Birthright *Series* (CC, TEEN, S1 COMPLETE), Epilogue, 2/2

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

Chapter 88

Postby Kathy W » Sun Sep 23, 2012 4:14 pm

CHAPTER EIGHTY-EIGHT



March 4, 2000, 4:30 p.m.

Crashdown Cafe





Liz was stretched out on her bed when the knock came, completely unexpected this early in the game. Wow, she thought dryly. That hadn't taken long; they'd caved fast. Unfortunately for them, she hadn't. The knock sounded twice more before she answered.

"I'm busy," she called curtly, which she ostensibly was; when the door was thrown open, as it inevitably would be, they would find her poring over a biology textbook. So what if it was the same textbook she'd been staring at for the last half hour without comprehending a word? So what if biology was one of her favorite subjects? Irrelevant all, especially since her new rallying cry was that her parents didn't deserve to know everything about her.

"Liz?" a completely unexpected voice called. "It's Maria."

Curious, Liz put down her pencil and went to the door. "Maria?" she said skeptically. "Is that you?"

"Of course it's me," Maria's testy voice answered. "There's only one 'me', or at least I hope so. Or at least my mother does. Just open the door, would you?"

Still wary, Liz cracked the door open. Maria was indeed standing in the hallway, and Liz widened the crack, craning her neck around the corner. "Who's with you?"

Maria blinked. " 'With me'? No one's 'with me'. Would you just let me in, please? Before they change their minds?"

Liz considered a moment before stepping back. "So how'd you get past the wardens?"

"I didn't," Maria answered, slipping inside. "I said I wanted to talk to you, and they let me."

"So, what, this is visiting hours?"

"Half an hour, actually," Maria allowed. "Which is better than nothing."

"But they wouldn't have just let you come up here," Liz argued. "They must have sent you with a message, or some kind of task to perform in exchange for letting you see the prisoner."

Maria closed her eyes briefly. "Liz, you're not a 'prisoner'," she said wearily. "You're just a kid in trouble with her parents."

"Easy for you to say," Liz muttered.

"Yeah, actually, it is," Maria retorted. "Look, I know you. You've never been in trouble before, never been dragged down to the principal's office, never been grounded, never even had a proper scream fest with your parents...but I have. My mother and I do this all the time. All the time. You're new to this, but I'm not, and this is what it looks like. So just drop the prison drama queen bit, would you? It makes you look like an idiot to every other teenager out there who's been grounded, which is basically everyone. Everyone but you."

"And Max," Liz added. "He's never been grounded either."

"Great, so there's two of you," Maria deadpanned. "Whoop de do."

"But at least Max doesn't have a friend who ratted him out," Liz went on. "That's some consolation, at least."

Maria's eyes popped. "Excuse me? Did you...do you...are you trying to say this is my fault? Explain to me how you going off the rails is my fault!"

"You could have covered for me, Maria," Liz said, flopping back down on the bed. "Mom called you, and you could have said I was over there."

"Okay, first of all, your mother didn't call 'me'," Maria protested. "She called my house."

"Same difference."

"Big difference," Maria corrected. "It was the wee small, remember? Or the Saturday equivalent, at least. Mom got the phone, and then she knocked on my door and asked if you were with me."

"And you should have said 'yes'," Liz said stoutly. "And Michael should have too. Max's parents called him, and if he'd said Max was there, we both would have been covered."

"Oh, sure," Maria said sarcastically. "If only Michael and I had somehow magically known that you and Max had disappeared into the night, we could have simultaneously lied through our teeth and saved you both the trouble of explaining yourselves. How thoughtless of us."

"My point is that if you'd both said 'yes', they would never have known," Liz argued. "And it all started with my mother. Max's parents only knew because my mother called them; if she'd been shut down, it would have stopped right there. We came back early enough that we could have easily slipped in without anyone being the wiser."

"Are you forgetting your shift this morning?" Maria demanded. "Don't you think your parents would have gone looking for you when you didn't show up for work?"

"Well...yes," Liz admitted, some of the bravado leaving her voice. "But I still could have handled it."

"You mean lied," Maria said accusingly. "Which is what you wanted me to do."

"I'm just saying it would have been nice if you'd covered for me," Liz said stubbornly. "That's what friends do, right?"

"Friends?" Maria echoed. "Let me tell you what 'friends' do, Liz. 'Friends' tell you what's going on with them. 'Friends' give you a heads up before doing something off the wall, something completely unlike them, and then expecting you to bail them out. And friends who don't give fair warning don't engage in a Monday morning quarterback routine by flaming their friends for their own stupidity."

"Oh, so now I'm stupid?" Liz challenged.

"Yes!" Maria answered hotly. "I mean...no. Maybe," she amended, flustered. "I'm not sure what you are because I'm not sure who you are. It's been so weird, Liz...the fevers, the glowing hickeys, the visions, you and Max making out anywhere and everywhere, and then running away for no reason...I don't know what it all means." She came forward, took Liz's hands. "I could have lied to my mom. She didn't come into my room, so she wouldn't have known if I had. But I'm glad I didn't. Because when she told me why she was asking, I was scared for you. I don't know what's happening to you, Liz. It's not that you're stupid, you're...you're scary."

Liz had been working up a good head of steam, but it evaporated at the plaintive tone of Maria's voice. "I don't know what's happening either," she confided. "But I do know that it doesn't frighten me. Whatever it is, it's good. It feels good. That's why it's so frustrating. I have the most amazing things happening, and there are just a few people I can share it with, so it's really frustrating when those people act like it's some kind of tragedy."

"Uh, because it is?" Maria said. "You haven't been acting 'amazing', Liz, you've been acting weird. Weird and sick."

"I'm not sick," Liz said firmly. "Even when I had the fevers, I didn't feel sick. I'm not sure what I felt, but I've been sick before and it didn't feel like that. I almost felt..."

"What? Felt what?"

"Strong," Liz finished. "Powerful."

"Really?" Maria said skeptically. "Because you didn't look 'strong' and 'powerful' when you were almost passing out in gym class. And where on earth were you last night? You were already in trouble for sneaking out the first time."

"We had to," Liz insisted. "We had to go while we could."

"Go where?" Maria demanded. "Where did you go?"

Liz pulled her hands from Maria's and fished out her sketch pad. "Here," she answered, brandishing the drawing of the radio tower. "I saw this in one of my visions, and I saw a soldier burying something nearby. I showed this to Max when he came over last night after you drove me home, and he recognized it; he said it was the old radio tower by Highway 42, right near the crash site."

Maria's eyes widened. "Do you mean to tell me that you and Max snuck off to the crash site last night? That's private property!"

"We heard," Liz noted.

"People get arrested there, like, constantly!" Maria wailed. "It's always in the papers!"

"You don't read newspapers, Maria."

"She's not only sneaking around, she's trespassing," Maria groaned. "Holy Mother Mary!"

"You're not Catholic either."

"Don't change the subject!" Maria retorted. "What could possibly have made you trespass on private property in the middle of the night?"

"If you ask me, that's the best time to go," Liz said as Maria made a strangled sound of disbelief. "But we went because we had to. Everything I've been seeing pointed to that place. We had to find out what it meant."

"And...did you?" Maria ventured.

"Oh, yeah," Liz whispered. "We found something."

The silence was suddenly so thick, you could have cut it with a knife. "Found...'something'," Maria repeated, looking terrified. "Found what, exactly? Another painting? Another symbol?"

Liz shook her head, opened her mouth...and stopped. How should she describe what they'd found? I shouldn't, she decided, grabbing her sketch pad and a pencil. A minute later, she turned it around. Maria took the pad and stared at it for a full minute before speaking.

"What is it?"




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




Evans residence





"What is it?"

The alien rock lay on Max's bed as Michael and Isabel gazed at it, the former avidly, the latter with terror. This was the first time in this very long, very trying day that he'd had a chance to show it to them.

"I don't know," Max said, answering Isabel's fearful question. "It was buried—"

"In the sand," Michael finished, his voice heavy with excitement. "You said that. You also said it made a noise?"

"Yeah, a beeping noise," Max nodded. "Liz recognized it; she'd heard it in one of her visions. So we followed it, and dug it up, and—"

"And?" Michael broke in impatiently. "And?"

"And he's getting to it," Isabel said crossly. "Don't interrupt."

"And as soon as we cleared the sand away, this shaft of light shot out of the ground," Max continued to his wide-eyed audience. "The beeping stopped, but there was this...this column of light, shooting into the sky."

"Awesome," Michael whispered.

"Oh, my God," Isabel murmured, her eyes round.

"And then the light went out," Max went on. "And Liz got really, really tired really suddenly, like she was going to faint. So we laid down and went to sleep, and when we woke up, it was morning. Some guy was there, and he told us it was private property and we should go home."

"Who?" Michael asked suspiciously.

Max shrugged. "Don't know. Looked like a ranch hand."

"Thank God it wasn't a cop," Isabel muttered.

"Who cares if it was?" Michael said. "Max could have handled him."

" 'Handled him'?" Isabel echoed. "Max is in enough trouble as it is, Michael!"

"Who cares?" Michael repeated, his eyes shining as he gazed at their newest treasure. "This is the single most exciting thing we've found so far, and whatever it cost to get it, it was worth it."

"Easy for you to say," Isabel retorted. "You're not in trouble with two sets of parents."

"They're not your parents—"

"Oh, not this again!" Isabel broke in furiously. "Who cares if they're not our 'real' parents? They were worried! He scared the daylights out of them!"

"You should care," Michael answered. "The only reason he's in trouble is because he can't tell them what he was really doing. If they were your real parents, he wouldn't have to go skulking around."

"Enough," Max said firmly before Isabel completely lost her temper. "That's not true, Michael. Liz's parents are her 'real' parents, and she can't tell them either. Unless you'd like her to, of course."

Michael shook his head. "Not gonna work, Maxwell. I haven't been fond of Liz in the past, but I'll go down on one knee if she helps us find things like this."

"Things like what?" Isabel demanded. "We still don't know what it is."

"We know it's ours," Max said thoughtfully. "We know that symbol on the top."

"And that's all we know," Michael said as he reached out a tentative hand, stopped, looked at Max. "Can I?"

"Go ahead," Max answered. "I've touched it several times and nothing happened."

Isabel stiffened as Michael reached out again, hesitated, then touched the shiny grey object on the bed gingerly, as though afraid it might bite. It didn't, of course, and he spent the next several minutes examining it, turning it over and over in his hands, running his fingers over every inch of it, a look of rapture on his face.

"I couldn't find anything," Max said. "Nothing but the symbol on top, that is. No writing, no hinges—"

"No battery door?" Isabel said. "No instruction manual?"

"It's heavy," Michael said, ignoring her as he hefted it from one hand to another. "And what's it made of? It's not metal. It's not plastic."

Max shook his head. "No idea."

"But we should know," Michael said. "I'll bet good money we should know."

"But we don't," Isabel said. "So put it down."

"Why?" Michael said. "Because you don't want to learn something you'd rather not know?"

