by blood. The connection to ti eba was instant and deep, springing forth from her first touch to him.

Feelings of protectiveness and caring and loyalty pushed forward unbidden. Antarian feelings.

And love. A decidedly predominant human feeling.

Ti eba.

Liz pushed through the door the Granolith brought her to, ghosting through it as if it were not there at all, and entered the room. Earth-toned. A bed. Couch. Coffee table. Computer desk. Television. Nice.

And Tess and Nicholas.

Standing mid-room, glaring. Locked in an argumentative stance.

She walked around them. Slowly. Studying them. Nicholas, still in his child-like skin. Tess, in maternity-wear and already beginning to show.

“The seal,” Nicholas demanded.

“Fine. Just get it over with.” She pulled her sleeve down, revealing her shoulder.

Liz paused in morbid fascination, watching Nicholas place his hand on Tess’s shoulder. She remembered all too well the searing pain of a seal forced into activation and she doubted the Skin, Nicholas, had any intention of being gentle with the young blond woman.

His hand glowed and Tess cried out.

Liz felt the pain herself through ti eba, who became frantic and started to struggle within Tess’s womb.

Tess wrapped her arms around her barely swollen belly.

Nicholas withdrew his hand. “Well, well, well,” he said. “So, you managed to bond yourself to the King after all.”

“I already told you that,” Tess spit. She rubbed her hands across her belly in a vain attempt to comfort the distressed child.

Liz stroked ti eba with her mind, sending waves of tenderness and peaceful sensation to the little boy, something Tess should have done herself, and felt ti eba wrap his small, immature mind around her. Her heart melted.

Nicholas strode confidently to the tan couch and sat down. “Here’s the deal Khivar is prepared to offer you. After the little prince here is born, you bring him to me and I will check to see if he is mostly Antarian or mostly human. If he is mostly Antarian and you have passed on the seal, you and the heir will receive passage to Antar, where your son will be made King of Antar in name only. Khivar will keep the real power, of course.”

“Of course,” Tess said. She was frowning. “But what if Zan is mostly human?”

“Zan?” Nicholas laughed. “You named him Zan?”

“After his father.”

“That’s a title, you idiot.”

She shook her head slightly. “I…”

“Of course you didn’t. You don’t remember anything, do you?” Nicholas asked rhetorically. “Well, that’s just as well.” He raked his eyes up and down her body. “If…” He cleared his throat. “Zan here is mostly human, you still get passage to Antar but you leave the child on Earth.”

“I’d have to leave him?”

“If you want him to live, yes.”

It took Tess only a moment of hesitation before she answered. “All right. I agree.”

“I thought you would,” he said, rising to his feet. “I’ll let Khivar know.”

Nicholas turned and headed toward the door, then paused just before reaching it. He turned back toward Tess. “Oh, and one more thing. Khivar still wants his public execution. Max has to come with you or the deal’s off.”

“But Max is my husband…”

“Take it or leave it. That’s the deal,” Nicholas snapped. Then he left without an answer, probably to give Tess time to stew over that.

Liz looked over at Tess, but felt herself being pulled away. Away. Away from Tess. Away from ti eba. Back into the timeless mind of the Granolith. She had seen what the Entity had wished her to see.

Image



Her consciousness returned to her body and she found herself back on her balcony in Roswell, but, though the powerful Being was still with her, her connection to the great Entity dimmed to a bare fraction of what it had been.

Nausea, dizziness and pain rolled over her and she gripped the edge of the wall overlooking the street fiercely. Energy coursed over her body like slithering, electric serpents. She studied her hands and arms in a moment of bodily awareness, but then uncharacteristically chose to ignore it. We’re no safer than we were before, she cried out to the Granolith. Khivar is still after those of us of the royal family. Imabuli, he wants ti eba! He wants to kill Max! He still wants to kill him, and he’s willing to use ti eba to accomplish it. My god, we didn’t change anything! And Tess…

Tears of fury and outrage sprung to her eyes. She clenched her fists and smashed them against the wall’s top edge. Max didn’t sacrifice his life for this! We didn’t just watch our whole world end and everyone we love die for it to happen all over again!

The Granolith, or ‘Imabuli’ as she had referred to it in the Antarian tongue, deepened the connection, attempting to sooth her with its touch. Why Max? Of all people, why him? He just wants to live his life out here, on this planet, and be happy. A normal life – it’s all he wants. Why does Khivar have such a need for vendetta?

I’m the one he should be after. Me. Or Michael. We’re the ones who plan to stop him. We’re the ones trying to find the Ambassador for You.


Her power surged out of control. It was too late to rein it in, and her last minute attempt only managed to leech some of the Granolith’s power from It and blend it with her own.

Liz squeezed her eyes shut as light, electric and sound energy exploded around her. It shook the ground she stood upon and rolled over her, knocking her to her knees.

Image



BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

Like the deafening noise of sonic booms in quick succession, the sound beat at the Crashdown. Tables, chairs, pots and pans in the kitchen – everything slid and rattled. Outside the doors and windows, light discharged in a blinding blaze. And energy sizzled and coursed from the kitchen ceiling and disappeared into the tiles on the ground.

The immensity of the energy release could only have one source, and the fact that it had been sent out uncontrolled meant only one thing.

Liz.

He reached out for her with his mind and found her quickly. She was angry and scared, and the Granolith was still hovering over her telepathically in its concern for her.

Iunka iyotaki su, /Disengage from her./ he told his Friend. Liz did not have control over her powers yet, and connected to the Granolith as she was made it worse. Angry and frightened, she had managed to latch onto the Granolith’s powers and broadcast them outwardly.

Michael turned and peered out of the order window as the overhead lights exploded, raining glass shards to the floor. He heard Crashdown customers scream and yell and watched them dive under tables.

He felt the Granolith carefully end Its connection with Liz.

Max, however, sat where he was, seemingly glued to the spot he was in. He gripped the table he sat at until his knuckles turned white; and his eyes were wide as he met Michael’s gaze with his own.

Max knew. He knew the seeming explosion was alien in origin. Michael could see it in the young man’s accusing stare.

And then, just as quickly as it had begun, it was over. The building stilled its furious shaking and became silent.

Liz?

I’m okay. I’m okay,
she sent.

You’re not okay.

I’ll be okay. I’ll take care of it,
she tried to reassure him.

Max was instantly in motion, sliding out of the booth and walking carefully back to the kitchen, his shoes crunching on the broken glass.

But by the time he reached the swinging door, Michael was ready and waiting for him. Max pushed through the door and into the back, nearly running into Michael.

“Michael, how could you?” he demanded in a low voice without preemption.

But Michael had no time to play the blame game with Max. He wanted to get to Liz and make sure she was all right. “Listen, Maxwell,” he said, removing his apron as he spoke, “it wasn’t…”

“Don’t try to make excuses,” Max hissed. “I felt it. What are you trying to do? Bring more attention on us? You have to be more…”

“Careful?” Michael asked irritably. “Yeah, I got it.”

He sensed Liz was looking for telephone cables and dimmed his connection to her in order to focus on Max. Liz would be all right for a short time and, while he needed to get to her, he knew he had to get rid of Max first.

“Look…” Whatever Max was about to say was cut off by a very frazzled Jeff Parker, whom was on the phone with the power company.

“What the heck is an ARC and how long exactly do you estimate this ‘sustained outage’ going to last?” Jeff demanded from the person on the other end of the line. “You won’t know ‘til your standby team assesses the situation?”

Max stepped aside to let him pass.

The door swung shut behind Jeff.

“Listen, Michael…”

“No, you listen, Maxwell,” Michael said carefully, keeping his voice low. “You think I didn’t feel it? I felt it. Okay? I know something alien happened here. It felt like…” Michael let Max reach his own conclusions.

“I know,” Max said.

“Look, I swear it wasn’t me, so if it wasn’t you either…” He was playing into Max’s paranoia, counting on it, using it to get Max away from Liz.

“It was definitely alien. It could have been Nicholas,” Max offered.

“Maybe. I don’t know,” Michael said. “Just be careful. Okay?”

“You too.” Max paused. “I think I should head back to work, make sure Brody’s okay over there. You gonna be alright?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” He shrugged as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

Max started to go and then stopped. “Um, about Liz…” Liz’s confrontation with Max in the park had stopped his pursuit of her and made him uncomfortable around her, but Michael knew it had not changed his love for her.

“I’ll check on her.”

“Sure. That’d be good. Thanks,” he said, relief clearly lingering in his voice.

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Michael pulled up and hauled himself over the edge of the roof. He had found what he was looking for.

“Come here often?” he asked.

She was laying flat on her back on the gravelly rooftop, resting her head across her arm. “Oh yeah. Every time I flatline the city power grid.” She glanced at him askew. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

“Was,” Michael said. “Your parents couldn’t find you. I was useless in the kitchen. They sent me to hunt for you.”

“I gather no one was hurt that you know of,” she said.

“That I know of,” Michael agreed, “although there were a couple of old ladies in the corner booth that probably hadn’t felt that energetic in years. They dived under their table so fast…”

A strange glint caught his eye and he moved closer to Liz.

“Akamaiotia,” he whispered.

“Lightening?”

“It’d be a good Antarian name for you.”

“Oh.” Liz looked at her free hand and the energy coursing in rivulets along it. “Or a curse,” she said.

He was being deceptively casual. He was upset, even a little afraid. She felt it from him, even though he had tried to smother the emotions and keep them from her. She worried him more than a little.

“What happened to your telephone line plan?”

“I decided to go with the hide-on-the-roof plan instead. Made more sense at the time.” With panicked people on the street below she could not climb down her ladder; and with her mother in the house and Liz sparkling like the Fourth of July, there was no way she could go back inside. The roof had been her only option.

“You know,” he said, lying down next to her, “you could have picked a more comfortable hiding spot. These little pebbles…”

“I’ve been in worse.”

“I remember,” he said. He slipped his hand under her shirt to the small of her back and rolled her toward him. He concentrated on absorbing the excess power from her, pulling it into himself and dispelling it in a more appropriate fashion, although what exactly he did was beyond her understanding at the moment.

He was light years ahead of her with regard to understanding and control of his powers, and not just because he was Antarian by heritage. His genetic structure was stable; hers was still in flux.

When she had first begun to change, she had theorized that the reason her powers went 'wonky' every so often was because, much like an organ rejection, her human side was attempting to reject the newly introduce Antarian DNA. She could not have been more wrong.

Rather, in the same manner that brown-eyed DNA is dominant over blue-eyed DNA, Max's Antarian genes, introduced to her when he healed her, were dominant over her human genes. To top it off, the Gandarium was acting as a catalyst and attempting to bind the two by using the genetic coding from Max to rewrite her cell structures. She was not just becoming a hybrid of part human and part Antarian; day-by-day she was losing her humanity and growing ever more Antarian.

Even her skin tone was darker than it used to be. She looked tan all the time now and her hair was growing in a deeper brown.

Would she be a full-fledged Antarian some day? She was not certain. In the last timeline, the process had been slow in starting and even slower in transforming her. She was not sure what caused the change to occur so much later then, but she was pretty sure she knew why, once the change had begun, it moved so slowly. It was her bond to Max. It buffered her somehow, kept her stable.

She lacked that here in the new timeline. No bond. No stability. The changes were now rapid. Her powers were growing exponentially. And if she did not learn how to control them soon...

Was what she was becoming dangerous?

She buried her face in his chest and drew her freehand over him, playing with the ends of his hair with her fingertips. The entire situation was embarrassing and ridiculous, and Michael’s smothered fears weren’t helping since they only added to her own worries.

Michael should have been out looking for his Ambassador, not laying three stories up on a roof, trying to control his cousin's wayward powers. She was wasting his time. And yet…

You're not wasting my time, he telepathed.

…there was something admittedly comforting in his presence.

She sighed softly. Fine, then tell me this. Have you bothered to start looking for the Ambassador at all?

I have.

And?

And what?

Well, you obviously haven’t found him. Do you even know what you’re looking for?

A child.

Yeah, that certainly helps narrow things down to… what… about 2 billion people.
She pulled back but Michael had a firm grasp on her.

Hold still and let me finish.

But it was not his words that made her still; it was his eyes. Dark. Like black coffee.

She felt his pull on her deepen and a connection between them flared to life.

A breeze blew from behind and brushed some strands of hair onto his face. Liz reached out and brushed them back again, her hand coming to rest over his cheek and ear.

You need to bond, he telepathed.

No.

I wasn’t asking if you wanted to,
he spoke gently. I’m saying you need to.

And I’m saying, no.


He moved through her mind, looking for something.

Liz threw up walls and blocked him. What do you think you’re doing?

A smile touched the corners of his mouth, but she sensed from within him a more serious curiosity.

What do you miss about being married? he asked, his question seemingly coming from out of nowhere.

She narrowed her eyes. A lot of things, she replied, intentionally giving him a meaningless answer. He would have to be more specific than that.

Sex? It was not a proposition. He was guessing, and probably basing his guess on the general promiscuousness of her culture, a trait his people – a people who bonded to one individual for their entire life – found difficult to understand.

She drew a breath before answering. Yes, of course. I mean, I was married for a lot of years. It’s kind of obvious I would miss that. But, you know, it’s not at the top of my list or anything.

What is at the top of your list?

Companionship,
she answered without hesitation. I don’t like being alone.

And you’re lonely now?


She nodded slowly. I’ve never felt so alone in my life.

Even with the Granolith and me?

Even with.

Why?

I was so used to having him in my head. His thoughts. His feelings. His desires,
she said. I feel empty and naked and alone without it. Like I’m half a person, half of who I used to be. And I hate being alone. I hate that his voice is gone.

He brushed his mind against her in sympathy, retreating from the walls she had thrown up. What else?

It’s silly.

I’d like to hear it anyway.

