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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 98

Postby Kathy W » Sun Dec 16, 2012 7:40 pm

Hello to everyone reading!







CHAPTER NINETY-EIGHT



April 12, 2000, 10:45 p.m.

Valenti residence





"Who is this?" the woman's anguished voice asked. "Why don't you know? My husband's dead. Why don't they just tell everybody, for God's sake?"

"Ma'am, I'm sorry—"

Click.

Jim Valenti's heart was pounding a drumbeat as he set the telephone down, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. My husband's dead. So Topolsky had been right about Agent Stevens. It sounded like the Bureau wasn't exactly chatty about it, telling him that Stevens no longer worked for them, a bit of an understatement. Of course the simple, verifiable fact of Stevens' death didn't make the rest of Topolsky's story true.

Too bad I don't really believe that, he thought heavily, reaching for the Scotch. He'd known something was off the moment he'd spotted her, home late as he was, leafing through the mail until that shiver had gone up his spine, that certainty that something was there that shouldn't be, and in his own house no less. Simply put, she was a mess. Kathleen Topolsky had been many things in her short time as ersatz guidance counselor, but the one thing she had always been was well groomed, as in impeccably-dressed/make-up-flawless/not-a-hair-out-of-place well groomed. Even when she'd followed them to Marathon and clobbered him, she'd been a virtual fashion plate, with slicked back hair, a leather jacket, tony boots; hell, she'd probably been wielding a designer flashlight. What a far cry from the disheveled woman in ill-fitting clothes with greasy hair and dark circles under her eyes who had stepped from the shadows, a mere ghost of her former self. And not just a ghost, but a ghost with an unlikely, far-fetched story he'd been very willing to write off...except for one thing.

"Did you really think you could kill Everett Hubble and not send up a red flag?"

Hubble's name had rung like a slap. Two months had passed since that night at Pepper's Cafe, and the nightmares had receded, helped along, no doubt, by the knowledge that it had been Hubble, not his father, who had killed that drifter. Justice, a large part of him had decided, going a long way toward easing the sting. He'd actually reached a point where he didn't think of it every single day, didn't relive the sickening thump with which Hubble's body had hit the ground, didn't fret anew over the call he'd answered on Hubble's phone, that commanding voice demanding to know who had answered. "Everett?" it had said. "Hub?" Not only a commanding voice, but a commanding voice on a first name and nickname basis, a nickname bestowed by his own father. Whoever had called that phone had history with Hubble, close history...and Hubble had known something he'd only told Agent Stevens. Which had made it all the more alarming to have an FBI agent in his living room claiming that Stevens was dead, the victim of what sounded like a madman, a madman who was supposedly after her, Max Evans, and half of Roswell.

Valenti snapped off the light and sank into a chair, the darkness soothing. If Topolsky was right, he now stood at a crossroads visited years ago by another Valenti. The FBI had come calling for his father back in 1959, a memory framed by the cruel man in the sharp suit who had held him and his mother hostage while his father did his bidding, his mother's anger that his father didn't just give them whatever they wanted and send them packing, and his own terror that his father would be carted away, never to be seen again. He'd never learned the details of his father's intransigence, but it had been clear that he'd felt the Bureau was overstepping its bounds, perhaps a similar situation to the one in which he now found himself. Whatever Max Evans was or wasn't, he was an American citizen, at least until proven otherwise, and therefore innocent until proven guilty. If the Bureau wanted Evans, they would need a warrant, and in order to get that, they would need evidence, evidence they would also need to secure his cooperation as the law in this town. It would be up to him to weigh that evidence against the protection due to each and every one of its citizens. Procedure was there for a reason and must be followed. Failure to do so made his duty clear; he would side with the resident of his town unless and until sufficient evidence was produced of that resident's guilt. Right now all he had was a kid who was "guilty" of saving a girl's life, if anything. If the Bureau really was here, they'd have to convince him otherwise, assuming, of course, that they tried to convince him at all. If Topolsky was to be believed, they'd wouldn't bother.

A soft footfall sounded behind him. Instinctively Valenti whirled around and snapped the light on, his drink sloshing in his glass.

"Dad?" Kyle blinked.

"Kyle," Valenti said in relief, sinking back into the chair. "You could turn on a light, you know."

"I was afraid I'd wake you," Kyle answered. "Why are you sitting in the dark? And drinking in the dark?"

"Rough night," Valenti admitted.

"So rough you didn't hear the car pull up and the front door close?"

"Apparently. Isn't it kind of late?" Valenti said, changing the subject. "It's a school night."

"It's 10:59," Kyle said. "Home by 11:00, right? Well, I'm home by 11:00."

"Cutting it kind of close, aren't you?"

"Splitting hairs, aren't you? Okay, tell you what—I'll leave at least 5 minutes to spare next time if you'll tell me why you're drinking in the dark."

Valenti looked at his glass. "Goodnight, Kyle."

Kyle shrugged. " 'Night, Dad."

Valenti resumed his seat and his drink, fretting all the way to the end of the glass. He was halfway to the bedroom for what would no doubt turn out to be a sleepless night when inspiration struck.

"Federal Bureau of Investigation, how may I direct your call?" asked a different female voice when he dialed again, prompting him to wonder how many operators they had on duty at this hour.

"I'm trying to contact Agent Kathleen Topolsky," Valenti said.

A keyboard clickety clacked. "I'm sorry," the voice said, "but Agent Topolsky no longer works for the Bureau."

"Can you tell me how to reach her? I need to contact her."

"No, I'm sorry," the voice answered. "All I can tell you is that she's no longer a Bureau employee. Can I get you someone else?"

"No. I mean, yes!" Valenti said suddenly. "I'll speak with...Agent Pierce."

More clickety clacking. "Whom shall I say is calling?"

There was a long pause while Valenti held his breath, having not expected that response. He was ultimately spared from answering by a sharp, muffled voice on the other end; someone was apparently arguing with his operator. After another round of furious typing, his operator's voice returned.

"I'm sorry, sir, but there is no one by the name of Pierce at the FBI."

"But...you just said there was."

"I'm sorry, I was mistaken," the operator replied.

"But I heard you look it up," Valenti protested.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I'm new here," the flustered operator said. "We have no agents by the name of 'Pierce'. Can I get you someone else?"

"No," Valenti said faintly. "Never mind."




*****************************************************




April 13, 2000, 12:30 p.m.

West Roswell High School






Max Evan paced outside the cafeteria door in the spring sunshine, checking his watch again. Where was everyone? They'd agreed to meet out here at lunchtime, in the open air and away from prying ears, but he was the first to arrive. The school's back parking lot stretched in front of him, a steady stream of students and cars leaving for happier lunchtime pursuits as he waited impatiently. Five more minutes passed before he saw his sister heading toward him.

"Where is everybody?" he demanded as Isabel drew abreast of him. "You're all late."

"Calm down, brother dear," Isabel said in a bored tone. "They're coming. They're just not running." She broke into a smile and waved across the lot, where a blonde figure stood at the edge of one of the athletic fields.

"Still taking up with her?" Max asked.

" 'Taking up'?" Isabel echoed. "What does that mean? We're not dating, if that's what you're implying."

"May as well be," Max said.

"I resent that," Isabel said testily. "Tess is a friend, that's all."

"No, that's not 'all'," Max said. "Like I said before, she's a stranger."

"What, so now the FBI is sending teenagers after us?" Isabel said in a deeply skeptical voice. "Do they even hire teenagers? Is that even legal?"

"I seriously doubt this 'alien hunter' cares about what's 'legal'," Max retorted.

Isabel nodded slowly. "So you believe her. Topolsky. You believe what she told Liz."

"I didn't say that."

"Yeah, Max you pretty much did," Isabel said. "If you believe her, then why are we going through all these contortions to avoid her? If you believe her, we should be talking to her, or at least listening."

"No," Max said firmly. "No one's talking to her, listening to her, or having anything to do with her whether she's right or wrong. Anyone who meets with her may not come back. Whether that's because it's a ruse or because she's being followed by an alien hunter won't much matter when they disappear."

"Mmm," Isabel murmured. "So you think Tess is an alien hunter?"

"Don't get cute," Max said sharply. "I think this is a bad time to be making new friends, that's all."

Isabel shook her head. "No, that's not 'all'. If this were just about 'making a new friend', you wouldn't be using that tone. Something about Tess sets you off. What is it?"

"You're imagining things," Max declared.

"Is it her outspokenness?" Isabel asked, ignoring him. "Because frankly, I find that refreshing. There are lots of people who say what they think, but get all pissy when anyone else does. Tess doesn't. She speaks her mind, and she doesn't care if others do too. I think she actually likes it better if they do."

"Hurray for her," Max muttered.

"See, there's that tone again," Isabel said in that maddening, finger-wagging voice. "So you only like meek women who can't stand up for themselves?"

"How did this conversation turn out to be about what kind of women I like?" Max demanded. "Someone's watching us, Isabel. Exactly who is kind of beside the point because none of the possibilities are good ones. This is a bad time to be getting close to anyone we don't know, whether it's her or anyone else. That's all I said. Stop trying to change the subject."

"Okay, fine—'the subject'," Isabel said. "We agreed we were supposed to act like we had nothing to hide. The way I see it, hanging out with a girlfriend fits that bill nicely. And I like her. She's different; she's not all make-up and boys. I don't have to hide from her. Not like that," she added impatiently when Max raised an eyebrow. "I always have to hide that. I mean things like...like baking with Grandma. I love to do that, but mention that to my other friends and they'll be razzing me in an instant. It's just not cool to bake with your grandmother, you know? But Tess loved it. She even told me I was lucky to have someone to do that with, and she wrote down Grandma's recipe. None of my other friends would do that. Not because they wouldn't secretly enjoy it, but because they'd be afraid someone else would find out and razz them for it. I can't 'be myself' with Tess, but I can be closer. And I like that."

Max's eyes dropped. "I...didn't know. About the other friends bit."

"Yeah, well, why would you?" Isabel said. "You don't have any friends except Michael and Liz."

The tone was casual, but the words stung as Max gazed across the parking lot to the athletic field, where Tess had stepped away. He was so focused on threats, whether real or perceived, that he sometimes forgot that, for all that they weren't human, they were still people who needed other people. He should know; his life had been transformed when Liz and the others had come into it. Taking Isabel to task for having a friend now felt childish.

"Fret no more," Isabel said. "Here they are."

Liz, Maria, Alex, and Michael had appeared in the distance, the first three coming from one direction, the latter from another, all converging at the same time. "Well?" Michael demanded. "Anything?"

"Hi, Michael," Maria said sweetly. "Nice to see you too, and yes, thanks, I'm having a good day. You?"

"Very funny," Michael scowled. "This isn't a social occasion."

"Of course not," Maria said. "Because nothing ever is with you."

"Can we do this later?" Max broke in before Michael could retort. "Michael's right; we're here for a reason. Has anyone seen or heard anything from Topolsky since we...since last night?"

"You mean since we stiffed her?" Alex said.

"Since we declined her invitation," Max corrected. "Has she tried to contact anyone else?"

Heads shook. "That means nothing," Michael declared. "She won't come after us at school. It'll be tonight, and she'll try someone different."

"Why do you say that?" Maria asked.

"Because Liz didn't work," Michael answered. "Max and Liz didn't work, so she'll try one of the rest of us."

An uncomfortable silence fell over the group as the uncontacted exchanged alarmed glances. "I thought of that," Max allowed, "but she could try any of us, so we all have to be on guard. We should stay together again, like we did last night. Well...most of us," he added with a pointed look at Alex.

Alex shrugged. "Tonight's movie night. What say I meet you at the Crashdown after your shifts with tonight's offerings?"

"Good idea," Liz agreed.

"Right," Maria nodded.

"Whatever," Michael said.

"It doesn't matter what we do as long as we're not alone," Max said. "Even if that means just one other person. She'll be less likely to do anything if there are even two of us."

Heads nodded. "Okay, then...that's all I had," Max said. "Back to being normal."

"Don't you mean pretending to be?" Isabel said.

She walked off, followed by everyone but Liz and Alex. "She's just feeling the strain," Liz said. "We all are."

"Tell me about it," Alex said.

Max shook his head. "It's more than that. I was on her case about...never mind. It's not important now."

"I think we all need to cut each other a bit more slack than usual," Alex commented. "Especially since..." He stopped, his eyes far away across the parking lot.

"Especially since what?" Liz asked.

Alex looked at her blankly, then shook his head. "Especially since we're all on edge. That's all."

"Something wrong?" Max asked.

Alex hesitated. "Okay, I know this is gonna sound paranoid, so I apologize in advance, but...do you see that sedan that's turning out of the parking lot?"

"Um...yeah," Max said, as Liz nodded too. "What about it?"

Alex shook his head. "Call me crazy, but I would have sworn I saw that car twice already today, once on the way to school and then out the window during second period. And there it goes again."

"How do you know it's the same car?" Liz asked.

Alex's mouth opened, closed. "I don't," he admitted. "I really don't. Never mind. From what you said about Topolsky, she's not driving around in a car like that. I'm just paranoid."

"We all are," Max said gently. "I'm sure it's nothing."




******************************************************




"Which one?" Pierce asked, peering past Brian.

"The tall one," Brian answered, steering the car into a parking space. "Real thin."

"Don't you mean strokey?" Pierce chuckled, gazing out the tinted window. "Certainly looks geeky."

"He is," Brian confirmed. "An AP computer languages tutorial—something Topolsky helped get him into during her time as 'guidance counselor'—straight 'A's' in math and science, a shoo-in for the National Honor Society—"

"Okay, I get it," Pierce interrupted. "What about his family?"

"Dad's an IT guy," Brian replied. "No surprise there. Mom's a bean counter at a bank. No siblings."

"Good," Pierce said. "Fewer people to deal with."

"Bad," Brian corrected. "He's an only child. They'll yell all the louder if he disappears."

"He's not going to 'disappear'. I just want to talk to him, that's all."

"Right," Brian said skeptically. "Like you 'talked' to Agent Stevens? And Moss? And—"

"Enough," Pierce broke in. "Those were FBI agents. This is just a kid...or an alien who looks like a kid. What about the rest?"

"The short hair is DeLuca," Brian said. "The knock-out is Isabel Evans, long dark hair is the shooting victim, spiky hair is Michael Guerin. Which leaves—"

"Mr. Dark and Brooding," Pierce murmured, eyes glued to the window. "Our suspect. I've only seen photos. Never seen him up close."

"Not much to look at," Brian commented.

"Yes, well, I suppose that's the point," Pierce said. "Kind of defeats the purpose to walk around with tentacles and three eyes." He was quiet for a moment, watching the little group huddled together near the cafeteria door. "Imagine all those dead bodies coming from that innocuous looking kid. Assuming he looked like that when he killed them, of course. I wonder if he has to assume his alien form in order to kill? Suppose not since the handprints looked like human hands."

"We know he doesn't have to in order to heal," Brian noted. "He looked just like that in September when he healed the waitress."

"Why do you suppose he did that?" Pierce wondered. "What does he want her for? Experiments? Breeding?"

"Could be either," Brian agreed.

"Or maybe she's already pregnant," Pierce mused. "That would explain it."

"Or maybe she's just a turncoat," Brian suggested. "Maybe she's helping them with their cause. Teenagers are easily swayed. Hitler knew that; that's why he founded Hitler Youth."

"True," Pierce agreed. "A high school would be a spectacular recruiting ground." He paused. "Get me closer."

"What?"

"I said, get me closer. I want a better look."

"Uh...is that wise? If we—"

"I'll decide what's wise," Pierce announced. "Get me closer."

"Okay," Brian said doubtfully, putting the car in gear and backing out. They snaked along the lot's aisles, rounded a corner...

...and then suddenly sped away. "Where are you going?" Pierce demanded. "I said—"

"I know what you said," Brian broke in. "Not now."

"Not 'now'?" Pierce echoed. "Not now? What the hell is 'not now'? I gave you an order—"

"Look behind us, Danny. Look," he added when Pierce began to protest further.

Brian pulled out of the parking lot as Pierce twisted around. "Wait, is that...is that..."

"A sheriff's cruiser," Brian said grimly. "As in Sheriff Valenti."

"We don't know it's Valenti," Pierce protested.

"Wanna bet?" Brian said. "He's following us. Take a look at the next light."

Brian stopped at the next intersection, both of them peering at the cruiser which pulled up beside them in the next lane, its occupant peering like they were, but unable to see past the tinted windows. "By God, it is Valenti!" Pierce said in astonishment. "Jesus, he looks like a young Jim Sr."

"Maybe that's why he's Jim Jr.," Brian said dryly. "I thought he might be following us. Now I'm sure."

"Why?" Pierce demanded. "Why would he be following us? There's nothing unusual about this car, no insignia, or..." He stopped, his eyes far away. "Holy shit," he said after a moment. "She told him!"

"That's the conclusion I reached," Brian said. "Makes sense. The Valenti's have always been anti-Bureau, so if Topolsky wanted help, he'd be a logical port of call."

"Damn it," Pierce muttered. "Damn it!"

"Well, you called it," Brian observed. "You said wherever there are aliens, there's a Valenti involved."

"Which is why I was having him watched," Pierce snapped. "Why aren't our people on this?"

"They are," Brian said. "That's how I knew to look for him. I don't have to tell you how bad this is. He's got his father's nose. If he suspects us, he'll run our plates, which will lead him to the rental agency, where he'll figure out that the person who rented this car doesn't exist. Then he'll draw his own conclusions."

"I can safely say I don't give a shit what his 'conclusions' are," Pierce said caustically. "I will not, I repeat, not, have a Valenti getting in my way. Take him out."

Brian blinked. "Excuse me? Bump him off, and Sauron's Eye swings this way. Do you really think Director Freeh wouldn't notice if he died?"

"Fine, lock him up, maim him, give him malaria, whatever," Pierce said impatiently. "Just get him out of my way!"

"How about we just avoid him?" Brian suggested. "He can't be everywhere at once, and this is just a fact-finding mission, right? Or so I've been told."

Pierce slumped sullenly in his seat, glowering at Brian, who ignored him. "I mean it, Brian. His father drove mine nuts, and I won't have history repeat itself. I won't."




******************************************************




Harding residence




Dee pulled into the driveway and stepped out of the car, her bum knee groaning as usual. In the few seconds that it always took to convince it to accept her weight, she had a look around at the bare yard and the featureless house before heading for the front door and knocking.

No one answered. She knocked again, tried the door; it was open. "Hello?" she called, stepping cautiously inside. "Anyone home?"

Apparently not. Closing the door behind her, she wandered through the completely empty house, making a circuit of the living room, kitchen, back deck, and powder room before returning to the front door.

"Make yourself at home," Jaddo said, coming down the staircase.

"Love what you've done with the place," Dee said dryly.

"The movers aren't here yet," Jaddo said, "and they're seeding the lawn this week. We have this down to a science. It'll all look nice and normal when I'm done."

"With stuff you've only just acquired," Dee said.

"That's the way things work when you move as often as we do for the reasons we do," Jaddo answered. "We buy all new 'belongings' each time we move."

"Mmm," Dee murmured, running a hand over the window ledge. "Sounds lonely."

"Sounds necessary," Jaddo corrected. "We take very little from one place to the next so as not to be identified."

"Oh, I understand the reasoning," Dee said. "I'm just glad I don't have to do that." She paused, looking around. "It's a nice house. Is it true that your cover story is that you're working for the Army?"

"Yes. Don't laugh," Jaddo added when Dee did just that. "I've worked for the Army several times over the last few years. It's a cover that tends to fend off inconvenient questions and provides the perfect excuse for a life spent moving around."

"How'd you manage that?" Dee asked, perching on a window ledge for lack of a chair.

Jaddo shrugged. "It's not hard. Craft a work history, slip it into all the right places. No big deal."

"Right," Dee said skeptically. "Right. Well...I was just curious about your new place. And I wanted to tell you that Tess was over the other day."

"I heard," Jaddo said darkly. "I gather Vilandra's got her hooks in her."

"Isabel invited her over," Dee said deliberately. "Not Vilandra, Isabel, my granddaughter."

"If she can be your granddaughter, she can also be my Vilandra," Jaddo said. "Still, I gave Tess her marching orders, so I suppose I shouldn't complain about how she does it."

"It's hardly surprising given that they're the only two girls in the group," Dee said. "Did they get along well before?"

"Well enough," Jaddo answered, "although not well enough to fend off disaster."

"Yes, well, I suppose if you're keeping the existence of a lover from your brother, telling your brother's wife would be a bad idea," Dee said as Jaddo raised an eyebrow. "Out of curiosity, what exactly are her 'marching orders'?"

"We need her to help them remember," Jaddo said. "Brivari and I both agreed that it would be better—"

"Wait—you and Brivari agreed on something? Really?"

"—coming from her than us," Jaddo finished, ignoring her. "The king can't compel her to do anything."

"True," Dee allowed. "But he can't compel me either, and I thought I was going to help break this ice."

"Things have changed," Jaddo said. "The Bureau has reappeared, and in a very worrisome way. We need to accelerate the rate at which the hybrids are brought up to speed so they can protect themselves, and we'd prefer not to expose you, to either the hybrids or the Bureau. It's always best to leave some allies hidden."

"Okay," Dee said, having not thought of it that way. "But I should worn you that Max is suspicious of Tess. She's very frank, your...charge, very outspoken. They're rattled right now, so that's not going over."

Jaddo leaned against the balustrade. "Go on."

"She's also very...eager," Dee went on. "She's clearly drawn to the concept of a family like Max and Isabel have, and...and I'm afraid she's going to push too hard, too fast. That won't work, Jaddo. She can't just push in."

"I'm afraid we don't have much of a choice," Jaddo answered. "I realize it wasn't supposed to be this way; we were supposed to arrive this summer and let them take their time getting acquainted. That would be ideal, but 'ideal' doesn't come into the picture when you've got the Unit on your heels, and I don't mean just Topolsky. Whatever happens with Topolsky, it won't be over, it'll just be starting. They're all going to have to get to know each other faster than we would have liked."

"I suppose," Dee sighed. "Well...I'll try to facilitate that process as much as possible, but there's little I can do without revealing that I know who she is."

"We're aware of that," Jaddo said. "She's not your responsibility."

"She certainly is," Dee protested. "Her Warder saved my life. I promised him I'd look after her, and promised Isabel's that I'd tell her about him someday; her favorite story as a child was the one about the princess and her guardian, a story she has no idea is true. They're all my responsibility, every bit as much as yours and Brivari's, and I'm betting Urza and Valeris would agree with me."

For a moment Dee thought he was going to argue with her, but then his eyes dropped. "I'd wager they'd do more than that," he allowed. "Valeris, at least, would be appalled that his Ward landed in my care." He paused. "You're right, of course. I meant no offence."

"None taken," Dee said.

An awkward silence ensued, which seemed to echo more than usual in the empty house. "So...I've given my 'report'. Anything you want to tell me?"

Jaddo was quiet for a moment. "We found Topolsky. She approached the Parker girl and attempted to set up a meeting for last night. They didn't go," he added when Dee's eyes widened. "But I did, to make certain they didn't."

"She'll try again," Dee said faintly.

"Yes," Jaddo agreed. "The question is, with whom?"




******************************************************




Guerin residence




Eureka, Topolsky thought, holding aloft the silvery gray oval, a perfect match to the one she'd lifted from the Bureau's evidence vault. She'd always suspected that Max wasn't the only alien, and now she had proof that she was right, which made her next choice of contact all the better. She'd hoped Guerin would serve as the intermediary Liz should have been, but now she could make her case directly to the source.

Cradling the communicator in her hand, she settled on the far side of the room. Michael wasn't here now, but he'd have to come back eventually. And when he did, she'd be waiting for him.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Here's wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Image Image I'll be back with Chapter 99 on Sunday, January 6!
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 685
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 99

Postby Kathy W » Sun Jan 06, 2013 9:52 pm

Hi, everyone! Back from the holiday blur! (But we still have our tree up. I hate letting go of Christmas. Image ) Thanks for the feedback, keepsmiling7!





CHAPTER NINETY-NINE



April 13, 2000, 8 p.m.

Roswell





"What I want to know is, if I'm such a loser, then why do you want to be with me?"

Maria didn't answer, and Michael didn't bother waiting for one. The girl with all the answers, all the "musts", all the endless lists of what it meant to be "in a relationship" was curiously lacking an answer to the question of how she could possibly be interested in someone who flouted all the rules she never stopped quoting. Well, not "flouted", not exactly, because in order to flout a rule you had to know of its existence in the first place, and Michael could safely say he hadn't had a clue how many rules there seemed to be when it came to girls. That he'd managed to run afoul of so many without being aware of any must be a record of sorts, but he was guessing that even being aware of them wouldn't have helped. He'd never been a rule follower. Just ask Philip Evans.

"Hey," Max said uncertainly when Michael returned to the table alone and slumped into the booth.

"Hey," Michael replied tonelessly.

Max and Liz exchanged alarmed glances. "Is...everything all right?" Max ventured.

"Sure, Max, everything is great," Michael said. "Great, that is, for having just been told that I'm a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who lacks all the airs and graces I'm supposed to have. Guess I'd better turn down that invite from the Queen, or it'll be off with my head because I used the wrong fork."

Liz's eyes expanded to a satisfying size as his sarcasm washed over her. "Um...I'll just go...I'm just gonna talk...I'll be right back," she finished, slipping out of the booth.

"What happened?" Max whispered after she left.

"Apparently I'm not good enough for her," Michael said. "I have no table manners, I got her the wrong kind of shampoo, and I just 'don't get it', whatever 'it' is. And apparently you think the same thing."

"I didn't say that," Max protested.

"No, you did that rub-your-eyebrow thing you always do when you're embarrassed."

"What rub-your-eyebrow thing?"

"You're doing it right now!" Michael exclaimed. "You did it when I ate dinner at your house that night your father busted my chops. Was that table manners too?"

Max pulled his hand away, looked at it, flushed slightly. "Okay...yeah. It was table manners. You helped yourself to a whole lot of food before everyone had even sat down."

"Hey, that's the way it is in foster homes," Michael retorted. "If you don't eat fast, you don't eat."

"I get it," Max said quickly. "I can eat as slow as I want, and there'll still be some left over. I know it was different for you."

"So what's the problem now?" Michael demanded. "I was just eating off my own plate."

"Shoveling," Max corrected. "You were shoveling. Fast. Which makes total sense given what you just described," he added hastily. "It's just not what we're used to, what Maria's used to. Maybe you need to tell her what you told me."

"What for?" Michael said. "There's always something else on the list I didn't do right. Like the shampoo. You said get her a present, so I got her a present, but now it's not good enough?"

"Michael, when you get a girl a present, you get her something she doesn't usually have," Max said in that insufferably patient tone he used when discussing something he thought Michael was supposed to already know. "She uses shampoo all the time. And you wrap it up, make it look nice, make it...special."

"Do you have any idea how much wrapping papers costs, Max? And it's a waste; you just tear it off and throw it away. What's special about that?"

"It's special because it makes her feel special that you bothered to wrap it," Max explained. "And it looks nice. Girls like that sort of stuff."

"Then why didn't you wrap yours?"

"I put it in a gift bag," Max said. "Actually the store put it in a gift bag for no extra charge. I just asked for it. You could have too."

"Why would I have?" Michael said peevishly. "You never said anything about wrapping it. Where I come from, you don't get presents, wrapped or unwrapped. How am I supposed to know this stuff?"

"It's just...basic," Max said. "Like holding doors open for girls. Or picking up the check when you go out."

"Basic, huh? I've got news for you, Maxwell. 'Basic' is stuff we're born knowing, like eating and breathing, and we're not born knowing about gift bags and opening doors. No one ever taught me these rules, and the more I hear about them, the more stupid they seem to be. Hold the door? What for? What, she can't open it herself? Pay the bill? Why? She has a job, she has money; why can't she pay some of the time? It's like whoever wrote the rules expects women to be helpless, and whatever else Maria and Liz may be, it's pretty clear they're not helpless."

Michael fell into a frustrated silence. Across from him, Max shifted awkwardly, his eyes toward the front of the restaurant where Liz was no doubt consoling the distraught Maria on her lack of a decent boyfriend. "So...what are you gonna do?" Max said after a moment.

Michael shook his head. "I don't know. I asked her why she wanted to hang around me if I'm such a loser, and she didn't say anything."

"I could ask you the same question," Max noted. "Why do you want to hang around her if she's always mad at you?"

Michael was quiet for a moment. "Because she gets me."

Max blinked. "She 'gets' you? I thought you just said—"

"When she's not bitching about stupid, unimportant things," Michael qualified. "When she's just Maria, she gets me. More than anyone else ever has." He wadded up his napkin, tossed it on his plate. "When we're together, you know, just together, not on some official 'date' or whatever, we're great. It's just when we try to do something like this that we're on different pages. I hate dating her, but I love hanging out with her."

"And making out with her," Max said dryly.

"That too. Look, the point is we're great without all the rules. The rules just kill it."

Quiet descended again as Michael slumped sullenly in the booth. The waitress appeared and cleared away some plates, after which Max leaned in. "I saw Valenti today."

"Big deal," Michael said. "He's the sheriff. We see him all the time."

"No, I talked to him," Max clarified. "Actually, he talked to me."

Michael sat up. "About what?"

Max's eyes shifted right, left. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "He just came up to me at the UFO center during my shift and started talking about crazy people, and conspiracy theories, and how I need to be careful."

"He said that?" Michael demanded. "He said you needed to be careful?"

Max nodded. "He also said that he was here to protect us, and that if anyone bothered me or any of my friends, to let him know."

Michael stared into space for a moment. "He knows."

"Of course he 'knows'," Max said. "He's 'known' since the shooting."

"Not that; he knows about Topolsky," Michael said. "Hell, they're probably in it together. This is probably a ploy to get us to trust her."

"Then why is he telling me to be careful of crazies and let him know if anyone bothers me?"

"Okay, trust them," Michael corrected. "It's good cop/bad cop; she's not getting anywhere, so he moves in and pretends to be on our side."

"Valenti and Topolsky?" Max said doubtfully. "Really?"

"Sure, 'really'. Why not? They're both after us. See, this is the stuff we should be spending our energy on," Michael went on, "not table manners and dinner checks. This is the stuff that matters."

Liz appeared, wearing the air of a diplomat between warring nations. "Um...Maria suggested that we all just go back to the Crashdown. What do you think?"

"Okay," Max said.

"Fine by me," Michael said. "I didn't want to come here anyway."

Liz's eyes widened again, and Max gave her a little head shake, as if to say don't tell her that. "What was that supposed to mean?" Max hissed after Liz left. "This was your idea, Michael."

"I said 'go out'," Michael answered. "I didn't say 'make a list of ridiculous rules and beat me over the head with them'. And for the record, I was only trying to keep us all together in case Topolsky showed up."

"Then we should have stayed at the Crashdown with Alex and Isabel," Max said. "Come on. I'll get the check."

Michael waited uncomfortably while Max paid the bill, with Maria and Liz waiting outside. He still didn't understand why guys got stuck paying all the time when all of them had jobs. Heck, Maria had a job, and her money was just fun money; she didn't have to pay rent and electricity and telephone bills, didn't have to stretch her salary to make sure she'd have enough food until her next paycheck. It made more sense for her to pay, but of course the rules didn't allow that. The rules didn't seem to allow anything which made sense, and Maria sulked across the street with Liz in silence, he and Max trailing behind, even the little bell on the Crashdown's door sounding downtrodden when they went inside, Max holding the door for everyone.

"Where's Iz?" Max asked, looking around the sparsely populated diner.

"And Alex?" Liz added.