"Because it gives me the creeps," Isabel corrected. "We have no idea what that is. For all we know, it's a bomb."

"It was beeping," Max noted.

"If it was a bomb, it would have gone off already," Michael said.

"Wow, that's makes me feel so much better," Isabel muttered.

"Good," Michael said. "It should." He held out a hand. "Let's do what we did with the symbol in the woods."

"Michael, no!" Isabel exclaimed, grabbing his hand. "You don't know what could happen!"

"Which is exactly the point, Isabel," Michael said in the tone one uses with a three year-old. "The whole point is to see what happens."

"Maybe she's right," Max said.

Michael blinked. "Please tell me you're kidding."

"I'm not kidding," Max said as Michael gave a snort of disbelief. "Look, this isn't a painting on a wall or a symbol on the ground. It's a physical object. There's no telling what could happen."

"Which includes nothing," Michael argued. "For all we know, it's an alien paperweight."

Max shook his head. "You don't believe that. If you did, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

"No, I don't believe that," Michael admitted. "I think this does something, and I want to know what. And I don't think it's a bomb, or a grenade, or alien pepper spray."

"So, what, you're saying you remember what it is?" Isabel demanded.

"No," Michael allowed, "but if it's not dangerous, what's the harm in throwing a little power at it? What if it sends a message home, or something like that?"

"What if it does?" Isabel said. "What would it tell them? That we're grasping at straws? That we're clueless?"

"That we're listening," Michael corrected. "That we're here."

"If they don't know that already, I'm not sure I care," Isabel declared.

"Why?" Michael asked. "They may have no idea we're here. We may have gotten lost from some expedition, or—"

"We can speculate till we're blue in the face, but it won't get us anywhere," Max interrupted.

"No, it won't," Michael agreed. "What might get us somewhere is trying to wake this thing up."

"And then what?" Isabel wailed. "Suppose it sends an e-mail. What do we tell them? That we don't remember a thing? That you remembered once, when you almost killed yourself, but then forgot everything you remembered? That we're willy nilly throwing power at something when we don't even know what it does? Are you really that eager to look like a nincompoop in front of our relatives?"

Michael hesitated, and Max took advantage of the lull. "Let's think about it," he suggested. "We can always try to get it to do something later. There's no harm in studying it for a while."

"I guess," Michael said reluctantly. "But in the meantime, I'm keeping this."

"No, I'm keeping it," Max said.

"I won't do anything to it without you," Michael promised. "And my apartment is the safest place to hide it because I'm the only one there."

"Oh, let him have it, Max," Isabel said in disgust. "And when he gets impatient and tries something and it bursts into flames, we'll know why the fire trucks are rolling in that direction."

"Very funny," Michael said, cradling his prize. "We need to call it something."

"Liz and I called it a rock," Max said.

Michael shook his head. "It's not a rock. It lit up and beeped, remember? It's not natural. It was made for something."

"How do you know what their rocks do?" Isabel asked. "We don't know thing one about where we come from. For all we know, it's a loaf of bread. Or a football. Or an alien Tamagotchi."

"Or...an orb," Michael suggested.

"Looks like a football," Isabel muttered.

"Fine, it's an orb," Max said. "And remember, you promised."

"I'll remember," Michael said, tucking the orb in his pocket. "Later."

He climbed out the window as Isabel shook her head in disgust. " An 'orb', Max? Really?"

"Let him call it whatever he wants, Iz," Max said. "This is really important to him. It's important to us, too; it's the first...'thing' we've found from our home, our real home. Besides your necklace, that is."

"This is our real home," Isabel insisted. "I know we didn't come from here, but it's where we are now, and the only place we know. Until we know some other place, this is home."

"For us," Max said soberly. "But not for Michael."

There was a soft knock on the door. "Max?" Grandma Dee's voice came. "Are you in there?"

Max glanced at Isabel before unlocking the door. "Don't worry," Grandma whispered. "I'm not here to read you the riot act; I'm sure you've had enough of that. Just wanted to give you a heads up that your mother is headed this way."

"Look, it's inevitable," Isabel said as Grandma disappeared back into the hallway. "Dad had a go at you, and Mom will have her turn. She was really freaked out this morning. Just keep repeating the story; it was a good one. I'll be in my room when you're done."

She reached the doorway just as Diane appeared. "Oh...hi, Mom," Isabel said, looking appropriately surprised.

"Isabel, would you give us some privacy please?" Diane asked.

Max sank heavily into a chair as his sister shot him a sympathetic glance before leaving. Diane looked distinctly unhappy, her arms folded in front of her, her expression troubled. "Uh...would you like the chair?" Max asked, half rising.

"No," Diane said quickly, holding up a hand. "No, thank you. I'll stand."

Not good, Max thought as his mother seemed to pull herself together for an announcement. "I'd just like to know why you did it," she began. "I mean, you'd have to know there would be consequences. What made those consequences worth it?"

"I told you," Max said patiently, "it was an accident. We fell asleep. We didn't mean to stay out all night."

"Yes, but what possessed you to not bring her straight home?" Diane persisted. "Especially when you knew she was already in trouble with her parents."

"She's my friend," Max said. "She was upset. I told you, I had just left Michael's when I saw her walking on the street, and I picked her up, and we got to talking..."




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



Crashdown Cafe




"...and then we fell asleep," Liz finished. "It was a Friday night, we were tired, and we just fell asleep. It's that simple."

Across the table, Nancy and Jeff exchanged glances. " 'Simple'," Jeff repeated. "That's what you call staying out all night without telling us. 'Simple'."

"Dad, it was a mistake. I didn't plan on staying out all night. I was mad, and I went walking, and Max saw me, and—"

"Yeah, we got that part," Jeff broke in. "Although I'm still a little fuzzy on the part where you fell asleep in a jeep with no blankets or heater running."

"We were wearing coats," Liz said. "We were fine. We were right close by while you were obsessing—"

"We didn't know that," Jeff pointed out. "I would hardly call it 'obsessing' when we had no idea what was going on."

"I know that," Liz said impatiently. "I told you, we just fell asleep, and when we woke up, we came straight back. I don't know what else we could have done."

"Here's a thought," Jeff said. "How about not stalk out in a huff?"

"Well, if Mom hadn't gotten mad at me—"

"Oh, no you don't, young lady," Jeff said firmly. "You're not pinning this on your mother—"

"—and if you both didn't expect me to be this perfect child all the time, I wouldn't have," Liz retorted.

"—and you're not changing the subject, either," Jeff finished. "Nobody said you couldn't get mad; the problem is what you did with that, leaving the house for a second time when you'd been told not to and then scarring the daylights out of us by not coming back. Whether or not that was your intention is not the point. It's what you did, and it was rude and inconsiderate. And I have yet to hear you apologize for it."

Liz's mouth set in a thin line. "I'm sorry I worried you. I'm not sorry I left, but I'm sorry I worried you. I didn't mean to."

"So you're sorry we were worried, but you're not sorry you left, even though your leaving is what worried us," Jeff said, ticking off the "sorry's" on his fingers. "How does that work, exactly?"

"Look, I don't know what you want me to say!" Liz said in exasperation. "I have a right to my own feelings, you know."

Jeff's eyebrows rose. "Did we say you didn't?"

"Just about, yeah," Liz retorted, pushing away from the table. "I'm done. I'll be in my room, although I'm sure you'll know that because you'll be checking every hour on the hour, if not more than that."

"And there's the point," Nancy said, having held her tongue until now. "I didn't check on you last night because after you went out the first time, I assumed you wouldn't try it again. It's like you said, Liz—we just take it for granted that we know you, that we know how you'll behave, and that you'll always be that way. Another way of putting that is that we trusted you. And now..." She paused, more to collect herself than for dramatic effect. "And now we don't. I don't. I don't trust you any more."

"I see," Liz said tightly. "So does this mean you'll be putting an alarm on the window?"

Nancy shrugged. "What for? You're smart enough to outwit it. If you want to leave, we can't stop you. No, if you do that again, I'm not going to close the cafe and sit around drinking coffee with Max's parents. We'll just go straight to Sheriff Valenti and let him sort it out."

"And I can just imagine how Diane Evans would take that," Jeff added. "She was fit to be tied."

But Nancy was watching Liz, who had blanched at the mention of the sheriff, her combative attitude completing evaporating. "Okay," Liz said, stricken. "Good to know. Well...I'll be upstairs. All night. Go ahead and check."

She had barely left the room when Jeff pushed his plate away in disgust. "What in blazes has gotten into her? I don't even recognize my own daughter!"

"I know," Nancy said quietly.

"I think it's best she and Max don't see each other for a while," Jeff declared, "at least until we know we've gotten our point across."

"That won't work," Nancy said. "No, listen to me, Jeff, it won't," she insisted when he began to protest. "I was a teenaged girl once. You can forbid anything you want, but if they want to see each other, they will. We can't keep them apart."

"Like hell I can't," Jeff retorted. "Just watch me."

"You'll have to remove her," Nancy said, "send her away from Roswell, and even then I'm not sure it'll work. Are you ready to do that?" She waited while her husband looked down at his unfinished plate of food in sullen silence. "Look, it's probably just a crush," she said soothingly, "that and a bunch of hormones. Let's just let it lie for a while and not overreact, okay? Max seems like a nice kid, he has nice parents. It's not like he's dangerous, or anything...right?"




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



Washington, D.C.



"Brian," Pierce said, his phone balanced on his shoulder as he chopped celery. "How's our newest patient?"

"Compliant," Brian answered. "Not rocking the boat."

"Really? So she isn't trying to tell everyone she was kidnapped, or shouldn't be there, or whatever?"

"Apparently she isn't trying to tell anyone anything," Brian replied. "They told her the story we gave them, about her attempting suicide, and she didn't refute it. What's that noise?"

"Chopping," Pierce answered. "I'm cooking tonight. So she's given up," he added with satisfaction. "That didn't take long."

"Or she's done nothing of the sort," Brian noted. "I keep telling you Kathleen is a lot smarter than you give her credit for."

" 'Kathleen'," Pierce chuckled. "There you go again with that first name basis. And refresh my memory, but who's the one locked up here? Forgive me if I take capture as a lack of evidence for 'smarts'."

"She wiped her computer," Brian said. "She figured us out."

"Yeah, how'd she do that, exactly?" Pierce asked. "What'd you screw up, Brian?"

"Nothing," Brian said hotly. "And she wasn't the only one. This isn't going well, Danny. I still say we should try a different recruitment method."

"Noted. Let her rot there for a week or two, and she'll be plenty recruited. Just keep an eye on her."

Pierce clacked the phone shut and tossed it on the kitchen counter, annoyed. Brian was right; efforts to extract information from various sources had proven futile so far. They couldn't afford to just storm into Roswell and start blundering around, not with Valenti in town and Freeh on his ass. Their strike had to be surgical, targeted, and very covert, and in order to accomplish that, they needed information, needed to know exactly who to go for. There was never only one alien; his father had taught him that.

"Who was that?"

Vanessa was in the doorway, her business suit accentuating her curves, her stilettos doing wonders for her legs, which needed little in the way of help. "Nobody," he answered.