I don’t like sleeping by myself.


He raised his brow and Liz sensed his interest, so she continued.

You know, that whole time I was married I had Max by my side, sharing my bed, keeping me warm at night. And then, during the war, when it was just you and… I mean, my Rath of that time… and Max and me and Vilandra and Madison, we would all sleep together. I liked it, she said, the five of us huddled together. It’s probably stupid, but I did.

And then at the end,
she continued, when it was just the three of us, I felt safe tucked away between Max and you.

That’s what you miss?

That’s what I miss.

Being touched?


She nodded. Mentally and physically.

All the time?

Yeah.


He released his pull on her powers, but left his hand on the small of her back, holding her to him. I’ll tell you what, Evans. You don’t need to have been married to miss that.

“Hormones of your 17-year-old human host getting to you or are you just trying to be sympathetic?” she asked softly.

Rath shifted and propped himself up on his elbow, rolling her onto her back, the little pebbles crunching with their movement. His hair fell into his face again as he slipped his hand beneath her head to cradle and protect her from the rocks strewn across the rooftop. She sensed predatory feelings from him.

Liz reached up with her hands and brushed back his hair and held it away from his dark eyes. I’m not going to start something with you that you have no intention of seeing through to the finish.

Meaning?

Meaning that even if I had any desire of bonding again, it wouldn’t be with you.

Why? Because you miss Max or because I’m Max’s cousin?
He was guessing again, and she sensed that he was looking for something that would unravel the unspoken questions in his mind, questions she felt were there but that were hidden so deep within him that she could not decipher what they were.

A little of both, she answered, but the words she spoke were not entirely true. She missed her husband to no end and it was true that, having so recently lost him, she had no desire to jump right into another relationship. And even though her husband had told her younger self to, essentially, move on, he could hardly have meant for her to be with his cousin. It would seem like such a betrayal.

But neither of those explanations were the real answer, for the real answer lay in the fact that she was unwilling to allow herself to be distracted again, distracted to the point of forgetting what was important for the safety and protection of this people and this timeline.

And yet, right at that moment, with the way Rath had her cradled in his arms, asking her such intimate questions and looking at her the way he was, as if he had a hunger only she could satisfy, it made her Antarian side awaken… to him… every cell in her body yearning for a complete bond. And everything – her memories of Max, her reasons for not wanting to get distracted, her desire to never be hurt again by the loss of one so close - paled in comparison to the strong pull he had on her.

And the Granolith, silent only moments before, seemed to awaken and began to thrum Its encouragement.

You keep out of this, she telepathed to the ancient Being.

Rath leaned closer and brushed his lips against hers. “You sure?”

The connection between them suddenly deepened and Liz could feel both Rath and the Granolith. Flashes appeared, rolling through her mind one after the other, like waves surging forward and crashing on the shore.

___The glow of a pristine blue and green planet.

___Mist spraying from the ground into a steamy fog that penetrated every inch of the green forest.

___Ambassador Rawuri knelt down in front of him and grasped his arms. “Listen to me, child. Does anyone else know of this?”

___The laughter of dark-eyed children as they ran through a dimly lit cavern.

___He hugged Vilandra to him as the building exploded around him, their combined shield the only thing they had to protect themselves. Khivar’s soldiers had been closing in on them. Destroying the building was the only chance they had of surviving.

___Dark-skinned Antarian men kneeling on the ground, chanting. A single drum kept the rhythm. Mdahi, mdahi, mdahi cona ceiba. Mdahi, mdahi, mdahi cona wanasoma. Mdahi, mdahi, mdahi cona aloka. Maloka, maloka, maloka kohu lamish.

___Dragons flying overhead in a cloudless sky, their scales gleaming with a metallic splendor. A gentle breeze blew at him like a whisper, brushing the tall grasses against his legs...

She gasped when she felt the intoxicating touch of Rath’s mind move deeper within her, and Rath used the distraction to take possession of her mouth.

___Aporo Sahal lay dead on the bier. The scientists had already extracted the necessary DNA from his corpse. He turned away from his cousin and brought his attention to the slimy, genetic mass that would serve as future host for the man.

___The grand city that housed the palace in ruins, smoke still rising from its ashes though the destruction had taken place days before.

___His mother turned her sad eyes toward him.

___The Entity threw out Its power in an unusual display of protectiveness, acting alone and without Its Ambassador, surrounding the cavernous chambers that housed It with a luminous green shield. The powerful shield might injure a man when it knocked him off his feet but it would protect him from the atrocities held inside.

___The Granolith changing Its shape and form, glowing and writhing with a myriad of colors, parts of It seemingly disconnected from Its main body yet still touching.

___Riding dragonback upon Hekima, his powerful muscles contracting and stretching with every stroke of his great wings. The winds that blew against them at that high altitude were frigid, but the jacket and leggings of animal skins kept him warm. They were passing quickly over the shadowy landscape below, heading back to the camp.

___“Breathe,” he said again. “Keep your eyes on mine.” And she let him come to her. Gently. Tentatively. Rath’s mind reaching out to Liz’s with tenderness and warmth that she had not expected from him. Trust me, he spoke in her mind.

Liz pulled away from him, taking in a deep breath. He heart was racing. He had given her flashes. Dear god, he had given her flashes. And she had let him.

“See how easy that could be?” he asked, his voice low.

She touched her lips, the taste of him still on her tongue. “We can’t,” she murmured.

“We can.”

Why had he given her flashes? “But…”

“You need to bond. You know you do.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is.” His voice was almost pleading and his eyes…

She slowly shook her head from side to side. “Not with you. Never with you,” she said, though the bond within her, protected though it was, was crying out for completion. God, he must be able to feel that. “Your destiny doesn’t include me, just like it doesn’t include Maria. ‘You’re here to bring the Ambassador back to Antar. Nothing more. This isn’t your home. You can’t stay.’ Don’t you remember? You said that. Those are your words.”

But he had not even attempted to lock away his own need and desire. “Liz…”

Her chin trembled with the emotional battle she waged within herself and against him. “You are Zan,” she said slowly, punctuating each word.

“I’m more than a title. Didn’t you see that?”

“I have always seen that, but I don’t matter. Billions of people are resting their hope on you. The Granolith is counting on you. You can’t indulge in the luxury of being more than that title… and nor can I. It is who you are.”

“Liz.”

“Let me up, Rath.”

He pulled away from her and she struggled to sit up, still weak from the weight of the energy she had borne. She wanted to throw off the connection that still linked her to him, to push away the intensity of his feelings, but she did not even have the strength for that. It was enough that she was sitting.

She gazed out across the city, tinged in the dusty orange of a setting sun. A million thoughts ran through her head, but they all paled compared to the memory flashes Rath had given her and the strong needs that came with them. God, he had let her see him, really see him. Why had he done that? Why had he let his guard down so much?

Moisture threatened her eyes, but she fought back the tears. She was not going to be induced to repeated the mistakes of the last timeline, no matter how much his touch made her bond ache for him and no matter how much he desired to forge his own bond with her. She would make herself ignore his pull on her.

What happened before was not going to happen again, not if she had anything to say about it. They had to keep their focus. If nothing else, the things the Granolith had shown her told her as much.

“Max and I didn’t change this timeline enough,” she said softly. “Tess is still going to sell her son to Khivar for passage back to Antar and Max is still a wanted man. Khivar wants him publicly executed.”

Rath placed his hand on her arm and she felt the soothing caress of his mind through their connection. He sent some of his own energy back into her, attempting to rebalance her.

She closed her eyes. She did not fight against his soothing caress or his gentle touch, but she would not give into it either. “He’ll come here by force if necessary. He’ll rape my world of its resources and people to get to Max.”

“It won’t happen this time around,” he said. “Not to your world.” There was still something pleading in his voice and in the undercurrent of emotions that were filtering through their connection as he spoke, emotions that he simply would not hide.

She covered his hand with hers and turned her head over her shoulder and looked sadly back at Rath, at his dark, dark eyes. “Twenty billion lives, Rath. Between your world and mine there are twenty billion sentient lives hanging in the balance, waiting for us to protect them. Everything we do or don’t do is important. Everything. We have got to stay focused.”

Image



“What do you mean ‘where’d I go’?” Liz asked innocently. “Can’t a girl go to the bathroom?”

“You were in the bathroom?” Nancy asked, eyebrows raised in disbelief. She looked over at Michael, whom had taken more than an hour to retrieve her missing daughter, but he only shrugged.

She sensed her mother still did not feel entirely well, but the woman did at least feel a lot better than when Liz had arrived home – well enough to be downstairs in the Crashdown, helping to tidy up.

Liz looked around at the mess she had created when she discharged the power. “It’s a disaster down here,” she said. “What happened?”

Her father walked by with two brooms and handed one to Michael and the other to Liz. “Here. I’m putting you two to work,” he said. He paused and gazed at his daughter. “They say it’s a sustained electrical outage.”

“That’s it?” she asked. “That’s all the electric company had to say?”

“Well, that’s all they’re saying at the moment,” her father, Jeff, said.

“Are you telling me you didn’t feel anything?” Nancy asked.

Liz shrugged. “Was I supposed to?”

Image



“Hey, Dad?” Liz peeked around the door into her father’s office. Worry lines creased his forehead and she feel his stress. “Dishwasher’s working again.”

“It’s working?” he asked. He looked startled. Commercial dishwashers were expensive, costing thousands of dollars to replace. When the Crashdown’s had refused to work earlier he had taken a look inside only to find some of the wiring was fried and he had assumed the worse. “You’re kidding me.”

“Nope,” she said. “Michael works miracles.”

He smiled the first smile she had seen from him all night. “Remind me to give that young man a raise.”

“I’m sure he’d appreciate that.” She tried to give him a half smile in return but only succeeded in yawning.

“Tired?” her father asked.

“Oh, yeah.”

“Well, I appreciate you what you did here tonight.”

She bit her lip and looked away. He misplaced his gratitude; he had no idea she had only cleaned up the mess she had created in the first place. “I’m gonna, uh… go say goodnight to Michael.”

“Okay, honey.”

She shut the door behind her.

She found him working on the jukebox, the front panel of which was next to him on the floor. He was lying down on his back with his head stuck inside the machine, shining a flashlight inside.

Whether he had heard her approach or not did not matter; he knew she was there – knew because he had refused to end their connection all evening, nor had he allowed her to disconnect either. She had made one half-hearted try at it but he had blocked her, a gentle reprimand in his refusal, and she had quickly acquiesced.

She was unsure of his reasons, whether he was trying to prove a point or whether he was trying to be nice, but it did not matter to her; staying connected with even the significantly dimmed connection that it was made her feel un-alone, and that was a good feeling.

She knelt next to him and set her hand on his stomach and ducked her head to peer inside at him. Dad’s giving you a raise. Something about saving him about 12 grand tonight, she sent lightly.

She sensed a mental affirmation.

Sensing him use his powers to make one final repair, she waited for him to finish, then watched him wedge himself out. She took his hand when he reached for her and helped pull him up to a sitting position.

“So, uh… I was going to head upstairs and go to bed,” she said.

“Need company?” There was something dangerous in his offer and in the way he held onto her hand.

Liz pulled her hand from his and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Yeah, thank you but that’s probably not a good idea.” The fact that he had expressed interest in changing their relationship unsettled her, but even if it were not for that she still would have said no; her mother had taken to checking on her lately while she slept.

“Uh, I was wondering if you’d like to meet your cousin,” she asked of him softly. Ti eba.

She sensed his acknowledgement even as he took her hand in his again and brought it up to his cheek. Her connection to Rath deepened abruptly.

She closed her eyes and stretched her mind out, bringing Rath with her. Voices appeared and then disappeared as she narrowed her focus, angling it toward the baby nestled in the traitor’s womb.

She touched the boy’s immature mind, knowing he could not understand the significance of the touch, but caressing him all the same, sending feelings of love and protectiveness and gentleness to swaddle him.

And then she retreated, bringing Rath with her. It had been a quick visit, hardly as long as she would have really liked to have spent, but it was late and she was tired and she was afraid to use her powers for too long in case her tiredness gave her away to Tess or Max, in case she did not shield herself well enough from their minds.

Rath, hand still covering hers, pulled her palm away from his cheek and kissed the inside of her wrist. Thank you, he telepathed, gazing intently at her.

She bit her lip. Yeah, the kalihupe – I felt it when the Granolith showed him to me earlier.

It is our way.


Liz took a breath. “So, uh… when all of you leave, I’ll… I’ll never feel that again, will I?”

“You could come with us.”

“Asylum, Rath?” she asked. “I’m not interested in becoming a political refugee, especially among a people that would look down on me and a family that would be ashamed of what I am.”

“My family and my people would never look down on you.”

“You’re biased,” she said softly. “I’m a hybrid freak like the shapeshifters. I would never be accepted.” She slipped her hand out of Rath’s grasp. “I should go to bed.”

Image



Liz tossed in bed and tried to sleep but she could not get comfortable. Because of the flashes she had received from Rath and the strong feelings that had come with them, her bond, which was already implacable because of the loss of her husband, now had a new focus. Almost as if it had a mind of its own, it seemed to realize that it could find completion in someone else and it was calling out for that end. She wrestled with it, trying to force it to be silent but it rebelled.

Finally she gave in and merely shielded it as best she could in hopes that its call would go unheard by anyone else. Ridiculous bond. Why couldn’t it just grieve with her? Why couldn’t it continue to call for Max? How could it give up so easily? She was betrayed by her own mind.

She brushed without thought at the moisture in her eyes. Was this how it was going to be from now on? Was she destined to live a life in which she would never feel complete?