"Hey, guys," Mr. Parker said, appearing from the kitchen. "How was your night out?"

"Oh, it was...good," Liz answered, trying to sound cheerful.

"Liar," Maria said under her breath.

"Dad, did you see where Alex and Isabel went?" Liz asked, changing the subject.

"Isabel left with another girl," Mrs. Parker reported. "Haven't seen her before."

"Blonde?" Max asked.

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, she was," Mr. Parker nodded.

Max and Michael exchanged glances. "Tess," Max murmured.

"And Alex?" Liz went on. "Where'd he go?"

"Don't know," Mr. Parker said, "but he left alone."




******************************************************





Honk!

Jim Valenti jerked back to the present, to the busy street where his cruiser was sitting at a red light...that was no longer red. Damn, he muttered, pulling hastily away. He'd been like this all day, lost in thought, spinning scenario after scenario in his head, each more unlikely than the last and each guaranteed to leave him in a near catatonic state that had him missing things. He'd already missed a staff meeting, three phone calls, lunch with a colleague, a haircut appointment, and now a green light as he tried to find his way out of the maze he'd found himself in when he'd arrived home last night, flipping through the mail and in desperate need of a cup of coffee. And then Kathleen Topolsky had emerged from the shadows, disheveled, shaken, and telling an incredible story which had sent him into a tailspin and prevented him from getting so much as a wink of sleep as he'd pondered the various possibilities, of which there were chiefly two: Either Topolsky was still working with the FBI and attempting to use him to gain the trust of the apparently uncooperative kids, or she was running from the FBI for reasons which may or may not be those she claimed. Both were unappealing because both meant the FBI had come to town—again—without bothering to take him into their confidence—again—and when lunchtime had come and gone with no contact from either the Bureau or Topolsky, he'd made a side trip to the UFO center to remind Max Evans of a few things he should keep in mind if anyone approached him. He wasn't sure what was going on, but no way was he going to sit back and let the Bureau pull a fast one for the second time in only a few months.

Assuming that's what's going on, he added silently, rounding a corner, going over the evidence for the umpteenth time. Initially taken aback at the apparent existence of a "Pierce" which the Bureau did not wish to confirm, he'd decided that meant nothing; the best lies, after all, contained some truth, and any lie Topolsky told him would be carefully constructed. Same for Agent Stevens' death; Topolsky would know he'd check. It was the conversation, if it could be called that, with Stevens' widow which disturbed him the most because, as far as he knew, no one knew he had Agent Stevens' home number. How could Topolsky have planned for that? And then there was that haunting announcement, playing over and over in his mind...

Why don't you know? My husband's dead.

Valenti rounded another corner and pulled up at another red light, keeping a careful eye on it. His father had always prided himself on his ability to sniff out a liar, a very real skill which had proven inadequate to the task of reining in Everett Hubble, who had been unstable, not untruthful. He liked to think he had the same nose for dissemblance, and time had proven he did. It was how he knew Max Evans was keeping something from him, Maria DeLuca knew more than she was willing to tell, Michael Guerin hadn't really hurt Hank Whitmore even though he'd refused to account for his whereabouts...and that the anguish in Stevens' widow's voice was real. That alone proved nothing; Stevens could have died from any number of different things. It was the next part which was the sticking point.

Why don't they just tell everybody, for God's sake?

Call him crazy, but it sounded like the Bureau was trying to quash news of Agent Stevens' death. Which it would, of course, if he'd died in a mysterious manner at the hands of a shadowy figure within its own ranks...

Stop it! Valenti told himself severely. John Stevens had worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; there could be any number of reasons why the Bureau would keep his death quiet. This was all pure speculation; anything which even vaguely qualified as evidence that Topolsky was telling the truth could easily have been planted by a woman who knew him well enough to predict his responses and had already deceived him once. Which brought him back to the basic problem at hand, that the Bureau was likely prowling his town on his watch, and that whoever Max Evans was, he was also a resident of this town, entitled to his protection and accused of nothing more than saving a girl's life. Which was why he'd spent the day keeping a watchful eye on the teens' haunts, including the Evan's neighborhood and the high school, and why he was now wandering the neighborhood surrounding the Crashdown. Several times he'd thought he'd seen something suspicious like a strange car or someone loitering in an odd place only to have said car or loiterer move along, and at this point, he was seriously considering that he'd carried this whole thing too far when traffic stopped beside a side street, where a familiar figure stood beside a dark car...

Valenti jerked the wheel to the right, heading around the corner without conscious thought and coming to an abrupt halt directly behind the car. "Anything wrong here?" he called, not even positive who he was talking to.

But the face which swung toward him with a deer-in-the-headlights look was exactly who he'd thought it was. Alex Whitman was very tall and very thin, what some would call "stroky", making his frame recognizable even from a distance. He gaped in silence, his head swinging back and forth from the dark car to Valenti, and for a moment, Valenti was convinced he'd made a fool out of himself—again. Whitman was probably just talking to a friend, and here the sheriff had just roared up behind him like Buford Pusser. How was he going to explain this?

Then the car sped off, leaving abruptly, without a word from either its occupants or Alex. "Hitchhiking's never a good idea," Valenti said quickly. "Come on, I'll give you a ride home. No questions asked."

For a second, Valenti thought Alex was going to refuse. But then he nodded, climbing into the back of the cruiser wearing a dazed expression which made it highly unlikely that had been a friend he'd been talking to, or certainly not one bearing good news. Steady there, Valenti thought as he climbed back inside. It was entirely possible he'd just witnessed nothing more than a teenage altercation, although his gut was screaming otherwise, just like it had when he'd spied the disheveled Topolsky and heard the anguish in Miriam Stevens' voice. Behind him, Alex gazed out the window in what appeared to be shock and utter silence, a silence Valenti also maintained on the five minute ride to the Whitman's house, nearly biting his tongue in half in an effort to keep his promise of "no questions asked". Asking wouldn't help anyway; these kids didn't trust him enough to answer him honestly because, frankly, he hadn't given them a reason to.

"Here you go," Valenti said cheerfully as he pulled up outside the Whitman's house. "Got the right place, didn't I?"

Alex's eyes jerked forward as though coming out of a trance. "Uh...yeah. Yeah, you did." He climbed out, pausing beside the cruiser with the expression of one who was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"You have a good night now," Valenti said.

"Is...that it?" Alex asked.

"Sure," Valenti answered. "I said 'no questions', didn't I?"

Alex pondered that for a moment. "Yeah. Yeah, you did. I just...I didn't think you really meant it. No offense," he added quickly.

"None taken," Valenti replied. "But I always mean what I say, Alex. So 'no questions' means 'no questions'. Period."

Alex nodded slowly. "Okay. Well...goodnight, sheriff. Thanks for the ride."

"You're very welcome. And remember, I'm here to protect the people of this town. If you ever need help, for any reason, it's yours...no questions asked."

Another slow nod, another guarded expression before he loped up the driveway. Valenti waited until he was inside before pulling away, picking up his radio as he circled the block, eyes peeled.

"Yes, sir?" Hanson's voice said.

"Hanson, I need you to run a plate number for me..."




*****************************************************



Evans residence




"There," Tess said, tucking the last strand of hair into place. "What do you think?"

Isabel examined the results in her dresser mirror. "Wow! Where did you learn to braid like that?"

"From a really prissy princess type named Kara," Tess answered. "Very into herself, that one, but full of hair and make-up tips."

"At least you got something useful out of her," Isabel said, rummaging in her jewelry box. "I used to have friends like that, so shallow they couldn't cast a shadow."

" 'Used to'? What changed?"

"Life," Isabel answered. "Me. Everything. Everything changed last fall."

"What happened last fall?" Tess asked, careful to keep her tone casual.

Isabel's eyes snapped up. "Uh...nothing. I mean, nothing much. I guess I just got tired of hanging around people like that." She held up an old fashioned-looking brooch. "How about this?"

Tess shook her head. "Too ancient."

Isabel fished out a pair of earrings. "These?"

"Pretty," Tess answered as Isabel put them on, privately reflecting that she knew exactly what had happened last fall. It was still inconceivable to her that Max had healed someone of a gunshot wound, never mind in public. She'd had no idea they were capable of that until Nasedo had told her about it, no idea if she was capable of that. But to do it in front of all those people, to take that kind of a risk with their secret...no wonder everything had changed.

"So where's Max tonight?" Tess asked, more than a little bummed that he hadn't been here when she'd arrived.

"On a double date with Liz and Michael and Maria," Isabel answered. "Good luck with that one."

"Why?"

"Because Michael's not the 'dating' type," Isabel said dryly. "Maria wants him to be more like Max, and I hate to tell her this, but it's not gonna happen. Which is just as well, because it's hard enough to watch one of them slobbering over a girl, never mind both of them."

"He...'slobbers'...over Liz?" Tess said.

"Oh, God, yes," Isabel sighed. "Constantly. It's a wonder either of them can breathe with all the face sucking going on. You have no idea how hard it is to watch that."

I might, Tess thought heavily. Nasedo had assured her that when their time came, all their human bonds would have to fall away, yet another reason not to form any. But that didn't make the waiting any easier, especially when the boy who would be her husband was clearly so attached to a human. "So who do you 'slobber' over, Isabel?" she asked lightly. "Who's hot in my new school?"

Isabel gave a soft snort. "Trust me, that's the last thing on my mind."

"Oh? What's the first thing?"

Isabel's eyes fell. "Not that, I can tell you that much."

"Al...I mean 'Alex'...looks like he's really into you," Tess said. "He seems like a sweetheart."

Isabel's expression softened. "He is. In every sense of the word. But I can't...I'm just not ready for that. Not right now."

"Hi, girls."

Tess and Isabel spun around. "Grandma!" Tess exclaimed when she saw Isabel's grandmother in the doorway. "I mean...sorry," she added hastily when the older woman's eyebrows rose. "It's 'Mrs. Evans', isn't it?"

"Ewww," Isabel complained. "Call her 'Grandma Dee'. 'Mrs. Evans' is my mother."

"And my mother-in-law," Isabel's grandmother added, coming into the room. "You're welcome to call me 'grandma' if you wish, Tess. I wouldn't mind having an honorary granddaughter. So...what are we doing tonight?"

"Girl stuff," Isabel announced. "Hair, make-up, jewelry, you name it. Tess braided my hair."

"I see that," Grandma answered. "Nice job." She reached over, picked up the old brooch. "I remember this. It was my mother's."

"It's...pretty," Tess lied.

"You think so? I always thought it was hideous."

"Got that right," Isabel commented as Tess suppressed a laugh. "How is great-grandma? I haven't heard much about her lately."

"Pretty much the same," Grandma sighed. "At her age, I'm afraid it's not going to get better."

"I'm sorry," Isabel said quietly.

"Me too," Grandma agreed. "But that's the way of it. Tell me, have you considered..." She paused, holding up the brooch to the top of Isabel's braid. "That's looks rather nice," she commented. "Much better than on that scratchy wool coat she always wore it on."

Tess blinked. "In your hair? I never thought of that."

"Neither did I," Isabel agreed. "Grandma, that's brilliant!"

"More like 'non-conformist'," Grandma smiled. "Which is me to a 'T'. I think your mother has more of my mother's old jewelry. I'll go have a look."

She left as Isabel pinned the now not-so-hideous brooch into her hair. "You are so lucky," Tess commented. "Not only do you have a grandmother, you have one who wears blue jeans and bakes and comes up with stuff like this."

"Grandma's cool," Isabel agreed. "She's also a rock. My mother turns into a weepy mess at the drop of a hat, but I swear Grandma could look God in the eye and make him back up. Of course the downside is that is she's getting old," Isabel went on with a catch in her voice. "I don't know my great-grandmother very well, but when she dies...grandma's next. I can tell you right now I'm not going to like that." She paused, looked into the mirror, forced a smile. "Listen to me, going on and on. I know I've got some more old stuff in here; why don't you go through this while I help Grandma."

Tess looked around eagerly as Isabel left the room, ignoring the jewelry box. She'd been waiting for a chance to nose around Isabel's bedroom, had been kicking herself for missing the opportunity the other day. Now she kept an ear toward the door as she quickly opened drawers and rummaged through stuff on her desk. Got it! she thought five minutes later, pulling a photograph out of an album she'd been flipping through which showed a young Max and Isabel on a beach beside a swirling pattern in the sand which she had seen before...

Voices sounded outside. Tess quickly slipped the photo back into the album just before Isabel and her grandmother reappeared, their hands laden with jewelry. "Cool pictures!" Tess said. "Did you go on vacation a lot?"

"Every year," Isabel answered, not the least bit perturbed that she was looking at the album. "Every summer, I mean. No getting out of school for us."

"What's this?" Tess asked innocently, pointing.

The color drained from Isabel's face. "Oh. That's...that's just...Max and me playing in the sand."

"I can see that," Tess said. "But most kids make sandcastles. That swirly thing is art."

Isabel smiled weakly. "Yeah. We're both...artsy."

"So what made you think of it?"

Isabel shrugged. "Haven't a clue. It was a long time ago, and we were just kids. Could have been anything."

"But it's so cool!" Tess persisted. "Have you seen it somewhere?"

"No," Isabel said quickly.

"Yes," Grandma answered.

Isabel's eyes widened as her grandmother looked back and forth from one to the other. "It's the symbol for the cable company, isn't it?" Grandma said. "I know I've seen that on my bill. You know, the bill we get for a hundred channels even though we only watch ten of them?"

Isabel broke into what could only be described as a relieved smile. "Yes. You're right. That must be it. I mean, we've always had cable, so...that must be it."

"Are you sure?" Tess pressed. "Seems kind of fancy for a cable company logo."

"If you like, I'll go get Isabel's parents' bill and show you," Grandma said.

The tone was casual, was there was an edge deep within it which made Tess backtrack. "No, that's okay. I just...I was just curious."

"Very curious," Grandma agreed. "And about a picture from years ago. Gracious, Isabel, you'd better put the rest of the pictures away before she gives you the third degree about another one."

"Sorry," Tess said quickly. "I wasn't trying to pry. It just caught my eye, is all."

"It's okay," Isabel said soothingly. "I don't mind. I just don't remember. It was a long time ago..." She stopped, gazing out the window for a moment before walking over to it.

"What is it?" Tess asked.

"The sheriff just drove by," Isabel said faintly. "I saw the cruiser."

"Might not have been the sheriff," Grandma said. "Might have been a deputy. Someone must have called about something or other."

Tess watched Isabel swallow hard before answering. "Yeah," she said tonelessly. "That must have been it."




*****************************************************




"Well?" Pierce said from the back seat.

Brian turned the corner and closely inspected the residential street. "I don't see him," he answered. "Although he could be...wait." Shit, he added privately when he spied the outlines of a familiar car. "He's way down at the end," he said heavily. "Just kind of idling."

"Jesus, does he plan on sitting outside this kid's house all night?" Pierce snapped. "I thought you said he left!"

"He did," Brian insisted. "I saw him go by, but...he must have circled back around."

"Great," Pierce fumed. "Just great. Obviously Topolsky had more than just a casual chat with him. Now what?"

Good question, Brian thought. It was clear that Sheriff Valenti was keeping an eye on at least one of their most prominent suspects, probably more; if he thought he had reason to watch Alex Whitman, he undoubtedly had reason to watch the rest of them. After intercepting Danny's attempt to woo Whitman into the car, Valenti had taken him home and lingered for several minutes in the neighborhood before driving off, only to return a few minutes later and repeat the process. This was his third circuit in only thirty minutes, so the odds that they'd get anywhere close to Whitman without attracting Valenti's attention were slim to none. Having already been thwarted in their attempts to find Topolsky, Danny wasn't taking this latest intrusion well at all. They'd been inseparable since Quantico, and Danny had always been opinionated and driven, but he'd had no idea what a temper his friend had. After all they'd gone through to build a Unit faithful to its core values, he was seriously afraid Danny was going to screw the whole thing up by going after Valenti. For all that Valenti's had been the bane of the Unit's existence from its inception, it was worth remembering that those who tangled with them always came out badly, but it was getting increasingly difficult to remind Danny of that when he kept running into Valenti-shaped roadblocks everywhere they went.

"I told you to keep him out of my way," Pierce said menacingly. "He's in my way, Brian."

"What do you want me to do about it?" Brian said in frustration. "I told you, you off the guy, and every eye in Washington will be on Roswell. You do not want that."

"I'll tell you what I don't want," Pierce retorted. "I don't want some local weenie in my way every single time I turn around. Next thing you know, I'll turn around when I'm peeing, and he'll be behind me."

"You turn around when you're peeing?"

"Hilarious," Pierce snapped. "I'm done with this bozo. Pull up—"

The phone rang. Brian breathed a sigh of relief as Pierce answered it, using the few seconds it bought him to plan an escape route which wouldn't take them past Valenti's car. He'd already seen them twice today, and it wouldn't take him long to put two and two together..."

A hand clapped on his shoulder, and he jumped a foot. "Brian!" Pierce exclaimed, looking far happier than he had been seconds ago. "They found her!"



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I'll post Chapter 100 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 100

Postby Kathy W » Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:23 pm

keepsmiling7 wrote:LOL about the cable company logo......I think of Roswell each month when we get our bill.


Me too! :mrgreen:

Misha wrote:Wait, the cable company really has a Roswell-like logo?!?!? :shock:


http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/gateway.html Upper left hand corner. Not the same, but similar. Similar enough for Dee to shut down Tess, who too often displays all the subtlety of a battering ram. :P

On the other hand, is not like Maria is all that sweet and smiles.


:lol: I love Maria, but I find her "I want a perfect boyfriend!" routine incredibly annoying. Not because she wants that--heck, we all want that--but because it should be clear to a blind person that Michael will never, ever be that.





CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED



April 14, 2000, 7 a.m.

Crashdown Cafe





"Where's my Alien Invasion?" Agnes demanded over the pass-through. "I've been waiting for fifteen minutes!"

Just around the corner, Michael jerked awake on the stool beside the stove. Shit, he thought darkly, noting that several of the pancakes he'd flipped what seemed like only seconds ago had burned. "Uh...right here," he called, scooping the least burned ones onto a plate and plopping it on the pass-through, where Agnes stared at it like it was poison.

"That is not an Alien Invasion," she said in a steely tone. "That is a Moons of Jupiter."

"What's the difference?" Michael said. "They're both pancakes."

"Moons of Jupiter is the short stack," Agnes informed him. "Jupiter has a finite number of moons. Alien Invasion is the tall stack because aliens invade on a massive scale."

"Says who?" Michael muttered.

"Says me," Agnes said firmly. "Now, get me an Alien Invasion before the customer blames me because they're still waiting for their breakfast. If they leave a bad tip, I'm blaming you."

"One massive scale invasion, comin' up," Michael said, pouring more batter on the griddle. "And where'd you learn a word like 'finite'? You been reading the dictionary on your break?"

Agnes gave him a look that would have frozen boiling water before leaving in a huff as Michael reflected that his people, whoever they were, had somehow missed the "massive scale" memo, with one ship and three survivors hardly qualifying as "massive". Make that three survivors and no instructions, he amended. They had to scrounge for even the slightest bit of information about themselves, but every now and then they caught a break. As they had last night, when he'd returned home from his date in a foul mood to find the last thing he'd expected to find. And by that he didn't mean Topolsky, whom he wasn't surprised to see as she was obviously working her way through the group, trying to find someone who would listen to her. No, the surprise which had fallen from the usually cloudy sky which cloaked their origins was a bit of information, information that changed everything.

"I know what this is."

Pretty much everything which had been said after that had faded as Michael had latched onto that announcement the way a drowning man clings to a lifeboat. After all the yack about dates and presents and being the "right" kind of boyfriend, here was proof in spades of what really mattered. For weeks they'd debated the purpose of the orb, with him insisting that it was something important even as the rest of them suspected it was something sinister like an alien hand grenade. He'd taken this viewpoint personally, almost as a betrayal, so attached was he to one of the few things that clearly belonged to them. The map was tantalizing, but it wasn't alien, merely created by an alien if River Dog was to be believed. The healing stones had saved his life, but carried too many bad memories for him. Isabel's necklace was interesting because of the symbol it carried, but certainly didn't look like anything other than a necklace. The orb had the same symbol and was obviously something more, having shot what sounded like a bitchin' beam of light into the night, something he deeply regretted having missed. He'd tried everything he could think of to reproduce that, inspecting it for buttons, tapping it, tossing it, even talking to it, without success. Max had claimed he'd kept trying, although Michael very much doubted that, and as the weeks had gone by with them none the wiser about what it was supposed to do, he'd grown depressed. What did it say about them that this thing came from their world, but they couldn't figure it out? What did that say about him? He'd felt lost after Max had taken it from him and validated when it had been returned, returning to his experiments with renewed vigor, but no success. The orb remained as enigmatic as ever, taunting him, daring him to figure it out. And then Topolsky had stepped in and solved the problem in one sentence.

"It's a communicator."

Long after Topolsky had left, Michael had sat among the remnants of his trashed apartment and stared at the orb in wonder. A communicator? Of course! Why hadn't he thought of that? It was perfect for that, portable, pocket-sized, apparently indestructible. A bit big, perhaps, especially compared to cell phones, and the need for two seemed cumbersome, but whatever. Maybe it was a special communicator, perhaps an intergalactic one? Maybe crossing such distances required more than just a Nokia flip? Maybe they could finally, at long last, phone home? The notion that they finally had a way to communicate with their home planet sent chills down Michael's spine along with a delicious shiver of excitement that, once again, he knew something the rest of them didn't. And wouldn't, at least not until he had more information. No half announcements this time, no dismissing what he'd learned as hallucinations or wishful thinking. This time he'd find proof, then go to everyone else.

"Where are my—"

"Here," Michael interrupted, slapping a plate full of large, properly cooked pancakes right under Agnes' nose. "There's your massive alien invasion. Be sure to duck when they start shooting."

"Very funny," Agnes grumbled, taking the plate.

"Everything okay here?"

Michael nodded quickly as Mr. Parker looked from him to the disappearing Agnes. "Fine. She's just being Agnes."

"Mmm," Mr. Parker nodded, understanding completely, as would anyone who'd spent ten minutes working at the Crashdown. "Are you sure this early shift is working out, Michael?"

"You already asked me that, and the answer hasn't changed," Michael said. "I'm good. Just a little tired today, is all."

"Seems you're always tired," Mr. Parker commented.

"More tired than usual," Michael clarified. "Rough night last night, but I'm good now."

"Did you get one of those 12 or 24-hour bugs that's going around?" Mr. Parker asked

"The 12 hour one," Michael answered, seizing the excuse. Everyone always felt sorry for you when you were sick.

"Ah," Mr. Parker said knowingly. "At least it was the shorter one. Glad you're feeling better.

He left, and Michael leaned against the wall again and closed his eyes. Truth was he hadn't slept a wink last night, so excited had he been with this latest revelation, nor had he eaten or cleaned up his apartment. He'd spent literally the entire night trying to capitalize on his newfound knowledge, trying to get the orb to do something, anything, now that he knew what it was. But it had remained stubbornly unwilling to sing and dance, and eventually he'd had to go to work. It would be late afternoon before he'd have the chance to try again.

"Told you so!"

Michael's eyes jerked open. "What?" he said, heaving himself upright mere seconds before Agnes heaved herself through the pass-through.

"The customer with the tardy Alien Invasion wants to speak to the cook," Agnes said triumphantly. "I told him it was your fault he had to wait so long for his breakfast."

"Isn't a tardy alien invasion a good thing?" Michael asked innocently. "Isn't an invasion something we don't want?"

"Be a smart ass all you want, but get out here and apologize," Agnes ordered. "I'm not getting stiffed on the tip because of you."

Michael sighed and slapped his pot holder on the counter before pushing through the swinging door into the restaurant proper. It wasn't hard to find his target; there was only one customer in the cafe.

"Hey," Max said when Michael slid into a chair across from him.

"Hey," Michael answered. "What are you doing here?"

"Eating breakfast. What's it look like?"

"I mean what are you doing here now?" Michael clarified. "You never eat breakfast here on school days."

"Just keeping an eye out in case Topolsky pulls anything," Max answered. "I agree with you that she'll try again; I'm just not sure who with."

"So you decided to squat here and bitch about the service," Michael said. "Yay."

"I wasn't bitching," Max protested. "That was Agnes. I figured I might as well use it to get you out here instead of going back there." He paused, studying Michael. "You okay?"

"Just tired. You want something?"

"I want to have a meeting at your place after school," Max said, "just to—"

"No," Michael said quickly. "I mean, not at my place. It's a mess."

Max gave him a skeptical look. "This is hardly the time to get self-conscious about your housecleaning."

"No, it's really bad," Michael insisted, privately noting that was something of an understatement. "Let's do the quarry again."

Max stared at him for a moment, then shrugged. "Okay. I just want to make sure we're on the same page before Topolsky goes after someone else because we can't trust anything she says, no matter how tempting she makes it sound."

"You don't need to tell me that," Michael said sharply. "I was against talking to her from the beginning."

Max blinked. "I know that. It was everyone else I was concerned about, not you."

"Oh," Michael said, looking away. "Right."

The Crashdown's door jingled. "That's Alex," Max murmured. "Wonder what he's doing here?"

"I think we're about to find out," Michael sighed as Alex made a beeline for them.

"Hey," Alex said to both of them. "Uh...Max, can I talk to you for a second?"

"Sure," Max said as Michael kicked a third chair with his foot, causing it to skid out a few inches and hit Alex's foot just as the Crashdown's door jingled again, and Sheriff Valenti entered the diner.

"Ah, sheriff!" Agnes cooed, bustling over with a large takeout cup. "I've got your morning order ready just the way you like it."

"Thanks," Valenti said, looking over at them as he took the cup. "Mr. Guerin," he nodded. "Mr. Evans. Mr. Whitman."

"Hi," Michael said.

"Hello," Max said warily.

But Alex said nothing, having looked away. "Y'all have a nice day," Valenti said, ignoring the snub.

"You, too, sheriff!" Agnes beamed, holding the smile until the door closed behind him, when she turned on Alex. "Manners," she sniffed disapprovingly. "No one has any."

"Least of all her," Michael commented under his breath as Agnes stalked away.

"Guess she's got a thing for uniforms," Max said dryly. "What'd you want, Alex?"

"Uh...I was hoping we could talk...privately," Alex said awkwardly, looking at a nearby booth.

"About what?" Michael demanded. "Topolsky?"

Alex hesitated. "Uh...sort of."

Max glanced back and forth from Michael to Alex. "You can talk in front of Michael, Alex—"

"No," Michael said suddenly. "I mean, it's okay. I have to get back to work. Go sit," he said to Alex. "Max'll be right over."

Alex drifted over to the booth and took a seat, sitting stiffly. "Max, don't sweat it," Michael whispered, leaning in closer. "The kid's a spaz—did you see how he freaked out when Valenti walked in?—so I'll leave you to it before I get pissed. Oh, and be sure to stiff Agnes on the tip."

Michael returned to the kitchen, passing the scowling Agnes on the way. He'd been desperate to get out of there, to not be facing Max when he considered what he'd briefly thought of last night, but pushed aside in his excitement—that Topolsky was taking him for a ride, that the orb wasn't a communicator at all, that she was merely telling him something she knew full well he desperately wanted to hear. What if it really was just an alien flashlight? What if she was using his mania to know against him? What if he was falling headlong into this simply because he wanted it to be true? It would certainly explain the odd directive that there had to be two orbs, terribly convenient as it gave her an excuse to arrange a meeting, and him a powerful reason to accept...

No, Michael thought savagely. If there was a chance, any chance that she was right, he had to find out. And he'd find out himself, without involving anyone else, because it was safer that way. At least that's what he told himself as he readied another batch of pancake batter, conveniently ignoring the fact that he was absolutely delighted that she'd made her revelation to him and no one else.




******************************************************




Valenti was halfway through his cup of coffee when the kids came out of the Crashdown, and he hastily put it aside, following just closely enough to keep them in sight until they were safely inside the doors of the school with no sign of Topolsky, strange cars, or anything more sinister than a teacher who looked suspiciously hung over. Granted even the school wasn't foolproof, Topolsky having used it as her cover, but pulling something there risked exposure; before school or after was much more likely. Now he headed back to the station, making a mental note to swing round this afternoon to make certain they made it home unmolested and that he was in the neighborhood tonight. It was the most he could do without getting so close that he aroused suspicion.

"Sir!" Hanson said when he spied Valenti. "There you are! We were beginning to wonder."

"Wonder about what? I told you I was checking something out."

"Yeah, but we got concerned when you wouldn't give us your location," Hanson complained.

"Hanson, relax," Valenti ordered. "I told you when I'd be back, and here I am. Stop fretting."

"Yes, sir," Hanson said, abashed. "I'll be right up with the morning report."

Valenti didn't even have his coat off before Hanson appeared, and he drained the rest of his coffee during the litany of trespassing, petty theft, and noise complaints. "What about that plate number I called in last night?" he asked. "What'd you find out about that?"

"It was a rental car, sir, registered to one Walter Drake," Hanson answered. "He's in town on business."

"Where in town?"

"The Saucer Motel, sir."

"Not much of an expense budget," Valenti said dryly. "He here alone?"

"I...have no idea, sir. All I did was pull the plate and make a few enquiries with Avis." Hanson paused. "If I may ask, sir, what'd this guy do?"

Valenti considered his answer for a long moment. "He stopped a high school student last night, seemed to be bothering him. I was just curious."

"Well, maybe he was asking for directions," Hanson suggested. "He is from out of town."

"Didn't look like it," Valenti noted.

"Is...this why someone saw you outside the high school this morning?" Hanson ventured.

The tone was light, but threaded with concern, the same concern people used to express when they'd found themselves uncomfortable with his father's behavior. "Yes," Valenti answered, deciding honesty was the best policy, at least up to a point. "I wanted to see if that car was hanging around outside the school."

"You didn't have to do that yourself, sir," Hanson said. "One of us could have done that."

"No need," Valenti said.

"Well...yes, sir, there really was," Hanson said. "You're the sheriff; you have work to do here. And if this Drake guy did something alarming enough that we need to keep an eye out for him, then we need to know that. What'd the student have to say about it?"

Nothing, Valenti thought, because I told him he didn't have to. "Very little," he answered. "But he was rattled, rattled enough that I wanted to check this morning. That's all. So...anything else?"

For a moment it looked like Hanson was going to continue protesting, but then he shook his head. "No. No, sir. That's it for now."

"Good. I'll be in all morning."

Valenti heaved back into his chair and sighed after Hanson left, pulling out his wallet and thumbing through the photographs until he came to one of his dad, taken years earlier when he'd still had the badge. Is this what it had been like for him, with side investigations, surreptitious tailings, evading or outright lying to your staff? It was hard to work around staff, but it would be even harder to work around family; the reason he'd pulled it off this far was because he only lived with a teenager who paid little attention, except when he didn't want him to, of course. He was becoming more like his old man with each passing day, and today would be no different as he fully intended to cruise the Saucer Motel's parking lot and look for the offending car, maybe slip into the office and inquire as to the whereabouts of this Walter Drake. He was musing on how to pull that off when the phone rang.

"Sir?" Hanson's voice said uncertainly. "There's someone here to see you. Says he's a doctor."




******************************************************




"What?" Jaddo demanded when his phone rang.

"Hello to you, too," Dee's voice said dryly. "Got a minute?"

Jaddo gazed up and down the street, but his quarry was nowhere in sight. "Just," he warned. "Talk fast."

"I'm concerned about Tess," Dee said. "She was over last night—"

"Tess was at your place?"

"No, she was at Isabel's," Dee said. "I know you told her to get closer to them, but she's going about it all wrong."