Vanessa gave a soft snort as she set her briefcase on a chair. "You expect me to believe you talk on phones to 'nobody'?"

"I expect you to believe my work is classified," Pierce corrected. "Did you get the argula?"

"No, Daniel, I was walking the halls of Congress all day," Vanessa answered dryly. "Just let me toss on an apron and I'll nip out to Whole Foods and do your grocery shopping for you. It's what I live for."

"Funny," Pierce said, pulling her towards him. "I wasn't trying to make you out as the maid. I'm just...frustrated."

"A frustrated chef, or a frustrated FBI agent?" Vanessa asked.

"Why are you always bugging me about my work?" Pierce demanded. "You're a congresswoman; you should understand the concept of 'classified'."

"Oh, Daniel," Vanessa sighed, "I do. Believe me, I do. What you need to understand is that there's 'classified' and then there's 'classified'. Nothing's classified with those who could help you."

"You think you could help me," Pierce said, amused. "And why is that?"

Vanessa reached up, caressed his cheek. "Because the odds are good that we're after the same thing," she said softly.

Pierce smiled faintly. "Sorry, dear. Not a chance."



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


I'll post Chapter 89 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."

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

Chapter 89

Postby Kathy W » Sun Sep 30, 2012 4:41 pm

^ Always wondered where those orbs went after the show ended. How much you wanna bet they're on a few desks as paperweights? :lol:






CHAPTER EIGHTY-NINE




One month later,

April 3, 2000, 12:30 p.m.

Crashdown Cafe




Diane Evans paused in front of the Crashdown's door, peering through the window where the cafe's lunch crowd was in full swing as evidenced by the dearth of empty tables and the waitresses flying by. Good—that was exactly what she wanted. The busier, the better.

"Are you going in?"

Diane whirled around, stepped back. "Oh...sorry. Nope."

Not that way, she amended privately as the man who brushed past her into the cafe gave her an odd look. Working her way around the building to the side entrance, she was stymied by a waitress stationed just outside wearing nothing but her uniform, a cigarette, and a scowl. Diane, who couldn't abide cigarette smoke, wrinkled her nose at the faint tendrils the wind blew in her direction, waiting impatiently for the waitress to finish or run out of time and go back inside, probably the latter given the length of her cigarette. Finally, about five minutes later, the side door opened and what looked like testy words were exchanged with another waitress, after which the cigarette was tossed on the ground and stomped out with the angry stab of a rubber-soled shoe. No wonder, Diane thought, waiting an appropriate length of time before slipping in the side door after her. Anyone who took a break in the middle of the lunch rush just didn't get it. It was deserted inside, and quiet, although a good deal of noise could be heard in the kitchen, which she wanted to steer clear of. Which way to try first? Up the stairs, maybe, or further in? Or perhaps—

"Diane?"

Diane nearly jumped out of her skin. "Nancy!" she exclaimed. "I...didn't expect to see you there."

"Yeah, well, I live here," Nancy said lightly. "I didn't expect to see you either. Did you need something?"

"I...was looking for you," Diane said.

"And that's why you didn't expect to see me?"

God, I sound demented, Diane thought wearily. "I wanted to talk to you," she explained. "About the kids. Oh, no, no, no!" she added hastily when Nancy's eyes widened. "Nothing's happened. I meant 'talk' in general, that's all. We haven't talked since...well...you know...and I came in the back because I didn't want to...I mean, I thought Jeff might...I was just afraid he'd..." She stopped, unable to find a way to politely complete that sentence, and certain she sounded like a complete idiot.

"Diane, Jeff isn't mad at you," Nancy said gently. "Or Philip. He doesn't blame either one of you for anything." She held out a hand. "C'mon. I've got coffee on, and Jeff will be busy for a while yet."

Ten minutes later Diane was seated in the family kitchen in front of a steaming cup of coffee and a plate of cookies. "You bake?" Diane said, impressed. "I used to love to bake. I just don't have the time any more."

"I bake for the cafe, but actually Liz made those," Nancy said.

"How is she?" Diane asked.

Nancy took a seat across from her. "Better. Not so strident. How's Max?"

"He's...Max," Diane said with a shrug. "Truth be told, I never noticed anything different about him, before or since."

"So what did he say after you took him home?" Nancy asked.

"He said it was an accident, and apologized profusely, and promised it would never happen again," Diane said. "Did you get his note?"

Nancy nodded. "Was that his idea? Wow," she murmured when Diane nodded. "I'll be sure to tell Jeff. He assumed you and Philip put him up to it the same way we make our kids write thank you notes for birthdays and Christmas."

Diane shook her head. "No. His idea. What about Liz? What did she say?"

"She called it an accident too," Nancy answered. "And went on about how we don't really see her, and how we always expect her to be perfect. I guess she's right; she never got into trouble before, so it seems so wrong now."

"Tell me about it," Diane muttered.

"I had to talk Jeff down from the ledge," Nancy continued. "He wanted to forbid her from seeing Max, but you and I both know that won't work. So instead we told her that if something like that ever happened again, we'd just call the sheriff right away. And that really took the wind out of her sails. She changed her tune pronto. I guess being in trouble with the law is different than being in trouble with Mom and Dad."

"Nancy?"

Diane, who had stiffened at the mention of the sheriff, stiffened all over again when she saw Jeff poking his head in the kitchen door. "Oh...hi, Diane," Jeff said uncertainly. "Is...anything wrong?"

"No, nothing," Diane said quickly. "Nancy and I were just...talking."

"Is there something you wanted, honey?" Nancy asked.

"Just looking for the pies you made," Jeff answered.

"Excuse me," Nancy said, patting Diane's hand. "I'll be right back."

Alone in the kitchen, Diane leaned her head on her hands. I guess being in trouble with the law is different than being in trouble with Mom and Dad. While that might be the reason Liz Parker had decided to straighten up and fly right, there was another explanation. She'd had a similar reaction when her "boys will be boys" husband had realized the kids were truly missing and defaulted straight to the sheriff, or would have if she hadn't physically taken the phone out of his hands. She and Sheriff Valenti had never spoken of their conflict over Max and the way he'd put out that kitchen fire, hadn't really spoken at all since then unless you counted hasty, uncomfortable nods in the grocery store as they whisked past, anxious to be away from each other. The last thing she'd wanted was to invite the sheriff back into her son's life, so she'd held off even as Philip, late to the party, had grown more and more concerned and more and more confused as to why she was reluctant to avail herself of the sheriff's resources. Apparently she wasn't the only one wary of involving Valenti. It appeared Liz Parker might know there was something different about Max too.

Nancy reappeared. "There!" she said, settling herself back down at the table. "Jeff was afraid something else had happened, so I was glad to tell him otherwise."

"I think we all put the fear of God into them," Diane said, fervently hoping that was so. "I think they got the message."




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




West Roswell High School





"Finally," Maria groaned, slamming her locker shut. "Why do they make lunch so darned late? I needed calories an hour ago, preferably fat laden and chocolate."

"It's only 12:30," Liz said, stuffing textbooks for afternoon classes in her backpack. "What'd you have for breakfast?"

"Well...not much, but lunch still shouldn't be so late," Maria protested.

Liz raised an eyebrow. "Okay, I had a glass of beet juice," Maria said. "So what? That's healthy. It's not like a bowl of Honey Smacks."

"Beet juice?" Liz said skeptically. "That's sugar water. You might do better with the Honey Smacks. At least they've got vitamins, and you'd put milk on them."

"Whatever, I'm wilting," Maria complained. "Hurry up!"

"You go ahead," Liz said. "I'll be a few minutes. Don't wait for me," she added when Maria looked alarmed. "Get in line, get your food. I'll find you."

Maria took off surprisingly fast for someone dying of starvation, and Liz glanced at her watch. Ten minutes. That was about all she could spare, but it would do. Positioning herself at the end of their row of lockers, she fastened her eyes on the tiny AV room. She didn't have long to wait; less than a minute later, a dark-haired figure sidled up to the door, looked carefully around and slipped inside. Precisely one minute later, so did she.

"Miss Parker," Max smiled.

"Mr. Evans," Liz breathed.

"Long time, no see," Max said, taking her in his arms. "It's been, what...a whole period?"

"Way too long," Liz said, dropping her backpack unceremoniously on the floor. "Let's skip the chitchat."

She grabbed him by the shirt, pulled him toward her. He didn't resist, and in seconds they'd settled into the daily blur of lips and tongues and hands, the most glorious part of her day. She lived for this moment and so did he, a carefully constructed interlude designed to foil detection and serve as a bulwark against the unthinkable, the day their parents ordered them to stop seeing each other.

A few weeks ago that day had seemed a whole lot closer. Their nighttime desert excursion had caused quite a stir, with that plus their "Eraser Room Interruptus" putting quite a damper on any festivities. Although the expected order to stop seeing each other had not materialized, it remained a possibility, lurking in the background like a storm cloud, coloring every conversation with either set of parents. It had been her idea to employ subterfuge at school, the one place their parents couldn't keep them apart unless they physically picked up and moved. The Eraser Room was out, it now being closely monitored, but there was no shortage of closets, empty classrooms, and various nooks and crannies in which to meet. The trick would be to rotate locations, make sure no one saw them entering or leaving said locations, keep it short, and of course quiet, all of which lessened the chances of detection. Max had had a good laugh at the clinical way she'd approached this, but she was determined to create a space for them in the one place their parents couldn't touch.

Max pulled away briefly. "Any visions?" he panted.

"Nope," Liz said, pulling him toward her, sinking back into her favorite place to be, Max's arms...and hands, and mouth, and just about anywhere else you could name. Well, not anywhere, not yet. Maybe soon.

A couple of minutes later, he pulled away again. "We should go," he said reluctantly. "Time's up."

"It is?" Liz said, glancing at her watch. Damn. Five minutes. Time always flew when you were having fun.

"I'll be out front after school," Max whispered, giving her another kiss.

"I can't wait," Liz said, giving him a couple more.

"We should go," Max murmured mid-kiss.

"We really should," Liz agreed.

Finally they managed to pull away, check the hallway. As glorious as these liaisons were, the hardest part was stopping them. She could have spent the afternoon here without even blinking.

"You go first," Liz said.

"Bye," Max whispered, sneaking in one more kiss.

He slipped out, and she felt suddenly lonely. They always left one at a time, just like they'd entered, and she could never bring herself to leave first; watching him leave was torture, but walking away was worse. They'd met all over the school in at least a dozen locations, choosing a different one each day via coded notes slipped into each other's lockers; it wouldn't do to be communicating publicly about anything other than schoolwork, not with both parents and teachers watching them like hawks. Knowing she had these moments with him made it easier to feign aloofness at other times, and so far there was no sign of anyone having figured out what they were up to. She hadn't even told Maria.