It had never occurred to Liz to think any further into the future than the few years it might take to save her world, but, when she had connected to ti eba with Rath, it dawned on her what she would be losing – her entire connection to anyone Antarian. It was a huge thing to sacrifice. No bonding possible, not even to any Antarians remaining on her planet because of what they would learn form her mind. No sense of family because her Antarian family that shared the Aporo seal would be gone. When Michael, Isabel and Max left for good, she would be utterly alone.

What would become of her then? She felt like half of a person now. How would she feel when she was left behind? What did the future hold for her?

She bit her lip at the memory of Jeff’s T-shirt, the one he had worn to school that day. “There is no future in time travel,” it said. Sure there was, she thought dismally. You just had to make friends with the Granolith to have a future in the past.

Like she had.

When it brought her from 2014 to 2000.

She paused, her thoughts turning about with such suddenness. “Oh my god,” she whispered.

A future in the past. Was it possible?

Anapo Gudorian said she commissioned him ten years ago and Pierre-Louis Fournier… he knew her from the past as well.

“Ten years into the past,” she whispered.

Maybe Gudorian was not depriving a village of its idiot after all.




**French version: “Les Yeux Ouverts” / English version: “Dream a Little Dream”
Image
Polar Attraction ~ Experience true love for the first time

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Re: Rightful King (Mi/L, Teen, UC) Ch14 1-11-12

Post by sablaine » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:32 pm

Spring 2000

Five Weeks After Departure


~Chapter 11~

Someone Like Her


Michael raised his brow and stared up at Liz, his hands poised over the laces on his shoe. “Think your reputation can handle you getting caught sneaking into the boys’ locker room?”

It was still entirely too early for most of the student body to have arrived at school for her to get caught, but, even if that were not the case, she had her empathic senses thrown open enough to sense if someone were approaching.

“Yeah, uh… I’m really not worried about…” For a brief instant, she caught herself studying his lips, remembering the kiss and the flashes from the night before… and his offer. Her broken bond, so anxious and restless, had settled itself during the night, but its call was ready to flare to life at the slightest hint of encouragement. "…that."

She broke her intent gaze and forced herself to push the memory away.

And Michael, sensing her need to pull away, returned to the business of tying his shoe.

“Oh, I, uh…” She patted at her pants pocket, then stuck her hand in and pulled out a leather ponytail tie. “I got this for you.” She held it out toward him uncertainly. “You’re hair’s growing longer and the tie looked Antarian. I thought maybe…”

He dropped his foot to the floor and took a look at the gift. “I like it,” he said, interrupting her. “You wanna put it on me?”

Liz bit her lip and stepped around behind him. Their roles had been so clearly defined in the last timeline - his Queen, her General, his wife's best friend, her husband's cousin. But what were they to each other in this one, especially when he had offered - was offering, for she could still feel an undercurrent of predatory feelings from him - to change their roles?

"I’ll tell you what, Evans. You don’t need to have been married to miss that…

You need to bond. You know you do…

I'm more than a title. Didn't you see that?…

Need company?…

It is our way…"
His words had haunted her dreams.

She stood one leg on either side of the bench he sat on. She used her fingers to comb through his hair and scoop it back into a ponytail, smoothing some of the areas with a gentle tug of her mind. Then she took the black leather and, pinning one end with her thumb, wrapped it around and around, finally tying it at the bottom.

But, as was so often the case with both Michael and Rath, more important than their words were the things they did not say…

“Ten years ago?” It was impossible. “I couldn’t have.”

“I a-assure you, you did,” Gudorian stated in all seriousness.

“Me?” she asked again. “You’re sure it was me?”

“Madam, y-you are quite unforgettable,” he sighed. “Is that not right, My Lord?” he asked Michael.

Something in Michael had relaxed as Anapo Gudorian spoke. It was almost as if Michael understood the man’s words and that they made sense to him in a manner that eluded Liz. “It is,” he answered Gudorian.


The recollection slipped away as quickly as it had come and she let her hands fall to rest on his shoulders. “So, uh, when were you gonna tell me?”

He took one of her hands and pulled her around until she stood before him. “Tell you what?” he asked, gazing up at her with his milk chocolate-colored eyes. He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb.

“Well, look, I know that maybe I don’t have time pretzeled, but you certainly seem to have a pretty good grasp of it. Why didn’t you just tell me I was going to, like, have to time travel again?” she asked carefully. Michael and his predecessor Rath were guarded men, even with her, and rightly so. But this – this business of time traveling – was important. It was big. And she would like to know what she could so that she could make some attempt at preparing for it. “I mean, what, do you think I can’t handle it or something? After everything I’ve been through?”

“Liz,” he said, still stroking her hand, “I don’t know any more than you do.”

But Michael was a master at masking his thoughts and emotions and she knew he was holding out on her. “Right.” He might not specifically know more than her, but she was willing to bet that he had some pretty good guesses, especially since he seemed to telepathically close off part of himself.

“Good. Glad we got that settled,” he spoke. He stood, letting her hand go and pulled a clean shirt from his locker.

“Well, I wouldn’t go right to ‘settled’,” she grumbled.

He pulled the shirt over his head, then he reached into his locker and pulled out a newspaper. “Here.” He handed it to her.

“What’s thi…” Her eyes lit on the cover page article. She sighed. “Oh… boy.”

“Thought you’d like that.” There was an undercurrent of sarcasm in his voice.

“I wouldn’t go right to ‘like’ either,” she grumbled.

Liz paused, suddenly alert, and looked up from the paper, her eyes seemingly seeing through the walls of the locker room. “Max is on campus. He’s looking for you. He’s upset.”

“He’s always upset,” Michael commented. “What does he want?”

“How should I know?” she frowned. “I better go.”

Michael placed his hand on her arm. “Wait. Stay.”

“Yeah, I really don’t think so.”

“I’ll buy you breakfast.”

“Bribery?” She folded the newspaper and stuck it under her arm. “No, thanks. I’m not hungry.” She could read it later.

“I don’t want to eat alone.”

She sighed. She knew he was trying to make sure she ate. “Fine. I’ll meet you in fifteen minutes in the cafeteria.”

He nodded.

Liz made her retreat, heading toward the back door as Max entered the front. She could not help but pause at the door out of sight of Max, curious as to what he had to say. She bit her lip, hand poised over the bar. He might not be her husband in this lifetime, but he looked so similar and his voice was the same and his soulful eyes… She knew how responsible he felt for their small group, knew the tremendous weight he carried on his young shoulders, knew his fears and anxieties and moods better than anyone…

I bet he didn't even sleep last night, she thought. He probably lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling all night wondering how to make things right.

“Look at this,” she heard Max say without a greeting. He must have handed Michael another newspaper because she heard the sound of paper.

“Seen it,” Michael said.

“Michael, the power company is denying responsibility and now they’re looking at possible alien activity because of the power outage. They know.”

“They don’t know anything.”

She could feel the strain between the two men and the heavy sensations of fear and frustration.

The paper scrunched and crinkled and Liz guessed that Michael had shoved it back at his cousin. Then the locker slammed shut.

“Could we just have a serious conversation for a minute?”

“Had one. Now I’m done.”

Footsteps extended in the opposite direction.

“Come on. We both felt it.”

“Give it up, Maxwell. The author’s a quack. He’s got a full six-pack but he doesn’t have the plastic thing to hold it all together. No one’s going to listen to him.”

“But he interviewed Brody…”

Liz could not listen anymore. Worrying over what Max thought was not going to help her or anyone else. It would only prolong the pain and distract her. She shook her head as if to force thoughts of him from her head and exited the building.

Image


“Good timing.”

“What?” Liz glanced up from the newspaper article.

Michael sat down in front of her with a tray of food. He handed her a bowl of oatmeal and a spoon, then set a small bottle of Tabasco in front of her along with a package of sugar. “Max heard the door when you left. Now he thinks someone overheard our conversation and might know the truth about us.”

Liz fought an embarrassed smile at the news and lost, so she ducked her gaze and busied herself with seasoning her cereal with the sugar and pepper sauce. “His powers of paranoia just keep growing by leaps and bounds.”

“Too bad they didn’t extend to his wife.”

“True,” she sighed. “So, um, did he have anything to say that wasn’t in the paper?”

“Not really.”

“So he has no idea that I’m the… Wait…” She found the spot in the paper she was looking for and read it aloud: “The ‘alien visitor’ whose sole duty, apparently, is to ‘awaken mankind to the presence of extraterrestrial activity on our planet’?”

“That would be a ‘no’.”

Liz nodded and refolded the paper. “I can live with that.”

“You want me to toss that?”

“Oh, no,” Liz said, shoving it into her backpack. “It’s not everyday I get to be in the paper. I’m keeping this one.”

“Eat your food,” he said. He waited for her compliance before asking: “Why are you taking this so well?”

She took a breath. Finally. Maybe now she could get him to talk about going back in time. “I got to thinking last night. Apparently, if Monsieur Fournier has all his marbles, I have a spending ac…”

“What does Fournier have to do with this?”

“Oh, I forgot I didn’t tell you that,” she said. “I stopped by his shop the other day and he had all this music sitting in a box, waiting for me. He said I had asked him to start a collection some years ago and that he was to charge it to my account. Music’s nice but it confused me at the time.

“So, anyway, I was thinking about that and the fact that I had also ‘paid’ Gudorian ten years ago, and I realized something; if I’ve got money to spend and time enough to be courting Pierre-Louis into putting a CD collection together for me, then things can’t be too bad. In fact, it kind of sounds like a vacation compared to all the sneaking around and pretending to be a kid that I’ve been doing here and all the war drama I went through in the other timeline.” Liz shrugged and continued eating.

“A vacation?”

“Um hm.”

“I thought you didn’t like to be alone.”

She swallowed the bland oatmeal. (Even with the sugar and Tabasco it was like eating sawdust.) “I won’t be. The Monsieur seemed surprised when I showed up by myself this time, so I gather I have at least one friend back… then.” She was not sure how to end that sentence. How did one speak about the past when it was in actuality your future?

Michael stared at her without comment, taking that bit of news in, but she sensed no surprise from him, only a mental acknowledgment.

“So,” Liz continued, “even assuming that there are repercussions to my, uh… my indiscretion yesterday, which there probably won’t be seeing as how they’re looking for some gray alien with large eyes, I won’t be here long enough to have to face them.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well, neither one of the two people who remember me from ten years ago has commented on my age. That means I must not look much different than I do now, which means I’m probably going to make the move soon.”

She quickly shoved the last couple spoonfuls in her mouth and then stood up. “Well, I gotta go. Isabel’s here and now both she and Max are looking for you, and Maria is looking for me; and since I’m not in the mood for a group meeting…” She shouldered her backpacks and picked up her trash. Without thought, she leaned across the table and gave him a quick peck on his cheek, then straightened up again. “I’ll see you later. Thanks for breakfast.”

“Coward,” he said. There was amusement in his tone, but his mind was already clouding over as his mental walls rose and blocked out her empathic senses in obvious preparation for whatever Max and Isabel had to say.

“Me?” she said innocently. “That’s not cowardice. It’s a strategic retreat.”

Image



But she thought about it later and wondered a little that she had bothered to kiss his cheek at all. She had often kissed Rath that way and Michael, too, an all-purpose greeting and goodbye, but that was in the other timeline. She had been careful not to be so familiar with this Michael and Rath in this timeline.

It must have been the flashes and Rath’s kiss the evening before, she thought; it was the only explanation. It had unsettled her broken bond and thrown off her frame of mind in the process.

She sighed softly and watched the other students take their seats and get organized. Once they had settled down, Mr. Faulks walked around the room and passed around small containers of Pringles.

“Dude! You rock, Mr. Faulks!” Joey Espinoza told him.

“Totally,” Nicole agreed.

“This is tight!” Matt said, turning to high-five Joey. “I totally missed breakfast.”

“Thanks,” Liz said, giving her teacher a smile when he placed her container on the desk.

Mr. Faulks finished passing out the potato crisps and then returned to the front of the classroom. “Morning, class. Feel free to open the chips if you haven’t already done so,” he greeted. “And someone tell me what is unique about Pringles.”

“They’re all the same,” someone called out.

“Exactly. Same ingredients. Same saddle shape. So uniform they can be stacked up in one nice, neat container,” he said.

“And that, my friends, is what people are becoming today: people who don’t think, people who believe what everyone else believes, people who let the media control them. We are living in a society of conformists, where every person is like a Pringle: exactly like the next with very few exceptions.” Mr. Faulks smiled. “Jeff being one of those exceptions. Jeff stand up. Let’s see what you’ve got on today.”

Jeff needed no prompting. He immediately stood up and turned around. Spreading his arms out wide, he made sure that everyone could read the words written on his shirt: “If I compliment your body would you hold it against me?”

The class descended into hysterics.

“Thank you, Jeff. You may sit down now.”

The teacher waited for Jeff to sit and the students to settle down again before continuing. “Now let’s talk about how the media controls and shapes our society…”

As usual Liz only half paid attention, listening with half of her mind and trying to decipher the current timeline with the other half, but she caught enough to gather that the discussion centered around the part of the Bill of Rights granting American citizens freedom of speech. Mr. Faulks was trying to motivate his class to think about what that freedom meant for American citizens in this day and age. Do Americans still have that freedom? Do they exercise that freedom? Or do they, instead, let others think and speak for them, and, if so, who was doing the thinking and speaking?

The media, Liz knew, was a very important feature of, not only American society but of all societies existing on Earth. It was part of the reason humans had lost the war against Khivar; with so many lost lives, there was no one left to manage radio and television stations and no one to write for the newspapers. The Internet was virtually disabled, telephones lay silent and electricity was a thing of the past. Humans were unable to communicate with one another and, without that, they were unable to become a united, single-minded people. Their ability to drive out Khivar and his forces was completely nullified.

At least until Khivar gave her the upoko. Then the words ‘mass communication’ took on a whole new meaning.