"How so?" Jaddo asked absently, peering intently toward the nearest intersection.

"She's prying and snooping," Dee reported. "She went through Isabel's photo album and found a photograph of her and Max playing in the sand when they were little."

"So?"

"So they hadn't made a sand castle," Dee said. "They'd drawn that swirly symbol I see all over everything, that...what'd you call it?"

"Galaxy symbol," Jaddo said. "Which is the emblem of our world, so it's no surprise that's one of the few things its king remembers."

"Okay, fine, but when Tess showed the picture to Isabel, she asked her where they'd seen it," Dee went on. "And Isabel got all flustered, and—"

"Of course she did. Vilandra was never the brightest crayon in the box."

"Perhaps not, but Isabel is hardly an idiot," Dee said in a steely tone, once again emphasizing the princess's new handle, which she inexplicably felt made some kind of difference. "This is a bad time to be poking at things like this, Jaddo. She needs to back off."

"Negative," Jaddo said flatly, rounding a corner and checking a side street unsuccessfully. "She needs to do exactly what I told her to, which is get close to them. They're going to need her."

"Then they're going to have to trust her," Dee said patiently. "And they won't, not if she keeps this up. Fine, get close to them, but leave the revelations for later, after they've had a chance to get to know her. If they come too early, all bets are off."

"She's not 'revealing' anything," Jaddo said impatiently. "She's...watch it!" he barked to a man who ploughed into him without looking.

"Sorry, ma'am," the man grumbled.

"Did someone just call you 'ma'am'?" Dee asked.

"Someone should watch where they're going," Jaddo said darkly. "As I was saying, she's not telling them anything, or she certainly hadn't better; I gave her strict instructions not to simply tell them, to let them figure it out for themselves. She's merely trying to jog their memories."

"Using things which already haven't jogged them," Dee argued, "or have already jogged them as much as they're going to. All she's accomplishing is making them suspicious, which wasn't the point."

"And what's wrong with that?" Jaddo asked. "They should be suspicious of anyone new. Once they find out who she really is, that'll all be cleared up."

"I doubt that," Dee countered. "I doubt that very much. Look, I'd talk to her if I could," she went on. "Believe me, I want to. But you didn't want her to know about me or Brivari, so this falls to you. I understand she's desperate for a family—"

"She said that?"

"Not in so many words, but she didn't have to. She's clearly very drawn to Max and Isabel's family, their house, the pictures on the wall, Diane's shopping list, me. She called me 'Grandma', then belatedly realized she was being overly familiar and asked if I'd prefer 'Mrs. Evans'."

"So she was polite," Jaddo said, crossing the street to begin canvassing the next block. "Your point?"

"My point," Dee said in her trademark praying-for-patience-voice, "is that her eagerness to have a family of her own may be leading her to push too hard, too fast, and that will backfire. I guarantee it."

There! Jaddo thought, spotting his target. "Fine, I'll talk to her. Oh, have you talked to Brivari recently?"

"Uh...no. Haven't needed to. Why?"

"No reason," Jaddo said. "Gotta go."

Jaddo flipped the phone shut just as his target spotted him and broke into a run. After hesitating for a moment wearing an expression of suitable alarm, he took off down the street, keeping his pursuer just close enough to follow until he was a safe distance away when he slowed considerably, changing his face only moments before a hand clapped on his shoulder and spun him around.

"What on earth?" Jaddo exclaimed, outraged.

"Oh!" gasped the startled Special Unit agent, wide-eyed. "I...uh...sorry. I thought you were someone else."

"If you want to keep those hands, you'll keep them off me," Jaddo snapped.

"I'm terribly sorry," the agent repeated. "My mistake."

"So you meant to assault someone else?" Jaddo demanded, deliberately raising his voice so as to attract attention. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

"Is everything all right here?" a passer-by asked.

"I should say not!" Jaddo answered. "This man grabbed me out of the blue!"

The Unit agent looked around in alarm as a small crowd gathered. "I...made a mistake," he insisted, backing away. "It was just a mistake. I thought she was someone else."

"I've got news for you, buddy," announced a female in a business suit and 3 inch heels. "You don't just run around grabbing women no matter who you 'think' they are. Would you like me to call the sheriff, hon?"

Jaddo suppressed a smile as the agent blanched. "No, really, that's not necessary," the agent babbled, backing up. "I'm terribly sorry, terribly—"

"I'm calling anyway," announced Business Suit.

"That's all right," Jaddo said quickly, as the agent fled. "He's leaving."

"It most certainly is not all right," Business Suit protested. "He might try it with someone else."

"After the way you went after him?" Jaddo said. "I doubt it. You put the fear of God in him. You obviously don't take crap from anyone."

Business Suit stopped dialing and broke into a wide smile. "Thank you," she beamed, as the assembled crowd offered scattered applause. "I admit I don't suffer fools gladly. And I've had self defense training."

"Really?" another woman said. "What kind? Karate? Judo? Kick-boxing? I've tried all three, and I..."

Jaddo faded out of the crowd, his features sliding into a different configuration as the females in the crowd began sharing self defense tips and the men drifted away. Females always loved it when you complimented their strength, and as tempting as it had been to drag Valenti into this, it would only muddy the waters. The Unit had spotted Kathleen Topolsky last night and would have followed her back to her hotel if he had not intervened and led them astray, a good mile astray, as it were. Today's "sighting" was meant to convince them to keep looking in the wrong place lest they apprehend her prematurely, before he and Brivari had the chance to find out exactly who was chasing her. Which reminds me, he thought, pulling out his phone. He hadn't heard from Brivari since their meeting two days ago when Topolsky had approached the Parker girl, nor had Brivari returned any of his calls. He let the phone ring, refusing to let it go to voicemail this time. C'mon, Brivari, he thought as it rang and rang. Where the hell are you?




******************************************************




Roswell Sheriff's Station





Brrrrrt!

Brivari pulled his phone out of his overcoat pocket, glanced at it, then slipped it back in. Either Dee had a question, or his absence had made itself felt. Either way, he couldn't talk to her right now, and a few seconds later, the phone fell silent...

Brrrrrt!

...only to start up again. This time it kept vibrating, the faint buzzing noise drawing the attention of others in the little waiting area near the main desk in the sheriff's station. A sheepish smile from him drew sympathetic smiles, but when it was still buzzing a full minute later, he reached into his pocket and turned it off. Honeymoon's over, he thought, noting that the second call had been from Jaddo, who would now add him to his list of things to hunt for. If time had been of the essence before, it was doubly so now.

"Next?" a deputy called.

"Right here," Brivari said, going to the counter.

"And how can I help you, Mr...?"

"Doctor," Brivari corrected. "Doctor Margolin."

"Sorry, 'doctor'," the deputy, one "Hanson", amended. "How can I help you, doctor?"

"I need to speak with your sheriff on a matter of the utmost urgency," Brivari said.

"Doesn't everyone?" Hanson said. "The sheriff is a busy man, doctor. Perhaps I could be of some assistance."

"I'm afraid not," Brivari answered. "This concerns a medical emergency."

"Then you need the hospital, not the sheriff's station."

"A mental health emergency," Brivari clarified. "I'd prefer not to pass someone's personal health records around the station."

"Everything you tell me is strictly confidential," Hanson assured him, pulling out a standard report form, "and we have a very successful process we need to follow. Now...what was your name again?"

A filter, Brivari sighed. All powerful men had filters, people whose job it was to restrict access to their masters, and the more powerful the man, the more numerous the filters. Zan had had dozens, layers upon layers controlling access to the monarch, but even those few who had made it past those formidable barriers had learned that the final filter had been the King's Warder; no one entered the King's presence without his knowledge and consent. Fortunately Valenti was no king, and a public servant besides. That made getting past the filters a bit easier.

"I hate to make a nuisance of myself, but I must insist on speaking directly to the sheriff," Brivari said. "I understand this isn't standard procedure, but nor is this a standard situation."

"I hear you, doctor, but everyone wants to speak directly to the sheriff," Hanson answered. "If I let everyone do that, he'd never go home at night. We have a process for a reason, so we really need to follow that process."

"I see," Brivari said. "So the 'process' is more important than the people it purports to protect?"

Hanson blinked. "No. No, I didn't...I don't mean that. The whole purpose of the process is to protect people."

"Ah," Brivari said quickly before the deputy could become bogged down in philosophy, "I'm glad to hear that, because the process will not 'protect people' in this case. And since protecting people is of primary importance, that means the process is secondary and must be set aside in those instances where implementing it would be counterproductive."

Hanson blinked several times in rapid succession. "I...well..."

"As it is now," Brivari continued while the deputy tried to process what he'd just said, "which is why I must insist that you contact the sheriff. As the master of ceremonies, it would be up to him whether or not to sidestep the process, would it not?"

Hanson scratched behind one ear, looking decidedly unhappy. "Well...I guess..."

"So why not phone him?" Brivari suggested. "You certainly wouldn't want to make him angry by usurping his authority to make these delicate judgment calls. By all means, tell him I'm insisting. And then you can get on with helping the other fine citizens of this town, who are patiently waiting their turn."

Hanson's eyes swept the waiting room, where a half dozen people were indeed waiting with various degrees of patience. "Okay," he agreed. "I'll ask. But no promises."

"Understood," Brivari agreed, having methodically ticked down the list of barrier-toppling behaviors: Confuse the filter, make them worried their master will be angry if they don't do what you want, take responsibility in case their master is angered should they do what you want, and make it worth their while to shut you up and send you on your way. He waited patiently while Hanson dialed, heard the line pick up on the other end.

"Sir? There's someone here to see you. Says he's a doctor—"

"Thank you," Brivari said, taking the phone from the startled deputy's hand. "Sheriff Valenti, I'm Dr. Malcom Margolin, and I'm here on behalf of a mutual acquaintance by the name of Kathleen."

There followed a silence so profound, one could have heard a pin drop. "Dr. Margolin," Valenti's voice said finally, "would you please hand the phone back to my deputy?"

"Certainly," Brivari said, holding it out to the indignant Hanson, who took it with annoyance.

"Sir?"

A moment later, Hanson put the phone down with a sheepish look. "He...says to go right up."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I'll post Chapter 101 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 101

Postby Kathy W » Sun Jan 20, 2013 5:46 pm

Hello everyone!

keepsmiling7 wrote:Chapter 100......hard to believe!


I know! :oops:

emerald123 wrote:Brivari and Hansen: I thought this conversation between the two of them was really funny, trying to get into to see Valenti .


Thank you! Hanson's not much of a "filter", is he? :mrgreen:





CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED ONE`


April 14, 2000, 7:30 p.m.

Holiday Inn, Roswell






BangBangBang

Kathleen Topolsky jerked awake, momentarily disoriented. The curtains were drawn, the room in near total darkness...and someone was pounding on her door.

BangBangBang!

Terrified, Topolsky slipped out of bed, fwumping softly on the floor on the side opposite the door. Her only way out of this room was the window, supposedly screwed shut if not for her having unscrewed it earlier against just this sort of emergency. Getting through it would be tricky, but then she was thinner than she used to be. Being on the run did that to you.

BANGBANGBANG!

Wake the neighbors, why don't you? Topolsky thought as she pulled on her pants, fumbled with her shoes. Then again, Pierce was so sure of himself that she wouldn't put it past him to parade her naked through the streets of Washington under the theory that no one would notice. And he might be right about that.

"Mr. Huffman?" a decidedly Hispanic and decidedly huffy voice called. "Mr. Huffman, are you in there? Housekeeping!"

Housekeeping? Topolsky blinked, hesitated. Arthur Huffman was this room's previous occupant and unwitting current underwriter, at least until he checked his credit card bill and discovered he was still being billed for a room he'd tried to check out of days ago. And this floor's maids were indeed Hispanic; she'd glimpsed them every single time she'd swiped toilet paper and toothpaste from their carts, a daily occurrence as she had the "Do Not Disturb" sign permanently affixed to her door, the little slip of paper she'd slipped into the doorjamb serving as proof it had been heeded. So why all the fuss now?

"Mr. Huffman, it's been four days," the voice outside announced in a frustrated tone, "four days since you've let us make up the room. My supervisor is beginning to notice. At least let us empty the wastebaskets!"

Topolsky glanced at the nearest wastebasket, which was indeed close to overflowing, then at the bathroom wastebasket, which already was. Why did hotels always make the bathroom wastebasket so much smaller than any other? That's where you needed it the most.

"Mr. Huffman, I'm going to count to five, and if you don't come to the door, I'm going to assume you're not in," the voice announced. "One...two...three..."

Topolsky scrambled to her feet. She had the security bolt on, so the maid's threat was hollow. But if the bolt was on and no one answered, they'd make a case to bust in here, which was exactly what she didn't need right now. Reaching the door just as the maid counted "five", she threw back the bolt and jerked the door open a couple of inches to find a startled face with dark eyes and dark hair standing beside a laden cart.

"I...Mr. Huffman is...indisposed," Topolsky stammered.

The maid blinked once, twice. Then a slow smile spread across her face. "Ahh!" she said knowingly. "I see. Mr. Huffman's got himself a dolly."

Topolsky had no idea if "dolly" referred to a prostitute or a mistress, and didn't much care; most likely the latter, as no working girl worth her salt would allow herself to look the way she did now, with her messy hair and dark circles under her eyes. "We're...fine," she told the maid. "We don't need anything, thank you."

"You sure?" the maid asked, craning her neck this way and that as she tried to see around Topolsky into the dark hotel room. "Don't you at least need the trash collected?"

"Leave me some bags," Topolsky said, spying a box of trash bags on the cart. "I'll change them, and leave them in the hall."

The maid eyed her up and down before leaning in closer. "You all right, honey?" she asked with what seemed like genuine concern. "He's not doing anything weird, is he? Like tying you up, or—"

"No," Topolsky said quickly. "Nothing like that."

"Listen, señora," the maid said firmly. "I was not born yesterday. I know a woman in trouble when I see one...and I'm seeing one right now. I can call my manager and have him come up here. Mr. Huffman need never know," she added in a whisper.

"Thank you," Topolsky said, "but really, I'm okay. No, really," she went on when the maid began to protest. "I'm not...it's not Mr. Huffman. He's not the problem. I have...other problems."

The maid reached out, took her hand. "Is there something I can do for you? Name it. It's yours."

Topolsky swallowed hard. "Maybe some food? A hamburger, or...anything. Anything at all."

"I'll get you food," the maid promised. "I'll bring it up."

"Oh," Topolsky said, flustered, fumbling for her jacket. "Let me give you some money."

But the maid smiled mischievously. "No need. It's on the house. So what if the house doesn't know? Besides, you haven't had maid service for days. They owe you a hamburger, don't you think?" She patted Topolsky's hand. "I'll be right back."

Topolsky fought back tears as she closed the door and leaned against it. She'd been alone for so long now that she'd forgotten what it felt like to experience sympathy, the simple kindness of a fellow human being. Had it really only been six weeks ago that she'd headed off to Washington in triumph, all aglow with her "promotion"? Six weeks, but it seemed like eons, ages since she'd last had friends, a support system, a boss who wasn't a psychopath. Now she snapped on the light and surveyed the room, which was indeed a mess; being out all night and sleeping all day tended to cut down on opportunities for hygiene of every variety.

But it ends tonight, she thought wearily, sinking down on the floor beside the bed, reaching under the mattress. The smooth silvery oval she pulled out was as silent and enigmatic as ever, an exact match to the one she'd found in Michael Guerin's apartment. It was a puzzle that he'd had only one given that two were needed, but maybe that was some kind of alien protocol, like the need for two keys to launch missiles. Whatever the reason, they would come together tonight, and then...and then she'd have to make her case for asylum. What would she say? She had little to offer besides the fact that she'd declined to turn in their brethren; she could no longer function in either the Unit or the Bureau, had no access they could make use of. If they turned her down...

Topolsky pushed that thought away as she pushed the communicator back beneath the mattress. If they turned her down, she had to leave town. The place was literally swarming with Unit agents, some of whom she would have sworn had spotted her last night. She'd delayed coming back here for hours lest she bring them with her, hiding in the shadows with them always one step behind...and then they'd inexplicably lost her. She had no idea what grace had released her, and she hadn't hung around to ponder her good fortune, but it was unlikely she'd be that lucky twice. If Michael wasn't there tonight, if they blew her off again, it wouldn't be safe to attempt a third meeting. She'd have to find somewhere else to hide, to lay low until she could find a better way to make her case. Assuming there was anyone to make it to, that is. If Pierce had his way, there wouldn't be any aliens left to contact.

A knock sounded on the door. "Señora?" a soft voice called. "I have your hamburger."

Cautiously, Topolsky cracked the door open. The maid was holding a room service tray laden with not only a hamburger, but fries, a drink, and two chocolate chip cookies. "I had to be careful what I took," she said apologetically. "I hope it's enough."

"It's wonderful," Topolsky whispered. "Thank you. Thank you so much. And I insist on paying you—"

"No," the maid said firmly. "You look like my daughter, too skinny...not enough meat on your bones. Help someone else when you get the chance; that will be payment enough. And good luck to you," she added softly, "whatever comes."

Five minutes later Topolsky was seated at the room's little table with her food, a freshly washed face, and hair she had at least attempted to run a comb through. Whatever comes. What was coming? She had no idea, but whatever it was, she would meet it with a full stomach and at least the veneer of civilization.




*****************************************************




It was long after dark when the hotel's back door opened and Kathleen Topolsky slipped outside, no doubt on her way to her latest attempt to meet with the hybrids. Brivari watched from a convenient vantage point as she made her way to the street, moving slowly, keeping to the sides of the building, poised to flee at any moment. She needn't have worried; Jaddo had successfully deflected the Unit's attention, so none of them were looking for her here. That had been helpful, but it ended now. He'd gathered all the information on the Unit and its loathsome leader that he could, so it was time for Topolsky to go before she had the chance to tempt the hybrids further. Last night's plea had been made to Rath, a singularly poor choice from her perspective, but useful from his as Rath was the most suspicious of the bunch. He'd been hoping she'd get the message and leave of her own accord, drawing Pierce and the Unit away from Roswell, but no such luck. He doubted she'd survive in Pierce's tender care, but there was nothing to be done about it. As long as Topolsky remained here, she was a threat, and that threat needed to be neutralized.

A cab slid alongside the curb, and Topolsky emerged from the shadows, looking furtively this way and that. "Buckley Point," he heard her tell the driver, the hand in her pocket briefly shifting as she climbed inside, revealing its contents.

Interesting, Brivari thought as the cab pulled away. Why did Topolsky have a communicator with her? The FBI had one, of course, and she'd obviously gotten her hands on it. Was she hoping to lure the hybrids with a promise of communication from home? That was unlikely to work given they had one of their own which they didn't know how to use. But no matter. It was time to bring this drama to a close.

"What?" Agent Bellow's voice said when Brivari rang his number.

"It's Lehman," Brivari answered in Lehman's voice. "I just saw Topolsky get in a cab and tell the driver to go to Buckley Point."

"Are you sure?" Bellow demanded. "Are you positive it was her?"

"It was her," Brivari confirmed. "I know it was."

"I'll inform Agent Pierce," Agent Bellow announced. "Stay put unless we tell you otherwise."

Bellow hung up. Mission accomplished, Brivari thought with satisfaction. The Unit operated like any corporate entity, with all the attendant hierarchies and jockeying for position. Pierce would find Topolsky, and Bellow would take the credit, never mentioning Lehman, who might have objected if not for the fact that he hadn't made the call in the first place. One of the most useful things one could learn about an enemy was their place in the pecking order of their world, information which could be used to one's advantage in so many ways...

Brivari paused near the Crashdown, his next stop to check on the hybrids, who conveniently tended to huddle together these days. Rath and the Parker's girl's friend had just slipped out of the side alley which led to the Crashdown's back door, casting furtive glances back inside. Brivari listened with a sense of foreboding; Rath sneaking anywhere was never good news.

"Just keep that orb out of sight," the DeLuca girl said. "I don't want it going off while we're driving."

"It's not going to 'go off'," Rath said impatiently. "It's not a grenade, it's a communicator."

"Says who?" the DeLuca girl demanded. "What, Topolsky told you that? Are we believing everything she says now?"

"Are you coming or not?" Rath said peevishly. "Because it's fine with me if you don't."

Shit, Brivari thought sourly as they headed for the girl's car, the argument continuing. Rath was not only meeting Topolsky, he came bearing gifts. She'd obviously gotten to Rath, but what about the rest of them? A glance inside the cafe's front window confirmed that Zan and Vilandra were inside and oblivious to what Rath was up to. Good news, that, as he now only had one idiotic hybrid to deal with, but how? He could disable the car, but Rath would find another way, and might attract far too much attention in the process, especially in a town swarming with Unit agents. Time to use the link he'd forged earlier today, albeit in an unexpected. way. He'd been hoping Valenti might bring Topolsky to heel, but this hadn't been what he'd had in mind.

"Sheriff, this is Dr. Margolin," Brivari said when Valenti answered his phone. "I'm sorry to use the private number you so graciously provided me earlier today, but I'm afraid I've come upon a worrisome situation."

"No problem, doctor," Valenti said. "What can I help you with?"

"It has come to my attention that Kathleen Topolsky is trying to make contact with what she thinks are the subjects," Brivari said. "Something about a place called 'Buckley Point'? Does that ring any bells?"

"Sure does," Valenti answered. "That's a nice secluded spot for someone who doesn't want to be observed. There's only one road up there, so we should be able to catch up with her. How close are you to the station?"

"I can be there in five minutes," Brivari said.

"Good. I'll be outside."

"Thank you, sheriff...shit," Brivari added under his breath.

"What was that?"

"Nothing," Brivari said quickly. "I appreciate your prompt attention. I'll be right there."

Brivari thwacked his phone shut and stormed off to acquire a car just as Zan, Vilandra, and two of their allies took off in Zan's jeep, having obviously discovered what was afoot. Great, he thought sourly. Just great.



*****************************************************




Crashdown Cafe





"Got any nines?" Isabel asked.

Alex shook his head. "Go fish."

Isabel dutifully drew a card. "Got any tens? What about sevens?" Alex added when she handed him a ten of clubs.

"Go fish," Isabel said.

Max appeared at the end of their table. "What'cha doing?"

"Playing cards," Isabel answered. "Got any fives?"

"Go fish," Alex said. "Got any..." He rifled through his cards. "...threes?"

"You're playing Go Fish?" Max said doubtfully as she handed over a three of hearts. "We haven't played that since we were kids."

"I know," Isabel said. "Got any twos?"

"Little kids," Max added.

"Go fish," Alex said. "Got any kings?"

"Really little kids," Max clarified.

"Go fish. Max, I know," Isabel added deliberately. "It's mindless. That's why I like it. Go away."

Max shrugged, and Alex shook his head as he retreated. "Guess he needs more than this to take his mind off things."

"Well, I don't," Isabel said crisply.

"You sure? We could play Uno," Alex suggested. "Or Poker. Or..."

"Too hard. I want mindless."

"This certainly qualifies," Alex allowed. "Your turn."

Isabel's expression turned wistful. "Got any aliens?"

Alex smiled faintly. "None I'm willing to give away. Got any FBI agents?"

"One," Isabel sighed. "That I'd love to give away."

"Maybe she's gone," Alex said. "No one's heard from her for a couple of days now."

"Do you really believe that?" Isabel asked.

Alex gave a little shrug. "I can hope, can't I?" He glanced down at his cards. "So much for taking your mind off things."

Isabel set her cards down on the table. "Thank you," she said quietly.

"For what?"

"For sitting here with me. For spending the last hour playing a mindless game that we haven't played since first grade."

Alex reached across the table, took her hand. "Isabel Evans, there is nothing I'd rather be doing right now than sitting here with you playing Go Fish."

Isabel smiled in spite of herself, feeling the tension drain out of her as she gave his hand a little squeeze. "Wow. I've dated dozens of guys, but none of them would play Go Fish with me. All they can see is what I look like."

"I see that too," Alex allowed. "But pretty's only on the outside; it's what's inside that counts. School's full of pretty girls, and some of them seem to have eggs for brains or are just downright nasty."

"Yeah, I know," Isabel agreed. "Some of them used to be my friends."

Alex's eyes widened. "Oh...sorry. I didn't...I mean, I wasn't trying to..."

"It's okay," Isabel said. "I said 'used to'. I got a wake up call last September about what really matters."

Alex nodded. "I think we all did." He was quiet for a moment. "So you've got a new friend. I'm surprised you aren't with Tess tonight."

Isabel smiled faintly. "You don't like her either, do you?"

"I don't know her," Alex admitted. "I just don't like the way she keeps interrupting us."

"Bad timing," Isabel agreed. "Max doesn't like her. He thinks it's too dangerous to get close to anyone new. But I'm not 'that' close. And that's exactly what I like about her. She doesn't know about any of this, and she's got a brain, unlike some of my old friends. And we can do girl things that would bore you to tears."

"You could do girl things with Liz and Maria," Alex said. "I thought it was nice to have someone who did know."

"It is," Isabel said gently. "It's just...sometimes it's too much. Sometimes I want to get away from that, to spend time with someone who doesn't know. Being with someone who knows comes with baggage, and while it can make it easier to carry that baggage, sometimes I just want to set the baggage down and walk away from it for a little while. I can't do that with people who know. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, the conversation always comes back to...you know."

"Like it did now," Alex said ruefully.

"Exactly. And besides, Liz and Maria aren't exactly friends. I mean, they're friends, but not my friends, not people I picked as friends. We just kind of fell into it together, and now we're stuck with each other because we all 'know'." She paused. "God, that sounded really ungrateful, didn't it?"

"No, I get it," Alex said quickly. "I mean, the same is true for them. Neither of them asked for any of this. They just fell into it, like you said, and now they can't get out of it either. They can't 'unknow' what they know."

Startled, Isabel stared at Alex, then quickly looked away. She hadn't thought of it that way. For all that she and Michael took Max to task for healing Liz, Liz had never asked for that, nor had Maria asked to be pulled into all this. They were every bit as trapped as she was, every bit as burdened and, if Topolsky was to be believed, in every bit as much danger.

"So...this guy," Isabel said slowly, "the one in the car. He really freaked you out, didn't he? But he didn't threaten you?" she went on when Alex nodded. "You said he didn't threaten you."

"Let me put it this way," Alex said. "He sounded like the kind of person who didn't need to. It was just implied in every word he said."

Isabel paled. "Oh. Okay, that's...disturbing."

"You're telling me," Alex agreed. "This is why I believe her. Topolsky, I mean. This fits what she said."

"But that's the problem," Isabel noted. "If it's all a set-up to get us to trust the FBI, it would fit what she said."

Alex sighed and leaned back in the booth, both hands to his head. "I know, I know, I just...I'm going with my gut here, and my gut is telling me...Liz?"

"Please," Isabel said wearily. "Liz is already in my brother's gut. Does she have to be in yours too?"

But Alex was looking at something over her shoulder, and when Isabel followed his gaze, she found Liz frozen in place with eyes wide as a raccoon. "Liz, what is it?" Alex asked, climbing out of the booth. "Are you okay?"

Liz shook her head mutely and held up a waitress's pad. "Look what I found in the back," she whispered. "It's Maria's handwriting."

They all crowded around. "Oh, my God," Isabel said faintly.

"Who's 'we'?" Alex asked.

"Who do you think?" Max said darkly. "Who's the one person unaccounted for?"

Alex blinked. "What...Michael? No. No, that can't be right. He's been against talking to Topolsky from the beginning! He was just yanking my chain about that this morning!"

"Which means nothing when it comes to Michael," Isabel sighed.

"She must have gotten to him," Liz said. "When I didn't meet her, she must have gone to Michael."

"And he listened," Max said grimly. "Let's go."




*****************************************************




Buckley Point



"So please, no more late night trips to the middle of nowhere. Anything could be out here, and I'd hate to see any harm come to you on our account."

The headlights from two cars illuminated the startled group of hybrids and their equally startled allies as Brivari, wearing Malcom Margolin's face, resisted the urge to strangle every last one of them. His carefully constructed plan to remove Kathleen Topolsky from the equation had wound up placing the hybrids directly in the path of the Unit, who was right now prowling the area looking for her. It was something of an understatement that he was in a bit of hurry to hurry them out of here. If they stood there gaping for even one more minute, he had a good mind to sprout fangs and hurry them along in an entirely different way.

"Thank you, doctor," Valenti said helpfully when no one moved. "I'm sure we'll all sleep better. So it's over. You can go home now."

Finally they moved, albeit reluctantly, with many a furtive glance in the sheriff's direction. Mush! Brivari thought furiously, climbing back into his borrowed car wearing a calm expression that completely belied his urge to scream in frustration. Now he had to find the Unit and make certain their paths did not cross. Buckley Point was in a State park, full of picnic pavilions and scenic turn-offs, so the chances of their crossing were not as high as they might be. Still, there was only one main road in and out, which might necessitate a downed tree or two to reroute the Unit if they were getting too close to each other. Jesus, Brivari muttered as he pulled away, glancing in his rear view mirror to make certain they were still moving. They shouldn't have been anywhere near here tonight. This should have been easy. This should have been simple. But nothing was simple when one tried to shepherd a gaggle of children from afar, and he wondered again if Jaddo might be right, if keeping them in the dark was ultimately doing more harm than good. There was a point where the risk of them knowing crossed the risks they were taking by not knowing, a point of diminishing returns, a point they'd been dancing near the edge of for weeks now. Perhaps they should...

Something caught Brivari's eye, and he pulled over, killing the car's lights. Valenti had paused, squatting down on the ground, picking something up...

Marvelous, Brivari thought darkly, squinting his eyes into a shape which could clearly make out what Valenti was holding. He'd had Valenti convinced; he knew he had. Rath had just gone and unconvinced him.




*****************************************************




"Get in," Max ordered.

"We can get it," Michael said, glancing back at Valenti, who stared, mesmerized, at what he'd just found. "You distract him, and I'll—"

"No," Max said firmly. "Get in."

"Max, we could—"

"I said, get in."

"I came with Maria—"

"Oh, no, you don't," Maria interrupted furiously. "You are not touching my car, not for a very long time, maybe never. Go home with Max and Isabel."

"Like I'd let him out of my sight," Max said darkly. "Get in, Michael."

"But—"

"For crying out loud, Michael, get in the jeep," Isabel ordered. "Or I swear to God, I'll hit you too."

Liz swallowed hard as Max and Michael stared each other down and Isabel looked ready to carry out her threat. Behind her, Maria hunched miserably, clutching her jacket as Alex put his arm around her in the chilly night air which crackled with energy and anger, a dangerous combination under the best of circumstances...and these weren't the best of circumstances.

"Okay," Liz said carefully. "I know we're all upset, and we all have our reasons for being upset. But right now we need to set that aside and get out of here before Valenti tries to ask us any questions about the orb. So let's just go back to the Crashdown, and then...and then we'll sort this all out. But not here. This isn't the place."

She waited. Crickets chirped in the brush. Valenti was still staring at the orb. Michael and Max continued to glare at each other, Maria continued to sulk with Alex at her side, and Isabel was starting to bear a serious resemblance to a Valkyrie.

"Max?" Liz said. "Max, please...we need to go."

"Everybody in the cars," Alex said suddenly. "Now!"

This sudden announcement from an unlikely source seemed to break the spell. Everyone blinked once, twice, then climbed inside, Michael taking the back with Isabel, Liz the front beside Max, and Maria and Alex in the Jetta. No one said anything as Max started the engine and maneuvered back to the main road.

"Be careful," Michael warned from the back. "Topolsky thought someone was following her, so they may have followed her up here."

Liz glanced worriedly at Max, then Isabel, whose expressions had darkened dangerously.