No one would ever have known if we hadn't been caught the first time, Liz mused as she waited the required number of minutes before leaving. If only they hadn't been caught in the Eraser Room, they would never have wound up under the microscope, wouldn't have had anyone watching for what had come after. Any visions? Max had asked. Nope, not a one, not since they'd dug up that whatever-it-was in the desert. Finding that had been the turning point; afterward, all the heat and rebelliousness and euphoria had simply melted away along with the visions, leaving simple lust and adolescent anger. The hot flashes were gone too, along with the fevers, the glowing skin, and the feeling of invincibility, of being able to touch the sky. What had all that been, anyway? Had it all been about finding the orb? Would it ever happen again? In some ways she missed it, with its heightened feelings; in other ways she didn't, those same heightened feelings having resulted in her losing control at inconvenient moments. For now she was content to have it gone as they couldn't afford any inconvenient moments at this point in time.

"What happened to you?" Maria asked when Liz caught up with her in the lunch line.

"What, what happened to me?" Liz asked, alarmed. "What's wrong?"

"You look...flushed," Maria said suspiciously. "Like you used to. Like..." Liz stiffened as she put a hand to her forehead. "Nope," Maria reported. "Not hot."

"Of course not," Liz said, trying to sound nonchalant.

"So where were you?" Maria persisted.

"Miss Parker?"

It was Mr. Sommers, their history teacher. "I just wanted to congratulate you on your recent test grade," Sommers said. "Highest in the class, and the only one to get the bonus question. Nice to see you applying yourself again."

"Uh...thank you," Liz said.

"Figures," Maria muttered after he left. "The ones who get the bonus question are always the ones who don't need the bonus points."

"We'll study together more for the next test," Liz said, privately noting Sommers' veiled reference to her Eraser Room dust-up even though he hadn't had any part in it. Apparently word traveled among teachers as among teenagers.

"You didn't answer me," Maria noted as they reached the cashier. "About where you were?"

"Oh, you know me," Liz smiled. "I was applying myself."




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




Max allowed himself a small smile which masked a broad private grin as he left the AV closet, the kind of smile which Isabel would take as meaning he was up to something. Already been up to it, he thought, weaving through the crowds heading for the cafeteria. So far their carefully developed strategy of meeting in a rotating list of places had paid off handsomely, with no one the wiser. While his parents had shown admirable restraint in not trying to prevent him from seeing Liz, something he strongly suspected Grandma Dee had a hand in, there was no doubt in his mind that being busted a second time for any reason would make that restraint evaporate. This called for subterfuge, something he was naturally adept at and had had a good deal of practice with lately. If you asked him, applying those skills to spending private time with Liz instead of tailing FBI agents and tramping through woods was a much better use of said skills.

"Is she seeing anything?"

Max pulled up short. "Keep your voice down!" he ordered in a whisper. "No one's supposed to know about..."

"About you and Liz necking all around the school?" Michael finished, leaning against the wall beside the water fountain. "Relax—no one does. No one who matters, anyway. Except me, of course, and maybe Isabel, who's probably so mortified that you can count on her keeping her mouth shut. So...is she seeing anything?"

Max pulled Michael further off the beaten path. "We can't discuss this here. You know that."

"Of course we can discuss this here," Michael said. "No one's paying any attention; they're too busy tripping over each other before the cafeteria runs out of tater tots. So is she seeing anything, or not?"

Max glanced around the hallway, but Michael was right; no one was paying them any mind. "No," he admitted.

"Nothing?" Michael pressed. "Nothing at all?"

"Nothing at all," Max confirmed.

"Not even fragments? Or something weird? Because it doesn't have to be as detailed as the soldier visions, and it doesn't have to be something she recognizes; even if she doesn't, we might—"

"I know that," Max interrupted. "She says she isn't seeing anything now, hasn't seen anything since we found..."

"The orb," Michael finished.

"The whatever," Max amended. "She hasn't had a single vision since then."

"And you believe her?"

Max's eyes narrowed. "Of course I believe her. Why wouldn't I believe her? She would know."

"Yeah, yeah, don't get all huffy," Michael said. "I wasn't trying to say she was lying."

"Then what were you trying to say?" Max demanded.

"That she didn't recognize the visions when she first had them, so she might be seeing something that she didn't realize...oh, never mind," Michael sighed. "Take it the wrong way if you want to. Whatever blows your skirt up." He paused. "I wonder why they stopped."

"No idea," Max answered, deciding to ignore that last remark.

"Then maybe you should jump start her."

Max blinked. " 'Jump start her'? She's not a car, Michael. She doesn't have a dead battery."

"You know what I mean," Michael said. "Just...'connect' with her, or whatever you call it. Send her a picture of you eating your Wheaties when you were 5, or something like that."

"It doesn't work that way, and why would I want to do that?" Max said. "I'm glad the visions stopped."

Michael snorted softly. "Of course you are. Just like Isabel."

"No, not 'just like Isabel'," Max retorted. "Liz wasn't just seeing things, she was getting sick, running fevers, and getting faint, and acting...different. I'm glad the visions stopped because I didn't like what they were doing to her. They could be dangerous."

"She didn't seem to think so," Michael noted.

"Yeah, well, she couldn't see what they were doing to her the way we did," Max said. "Maybe she's not the best person to ask."

"So much for 'Liz would know'," Michael murmured.

"Is there something you wanted?" Max asked crossly. "Because if there isn't, I've got better things to do then listen to you accuse my girlfriend of lying—"

"Whoa," Michael said, holding up a hand. "Down, boy. I'm just not convinced she was 'sick'. She's fine now—"

"Because they stopped," Max broke in.

"—and maybe she would have been fine if they hadn't," Michael continued. "We don't know what happened. For all we know, she was coming down with a very human case of the flu at the same time she had the visions, and the visions got blamed for the flu."

"It wasn't the flu," Max said firmly. "And what about the way she was acting? She had her parents in an uproar. She said she felt 'invincible'. The flu doesn't make you feel 'invincible', it knocks you flat."

"Maxwell, Maxwell, Maxwell, let me tell you something," Michael said, throwing an arm around Max's shoulders. "The over-achievers, the straight "A" students, the ones who always fly straight...when they fall, they fall hard. When they decide to rebel, they do it big time. People like me who've rebelled since they could draw breath, we're a lot more casual about it. For us, it's a way of life, not a weekend jaunt to the dark side."

"Very funny," Max said darkly.

"Who's being funny? Not me," Michael declared. "Personally, I like that Liz showed some backbone. We already knew she had guts, and now her parents know. What's so bad about that? Besides, her little trip to the dark side found this. Which makes it totally worth it."

Michael's hand slipped into his jacket pocket, and Max's eyes widened. "What are you doing bringing that here?" he hissed, shoving the hand holding the orb back into the pocket. "Are you crazy? What if someone sees it?"

"They'll have no idea what it is," Michael answered calmly. "And they won't see it. It's the only thing we have from our real home, and I'm guarding it with my life."

"I wouldn't be so quick to lay down your life for it," Max cautioned. "We don't even know what it is. And it's not the only thing from our 'real home'; Isabel's necklace is from there too."

"That's a necklace," Michael said in faint tones of disgust. "Jewelry...pffft. This is obviously a lot more than jewelry."

"I'd like to see the look on your face if we find out the necklace activates the orb," Max said dryly.

"I'll be first to take back any disparaging jewelry remarks if and when that happens," Michael said. "Which it won't. The necklace is a necklace. This is something else, something important. We just have to figure out what."

"And that's why you're parading it around school," Max said skeptically.

"I'm not 'parading it'," Michael protested. "I'm examining it. I don't have as much time as I used to between school and work, so I'm—"

"Parading it around school," Max finished. "It shouldn't be here, Michael. If you can't take care of it, I will."

"Max, I'm not home that much," Michael argued. "And we have to figure out what this thing is. We can't just leave it sitting on a shelf."

"You know, you're right," Max said, holding out a hand. "Hand it over."

Michael pulled away. "You're not taking this," he warned.

"It's my turn," Max said firmly. "You've had it for weeks. Or are you saying it only belongs to you? That the rest of us have no claim on it? Is that what you're saying? Hadn't better be," he went on as Michael's expression darkened dangerously, "because I found it. Maybe it'll do something for me it didn't do for you...or is that what you're afraid of?"

There was a long pause before Michael capitulated, slapping the orb into Max's hand so hard, it hurt. "All right, but only for tonight. Bring it back to school tomorrow."

"This isn't going anywhere near school," Max retorted, "or the Crashdown, or anywhere else. It's not a toy, Michael, and it's not a pet rock. The only place I'll 'bring it back to' is your apartment."

"When?" Michael demanded.

"When I'm done with it," Max said.

"And when will that be?"

"When I'm done with it," Max repeated.

Max held Michael's gaze while Michael stared him down. "All right," Michael said finally, "but you're not keeping it."

"Don't give me a reason to," Max warned. "Whatever it is, it's way too important to take chances with. Keep it home, or I'll find it a new one. Permanently."

"Yes, sir," Michael said savagely. "And now if you'll excuse me, I'm late for class."

It's lunch time, Max thought, not bothering to challenge Michael's claim. Ever since they'd found the "orb", as he called it, Michael had been obsessed with the shiny gray "football", as everyone else called it...privately, that is, so as not to upset him. Perhaps I'd be the same way, Max thought. Under different circumstances, without the home he and Isabel had, perhaps he'd grow every bit as attached to something that came from wherever they'd come from. Still, it was hard to grow attached to something he found frightening. Every time he was near it, the orb scared him, the memory of that beeping and that huge shaft of light having seared itself into his brain. What had it all meant? It hadn't beeped or glowed since then, so whatever it was, it didn't appear to be dangerous...

Of course it is, Max thought as he hurried on, not to the cafeteria but to the parking lot. The orb had to go home. They had no idea what its purpose was or what it could do, and that alone made it dangerous.




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





Crashdown Cafe




"So tell me again why you're letting them keep it?" Dee asked. "I remember you using communicators, but I never understood how they worked, and having one in my grandchildren's hands doesn't exactly instill confidence. What if it just...goes off?"

"It's not a grenade," Brivari said, adding sugar to his second cup of coffee. "And it won't 'go off', nor will they activate it. We—"

"Disabled it," Dee finished. "You said that. I'm just not certain that's going to stick. Can't they fix what you've disabled?"

"Only if they know what to fix. Remember, they have no idea what it does or how it does it."

"And neither does Liz," Dee said. "How on earth did she know where to look for it, Brivari? If you and Jaddo don't remember it being buried, how could you have transferred that to Max? How can you transfer a memory you don't have?"

Good question, Brivari thought. This was the sticking point, the one keeping he and Jaddo awake at night, and the two most likely answers fell into diametrically opposed camps: The simple, and the dreadfully complicated. "It's quite possible we saw it and simply forgot," he said lightly, voicing the simple explanation. "An awful lot was going on back then. Perhaps we did and just have no conscious memory of it. But we've disconnected the communicator from the network, if you will, so no one can call it, nor can it be used to contact anyone, deliberately or inadvertently. It's effectively a tchatchke."

Dee raised an eyebrow. "I had no idea you knew Yiddish. But why was someone calling it in the first place? It was enough to find it, but to have it...'ringing'? What if Max had answered it? I imagine that would have caused a good deal of scurrying on Antar."