“Parker, what do you think?” Mr. Faulks asked, interrupting her thoughts.

“I’m sorry. What was the question?”

“Do we have freedom of speech in this country?”

Liz took a breath to give herself a chance to quickly organize her thoughts. “You know, there’s really no yes or no answer to that question, Mr. Faulks,” she said. “I mean, the Bill of Rights grants us freedom of speech as a basic human right, but do we really have it? Legally we do, but there’s, uh… there’s not that many people who choose to exercise that freedom. And of those who do, they are often publicly ostracized, belittled by the media, and sometimes they just disappear, like, uh…” She paused, searching her mind for a name that would be well recognized by the teens sitting around her. “Well, like Martin Luther King Jr.

“In our society,” she continued, “we don’t like people who are different. We buy products because we’ve seen them on television commercials. We shop at the same stores all our friends shop at. We tend to automatically trust attractive people because movies present beautiful people as trustworthy, as successful, even as heroes. Almost every child in this country attends public school, even when there are other options. We believe that the stronger our military is and the more power our police force has, the safer we are as citizens. And these are all things that are taught to us by the media.

“So, yes, we have freedom of speech, but the vast majority of American citizens do not exercise it because it doesn’t occur to them to do so. They are taught to think and behave in a certain way and that is what they do.”

“Very good points. Now let’s expand on Miss Parker’s analysis,” he said.

Mr. Faulks turned on the overhead projector and place a transparency on the glass. A copy of the news article dealing with the electrical outage the day before appeared at the front of the room.

Liz brought her hand up to cover her mouth and hide her surprise.

“Now here is an interesting article that came to my attention this morning that centers on Miss Parker’s café. Here is an example of someone – one of the very rare someone’s – who is exercising his freedom of speech. The author of this article is a Mister Heaton who claims that the outage was a government conspiracy!

“According to Mr. Heaton, the government is working hand in hand with extraterrestrials to advance Earth’s technology and scientific understanding. The events of yesterday were nothing more than one of those aliens trying to bring attention to that fact and let the common man know about this incredible government cover-up.”

Mr. Faulks paused and waited for the snickers to stop. “Freedom of speech,” he said. “We have the right to say anything we like, but does that make it true?”

He glanced around his classroom. “What do you think really happened?” Pointing to the far corner of the room, he called: “James.”

“I think it was the electric company’s fault,” James shrugged.

“The electric company is denying responsibility,” the teacher said. “Anyone have any other ideas? Yes, Matt.”

“They’re lying.”

“What if they’re telling the truth? Are there any other possibilities? Could this be a government conspiracy and cover-up as the article says?” No one raised their hand. “Could Mr. Heaton be onto something?” he tried again.

When he was still unable to get a response he called on Liz. “Miss Parker, it’s your café. What do you think?”

Liz smiled and said tongue in cheek: “Well, I guess that depends on if you believe in aliens, sir.”

The class laughed.

Mr. Faulks smiled back. “Tell me something, Miss Parker. Do you believe in aliens?”

Her smile grew. It was a loaded question and she knew he was baiting her, but then she was a young woman whose parent’s livelihood was dependent upon the alien spaceship crash of 1947. What did she have to lose by telling the truth? “Yes, I do,” she answered without hesitation.

The class laughed even harder.

“And do you think aliens caused this?” he pushed.

Liz laughed herself then. “Okay, I know when I’m being used to make a point,” she said. “Look, if I say ‘yes, I believe this was caused by aliens’, everyone in here is going to laugh at me and make fun of me. And I know that so, even if that’s what I believe, I’m going to have second thoughts about actually publicly admitting that.

“And, of course, you know that too. You know this is how the individual human psyche works. You know this is how human society as a group functions,” she told him. “You can use what the vast majority – in this case, your class – thinks to control the decisions and beliefs of the minority – in this instance, me.

“And, so, naturally, I’m going to tell you what I think you and the rest of the class wants to hear. And because you have now coerced me into saying it, I’m probably going to follow through and begin to believe what all the rest of you believe, even though I know better.”

Her teacher smiled conspiratorially. “So, tell me, Liz. Do you think aliens caused this?”

But as soon as he finished asking the question, the bell rang and the room erupted in chaos. “All right, class,” Mr. Faulks spoke above the noise, “we’ll continue this discussion tomorrow.”

Students filed from the classroom on their way to third period.

Liz stood up and shouldered her bag. “Hey, Parker,” Mr. Faulks said. “You never answered my question.”

Liz laughed. “Mr. Faulks, I attend public high school. I know there are aliens here. I go to school with them.”

Image



Nancy entered the back of the CrashDown with an armload of groceries and was immediately assaulted by yet another argument between Michael and Maria.

"No, I want an explanation," Maria demanded. "Max said that…"

"I'm not interested in what Max had to say," Michael bit out, cutting her off.


Nancy let the door shut behind her. She took a steadying breath.

Liz, Max, Isabel, Kyle, Maria and Michael - the slowly dwindling little clique her daughter was in had so many problems, not the least of which was the suicide of Alex, the infidelity of Max, the drug addiction and pregnancy of Tess, and the unstable on-again off-again relationship of Michael and Maria. What was it that drew these particular kids together when it seemed to Nancy that they were so very different from one another? And why, when they had so many, many problems, did they keep clinging to each other? It made no sense at all.

"Why? 'Cause you're not going to be here in ten years?" came Maria's chastising voice. "By the way, is that just you or is that all of you, because Max didn't seem to know…?"

"I'm not rehashing this," he said. "I have work to do."

"Don't walk away from me," she ordered.


No, Nancy thought, no sense at all.

"Mom."

Liz's voice startled Nancy from behind. She glanced back at her daughter. "Where were y…?"

"Do you want some help with that?" Liz interrupted.

"Oh, no, but thank you." She started quickly, then rethought her words. "Well, maybe you could open our door."

"Sure." Liz tucked her thumb under the strap of her backpack and moved ahead of Nancy and up the stairs to their apartment. She opened the door and held it open for her mother.

As Nancy padded softly across the living room she casually asked: "So what's going on with Michael and Maria this time?" She knew Liz did not like to confide in her - she had not in a long time - but sometimes if Nancy caught her off-guard or asked her something matter-of-factly she got an answer.

Liz did not answer her right away and, when Nancy set her groceries down on the kitchen counter and turned toward her daughter, she saw Liz looking curiously at her. "Liz?"

"Oh, uh…" Her words seemed to pull her daughter out of her reverie and Liz shut the door. "I… I really don't know. Uh, Michael never said anything and Maria's been…"

Suddenly Liz spun toward Nancy. "You don't limp."

"I don't…" What? Nancy wondered. "Honey, why would I limp?"

"You were in an accident, weren't you?" Liz asked intently, a frown creasing her brow.

Nancy shook her head. "I've never…"

"When I was little," Liz insisted. "God, I don't know. I… I think I was about seven." She rubbed her fingers over her forehead as if she were confused. "I can't remember. It's been so long…"

"Honey, I've never been in an accident."

"Never?" Liz asked.

Again Nancy shook her head. "Maybe it was a dream?"

"A dream," she said softly. "Wouldn't that be something?"

"What do you mean?"

But Liz dropped her hand from her head and her eyes from her mother's face. "I need to go take a shower."

She took a few steps toward her bedroom under Nancy's concerned, watchful gaze before Nancy stopped her. "Honey, where were you?"

Liz stopped and once again looked at her mother with a puzzled expression on her face.

"You come home late everyday," she explained. "Where do you go after school?"

"I work out."

"Every day?" Nancy questioned.

Liz nodded. "After school."

"It's seven o'clock," Nancy stated. "You didn't work out for four hours."

"No, I, uh…" She hesitated. "I went to Euphonies after I worked out today."

"The music store?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

Again, Liz seemed to hesitate. "I wanted to play the piano."

"Are you taking lessons?"

"No, I…" She swallowed. "I play, Mom."

"I don't understand."

"I'm good." She gave a small smile. "I'll show you someday. You'll be surprised." Liz pointed toward her bedroom. "I'm gonna go…"

Piano? "Yeah, hon, go take a shower," she said absently, trying in vain to pull her thoughts together.

As Liz walked away, she thought over the strange exchange between Liz and Michael that had occurred more than a month earlier:

"Mom, where's grandma's piano?"

"Liz," Michael warned under his breath, but Nancy still caught his tone.

"But wasn't it there…?" Liz asked Michael. She pointed at the wall.

He shook his head no. Of course, how he knew was beyond Nancy. She could not remember Michael having ever crossed their threshold.

Liz stood, looking completely confused. "But I used to play…"

Michael shook his head again, and Nancy saw him press his hand against the small of Liz's back and give her a gentle nudge toward the door.

Liz smiled then at her mother as if nothing were amiss, though Nancy was quick to notice the smile did not quite reach her eyes, and said: "School. Gotta go." She gave a small wave as she exited. "Bye."

But before the door closed all the way, Nancy heard Liz say: "I don't understand. I've played the piano all my life. How could this time…?"


Nancy pulled her groceries out of the bags one by one and set them on the counter. She listened for the sound of the shower, waiting for it to turn on.

Piano? She wondered again. Could Liz really play?

It made about as much sense as anything else: Liz's troubled friends, her frightening computer, the strange symbols in her notebook, her depression and absentmindedness… and now, memories of things that had never happened and claims of talents she should not have… "What is going on?" she whispered. How did all the pieces fit?

There had been a sickening dread in the pit of her stomach ever since she had discovered the computer. She had worried before - typical worries of a mother over a beloved child that was growing up too fast and having to cope with the great losses of those close to her, namely her grandmother Claudia and her dear friend Alex. But the events of the day before - the nauseating holographic computer program and the disappearance of Liz during the earth-shaking electrical outage, which her daughter claimed not to have felt (thank goodness Michael had been able to find her) - well, things just weren't adding up, at least not in any way that made sense.

She rubbed her stomach but the gnawing sensation did not abate. She had the dreadful feeling that all of this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Only that morning she had given Liz's school a call and spoken with a counselor. "I just wanted to know she's okay," she said to herself, recalling the conversation. "But she's not. She's not okay."

Liz had dropped out of all her extracurricular activities more than a year ago. She still had all her college prep classes and she was still making straight A's and her teachers had nothing but good things to say about her, but she was no longer treasurer of the Roswell Science Club and was no longer a member of the Environmental Awareness Club or the National Honor Society. Those things were important to her… had been important to her. She had fought to be a part of them and worked so hard to make a difference. Why would she quit them? And the fact that she had done so more than a year prior brought recent events into an entirely new light.

But how was Nancy to find out the truth? There were no easy ear-marks of a typical troubled child in her daughter - drug abuse, cutting, strange piercings, tattoos, poor grades, loss of interest in life… By all appearances Liz was a happy, motivated young lady. But what Nancy was beginning to realize was that Liz was extremely skilled at making people see what she wanted them to see and at hiding want she wanted to keep secret. And since Liz did not confide on her mother,… well, how was Nancy to figure these things out?

"She's too smart," Nancy murmured. "She outthinks all of us." The dread in the pit of her stomach seemed to grow exponentially at the thought. "What am I going to do?"

Image



Liz slipped into a T-shirt and sweat pants.

She ran a comb through her wet hair and pulled it back into a ponytail, then dried it with a thought.

She studied her face in the mirror. "I look so young," she said softly. Absently, she traced her fingers around where her wedding ring used to be.

"I hardly recognize myself." It was spoken in little more than a whisper. With her eyes, hair and skin taking on a slightly darker, more Antarian coloring she did not look quite like the young girl whose face she was used to seeing staring back at her from the mirror. The changes were minor and probably not readily noticeable to the rest of the world - at least, no one had commented on it - but she saw it. Then again, maybe she was just sensitive. Maybe she was looking for the changes. After all, in the last time line she was a 30-year-old woman, and now she was just a child.

And then she gave a soft, whispered laugh at the irony of it all. She was never going to get used to being a kid again.

She bent to tidy up her towel and dirty clothes from the bathroom floor when she suddenly felt a gentle, hesitant tap at her mind. Her hands paused, poised over the mess, surprised that he had come. Then leaving the mess where it lay, she grabbed her bathrobe and, throwing it on over her clothes, she went back to her room.

"Kiaha," she greeted softly aloud at the feline on her bed, even as mentally she opened her mind to him, allowing a shallow telepathic connection to form.

She felt his apprehension, his uncertainty over her willingness to yet again connect with him, a shapeshifter. But she had no such doubts herself. He was not the terrifying monster that haunted her dreams from the past; instead there was a purposeful greatness that seemed to emanate about him.

His protectiveness of the grieving Gudorian impressed her, as did Gudorian's implicit trust in him. Tu locuiesca urangi, she telepathed gently. /I trust you./

Pemba? /Why?/

Urangi darfor, /You are loyal./ she said simply.

She half expected him to purr, so please was he, but he just sat and stared.

She opened the connection wider.

Pemba sempra ur? Gungari tayu tiwi Anapo Gudorian? she asked. /Why are you here? Has something happened to Anapo Gudorian?/

Gudorian idada. Tayu cheono poria nui ur. /Gudorian is fine. He has sent you something./

An impression of the "something" entered her mind. A gift. Small computer pieces, the names and functions of which had not an English equivalent, that were to be installed into the inner workings of her computer. They had been attached to the inside of Kiaha's collar.

She smiled at him. Veda. /Thank you./

She knelt on the floor to bring herself down to his level and sat silently waiting. He was thinking - obscured, deep thoughts that were hidden from her. It was so unusual for a shapeshifter (usually their black and white thoughts were so much on the surface of their mind that she saw them whether she wanted to or not) but it was not the case with Kiaha; it was as if he was intentionally holding back from her. Yet she still felt that she trusted him and she did not want to disturb whatever was going on in his furry head.