And then all hell broke loose.




*****************************************************




"Do you see her?" Pierce asked. "Does anyone see her?"

In the passenger seat, Brian Samuels gazed out into the murky darkness and sent up a silent prayer that they'd find what they were looking for, and fast. With Sheriff Valenti on their trail, Roswell was becoming much too problematic. While it appeared Danny had been right about Topolsky heading this way, she'd proven difficult to capture, bolstering his theory that she was nowhere near as stupid as Danny thought she was. He took no pleasure in being right, however, as her habit of slipping through their fingers had turned Danny into something of a Mad Hatter, taking ever-increasing risks in his zeal to bring her down.

"I said, does anyone see her?" Pierce repeated impatiently.

"No, sir," Agent Bellow answered from the back seat.

"Nope," Brian answered.

Pierce kept going, hunched over the steering wheel, eyes darting left and right, practically salivating. He'd insisted on taking the wheel, and Brian hadn't been able to muster a good reason as to why he shouldn't, or none he could say out loud. So here they were, blundering through a dark State park with their lights off, looking for a needle in a haystack. This was just nuts.

"Did she say anything else which might help us find her?" Brian called back to Agent Bellow.

No answer. "Agent Bellow," Brian said, "when you overheard Agent Topolsky giving directions to the cab driver, what exactly did she say?"

Bellow looked like a deer caught in the headlights. "Uh...I..."

"There she is!" Danny exclaimed.

Everyone peered forward eagerly. A lone figure stood off to the side, merely a shadow at this distance, but when Pierce lowered his window, they heard a high-pitched, frightened voice faintly calling, "Michael?"

"Michael?" Pierce said. "Who's Michael again?"

"Michael Guerin," Brian answered. "One of Evans' closest friends."

"Interesting," Pierce murmured. "So she's not here to meet Evans. Guerin must be one of his minions."

"Sounds like it," Brian said.

"So we know where to start," Pierce said with enormous satisfaction, flipping on the headlights. "Excellent work, Agent Bellow. I won't forget this."

"Thank you, sir," Agent Bellow said crisply, his previous loss for words forgotten.

They drove closer, and the shadowy figure came toward them, now clearly a woman. "Michael?" she called. "Michael? Michael, over here! Michael?"

"Good work, Agent Topolsky," Pierce said, looking like the cat who'd caught the canary. "You led me right to them."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Family stuff next week, so I'll post Chapter 102 on Sunday, February 3. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 102

Postby Kathy W » Sun Feb 03, 2013 4:35 pm

^ Sorry, the "family stuff" was my family stuff! Although I guess it could be argued that the pod squad et al is having a family argument in this chapter...








CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED TWO



April 14, 2000, 10:30 p.m.

Crashdown Cafe





"Not yet," Liz ordered as they all piled out near the Crashdown. "Wait till we're inside. I mean it," she went on when menacing looks were exchanged all around. "You can kill each other later, but not here. Wait till we're somewhere private."

"Can I have my keys?" Max asked.

"Not now," Liz answered. "When we're inside. You," she added to Michael, "stay back."

"Why me?" Michael demanded. "He hit me. He—"

"I don't care!" Liz exclaimed. "You did something dangerous without telling anyone, and you," she added to Max, "almost ran us off the road because you were fighting with him. I'm pissed at both of you right now, so just stay away from each other. Got it?"

Eyes widened all around, probably because she wasn't noted for swearing. Max looked about to argue, but apparently thought better of it, and Liz could have sworn she'd seen Isabel suppress a smile as they headed for the Crashdown's back door with her leading the way, Max, Isabel, Maria, and Alex in the middle, Michael bringing up the rear as ordered. When Michael had made his comment about Topolsky being followed to Buckley Point, Max had just lost it, nearly running all of them into a tree in the process. It took a combination of her grabbing the wheel and Isabel mentally applying the brake to stop the jeep, the second time in her life she'd found herself deeply grateful for alien powers and possibly the second time she was alive because of them. She'd ordered Max out of the driver's seat and taken the wheel herself, and they'd driven back in a sullen silence which had only ended now. If she could keep them from killing each other until they were out of public view, it would be a miracle.

Liz cautiously opened the back door, saw no one, and beckoned the others inside. Her parents weren't home tonight, a gift from God if ever there was one, but the diner was still open for another half hour. Hopefully they could slip upstairs to her room with no one the wiser. A finger to her lips, she waved the rest of them inside.

"Sweetheart!" a voice boomed. "Are you okay?"

It was Shelia, the third waitress on tonight with her and Maria—thankfully not Agnes, yet another gift—and now she wrapped her arms protectively around Maria, who was still huddled miserably against Alex. "You look awful!" Shelia announced. "What did the hospital say?"

"She's okay," Liz said quickly when Maria blinked. "We took her to the ER, and they checked her out, and they said she...might have a touch of the flu. So," she went on brightly before Shelia could ask any more inconvenient questions, "how are things here?"

"Dead as a doornail," Shelia said cheerfully. "I'm sitting on my hands, so this was a good time to pull up lame, if there's such a thing as a good time for that."

"We really appreciate you covering for us," Liz said. "I can't thank you enough—"

But Shelia held up a hand to stop her. "No need. I've got a girl of my own; I know how it goes. You get to bed," she instructed Maria. "and be grateful you've got this many friends to take you to the hospital. That's what friends are for."

"Sorry," Liz whispered after Shelia had retreated into the diner. "I had to make up something about why we all just took off."

"It's not all made up," Maria said. "I am lucky, and that is what friends are for."

"Yeah," Max said flatly. "Too bad some of us don't know the definition of 'friend'."

Isabel sighed and Michael's face resembled a thundercloud as Max climbed up the stairs. Everyone followed as though on a funeral march, knowing exactly what was likely to happen when they reached the relative privacy of Liz's bedroom. Surprisingly, nothing did for at least a full minute after she'd closed the door.

"Okay," Liz said finally. "We're alone. Go ahead; tear each other's throats out. Just watch the blood, 'cause you're cleaning up your own mess afterward."

"I just love the way y'all think you can sit in judgment over me," Michael fumed. "You have no idea what happened—"

"Wrong," Alex broke in. "We know all we need to know. You met with Topolsky despite the fact that we voted against it, despite the fact that you were more against it than anyone."

"So I changed my mind," Michael said defiantly. "So what?"

"Says the guy making snotty comments about me just this morning," Alex retorted. "You called me a 'spaz', if I remember correctly, and I do. Think I didn't hear that?"

"Congratulations," Michael said. "So?"

"So?" Alex echoed. "So? So we voted, Michael! Liz and I wanted to talk to Topolsky, but we were outvoted, and we respected that vote. You didn't!"

"Then you should be happy I came around to your way of thinking," Michael said. "So why aren't you?"

"Because you did it without telling anyone!" Alex practically shouted. "God, are you really that stupid that I have to spell it out for you?"

"I didn't tell anyone because I knew it would be dangerous," Michael retorted, "and this way, I was the only one in danger. Do I really have to spell that out for you?"

"It's never only one of us in danger!" Alex exclaimed. "When one of us is in danger, all of us are in danger! Or is that too much math for you to get your head around?"

"Don't push me," Michael warned.

"Guys," Liz warned, surprised that it was Alex, of all people, who had jumped in first.

"Michael, cool it," Isabel ordered.

"Alex is right," Max said.

Everyone stopped talking. "I...I am?" Alex said.

"You put all of us in danger," Max said to Michael in a deadly voice. "And I'm not buying this 'I did it to protect you' bit for one second. You just wanted to do it alone, to be the first one to know whatever it is you thought you were going to find out, because it's killing you that you remembered something before and then forgot it."

"Bullshit," Michael declared.

"Then why take Maria with you?" Max demanded. "If you're so keen on 'protecting' everyone, why take her?"

"Because I needed her car, and she wouldn't go away," Michael said hotly. "And then she spazzed out on me."

" 'Spazzed'?" Maria repeated incredulously. "Spazzed?"

"It's his new favorite word," Alex muttered.

"Shut up," Michael shot back. "I was just saying—"

"That it's my fault!" Maria broke in furiously. "That's what you're saying. But if I hadn't made you stop, Valenti and the doctor wouldn't have caught up with us to tell us what was really going on!"

"Time out!" Isabel shouted.

A tense silence settled over the room as Isabel stood in the center of the ring, much like she had when she'd pulled Max and Michael apart at Buckley Point. "Before we continue with the blood bath I'd like some basic information. When did she come to you, Michael? And where?"

The tension in the room deflated slightly, as though the presence of a simple, factual question had let some of the air out of the emotional balloon hanging over them. "Last night," Michael answered. "I came back after the...date...and found her in my apartment. She'd torn the place apart, and she'd...she'd found the orb."

Everyone's ears pricked. "What, she found...she found our orb?" Liz asked. "I mean yours," she said quickly when Michael's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Your orb. She found it? But you had it. So she didn't take it?"

"She didn't have to," Michael said. "She said she had one of her own."

"There's another one?" Maria said fearfully.

"I told you this," Michael said accusingly. "I told you this right before Max decked me!"

"Yeah, well, we weren't exactly inclined to listen to a word you said," Max replied.

"Like you ever are," Michael muttered.

"Enough!" Isabel commanded. "I'm not done yet. What did she say?"

Michael gave everyone a sulky look before answering. "I told her it was a paperweight, and she said it was a communicator. She said there was another one that she'd taken from the 'special unit evidence vault back in Washington'."

" 'Special Unit'?" Liz said. "Not the FBI?"

"She said 'special unit'," Michael insisted. "And then she said the communicators only work when they're together, and that she'd bring it to Buckley Point tonight if...if I promised to take her with us when our people come to get us."

Isabel paled. "She said that? That she wanted to...to leave the planet?"

"Aren't we forgetting something?" Max demanded. "She's nuts! We just heard a doctor say so, and not just any doctor, but one who passed Valenti's muster. This is all calculated to make us believe her, and we can't believe any of it. She's telling us what we want to hear, and we're falling for it."

But Michael shook his head. "I'm not so sure about that, Maxwell. We know she was working for the FBI. We know she was here investigating you. And the orb being a communicator, it fits; it's small, it's portable, we know it lights up, so it does something."

"Michael, you can't believe any of this," Max protested. "This is all about you wanting to 'phone home'!"

"What if it is?" Michael demanded. "But as it happens, it isn't. You," he went on, looking at Liz, "and you," he added, looking at Alex, "part of you believed her right from the beginning. And now that I've actually seen her, talked to her...I tend to think she's telling the truth."

"But the doctor, Michael," Max argued, "the doctor said she was suffering from delusions. I'm sure she believes everything she's saying, but that doesn't make it true."

"Okay," Michael said, "but answer me this: If she's lying, then who tried to pick up Alex?"

An uncomfortable silence settled over the group as everyone looked at everyone else. "Um...Alex?" Isabel said after a moment. "Tell us again what the man in the car said?"

Alex hesitated. "He said...he said that Topolsky had sent him. That she knew I wanted to hear what she had to say. That he'd take me to her, and she'd explain everything. And not to worry, because he was on my side. And then..." He paused, swallowing hard. "And then he ordered me to get in the car."

"Alex," Liz said slowly, "you heard the doctor tonight. Was it...was it the same voice?"

Alex shook his head. "No."

"See?" Michael said. "So if it wasn't the doctor, who was it? And why does it look like what Topolsky was saying, that we're all in danger? Justify it all you want," he went on, "but I'm still gonna ask...who was the dude in the car?"




****************************************************




Proctor residence




"What do you mean she's gone?" Jaddo demanded.

"I believe the word 'gone' is self-explanatory," Brivari answered.

Anthony looked at Dee, who stifled a sigh as she sank down on the bottom step of the staircase, knowing full well that they would be here a while. Her reputation as a night owl was well deserved, but that didn't mean she appreciated arguments at this hour. When Brivari had called and said he had important information for her, she'd told him to come right over without a second thought. Turned out she wasn't the only one he had information for.

"Here we go," Anthony murmured, taking a seat beside her.

"No, here they go," Dee said. "I'm staying out of it."

"I've heard that before," Anthony noted.

"I thought we were agreed," Jaddo protested. "We would follow Topolsky to see who was following her."

"We were," Brivari answered. "And we did."

"I did," Jaddo corrected. "I've spent the last couple of days leading her pursuers astray."

"And that was helpful," Brivari allowed. "But we'd learned all we were going to. She'd outlived her usefulness."

" 'Outlived'?" Dee said. "Does that mean...did you..."

"She's alive," Brivari confirmed. "I had no reason to execute her."

"Is this 'staying out of it'?" Anthony wondered.

"Oh, hush," Dee said crossly.

"What do you mean we'd 'learned all we were going to'?" Jaddo demanded. "We still don't know exactly who was following her, or why she came here in the first place."

"My apologies," Brivari said. "I should have said I'd learned all I was going to."

"Uh oh," Anthony whispered.

You said it, Dee thought wearily as Jaddo faced Brivari, his expression a study in fury. "We agreed," Jaddo said tightly, "that neither of us—that none of us—would act unilaterally," he ground out, his gaze sweeping from Brivari to her as though suspicious she was complicit.

"Don't look at me," Dee protested. "I haven't the faintest idea what he's talking about."

"She doesn't," Brivari confirmed. "And we did indeed agree. Which is why I'm here now, to tell you what I've learned."

"This is why you weren't answering your phone," Jaddo fumed. "You were out there without me, you didn't say a word—"

"Because I saw an opportunity, and I took it. Bringing you in at that point would have been counterproductive, especially as you were running desperately need interference."

"So glad I could help," Jaddo retorted. "And that is not the point. If you—"

"Hold it," Dee said suddenly. "Yes, I know what I said," she added to Anthony. "I take it back. I want to know what he found out," she went on to Jaddo. "Isn't that the important part here?"

"I'm supposed to be in the loop," Jaddo protested.

"So am I," Dee said pointedly. "I had no idea this was going on either, but I want to hear what he learned, and you should too. You can kill him later. Go on," she added to Brivari.

"And for your sake, I hope it's good," Jaddo added darkly.

"I managed to impersonate an agent," Brivari answered. "Good enough?"

"And?" Dee pressed as Jaddo's eyes widened. "Is it true? Is there some kind of 'shadow Unit' operating here?"

"It's not only operating," Brivari answered softly, "it's led by someone very familiar."

The silence which followed this announcement was so profound, one could have heard a pin drop. Dee looked back and forth from Brivari to Jaddo, the former impassive, the latter in shock. "You're sure?" Dee asked. "You're absolutely sure?"

"Positive," Brivari answered. "The resemblance is striking."

"Shit," Dee muttered.

"Language, dear," Anthony murmured.

"Oh, no, you don't," Dee said severely. "This one deserves at least one 'shit'. Maybe more."

"I'm a bit confused," Anthony allowed as Jaddo stared into space, thunderstruck. "Is this the bit about Pierce having a son? Well, then, you already suspected that," he went on when Dee nodded. "Why is everyone acting so surprised?"

"We weren't certain," Dee said, "but I was hoping against hope that it wasn't true."

"As were we all," Brivari agreed, "but unfortunately it is. Pierce was Agent Summers' hand-picked successor. He was denied the opportunity to lead the Unit after Summers' death revealed its existence to the FBI's new director, Louis Freeh, who was none too pleased to find a covert unit so covert that even he didn't know about it. He didn't disband it, but he refused to appoint Pierce or anyone else its head, which gave birth to this so-called 'shadow unit', the one currently operating in Roswell."

"So blow him in," Anthony said. "Let this Freeh person deal with him."

"I intend to," Brivari said. "But we have an opportunity here to take down more than Pierce. We need to take down the Unit, to discredit it so thoroughly that Freeh will abandon it."

"And kill Pierce," Jaddo said tightly.

"After we discredit the Unit," Brivari said firmly. "And no handprints, no telltale marks of alien activity. The last thing we need is to bolster their cause."

"But why was the Unit chasing Topolsky?" Dee asked. "Wasn't she Unit herself?"

"Under the old regime," Brivari said. "But when Pierce took over, she apparently had a change of heart, as did her supervisor, Agent Stevens."

"The one they...dismembered," Dee said faintly.

"The same. It appears there were those in the Unit who didn't approve of Pierce—"

"There's a shock," Jaddo muttered.

"—and who actively fought his coup. He responded with predictable savagery. Topolsky managed to escape and made her way here."

"Escape from where?" Anthony asked.

"A mental hospital in Bethesda, Maryland," Brivari answered. "Pierce had her locked up under the pretence of being suicidal."

"Good Lord," Anthony muttered.

"It wasn't an exercise in subtlety," Brivari noted. "His father was somewhat less flamboyant."

"Impregnating Yvonne with an alien-human fetus was pretty darned flamboyant," Dee said sourly. "So what was Topolsky doing here? Why was she after the kids?"

Brivari hesitated, his eyes on Jaddo, who remained smoldering in the corner. "Ostensibly to warn them about Pierce. When they rebuffed her, she warned Valenti...but this is where it gets messier. When the Parker girl failed to meet with her the other night, she made another appeal...to Rath."

"Rath?" Jaddo said derisively. "I'm sure that went over well."

"Actually," Brivari said, "it did. He was on his way to meet her tonight when we caught up with him."

"Nonsense," Jaddo snapped. "He was dead set against it."

"I know," Brivari said heavily as Jaddo gave a snort of disgust. "She apparently won an audience by telling him what the 'orb', as they're calling it, actually does. Stupid name," he added. "Sounds almost mystical, like it's some kind of talisman."

"To them, it is," Dee said. "They don't realize it's just a cellphone."

"They do now," Brivari said. "Topolsky told Rath that the communicators only worked in pairs, and that she had a second one. That's how she overcame his objections."

"Is that true?" Anthony asked.

Brivari shook his head. "I imagine she made that up to conjure an excuse for meeting."

"She didn't make it up," Jaddo said. "I did."

A startled silence greeted this announcement as everyone stared at him. "I did," he insisted. "Back when Pierce's father was waving it under my nose and demanding to know what it was. I told him the truth, but then I added that bit about needing two of them. I knew he only had one, and I suspect they spent the rest of my captivity hunting for a second."

"Good thing they didn't find the one Max has," Anthony said. "You said something earlier, about when 'we' caught up with Michael...who's 'we'?"

"That would be the rest of the 'messy' part," Brivari answered. "I enlisted Valenti's help."

"You did what?" Jaddo demanded. "Please tell me you had a reason."

"Because I always run around doing things without a reason," Brivari said dryly. "Of course I had a reason. The night the Parker girl failed to meet with her, Topolsky paid a call to Valenti. Whatever she told him had him on high alert, high enough that he had become a concern. I impersonated a doctor from the hospital where Pierce was holding Topolsky in an attempt to throw him off, and it worked. But when I saw Topolsky, the hybrids, and the Unit converging on the same place, I needed some assistance. Valenti went with me, or rather the doctor, to head them off. We managed to convince them that Topolsky was not to be trusted...but not without incident. Rath had brought their communicator with him, and he dropped it. Valenti found it."

Dee closed her eyes as a memory came flooding back of a muggy summer night when she'd also approached a Valenti for help, placing a trithium generator, which could also be used as a communicator, on his desk as proof of what he'd known for years—that aliens were real. Valenti Sr. had been sympathetic, but had turned her down, saying the FBI, currently in town and dogging his every step, would follow him, making things worse for Courtney than they already were. They'd managed to get Courtney out, but at a very high price; both Malik and Courtney's father had died that night at Nicholas's hand, despite everyone's attempts to save them.

"I don't care what he has," Jaddo declared. "I don't care if you handed him the key to the Granolith or gave him a tour of the pod chamber, I just want to know where Pierce is and when I can remove him from this planet."

"Jaddo, listen to me," Brivari said deliberately. "We have to do this the right way. Pierce is cocky and inexperienced, but he's still very dangerous. He's gone right now because I gave him what he wanted, but he'll be back, and soon. If we merely remove him, someone else will take his place; that's what always happens when you've removed a Unit head. We need to kill the entire Unit, to make its existence such a hot potato that no one will touch it, for a while, at least."

"What do you mean, you 'gave him what he wanted'?" Dee said. "What did you give him?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Jaddo said. "He gave him Topolsky."

Dee felt Anthony's hand tighten on her shoulder. "Is that true?" she asked Brivari. "Did you hand her over?"

"I alerted him to her whereabouts," Brivari corrected.

"Which means you handed her over," Dee said, her temper rising. "You handed her over to a psychopath!"

"Who cares?" Jaddo demanded.

"I care," Dee retorted, "and I would think you would too, given that she was trying to warn them. What was all that about your having an obligation to protect those who protected the king? You know, that bit from the old world that prevented Jaddo from letting me die back when I was a kid? Or does that no longer apply?"

"It does," Brivari allowed. "But we needed her gone. The Unit was hot on her trail, and every single time she tried to lure the hybrids to a meeting, there was a risk they'd accept. Which is exactly what happened when Rath accepted."

"Unbelievable," Jaddo muttered. "I should strangle him."

"Zan may beat you to it," Brivari noted.

"So you just threw her to the wolves?" Dee said in disbelief, ignoring them.

"She's a wolf," Jaddo reminded her. "Or have you forgotten that she was hunting them only months ago?"

"But she'd stopped!" Dee protested. "She'd seen the light, switched sides, whatever you call it. It was—"

"Too late," Brivari finished. "And she'd become a lightning rod. Pierce has his prize, so he'll withdraw for the moment and give us much needed time to regroup."

"For the 'moment'?" Dee said incredulously. "I could see it, maybe, if sacrificing her got rid of Pierce or the Unit permanently, but you sacrificed a person for a 'moment'?"

"Why are we wasting time on this?" Jaddo demanded. "I have no, I repeat, no, sympathy for her. She knew what the Unit was, it was her decision to join, and it was a bad one. Her life was forfeit the moment she decided to come between us and our Wards."

Dee's next objection died in her throat; the language Jaddo had just used made it clear that a line of sorts had been crossed. Our Wards. Never much of a team player, he'd become even less so after he'd left with Tess. Now both Warders stood side by side, united in a way she hadn't seen in decades despite the fact that he was angry Brivari had acted without him. One of them could be unsettling. Two of them were downright alarming.

"So how do we prove the existence of this 'shadow unit'?" Jaddo asked. "I somehow doubt they'll all come quietly."

Brivari shook his head. "No. But I've got something better." He paused. "Pierce has resurrected the compound."

Dee's heart nearly stopped. "What?" Jaddo said softly.

"It was a favorite subject," Brivari said. "He's very proud of it. He's supposedly upgraded the facilities and...I can't confirm this, but...I think he excavated your old cell. They're calling it the 'white room'."

"Oh, dear God," Dee said wearily, feeling physically sick.

"The presence of that compound will be all the evidence Freeh needs," Brivari continued. "It's supposed to be abandoned, so—"

Jaddo, who had been staring fixedly at Brivari as though in a trance, abruptly walked out, the door banging closed behind him. "Should you have told him that?" Dee asked. "You know where he's going."

"He was going to find out anyway," Brivari said. "It was better he hear it from me, and better he hear it after Pierce left."

" 'I had no reason to execute her'," Dee said slowly. "So that's what you meant. You didn't need to, did you? Pierce will do it for you."

"And in a most unpleasant way," Brivari said. "I would have made it quick and painless. By the time he's through with her, she'll wish I had."




*****************************************************




Ten days later,

April 24, 2000,

Bethesda Psychiatric Institute





"There you go, Kathleen," the nurse said soothingly. "Sit down. That's a good girl."

Topolsky sank into the chair, her bathrobe flapping open, her slippers scraping on the tile floor. The nurse tucked the robe around her and patted her shoulder before moving along to the next patient, all of them arrayed like dolls in the hospital's common room. She watched them dully, not really seeing them. She'd had nothing to eat for the past week as Pierce was having her tube fed, which was enough to keep you alive, but just barely. She'd had little sleep because he kept interrupting it, dragging her out of bed in the middle of the night to interrogate her, shaking her awake when she nodded off during the day. He hadn't hit her, drugged her, or even threatened her since bringing her back here, but he hadn't had to; depriving a body of food and sleep produced the same results. He assumed that once he'd pushed her far enough, she'd tell him everything he wanted to know to get him to stop, but he was wrong about that. She knew he'd never stop, that giving him what he wanted would merely render her useless to him. So would not giving him what he wanted, of course, but it would take him longer to figure that out, and in the meantime she could savor the one remaining thing still under her control; what she knew. That was all she had left. She'd never made it to Michael, so the aliens wouldn't help her. Jim Valenti hadn't believed her, so he wouldn't help her. No one here realized who Pierce was or what he was doing, and if she told them, they wouldn't believe her, so they wouldn't help her. There was no benevolent supervisor whispering the door code in her ear, so this time there would be no escape. Pierce would keep her here in these white walls and florescent lights until she either talked or he realized she never would, after which he'd kill her. End of story.

"Fire," mumbled the man sitting next to her. She ignored him, finding it difficult to stay awake, never mind listen to the rantings of another inmate.

"Fire," the man repeated.

"Quiet," Topolsky whispered.

"Fire," he insisted, raising a trembling finger.

Almost involuntarily, she followed it. Not fire, she thought, suddenly more awake than she had been moments ago. Smoke. Smoke was pouring through the vents in the common room, in the hall, everywhere. People were coughing, lurching through the smoke, the startled staff scrambling for the locked doors which restricted access to the floor, and then...

...pandemonium.

The doors wouldn't budge. The staff clawed at them, beat on them, shouted to the frantic employees on the other side as patients pressed in from behind, coughing and gagging on the smoke which continued to pour from the vents. Topolsky, who had instinctively thrown her robe against her mouth, sat alone amidst the tumult, the only one aware of its source. So this is it, she thought sadly, convinced this was no accident. Pierce had thrown in the towel sooner than she'd expected, but the way he was doing it would take out a lot more than just her, not that he'd care...

Animal, she thought angrily, even more awake now. Pierce's quarrel was with her, but he was willing to kill dozens of people who had nothing to do with any of this to make his point. He was nothing but a terrorist with a badge, a wolf in sheep's clothing. Wasn't that exactly the type of scourge FBI agents were trained to fight against? Was there really nothing she could do?

The crowd thinned as terrified staff tried to break the doors with chairs, hurling them again and again, to no avail, or almost none. One pass caught the electrical panel beside the doors, breaking it open, exposing the wiring behind. Tapping reserves of strength she didn't know she had, Topolsky shuffled through the smoke. She'd learned this ages ago, but never had to use it. If she'd tried this the last time she'd been here, she would have set off an alarm, but none went off now, probably because Pierce had disabled it; how terribly inconvenient to have the fire department show up to an execution. Now she fumbled with the wires, struggling to steady her shaking hands...

The wires sparked; the doors released. The sudden crush of patients and staff straining to get out pinned Topolsky to the wall. The floor was so filled with smoke now that it was almost impossible to see. The little strength she'd managed to summon ebbed, and she slid to the floor. "Help someone else when you get the chance—that will be payment enough," the maid at the hotel in Roswell had said. That was one hell of an expensive hamburger, Topolsky thought, managing a smile. Curiously, she didn't feel panicked. Maybe this was the kind of peace one found when there was no decision to be made, when the decision had been made for you. She'd made it out once before, so she knew how far she'd have to go; she'd never make it out in time. Besides, it was better this way—if Pierce failed with this attempt, he'd only try again. And again. Her very existence was a danger to every single person here. And maybe, just maybe, some good would come of this. Jim Valenti hadn't swung to her side, but she'd seen the doubt in his eyes. She hadn't known him long, but she'd known him long enough to know that he'd follow up at some point, if only to satisfy his own curiosity. If she were merely a patient here, he might not go any further, but if he found out she was dead...well, then Pierce would find out what it was like to have a Valenti sink his teeth into his leg and never let go.

The thought of yet another Valenti bringing down the Unit brought a smile to Topolsky's face as she slumped against the wall in the smoky haze. Get'im, Jim, she thought as her eyes closed. It's up to you now.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I'll post Chapter 103 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Chapter 103

Postby Kathy W » Sun Feb 10, 2013 4:39 pm

Hi everyone! Thanks for reading, and thanks for the feedback!

keepsmiling7 wrote:This continues to fill in some of the back story and I'm so glad to see that Maria and Liz were concerned about covering their work shifts at the Crashdown.
Don't think my parents would ever let me disappear for that length of time without lots of explaining, or would I allow my children that much freedom.


One of the hardest "holes" to fill has been the cluelessness of the adults in Roswell. Sometimes I think I spend too much time addressing that, but it was something that just stuck out to me as a parent!

emerald123 wrote:Liz-wow. I love this take charge person.


Someone would have had to keep the pod squad from killing each other after Buckley Point, and my vote was Liz. :mrgreen:






CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED THREE




One day earlier

April 23, 2000,

Roswell




Honk!

Jim Valenti jerked back to the present as the car behind him continued to honk and was soon joined by others. Jesus, he thought wearily. Did it again. Once again he'd zoned out in front of a brilliant, emerald green light, much to the consternation of the impatient traffic behind him. This had been going on for the past week, every red light inviting a retrospection so complete that he lapsed into a semi-catatonic state broken only by the inevitable blare of horns when the light turned green and he failed to budge. He budged now, feeling the heat of the glares he couldn't see on the back of his neck as he drove off, disgusted with himself. He was law enforcement, for Christ's sake. He was supposed to be keeping an eye out for trouble, not lost in thought, even if the thoughts he was lost in could be a whole lot of trouble. If true, Valenti amended as he rounded another corner. There was the crux of it. Here he'd thought this was all over when Dr. Margolin had come to him last week, that Topolsky's dire warnings were nothing more than the fabrications of a troubled mind. So they'd been proclaimed by a respected medical professional, so they'd remained for the rest of the day until they'd chased the kids down and passed along the good news, and then...and then, suddenly, they weren't.

When Margolin had come to him last week, slipping past his deputies' screening with a combination of persistence and cheek, Valenti had carefully reserved judgment until he'd done his due diligence and checked Margolin's credentials. He'd been alone in his office when those had turned out to be flawless, which was handy as he'd nearly collapsed with relief. He could usually spot a liar, and Kathleen Topolsky had not been lying when she'd claimed there was an alien hunter on the loose. Ironically it wasn't the noxious alien hunter part of her claims that he had trouble believing; one need look no further than Hubble to make it clear that the unhinged were among us. No, the part which he'd found hard to swallow was the notion that the FBI was willing to turn a blind eye to the behavior Topolsky was describing. There was a part of him which still believed that, deep down, the government and its attendant institutions were there to protect the people, and with the exception of a few rotten eggs, those institutions did their job with admirable results. The idea that one of the most powerful institutions in the land could be not only corrupt, but so horribly corrupt, was downright terrifying, making it a relief to discover that the truth he'd seen in Topolsky's troubled eyes had been personal, not actual; she'd appeared to be speaking the truth because she'd truly believed what she was saying. He'd watched with satisfaction as Dr. Margolin had explained the situation to the wary kids, and had been all ready to go home and put his feet up with a much deserved beer when he'd spotted it.