"More than scurrying," Brivari agreed. "If Khivar were to get the king 'on the phone', as it were, he'd be able to trace his location. That's precisely the point of sending out a mass signal, something I'm sure both Khivar and Nicholas do on a regular basis in the hopes that not only a hybrid might answer, but that a rebel might also. Nicholas especially would want the latter. The rebels are the reason he's trapped here."

"Courtney," Dee said softly. "I haven't heard from her since she left in '59. Have you?"

"Communication with the Argilian rebels is a bad idea for both of us," Brivari said. "Neither wants Nicholas to find us."

"As I recall, it wasn't just Courtney's rebels who grounded him," Dee pointed out. "You had a hand in that."

"It was my pleasure," Brivari said dryly.

Their food arrived. Just in time, Brivari thought, grateful that the interruption distracted Dee from the fact that he hadn't precisely answered her last question and from the puzzle of how the Parker girl had managed to lead Antar's king to a buried communicator. While it was possible he or Jaddo had transferred an unconscious memory during that disastrous connection shortly after the hybrids' emergence, the more likely explanation was more eerie. The Parker girl had been exhibiting many of same symptoms as their test subjects from decades ago which included fevers, mood swings, and the sudden emergence of new abilities, but for all that he'd been expecting something like this to happen ever since the shooting, he never would have expected the ability which appeared to be unfolding in her. "I could see us finding it," she'd told Zan. Though very rare, this was not unheard of; prescience had been suspected in their test subjects, although those subjects being children made it difficult to confirm. Still, there had been enough evidence of it to make it into the scientific literature, along with a good deal of consternation. Telekinesis was explainable. Heightened senses were explainable. A host of extra-human abilities were explainable, but prescience was not one of them. The ability to see the future, or rather, a possible future, as the future was never really the future until it actually happened, had been unexpected and poorly understood, puzzling even Valeris. None of the hybrids had demonstrated that skill, which was fortunate as it was probably the most dangerous extra-human ability Antarian scientists had witnessed; the tendency to misinterpret what one "saw", or thought one saw, could be disastrous. The only saving grace was that the process appeared to have stopped; the Parker girl, to all appearances, had returned to normal. This had also happened with their test subjects, who had gone through bouts of change interspersed with long periods of dormancy during which developing abilities frequently disappeared, a dormancy which sometimes proved permanent. One could only hope that was what was happening now, especially given that Zan and the girl continued their romance. If physical contact with Zan had set this off, it appeared to no longer have that effect, a welcome development if ever there was one given that they were still engaging in plenty of physical contact.

"So did your son and daughter-in-law recover from the fright my Ward gave them?" Brivari asked, moving on to another subject.

"I think so," Dee answered, spreading copious quantities of ketchup on her fries. "Philip finally got peeved with the whole out-all-night bit, but I convinced them that trying to keep Max and Liz away from each other was pointless..."

*I need to talk to you. Now.*

Brivari glanced up; Jaddo was outside the Crashdown, just visible through the window. "Hold that thought," Brivari said to Dee when she reached a break in her story. "I drank a bit too much coffee."

When he reached the restroom, Jaddo was already there and bristling with anxiety. "Please don't tell me they found another communicator," Brivari sighed. "Or that the Parker girl is acting up again."

"They didn't, and she isn't," Jaddo answered. "I wish that's all it was."

Brivari stared at him. "What happened?"

Jaddo hesitated. "Good Lord, Jaddo," Brivari said in exasperation, "out with it! What's worse than communicators and flashing humans?"

"Topolsky is missing," Jaddo said.

Brivari blinked. "Kathleen Topolsky? That Topolsky? So what?" he continued when Jaddo nodded. "Who cares?"

"Because Agent Moss is missing. And Agent Butler. Ring any bells?"

"They were Topolsky's agents when she was assigned here," Brivari said, uneasiness growing in him. "But what are you getting at?"

"Agent Stevens is also missing," Jaddo said. "Notice the pattern?"

"Everyone connected with the Unit's last investigation," Brivari murmured.

"Exactly," Jaddo said grimly. "If this is what I think it is, then soon—very soon—we could be under attack."




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



FBI Headquarters,

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C.






"I'm off," June sighed, plucking her handbag from the floor. "Wish me luck."

"It's a crap job, but someone's gotta do it," Mary agreed. "I did it last time. Thought I'd go nuts down there. How long is it for?"

"Only this afternoon," June answered "Thank God for small favors. See you tomorrow."

June tucked her purse under her arm as she stepped into the elevator and pressed the button for the basement. Cataloging evidence was one of the most boring jobs in the Bureau, one she was glad she didn't have, but whenever Evidence was short of staff, they pulled from her department as they'd done now. Fortunately she was only replacing someone who'd gone home sick. Less fortunate co-workers had replaced those on one or two week vacations or, in a single, shudderingly memorable instance, a three month leave of absence. That one still gave all of them nightmares.

The elevator stopped. Everyone else got off, and a lone woman got on. She was a bit disheveled, but she smiled at June, and June returned the smile, sliding back into polite elevator oblivion as the woman took up a spot behind her. The doors closed. The elevator began to move. And that was when June felt a sharp pain in her hip. Startled, she turned around...

...only to suddenly feel so dizzy that she slumped to the floor of the still moving elevator, her purse landing beside her. "Sorry," the disheveled woman said as a hand slipped toward her purse. "But for the next few hours, I need to be you."

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


I'll be gone over Columbus Day weekend next week, so I'll post Chapter 90 on Sunday, October 14. :)
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
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Chapter 90

Postby Kathy W » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:48 pm

^ It was always fun to watch Max and Liz "applying themselves". :mrgreen:






CHAPTER NINETY




April 3, 2000, 1 p.m.


Bethesda Psychiatric Institute





Daniel Pierce whirled his BMW into a space in the parking garage, tires squealing. Slamming into park, he shut off the engine and climbed out, closing the door so hard the entire car shook. Good thing his mechanic wasn't here to scold him about how he was treating his extremely expensive car, but then his mechanic only had to work with dumb machines. If only.

The elevator door in the parking garage wouldn't open. Pierce angrily jabbed the button several times before resorting to the stairs, blowing through doors until he reached the Institute's main entrance, thundering down the hallway like a horseman of the apocalypse. Several people waiting for the elevator wisely backed away when he approached, and many of those exiting blinked in surprise as he jostled them unrepentantly on his way into the car. Those remaining crept toward the back as the floors ticked by with agonizing slowness, mercifully not stopping on the way up. He was out before the doors were fully open, coming to an impatient halt before yet another obstacle.

"Pierce!" he barked into the speaker. "Open up!"

The resulting silence was infuriating, and he prowled the utilitarian waiting area with its stained sofa and months-old magazines for a full minute before jabbing the button again. "Pierce!" he bellowed. "Open this goddamned door!"

Click. The latch released, and he was through and striding down the next hallway, one hand outstretched as he neared the inner door which led right onto the floor...only to bounce off the locked door like an errant projectile, pain exploding up his arm to his shoulder and not exactly improving his mood. "Bloody hell!" he shouted, massaging his angry shoulder. "Why the hell isn't this door open? It's not like you didn't know I was here! Open it! Now!"

Click. The second latch released and Pierce exploded through the double doorway onto the floor. To his left was the nurses' station, empty but for a terrified woman in cheerful pastel pink who backed away as he stormed toward the desk. "How did she get out?" he demanded. "How?"

"Danny?"

It was Samuels, who was promptly grabbed by the arm and hauled out of earshot of Pastel Pink. "Don't," Pierce hissed, "ever refer to me that way in public. If there's so much as one other life form present, it's 'Agent Pierce'. I don't care if it's a cockroach, it's 'Agent Pierce'. Understood?"

"Right," Brian said tonelessly. "Sorry."

"And 'cockroach' might not be far off," Pierce said furiously as the Pastel Pink fled, her rubber-soled shoes squeaking furiously. "All we need are the skittering noises. Where the hell is everyone? Or did they let them all loose with Topolsky?"

"I imagine they're avoiding you," Brian noted. "And for the record, they didn't 'let her loose'. She escaped."

"You don't 'escape' from a place like this," Pierce said impatiently.

"You do if you're an FBI agent," Brian said. "Especially a Special Unit agent with an intimate knowledge of how psych wards work."

Pierce stepped closer. "Do you mean to tell me," he said in a deadly voice, "that an unarmed, drugged woman on a suicide watch managed to escape a locked mental ward?"

"Yeah," Brian answered, holding his ground as Pierce hovered millimeters from his face. "That pretty much sums it up."

Pierce made a strangled sound of disbelief. "Fine," he ground out. "There are dozens of cameras. Find her."

"We tried. She doesn't show up on any of the cameras, not on this floor, not on any floor."

Pierce gave a snort of disbelief. "So this unarmed, drugged woman on a suicide watch managed to escape not only a locked mental ward, but the entire hospital complex as well? Just exactly how stupid do you think I am?"

"It's not about me thinking you're stupid," Brian said. "It's about you thinking she's stupid. She's not, Danny. She never was. And you underestimated her. Again."

"What did I just say about calling me 'Danny'?"

"There's no one around," Brian said pointedly. "Even cockroaches. And you're dodging. Again."

Pierce gave him a level stare, and Brian held his gaze. "Am I imaging things," Pierce said softly, "or are you actually challenging me? "Challenging me, and on the heels of such a spectacular failure?"

"Your failure," Brian retorted. "It was your idea to put her here. I said it was risky from the start, but as usual, you didn't listen. You listening now?"

"We tried it your way!" Pierce exploded. "We wooed them, and feted them, and dropped them in the lap of luxury, and for what? They all screwed us! Every one of them! Why is that?"

"They're smart," Brian answered. "They figured it out."

"No, you're stupid!" Pierce snapped. "She told me about the phone."

For the first time, Brian faltered. "What phone?"

"Your phone. Your cell phone, the one you handed her, remember? The one she used to check your contacts and found my name on the list? That phone."

"And what about the first two?" Brian demanded, recovering. "The ones who found the tap on the land line and figured it out that way? Whose fault was that? Not to mention that the whole reason I handed her my phone was to reassure her that I wasn't getting cell service either, a stipulation you insisted on—"

"Of course I insisted on it!" Pierce shouted. "They would have been on the phone to grandma if I hadn't! Hell, they were anyway! You've botched this from the beginning—"

"Wrong!" Brian shot back. "We never did it my way. You were always meddling, tapping lines and blocking signals and doing something that tripped their alarms. They're agents, for Christ's sake! Maybe they're not God's gift to the Bureau like you're convinced you are, but they're plenty smart enough to spot an ambush when you leave hints the size of Rhode Island!"

Pierce opened his mouth to retort and found himself tongue-tied, resorting instead to a strangled sound of fury as he turned away, pounding his fists on the counter so hard that something cracked. How could you start a revolution when you were surrounded by incompetents? How could you save the planet when everyone around you seemed to be working against you? Is this how his father had felt? His notes had made it clear how frustrated he'd been with his rival, one "Cavitt", and his dogooder commanding officer, General Ramey. Was this the province of all great men, to seethe with frustration at the lesser minds around them?