Ur ota Gudorian kokua. Urono amkeni napali. Pemba? he said at last. /You are as sad and lonely as Gudorian. Why?/

Liz sensed that the question was important to him, but the words weren't easy to find so it took her a moment to answer. Finally she told him: Iyotaki socair odogeni ota Ellaminia tu heru sempra. Wai bissau Ellaminia sitam parsa'a ta kilwa. Oai tu munye tiboro. Oai Khivar sucomni. Uri tu wanosope. /I come from another timeline, another Earth. I am the only survivor. All of my people are dead, everyone I ever loved. Khivar killed them all./

Awaawa tu alitu, she continued, juha tjananu ta kilwa. Kalitupe ta cortol. /I was married but my mate is dead, too. My bond is broken./

He regarded her for a moment, again with thoughts so deep that they were hidden from her.

She heard tapping on her door and then her mother entered without waiting with an armful of clean laundry.

She gasped softly when she saw the cat. "Lizzie," she said sternly.

Kiaha turned his head and the two of them stared silently at Nancy.

Nupia parev va? /Who is this woman?/ Kiaha demanded of Liz.

Ifuono ano ta, Nancy Parker. /She is my mother, Nancy Parker./

"Why is there a cat in the house?"

Amar indal ifu? Kiaha asked. /What does she know?/

Kwa. /Nothing./

"Mom, this is Kiaha," she introduced. "He came to bring me something for my computer. He won't be here long."

Okoro ta allergic cats, she telepathed. /My father is allergic to cats./

Zwibaba tu, he returned. /I see./

Teltel iotia kiesuala macapa tu arha? /May I take your collar to the light?/

Instead of answering, Kiaha strode across the bed and made a leap across to the dresser. Nancy took a step backward. And Liz rose and followed behind him.

"Honey," Nancy said looking at Kiaha with a frown on her face, "he can't be here at all."

Ellami'a, Kiaha grumbled. /Humans./

Indal tu. /I know./ Her mother had seemed as if she had not heard Liz's words at all. It seemed to be a psychological trait of humans, this ignoring of unusual words and sights and sounds. In the human mind it was as if it had never happened. She supposed that telling her mother that a cat had brought something to her was just… well, weird. Still…

"I know that, Mom, but," and she pulled the computer Gudorian had given her from the shelf in her closet and set it on the dresser next to Kiaha, "the things he brought me are embedded into his collar and he can't leave until I get them out."

She opened her empathic ability slightly so that she could get a sense of her mother's state of mind - her mother, who stood with her mouth slightly open and a dumbfounded expression on her face. She felt Kiaha's surprise as she did so and her mother's apprehension, fear, and confusion flooded though.

Tlawia ur! he exclaimed. /You're an empath!/

"Did you know that cats are smarter than dogs?" Liz asked as she gently removed the collar from around Kiaha's neck. She needed to misdirect the focus of the conversation.

"I heard that but…"

"Calico, California. I don't know if you've ever heard of that," Liz said. She set the collar on her dresser and opened her drawer. "It's a ghost town now, but in the old west days it used to be a bustling silver mining town with stores and a school, a fire brigade, a saloon, a Chinese laundry…" She ruffled through her things until she felt the tweezers. She took them out and shut the drawer.

"I've been there once," Nancy told her. She was still standing with the armful of laundry. "My dad took us on vacation to California when I was small to visit some relatives. Calico was one of the stops we made."

"I didn't know that." Liz paused and looked at her mother. "Why don't you set that down on my bed?"

"Oh." Nancy laid the clean clothes down next to her. "What exactly are you doing?"

"Just removing the pieces." As if her words had reminded her, she turned back to her dresser and removed the shade from her lamp, then set to work to remove the tiny computer pieces from the inside of the collar.

"So, in 1883, a dog - a border collie, I think - appeared in Calico," Liz continued. "He was thin and starving and footsore. He was adopted by Mr. Stacey, who was the mail carrier. Mr. Stacey fell in love with the dog and ended up taking the dog everywhere as he made his deliveries.

"Well, one day, after months of taking the dog with him, Mr. Stacey fell ill, so he rigged up a harness with small saddlebags for the dog and stuffed the mail into the bags, and he sent the dog on his way." Liz pried one of the small computer pieces off the collar and set it to the side. She could feel her mother relaxing, despite the fact that her confusion was growing. Liz knew she must be wondering where the conversation was headed. "The dog actually went out and delivered the mail. They say, when he got back, he strutted around like nobody's business, he was so proud."***

Liz pried off another piece and set it near the first one. "Now if a dog can do that and a cat is said to be smarter than a dog, maybe you can understand why Kiaha is here." Liz plucked the last piece carefully from the collar and set it down.

Gently, Liz took the collar and refitted it about Kiaha's throat. Es amar xoyan dopa'a paren? Amar? /What do I do with these pieces?/

Black and white images entered her mind through her connection to Kiaha, instructions as to how to install the small computer bits into the computer.

"So, this cat…" Nancy began.

"Kiaha," Liz corrected softly.

"Kiaha," Nancy repeated. "It brought you these?"

"He. And yes." Liz could feel her mother mentally struggling to suspend disbelief.

Liz pulled the computer closer to her and turned it over. She felt Nancy's anxiety spiked momentarily at her action. Beside her, Kiaha's ears twitched at the sensation. "Don't worry," she said without a glance a her mother. "I won't turn on the holographic matrix with you here. I just need to install the new pieces into the machine."

Surprise, guilt, and shock rippled through the empathic connection. (Kiaha continued to twitch.) "Honey, I…" Nancy began.

"No. Mom…" Liz shook her head. "Look, I mean no disrespect." She blew out a soft breath and then glanced up at her mother. "This computer is one of most advanced computers in the world and it is written in a language you could not possibly hope to understand…"

"What language?"

"Tsekuatl, but that's not the point," she said. "You know, you can't just go pushing buttons or dropping it on the floor…"

Beside her Kiaha laid his ears back and hissed, the first truly cat-like thing she had seen him do.

"It's okay," she was quick to reassure him. "It's not damaged."

"Liz, it made me sick!" Nancy complained.

Liz scrubbed her fingers through her hair. "Yeah, I'm really not surprised," she mumbled.

She turned around and started to pace, then changed her mind and sat down on her bed instead. She patted the bed next to her. "Sit down," she invited.

Nancy, her concern growing by the minute, took the invitation and sat next to Liz. "Honey, what is going on?"

Liz stared at the floor for a moment, trying to decide what to say. Whatever her mother thought she knew, she didn't. She was in the dark and Liz would keep her that way. To protect Michael and the Granolith and the identity of the Ambassador, it was necessary.

"Lizzie?" Nancy prompted.

She sighed and reached for her mother's hand. She took it in hers and clung to it. Meeting her eyes, she asked: "What do you think it going on, Mom? What terrible thing do you think is happening that you have to go snooping through my things?"

"Snooping?" Nancy said in exasperation. "Honey, you are not yourself. You quit all your after school activities. You're depressed. You have secrets. You're absentminded. And it's not just you; your friends are falling apart too. Something is going on. I'd have to be blind not to see that."

"I see." Liz gave a slight nod. "So, you think that something beyond normal teenage drama and the grief over the death of our friend, Alex, is the problem."

"I know it is," she said. The emotional tension emanating from her was palpable.

Across from her, on the dresser, Kiaha was twitching again. The high-running emotions must have been overloading his senses since he was used to the sensory deprivation programmed into him by his genetics, and yet she could also sense that there was a part of him that was enjoying the forbidden sensations.

Again, Liz gave a small nod. "And you know this because…?"

"Why did you quit the after school programs?" Nancy asked instead.

"We all have to grow up sooner or later. The dreams I had as a child… they're gone. They don't interest me anymore," she answered simply.

"Why? What interests you now?"

"Polytopes."

"What is that?"

"Shapes. It's what the computer is for."

"Explain that to me."

"There's nothing to explain," Liz said. "I'm studying specialized types of polytopes. It's a mathematically complicated science that requires a very complicated, advanced computer. I managed to acquire what I needed from a pawnshop on the other side of town. It's foreign but it does what I want."

"How did you learn to read that language and why are you learning about those shapes?" Nancy pushed.

"I speak a lot of languages…"

"Lizzie," her mother interrupted in disbelief.

Kiaha made a small noise that sounded sort of like a meow, attracting Liz's attention. Lo aundi ifu nkosi kayam hatli kolo hualqui nui su esdla. Watoto utem cona nolog su? he asked. /If she does not plan on listening then you should not waste your time talking to her. You do not plan to tell her the truth, do you?/

Cha. /No./ There was a part of Liz that wanted to tell her mother the truth - all of it - just to get her approval, just to make things right between them, But there was another part of her that knew better, that knew that her mother would never accept the truth as truth or feel okay with it.

Napai hatli undrea aua cona conseveda tlama. /Let us better use our time by working on the computer./

Maerokokua. /Agreed./

"All I want is the truth," Nancy said, pulling Liz's attention back to her.

Liz gave a gentle shake of her head. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Try me," her mother encouraged.

"I just did," she answered very softly.

"Liz."

Liz slipped her hand away from her mother's and patted the other woman's knee. "It's all right. I need to get this done so Kiaha can go home."

She rose from the bed.

"No." Nancy rose with her and grabbed hold of her arm. "Don't shut me out. Don't keep secrets from me."

"Mom, don't you remember what it was like to be sixteen? Trying to figure out who you are? Who you want to be? What the future holds?" Liz asked. "I mean, remember when Matthew Winters asked you to the dance and you said yes and then you were scared because you'd never kissed a boy before?"

A funny expression crossed her mother's face.

"What would it feel like? Would you like it? What if your Dad found out that you had failed Economics and grounded you and you never got to find out because you didn't get to go to the dance?" Liz continued. The story was so clear in her head. All of her mother's stories were. She knew them all by heart, having heard them time and time again as she sat on her mother's bed, the two of them snuggled together while her mother recalled memories of her childhood to pass the time and Liz listened so that her mother would forget the pain she was in.

"And then you never got the chance to find out because you cancelled yourself… because your dad didn't get out of the field quick enough when the lightening storm rolled in. After he died it was like your whole world collapsed…" Nancy's grip on Liz tightened slightly and Liz could a strange sense of wonder and confusion growing again. She paused not understanding why.

"I remember but…" And Nancy trailed off, as if, in her uncertainty, she could not find the right words to say.

So Liz attempted to fill in the empty space. "Well, multiply the sorrows and disappointments and excitement and uncertainty of your childhood by a thousand and you have my life," she said. "Life is so much harder for kids now than it ever was before. Economic instability, terrorism, drugs, high divorce rates… Things just aren't like they used to be and you can't expect them to be. I swear, Mom, science is what keeps me stable, you know? Because with science all you have are the facts. You don't have to deal with ifs or maybes or whys. You have the answers. You have the truth. And you are in total control."

"I know that but…"

"And that," she explained, gesturing toward her computer with her free hand, "is what this is all about. It doesn't matter that the lives of the people around me are falling apart or that, you know, maybe my life isn't what I would like it to be, because I have science and it makes me feel good.

"You know," Liz continued, "you can question this all you want and you can imagine that there is some terrible thing going on and I can't stop you from believing all that. All I can tell you is that whatever you think is going on, Mom… it isn't." She shook her head. "It isn't."

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It all sounded so normal that Nancy felt an insatiable need to buy into the fantasy Liz was painting for her, but then she looked at the twitching delivery cat sitting on the dresser and the frightening computer it sat next to and she knew - knew beyond a shadow of a doubt - that there was something very not-normal going on.

She also knew that she was never going to get her daughter to admit to it. Liz was too smart to be cornered into admitting the truth by words alone. She was going to have to find some other way into coercing her to give up her secrets.

She dropped her hand from Liz's arm. "All right," she said. It was not a concession, only an acknowledgment that she was not going to get any further that night. "Go fix your computer."

Liz nodded.

"And about the cat…"

"Kiaha. He'll leave when I'm done," her daughter assured her, correcting her mother's reference to him.

"Okay." Nancy turned around to leave Liz's room, then had a second thought and turned back around in the doorway. "By the way, I never told you about Matthew Winters."

Liz looked utterly confused. "You must have."

"No," Nancy denied. "I didn't."

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“I don’t understand, Iz,” he said as his sister read the notes Liz and he had written to each other a week prior. For days he had debated on whether or not to show his sister or keep it private, but, after the strange feel of alien power that had caused the electrical outage and Michael’s total unconcern, he had finally decided that he needed her opinion and her help. “I mean, she’s right about us not asking questions when we have the opportunity but I feel like she’s holding something back. She knows too much.”

“She knows more about us than we know about ourselves,” Isabel agreed. She had noticed that for some time – in fact, ever since the dupes had come into town.

“A lot more.”

Isabel handed the paper back to Max. “Maybe she can’t tell you.” Max looked like he was going to disagree, but Isabel kept talking. “Maybe it’s because of Tess. Maybe she’s afraid that Tess can read your mind because of the bond.”

“No,” Max denied quickly. “I don’t let her. I can feel Tess all the time. I have an awareness of her, but I can’t read her thoughts and I don’t let her get close enough to me to take a chance on her reading mine.”

“What if she did it and then mind warped you into not remembering? I mean if she used that upoko…”

“I don’t know,” he said. He really did not want to think about Tess right then. In fact he would rather not think about her for the rest of his life. It was Liz that he loved, Liz that he continued to be concerned about. “I just think Liz knows more than she should.”

“Agreed, but that’s not exactly a crime and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. We can’t force her to talk.”

“But what if she made friends with… I don’t know… a Michael worshipper or something? Someone who has their own agenda?” Max asked. “What if she’s in danger and doesn’t realize it or what if she’s telling them things that could put us in danger? I mean, whoever caused the power outage was obviously near the Crashdown, possibly even inside the Crashdown from what I saw.”