Valenti glanced uneasily toward the floor of his cruiser. Prior to this week, he'd have sworn he wasn't the paranoid type, the obsessive type, the type whose imaginations ran away with them, but lately...well, let's just say that lately he'd developed a whole new level of sympathy for Kathleen Topolsky. The smooth gray object with the weird swirly symbol that looked vaguely familiar had ridden home beside him after he'd discovered it in the grass at Buckley Point, sitting politely on the seat like a souvenir from an especially odd day. Upon arriving home he'd inspected it carefully, expecting it to be some weird kind of portable radio, or a child's toy, or even just a jazzed up paperweight. Whatever it was, it definitely wasn't electrical—no battery door, switches, knobs, or UL rating. No anything, actually, which was strange; even a paperweight would have the company which made it stamped on it, or copyright info, or something like that. And then there was the conundrum of what it was made of. Plastic? None he'd ever seen. Metal? Nope. Wood? No way. Stone? Too smooth. Resin? Maybe; it was heavy enough. And it was then, in the dark of night, with his son sleeping only yards away, that the paranoia had begun to creep in. If Topolsky was merely nuts, what about that odd conversation he'd had with Agent Stevens' widow? Was it merely a coincidence that something as enigmatic as this...this...whatever it was had turned up just as the kids were going to meet Topolsky? Was Dr. Margolin legit? Had he dug deep enough into Margolin's credentials? Because if Topolsky was right, this is exactly the kind of thing they'd do to discredit her...

In full paranoia mode now, Valenti had spent hours double and triple checking Margolin's credentials as best he could with an internet connection. The weird silver football had found a home first in his sock drawer, then in his car when it had occurred to him that it could be some kind of weapon. He'd spent a sleepless night alternating between tossing and turning and fitful sleep full of nightmares about grey alien bombs exploding, taking out the entire neighborhood, never mind the house. He'd padded out to the car very early the next morning to find the whatsis sitting right where he'd left it, having not spouted fangs or feet, and he'd looked around uneasily, feeling foolish standing there in his sweatpants and t-shirt, afraid of a little grey blob which looked far more innocuous in daylight than it had in shadow. Funny how night amplified things, made threats loom larger, fears look rational. This was downright embarrassing.

"Dad?" a puzzled voice called.

And getting more so by the minute, Valenti had thought irritably. "What are you doing up at this hour on a Sunday?" he'd groused at Kyle.

"Track practice," Kyle had answered. "Why are standing in your skivvies staring into your car?"

"Forgot something," Valenti muttered.

"Something so important you'd go after it in your underwear?"

"These are pajamas," Valenti said crossly. "You're the one in skivvies."

And that's when Kyle had crossed the line, coming out the front door, skivvies or no skivvies. "What is it?" he'd asked curiously. "You got a dead body in there?"

All of Valenti's alarms suddenly went off. "None of your business," he'd barked, stepping between the car and his son.

"I was just asking—"

"Contrary to what you seem to be thinking, there is no law compelling me to tell you everything you want to know," Valenti snapped. "Go run track, or whatever it is you're doing in the wee small on a weekend."

And Kyle had stopped, blinked at him, raised both hands. "Okay," he'd said carefully, bewildered. "Don't freak. I'm going."

And so had begun the hunt for a home for the football-shaped whatsis, or more precisely, a hiding place. He wasn't comfortable having it at home or the station as someone might find it; his car was a better option, but the trunk was out, as was the glove compartment. In the end, he'd chucked it beneath his seat where it remained still, even after he'd watched one of his deputies paying his cable bill and done a double take; Timer-Warner Cable had a logo which looked remarkably similar to the football's swirly design. He'd called Time Warner to see if they'd made any toys or promotions which fit the description, but they claimed they hadn't. So under his seat it sat, slumbering as he zoned out at red lights, going over the evidence again and again, evidence which, on the surface, said all was well but contrasted sharply with his gut, which kept telling him to look behind him, to be ready to run...

Coffee, Valenti thought, pulling over beside the Crashdown. He hadn't been sleeping well, which couldn't be helping the whole paranoia thing, and he walked inside only to crash face first into a wall of tension so thick, it was almost palpable.

"Oh...um...hi," stammered Liz Parker as Michael Guerin and the Evans' kids regarded him with alarm. "Can I help you, Sheriff?"

Valenti glanced from one stricken face to another. Max was studiously not looking at him, and so was his sister, their eyes averted as they sat stiffly on their stools. Only Guerin looked him in the eye, bristling with suspicion and defiance. "Just the usual, Miss Parker," Valenti answered.

She moved with admirable speed, so admirable one might think she was trying to get rid of him. "All righty, here you go, Sheriff," she chirped with false professional cheerfulness.

"Thank you," Valenti answered, having not taken his eyes off the others. "You folks have a nice night."

He could feel their eyes on him as he left the cafe, much like he could feel the eyes of those who objected to his habit of musing at red lights. Those had not been the expressions of people relieved to know they weren't on some alien hunter's list. Whatever it was that currently lodged beneath his seat, it belonged to them. They hadn't admitted being out there to meet Topolsky, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that's what they'd been up to; they must have dropped it in all the confusion. And since he already knew that something was up with Max Evans, it stood to reason that the weird grey thing giving him heartburn was alien. Wasn't Max an alien? Hadn't Topolsky said so? But if she was disturbed, did that make her wrong? Except that she wasn't wrong, and he knew it. That much had been true, mental breakdowns aside. But if some of what she'd said was true, didn't that mean more of it could be true? And who was it who'd been stalking Alex Whitman, rattling him so badly that he'd looked like he'd seen a ghost?

Enough, Valenti thought grimly. First thing tomorrow morning, he was calling Margolin.




*****************************************************



Tumbleweed Motor Inn





"Where have you been?" Tess demanded.

A light snapped on. "Since when are you my mother?" Nasedo said.

"I may not be your mother, but you're supposed to be my guardian," Tess retorted. "It's been hours!"

"It's a weekend," Nasedo said. "I'm gone for 'hours' during the week; you just don't know it because you're in school. Either that, or hobnobbing with your new friend."

"What, you mean Isabel? You told me to get close to them!"

"And you certainly have," Nasedo said darkly. "I rarely see you any more, and when I do, you're bitching that you don't see me. I take it you don't see the irony?"

"You told me to...wait," Tess said. "Why are we talking about me? We were talking about you and why you were gone so long."

"No, you were whining that I was gone so long," Nasedo corrected, filling the coffee pot with water and setting it on the hot plate. "No one said anything about why. Besides, I already told you 'why'. Is your memory really that bad?"

Tess felt that familiar queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. "You mean this is about the Unit?"

"Of course it's 'about the Unit'. Everything I do these days is 'about the Unit'. Which is why I'd appreciate it if you'd get off your high horse and stop interrogating me."

"I just wanted to know," Tess protested. "I'm sitting here in this seedy motel with no idea where you are or when you're coming back, and I'm..."

"What?" Nasedo demanded when she paused. "You're what?"

Scared, Tess finished privately. Much as she loathed admitting it, she was scared. As Nasedo had pointed out, they had only ever run from the Unit, and while that had gotten dicey at times, this was different. This time they weren't budging as the storm advanced, were just sitting and waiting for it to hit. And not just them—the Others had no idea, or very little idea, just what exactly was bearing down on them, and so far she had no good way to warn them. Her new proximity to the Others would have been sheer heaven if not for that monkey on her back, the knowledge of what was coming, of what it could mean. They had to be ready, it was her job to get them ready...and they weren't. That uncomfortable fact hung like a cloud over every single interaction she had with Isabel, spoiling what should have been the time of her life.

"Whatever," Nasedo said when she didn't answer him. "At least you'll be relieved of the 'seedy motel' part. The movers will be here on Tuesday."

"Hurray," Tess deadpanned. "Then I'll get to sit around a big empty house all by myself while you're off fighting bad guys without telling me what's going on."

"I told you what was going on," Nasedo protested. "I told you about Topolsky, and the splinter Unit, and—"

"But that was a week ago," Tess interrupted. "What's happened? Because something happened. Isabel was all moody and worried, and now she's not."

"Of course she's not," Nasedo said, his voice laden with what sounded suspiciously like derision. "God knows the sun rises and sets on her feelings."

"I didn't say that," Tess protested. "And why do you hate her so much? And don't tell me you don't, because you do. You're not exactly the subtle type."

She was expecting a retort, another thrust in their usual thrust and parry, and was surprised when it was not forthcoming, when he merely shook his head. "It doesn't matter. She's not worried because Topolsky is gone. The Unit caught up with her and carted her off."

"But...that's good, right?" Tess ventured.

"For the moment. And then what?"

"And then...they'll be back," Tess said heavily. "Assuming they're really gone in the first place."

"Finally, you're using your head," Nasedo said. "Unlike 'Isabel', who probably thinks their problems are over. She has no idea Topolsky was merely the first wave of a tsunami."

"Exactly—she has 'no idea'," Tess said. "So don't blame her for not knowing what you won't tell her because you hate her for some reason you won't tell me. Or her."

"Oh, she knows," Nasedo said darkly. "Or she will when she remembers. Speaking of which, how is your part of this coming along? How much are they remembering?"

"Uh...not much," Tess said uncomfortably.

"And exactly how much is 'not much'?"

"It's 'not much'," Tess answered. "Not much...of anything."

Nasedo's eyes fastened on hers. "They need to have a working knowledge of who they are and who's after them before Pierce and the Unit descend in full force. It was your job to make that happen. Are you telling me you haven't done your job?"

" 'Pierce'? Who's 'Pierce'?"

"Now who's changing the subject?" he demanded. "It's the Unit. You know that. Answer my question."

"But you never talk about specific agents," Tess said. "I've never heard you call any of them by name, not like that—"

"Answer my question!"

"Fine," Tess sighed. "They haven't remembered a thing, or not a thing I know of. It just hasn't come up!" she exclaimed when Nasedo gave a snort of impatience. "I've been nudging, and dropping hints, and waiting for an opening, a slip, someone using their powers accidentally in front of me, something. The closest I got was a picture I found in Isabel's photo album—"

"Is there a point to this rambling?" Nasedo interrupted.

"My point is that they've hidden who they are all their lives, and they're really, really good at it," Tess said crossly. "So good that a week or two won't do it. It'll take months to work through that shell."

"Didn't take that female 'months'," Nasedo muttered. "Maybe we should just shoot you in the cafe and have history repeat itself."

"Her name is 'Liz', and that was different," Tess argued. "He loves her."

Nasedo stared into space for a moment. "He loved you once."

The words hung in the air, heavy, oppressive. He doesn't now, Tess thought sadly. She could drop dead in front of Max, in the cafe or anywhere else, and he wouldn't respond the way he had with Liz. She'd been so eager to be near him, so certain that his proximity to her would bring it all back, that their proximity to her would spark something...but it hadn't. Only Isabel had responded, and in such a vague way, she probably didn't even know it was happening.

"I don't care who he thinks he 'loves'," Nasedo went on, back to his usual charming self. "They need to remember, and it's best they remember on their own. Whatever you're doing isn't working. Do more."

"Like what?" Tess demanded.

"How should I know? You're best buddies with Isabel. Think of something." He hefted his coffee. "I'll be outside. I need some fresh air."

"Wait," Tess called suddenly. "Do you...would he...do you think if Max remembered, he would...I mean, could he...love me again?"

Stupid question, Tess thought, immediately regretting having asked it. Nasedo hated any talk of feelings, emotion, all that "soft" stuff he felt was worthless. She braced herself for the inevitable onslaught of derision only to be surprised when it didn't come. He just stood there beside the door, looking her up and down like she was for sale.

"I told you Max used to be your husband," Nasedo said. "I also told you he was no longer your husband, that he didn't remember your former life."

"Well, I really don't either—"

"I'm not finished," Nasedo interrupted. "I don't know the answer to your question, but I do know this—there's no chance of anything if he doesn't remember. Get him to remember, any way you can. We're running out of time."




*****************************************************




Brivari had just checked his watch a third time when Jaddo finally emerged from the motel room, coffee in hand. "None for me?" Brivari said dryly.

"As soon as we move into the house, you can help yourself whenever you like," Jaddo said. "I got caught up in yet another adolescent argument. What did you find?"

"What we expected, unfortunately," Brivari answered. "The compound isn't staffed, but there are enough comings and goings to make it clear it's being used for something. Of course anyone who didn't camp out there for forty-eight hours wouldn't notice. What did you find?"

"Officially? Nothing," Jaddo answered. "According to official records, the compound was shuttered in 1950, the base decommissioned several years later, and that was the end of that."

"But we both know it wasn't," Brivari said. "The base is certainly decommissioned, and the compound looks deserted from the outside, but—"

"I know," Jaddo said grimly. "I went in. As far as I could, anyway. They've come a long way from 'shoe fitters'." He paused. "I could send someone in. It wouldn't be hard; my 'job' covers all abandoned Army facilities, including those ugly missile silos—"

But Brivari shook his head. "No. You know that won't help. He'll just go further underground, or if they nail him, the Unit will go further underground. We have it right where we want it."

"Since when do we want it right on top of our Wards?"

"Right where we want it to discredit it," Brivari said patiently. "We need to lure the Unit into a compromising position that will emasculate it, and we can't strike until we're certain. One whiff that anyone's after it, and they'll vanish into thin air."

"I'll make him vanish," Jaddo muttered. "Just watch me."

"Jaddo—"

"I know, I know," Jaddo said impatiently. "Don't kill him, discredit him. Got it."

"Don't kill him 'yet'," Brivari corrected. "Discredit first, then execute. You executed his father, remember?"

A slow smile spread across Jaddo's face. "Do I. One of the finest moments of my life."

Brivari held his tongue, keeping to himself the observation that anyone who viewed an execution as one of their finer moments would be considered seriously disturbed on either Earth or Antar. He hadn't been looking forward to Jaddo's moving to Roswell, knowing full well that their very different Warding styles would clash, but the revelation that the Unit was not only in Roswell but headed by a Pierce had now pushed Jaddo into dangerous territory. If they all made it through this alive, it would be nothing short of a miracle.

The motel room door opened, and Ava appeared, pounding down the steps to ground level. "Where's she off to?" Brivari asked.

"Probably all fired up from our adolescent argument," Jaddo replied. "She hasn't been holding up her end of the bargain."

"Which was?"

"Nudging the hybrids' memories. She's practically been living with Vilandra, and yet none of them remember a thing."

"Dee told me," Brivari said, diplomatically keeping to himself the full text of that conversation. "She's concerned that Ava is pushing too hard."

" 'Too hard'? If you ask me, she's not pushing hard enough. Certainly they should have remembered something by now."

"Not necessarily," Brivari answered. "Look, I know what you were thinking, what we were both hoping, that simply getting the four of them back together would set off some chain reaction that would wake them up. But it's been too long; there's too much water under that bridge. It won't be that easy."

"Apparently not," Jaddo sighed. He was quiet for a moment. "Did Zan love Ava?" he asked suddenly.

Brivari stared at him. "What brought that up?"

"It's a simple enough question. Just answer it."

"It's a strange question given that you were there," Brivari said. "Did he look like he loved her?"

"I wasn't paying attention to any of that," Jaddo said. "I have no use for that twaddle. Neither did you, as I recall, or only as much as was necessary to insure an heir."

Brivari gazed out over the motel's crowded parking lot. "Yes, he loved her. He was as smitten as any schoolboy. At first I deemed her a distraction, but I found the reality to be otherwise."

"How so?"

"It's not exactly a secret that Zan and I didn't get along," Brivari answered. "I was his father's Warder; my loyalty was to him and to the dynasty he wished to create, as he reminded me when he asked me to Ward his son. I took him on reluctantly, and never, in my wildest dreams, did I ever imagine that assignment landing me here."

"Mmm," Jaddo murmured.

"But Ava had no history with me," Brivari went on, "nor with the royal family. She brought an outsider's perspective that her husband listened to, which had the effect of taming the fire which typically burned between us. He listened to me more after he married. Some of that was undoubtedly simple maturation, but not all of it; some of it was her. But why do you ask?"

"Because I needed a goad," Jaddo answered. "Tess has been unsuccessful; she needs to step up her game. She wants Zan to love her, but he's smitten with that female, the one he healed in public. Tess asked me if Zan would love her again if he remembered, and while I can't answer that, I pointed out that if she wants that, he needs to remember. That ought to light a fire under her."

A flicker of unease stirred in Brivari. "Be careful, Jaddo."

"About what? She needed incentive, I provided it, and truthfully, I might add. He may very well feel differently when he remembers."

"And he may very well not," Brivari noted. "Both of us would do well to remember that that 'twaddle', as you put it, toppled the throne, and we ignore it at our peril. We may have no use for it, but others do. They do. Using it to lead them around by the nose is—"

"Practical," Jaddo broke in. "Useful. Necessary, I would argue, since they're going to indulge in this behavior anyway. Why not turn it to our advantage?"

"Because emotions are not that simple," Brivari said soberly. "They can ricochet sideways or flip in an instant. They cause otherwise intelligent people to do foolish things, take foolish chances. If we've learned nothing else from the fall of our world, we should have learned that. They already made that mistake. Let's not be the ones who repeat it."




****************************************************





"Beautiful evening," Anthony commented.

"Mmm," Dee murmured, one hand on the wheel, the other propped on the car's windowsill as they waited at a red light.

"Weather's been nice," Anthony went on.

"Mmmhm."

"If we're lucky, it won't start sweltering for a little while longer."

"Mmmhm."

"There's a dinosaur across the street snacking on a bunch of tourists."

"Mmmhm."

A heavy sigh pulled her attention away from the light, which was still red. "What?" Dee said.

" 'What'?" Anthony repeated. "You have no idea what I just said, do you?"

"Of course I do," Dee said crossly. "You were talking about...the weather."

"Which is depressing in and of itself," Anthony said. "You've spoken so little this week that I find myself resorting to cocktail party conversation just to fill the silence. But missing the dinosaur comment was a new low."

"What 'dinosaur comment'?"

Anthony's eyebrows rose. "See what I mean?"

Dee was about to bite back when she saw the look on his face; she could tell when her husband was joking, and he wasn't. "Would you at least talk to me?" Anthony said gently. "I've never seen you like this. Not ever. I know you're elsewhere, but I'd like to join you, wherever 'elsewhere' is."

The light turned green. Dee sat there, frozen, for several seconds until a horn blasted behind them and she impulsively flipped on her turn signal. "Where are we going?" Anthony asked as she did a U-turn past the honking driver, who was shouting something about no one in Roswell believing in green lights any more. She didn't answer, and it was a good twenty minutes before she pulled up alongside the chain link fence, killed the engine, and climbed out. They were a long ways away, but they could still see.

"This is where I am," she whispered as Anthony joined her beside the fence. "I'm here. Every waking minute of every day, I'm here."

"Yeah," Anthony said quietly, gazing at the Army base's dark buildings in the distance.

"I was never in there," Dee went on, "but Jaddo was. For three years. We moved heaven and hell to get him out."

"I remember," Anthony said.

"And now they want to put our grandchildren in there," Dee went on, her voice rising. "They want to put our grandchildren in that awful place! It makes me want to march in there with a blowtorch and burn the place down!"

"It's stone," Anthony said with maddening practicality. "Wouldn't burn."

"I'll make it burn," she said darkly. "Just watch me."

Anthony put an arm around her. "They'll be all right," he said gently.

"And what makes you say that? They're kids! Kids who have no idea what's coming at them!"

"We were kids," Anthony reminded her. "Look what we did. You ran from the Army, we ran from aliens. We were in a lot of scrapes, but we made it through. They'll make it through too."

"Will they?" Dee said. "I haven't felt this way since then, since Jaddo was captive. Even when the FBI was here, they weren't this close, and there wasn't a monster leading the charge, a monster with a drug that could incapacitate them. A monster who has Topolsky," she went on sadly. "I should be angry about that, but any thought of her went right out of my head the moment I heard this place had risen from the ashes. How selfish is that?"

"It's called 'self-preservation'," Anthony corrected. "Something she wasn't very good at it when she joined the Unit."

"Oh, don't give me that," Dee said impatiently. "You and I both know she thought she was doing the world a favor by ridding us of 'evil aliens', or whatever. She never expected to run into a psychopath, and when she did, she recanted." She stopped, paling. "And I don't care. I don't care what happens to her as long as our grandchildren are spared whatever that was."

"Which they will be," Anthony said firmly. "Did you see them last week? Jaddo was even mad at Brivari, and they still presented a united front about Topolsky. I haven't seen them that simpatico in ages."

"They were scary," Dee agreed. "One of them is scary, but both of them actually working in unison..." She paused. "I don't remember them being that scary when we were kids, even when there were four of them. Why weren't they scary then? Were we really that stupid?"

"Not stupid," Anthony said. "Young."

Dee shook her head. "What's the difference? They're virtually interchangeable. Now I know how my mother felt. Took six decades, but now I finally realize why she did some of things she did. Good God, how did she do it? How did she not go mad with worry? And there I was, fighting her at every turn..." She stopped, feeling a sudden urge to climb the fence, march in there, and tear the place down with her bare hands, and she had no doubt that if she'd been her eight year-old self, the self she'd been back when she'd first discovered the ship, she would have tried to do just exactly that.

"Okay, so we were stupid," Anthony agreed. "All kids think they're invincible. Maybe they have to. Maybe if you realize too young just how much danger you're really in, you don't make it through."

"Then how do we explain you?" Dee asked dryly. "You were never stupid. You were the one telling me I was stupid, and then following me into hell."

Anthony smiled faintly. "Which was stupid. Some things never change, do they?"

Dee turned hard eyes on the dusty buildings in the distance, seemingly deserted although they knew otherwise. "I'll say. Even fifty years later, hell looks the same as it always did."




******************************************************




Crashdown Cafe




Tess paused outside the Crashdown, peering in the window. There they were, all of them—Max, Isabel, Michael in the kitchen, and Liz, of course, who was pouring coffee for...the sheriff? No wonder they all looked so uncomfortable. Nasedo had told her the sheriff knew more than he should. All the more reason for all of them to band together to face whatever threats were coming.

"Whatever you're doing isn't working. Do more."

All right then,
Tess thought. Here comes "more".




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I'll post Chapter 104 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 104

Postby Kathy W » Sun Feb 17, 2013 4:32 pm

Thanks to everyone reading, and thanks for the feedback! ^






CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED FOUR



April 23, 2000, 8:00 p.m.

Crashdown Cafe





Tess hesitated outside the Crashdown, watching as Liz Parker poured the sheriff a cup of something or other. All three of them were in there, Max, Isabel, and Michael, and the urge to simply bust in and join them was almost overpowering...and weird. She'd never felt such a compulsion to join anyone before; she'd spent most of her life either avoiding her peers or joining them very carefully, eyes ever peeled for any wisp of truth which might slip through...just like the Others. The Others were practiced at keeping their true selves hidden, every bit as practiced as she was, but even though she hadn't revealed herself yet, being with them was different. She was able to relax around them in ways she never had before simply because the truth, were it to prematurely slip out, involved them too. And I want it to slip out, she admitted. She'd been hoping against hope that something would, that something would give one of them away because she just couldn't wait for them to know what she knew, for all of them to know each other. After a lifetime of either Nasedo or transient "friends" who didn't know who she really was and could get her killed if they did, the thought of belonging to a group of people who were just like her was so appealing, it almost hurt.

And they're family, Tess thought with satisfaction, eyeing Max through the window. People like her would have been fabulous enough, but to have one of them be her husband, even former husband, was sheer heaven. The flipside was that their ignorance was sheer hell, but Nasedo's order to "do more" gave her permission to bring out the big guns and end that hell. The trick would be to keep it light, keep it non-threatening. This called for a deft touch and a steady hand, or steady mind, rather. No getting emotional, no getting needy. She had to remember that she'd known since childhood that there were others like her, while the Others had no idea. This might come as a shock, and if so, it would be her job to cushion that blow; God knows Nasedo wouldn't be any help in that department.

The Crashdown's door opened, and the sheriff emerged, brushing past her with coffee cup in hand and a troubled expression on his face. " 'Scuse me, miss," he mumbled as he went by.

"No problem," Tess said, watching him walk to his car before returning her attention to the window. Michael had emerged from the kitchen, and they appeared to be having an argument. Eagerly, she opened the door.

"...now has something from our planet in his possession," Isabel was saying.

Our planet. Tess caught her breath as the words hung in the air like a cloud over the Others, a ray of sunshine over her. Finally! Finally, evidence that they were not from around here. This was the first time any of them had said anything which referenced their origins even when she'd been eavesdropping. They were so very good at hiding that sometimes she'd wondered if Nasedo had the right people.

"Even though he has it, he doesn't know what it is, right?" Liz was saying.

"We don't even know what it is," Max said.

"What what is?" Tess blurted out, unable to stop herself.

Four startled faces greeted this question. Did it again, she thought, recalling Isabel's grandmother's reactions to her blunt announcements. "Oh," she said quickly. "Sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt anything."

"No, no, hey," Isabel stammered, "we were just...um...why don't you join us? Have a seat."

"Thanks!" Tess said, plopping down on a stool.

"Sure," Isabel said.

"So...what were you guys talking about?" Tess asked.

The question earned her four more startled looks, but this time Tess didn't so much as bat an eyelash. For all that she wanted them to know each other, she couldn't help but note the flicker of annoyance, almost parental in nature, which had stirred in her when they'd been surprised at being overheard. After all their skulking and hiding, did they really think it was smart to be discussing things of this nature in public where anyone could be listening, including a Unit agent? Amateurs, she thought sadly, beginning to see why Nasedo insisted she had to bring them up to speed, and fast. They'd successfully hidden from ordinary humans all these years, but Special Unit agents weren't ordinary humans.

It was Liz who broke the silence. "Can I get you something to drink, Tess?"

Good save, Tess thought, vaguely embarrassed that it was the human who was covering for the aliens, all of whom had frozen in place and were looking at her in shock, especially Max. "Oh, thanks," she answered. "Uh...Cherry Coke with lime."

And that's when it happened.

One moment Tess was sitting at the counter watching one retreating, quick-on-her-feet human waitress and three deer-in-the-headlights aliens...and the next she was standing on desert sand with towering rocks to one side, the blazing sun overhead highlighting the symbols strewn across the desert floor and the boy whose hand she was holding...

The scene faded as abruptly as it had appeared. The Crashdown was back, Max was staring at her with wide, frightened eyes, and she had practically stopped breathing. That wasn't me, she thought frantically. That wasn't me! Max had initiated a connection with her, without meaning to, from the looks of things, but who cared? He knows! she thought joyfully, resisting the urge to jump off the stool and dance. He remembers! She'd swear those rocks she'd seen were the ones which housed the pod chamber, those symbols must be alien, and...and we were holding hands, she thought, the most salient piece of that moment settling over her like a blessing. Max hadn't just remembered their language or their birthplace, he'd remembered her. Why else would he have envisioned them together? Why else would they have been holding hands? Somewhere deep inside, he must remember. Somewhere deep inside, he must know she was his wife.

Make that very deep, she amended. Max was watching her like she'd just sprouted horns, flanked by a curious Isabel and an alarmed Liz. "What's the matter?" Tess said, suddenly remembering that this was the place he'd very publicly tipped his hand months ago, worried he'd do the same all over again. "Do I have something in my teeth?"

Max blinked. "What?" he blurted out. "No. Let me help you with that," he added to Liz, following her toward the kitchen with the air of someone fleeing the scene of a crime. He disappeared through a swinging door into the back; the window in the door was small, but she could just see the two of them...and what they were doing.

Beside her Isabel was talking, but her voice faded into the background as Tess's heart, buoyant only moments ago, suddenly felt like lead. He remembered her, but then ran off to kiss another girl? Understandable, perhaps, given how shocked he'd looked, but still wildly disappointing. Her eyes swept the diner, taking in the few customers, Michael busy in the kitchen, Isabel chattering beside her, Max and Liz alone in the back...this was the perfect time. She'd been going to show him something of their world, but he'd gone and done that all by himself. Maybe something different? Maybe something nearer and dearer to her heart? Closing her eyes, she concentrated...

"Tess?"

Tess's eyes flew open to find Isabel watching her with concern. "Oh...sorry," she said quickly. "Must have zoned out. I'm really tired."

"Me, too," Isabel agreed. "And we're up at the crack of dawn tomorrow. I'll be so glad when it's summer, and I can sleep till noon."

Tess nodded politely, but her mind was only half there. The other half was watching Max, who had come to the window and was gazing her with an expression that was equal parts alarm...and longing. It's there, Max, she thought with enormous satisfaction. I'll lead you to it. Just follow me.




******************************************************




April 24, 2000, 6:30 a.m.

Evans residence





"Honey?"

Max opened his eyes. His mother was standing over him, one hand on his shoulder, the other holding her bathrobe closed. "Did you oversleep?" she asked. "Aren't you usually up by now?"

"Oh...yeah," Max mumbled, glancing at the clock. "My alarm went off. Guess I turned it off in my sleep."

"Glad I can still be your walking alarm clock," his mother smiled. "Happy Monday."

Sure, Max sighed, noting that there was little good about Mondays and even less about this one. He'd slept fitfully, his dreams full of deserts, huge rock formations, and weird symbols on the ground, in the air, and all over those huge rock formations. It was all the same stuff he'd seen last night, with the merciful exception of the one thing he feared most. The only thing keeping him from panicking now was the fact that all those deserts, rocks, and symbols were notably lacking people. Any people. Especially blonde, female people. Especially blonde, female people who seemed to have wormed their way into his head in unexpected and frightening ways.

Max pushed himself up on his elbows, taking in his rumpled bed, his messy desk, last night's clothes in a pile on the floor. What the hell had happened last night? They'd all been on edge because of Valenti, and then Tess had barged in, and then...and then...and then suddenly he was seeing things, things he'd never seen before. They'd just popped into his head out of absolutely nowhere, which would have been disturbing enough if not for the fact that some of it looked...familiar. The symbols were easy; those were the symbols from the cave, or some of them, anyway. But the desert? Well...the crash was supposed to have occurred there. The rocks? No clue. He and Tess holding hands? Absolutely no freakin' idea. Completely flabbergasted, he'd followed Liz into the back and tried to wash it all from his mind, only to be confronted by something downright terrifying.

Climbing out of bed, Max threw open the curtains. He'd been in the middle of kissing Liz when he'd opened his eyes and found...her. Even now he could see her, inches away. Even now he could feel her because she'd felt...different. She'd even smelled different. How was that possible? It had obviously been some sort of hallucination, so how could it have been so real that she looked and felt different? And more importantly, what had brought it on? The Crashdown didn't exactly qualify as a sweat lodge and he hadn't touched a drop of alcohol, so where had the hallucination come from? Was there something else out there that affected them, something other than booze or whatever Michael had inhaled at the sweat? He hadn't eaten anything unusual last night, or at least not that he knew of...but he must have. He must have somehow ingested something that had caused this because there simply wasn't any other explanation for what had happened.

Profoundly uneasy, Max dressed and went out to the kitchen, where he found Isabel hunched over a bowl of cereal, shoveling it into her mouth with downright undignified speed. "Hungry?" he asked dryly.

"Mmpfh," she answered with her mouth full.

Max peered into the bowl. "Is that Capt'n Crunch?"

"Sugar Pops," Isabel answered after swallowing. "Mixed with Fruit Loops. Couldn't decide."

Not a bad idea, Max thought, grabbing cereal boxes from the cupboard. "Isabel, did you have any...reaction to what we ate at the Crashdown last night?"

Isabel stared at him, milk dripping from her spoon. "What kind of 'reaction'?"

"I just thought some of it tasted a little...weird," Max said.

"Uh...no," Isabel said uncertainly. "No 'reactions'. Why?"

"Just curious," Max said, tucking into his bowl of mixed cereals. They crunched in silence for a couple of minutes.

"What do you know about Tess?" he asked suddenly.

Isabel rolled her eyes. "It's a little early for a 'don't let anyone new in' lecture, isn't it?"

"I didn't say that," Max protested. "I was just curious what you knew about her."

Isabel gave him a skeptical look, then shrugged. "Okay. Nothing. Or next to nothing. She's new. 'New' means 'new'. Other than the fact that we like to add sugar to our food...that's about it."