"We can't afford this, Danny," Brian said behind him. "Being at each other's throats, it won't work. We've already got agents asking what our next move is, and what am I supposed to tell them? They flocked to your side after Hubble's death, but we haven't learned a thing from any of the Roswell agents, and now this. The last thing they need is to see is us fighting about it. Morale hasn't suffered yet, but it will when this gets out, so let's not make things worse by pointing fingers. Let's just solve the problem."

Even if that's you, Pierce thought darkly, resolving to revisit this issue another day. "Right," he said out loud, nodding savagely. "Right. Okay. So...how'd she do it?"

"She knocked out a nurse," Brian answered. "Used a whopping dose of sedative, switched clothes with her, and used her swipe card and security code to get out. We found the nurse in Topolsky's PJ's in Topolsky's room. She last thing she remembers is going into Topolsky's room in the middle of the night to check on her. She never saw it coming."

"So why isn't she on tape?" Pierce demanded. "There are enough cameras here to run a reality show!"

"We're working on that," Brian promised, "but in the meantime we found the nurse's purse in a hospital trash bin with the key card inside. The only thing missing was cash. Her car is right where she left it."

"She's on foot," Pierce muttered.

"Or public transport," Brian said. "Either way, she's off grid."

"Great," Pierce said savagely. "Just great. Find her."





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




3:30 p.m.

June Robson's residence, Washington, D.C.





Kathleen Topolsky's hands shook as she fitted the key into the lock outside the apartment building, nearly collapsing in relief when a click told her she'd unlocked the door. She slipped inside, ducking her head as the elevator door nearby opened and someone stepped out, certain she had the word Imposter tattooed on her forehead, but whoever it was hurried on, not even sparing her a passing glance. The elevator was mercifully empty, and she reached the fifth floor and made her way down the long hallway to Room 535 without incident. Holding her breath, she knocked on the door.

Nothing. She knocked again. Seconds ticked by, became a minute as she glanced fearfully up and down the hall. How long to wait? The longer she waited, the more likely someone would go in or out of their apartment and see her, and no one could see anyone anywhere near June Robson's apartment. Deciding to chance it, she slipped the key into the lock and opened the door. The interior was dark, and grew darker still after she closed the door.

"Hello?" she called tentatively. "Anyone home?"

No answer. Running her hand along the wall, she found a switch, turned it on; the shaded floor lamp which responded bathed the little apartment in a soft glow. To her right was a bathroom, a storage closet, and a single small bedroom; to her left was a surprisingly well-equipped kitchen for such a tiny apartment, beyond which was a tiny living room and what looked like a balcony, all with curtains drawn against the afternoon sun.

"Hello?" she called again, moving from room to room.

Nothing. The gamble she'd made in picking a recent divorcee when choosing her target had paid off—the place was empty. Her hands shaking, Topolsky locked the door, leaned against it for a moment, then slid to the floor, closing her eyes with relief, exhilaration, exhaustion...all of the above. She was alone. For the first time in four interminable, terrifying weeks, she was alone and safe, or as safe as she was going to be, with the ticket to her freedom in her pocket and the owner of this apartment not coming back any time soon. Overcome by emotion, Topolsky dissolved in tears which became great, wracking sobs which caused her to move further inside lest someone in the hallway hear her.

A few shuddering minutes later, she found herself on the little couch, gazing out the window toward the capital skyline. It was hard to believe she'd actually been happy about her "promotion", about coming to Washington, about getting the Special Unit back on track. That she wasn't the only one who'd taken the bait was small comfort given that she was the only one who'd made it out alive, and truth be told, that was part of what kept her going. She needed to be a witness. She needed to tell what she'd seen, what she'd learned, but she had to do it carefully or they'd kill her before she had the chance. The bulge in her pocket was her only hope they wouldn't kill her after.

But first things first. Topolsky stood up, her eyes darting from the kitchen to the bathroom like a kid in a candy store, wondering where to start. The bathroom won, and five minutes later she was stripped and standing in the warm rain which pulsed from June's massaging shower head. June's shower gel smelled heavenly, unlike the industrial soap furnished by the hospital, and her thick, soft bath towels were a far cry from the thin postage stamps of fabric she'd been using for the past month. Her senses were nearly overwhelmed as she moved from one luxury to another, from the fuzzy bath mat beside the shower, to the razor which used up a blade shaving the hair off her legs, to the hair dryer, to the nail clippers. Washed, shaved, clipped, dried, and wrapped in a bathrobe she found on the back of the door, she padded out to the next garden of delight, the kitchen, were she held the refrigerator door open for a very long time without so much as a pang of guilt, vacillating over which rare delicacy to consume first.

Microwave meals? she debated, pondering the divorcee's typical trove of prepared foods. Left over takeout? Lunch meat? Her stomach grumbled as she pawed through fridge, freezer, and cupboards, almost quivering with anticipation. She'd had little to eat since her escape; being on the run didn't exactly lend itself to three squares, especially when obtaining them meant a public restaurant or grocery store. But here all was private, and her choices made her laugh: A can of good old Chef Boyardee Beefaroni, steaming from the microwave, a glass of chocolate milk, and a Hostess cupcake, all childhood comfort foods. Not exactly packed with nutrition, but this was just the first course, and she tucked in with relish, marveling at how the Chef's pasty 1950's era tomato sauce could taste so good. Mmmmm.....

Someone knocked on the door.

In a matter of seconds, Topolsky was across the room to where she'd dropped her coat, the gun she'd stolen from the Bureau trembling in her hand as she pointed it at the door. They'd found her. How the hell had they found her so fast? She'd taken every precaution, plugged every loophole, erased every footprint. Had someone found Robson? She shouldn't be awake for hours yet. Had they found her on the security tapes? But she'd been disguised, and she'd changed that disguise several times. Whatever, she thought grimly, gun pointed at the door. However they'd found her, she wasn't going down without a fight.

The knock sounded again.

Puzzled, Topolsky listened. Voices floated through the doorway, faint, barely audible. It took her a moment to realize that the knocking and the voices were coming from the apartment across the hall.

A door closed. The voices receded. Drained, Topolsky lowered her gun, breathing heavily. God, but every nerve was on edge, every emotion frayed beyond belief. That's what happened when you found yourself at the mercy of a monster...no, she thought, closing her eyes as tears slipped through. No, worse than that happened when you found yourself at the mercy of a monster. At least she was alive, courtesy of the man who wasn't, the man who had whispered salvation in her ear with some of the last strength he had left. 68493. That's what Agent Stevens had whispered in her ear when he'd beckoned her to lean over. It was a code to get past the ward's alarmed doors, one he must have snagged on the way in. It had taken her a month to figure out whose it was and how to use it without being caught, and she would be damned if it all went to hell now. The price had been too high.

Slowly, Topolsky pushed to her feet and set the gun on the table now spattered with Beefaroni, righting the bowl and retrieving the spoon. The food was wonderful, and she carefully rinsed the dishes after finishing before combing the cupboards for portable foodstuffs and heading for the bedroom, where she stood in front of June's closet and frowned. June was a good deal larger than she was from the looks of things, not to mention that she'd lost several pounds; the drugs Pierce had pumped into her suppressed the appetite, which had the welcome side effect—for him—of making her weak. She'd had to force herself to eat to build up the strength she'd needed to make a break for it, but even that hadn't put much weight on her now stick-thin frame, not that the security guy who'd agreed to doctor the tapes in exchange for sex had minded. Digging deeper into the closet, she pawed through the far ends and the upper shelves, knowing that most women kept some of their smaller clothes from their younger days in spite of the fact that they'd never wear them again. One blousy shirt and serviceable pair of pants later, she'd packed food into the pockets of a high quality coat she found in the hall closet, her gun in the inside pocket and a scarf around her neck. She'd love to stay, but it wasn't safe, and June Robson had already donated enough.

The last thing she did before she left was put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.




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




9 p.m.

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C.






Rounding the corner at mach ten, Pierce nearly collided with a group of people, who jumped aside to avoid him. Ignoring their scowls, he plowed on, quickening his pace when he spotted Brian at the end of the hallway.

"Where is she?"

Brian pointed toward an office. "Right here."

Pierce nearly tripped over himself, so eager was he to claim his prize. I win! he thought with supreme satisfaction. Kathleen had pulled a fast one on him, something few managed and indescribably maddening, but he'd caught up with her in less than twenty-four hours, and in the last place he'd expected. Bureau headquarters, he thought with just the smallest twinge of admiration. Here she was on the run, and she'd marched into FBI headquarters. She had balls, he'd give her that, but so much for her grand attempt at freedom. Rounding the corner, he pulled up short.

"Where is she?" he demanded again, eyes sweeping the room.

"Right there," Brian repeated, pointing to a portly, middle-aged woman surrounded by medical personnel while she half sat, half sprawled, in a rolling office chair, not the best choice for someone who looked punch drunk.

Pierce blinked. "Who the hell is that?"

"June Robson," Brian answered, reading off a pad. "Age 56, Bureau admin for 17 years—"

"Who cares?" Pierce interrupted. "Where's Topolsky? You said you found her."

"I meant I'd found where she went," Brian corrected. "I never meant I'd found 'her'."

"What, you mean she's not here?" Pierce said in astonishment. "You dragged me all the way down here just to tell me this was a stop on the Underground Railroad?"

"A stop which might give us some idea of what she's up to," Brian said patiently, "or—"

"We know what's she's 'up to'!" Pierce exclaimed. "She's trying to bring me down! And good luck with that, because if she breathes so much as a word about me, I've got a hundred people who'll shoot her where she stands."

"Of course you do," Brian said soothingly. "Stay with me here, Danny; you'll want to hear this. Now...June Robson. Showed up for work this morning—"

"Why the hell should I care about some fat admin?" Pierce demanded.

"Did you notice the shape that 'fat admin' is in?"

"Looks drunk. So what?"

"Not drunk; drugged," Brian corrected. "Remember the nurse at the hospital?"

Pierce looked back through the office door where the fat admin was looking much the worse for wear. "You mean Topolsky drugged her?"

"Looks that way. I checked with the hospital, and they confirmed a couple of syringes containing sedatives were missing..."

Obviously, Pierce thought, shoving into the office, leaving Brian chattering into his pad. He suffered from an inability to condense, that one, insisting on reporting every little detail instead of the ones that mattered. "What happened?" he barked at the startled admin.

"I...I..." the admin stammered.

"Ms. Robson was assaulted," intoned one of the medical weenies. "She was apparently injected with—"

"Never mind that," Pierce interrupted impatiently. "Where? Where in the building?"

"In...the elevator," Fat Admin sat haltingly. "This woman got on, and—"

"What do you do here?" Pierce cut her off.

"I...I'm an admin in accounting," she replied, bewildered, as the medical weenies frowned at him disapprovingly. "I'm—"

"This doesn't make any sense," Pierce called to Brian. "Why would she want anything from accounting? What, is she trying to rustle up a paycheck?"