Isabel wasn’t pleased with the turn of his thoughts but she was reasonable enough to understand Max’s concern. And she had no problem with his request that she dream walk Liz.

Only the dream she finally managed to stumble on not only did not answer their questions, but it managed to increase their concerns.

”Well?” Dream Max asked. He was different than how Isabel was used to seeing her brother; his hair was longer and he wore black leather and he looked older. And tired. He was hovering protectively over Liz, who was sitting on a stool and staring into a large microscope.

Next to her were several slides, each containing a drop of some dark substance.

Off to the right hovered a small Gandarium queen. It bobbled slightly in place and its little tentacles flowed loosely like a jellyfish.

“I’d say it’s conclusive,” Liz replied without looking up from the eyepiece. “The Gandarium was the catalyst.”

“Is there any danger this could hurt you?”

Liz straightened and Isabel could see Liz’s profile for the first time. Her hair was shorter and layered – not an attractive look for her, Isabel decided. It aged her. “The chemical changes in my cells seem to be progressing normally, you know, as far as chemical changes go, and my new hybrid cells don’t appear to be much different from yours. I’m guessing I’m fine.”

Isabel blinked in surprise. Was Liz dreaming about being like them? Was that what she subconsciously wanted or was it just some random thought pattern?

A quirky smile appeared on Max’s face. He reached out and tenderly touched her cheek. “You’re just like me.”

“Yeah.” Liz gazed lovingly into his eyes, in such a manner that made Isabel feel uncomfortable. “I’m just like you.”

The scurry of a small, dark creature racing into the room broke the dreamy couple apart. Following closely behind were Maria and Michael. “Buddy, heel!” Michael called.

“You named it Buddy?” Liz asked, turning on her stool to greet her friends.

“I know. I know,” Maria sighed and rolled her eyes. She, too, looked different. Sporting a hairstyle like Liz’s and a black blouse and pants set covered in strange black webbing, she looked out of place. “It’s right up there with Fluffy.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know he likes the name,” Michael said. His hair was long and pulled back into a ponytail, which was tied with a leather cord. Like Max, he was clad in black leather and appeared to have aged.

Why were they all in black?

Isabel took a closer look at the creature as it did a 180 and went and planted itself at Michael’s feet. It was small, like a chicken, but definitely reptilian. A small dinosaur? Isabel wondered. Where had it come from? And why did it seem so familiar?

“Of course he does,” Maria said tongue in cheek as Michael bent down and scratched the small creature along its neck ridges.

Michael then rose and crossed the room purposefully to stand next to Liz and Max. “So, what’s the verdict?”

“Human/Antarian hybrid, courtesy of the Gandarium,” Liz said seriously as if saying such a thing concerning herself were perfectly normal. She turned the microscope slightly so that Michael could view the results for himself.

Michael glanced only briefly into the eyepiece. “Good,” he relied, not at all upset by what he saw. He rested his hand companionably on her shoulder. “Then you will serve as our fourth.”

Fourth what? Isabel wondered.

Liz shook her head. She crossed her hand over to set it atop of Michael’s and looked up into his eyes. “We’ve been over this. You need Tess. She’s part of your four square.”

What on earth? Isabel thought in exclamation points. Liz hated Tess. How could she feel anything different in her dreams?

“She’s not here. You are,” he told her. “You’ll have to take her place.”

“We probably don’t stand much of a chance either way,” Max said. He was addressing Michael. He looked strained and his eyes were sad.

They all looked sad – all of them – even though their words seemed light and casual.

“That’s why I’m going to start training her right away,” Michael told him.

“Agreed,” Max said.

Suddenly Isabel felt a strange sensation. The dream seemed to expand like balloon and then condense. The room and people disappeared until only blackness remained between Liz and her. Prickles rippled across her mind, flowing currents of outrage. She saw Liz looking right at her.

“Get out of my head!” Liz growled. “I didn’t invite you. You have no business here.”

Liz extended her hand and Isabel felt herself shoved forcefully from Liz’s dream.


Isabel gasped and sat up abruptly in bed.

“What is it?” Max asked. “What did you see?”

“She knew I was there,” Isabel said, feeling herself in a state of shock. “She shouldn’t have but somehow she did, and she pushed me out of her dream.” She looked at her brother. “And Max? I think she has powers.”

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Liz looked at her phone’s caller ID for the sixth time since her dream had been invaded, then tossed it onto her bed next to her backpack. “Four in the morning, Max. Four. Grab a clue. If I wanted to talk to you I would have answered by now,” she grumbled to herself.

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Liz was smudging lipstick on with her ring finger when her cell phone rang yet again. “Smart, smart girl, Liz,” she told her reflection in the locker room mirror with a sigh. “Just use your powers in front of Isabel. Nothing like making a grand announcement.”

She dropped her hand and stared at herself. “I’m not gonna get any peace today, am I?”

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“Okay,” Nancy said to herself. “Let’s see what that does.” She hit enter and waited for the search engine results.

Sixteen pawnshops immediately showed up. Twelve were outside of Roswell, so they were immediately discarded as possibilities, but four were within the Roswell city limits. And, of those four, two were downtown which, again, made them easily discarded.

Two. That left two possibilities: Discount City USA Army Navy Supply and Dragon Pawn. This was going to be easier than she thought.

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She knew she had found the right shop as soon as she spotted the cat, Kiaha, eyeing her warily from the counter, his ears laid flat against his head and his tail whipping irritably.

From the back of the store came a man, whom looked to be in his fifties. He looked Native in his coloring and in the way he had pulled his long black hair back into a ponytail, tied with a leather cord. “Yes. Yes, I’m coming.”

The man noticed Nancy as he approached. “Hello, Ma’am. Is there anything…” he said, pausing half-way through his standard greeting. He stopped and looked at his cat. “Oh, she is, is she?” he asked Kiaha. Then turning back to Nancy he asked: “You’re Liz’s mother, hm?”

“Yes, I am,” Nancy replied dryly. “You talk to your cat?”

“His name is Kiaha,” the man said.

“So I heard,” she replied, again wondering what the importance of the name was. “He was at my house last night.”

“Yes, I sent him.”

Nancy frowned, more than a little disturbed at the thought of a fifty-year-old man dropping off his cat at her home for a visit with her teenage daughter.

The man reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a small bag. He handed it to Kiaha, whom took hold of it in his mouth. “Please take that to Mrs. Windermere on 234 Lancaster Street, would you, Kiaha?”

Kiaha made a small sound and then jumped from the counter. He darted passed Nancy, out the open door and down the sidewalk.

Nancy watched Kiaha scuttle away. “He understands?” she asked.

“He’s no ordinary cat,” the man said with a shrug.

“I see that,” she said, returning her attention to the man in front of her, whom hopefully held more clues to the puzzle that was Liz. “May I ask your name?”

“Anapo Gudorian, Mrs. Parker,” he said. “How may I help you?”

She raised her brow at the use of her name, unnerved that he knew it without being properly introduced, but decided to remain focused on her purpose for going to see him. “I came to ask about Liz’s computer.”

“Ah, marvelous piece of work, isn’t it?”

“She said it’s one of the most advanced technology on earth.”

Gudorian smiled. “Yes, well, someone like her deserves the very best,” he said. “I suppose she told you I made it myself?”

“You did?”

“Indeed. It’s a funny thing.” He turned to look across the store, but at what Nancy was unable to ascertain. All she saw was a painting of a dragon in flight on the wall. “If she had never died, I might never have known.”

“Known what?”

“That I was a technopath.”

The word sounded slightly obscene. Was that anything like a sociopath? “A what?”

“Ah,” he said, looking at Nancy again, “that’s what Liz calls me. Apparently, it’s a term that won’t be coined by Disney for another few years.” He reached for a box that lay on the counter near the spot Kiaha had sat on, lifted the lid and held it out to Nancy. “Chocolate covered peanuts?”

She looked at the box askew, noting that the nuts had not even been shelled. “Uh, no, thank you,” she said. “So, how exactly did you meet my daughter?”

Gudorian set the box of peanuts back on the counter. “Now, that is a long story, but suffice it to say that I met her for the first time in December and she met me for the first time about two weeks ago.”

“Come again?”

“Well, like I said, it’s a long story. So, what did you want to know about the computer?”

Nancy breathed out a soft sigh. Did anyone give straightforward answers anymore? “What’s it for?” she asked.

“Calculus.”

“Calculus?” Liz had told her she was using it for the study of polytopes. Nancy narrowed her eyes as she tried to decide if she believed him or not. “And why is my daughter studying calculus?”

“Why are you asking me?” he countered. "Haven't you asked the A.." He cleared his throat. "Shouldn't you be asking your daughter that?"

“I did, but she's a teenager and doesn't like to confide in her parents anymore,” she complained softly to the stranger before her.

"Yes, such is the sad commentary on the disrespect of your Western culture," Gudorian said.

Nancy was not quite certain what he meant, but she was not about to pursue that line conversation, choosing instead to focus on learning what she could about her daughter. “Uh, look, the other day I turned her computer on…”

“Don’t touch her computer,” Gudorian interrupted.

Nancy put her hands on her hips. “Well, why not?”

“It wasn’t designed for someone like you.” He narrowed his eyes slightly and studied her closely. “Your brain isn’t capable of processing the information stored in it. And, even if it was, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“I’m aware of that and that’s not really the point,” she said irritably. “I saw this… this… shape, I guess, with no form.”

“Did you get sick?”

“Yes, I did. How did you…?”

“Excellent. Excellent,” he interrupted again.

“What’s excellent about it?” The man was becoming more irritating by the second.

He looked at her piercingly. “You really don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“You poor thing. What must it be like to be the mother of someone like her and to not know what you have?”

“I don’t understand.”

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“Hello.”

The revolving form spun on its axis in front of her, jewel-like faceted colors moving sinuously over it – colors of beryls and rubies and topaz and emeralds. But the higher and lower spectrums that should have been there were noticeably absent.

“Where’d you go?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.

“Yeah, uh…” Liz laughed softly. “I ditched school. I’m at your apartment.”

“You are?” Michael asked. His voice was deceptively soft, betraying none of the amusement and pleased feelings that Liz could sense from him.

“Yeah, I didn’t have anywhere else to go and I’m sort of avoiding Max and Isabel today,” she admitted.

“Why?”

She tapped in more directions to the computer with one hand, then crossed her hand over to the other keypad to complete the instructions. She was determined to get the coloration of the form right that day, or at least get as close as she could, to match that of the figure the Granolith had shown her.

“Isabel dream walked me last night and stumbled on an old memory of when we discovered I had powers.”

“She what?”

“Oh, don’t get all protective on me. She was just doing her job. Besides, I was mad enough for both of us and I, uh… I kind of threw her out of my dream.”

Michael made no reply to that, his silence proof enough of his irritation.

“Yeah, so since I’m not in the mood to give a full confession,” she continued, “I decided to just work on something else today.”

“Liz…”

She entered a few more calculations only to have the form abruptly cease its rotation and collapse. “Ah, geez. I have to go, Michael. I can’t concentrate when I’m talking to you and I just lost two hours worth of work.”

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Nancy had learned little else from Gudorian, as the man was nearly as evasive in his answers as was Liz, and she was left with more confusion at the conversation’s conclusion than when she had arrived.

Confusion and fear. The cat was too intelligent. The computer was too advanced. The man, Gudorian, was too strange. Liz had too many secrets. And it seemed like the more Nancy learned – or, at least, tried to learn – the more what little she did know made sense. And it scared her. What had Liz gotten herself involved in?

Nancy set the parking brake and turn off her car, then sat for a minute studying the house she had parked in front of – this Mrs. Windermere’s house that Gudorian had sent his cat to. She was hesitant to approach a perfect stranger’s home, but she was feeling rather desperate. This Mrs. Windermere must be familiar with the cat, Kiaha, since he had been sent to her, which meant she was probably familiar with the man Gudorian. And if she was familiar with Gudorian, maybe – maybe – she might be able to answer some of Nancy’s questions.

Nancy bit her lip.

She pulled the keys from the ignition and tucked them into her hand. She got out of her car, shutting the door and locking it behind her.

She was not sure if she dared to do what she came to do, but she made herself walk to the door. She had to think about Liz. She had to know what was going on. She had to get to the bottom of this.

Hesitantly, she raised her hand to knock, but before her knuckles even touched the door, the door swung open and she was confronted by an elderly woman, dark of skin like Gudorian but gray of hair. “Won’t you come in, Mrs. Parker?” she asked.

Nancy, whose hand still hung suspended in mid-air, said: “Um, I didn’t knock.”

But the elderly woman merely opened the door wider and stepped to the side, gesturing for Nancy to come into her home.

Nancy lowered her hand and anxiously stepped inside the threshold, and the woman closed the door behind her.

Nancy turned to look at the woman. “How do you know who I am?”

“I’ve seen your picture,” the old woman replied.

“My pic… Where?”

“At the Aporo’s.”

“What’s that?”

The old woman smiled. “Forgive me. I forget sometimes. I suspect it’s my age, although Liz seems to think otherwise.”

“You know Liz?” Nancy asked hopefully. If this woman knew not just Gudorian but Liz as well, she might actually get some of her questions answered.

“My dear, we all know Liz.”

A young girl of about ten years of age appeared form around the corner. “I know her too.”

“Hello,” Nancy greeted. “Who are you?”

“My name is Serena. This is my grandma. People call her Ada Windermere here, but her real name is Kohakure Dahicru. That means ‘tears’ because she was born during the time of tears for our people.”

“Serena, that is enough,” Ada scolded.

“The time of tears?” Nancy asked.

“Yes,” Serena agreed, ignoring her grandmother. “But I am different though. I only have an Earth name. Liz gave it to me. She says I was an important person before.”