"Really? She's been here a week or so, and that's it?"

"Well, excuse me if I don't interrogate her for her life story," Isabel said crossly. "What do you mean, 'that's it'? What's 'it' supposed to be? Why are you even asking? Why..." She stopped, her eyes widening. "Oh, my God. I am so stupid! You like her!"

Max nearly dropped his bowl. "What? No! I was just...curious."

A slow, maddening smile spread across Isabel's face. "Yeah. Sure. 'Curious'. That's why you're giving me the third degree before the sun's all the way up. Because you're 'curious'."

"Yes, 'curious'," Max said crossly. "I told you we shouldn't let anyone in, but you have anyway, so I have the right to ask a few questions. If she's going to be around us, overhearing what we're saying like she did last night, I think I should know everything there is to know about her."

Isabel's eyes dropped. "Oh. And here I thought maybe you were ranging further afield."

"Like you'd want that," Max said darkly. "You don't even like me with Liz."

"Correction," Isabel said. "I don't like you slobbering over Liz."

"I don't 'slobber' over Liz."

"You do so!" Isabel exclaimed. "Constantly! It drives me crazy."

"Yeah, well, it drives me crazy that you let total strangers in at the worst possible time," Max retorted. "And don't give me that 'you started all this when you healed Liz' bit. If you feel that way, you of all people should know better. And Liz is my soulmate. I've never felt this way about anyone before, so you'll just have to get over it."

"Fine, be 'soulmates'," Isabel said sourly. "But don't expect the rest of us to enjoy watching you give each other tonsillectomies. And get off my case for having a friend. You were the one telling me I should live my life instead of being afraid all the time, and what better time to do that than now, after we find out that the whole Topolsky thing wasn't real? I've got a friend, Max. You'll just have to get over it."

Isabel slapped her cereal bowl in the sink and stalked off toward her room just as Diane came into the kitchen. "Something wrong?" she asked Max.

"No," Max mumbled.

Yes, he added privately as his mother bustled about making coffee. And it had nothing to do with girlfriends or weird visions. Isabel seemed perfectly happy to write off the whole Topolsky episode, but Michael's question remained unanswered—who was the guy in the car?




******************************************************




8:15 p.m.

Valenti residence





"Listen, sheriff, I don't know who you are, and I've never been to Roswell, New Mexico in my life."

Jim Valenti stood stock still, the phone to one ear, the television droning in the other, doing his best to process the twin stunners that Kathleen Topolsky, very much alive last week, was now dead, and that the doctor who'd come looking for her had done no such thing. "Never been...what?" he said, flabbergasted. "What on earth are you talking about? You were here just last week!"

"Last week?" Dr. Margolin repeated. "I think I'd remember crossing the country only last week."

"Because you did," Valenti said testily. "You came looking for Kathleen Topolsky, and you found her. We found her."

There was a pause on the other end of the line. "And when did this supposedly happen?" Margolin asked.

"It didn't 'supposedly' happen, it happened," Valenti retorted. "Friday, April 14th; okay, fine, so it's a little over a week. Whatever, you said you'd been treating Kathleen for the last month for paranoid delusions when she just 'took off'. You tracked her here, and asked for my help locating her."

Another pause, longer this time. "I might be able to explain the confusion," Margolin said finally. "I have been treating Kathleen for the last month, and she did...sign herself out a couple of weeks ago. She was returned by family members on April 15th. Perhaps it was them you talked to? Perhaps they mentioned my name?"

"That is not what happened," Valenti said hotly. "You came to me. You sat in my office and told me she was dangerous. You called me later that night and...wait a minute. Why am I going over all this? You know this! You were there!"

"Sheriff, I'm sorry, but I wasn't," Margolin insisted. "I—"

"Is your name Malcolm Margolin?"

"Yes, but—"

"Are you a psychiatrist at the Bethesda Psychiatric Institute?"

"Well, obviously, since you called here—"

"So, what, you're saying someone's been impersonating you?" Valenti demanded. "Why would they do that?"

"I have no idea," Margolin admitted, "but I have bigger problems at the moment. This fire—"

"Is way too convenient," Valenti finished. "Kathleen thought someone was after her, and now she dies in a fire? Someone comes to town pretending to be you?"

"It's a puzzle," Margolin agreed, "one I'll be certain to address when I don't have a pile of fire victims on my hands. All I can tell you is that I wasn't in Roswell on April 14th and that I never would have characterized Kathleen as dangerous, to anyone but herself, that is. She wasn't delusional, she was suicidal."

" 'Suicidal'?" Valenti echoed.

"Afraid so," Margolin answered. "Suicidal tendencies ran in her family. And sheriff..." He paused. "If Kathleen was a friend of yours, I'm deeply sorry for your loss. And now if you'll excuse me, I really must be going."

The line went dead. Valenti stood with the phone to his ear for another long minute, completely flummoxed. What in blazes was going on here?

"Dad?"

Valenti's head jerked around. "Sorry," Kyle said. "Are you done? Can I go back to the game?"

"Oh. Yeah," Valenti said tonelessly. "Go ahead."

Kyle plopped back down on the sofa, changed the channel, looked at him strangely. "Is everything all right?"

Slowly, Valenti shook his head. "No. No, it isn't. Watch your game," he went on when Kyle started to say something. "It's just work."

"Looks like more than 'just work'," Kyle commented as he headed for his computer, pulled the keyboard toward him. Two minutes later he was navigating the Bethesda Psychiatric Institute's website, a dense tangle of utilitarian text. But there were photographs of staff, and it wasn't long before he found the one he was looking for: Malcolm Margolin, M.D.

Liar, Valenti thought grimly, his fingers stabbing at the mouse buttons as he printed a copy of the photograph on the screen. The face staring back at him was the same man who'd sat in his office a week ago, who'd identified himself as Malcolm Margolin and claimed Topolsky was paranoid. Why was he lying? Was he one of those people Topolsky thought was after her? But seriously, how could this guy think he'd get away with this? He wasn't the only one who'd seen him; Margolin had pushed his way past Hanson, had...

A minute later, Valenti was grabbing his car keys. "Where are you going?" Kyle called.

"Out," Valenti answered.

"Never works when I say that," Kyle said dryly.

"I'm the grown-up," Valenti snapped. "Get over it."

"Sorry," Kyle muttered.

Valenti suppressed a surge of guilt as he climbed into his car; snapping at his kid wouldn't help, but adolescent feelings would have to wait. He'd been a bundle of nerves since last night's realization that something was amiss with Kathleen Topolsky, odd football-shaped objects, and guilty-looking high school students, and first thing this morning he'd put in a call to Dr. Margolin, cradling the weird little football in his hand, unwilling now to let it out of sight for even a moment. But Margolin hadn't returned any of the several messages he'd left with his increasingly testy admin; his picking up tonight was probably because his office calls were being forwarded to his cell phone. Damned inconvenient, Valenti thought darkly; if he'd had this conversation during business hours, he would have had a head start on chipping away at the lie. Now he'd have to be content with what he could pull off at this hour and hope he didn't burst a blood vessel waiting for tomorrow.

"Hanson!" he barked as he stormed into the station. "Where are you?"

What followed was a cacophony of chairs scraping and frantic whispering. He caught only a glimpse of a tight knot of deputies surrounding a computer screen and what was on that screen before they all scattered, someone hitting "Escape" at the last moment. "Sir!" Hanson exclaimed, looking guilty as hell. We....ah...we...."

"Weren't expecting me?" Valenti finished helpfully as the remaining deputies studied their respective desks like they had to take a test on them.

"Well...you'd gone home for the night," Hanson explained.

"Gee, thanks, Hanson, I didn't know that," Valenti deadpanned. "Maybe that's why I'm back here at eleven o'clock at night wearing blue jeans and watching my staff look at porn on station computers."

Heads flew up, and eyes widened alarmingly. "No, sir!" Hanson protested, managing to sound indignant. "We weren't looking at...I mean it wasn't...I mean it's not what you think."

"Upstairs," Valenti ordered. "Now."

Hanson blanched, going nearly as white as his co-workers. Valenti ignored him, taking the stairs two at a time, jamming the keys in his office door. It wouldn't do to have this conversation in public.

"Sir?" Hanson began when he appeared in the office doorway as the very definition of the word "hangdog". "I want you to know that you misunderstood. We would never—"

"Do you recognize this man?" Valenti broke in, slapping the printout of Margolin on the desk.

Hanson blinked, looked at it. "Uh...sure. He's the doctor who weaseled his way past me a few days ago.

"So you remember him?" Valenti pressed. "He was here? In this station?"

Hanson's eyes darted left, right, up, down, as though expecting Candid Camera to burst out from behind the coat tree. "Yes, sir," he said carefully. "Don't you?"

"Of course I do," Valenti said crossly. "But Dr. Margolin claims he wasn't here, that he's never been here in his life."

"Well, that's stupid," Hanson said, "given the number of people who saw him. We could take this downstairs; at least a couple of the guys were on days that week—"

"Never mind," Valenti said. "They'd tell me anything I want to hear if it means I don't bust'em for watching Girls Gone Wild on the late shift."

"It wasn't...that," Hanson objected in a wounded tone. "It was pictures from Miguel's cousin's stag party. That's not...what you said. Honestly, what do you take us for?"

"The word's 'porn', Hanson," Valenti said dryly. "You're a big boy; you can say it. I won't wash your mouth out with soap. And I 'take you', all of you, for red-blooded American males who do what red-blooded American males do. Watch anything you want, just not here. Understood?"

Hanson blushed furiously. "Yes, sir."

"Now...is it busy tonight?" Valenti asked. "Good," he went on when Hanson shook his head. "I want you to find out where Dr. Margolin really was on April 14th, the day he was here and says he wasn't. I want to know everywhere he went, everything he did, everyone he talked to. If he farted, I want to know in what direction. If he slept with someone, I want to know in what position. I want to know every single move he made on Friday the 14th, and then I'm gonna nail him to the wall."

"The 14th," Hanson murmured, scribbling. "Uh...I know you said what he was here about was confidential, but why would he do this, sir? What's he up to?"

Good question, Valenti thought. His staff, of course, knew nothing of the nature of Margolin's visit or the Topolsky issue, but in this case, even knowing didn't help. "I don't know," Valenti said darkly, "but I do know this—he lied to me, and I intend to find out why."

"Right," Hanson said firmly. "Will do." He paused. "Was this Dr. Margolin the call you were waiting for? That news report said 'Bethesda', so I gave you a ring just to cover the bases."

"Thanks for the heads up," Valenti said, hoping Hanson wouldn't notice that he hadn't answered his question. "Oh, and Hanson? No more stag pictures. Not unless you can prove Margolin was there. Without photoshopping him in, that is."

Hanson blushed furiously. "Right, sir. Got it."





*****************************************************





Bethesda Psychiatric Institute,

Bethesda, Maryland





Agent Brian Samuels was leaning against his car drinking a Starbucks when Pierce pulled up, the flames from the blaze reflected in his car windows. "Would you look at that?" Pierce said cheerfully, leaning on his open car door. "Just look at that! No wonder everyone loves a barbecue."

Silence. Brian sipped his coffee, knowing it wouldn't take long before Danny got suspicious. "So," Pierce went on, "how'd everything go? Pretty well, from the looks of things." He paused, waiting for an answer. "Everything went well, didn't it?" he asked, a note of wariness creeping into his voice.

Brian let several more seconds and sips slide by before answering. "Things didn't exactly go as planned."

"Seems to have," Pierce answered, surveying the chaotic scene full of fire trucks, ambulances, and news crews. "The building's basically gone."

"True," Brian nodded. "They're making plans to move the patients to another hospital."

Pierce whirled around. " 'Patients'? What 'patients'?"

"The Institute's patients, of course," Brian answered. "The survivors."

Pierce closed his eyes briefly. "How many?" he asked tightly.

"Six," Brian answered.

"Oh," Pierce said, appearing to breathe a sigh of relief. "Six is okay. We can handle six."

"Six dead," Brian corrected. "Everyone else survived. They're calling it a miracle," he went on as Pierce's eyes widened. "The priest that CNN just interviewed said so."

A vein began to throb in Pierce's temple. "Six dead?" he said incredulously. "But...they were all supposed to be dead! Every single one of them! What the hell happened?"

"I just told you," Brian said. "That priest called it a miracle—"

"Don't give me that crap!" Pierce snapped, grabbing him by the collar. "What did you do?"

Brian turned hard eyes on him. "Let go of me, Danny. Now."

There followed a moment's hesitation while Pierce progressed from stunned to furious to wary, ultimately complying. Brian smoothed his coat and returned to his coffee, allowing the awkward silence to linger. "What I 'did'," he said at length, "was exactly what you told me to. And it worked exactly the way you expected it to. The fire progressed just like your fireman buddy told you it would."

"Then why—"

"According to the survivors, it was one Kathleen Topolsky who saved the day," Brian went on. "I gather she hotwired the doors open. It's downright amusing how she keeps screwing you over. How many times has it been now? Three? Four? Five?"

"Just tell me," Pierce broke in furiously. "Did she...is she..."

"She's dead," Brian answered. "But not before thwarting you and making your life one hell of a lot more difficult, all in one fell swoop. Nice work for a supposedly incompetent agent, if you ask me."

"Okay," Pierce muttered, pacing furiously, "we can handle this. Find out where they're taking the patients—"

"Why? As you already pointed out, the building's gone. They're scattering the survivors everywhere. You gonna burn them all down? How many fires will it take before someone starts asking inconvenient questions? Oh, wait!" Brian added dramatically. "Someone already has!"

"What questions?" Pierce demanded.

"Margolin just cornered me," Brian answered. "Said a certain sheriff of our acquaintance called him, wanting to talk to Topolsky. When he heard about the fire, he asked if Margolin thought the fire had been set to 'do her harm'." He paused while Pierce gave a snort of disgust. "She knew, Danny," Brian went on. "I couldn't figure out why she didn't come out with the others after she got the door open, but now I get it. If she's merely locked up, Valenti just hears she's lost it, but if she's dead? Oh, that sends an entirely different message. She knew those people in Roswell, and that includes Valenti. He won't let this go, and you know it."

"Fine," Pierce snapped. "He wants a fight, I'll give him one, by God..."

"You can't keep turning this into something personal," Brian insisted. "Yeh, I know a Valenti dogged your father and pissed off your stepfather, but the biggest mistake either of them made was underestimating him, like you're doing with our Valenti, like you did with Kathleen. We have to be smarter than our enemies. You can't just keep throwing tantrums and murdering innocent people."

Pierce's eyebrows rose. " 'Murder'? You're accusing me of 'murder'?"

"None of these patients would have hurt us," Brian argued, waving toward the mass of ambulances. "None of them were working with the aliens. None of them were our enemies. And don't give me that lecture about there being a 'war on' and 'collateral damage'. There were a dozen ways you could have offed Topolsky without dragging everyone else into it."

"So why are you here?" Pierce demanded. "If I'm a screw-up and a murderer, what are you still doing here?"

Brian's eyes drifted to the knot of reporters nearby, currently interviewing a smoky staff member. "Margolin told me something else. Valenti apparently thinks they met. He insists Margolin came to Roswell to collect Topolsky, but Margolin says he's never set foot in the place or laid eyes on Valenti." He paused as Pierce's eyes widened. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"

"Aliens," Pierce breathed. "Shapeshifters."

"Yep," Brian said softly. "They know." He handed the Starbucks to Pierce. "I know who the real enemy is, Danny, and so do you, when you're not off on some personal vendetta. Let's both keep that in mind and bring those monsters down."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Vacation next week, so I'll post Chapter 105 on Sunday, March 3. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 105

Postby Kathy W » Sun Mar 03, 2013 4:57 pm

Hello and thank you to everyone reading!






CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED FIVE



April 25, 2000, 9:30 a.m.

West Roswell High School




Max Evans rounded a corner, his eyes sweeping the sea of students. You can do this, he told himself. Yesterday was just a fluke. It wasn't a big deal. Maybe it was whatever weird thing he'd eaten at the Crashdown the night before. Maybe he'd eaten something weird at home. Maybe some Indian had driven through town wafting whatever smoke Michael had inhaled that had made him so sick, and he'd gotten a whiff of it. Whatever it was, he was bigger. He was stronger. He was...

...Not, Max corrected, losing his nerve as his Bio classroom came into view and ducking into a storage room. God, what was the matter with him? His heart was pounding, his palms were sweaty, his head was a mess. If he didn't know better he'd say someone had spiked his orange juice this morning, the only food he'd been able to force down. Wait a minute...hadn't the juice tasted kind of funny? Was it going "hard", as his mother called it? Didn't that mean it was fermenting? Didn't fermenting mean alcohol? And if he'd encountered even the slightest bit of alcohol, wouldn't that explain what had been happening? Because something had to explain what had been happening, or he'd go crazy.

The door opened. Max stumbled backward, blinking in the light until he saw who it was. "What the hell?" he sputtered.

"My thoughts exactly," Michael said, closing the door behind him. "Where's Liz?"

"What?"

"Liz," Michael explained. "Your girlfriend? The usual reason I find you in the Eraser Room?"

Max looked around in confusion. "Wait...this is the Eraser Room?"

Michael's eyes narrowed. "You don't even know what room you're in? What's the matter with you?"

"I told you what was the 'matter with me'," Max retorted. "I told you what happened in Biology yesterday, and you just blew me off."

"No, I prioritized," Michael corrected. "FBI agents going whacko and sheriffs who have something from our planet take priority over your daydreams. And yes, I know it's my fault he has it. Thanks for reminding me. Shouldn't you get to class?"

Max shook his head. "I don't want to go to class."

"What, you mean you're cutting? Max Evans is cutting a class?"

"Michael, stop it," Max said crossly.

"And not only cutting, but hiding?" Michael went on, ignoring him. " And not only hiding, but hiding in the Eraser Room? What's gotten into you?"

"She's gotten into me!" Max exclaimed. "I tried to tell you that, but you wouldn't listen!"

The bell rang. Scrambling sounds came from the hallway as students scurried to classes. Four minutes later, all was quiet.

"Okay," Michael sighed, plopping down on a box. "If you're going this nuts, I guess I should hear the details."

"Since when do you want details?" Max muttered.

"Since you're cutting classes and skulking in closets. And not prioritizing. What exactly was this fantasy you had?"

For a moment, Max seriously considered not answering and just letting him stew. But the truth was that he was the one stewing, and part of that stewing came from not being able to tell a soul what had been happening to him. He couldn't discuss it with his parents or Isabel, and he certainly couldn't discuss it with Liz. Michael was an imperfect choice at best, but when an imperfect choice was your only choice, the choice was kind of made for you.

"Yesterday our Bio teacher asked me to be Tess's lab partner," Max began. "I sit in the back with Liz, and Tess was in the front, and as I walked toward her desk..."

"What?" Michael said impatiently when he hesitated. "Angels sang? Trumpets blew?"

"I...I don't know what it was," Max said miserably, "but suddenly I was grabbing her and kissing her, right there in front of everyone. Only I wasn't. Turns out I was just standing there staring at her like an idiot."

"Yeah, I heard you tangled with a Bunsen Burner," Michael said. "Then what?"

"Then...nothing," Max admitted.

"Right," Michael said dryly. " 'Nothing' but you obsessing over it. Is that it? I mean, really, is that all? You fantasized about kissing a pretty girl?"

"You think she's pretty?"

"Stay on the subject," Michael ordered. "I know you think you're Iron Man, Maxwell, but you're not. You must have had fantasies, at least about Liz. So you had another one. So what?"

"So I don't have them in public!" Max exclaimed.

"No, you just use your powers to heal people in public," Michael retorted. "I don't see what the big deal is. One little fantasy means nothing."

"This wasn't a 'fantasy'," Max argued. "It wasn't a daydream, it felt...real. Like it was really happening. Daydreams don't feel like that."

Michael arched an eyebrow. "So you do have daydreams."

"Now who's off the subject?" Max demanded. "Okay, then, what about the night before? I was kissing Liz, and then all of a sudden I was kissing Tess."

"What about it? More kissing. Is it really that shocking that you have hormones?"

"Then what about the first time this happened?" Max went on impatiently. "We weren't kissing, just holding hands."

"Yawn," Michael said in a bored tone. "Glad it changed to kissing. If you're going to have a fantasy, might as well have a good one."

"Holding hands in the desert," Max clarified. "With the these huge rocks behind us and symbols from the map on the sand."

Got him, Max thought as Michael's eyes flew open. "Symbols? Which symbols?"

"So now you're paying attention," Max said darkly. "Finally."

"Because now it's about us, not just your..." His eyes dropped to Max's midsection, snapped back. "Which symbols?" he repeated. "The library symbol? The 'V' symbol? The—"

"Lots of symbols. All of them. Most of them."

"Name one," Michael insisted. "I've studied that map until my eyes fall out. If we can tell what it's pointing to—"

"I don't know!" Max said in frustration. "It was just a flash, just a couple of seconds, and I wasn't looking at the symbols."

"No, of course not," Michael said. "You were looking at the girl you were going to be kissing in just a few minutes."

"I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on," Max retorted. "And I still am, no thanks to you. My point is, it wasn't all kissing. So make all the sex fantasy jokes you want, but that one wasn't a sex fantasy."

Michael considered that in silence for a moment before rising to his feet. "Fine. I'll check it out."

"You'll 'check it out'? How are you going to 'check it out'?"

"Doesn't matter," Michael said. "I need you back on track, not hiding in closets. We need to spend our time figuring out a way to get the orb back from Valenti, not waste it on blondes."

"I thought it was a 'communicator'?" Max said.

Michael's eyes dropped. "So did I. Happy hiding."

Max slumped back on the boxes after he left, mentally noting that he'd left out the two more disturbing things littering his brain. The first was his chat with the sheriff this morning after he'd stopped at work before school, both because he'd had trouble sleeping and because he'd wanted to get to school at the last minute to lessen the odds of even a chance encounter with Tess. How ironic that his effort to take his mind off things had resulted in a chance encounter with Valenti, who had promptly added more things to his "worry list". But even the news of Topolsky's death or the mysterious here/not here doctor couldn't squelch the one thing which bothered him the most, the one thing he had trouble admitting to himself, never mind Michael. And that would be that he wasn't just fantasizing about kissing Tess, he was...he was enjoying it. It was shocking and worrisome and alarming, but not the least bit repellant. And not only that, he felt like he'd made the decision to grab her yesterday in Bio, that he'd wanted to. He was drawn to her in a deep, visceral way that went beyond mere attraction, and...

...and somehow, some way, he felt like he already knew her.




******************************************************





"Combustion is the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant, accompanied by the production of heat and..."

Tess glanced behind her, then tuned out the rest as she fiddled with her pencil, eyes on the door. Behind her, in the very back of the room, Liz Parker sat alone, also watching the door, no doubt for the same reason she was. Nearby were Maria DeLuca and Alex Whitman, alternately watching the door, her, Liz, and each other with a round-robin of darting eyes which must be giving them headaches. The rest of the class slumped in their chairs in various states of consciousness, having forgotten yesterday's drama and oblivious to the current one. The room was stiflingly hot as the minutes ticked by, the teacher droned on, and the chair at the back of the room remained stubbornly empty.

Crap, Tess thought disconsolately. She'd scared him off. After such a promising start, this was a serious disappointment and an even more serious setback, especially contrasted with Sunday night's stunning success. There was no way in hell she'd caused that initial connection, for that's what it had been; she would never have mindwarped something as boring as a desert. That had come from Max, and the inclusion of the rocks which housed the pod chamber were telling, proving that, deep down, he remembered them. Whether or not he remembered her remained to be seen, but once again, she wouldn't have bothered to mindwarp hand-holding, nor had she minutes later when she'd inserted herself into his clutch with Liz. No, all of that had come from Max, unbidden and unexpected, by either of them, apparently. She'd floated back to the motel on cloud nine, oblivious to Max's obvious discomfiture. Any fleeting thought that she might be going too far had been banished by Nasedo's reaction to the news that Max was finally waking up.

"He did what?" he'd demanded when she'd told him what happened. "Are you sure? Are you sure it was him?"

She was. She couldn't mindwarp accidentally; it took effort and focus. No, what had happened bore more of a relation to the "connections" Nasedo had forged with her, although those had been deliberate also.

"But they don't have to be," he'd noted. "Connections can be random, even accidental, like the flashes we get from objects. Still, it could have come from you. It could have come from either of you, but...wait. You said there were symbols on the ground. What kind of symbols?"

"Like our Galaxy symbol," Tess answered. "I think I saw that in there, but most of them I've never seen before. It looked like our writing, though, all swirly and—"

"Draw it," Nasedo had ordered, grabbing an envelope and a pencil. "Any of them you can remember."

After a moment's hesitation, she had, not certain if she was remembering correctly because, frankly, she hadn't been looking at the symbols. But whatever it was must have been close enough because Nasedo had grabbed her by the shoulders, squeezing so hard it hurt. "That's it!" he'd exclaimed. "Those were from the map!"

"What...what map?" Tess had stammered, having never seen him so excited.

"Exactly!" Nasedo had crowed. "You've never seen the map, so you couldn't have done that! It's him! It's him! Well done, Tessie, well done!"

She'd stiffened then, profoundly uneasy because Nasedo never, ever complimented her. Not ever. The closest thing to a compliment was a lack of complaint. To have him compliment her was weird, to have him compliment her for something she hadn't actually done was weirder, and the "Tessie" bit was like nails on a chalkboard. She hated that diminutive, but put up with it on the rare occasions Nasedo used it, always as a means of demonstrating his alleged parental devotion in the presence of humans. To have him use it in private was downright squicky.

"Don't," she said, pushing him away with more vigor then she'd intended.

"Don't what?" he'd asked.

"Call me that," she'd answered. "You never call me that, not for real. Use my real name."

" 'Real' name," he'd scoffed. "Ironic."

"What's ironic?" she'd demanded. "And what's so funny? I'm Tess. That's my 'real' name. Not 'Tessie'—Tess."

He'd looked at her strangely then, dropping all pretense of amusement. But before she could circle back around the irony question, he'd taken her by the shoulders again, earnestly this time.

"You did it," he said, sounding sincere. "You woke him up. You proved it's still in there, still reachable. Keep going. Now's the best time, right after memories have been retrieved."

"Okay," Tess said quickly, supremely uncomfortable; just like he didn't compliment her, he also didn't touch her, or only rarely. Twice in two minutes was too much. Right now she'd promise to make the Earth spin backwards if only he'd let go of her.

He did. "How?" she asked, more to distract him from the way she was hastily backing up then because she wanted an answer. "What do you want me to do?"

"Whatever you've been doing," he'd answered. "Obviously it's working."

And then he'd gone back to his dinner, more cheerful than she'd ever seen him while she pondered the likely reaction if she mindwarped her way into a clutch with Isabel or Michael. She'd have to think of some other way of reaching them, but for now, she'd stick with Max and just enjoy Nasedo's good graces, always a rare and fleeting gift. She'd spent a sleepless night trying to think of edifying things to show Max, things Nasedo had shown her in their memory sessions, like the moons from their planet, but she kept getting sidetracked, inventing far more interesting mindwarps that had nothing to do with moons, at least not the kind in the sky. She'd spent years watching girls hanging on their boyfriends' arms, had even gone on a few dates herself. But they were all a sham because she could never really be honest with them, never show them who she really was. She could sympathize with how it must feel for Max to have a girl like Liz who knew who he really was, a luxury she'd never had, but a part of her was also jealous. Max had Isabel and Michael, two people who knew who he really was, plus a girlfriend who knew, plus Michael's girlfriend, Maria, and Isabel's wanna-be-boyfriend, Alex; she had no one, no one but Nasedo, that is, who didn't really count. They had an embarrassing number of people they didn't have to pretend around, and she still had no one. It wasn't fair. The sooner she could prod those fledgling memories, the better.

The following morning at school, Max had nodded warily when she'd caught up with him and Isabel in the hallway, but hadn't seemed too upset. And then she'd seen he and Liz snuggling, and Michael and Maria talking, and Isabel and Alex laughing, and suddenly she'd felt more left out than ever. It was one thing to be alone amidst a sea of humans, to know you were the only alien there; that had been the only life she'd ever known, lonely, perhaps, but unavoidable. To be alone amidst a sea of humans and aliens, aliens like you, but who didn't know that yet, was not only avoidable, it was excruciating. Seeing them together nudged a hollow place inside her which had always been hollow, but hadn't been so noticeable when it had been just her and Nasedo. Now it ached unbearably, the excitement she'd felt over finally meeting the Others giving way to frustration and impatience. She'd always thought they'd just remember each other, just like that, but they hadn't...and she hadn't. God knows she'd tried, straining like crazy to come up with even a fleeting memory of the lives they'd lived together. All Nasedo had ever shown her in their memory sessions were things, not people: Landscapes, skies, stars. She couldn't pull even one tiny memory of people out of her own head, so how could she expect them to do any better? "Waking them up" would be great if possible, but she strongly suspected they were just going to have to be told, like she'd been told virtually everything she knew about them. She'd slumped off to class, dejected only hours after her triumph...and then the teacher had told Max to be her partner. She'd turned around, looked at him...and made a snap decision.

The resulting mindwarp had left Max gaping beside her, oblivious to the fact that his sleeve had drifted dangerously close to her Bunsen Burner. It had also backfired in more ways than one; not only had Max been sent to the nurse's office to check his arm, a trip which had taken a suspiciously long time and made her miss most of the opportunity to be his lab partner, but he'd avoided her like the plague for the rest of the day, bolting whenever he saw her, even from a considerable distance. She hadn't seen him at all today, and now he'd skipped Biology. She'd had a blast during those few seconds, but she'd obviously pushed too hard. She was supposed to wake them up, not shut them down, especially with the Unit looming so close. Maybe she could send a mindwarp of he and Liz together to make up for it?

"Miss Harding?"

It was Mr. Steigman, looking at her expectantly. "What?" Tess said, startled, followed by titters from her classmates.

"I gather Mr. Evans didn't bring you up to speed yesterday," Mr. Steigman said dryly. "Probably too busy combusting." More titters followed, and Tess's eyes narrowed. "I was asking about the products of burned elements—"

"Oxides," Tess interrupted. "Carbon gives you carbon dioxide, nitrogen gives you nitrogen dioxide, sulfur gives you sulfur dioxide, and iron gives you iron oxide. Hydrocarbons produce carbon dioxide and water."

Mr. Steigman blinked. "Uh...good! Very good."

"That's for complete combustion," Tess continued. "Did you want complete or incomplete?"

Mr. Steigman blinked again. "Complete," he answered. "And that was an excellent answer, by the way."

"Guess he brought me more 'up to speed' than you thought," Tess said stiffly.

"I guess so," Mr. Steigman allowed. "Watch out, Miss Parker; Miss Harding here may give you a run for your money."

More chuckles, half-hearted this time. She'd successfully deflected attention from yesterday's incident, but there was no mistaking the wave of resentment she felt behind her. Risking a peek, she found a shocked Liz Parker, a fuming Maria DeLuca, and a troubled Alex Whitman regarding her with varying degrees of suspicion and alarm. Great. Now they all hated her.

The bell rang. Thank God, Tess thought, packing up her books and escaping into the hallway. Desperate for a friendly face, she looked for Isabel while swapping books at her locker, but couldn't find her. She was seriously considering skipping her next class to drown her sorrows in an early lunch when a hand pulled her aside.

"What the...what are you doing here?" she hissed at Nasedo.

"The pertinent question is what are you doing?" Nasedo retorted, closing the door to the empty classroom he'd dragged her into. "Why is Max skipping a class he has with you?"

"What...how did you know about that?" Tess sputtered. "Since when do you lurk at school?"