"Ms. Robson wasn't working in Accounting today," Brian answered. "She was on temporary assignment—"

"Where?" Pierce demanded as Fat Admin's eyes widened. "Temporary assignment where?"

"In Evidence," she answered fearfully.

Evidence. Pierce leaned over, one hand on either side of the desk as the terrified woman recoiled. "Where were you? Where were you when she dropped you?"

"I told you, I—"

"Where?" Pierce demanded. "What part of Evidence were you in?"

"I was in the elevator!" the woman wailed. "I never made it to Evidence!"

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to back off," a medical weenie insisted. "Ms. Robson is in no condition to—"

But Pierce never heard the rest, striding out of the office and down the hall with Brian on his heels. "Could you at least try not to stick out like a sore thumb?" Brian complained as Pierce savagely punched the button for the basement. "The last thing we need is the Director on your ass."

"The Director hasn't given me so much as a passing thought for months now," Pierce retorted, "a decision I imagine he'll regret in the future. In the meantime I intend to take advantage of the fact that he's simply ignoring me by using the pass codes which still work everywhere I go."

"Which might be why he's ignoring you," Brian said mildly. "So you'll use those pass codes and make yourself trackable."

Oh, shut it, Pierce thought darkly, although he made Brian use his code when they reached Evidence, which had a lone employee on duty whose offer of help was ignored by him and politely declined by Brian. "Any idea where we're going?" Brian asked when the vast vault stretched before them. "This is the epitome of a needle in a haystack."

Not exactly, Pierce thought, striding down one of the long aisles, knowing exactly where he was going. Much to the army's displeasure, the vast majority of the alien artifacts collected by the government were housed here despite the fact that it had been the U.S. Army, not the FBI, which had initially overseen all alien investigation. All the Army had retained in the power struggle which had resulted in the creation of the Unit was the aliens' ship, now housed somewhere in Utah, if he remembered correctly, and supposedly repaired by none other than the alien prisoner itself. The Army still had the ship largely because the Bureau didn't have anywhere better to put it, but they wielded access to it like an iron club, something which sent Bureau nerds into spasms and bothered Pierce not at all. He wasn't the least bit interested in the toys; he wanted the monsters who had killed his father, and the nerds should too, if only because finding the monsters meant basically finding the instruction manuals to the toys, something the nerds didn't get because they thought they should be smart enough to figure it all out on their own, and it annoyed them no end that they weren't. Kind of like it annoyed him that Topolsky had slipped through his fingers once again.

"How did you find out about the admin?" Pierce asked on their way down a mile long aisle.

"I had my ear to the ground for anything unusual," Brian answered, scurrying to keep up with him. "Robson swiped in, but never swiped out, and her carpool couldn't find her. It sounded interesting, so I checked it out."

"Oh," Pierce said, taken aback because he never would have flagged that story as Topolsky when it sounded like a Bureau grunt who wanted some time off on the Bureau's dime. "I don't suppose we have her on camera anywhere?"

"I haven't had time to go through the footage at the main entrance," Brian said. "I imagine she came in with some tour group or other, and then peeled off from the group. But there's no video down here, so there's no way to tell where she went once she reached Evidence."

"No, of course not," Pierce said darkly. "It's only the most secure building in the country, so of course there's no video."

"She managed to stay off the video at the hospital," Brian reminded him. "And isn't the Pentagon the most secure building in the country?"

Brian's eyes dropped as Pierce threw him a look and came to a halt. "Here," he said, gesturing toward the walls of boxes in front of him. "Here is where all the alien artifacts are kept."

Brian pulled a box toward him and leafed through the plastic bags containing artifacts. "Wow!" he breathed holding up a bag, scrunching it his hand. "It really does unfold, just like they said!"

"Stop playing," Pierce ordered, snatching the bag out of his hands and plopping it back in the box. "Topolsky wanted something from here, and we need to find out what."

"Going through every box will take weeks," Brian said, "and we don't have weeks. And that's assuming she wanted something alien. What makes you think that?"

Pierce ignored him, his eyes raking the shelves. "She wouldn't have known where to look," he murmured, looking for signs of tampering. "so she would have had to hunt for whatever she was after. I don't see how..." He stopped, suddenly remembering something.

"Don't see how...wait!" Brian called as Pierce took off down the aisle. "Where are you going?"

Pierce ignored him, heading for the section where the earliest artifacts were stored. He didn't believe for one second that Topolsky had gone to all the trouble of breaking in here just to nose around and see if she could find anything useful; the risk of capture was too great. No, she'd wanted something specific, and what he'd just remembered was as good a place to start as any. "Here," he said, screeching to a halt, Brian almost bumping into him. "It's in one of the earliest boxes, up there. Get the ladder."

"What are you looking for?" Brian asked, pushing the rolly ladder toward him. "And how would you know where it is?"

"I've spent weeks here going through all this stuff," Pierce answered, climbing quickly, his coat flapping around him. "Name anything, and I can probably tell you where to find it. Like that bendy metal you were playing with; Section D, second shelf, first box on the left."

Brian glanced back toward where they'd been and raised an eyebrow. "Is this like those eggheads who memorize all the sports statistics?"

"No," Pierce retorted. "This is useful. This one," he went on, yanking a box off a high shelf, pawing through it, once, twice.

"It's gone," he said faintly.

"What's gone?" Brian demanded.

Ignoring him, Pierce climbed down the ladder and dumped the contents of the box unceremoniously on the floor, bringing a gasp of disbelief from Brian. At the very bottom of the box, beneath all the other bags, was one empty one.

"Gotcha!" Pierce said triumphantly.

"You know what she took?" Brian asked.

"Not only that," Pierce said. "I know where she's going."

"You do? I mean...good!" Brian said. "I can have men anywhere in the country in less than—"

"No."

"No? No, what?"

"Let her go," Pierce said.

"Let her...go?" Brian repeated doubtfully.

"Yes," Pierce said firmly. "Let her go, and we'll follow. She wouldn't tell me what I wanted to know, but now she's going to do better—she's going to show me."




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




1 a.m.

Artesia, New Mexico





A light snapped on. Tess scrunched her eyes closed, held up a hand. "What?" she said irritably.

"Get up," Nasedo ordered.

"Why?" Tess muttered, falling back on her pillow.

"Pack your things," Nasedo said. "We're leaving."

Tess eyes flew open just as he plopped her suitcase on the foot of the bed, her little red suitcase, one of the few constants in her itinerant life. A moment later she was out of bed and cramming her clothes inside, pausing only to exchange her PJ's for regular clothes as the familiar refrain sounded over and over in her mind: They found us. That was the only thing this late night scramble could mean, the only thing it had ever meant. Many times they had fled one place or another in the dead of night, usually with the Special Unit close on their heels. Was it the Unit again this time, or had her cowboy-hatted pursuer found them at last? Not that it mattered; either way, they had to run.

Tess paused, glancing from her brimming suitcase to the many things still left in her room. It had been longer than usual since their last midnight escape, meaning she'd had time to accumulate more stuff. They always left things behind, but the pile this time was going to be larger than usual...

Nasedo appeared in the bedroom doorway. "Need this?" he asked, hefting another suitcase. "And these," he added, dropping a couple of cardboard boxes beside it. "Hurry up."

He left. Tess blinked, listened, then crept to the doorway where she could hear Nasedo in the kitchen packing up their paltry collection of kitchenware, purchased here because their last set hadn't made the cut when they'd had to leave in a big hurry. Things couldn't be too bad if Nasedo was packing silverware and giving her extra boxes, but then why the middle of the night packing party?

"Are you done?" Nasedo called.

Fifteen minutes later, she was. Even their larger pile of worldly possessions managed to fit in the car, and it helped that Nasedo didn't have worldly possessions, at least not the way most people did. All he had was a small wooden box that came with him everywhere they went and that she'd never seen inside of; every time they'd move, she'd look for it, but it disappeared after every upheaval, reappearing only upon the next. They pulled out of the driveway as they always did at times like these, with all the car's lights off; no lights meant no attention. And no coat, Tess thought with a shiver, glancing toward the back when she realized she'd neglected to set aside a coat or sweater. She couldn't see in the dark the way Nasedo could, so she'd have to wait until it was safe to turn a light on before she could find the right box.

"Here."

A coat appeared in front of her face. "Uh...thanks," Tess said uncertainly as Nasedo returned his hand to the wheel. "I forgot."

"I figured you would."

It was a statement, not an accusation, and Tess found herself further confused; this wasn't like any of their other migrations. "Why did you give me the extra suitcase?" she asked suspiciously.

"Because you had more things this time," Nasedo answered, his eyes on the road.

"Since when do you care about that?"

"Since The Healer advised me to do so."

The nurse, Tess thought. "Did she tell you to make sure I wore a coat too?"

"Not in so many words, but I managed to extrapolate."

Tess rolled her eyes as the car sped along the road, its lights still off. Honestly, sometimes Nasedo sounded like a robot, very often more than sometimes. She'd have to look up that nurse some day and give her a great big thank you because no way would he have thought of a simple kindness like a coat without help, and lots of it. "So who found us?" she asked.

"No one."

"No one? Then where are we going?"

"Roswell."

Tess's head swung around to stare at him as she went cold all over. The running didn't scare her; she'd been doing this ever since she could remember, and they had it down to a science. The fear that washed over her now was for someone else entirely. "What happened?" she demanded. "Did they find them?"

"Maybe," Nasedo said.

" 'Maybe'?" Tess echoed. "What does 'maybe' mean? Did they find them, or not? Are they all right? Answer me!" she exclaimed when he said nothing. "Is my husband all right?"

"Former husband," Nasedo corrected, "and yes, they're all right. For the moment. After that, I'm not so sure, which is why we're moving now; I need to stay close."

"And what about me?" Tess asked. "What do I do?"

"You'll start at their school next week," Nasedo answered.

Tess leaned her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. Finally. Finally, after years of teasing and wondering and hoping, she was going to meet The Others. She could safely say that a part of her had feared this day would never come.

"Is it the Unit?" she asked, aware that this day had come earlier for a very bad reason. "Did the Unit find them?"

"Maybe," Nasedo repeated. "I don't know for sure," he added impatiently when she began to protest, "but it's a distinct possibility, distinct enough that we're moving early. And if they have..." he paused, his eyes still on the road. "If they have, I'm going to need you in ways I never have before. They know nothing, and if they've been discovered, they'll need to learn a great deal in a very short time. That's where you come in. You'll need to guide them, to be their link between their present and the past they don't know they have."

"You mean the same past I don't know I have?" she asked dryly.

"You know more than they do," Nasedo said, ignoring her sarcasm, "which will tell you how little they know. This is not the time for debate. I need to know I can count on you. Can I?"

"Of course," she said quickly. "I'd do anything for them. Anything at all."



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


I'll post Chapter 91 next Sunday. :)
Last edited by Kathy W on Sun Oct 14, 2012 8:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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
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Chapter 91

Postby Kathy W » Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:55 pm

keepsmiling7 wrote:....... can't believe Kathleen actually put up her dirty dishes in the dishwasher........My family members don't even do that.