“Before?”

“Serena,” Dahicru spoke, the tone of her voice an indication of her irritation with the child, “go make us some tea so that I may speak with Mrs. Parker.”

Serena’s face and shoulders fell slightly, but she obeyed and left the room to do as she was told.

Dahicru addressed Nancy. “Would you care to sit?” She gestured toward the living room.

“Please forgive the outspokenness of my granddaughter,” Dahicru said to Nancy as they sat down on the couch. “She is very influenced by this… this ‘Westernized’ culture of yours.”

Nancy was not sure how to respond to that comment, but the elderly woman did not seem to notice. Instead she continued on and asked: “How may I help you, Mrs. Parker?”

She swallowed nervously. “Oh, well, I came to ask about Gudorian Anapo.” Or Liz. But Nancy figured she would start with her daughter’s strange acquaintance and move from there.

“No, no, my dear,” Dahicru tells her. “That’s Anapo Gudorian.”

“Anapo is his first name?”

“No,” Dahicru said, “it’s his last.”

Serena returned with remarkable speed with a tray, upon which was a steaming teapot and teacups and containers of honey and cream, and set it on the table. (Perhaps the tea had already been ready before Nancy arrived for it seemed to have been brought too quickly considering the time it should have taken to prepare it.) Then she opened another container and offered it to Nancy. “Would you like some chocolate covered peanuts?”

Nancy looked inside to find that, much like the ones in Gudorian’s shop, the peanuts were unshelled. “Uh, no, thank you, Serena.” Nancy nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Serena…” Dahicru began, an unspoken order in her tone.

“I know,” Serena said, taking the peanuts back and straightening. “I’ll get it.”

Nancy frowned as Serena headed toward the front door and opened it. (There had been no knock.) Her frown deepened when she saw that the cat… the Kiaha… was standing there with the small package in his mouth that Gudorian had given him.

Nancy glanced from Kiaha to Serena to Dahicru. My god, she thought, they’re like Liz. Nancy had not knocked, but Dahicru had known she was there and known who she was. Kiaha had, obviously, no ability to knock or ring, yet both Dahicru and Serena had known he was waiting with the package. How did they know? For that matter, how did Liz, for her daughter always seemed to know who was at the door before it was opened and who was on the phone before she picked it up. Was there a connection?

“Hello,” Serena greeted the cat.

Serena stared at Kiaha and then spoke: “Oh, dear. Really?” she asked Kiaha. “A whole pack? Thank goodness you’re all right.”

She peeked outside the door and glanced about. “Well, they seem to be gone now, but here. You’d better come in and rest a while, you poor dear.”

Serena spoke to the cat as if he understood, just like Liz and Gudorian, Nancy noted.

“Really, Serena,” Dahicru scolded. “The way you go on about the creature.”

Serena turned and frowned at her grandmother and crossed her arms, and Kiaha flattened his ears. “You’re going to get in trouble with Liz and then she won’t let you go back,” Serena grumbled defiantly.

“Now, I have quite enough, young lady. You go up to your room and study, and take the creature with you if he is in need of rest.” Dahicru spoke sharply, although her words belied her true feelings, Nancy noted.

“Come on, Kiaha,” Serena said. She picked up Kiaha in her arms and cradled him against her. She took the package from his mouth and brought it to her grandmother and then left the room, lugging the large feline with her.

Dahicru watched Serena leave and then turned her attention back to Nancy. “Where were we?” she asked.

“Anapo Gudorian,” Nancy prompted.

“Ah, yes, the dragon rider,” she said. “What did you want to know?”

“What’s a dragon rider?” Nancy asked curiously.

“Why, one who rides dragons, of course.”

“Of course,” Nancy said. She noted that Dahicru, although she had made Serena bring her tea, had made no move to pour herself any, and Nancy felt in no mood for any either. It was taking enough out of her to simply try to carry on a conversation with these strange people. “Uh, and, what is my daughter’s relationship with him?”

“He’s her friend. They’ve known each other for many years. Nearly a century, I think.”

It dawned on Nancy that these people were not entirely sane and that perhaps she had no business there. “A century?”

And Liz. What was her relationship with these people?

“Yes, he was at their wedding.”

“Whose wedding?”

“The Aporo’s.”

The conversation had become truly dizzying. It made even less sense than when she talked to her daughter, but Nancy was not going to give up until she got her answers. She put out her hand to stop the older woman’s words. “Wait,” Nancy said. “Let me get this straight. You’re saying Liz met Gudorian nearly a century ago at a wedding.”

“No, Mrs. Parker,” Dahicru disagreed. “I’m saying Anapo Gudorian met your daughter a century ago at the wedding.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Nancy murmured.

“Of course it does. You just have to stop thinking linearly.”

“What do you mean?”

Dahicru smiled patiently. She leaned forward and poured herself a cup of tea as she spoke. “You think time runs only in one direction – forward – when actually it is not quite as straightforward as all that. Time is simply the way you organize your thoughts. It is like taking a group of words and placing them in alphabetical order. But the truth is, you could take those same words and change their pattern and place them in a new order. And that, my dear, is why time cannot be defined as running only in one direction for the truth is, it can run in many directions at once.”

Nancy decided the exchange was beginning to sound like a bad science fiction plot. “And what does Mr. Gudorian…?”

“Mr. Anapo,” Dahicru interrupted to correct.

Nancy blew out a breath to steady her nerves. “Mr. Anapo,” she repeated. “What does time have to do with…?”

“Anapo Gudorian, madam, was privileged to be a witness to the marriage of your daughter to…”

“Liz isn’t married. She’s just 16.”

Dahicru stared at Nancy for a moment. “Mrs. Parker,” she finally said, “I must wonder what you are doing here asking me all these questions when it is clear that you have not discussed these matters with your own daughter. How can you not know who she is?”

“Who she is?” Nancy repeated blankly.

The old woman sat silently with her cup of tea in hand and contemplated Nancy’s face intently.

Finally she asked: “Do you dream, Mrs. Parker?”

Nancy nodded. “Of course.”

“Do you remember your dreams?”

“Not usually, no.”

“Yet, I would guess that you have been feeling particularly troubled lately, haven’t you, especially upon waking.”

“Well, I…”

“Dreams, Mrs. Parker,” Dahicru interrupted, “like time, should not be defined in so linear a way. Among our people dreams are shared, especially among family members.”

“In what way are they shared?”

“We call it the ‘kermes benguel’. If you cannot find the strength to talk to your daughter, then I would suggest you learn how to lucid dream.”

“Lucid dream?”

But Dahicru had apparently done explaining matters to Nancy for she only said, “Have a cup of tea before you leave, Mrs. Parker.” She nodded toward the tea set out on the table.

Nancy shook her head and clutched the keys in her hand a bit more tightly. “No, I, uh… I’ve taken enough of your time. I should be going.”

“Yes,” Dahicru agreed.

Nancy rose and walked toward the front door, but she turned around part way through the living room as a thought occurred to her. “By any chance, Mrs. Windermere, are you Czechoslovakian?”

But Dahicru only smiled passively. “Goodbye, Mrs. Parker,” was all she said.

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She had kept empathic tabs on him all day. Well, actually she had left herself empathically aware of all of them all day long, watching over her friends while she worked. But mostly – mostly – it was Michael whom she watched.

She had never thought of taking anyone else as a mate before. Her bond to Max had always prevented that but even if it had not, she only had eyes for her husband. Losing him – losing him twice, really – had left her bereft and fearsomely lonely, but she had given no though to anyone but him, her husband, the love of her life. Even when Michael insisted she needed to bond again, she had given it no serious consideration.

Until he offered himself.

Until he had given her flashes.

Impossible, ridiculous man. What was he thinking?

But both carnations of him – Michael and Rath – had made clear that he wanted her.

They were idiots.

Couldn’t see the forest for the trees, as her grandmother would say.

If she bonded to him it would ruin both their lives – hers when he left and his when he returned to Antar and was unable to bond and produce an heir. He would lose the throne… again… and this time not from political intrigue; he would lose it for failing to follow the law of the land. He would be left unwanted, ostracized and alone, completely cut off from any way to help his people.

The offer was more tempting than she cared to admit, but she would never allow the mistake to happen. Not ever. No matter what he said. No matter what he allowed her to see from his mind.

She bit her lip as she sensed him approaching his apartment door, willing herself to stay focused on the twirling triacontahedra. The actual ‘shape’ still was not right and, at some point (hopefully soon) she would have to form a more coherent structure, but at that moment she was more interested in getting the coloration corrected.

He shut the door behind him and went to stand next to her, dropping his keys on the counter. He fingered the cover of the CD case lying next to her. Apocalyptica**, a band famous for playing Metallica with four cellos. “Interesting selection,” he said, his voice carrying over the volume of the music at her ears.

“Hm,” she acknowledged without looking at him, her fingers still flying over the keys. Antarian symbols forming complex equations were rapidly appearing across the screen pad as she attempted to correct the color schematism. And the fifth-dimensional form was spinning and undulating with ever-greater clarity, reminding her of the beautiful image of the Granolith she had seen in one of the flashes from Rath.

She tapped down the volume of the music and lowered the headphones to her shoulders with a touch of her mind. “What did Max say to you?” she asked without looking up. She had felt the minor confrontation between the two earlier.

“He wants to have a meeting tomorrow afternoon. He said something came up,” Michael said. He moved to the kitchen and took two peach flavored Snapples from his fridge.

“I bet,” she said. “Too bad I won’t be there.”

“Yeah.” He opened one of the fruity drinks that her Rath had once told her reminded him of something his mother had given him as a small child and set it in front of Liz. “So, how much did Isabel see?”

Liz paused, her hands still poised over the symbol-encoded keypads, and worried her lip. She gazed up at Michael, the expression on her face telling him everything he needed to know. “They’re not ready for this.”

“I know.”

“What are we going to do?”

“Let me handle it.”

”You okay?” she asked him. He had been out in the yard for so long that dinner had grown cold.

“I’m losing her, Liz,” he said softly. “There’s a war going on inside of her and Vilandra is winning.”

“Isabel’s still there,” she spoke from behind him.

“Where?” He reached back and felt for her hand, pulling her toward him. She knelt on the ground next to his chair. “I can’t… She’s my sister and I can’t even see her in there anymore.”

“Vilandra’s your sister too.”

“I don’t know her.”

“Do you want to?”

It had not bothered him so much when Michael regained his memories, even with the implications the greater knowledge brought. But when Vilandra had appeared, Max had been afraid. It was like he was afraid he would be next; he was afraid his predecessor, Sahal, would emerge and he would disappear.

“I can’t lose you,” he said, the pain he felt shimmering in his eyes.

“For better or for worse. That’s what we promised each other,” she reminded him. “And I always keep my promises. Always.”

“But…”

“You’re not going to lose me.”


Liz did not know if it was sheer will power that kept Sahal locked away or if there was another reason that Max never remembered his life on Antar. Either way, Max had stayed Max until the end. And she was glad – glad because she had been afraid too.

But despite their misgivings and fears surrounding the appearance of Vilandra, they soon discovered how necessary she was in their fight against Khivar. Bound empathically to the dictator in a bond Rath referred to as “kaliquape”, she had an insight into Khivar’s thinking and actions that few others had. Vilandra was the man’s Achilles heel, and Rath? Rath had no problems taking advantage of that.

“Handle it, how?” Liz asked. “I don’t know what to think about the others, but we’re going to need Vilandra eventually. Maybe it’s just as well that Isabel…”

“Vilandra is not necessary to this timeline.”

“Maybe you should let me be the judge of that,” she said softly.

Michael raised his brow.

“I’m just saying that, uh… you know, you may have me trumped with the cousin card, but as far as this timeline goes, this is my world and my people and ultimately it’s going to be my decision on how to best protect it,” she said.

“I could trump you with a lot more that a cousin card.”

She gave a small laugh. “It might almost be fun to have you try,” she said.

“News flash, Liz. I never ‘try’. If I want something, I do it,” he told her.

Her smile grew. “Well now, that’s got to be the understatement of the year.”

She glanced down at the holographic image hovering over her computer. “Well, I can finish this up later,” she said, tapping at the symbol pad. The image wavered and then disappeared and the computer began to fold itself back together. “You ready to work out?”

“If you’re ready.”

Liz rose, clipped her CD player onto her belt loop and grabbed her Snapple. “I’m ready. What’s on the agenda for today?”

“How’d you like to play with fire?”

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Fire was more on the chemistry side of science, but Liz still had a pretty good grasp of the fundamentals. Burning something meant allowing a substance to combine with oxygen (usually) whereupon energy in the form of heat and light were produced.

At least, that was the scientific side of the coin.

Michael and Liz walked down a couple of blocks to the back lot of a group of stores that had seen better days and now sat empty. It was there that Michael had her practice producing and controlling fire, a use of her Antarian abilities she had never tried before.

“How’d I like to play with fire,” she murmured to herself. She poured water from the dispenser into her teacup and brought it over to the counter. “God,” she breathed. Fire was not the only potentially combustible reaction she had played with that afternoon. Connecting to Michael and allowing him free access to her mind to help her “see” what he wanted from her, feeling his unspoken desire to bond with her through that connection… now that was fire. Never before had connecting with Michael seemed so… dangerous.

She opened the tea box and took out a small pouch of green tea leaves. Nourishment in a bag. She unwrapped it and dropped it in the cup, heating the water molecules with her mind as she did so.

“I hope that’s not your dinner,” her mother greeted her.

Liz glanced up. “Hey, Mom.”

“I, uh… I stopped by Gudorian’s shop this morning to see if the, uh… the Kiaha made it back okay,” Nancy said.

The Kiaha? Liz wondered. Wait a minute! “You did what?” she asked.