"Since you told me he'd remembered something," Nasedo answered. "You were crowing Sunday night and completely subdued last night. I was curious. Still am."

"Well, he wasn't in class, so I don't know what's up," Tess said, having no intention of going into all this with Nasedo. "Maybe he's sick. Or maybe he's—"

"Avoiding you," Nasedo finished. "He emerged from the closet when the bell rang, just as you emerged from your class. He took one look at you and moved as fast he possibly could in the opposite direction. Why?"

Tess felt her face growing warm. "I...I don't know."

"Some of your classmates caught up to him and made references to 'yesterday'," Nasedo continued. "What happened 'yesterday'? And don't you dare tell me you 'don't know'," he added darkly. "I think you do. I think that's why you're suddenly so much less enthusiastic. What did you do?"

Crap, Tess thought as Nasedo's eyes bored into her. There was no way out of this one. "I...may...have sent him a mindwarp that he found...disturbing."

Nasedo considered that for a moment. "You know very little of our world, so I fail to see what you could have transmitted that he would find 'disturbing'. What did you show him?"

"Um...us," Tess admitted. "Him and me....uh..."

Nasedo's eyes closed briefly. "Oh, God. Please tell me it wasn't mating."

"No!" Tess exclaimed. "We were just kissing!"

"Oh, I see," Nasedo said in a deadly tone. " 'Just' kissing. And since you've already assured me that you can't mindwarp accidentally, am I correct in assuming this was intentional?"

Completely, Tess thought, her eyes fastened on the floor. In order to mindwarp anyone, you had to decide what to show them, which hadn't been hard in this case. She'd had that same fantasy, or some derivative thereof, dozens of times since she'd laid eyes on Max's picture.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'," Nasedo went on when she didn't answer. "In that case, I'm dying to know how your classmates could possibly know about this unless, of course, you mindwarped an orgy."

Tess's cheeks burned. "Of course not. I...kind of did it in Biology class, and he...he..."

Nasedo stepped closer, his hot breath on her face. "Do you mean to tell me," he said in a dangerous voice, "that you humiliated the king in public?"

Tess said nothing, still staring at the floor, clutching her books as tightly as possible to hide the fact that she was trembling. King. He'd told her she'd been a queen, but she hadn't really believed it; she'd thought it was just something to keep her quiet, to give her something without really giving her anything. My God, it's true, she thought. It must be. No way would Nasedo be joking now.

"You did," Nasedo said, drawing his own conclusions from her silence, his voice a study in barely repressed rage. "You publicly embarrassed him. You put him in danger—"

"I didn't mean to!" she wailed. "I didn't—"

"I can safely say I don't give a rat's ass what you 'meant' to do!" Nasedo snapped. "All I care about is what you did do, and what you did is completely, utterly, unacceptable! Do I make myself clear?"

Tess nodded miserably, saying nothing, knowing that any syllable she uttered would only add fuel to the fire. "Your task," Nasedo went on furiously, still only inches from her face, "since you seem to have forgotten, was to prod their memories of where you all come from. How do you intend to do that if he's running away from you? I've told you since you emerged," he thundered on without waiting for an answer, "that you were destined for something great, that you all had a great task ahead. Believe me when I say that necking in classrooms isn't part of that!"

"I just wanted a friend!" Tess burst out. "I just wanted a family!"

"Then do take note of the fact that you have neither," Nasedo said acidly. "Now you have someone who can't stand the sight of you. Well done."

"I wish you'd never told me we used to be married," Tess whispered.

Nasedo snorted softly. "Believe me, so do I." Mercifully, he backed up. "If they don't trust you, we can't guide them past the Unit. Fix this. Or your long-awaited reunion will never take place because you'll all be dead."

Tess sank into a chair as he left, breathing hard. Don't cry, she told herself sternly. Nasedo had chewed her out more times than she could count, and it made her angry, not sad. So why was she fighting back tears? Because this one's my fault, she admitted—the Unit was hovering, and her own personal desires had put them all in danger.

The door burst open, and a couple in a clinch lurched inside, kissing furiously, kicking the door closed behind them. It was several more seconds before they realized they weren't alone.

"Oh!" the girl gasped, wide-eyed. "Uh...sorry."

"Yeah," Tess muttered, slipping past them. "Me too."




******************************************************




Roswell Sheriff's Station




"You're sure?" Valenti said, the fingers gripping the telephone receiver nearly white. "You're absolutely certain?"

"Like I told your deputy, I've worked with Dr. Margolin for nearly a decade," the patient, not-so-slightly exasperated voice informed him. "I know him when I see him. He was sitting right next to me. So unless he has an evil twin, I don't see how he could have been elsewhere on April 14th."

"Right," Valenti said faintly. "I see. Thank you for your time."

He set the receiver down slowly, crossing a name off his list with a hand that shook more than he'd like. That was the last witness on the list Hanson had compiled, the last person to confirm—again—that Malcolm Margolin had been in Bethesda on April 14th, not here in Roswell. His faithful deputy had hit the phones last night and, in a huge stroke of luck, had managed to speak with enough people that he'd had a report ready and waiting first thing this morning which told him exactly what he hadn't wanted to hear. He'd dismissed his deputy and read it in private, fighting a wave of mounting panic as he stared at the chair in front of his desk occupied not long ago by Dr. Margolin, or someone posing as Dr. Margolin. Who the hell had he been talking to? And how could he look and sound exactly like a man thousands of miles away? You know the answer to that, he told himself—shapeshifters. His father had long insisted that aliens could look like humans, any human they wanted. He'd always considered that bogus, even as he'd continued to evolve ever closer to his father's opinions on aliens. The little gray/green man story was deeply entrenched in alien lore, but there was nothing about shapeshifters. He'd always assumed his father had gotten that from Hubble, a theory confirmed by Hubble's beliefs about his wife's death. Crazy, he'd thought, but here he was, staring proof in the face. And if something this crazy was true, what about the alien hunter, the list, the rest of it? Suddenly scared to death, he'd picked up the phone.

"Dad?" Kyle's voice had said, deeply disturbed. "What's wrong?"

Valenti had nearly collapsed with relief at the sound of his son's voice. "Nothing. I...I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"And...why wouldn't I be?"

"No reason," Valenti had said quickly. "None at all."

"Okay...this is weird," Kyle had declared in typical diplomatic Valenti fashion. "You know we're not supposed to use our phones in school, right? And you're calling to see if I'm okay for 'no reason'?"

"Look, we just had a...a report of a kid who died in a car accident," Valenti said, grabbing the first thing that popped into his head that Kyle might believe. "So I got a little..."

"Parental?" Kyle suggested. "Misty-eyed? Hormonal? No, that would be Mom. Whatever, it's okay, Dad, I'm not in the morgue, I'm at school. Although sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Stop fretting."

"Right," Valenti agreed. "Sorry to bother you."

He'd rung off, clutching his phone like it was his boy's hand and feeling like a fool. He recognized this, this debilitating weight in your stomach, this invisible hand squeezing your lungs, making it difficult to breathe. He hadn't felt fear this paralyzing since the day the FBI had come for his father when he'd been a child, and he'd left the station in a trance, taking a drive to clear his head, spotted a familiar jeep parked outside the UFO Museum...and pulled over. He'd sat outside for several minutes, telling himself he was crazy for even thinking it. But the worst part of this was the uncertainty, the not knowing, and the not being able to talk to literally anyone about it save for two people, one of whom was usually not all there...and one of whom was inside this building. Max Evans had done his best to sound detached when he'd laid his cards on the table, but the catch in his voice when he'd declared, "There's no such thing as a shapeshifter" had given him away because it meant that Evans, he of the blank face which could have won a million poker games, was scared. Valenti knew scared, being scared shitless himself at the moment, and there was no doubt in his mind that Max Evans was scared. He'd headed back to the station, alarmed at the revelation that even the alien was scared, until he'd finally sat himself down and gotten a hold of himself. Think this through, he'd ordered himself sternly. Think it through like an investigator, not a scared little boy.

So he had. Topolsky had been afraid an alien hunter from the FBI was after her, so why had an alien shapeshifter shown up? Did that mean the aliens wanted her dead too? Or that aliens were working with the FBI? What if Hanson had missed something? He'd called every single witness on the list, double checking their statements, and come up with nothing new; Malcolm Margolin remained stubbornly in Bethesda on April 14th, and Kathleen Topolsky remained stubbornly dead. Now what?

Five minutes later, Valenti picked up the phone again. There was one more call he hadn't made, that he'd been putting off. The phone rang three times before someone picked up.

"Dr. Margolin's office," a familiar—and shaky—female voice said.

"Hi, this is Sheriff James Valenti from Roswell, New Mexico," Valenti said, recognizing Margolin's admin's voice. "I called several times yesterday?"

"Yes, sheriff, I remember."

"I spoke with Dr. Margolin last night, but I'm afraid I need to speak with him again," Valenti went on, hoping to finagle some information about Topolsky out of him, or at least get him more interested in finding out who was posing as him. "Is he there?"

"I'm afraid not," the admin answered, her voice shakier than ever. "I'm afraid...well...I don't know how to say this, sheriff, but...Dr. Margolin is dead."

There followed a silence so profound, Valenti could hear the ticking of his watch. "Dead?" he repeated finally. "But...I just talked to him last night. What happened?"

"A car accident," the admin replied. "He was—"

"When?" Valenti demanded. "When was this car accident? Was it today?"

"Uh...no," the admin answered, bewildered. "It was last night—"

"When?" Valenti repeated. "What time? Did this have something to do with the fire last night?"

"I...I don't know!" the admin exclaimed. "All I know is that he called me from the hospital, something about someone impersonating him. He wanted me to look into it, but..."

Her voice caught, and Valenti suddenly felt terrible. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I'm sorry for your loss, I'm just...shocked. I just talked to him. Please accept my condolences on behalf of the entire Roswell Station."

He rung off with her still crying, and sank into his chair. Last night. So not today, not after he'd talked to Max Evans. Last night, after he'd alerted the doctor to the fact that someone had been impersonating him, and he'd started making inquiries. How convenient. How terribly convenient.

Valenti reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the silver football he now carried with him everywhere, unwilling to even leave it in the car. It was as enigmatic as ever, the swirly symbol on top as not-Time-Warner-Cable as ever. First Kathleen Topolsky, now Margolin, both dead right after they'd spoken with him. Two deaths in two days was too many. Enough with the phone calls and the hunches and the questions. Time for a new approach.

Fifteen minutes later, he walked into the Crashdown and set the silver football in front of a startled Max Evans.

"Before you can expect somebody to trust you, you've got to trust them first. Whenever you're ready, Max."



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I'll post Chapter 106 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Chapter 106

Postby Kathy W » Sun Mar 10, 2013 3:21 pm

Posting on the fly here as I'm on my way out the door, but thank you to everyone for your feedback! Tess was indeed annoying (that I can see where she was coming from doesn't mean I didn't find her annoying), and I cheered when Valenti went to Max. They all needed each other--Valenti needed the truth, the kids needed an adult to consult, they all needed to join forces for what was coming--and given how suspicious he'd made them, it was Valenti's job to cross that line. I'll always have a great deal of respect for the writers who created that character and the excellent actor who brought him to life.




CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED SIX




April 25, 2000, 3:30 p.m.

Crashdown Cafe




Had she been asked, Isabel Evans would have agreed that she'd been on something of a roller coaster ride lately, to say nothing of the past school year. Chief among the various ups and downs had been when they'd discovered their guidance counselor was really an FBI agent who had left and then mysteriously reappeared, sprouting conspiracy theories and dire warnings which thankfully had been discredited. Until sixty seconds ago, that is, when her brother had informed them that Topolsky had died in a fire. And, as usual, even the tragic and the accidental took on new meaning around them.

"He thinks everything Topolsky told us could be true, the alien hunter...everything."

The "he" in question, Sheriff Valenti could certainly have his own reasons for wanting to resurrect the whole Topolsky Warnings thing despite the fact he'd confidently assured them there was nothing to worry about only a couple of weeks ago. Or so she told herself, having a good deal less than sixty seconds to ponder that theory before the "he" in question appeared behind them.

"Before you can expect somebody to trust you, you've got to trust them first," Valenti said, placing the orb on the counter in front of them. "Whenever you're ready, Max."

He left. The silence was deafening as she, Max, and Michael all simultaneously looked at the orb and tried not to. Michael had been the most upset about the loss of the orb, understandable since he was to blame for Valenti having it. But not even the stunner of the sheriff returning the one thing he had on them could sway Michael from his current path.

"You're just making new friends all over the place, aren't you Max? We need to do something about Tess."

"I'll check it out," Isabel said.

"Take the jeep," Max said, holding out his keys.

"No, thanks. I'll walk."

"Walk?" Michael echoed. "It's a ways from here."

"So how did you get there when you were out playing James Bond?" Isabel asked tartly.

'I thumbed a ride, and why are you ragging on me?" Michael demanded. "I'm trying to figure out what's going on here! Max says there's something with him and Tess—"

"Yeah—hormones," Isabel deadpanned. "Hooray."

"—there are soldiers at your 'friend's' house—"

"She's a friend, Michael, not a 'friend'."

"—and now we find out someone killed Topolsky!"

"No, we found out she died," Isabel corrected. "In what could be a perfectly normal, but still tragic accident."

"Or could not be," Michael countered.

"Which is why I said I'd check it out," Isabel said impatiently. "Where is it?"

"Here," Michael answered, scribbling the address on a napkin. "I'll go with you."

"You'll do no such thing," Isabel retorted. "When I find out this is all just your paranoia running wild, I want to still have a friend. Back off, and let me settle this."

Michael raised both hands. "Fine. So I'll just sit here and wait for you. Great use of my time."

"You could spend it explaining the connection between pretty girls and hormones to my dear darling brother," Isabel said sweetly. "Or you could play with your orb now that you have it back." She shouldered her purse. "Bye."

She left Michael smoldering and Max staring at the counter, taking off at a trot lest one of them decide to follow her anyway. She'd barely covered a block when a car pulled up beside her and her school friends, Carly and Claire, peered out.

"Need a ride?" Carly called.

"No, thanks," Isabel said. "I'm good."

"Where you going?" Claire chirped. "Home is that way."

"Just taking a walk," Isabel answered. "It's good exercise."

Carly and Claire exchanged glances. " 'Exercise'?" Carly repeated. "Isabel, exercise is something you do in gyms wearing fabulous clothes. Walking is just...walking."

"It's also exercise," Isabel said. "See you later."

"Wait...who exercises?" Claire said. "I mean, for real? Nobody even goes to the gym to exercise, not really. They just go to wear all the cute clothes."

"Ladies!" Isabel said brightly. "Thanks for the offer, but I'm walking! Get over it!"

"Suit yourself," Carly shrugged. "But if you develop bulgy muscles, don't blame us."

Right, Isabel thought sourly as the car roared off. If a brisk walk was all it took to turn you into a weight lifter, everyone would look like Schwarzenegger. Okay, so maybe a bit more than a brisk walk; the address Michael had scribbled was several blocks away. Still, it was a nice day, and she desperately needed to walk, to think, to get away from the fog of panic surrounding Michael and her brother. Twenty minutes later, after huffing up a hill that hadn't looked much like a hill at the bottom, she sank down on the curb for a breather only a short ways from her goal, feeling a bit calmer...and little guilty. She'd been pretty bitchy to Michael back there when it could be argued that she should be sympathizing. Being chased was horrible, but even more horrible was being chased, then not being chased, then having the specter of being chased raised all over again. All this on again/off again was exhausting, and this particular bout, coming so soon after they'd all dismissed Topolsky as a raving lunatic, was proving especially unnerving. Well...not for all of us, she conceded. Valenti had certainly seemed convinced, and she and Max certainly wanted to be, but Michael had refused to let go of the man in the car who'd tried to pick up Alex. Alex, for his part, had remained diplomatically silent, as had Liz and Maria...and that bothered her more than argument. The question of the man in the car had hovered over her even as she'd breathed a sigh of relief at having dodged yet another bullet. The notion that there was still one coming straight at them, and a bigger and nastier one than ever before, was alarming to say the least.

The one bright spot in all of this had been Tess, a new friend who had nothing to do with any of the clouds surrounding them. But whenever she found a haven, a way to get away from it all, somehow, some way, the whole alien thing managed to intrude, so of course Max and Michael were going after her. It was enough to make her think that maybe it was better if she didn't talk to anyone else for the rest of her natural life, whatever "natural" was for them. Basically everyone she touched got dragged into this one way or another, with one possible exception...

"Grandma!" Isabel said when her grandmother answered the phone. "It's Isabel."

"Hi, sweetheart," her grandmother's voice said, accompanied by the roar of what sounded like a truck.

"Are you in the car? I can call back—"

"No, no," Grandma Dee broke in. "I mean, I am in the car, but I put you on speaker. I promise I won't run up a tree."

"Please don't," Isabel said in a brittle voice, thinking of Liz and Grandma Claudia. "I'd rather not live in a world without you."

"Why, thank you, sweetheart. Is anything wrong? You sound upset."

"Just...stuff," Isabel said, running her hands through the grass where she was sitting. "Lots of stuff."

"Ah," Grandma said knowingly. " 'Stuff'. Anything I can help with?"

Don't I wish, Isabel thought sadly. To have just one adult she could go to would be a gift. To have an adult who wouldn't dissolve in tears or ply her with a million questions, as her mother would have by now, would be sheer heaven. "I wish you could," she answered. "You have no idea how much I wish you could."

"Oh, dear...am I not smart enough?" Grandma teased.

Isabel smiled in spite of herself. "Just the opposite—you're too smart. And it's not fair to drag you into it, not at..."

"Please tell me you weren't about to say 'at my age'," Grandma said dryly. "Because if you were, we may have to have our first quarrel."

"Let's not," Isabel sighed. "Because age has nothing to do with it. It's just not fair to dump my stuff in your lap, no matter what."

"Perhaps not," Grandma agreed. "But you're welcome to dump anyway. As a general rule, grandparents don't get hung up on 'fair'. At least I don't. So can you give me a hint?"

Isabel looked down the road to the next intersection; around that corner was Tess's house. "Someone told me something bad about a friend, and now I'm wondering what I'll do if it's true. So I'm just sitting here, procrastinating, because I don't want to find out."

"Sure you do," Grandma said. "If what you heard is right, you want to find out as soon as possible; if it's wrong, you want to find that out too so you can stop fretting. So get off your duff, and go settle it."

Isabel smiled in spite of herself. "Right. Love you, Grandma."

"Love you too, sweetheart. You're not sitting anymore, are you?"

"I'm up," Isabel promised. "Off my 'duff' and on my way. Bye."

"Goodbye, dear. And good luck."

Someone needs it, Isabel thought, tucking her phone back into her pocket. She desperately hoped Michael wasn't right, but if he was, that meant Tess wasn't her friend. No, that meant Tess was using her, and if that was the case, it was Tess who would be needing that luck.




*****************************************************




"She did what?" Dee gasped.

"Wonderful," Brivari muttered.

"Don't panic," Jaddo said impatiently. "I told her to fix it."

She can't, Dee thought wearily, bringing the car to a halt at a red light. This was moving day, the day Jaddo moved into the impressive house he'd bought, and she'd been running him around town before school let out. Brivari was in the back seat, and listening to them compare notes on the FBI was unnerving, to say the least. And now he'd just gone and proved her right by detailing how Tess had shown Max the last thing he'd want to see, something which, having seen it, he couldn't "un-see". No, there would be no fixing this one.

"So now he won't trust her no matter what she does," Brivari was saying.

"Didn't I warn you about her moving too fast?" Dee said. "Just for the record, this overqualifies as 'too fast'."

"Trust me, I gave her a piece of my mind," Jaddo said darkly as Dee felt a sudden pang of sympathy for Tess at the mere notion of a piece of Jaddo's mind. "She claims she did it because she wanted 'friends' and a 'family'."

"And a boyfriend," Dee added. "Understandable, all of it, but this will only drive him away, and where he goes, they all go."

"Maybe not," Jaddo said. "What prompted all this was a flash of the two of them together...that came from him."

Brivari appeared behind them, leaning on the front seat. "When did this happen?"

"This past weekend," Jaddo answered. "Out of nowhere. She said they were in the Crashdown, and then suddenly they were hand in hand in the desert with Antarian writing on the sand. And get this...it was the symbols from the map."

"Why is that significant?" Dee asked. "She lived with you; she must have seen them before."

"Actually, she hasn't," Jaddo said. "I didn't want her doodling them on a homework paper, or something. She didn't remember many of them—"

"Somehow I doubt the writing was the first thing that caught her attention," Dee said dryly.

"—but she drew a couple of them that were definitely from the map."

"Which she has never seen," Brivari said. "But Zan has."

"Exactly," Jaddo said with satisfaction. "It's in there, Brivari. She triggered something."

"Right—panic," Dee said sadly. "It may be 'in there', but I doubt it's going to produce the result you're looking for, not if she keeps showing him necking with someone other than his girlfriend."

" 'Girlfriend'," Jaddo snorted. "Who is this female who keeps getting in the way?"

"You mean the one who single-handedly saved his life several times?" Dee said tartly. "Since when is keeping his secret 'getting in the way'?"

"Irrelevant," Brivari said before Jaddo could answer. "When they remember, it won't matter. Let's not waste our time arguing about what will eventually become a moot point."

Jaddo shrugged. Dee dropped it, masking her own alarm. When they remember...what would happen when they remembered? Would they lapse completely back to the people they once were, or would the result be a mixture of who they were now and who they used to be? Would they still have any use for her and Anthony, Philip and Diane? It was humbling—and more than a little alarming—that the thought of them remembering was equally as frightening as the thought of the FBI closing in. Either could result in death, although the former would be a death of a different kind.

The phone rang. Dee glanced at the screen before answering, marveling at the weird karma. "Hi, Isabel."

*Figures,* Jaddo muttered telepathically. *Doesn't she just always turn up at the wrong time?*

*Any time is the right time for my grandchildren,* Dee said crossly. *Hush up.*

There was a faint telepathic chuckle from the back seat as Jaddo scowled at her and Dee turned her attention to the spoken conversation. Isabel sounded worried, but as usual, wasn't inclined to talk about it, even with coaxing and being needled about not wanting to confide in her grandmother because of her "age".

"Please tell me you weren't about to say 'at my age'," Dee said. "Because if you were, we may have to have our first quarrel."

"Let's not," Isabel sighed. "Because age has nothing to do with it. It's just not fair to dump my stuff in your lap, no matter what."

*Interesting,* Brivari murmured. *She almost sounds like she means it.*

*Of course she means it!* Dee exclaimed.

*If you insist,* Jaddo said doubtfully.

Dee bit back a retort and finished her conversation with Isabel just as they rounded a corner. Up ahead, a moving van was disgorging a truck full of what looked like furniture and art work. "Good grief," Dee muttered as she pulled over a couple of houses down. "Did you buy out the art museum?"

"I wanted to create a good impression," Jaddo answered.

"For when the king remembers he's a king," Brivari said when Dee gave him a questioning look. "Where do you think Vilandra was going?"

"Who cares?" Jaddo said.

"We do," Brivari answered. "We ignore her at our peril, or did you not learn that from what landed us here?"

"Uh...I think I can answer your question," Dee said, peering out the windshield. "She's here. As in here, here. As in your house."

Three sets of eyes watched Isabel skirt the van and walk up the driveway to the front door, gaping open to accommodate the movers. "What in blazes is she doing here?" Jaddo demanded.

"Someone told her something bad about a friend," Dee whispered, "and now she's wondering it it's true."

"It appears Ava's indiscretion has piqued their interest," Brivari noted.

"So, what, they send her?" Jaddo said incredulously. "Oh, that's brilliant. If they're suspicious, where the hell is Rath?"

"She's friends with Tess," Dee reminded him. "At the moment, anyway."

"It's bad enough to have Tess spending so much time with her, but now she's in my house?" Jaddo fumed. "We'll just see about that."

"Jaddo, behave yourself!" Dee said sternly. "Remember, she's my granddaughter."

"And the king's sister," Brivari added. "You're so keen to have him admire your home, but he won't be pleased if you're rude to his sister."

Jaddo muttered what sounded like expletives not completely under his breath and slammed the car door, stalking toward the house in a way that did not bode well. "He'll always hate her, won't he?" Dee said sadly.

"Look at it from his perspective," Brivari said. "She's our Helen of Troy, the 'face that launched a thousand ships' and started a war which rages still."

"But she didn't cause the antipathy between...wait," Dee said. "How do you know it 'rages still'? I thought you hadn't contacted Antar in years?"

Brivari sat back on the seat. "We'd better go before Vilandra sees us. She'll recognize your car."




*****************************************************




C'mon, Tess urged silently, peering through the rain, her thumbs drumming impatiently on the steering wheel. There must be an accident up ahead judging by the stalled traffic and flashing lights, no big surprise given that visibility pretty much stank. Horns blared behind her, echoing her frustration even as they irritated her; did people really think that blasting their horn would make stopped traffic suddenly up and move? Eager for a distraction from the traffic jam, the horns, and the groceries melting in her back seat, she turned up the radio, hoping to drown out some of it until she could finally get home and bring this awful day to an end. It had just been one thing after another, and frankly, the traffic jam was the least of it.

After her charming conversation with Nasedo at school, she hadn't seen hide nor hair of Max, and she was glad of it; just about the only way she could think of blunting the effect of what she'd done was to stay away from him, to make him think it was all some weird fluke. She'd breathed a sigh of relief when he didn't turn up the rest of the day and headed back to the motel eagerly, anticipating the one good thing happening today—they were moving! Finally, finally, she and Nasedo wouldn't be on top of each other. Nasedo was hard to take even in small doses, so to be living in the same room was hell. Granted she had school and he was gone a lot, but still...not having her own space, a door she could close when he was there, weighed on her even when he wasn't. It was especially exciting because their usual complement of "stuff", none of which was actually from their previous residence, of course, was bigger and better this time. Getting a bunch of new furniture and clothes was one of the perks of their lifestyle, one of the few things she could look forward to when they had to up stakes and run, but this time it sounded like Nasedo had really gone all out; God knows he had on the house, definitely the largest they'd ever lived in. She'd wasted no time packing up the few personal belongings she possessed and driving over to the new place; the last thing she wanted was to not be home when the truck arrived. And arrive it did, disgorging not just furniture but appliances, sculptures, paintings, the works. Wow, she'd thought as the movers unpacked one piece of art after another. The cover story was that he'd worked all over the world, and he was certainly sparing no expense to uphold it.

And then Isabel had shown up. Tess had seen her coming up the walk and initially been thrilled; Isabel wasn't avoiding her, didn't even seem to know that anything had happened between her and Max. Rifling through the boxes was fun, but it would be even more fun with a friend. Or would have been, that is, if Nasedo hadn't shown up, and in the middle of the afternoon when he never did, no less. For a minute she thought he was going to behave himself. Just for a minute.

"So what is it that you do that takes you to all these places?" Isabel had asked.

"Well, if I tell you, I'd have to kill you," Nasedo said.

Damn it, Tess thought wearily in the startled silence which followed. "He always says that," Tess said with an awkward laugh. "He thinks he's so funny."

"I'm sorry, Isabel," Nasedo had said, ignoring the dig. "Every once in awhile, I like to think of my job as glamorous."

Sorry, my ass, Tess had thought as she continued to try and cover the fact that "if I tell you, I'd have to kill you" was only half a joke. Breathing a silent sigh of relief when he'd thankfully excused himself, she'd promptly went right back into crisis mode when she'd found Isabel holding a box she shouldn't be anywhere near.

"Here, I'll get this one," Isabel said.

"Put that down!" Tess ordered.

Isabel froze. "I mean...you're my guest," Tess said, scrambling to cover her gaffe. "You certainly shouldn't be doing any heavy lifting. Um...why don't I go get us a soda?"

Isabel set the box down. "Okay."

Tess had headed for the kitchen with a smile on her face which belied the fact that she'd really love to start screaming. What had gotten into her? There'd been a dozen ways to get that box away from Isabel which didn't involve barking at her, so what gave? I wasn't expecting company, she thought wearily. She'd just tossed everything inside without a moment's thought and hadn't even remembered the box until Isabel came within inches of finding stacks of photos of her, Max, and Michael. Just imagine how well that would have gone over.

"What is she doing here?" Nasedo had demanded when she hit the kitchen.

"She's my friend," Tess had answered. "She showed up."

"Then unshow her," he'd ordered.

She hadn't, not for another half hour as they sat on the brand new living room sofa and drank their sodas, part of a six-pack she'd fortunately brought with her along with the offending box. By the time Isabel finally waved goodbye and headed off on foot down the road, Nasedo was practically champing at the bit.

"I thought I told you to get rid of her," he'd groused.

"Yeah, well, I didn't want to," Tess had retorted. "Unlike you, I like having friends."

"They're not 'friends'," Nasedo had countered. "Someday you'll realize that."

"You know what? You're right—they're not friends, they're family. Even better."

"Not this again," Nasedo had muttered.

"Yes, 'this' again," she'd answered. "And again, and again, and again, as long as it takes to get it through your head."

"You're the one who needs to get something through her head," he'd snapped. "Your decisions of late have been uniformly poor, and this is just the latest example. Why do you think she was here? Your little stunt made them suspicious."

"Drama Queen," Tess muttered. "Isabel was fine today in school. We're friends, and she just came over. Is that really so hard to accept?"

"Well, whatever it is, we can't have them crawling all over the house, not yet, and especially not her," Nasedo said.

"She wasn't 'crawling' anywhere," Tess argued, deliberately avoiding looking at the box which had very nearly spilled the beans. "And for the last time, what is it with Isabel? What did she do to you that was so horrible that you can't stand the sight of her?"

"She didn't do it to me," Nasedo said darkly. "She did it to you, to all of you."

Tess had paused, digesting this new information and combing what little memory she had for any clue, any niggle of what he meant. "I don't know what you're talking about," she'd finally told him. "Whatever she did can't be too awful because I don't remember any of it."

"Of course you don't," Nasedo had said impatiently. "You couldn't, because..."

He'd stopped then, with the oddest look on his face. "Be glad you don't remember," he said finally in a completely different tone. "I wish I didn't. Here," he'd continued, thrusting a list into her hands. "We need more groceries now that we actually have a kitchen."

She'd left then, more than a little unnerved. So very little touched Nasedo or caused anything but anger; whatever did was rare and monumental, like that nurse he'd wanted to impress or that strange man he'd been wary of, both unheard of because Nasedo cared for no one and was afraid of no one. Now he wanted her to believe that Isabel had done something so bad that he wished he didn't remember, that he was glad she didn't remember? Since when was he glad she didn't remember something? That thought was so bizarre that she dismissed it as just one of the many things she couldn't figure out about him and gone grocery shopping, enjoying the mindless chore of choosing ketchup brands and avoiding apples with brown spots. This exceptionally weird and frustrating day was almost over. Thank God.

Traffic finally began to move. It was really pouring now, and Tess set the wipers on high as they started forward, passing the scene of the accident, a multi car pile-up from the looks of things. A few blocks later, after rounding a corner through an especially deep puddle, she was startled when the steering wheel suddenly seized up, and barely made it to the side of road without causing yet another accident. Crap! She stank at fixing mechanical things; the last time she'd had car trouble, she'd blindly thrown power at it and set the engine on fire, although she supposed that would be fixable in this downpour...

"What?" Nasedo's clipped voice said when he answered his cell a couple of minutes later, when the engine was smoking.

"The car is acting up," Tess said. "The steering wheel wouldn't turn all of a sudden."

"Did you go through a puddle?'

"Of course I went through a puddle," she said crossly. "It's pouring, or didn't you realize that?"