“I stopped by…”

“Mom,” Liz interrupted, “I’m sure Kiaha was fine. There was no need… I mean, for Pete’s sake, Mom, you didn’t have to go all the way to the shop to go check up on him.” And me. “Kiaha’s not exactly an ordinary cat.”

“Yes, I saw that,” her mother replied coyly. “Neither is his owner. Interesting man, that Gudorian.”

“Oh, you thought so, huh?”

“Um hm.” Nancy approached the other side of the counter.

Liz stared at her in a stalemate that lasted mere seconds. She had hoped that her words the night before had misdirected her mother away from snooping into her life, but that was clearly not the case. “Why’d you really go see Gudorian, Mom?”

She picked up the teacup with both hands and leaned forward, bring her elbows to rest on the countertop. She brought the cup up to her lips and sipped the hot drink carefully.

“Don’t you want to heat that up?” Nancy asked.

“I did.”

“You did?”

Liz tilted the cup slightly forward so her mother could see the dark liquid. “Why’d you go see Gudorian, Mom?”

She felt her mom steel herself. “I wanted to know about your computer.”

So, it was going to be the twenty questions game again. “And?”

“He said he made your computer for you.”

“He did.”

“And that you are studying calculus.”

“I am.”

“I thought you were studying poly… uh, the shape thing.”

“I am.”

“And calculus too?”

“Calculus, yes. Or more specifically mathematical physics, and this in addition to quantum physics, particle physics, lattice quantum chromodynamics…” She gave a half-hearted smile, knowing there was not any chance at all that her confused mother would be able to understand anything she had said. “Well, you get the picture. You can’t study the kind of polytopes I’m working with unless you have a good background in multiple areas of math and science.”

Nancy Parker took in that information, sorting it and adding it to what she had already learned, trying valiantly to make sense of it. And Liz withdrew from any telepathic touch of her mother, her mind retreating…

Her head hurt from the force of the impact and smoke was seeping into the compartment in which she sat. She coughed and blinked her eyes. She shoved the smoke away with a push from her mind, clearing the air and giving herself a chance to breath.

Liz! Max cried out to her through their bond. Liz, listen to me! You have to leave! Get Vilandra and leave! Hurry!

Max? She tried to dispel the haze that had settled upon her mind. Yes, she needed to leave.

Liz tugged at her safety restraints but they wouldn’t budge, locked into place as they were from the crash landing. But with one fierce tug from her mind, the restraints dissolved with a fizzle.

Released from her confinement, she kneeled at Vilandra’s prone form.

“Vilandra! Oh god, please. Not Isabel. Please not her,” Max cried both aloud and through the connection that held him to his wife. “Liz, please!”

I can’t, she said, feeling Max’s shock and horror. I can’t. I don’t…

She reached out telepathically searching for any sign of life, but could sense nothing. Nothing. Not the faintest glimmer of mental activity. Not a heart beat. Not a breath.

Through their bond, she could feel her husband’s outrage and grief. His utter devastation.

A third voice entered her mind. Steadying. Calm. A sense of reason in a world gone mad.

Rath.

He seemed to assess her and then judging her well, he spoke telepathically. Khivar is following you, he said. Get out of there. Don’t let their sacrifices be for nothing.

‘Their’ sacrifices? She licked her lips and was surprised to taste blood. She touched them with her fingers and then drew them away, unsurprised to see red glazing the tips.

“The others,” she murmured. The pilot and the soldier – had they died in the crash too?

There’s no time for that, Rath said.

Go, Liz! Go! I can’t lose you too! her husband called.

Liz ignored both of them. She crawled through the wreckage of their vehicle to the front compartment only to find them dead as well.

Get out of there! Max cried out to her through their bond.

She did not know how she had survived when the others had not, but Rath was right; she could not have much time. Khivar’s ship had shot them out of the sky and he would have tracked the location of their landing by now. He would not be far behind.

Images of the direction Max wanted her to travel filtered into her mind. Even in his grief-stricken state he was looking out for her welfare.

“Imabuli xoyan, ceiba tsuwen waun urangi,” / May you find peace in the Granolith./ she whispered to her fallen rescuers, then turned back and repeated the same blessing to Vilandra.

There’s no time for that, Liz! Go! Now! Max cried out again.

I am coming, she sent to him. She gathered no supplies from the wreckage, but simply turned, manually opened the door and fled, heading in the direction he had instructed her to go.


“Liz?”

Her mother’s voice startled her, pulling out of the memory so suddenly that she was momentarily disorientated and she dropped her cup with a clatter to the counter, spilling the hot liquid inside.

Quickly she grabbed the dishtowel hanging from the over handle and wiped up the mess, pulling in all residual moisture with her power so that the counter was completely dry when she was done.

“Lizzy, are you okay?” Nancy asked.

“I’m fine,” Liz answered. She returned the towel to its place and then picked up her cup. “I was just startled.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I, uh…” She tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “I just get caught up in memories sometimes and I forget where I am.” She took the teacup back to the dispenser and began refilling it. “What were we talking about?”

“Your computer.”

“Right, my computer,” Liz said. She brought the cup back to the counter, heating it with her mind as she moved. “You visited Anapo Gudorian to ask about my computer.”

Somehow, any niggling concerns she had possibly had related to that had reduced to insignificance. Her mother was worried about a computer. She was worried about the end of the world.

“Yes. Honey, where’d you get the money for a computer like that?” her mother asked.

“I didn’t. He didn’t charge me anything,” she said emotionlessly. She took another teabag from the container and unwrapped it.

“He didn’t charge you?”

“No.” She dropped the bag in and, holding the string, spun it in circles, but she did not see the darkening liquid. Instead she saw the empty eyes of Vilandra, the woman whom had saved her life only to lose her own.

“Why not?”

Liz swallowed and sighed softly, refocusing her thoughts on the discussion at hand, to a topic that her mother seemed so concerned over.

How should she answer her mother’s question? She was not quite sure of the man’s motivation herself. Had he asked for money and, if so, how much? Had he asked for something else? He ran a pawnshop. He was clearly hoping to stay under the radar of human governments and Skin forces in place on Earth, yet he would have had to risk all that to get the parts he needed to build the computer. Why had he done that? “I suspect he thinks I’m somebody I’m not,” she finally said.

“Meaning?”

Liz paused for another moment, again unsure of how to answer that honestly. She removed the teabag and dumped it in the trash. After some thought, she shook her head and shrugged her shoulders and said: “I’m not even sure myself. Next question.”

“Liz,” Nancy chastised softly.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t know what to tell you.” She studied her mother. "Why won't you just believe me when I say there is nothing terrible going on?"

She reached out for the Granolith, whom was never far away. Imabuli, why did I survive when they did not? I should have died. I wasn’t even injured. Even the blood on me wasn’t mine. Why did I survive?

“Because it's not true. Something is going on, something big, and whether you care to admit it or not…" Nancy sighed and then plunged right back into her questioning. "Why are you studying all those… sciences?”

You were protected at Zan’s request, the Entity answered.

Why? she asked.

So you might live.

Even though the connection between the Granolith and herself was nearly imperceptible, just enough to communicate, something of Its great mind still filtered over to her, and as she spoke, she studied the swirling colors surrounding her mother, the visual representation of the woman’s nervous concern.

“I told you. Science gives me stability. It makes me feel like I'm in control,” she said.

She felt off-kilter and out-of-balance or else she would not have repeated the excuse she had given the night before. Darn Michael. Darn her memories. She couldn't concentrate on so many things at once.

“Really?”

“Um hm.”

Why? she asked again. Why was it so important that I live? It should have been Vilandra he saved. Not me. I was a liability.

Nancy stared at Liz. “You're hiding things, Liz. Why won't you just tell me?”

The Entity considered her words.

“Just try me.”

Liz shook her head. “No, I’m not ready to do that.”

You are an asset.

“When will you be ready?”

An ‘asset’?

“I don’t know.”

A human woman who knew too much was hardly an asset, she telepathed. Why did I really live, Imabuli?

“Liz, honey, how did you meet Gudorian?”

Liz frowned. She had met Gudorian in another lifetime, and the truth of that meeting was something she could never share to someone as sheltered as her mother. “Yeah, uh, I really don’t think I want to tell you that.”

“Why not?”

But Liz procrastinated, her mind pulling even closer to the gentle Entity. Please, Imabuli.

“Liz, what happened?”

He knew you were to come forward to continue on.

In this timeline? He knew I would come to this timeline?

Yes.

He asked for You to protect me so that I could come forward?
she frowned.

Yes.

Wings of madness. What had the man been thinking? Why had he fixated on her for that task? It would have been so much better if he had chosen Vilandra.

Liz shook her head.

"Honey?"

“Look. Mom, there are things about my, uh, my life that I… I just cannot tell you right now. I have to fix things here. I have to make things right… safe. And until I do that I can’t talk to you about certain things.”

Unconsciously she reached out for Rath – her Rath – wishing she could ask him why he had done that, but she found Michael instead.

Liz? Michael asked.

“What do you mean that you have to make things safe? What things are you talking about?”

Wrong man. Never mind, she replied irritably and abruptly pulled away from him.

Things, Mom. I don’t want to do this right now. Can we please talk about something else?”

“I’m worried about you.”

“I know you are. I feel it. And if our roles were reversed I would feel the same way.” Of course she would because her life would be narrowly focused on two people – her husband and her only child – and a small family run business.

“Then help me to understand,” her mother pleaded.

“I can’t.”

“Why not.”

“Because. It’s not time.”

“For what?”

Liz was growing increasingly irritated. So much was at stake and there she was playing a game of twenty questions with her mother. “Okay, let me rephrase that. You’re not ready.”

“I’m not ready?” Nancy asked, somewhat taken back.

“Emotionally. Not by a long shot,” Liz told her. She hoped her mother never was.

“Liz, you are sixteen-years-old. I’m the adult. I’m the one…”

“Who is supposed to take care of me? Help me?” interrupted Liz. “Not this time, Mom. And just an FYI: I’m not as young as you seem to think I am.”

She pushed her tea away from her and stalked from the kitchen.

“Liz,” her mother called after her, but Liz ignored the call and left through the front door.

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The entire conversation had gone badly. Unlike the night before when Liz had seemed calm and in control, she was irritable and defensive and her answers were confusing, on top of which Liz seemed as if she were only half paying attention, as if Nancy’s concerns were unimportant, as if… as if her mind were somewhere else. And she seemed to become really sad halfway through the conversation for no reason readily apparent to Nancy. What on earth was going on with her?

Nancy moved around the counter to Liz’s tea. She frowned and dipped her finger inside, only to gasp aloud when the liquid burned her finger. It really was hot. But Liz had never bothered to heat the water.

Nancy bit her lip and looked over at the dispenser. It was not electric. There should be no possible way the water in it had been heated. And Liz had certainly never used the microwave or the teakettle.

All of this was making less and less sense to the poor woman. What had originally seemed to her to be a depressed and distracted teenage daughter was now so much more than that. Her depressed and distracted teenage daughter was now hanging out with fifty-year-old men whom ran pawnshops and owned intelligent cats and provided computer technology to adolescent girls – technology so advanced it could make you sick, although the aforementioned depressed and distracted teenage daughter was fine and, not just fine, but was able to produce hot tea without actually heating it. This daughter knew people like Dahicru and Gudorian, people with foreign sounding names, who spoke English but made no sense whatsoever.

“This is a nightmare,” she said to herself. “This is an absolute nightmare.”

And Dahicru was wrong. It was not strength she needed to talk to and understand Liz. She needed a miracle.


Chapter references:
**Apocalyptica official website: http://www.apocalyptica.com/

*** Booklet: "Calico Ghost Town ©1959 by Knott's Berry Farm p 21-23: "The Story of "Dorsey," famous U.S. Mail Carrier as reported in 1914 in the Keene Courier

"This story is of a collie dog who lived not far from here - in Calico, San Bernardino County, California.

"It was along about 1883 when our hero put in his appearance. He seemingly was lost by his owner, for when he arrived at Calico he was footsore, thin and almost famished for both food and water. His first contact was with the postmaster, Stacey, at Calico, who also delivered the rural mail on foot over a long trail. The trail led over to what was known as East Calico, a distance of seven miles. Stacey made three trips a week, as I remember it.

"After feeding and watering the dog he tried to run him off, but with no success. Dorsey (as he was now named) would whine and crawl on his paws, and plead so hard in dog language that Stacey decided to adopt him, as it were, so they soon became great pals. The dog showed great intelligence, and seemed to soon learn the importance of delivering the rural mail, never missing the trips out. Should his master, by any chance, drop a piece of mail, Dorsey would retrieve it at once, and trot up to his pal with it in his mouth.

"It ran along like this for some months, when one day Mr. Stacey was taken quite ill, and it being delivery day, some one suggested letting Dorsey deliver it. No sooner said then they constructed a crude sort of harness with a small saddlebag on each side, and put in the daily papers for his trial trip. Then Stacey talked to him like a human, saying "Now, Dorsey, I'm sick, so you have to deliver the mail." He rubbed a paper across the dog's nose and pointed over toward East Calico.

"Well sir, that dog made a record delivery to the boys. They found the note tied on his collar explaining why this experiment had been made and asking that, should he make the trip safely, they return some mail in Dorsey's saddlebags. Now if you think that dog wasn't proud when he got home! He strutted around like nobody's business.

"There were more and more tests made until they were sure that he knew just what to do. Finally they had a special harness made, so the mail could be placed in the saddlebags with no chance of losing out.

"Dorsey became, so far as ever heard of in these parts, the one and only mail carrying dog in the whole world. It attracted such widespread attention that he was photographed with his load of mail, and hundreds of people bought a picture. People were skeptical about believing he did this stunt, so many times miners would try to meet him on the trail, but the dog would invariably see or smell them, make a big detour around them, then circle onto the trail again."
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