"The power steering goes out when the cable gets wet," Nasedo said. "Just fix it."

"I don't know what 'cable' you're talking about, and...I tried. It didn't work," she admitted. "Like the last time it didn't work."

There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the phone. "Where are you?"

"I'm..." She stopped, closing her eyes briefly. "I'm right outside the Crashdown."

"Stay there. I'll be there shortly."

The line went dead. So nice to see he's back to his old self, Tess sighed. She glanced toward the Crashdown, its lights a beacon in the darkness, briefly thought of going inside, and was relieved to find that it was few minutes past closing time. Just as well, really, and best to sit here in the car...and then a figure crossed the street right in front of her, going up to the Crashdown's door.

Max.

Tess watched, mesmerized as Liz answered the door. They talked for a couple of minutes, backlit by the diner's lights, heads bent toward each other, a conversation which culminated in a long, searching kiss that seemed to go on forever. Watching through the rain, Tess leaned against the car window and fought back tears. That should have been me. Her whole life had been about getting back to the Others, and now that she had, the boy who had been her husband was attached to a human. What had her life been about, anyway? What was all that running and hiding and learning to slip the Unit for if he was just going to take up with a human? How was he going to do whatever Big Thing they all had to do with a human in tow? It's not fair! she wailed inwardly as they finally, finally came up for air. That should have been me!

Max came out of the Crashdown wearing a smile which had nothing to do with her. And Tess climbed out of the car.

"Max!" she called. "My car broke down. Can you believe it?"

He turned, and when he saw her, the alarm in his eyes was physically painful. "No."

She blinked. "No?"

"No, I don't believe it," Max said.

"What...are you talking about?" Tess asked.

"You planned this," Max said.

"I planned what?"

"To be out here."

Shit, Tess thought wearily. Nasedo was right; they did suspect her, or at least Max did. She should never have gotten out of the car, never have let her emotions run away with her. "Max, you sound a little crazy," she said, hoping to defuse this before it got worse, and definitely before Nasedo got here.

"You're doing something to me," Max said accusingly in a voice tinged with panic.

"Max, my car broke down," Tess protested. "I'm waiting for somebody to help me. I didn't plan anything."

"I'm with Liz," he declared.

"I know you are," Tess answered.

"We belong together," he insisted.

"I'm sure that's true," Tess agreed.

"I don't want anyone but her."

"I'm sure you don't."

They were face to face now, and...was he actually leaning in toward her? They were certainly close, very close, and she leaned in closer, expecting him to pull away...

...but he didn't.

The kiss was long and passionate, hungry, searching, filled with all the pent up longing and frustration she'd been struggling with for ages. What drove him she couldn't say, but something did; she didn't hold him, but he stayed anyway, kissing her again, again...

The scene changed. The rain disappeared, replaced by a face in a pod wreathed by yellow curls, giant rocks thrusting into the night sky, stars glowing overhead.

Max pulled away, his eyes wide. They stood in the rain, watching each other, panting. He'd seen it too, she could tell.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

She stared at him, the rain running into her eyes, blurring her vision. I'm one of you, she wanted to say. I'm your family. I'm your wife.

"I'm Tess," she answered.

He backed away then, nearly falling off the curb, getting several feet away before turning around and running, running into the rain. She was still watching the patch of darkness he'd disappeared into when she heard a car pull up behind her.

"Is that who I think it was?" Nasedo demanded.

She nodded. He grabbed her by her shoulders, spun her around. "What did you do?"

"Nothing!" she exclaimed. "He did it! He kissed me!"

Hard eyes fastened on hers. "Don't lie to me," Nasedo warned.

"I'm not! He did it! I mean, I certainly didn't mind, but...he did it, and...I had another flash."

"What did you see?" Nasedo demanded. "Tess, this is very important. Tell me exactly what you saw."

"A...little girl in a pod," Tess said, closing her eyes, calling it back. "And the rocks where the pod chamber is...I'm sure of it this time. And stars overheard...they moved into a pattern—"

"What kind of pattern?" Nasedo interrupted excitedly. "What did they look like?"

"Like...like...like the letter 'V'," she answered. "Or an upside down pyramid. No, wait...there wasn't a star along the top, so it was a 'V'—

"Yes!" Nasedo shouted, grabbing her hands. "The royal seal!"

"The...what?" she asked, confused. "I don't know what that is."

"Precisely!" Nasedo exclaimed. "But he does! And the girl in the pod—"

"That could have been Isabel," Tess broke in.

"Doesn't matter," Nasedo said happily. "You never saw anyone in a pod because you were the last one out! That had to have come from him! Tess," he went on earnestly, squeezing her hands, "he remembers. He remembers!"




****************************************************




"Anything new?"

Pierce turned around as Brian came up beside him. "Nope. This guy's more boring than dirt. I say we move the camera to the suspect's house."

"Getting into the Evans' house will be tricky," Brian warned. "And Topolsky was—"

"Meeting Guerin," Pierce finished. "Yes, I know. And he's the easiest to bug because he has his own place. And having his own place means they're more likely to talk there. I remember all the arguments, I just don't see them panning out. Our only real lead is one name, 'Nasedo'. That's it."

"It's better than nothing," Brian shrugged.

Not much, Pierce thought silently. Brian didn't have to sit here in front of this monitor at all hours of the day and night watching Michael Guerin eat, watch TV, or make out with his girlfriend. Neither did he, if he were honest—he had people to do that for him, although the current one was taking a break—but just the half hour he'd been here so far had been like watching paint dry. He'd known Brian Samuels since the academy and trusted him more than any other human being currently on Earth, but sometimes...well...let's just say his friend liked to play things a little too safe. And got a little too emotional, like when he used the word "murder" in connection with the fire at Bethesda Psychiatric. True patriots understood that sacrifices had to be made.

"Danny," Brian said slowly, as though reading his mind, "was it really necessary to get rid of Margolin?"

"Yes. He was asking too many questions about why Valenti thinks he was in Roswell."

"But Valenti will think—"

"Let him. He's already suspicious, Brian; that ship has sailed. I couldn't have him hounding Margolin to look into what happened with Topolsky, and he can't hound him if he's dead."

"No," Brian said, "but he can hound us."

"He was going to do that anyway," Pierce said. "If I can't work around Valenti, I'll just have to work through him. And no, I don't mean getting rid of him; I reluctantly concur that that would raise too many red flags in Washington. I have other plans for our dear sheriff...hello! Is that Evans?"

It was. The video image was grainy, but a drenched and dripping Max Evans had just appeared in Guerin's apartment, and Guerin sounded none too happy about it.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded

"I'm in trouble, Michael. I don't know what's happening to me."


"This could be good," Pierce said eagerly as both he and Brian leaned in toward the monitor.

"I'm not in the mood right now, Maxwell."

"I kissed Tess."

"You what?!"


"Good God," Pierce groaned, dropping his head to his hands. "More adolescent angst? I feel like I'm trapped in a high school lunch room."

"Because you are," Brian said dryly. "Shhh!"

"First you talk to Valenti behind my back, and now you're kissing Tess behind Liz's?"

"Michael, you've got to listen to me, please...


"Talking to Valenti?" Brian said. "About what?"

"Do you think they're working together?" Pierce mused.

"...leave it alone, already? He gave us back the orb. Maybe he isn't just out to get us."

"Yeah, right. Sure. He's on our side. Why don't we just tell him everything?"


"Tell me!" Pierce said excitedly as he and Brian leaned in further. "C'mon, say it out loud!"

"What's an 'orb'?" Brian wondered.

"Who cares?" Pierce demanded, waiting impatiently through an implausible diatribe from Guerin about character and trust. "C'mon, c'mon...spit it out. Spit it out!"

As if on cue, the two figures on the screen began fighting. Suddenly the image shuddered, blurred...and when it returned, two startled faces stared back at them.

"What the hell is that?" Guerin demanded. A hand reached over...

...and the screen went blank.

"Shit!" Pierce exploded, upending the table holding the monitor, which hit the floor with a mighty crash. "Shit!"

"Uh oh," Brian muttered.

"That's it!" Pierce exclaimed. "That's as much of this as I'm going to take! We're going in!"

"Danny, we can't let the Bureau know we're here," Brian argued. "If they—"

"We're already here!" Pierce interrupted savagely. "Hiding in this dump, trying to get some information out of some kid! Enough! I want boots on the ground now!"



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I'll post Chapter 107 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Chapter 107

Postby Kathy W » Sun Mar 17, 2013 4:06 pm

Hello to everyone reading!

keepsmiling7 wrote:I liked it better when I though Tess was mind warping him....


I think she did mindwarp him, especially for the "back room" and "chem class" scenes, but I also think she sparked some memory in all of them. Not that that means anything for the Max/Tess question; I'm pretty much where Brivari is on this one at the end of this next chapter.






CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED SEVEN



April 25, 2000, 11:30 p.m.

Evans residence





"Knock knock?"

Isabel looked up from her history textbook. "Grandma! You're here late."

"Oh, it's nowhere near my bedtime," Grandma said, taking a seat on the bed. "Although I think your mother is turning into a pumpkin."

"Yeah, she does that," Isabel agreed. "Dad's a night owl like you."

"Yes, well...that's my fault," Grandma confessed. "I encouraged him to be that way. The conventional wisdom in the 50's was that babies got up for the day at 6 a.m. and went to bed around the same time. He did wake up around then to eat, but then I wondered, why 6 to 6? Why not 9 to 9, or some other number I liked better? So I'd put him back to bed, and he'd fall back asleep until 9 or 10 in the morning, and then I'd put him to bed at night around the same time. Worked like a charm. My mother-in-law was horrified."

"You renegade, you," Isabel teased. "Dad's always saying you're an anarchist."

"You have no idea," Grandma agreed. "So...how did your dilemma work out?"

"What dilemma?"

"The one you called me about? You know, driving, don't run up a tree...that call?"

"Oh!" Isabel said, having blanked on the afternoon's adventures. "Oh, geez...I completely forgot about that."

"I'm guessing that means it went well," Grandma said.

"False alarm," Isabel nodded. "What I heard wasn't true, and my friend is still a friend."

"Good!" Grandma said. "Good, good. This wouldn't happen to have been south of town, would it? Because I could have sworn I saw someone who looked a lot like you walking around after I talked to you."

Isabel rolled her eyes. "One day, one day, I go for a walk, and the entire universe notices. But at least you're not yanking my chain over it," she went on when her grandmother raised an eyebrow. "I went over to Tess's new house. She moved in today."

"That's a swanky area," Grandma commented.

"It's a swanky house," Isabel said. "Big staircase, big yard. And I got to meet her dad."

"What's he like?"

"A little weird," Isabel admitted.

"Only a little?" Grandma chuckled.

"Dorky," Isabel clarified. "Shirt-buttoned-all-the-way-up type. But he works for the military, so I guess that comes with the territory."

"The military? Is he a soldier?"

"No, some kind of 'consultant'," Isabel answered. "Something about storage facilities...I don't know. I wasn't really paying attention. I was too busy looking at all the art he's collected. You should see all the sculptures and paintings; it was fascinating. And he was pretty chatty about it. After he threatened to kill me, that is."

Grandma blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Oh, it was just a joke," Isabel laughed. "I asked him what he did for a living, and he said, 'If I tell you, I'd have to kill you.' Tess looked really put out, so I don't think she found it as funny as he did."

"Weird sense of humor too, huh?" Grandma said.

"Goes with the buttoned up shirt," Isabel noted. "But really, he's no worse than some of my other friends' parents. He's a grown-up; grown-ups are weird. Present company excepted, of course."

"I appreciate that," Grandma said dryly. "So he treated you right?"

"He didn't 'treat me' much at all," Isabel admitted. "He was only around for a minute, and then he disappeared, and it was just Tess and me watching the movers carry stuff in." She paused. "Do you know him? You sound like you know him."

"I...might have seen him and Tess in the grocery store," Grandma answered. "He seemed a little...abrupt."

"Yeah, I could see him giving that impression," Isabel agreed. "I think he just takes some getting used to."

"You're probably right," Grandma said. "Well...I should leave you to your homework. Where's Max tonight? Is he..."

A door slammed, and footsteps pounded through the house. A moment later, a breathless Max appeared in the bedroom doorway.

"I need to know where Alex lives," he announced.

"Alex?" Isabel said. "Do you mean to tell me Liz doesn't know?"

"Liz isn't answering her phone," Max said. "Oh...hi, Grandma."

"Is everything all right?" Grandma asked.

"I need to talk to Alex," Max urged. "Do you know where he lives?"

"Uh...sure," Isabel said uncertainly. "But it's kind of late—"

"This can't wait," Max said. "Write it down in case I forget."

Isabel stared at her brother, then grabbed a pencil, an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Max only ever got this worked up over two things, Liz and alien stuff. Maybe the fact that she wasn't answering her phone meant it was the former, although it was late enough that she could have just turned it off.

"Here," she said, handing over a slip of paper with the Whitman's address. "But I think they go to bed pretty early over there, so...Max? Max!"

But he was gone already, and a moment later, she heard the jeep roar to life. "My goodness," Grandma murmured. "What now?"

"Tell me about it," Isabel sighed. "But whatever it is, it's his problem, not mine."




****************************************************




Whitman residence




Alex Whitman was dreaming.

It was one of "those" dreams, or as far as those dreams ever went for him. He and Isabel were alone, no band or vocalist or any other human or alien to interrupt them or block the stunning view of her in that red dress. This dream was a favorite of his, having reappeared in several renditions which all remained faithful to the core details, those being Isabel, her red dress, soft music playing, and some kind of spectacular backdrop. This particular outing appeared to be on a balcony of some sort, warm summer breezes wafting by with a background which looked suspiciously like Times Square, most likely because he'd been admiring pictures of it right before going to sleep. He wanted to visit the place where night looked like day courtesy of enough lumens to make a miniature sun, and even though that was a business district, not a swanky-apartment-with-a-swanky-balcony district, that was the cool thing about dreams; they let you do anything you wanted to. Take that red dress, for example; he could have sworn it had a higher neckline in previous outings, and been far more opaque. Now it was approaching levels of transparency which had him simultaneously sweating and smiling, not to mention the fact that if it went any lower, it might fall off. Okay by me, Alex sighed, leaning in for another core detail, the kiss...

"Alex? Alex!"

Isabel's beautiful face was abruptly replaced by that of her brother. Yikes...what was he doing here? Was this some kind of guilt trip brought on by what he'd been contemplating doing with his sister? This wasn't a dream, it was a nightmare, and Alex thrashed about, trying to remove Max's looming face from his field of vision, without success.

A light snapped on, and Alex sat bolt upright just as a hand clamped over his mouth. "Sorry," Max whispered. "I wasn't trying to scare you. I just didn't want to wake your parents."

"Mmmmph...mmph...geez Louise!" Alex sputtered, wrenching away from Max's grip and scrambling out of bed. "What the hell?"

"I'm sorry," Max repeated. "I didn't want to wake anyone."

"Well, news flash, you just did!" Alex exclaimed. "How did you even get in here? The house was locked...oh," he amended when Max raised an eyebrow. "Yeah. Stupid question." He grabbed the clock on the nightstand. "Did you know it's nearly midnight?"

"I need to talk to you," Max said. "It's important."

"So I gather," Alex said, his head still spinning. "Could you...can we..." He looked down and realized he was standing there in a tee shirt and boxers. "Could you at least let me get dressed?"

"Sure," Max shrugged. "Go ahead."

"In private?" Alex clarified.

"Uh...sure," Max said uncertainly. "Where do I go?"

"In the hall," Alex said impatiently, waving a hand. "Downstairs. Anywhere but here. You got up here without waking anyone, so you ought to be able to chill for five minutes while I get human. Sorry," he added quickly when Max's eyebrows rose. "Poor choice of words."

"Five minutes," Max said, tapping his watch.

Great, Alex thought, plopping on the bed after Max left. The Alien Abyss was dark and deep, but it didn't usually involve midnight visits, thank God. And what kind of bad karma was involved when Max showed up just as he was getting ready to make whoopee with his sister? Pushing that highly alarming thought aside, he pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt, brushed his teeth, and used the toilet. Max was waiting for him when he padded back to his bedroom, his parents still mercifully asleep.

"I'm really sorry about this," Max said. "I could have thrown stones at the window or something, but I was afraid that would wake up more than just you."

"No, no, it's okay," Alex said. "Best to leave Mom and Dad out of it. So what's so important that it couldn't wait till morning?"

Max held out his hand. "Do you know what this is?"

Alex peered at the tiny object in Max's hand, then let out a low whistle. "Sweet! May I?"

"That doesn't tell me what it is," Max pointed out after handing it over.

"It's a camera," Alex answered. "And not just any camera. Where'd you get it?"

And that's when Alex noticed that Max had gone pale. "If I tell you," he said slowly, "you have to promise not to talk about this with anyone else, not Michael, not Isabel, not even Liz. I'll do that myself. Okay?"

Alex nodded slowly. "Okay."

"Michael and I found that in his apartment," Max said. "It was attached to the top of his fridge."

"Michael? I didn't know he was into stuff like this. Where'd he get it?"

Max swallowed visibly. "That's just it—he isn't, and he didn't. We just...found it."

"So...you're saying someone else put it there? Like who?"

Max's eyes dropped. "Like...the guy in the car," Alex said faintly. "The one who said he'd take me to Topolsky."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Max said. "Can you tell me anything more about it?"

"Uh...I can try. Let me boot my computer."

Booting the computer took several minutes, several long minutes burdened by an awkward silence Alex wasn't sure how to fill. He'd never been entirely comfortable with his admission to the Alien Club, largely because the aliens weren't comfortable with it. It had been Liz who'd forced the issue, making them accept him whether they wanted to or not, and although Isabel seemed okay with it, Max and Michael were something else entirely. He always felt like he needed to apologize for knowing, like the blood, sweat, and tears he'd donated to keep their secret didn't cancel out the fact that he'd learned it without their consent. Liz told him he was being silly, but then Michael would start in on him, and he'd beg to differ. The few times he'd needed to approach them, he'd usually done so through Liz, with the few times he hadn't typically ending with him wishing he had. The same held true for Max, with Liz frequently serving as liaison, while Michael avoided him like the plague. To have Max not only come to him directly, but sneak into his house in the middle of the night meant this was something important, a fact underscored by the look in Max's eyes just a minute ago. Max had been a calm and steady force during the recent Topolsky visitation, but now he was scared, visibly scared...and that was somehow scarier than Topolsky or anything she'd claimed.

"So what were you dreaming about?" Max asked.

Alex stiffened. "Huh?"

"When I woke you, you were dreaming. You had this big smile on your face, and—"

"Nothing," Alex broke in before Max could provide any more painfully embarrassing details. "It was...nothing."

"Sure didn't look like nothing," Max observed.

"Did you...can you...did you see my dream?" Alex demanded.

"No," Max said quickly. "I can't do that. You just looked like you were dreaming."

"Oh," Alex said, nearly collapsing with relief that Isabel's brother hadn't been watching them kiss. "I thought...wait. 'You' can't do that...does that mean someone can?"

"I think it's booted," Max said helpfully.

It was. Alex set to work, smarting, kicking himself for not breaking that awkward silence earlier with something innocuous, like the weather or bad cafeteria food. He brought up various websites, referring often to the tiny camera on the desk beside him.

"Okay, I know it's not consumer-grade equipment," he reported, "although I didn't think so anyway."

"Why not?" Max asked.

"It's too small," Alex answered. "As a general rule, the smaller something is, the more high tech and expensive. And it's wireless, which also makes it expensive."

"So can we find out anything more about it?"

Alex shook his head. "They don't sell this kind of stuff at Radio Shack, so I don't have access...wait. I don't, but I know someone who might. He lives in Singapore, so it's about..." He paused, consulting a clock. "...noon there. Let me send him a picture and see what he says."

"What kind of clock is that?" Max asked, peering past him.

"It's an international clock," Alex explained, "with about a dozen time zones...what?" he said when Max raised a quizzical eyebrow. "There are geeks all over the world, and we can talk to each other on the net. Be grateful for the different time zones, or you'd have to wait until tomorrow."

Max said nothing, and Alex got to work photographing, uploading, and e-mailing. It took another half hour, but finally his in-basket pinged.

"Whoa," Alex murmured.

"What?" Max demanded. "What did he say?"

"He says this baby's state-of-the-art," Alex answered. "It's used by law enforcement."

"Law enforcement? You mean like Valenti?"

Alex shook his head. "I mean like the CIA. Look at the price tag." He pointed to the screen. "That would wipe out the budget for the Roswell PD for an entire year. Whoever's watching you with this is way above Valenti's pay grade. Here...read it yourself."

Alex waited while Max hunched over him, reading the message. He must have read it several times, it being hard to believe it took as long as it did before he sank back into his chair.

"Can you make this thing work?" Max asked.

"Sure," Alex answered. "I'd need some stuff...a monitor, a receiver, a...stuff," he amended when Max's eyes began to go screensaver. "But, yeah, I can get it to work. I'd need to play with it, though. I've never used anything this fancy before."

"But I need it back," Max said. "I told Michael I'd look into it, and if I don't, he'll...you know."

"I can guess," Alex allowed. "You can have it back first thing tomorrow morning. That soon enough?"

"Tomorrow morning? How are you going to play with it before tomorrow morning?"

"You don't really think I'm going back to bed after you dropped this in my lap, do you?" Alex chuckled. "Heck, no. I'm putting this little beauty through its paces. And then there's the whole issue of who it belongs to," he added, sobering suddenly. "Not exactly a sleep inducer."

Yeah," Max agreed heavily. "Okay. Tomorrow morning. Thanks."

"You're welcome. Oh, and Max?"

"What?"

"When I get it working...who are we spying on?"

Max paused in the doorway. "Working on it."




*****************************************************




The next day,

April 26, 2000, 4 p.m.

Crashdown Cafe





Liz leaned over her bathroom sink, splashing water on her face. It felt good, cold and invigorating, the salt from the tears which had spilled off and on for the past hour dissolving. Drying her face, she gazed into the mirror; maybe she couldn't taste the salt anymore, but she'd been fooling herself thinking that a splash of even the coldest water would hide the fact that she'd been crying. No dice, she thought heavily, her puffy, red-rimmed eyes a dead giveaway. So much for going downstairs. Everyone would want to know what was wrong, everyone, that is, except the two people who already knew: Maria, who had left about a half hour ago, and Max, the root cause of the tears.

Liz, you've got to believe me. It wasn't me! She was there. She was waiting for me.

Liz hung the towel on the rod and went back to the bedroom. Never in her wildest dreams would she have pegged Max as a "blame the girl" type. She had no idea how it had started, but she'd seen them kissing, so she knew for a fact he hadn't been fighting it.

The way I'm drawn to her, it's not just attraction. It's something else.

I'll say,
Liz thought darkly. Max had not only not been fighting it, he'd been getting into it. No quick, chaste peck, that one, but a full-blown tongue fest intense enough to produce a flash. "Something else", indeed. Like hormones, maybe? She of all people ought to know Max had them. And yet that didn't explain everything. Tess was attractive, but no more so than dozens of other girls at school. If it was just hormones, why hadn't this happened before? And why had Max been so weird all day? He hadn't known she'd seen what she'd seen until after school, but he'd acted like he had, spending the day either avoiding her or uncharacteristically silent, even for him. Which had been no problem for her, straining as she was not to start screaming at him, but still...this wasn't the behavior she typically saw in the classic two-timing boyfriend, a staple figure in high school. Because Max isn't a typical guy, she thought uneasily. Never had been.

It's like everything I see with my eyes tells me that he's cheating on me, but everything I felt with my heart tells me that he's not.

Liz curled up on the bed, hugging her pillow. Her head told her that Max could be right; God knows they'd seen plenty of bizarre stuff already, from Indian sweats gone bad to some pretty impressive effects from alcohol. But her heart told her to scream and yell and pummel him with her fists, and that's what she felt like doing right now. The rational side of her would have to wait.

KnockKnock

"Maria, go back to work," Liz called. "If Mom and Dad find you up here, they'll want to know what's wrong, and I am so not going into that with them."

"Um...I'm not Maria," a familiar voice said, "but I am curious as to how you knew it wasn't your Mom or Dad."

Startled, Liz stared at the door for a moment before crawling off the bed and opening it. "Okay, you weren't who I was expecting."

"Guess not," Alex agreed. "Can I come in?"

Liz stepped back. "Sure. But I'll warn you, I'm in a crappy mood."

"Yeah, I heard," Alex said. "That's kind of why I'm here."

Liz blinked. "Wow. You're the last person I expected Max to get to mop up for him. Or to agree to do it."

"I'm not 'mopping'," Alex said. "I'm...well, I'm here because Maria had an idea. And like you said, she's working, and anyway, she thought I could explain this better." He pulled a small object out of his pocket and held it out for her inspection.

"What's that?" Liz asked.

"It's a camera," Alex answered. "Max and Michael found it hidden in Michael's apartment."

Liz stood very still, gazing at the impossibly small object in Alex's hand. "What kind of camera?"

"It's a video camera," Alex explained. "It sends video back to whoever's got the receiver."

"And...who would that be?"

"Well, that's the question, isn't it?" Alex said softly.

Liz circled slowly, never taking her eyes off the camera. "Hidden?" she said slowly. "So Michael didn't know about this."

"Not until he found it last night," Alex said. "Max woke me up at midnight to ask me about it. I talked to a friend in Singapore to find out. Gotta love the net," he added when her eyes widened. "That and time zones." He paused. "There's more. I'm not gonna get into what Max did...I know the basics, and I don't want the details...but you should know that Michael's suspicious of Tess. He went to her house yesterday and found soldiers there. Isabel went over and found out her dad works for the Army, but she also said Tess got really weird when she touched a box marked 'Photos'."

"Okay, wait," Liz said. "If her dad works for the Army, that explains the soldiers. And so what if Tess got weird because Isabel touched something? This just sounds like another excuse for Max to blame Tess for what happened."

"Maybe," Alex allowed, holding up the camera. "But then where did this come from?"

Liz thought for a moment. "Valenti. He's been suspicious of Max for months now."

"Thought of that," Alex said. "This is way out of his league. This is no Cracker Jack toy, and it's way too expensive for a town sheriff. I spent most of the night online with my friend in Singapore reverse engineering this thing. It took some chewing gum and bailing wire, but I got it working, so...we thought we'd do a little investigating of our own."

"You're going to spy on someone?" Liz said in disbelief. "Let me guess—Tess."

"Well, Michael thinks—"

"No," Liz said firmly, holding up a hand. "This isn't about Michael, this is about Max. I saw him, Alex. I saw him. He was kissing her every bit as much as she was kissing him. It's not like he was being held hostage, or something. He was getting into it."

"TMI," Alex said, closing his eyes briefly. "I won't pretend to know how hurt you are right now, but I do know about this, and this is weird, Liz. My friend says these are used by the CIA. And if the CIA uses it, why not the FBI?"

Previously convinced this was all just an elaborate construct of Max's guilt and Michael's paranoia, Liz felt a tiny niggle of doubt. "But that doesn't mean Tess has anything to do with it," she objected. "I just think it's kind of a leap from that to her."

"Maybe," Alex allowed. "But given what Michael and Isabel saw, and how Max feels like something's controlling him, it's worth checking out."

"Okay, fine," Liz said. "So go have your spy party. What do I have to do with it?"

"Michael was thinking of sneaking into her house," Alex answered. "And Maria thought we had to be smarter than that. She thinks someone should go visit and—"

"And plant the camera," Liz finished. "Subtle."

"More subtle than Michael's suggestion," Alex noted. "But she thought you might be interested in doing it. She didn't say why," he added quickly, "and I'm not asking. I'm just checking if you want in."

"And if I don't?"

"Then Isabel will go," Alex said. "She's friends with Tess, so Tess wouldn't suspect her. Look...I know you're pissed at him," he went on, "and I'm not saying you shouldn't be. Maybe Tess has nothing to do with this. But we've seen some mighty strange things, and...well...you asked me once to trust you. And I'm asking you to trust me that this isn't just some random piece of equipment that fell out of the landlord's pocket. Someone put this in Michael's apartment, and we need to find out who. We have to start somewhere, and Tess seems as good a place as any. If it's not her, Max's guts will be available to hate afterward whether you're the one who does this or not. Maria just thought someone should tell you what was going on."

He turned to leave, and Liz was inclined to let him. Isabel was really the best choice, especially since she'd be less likely to strangle Tess on sight...

"I'll do it," Liz said suddenly.

Alex paused in the doorway. "You will?"

"Wasn't that what you wanted?"

"Me? I never wanted anything," Alex answered. "Maria wanted me to ask you, that's all."

"Okay, then, I'll do it. What do I do?"

"Um...you just have to hide this somewhere. Somewhere public, you know, not like a bathroom or anywhere gross—"

"Got it. When?"

"I'm...ready to go when you are," Alex said. "You sure you want to do this?"

"I'm sure," Liz said firmly. "I've got a few things I want to say to Tess."




****************************************************




Harding residence




"Can you believe it?" Jaddo enthused. "It was that simple! They haven't even had much in the way of interaction, and yet he remembers her!"

"Mmm," Brivari murmured, fingers tapping the cup of coffee he held as they stood in the kitchen of Jaddo's impressive house. "Does he?"

"Of course he does," Jaddo answered. "Why the flash of Ava in the pod? Why the royal seal? Why the pod chamber?"

"We know they know the pod chamber because they emerged there," Brivari answered. "And of course he should know his own seal. But the pod...that could have been Vilandra. All that proves is that particular memory comes from him."

"But he kissed her," Jaddo insisted. "He kissed her. That means he remembers."

"Does it? Look, I'm not trying to rain on your parade," Brivari went on when Jaddo gave a snort of exasperation. "It's to all our benefits if they remember each other, especially now, on the eve of battle if not war. He's obviously responding to her in some way; I'm just not sure it's the way you're hoping."

"Then why is he having flashes?" Jaddo demanded. "Why did he initiate contact?"

"Because he's responding to her in 'some way'," Brivari said patiently. "But I think that way falls short, perhaps far short, of actual memory. He may have no idea why he's doing what he's doing, hence his question, 'Who are you?', which rather argues against his remembering."

"But he knows she's someone," Jaddo said stubbornly. "That's a start."

"Indeed," Brivari sighed. "And 'beginnings are fraught with peril'. Or so they said on Dune."

Jaddo stared at him. "Please tell me you're not actually quoting human science fiction at a time like this."

Brivari shrugged. "I remember it because it made a good point. And I remember the Healer's warning that memory can be a funny thing. Partial memory can be worse than none. And no memory is helpful if you don't have the ability to process it, to put it in perspective."

"Do you want your Ward and his mate to reunite, or don't you?" Jaddo said crossly. "Because if I didn't know better, I'd say you didn't. What?" he demanded when Brivari chuckled. "Did I say something funny?"

"How many years have passed?" Brivari said, shaking his head. "And you haven't changed a bit. Still just as binary as ever; this or that, black or white, yes or no. Of course I want them reunited, but it's not that simple. There's remembering her, not remembering her, and a vast gray area in between, which is where I think they are now."

A doorbell rang. "Ignore it," Jaddo advised. "I'll tell you what I think," he continued as Brivari privately wondered if there had ever been a time when he wouldn't. "I think this would all be a great deal simpler if not for that female Zan keeps mooning over."

"You mean the Parker girl?" Brivari asked, glancing out of the kitchen to see Ava at the front door.

"Whoever," Jaddo said irritably. "She's what's keeping him from seeing what's right in front of him. She's in the way."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," Brivari remarked blandly, "because she's also in your living room."



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I'll post Chapter 108 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."


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