:lol:

Kathleen probably felt guilty about using June's apartment. At least June will come home to a clean apartment after being knocked out and shrieked at by Pierce.




CHAPTER NINETY-ONE



April 10, 2000, 6:25 a.m.,

Crashdown Cafe





"You okay, Michael?"

Michael jerked his head off the locker he'd been leaning on. "Sure," he said quickly. "I'm just..."

"Tired?" suggested Mr. Parker. "You look tired," he explained when Michael raised an eyebrow. "That's all."

"Most people look tired at this hour of the morning," Michael said. "I'm okay."

"You sure?" Mr. Parker asked. "Look, the idea of this 'mini-shift' before school was just that—an idea. I know you have to be at school in just a few hours, and then you're back here after that, so if it's too much—"

"It's not," Michael said. "I'm good. And still really grateful for the job. No worries."

Mr. Parker gave him a long look before clapping him on the shoulder. "All right, then. But you let me know if it's too much, you hear?"

"I hear," Michael promised.

He walked away, and Michael waited until the footsteps had faded before resuming his lean on the locker. And I'm tired, he added silently. He'd gotten off at 11 p.m. last night, and now here he was first thing in the morning, followed by school at 10:15 a.m., otherwise known as third period, followed by a brief respite before landing back here. Somewhere in there he got his homework done, never difficult, just annoying because it was one more thing that had to be done. His life was a blur of work, classes, work, and more work, followed by bed, followed by more work and classes. Apart from the odd day off, he had precious little time to himself these days, so much so that he occasionally found himself missing Hank.

Can't believe that, Michael thought in disgust, throwing the locker door open and chucking his coat inside. It wasn't Hank he missed, it was the fact that Hank had been the breadwinner, even if he had spent a large portion of that "bread" on booze instead of bread. Money was the one thing Hank had valued because it funded his beer habit, so whatever else he'd done, he'd been careful to keep his job, the main source of that beer money and an absolute necessity for hanging on to the foster child who brought in even more money. Michael had never fully appreciated just how much work it was to work for a living, but emancipation had taken care of that; as grateful as he was to finally be the master of his own fate, it turned out that working for a living sucked. The daily monotony of school was nothing compared to the daily monotony of greasy food and greasy kitchens, and he couldn't just ditch work the way he could ditch school; he'd lose his job, and there were bills to pay. Rent, electricity, and telephone bills rolled in monthly like clockwork, and then there were groceries to buy and the occasional household item or piece of clothing, not to mention that fact that groceries had to be fetched, food didn't cook itself, and clothes didn't hop into the washer unbidden. Living with Hank had made him familiar with all of those chores, but the truth was that Hank had done some of them, and Michael had been free to blow off school when more pressing matters intervened. Now he had full responsibility for all the bills and chores, plus work, plus school, not so easy to blow off any more; Mr. Evans had made it clear that the court would keep a close eye on him for the first year following emancipation and would feel free to rescind it if it judged him to be failing. No way was he going to let that happen, which meant keeping his grades up and attending classes, albeit on the trimmed down schedule the school had agreed to, allowing him to trade study halls for work shifts. The money was welcome, but more work wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind. He'd been so busy he almost hadn't had time to mourn the loss of the orb Max had so unceremoniously taken from him.

"Damn customers," Agnes muttered as she walked by. "Why in blazes to do they come in so early?"

"Maybe because we're open so early?" Michael suggested.

Agnes gave him a withering look which he ignored as slipped his apron over his head and started the grill heating. The Crashdown officially opened at 7 a.m. on weekdays, but Mr. Parker unlocked the door at 6:30 and served coffee to those interested, a practice Agnes hated as it interrupted her morning cigarette, probably not her first. Curious as to who was here that early today, he peeked through the pass-through.

"Relax," Michael said to Agnes, who was still fuming. "I'll get this one."

He pushed through the swinging door and grabbed a coffee cup. "So how do you take it, Grandma? Black?"

"Heck, no," Grandma Dee said cheerfully, setting down her newspaper. "Sugar, tons of it."

"Not worried about your waistline?" Michael teased, setting a mug in front of her and pushing the sugar canister her way.

"Not at my age," Grandma answered, sending a stream of sugar into her cup, not even bothering to measure it. "It's one of the few good things about getting older; you care less about what you look like."

"You don't strike me as someone who ever cared much about..." Michael stopped, suddenly self-conscious. "Uh...I didn't mean that the way it sounded."

But Grandma just laughed. "I know how you meant it," she chuckled, "and you're right. I guess that means I just care less than usual. So what brings you out here? You waiting tables now?"

"Just waiting for the grill to heat up," Michael said, grateful there was at least one woman on the planet who didn't misinterpret every single thing he said. "And then I saw you out here, and..."

"And decided to give Agnes a pass," Grandma said dryly. "That one has attitude problems."

"True," Michael allowed. "Guess I just wanted to say 'hi'."

"Ah," Grandma said thoughtfully. "So...how's the single life treating you?"

"It's...busy," Michael finished.

"It's tough working for a living, isn't it?" Grandma said softly.

"Yeah," Michael admitted.

"Although, to be fair, you're not just working for a living," she went on. "You're working for a living and going to school. That's the equivalent of two full time jobs."

"One of which I'd dearly love to ditch," Michael muttered.

"I know," Grandma said sympathetically, "but if you did, the court would be all over you like a rash. Give it a—"

"Year," Michael finished. "Mr. Evans told me. After that, I guess they stop looking."

"Just make sure you're passing," Grandma advised. "You don't have to get straight 'A's."

"I never have," Michael pointed out.

"But not because you couldn't," Grandma said. "Because you wouldn't."

Michael smiled faintly. "How do you know what I can do?"

"Not to scare you, but I'm betting I know way more about you than you think I do," Grandma said.

"That doesn't scare me," Michael said. "If there was anyone who knew a lot about me, I'd love it to be you." He glanced back toward the kitchen. "My grill's probably ready. What are you having?"

"A ham and cheese omelet, please. White toast, hash browns, bacon."

"The works," Michael nodded. "Comin' right up. I'll tell Agnes she can finish her cigarette." He started back for the kitchen, stopped. "Why are you here so early? I thought you were a late sleeper."

"I am," Grandma sighed. "I'm meeting someone. He'll be here soon. I'll be having that breakfast in a booth, if you don't mind, dear."

"No problem," Michael said. "Is...everything okay, Grandma?"

Grandma was quiet for a moment. "I'm not sure," she said finally. "I certainly hope so."

"Anything I can help with?"

"Not at the moment," Grandma said, "but I appreciate the offer. Oh, and Michael? Do be careful. What with you so new to being on your own, I'm concerned there are those who would...take advantage of you."

"Don't worry about me," Michael said. "I don't trust anybody."





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




7:30 a.m.

West Roswell High School





"Have you considered an accelerated track for your daughter, Mr. Harding?" the principal asked. "Given her test scores, I should think you'd want to."

"Tessie and I were talking about how many AP courses would be too many," Nasedo answered. "We will of course abide by your professional opinion. "

"A wise decision," the principal said with satisfaction. "In my experience..."

Blah, blah, blabidi blah, Tess groaned silently, doing her best to look interested as the principal, who had noticeably puffed at the praise, droned on. For all that he was an expert at ruffling feathers, Nasedo also knew how to stroke them; he could lay it on so thick that people became virtually blind to what was right in front of them. Like now, for instance, as her eyelids momentarily drooped and she jerked awake, something the principal missed entirely, being completely wrapped up in a string of tales of his professional experience with AP classes. Nasedo, however did not; his eyes remained on the principal, but she felt him stiffen beside her, one finger tap-tapping on the arm of his chair, a kind of sign language for shape up! Her eyes wandered the room, looking for something, anything, that would hold her interest, but found nothing; she'd been in dozens of principals' offices over the years, and this one was no different: Vinyl chairs, dirty ashtrays, lots of framed awards and diplomas on the walls, the requisite potted plant, the smudged telephone, the faint odor of sweat and copier ink. This was her umpteenth school and her umpteenth principal...but this transfer was different from all the others.

Just how different had been driven home by their very first stop when they'd reached town in the middle of the night a full week ago. Tess had moved more times than she could remember, so she was prepared for the motel, the sudden need for groceries and sundries, the need to get used to Nasedo's new face and their new alias, mercifully similar to the last one this time. But nothing had prepared her for when he'd driven straight through town into the desert, pulling off the road in a place which called to her in a way no other ever had.

"I know this," she'd whispered.

"Of course you do," he'd said.

She'd climbed out of the car, leaned against it, the breathtaking New Mexico night sky lending a backdrop of stars against the huge rock formation which jutted into the sky like a missile launcher. This was one of her earliest memories of the night Nasedo had taken her hand and led her away, this monument to a brand new world. She'd asked him about it from time to time, and he'd always said they'd come back some day. After a while she'd stopped asking, but apparently "some day" was now.

"Go on," he'd urged when she'd hesitated. "Don't wait for me."

She'd run then, her feet pounding on the soft sand, scrambling up the incline, looking for...well, for what, exactly? Did she even know what she was looking for? It turned out she did as came to a halt on a little plateau about a third of the way up, staring at the rock wall in front of her, certain this was the place. But this was where memory failed her, so it was fortunate that Nasedo came up behind her and held his hand up to the rock.

"What is that?' she'd exclaimed when a silver handprint flared to life, glowing like a neon sign in the darkness.

"A handprint lock," he'd answered.

"I don't remember that," she'd said doubtfully.

"You were a bit...overwhelmed," he'd said, pressing his hand to the print.

But I remember that! she'd thought joyfully when the door rumbled open; she may not have seen how to open it, but she remembered the sound it made when it did. The interior was another story. While she remembered the sensation of coming out of the pod, remembered finding Nasedo there when her vision had cleared, she had little memory of the interior of the chamber. She had stood and stared at the four ruined pods for a very long time, wondering why she hadn't noticed them the first time.

"I never even looked at these back then," she'd said to Nasedo, who had come up behind her. "But I remember this place. You told me we'd come back one day."

"And here we are," he'd said. "And you found it all by yourself, with no prompting from me."

"Why?" she'd demanded. "Why did we come back now?"

"Because this is a safe place," he'd answered. "Only you and the others can access it, and me, of course. If any of you need to hide, this is the one safe place on Earth where no one else can touch you."

"At least this is one thing the Others and I will have in common," Tess said.

"I'm afraid not," Nasedo had said. "They don't remember this place. It will be your job to help them remember."

"Well, that's simple," Tess had said. "Just bring them here—"

"No," Nasedo had interrupted. "This is a safe house, to be used only in case of emergency. There will be four of you now; we can't take the risk that the group of you will be noticed or followed."

"Then how am I supposed to 'help them remember'?" she'd asked, bewildered.

"You'll think of something," Nasedo had said.

They'd left shortly after, him briskly, her grudgingly, expecting to learn more in due time, to find out the circumstances which had brought them to Roswell earlier than expected or brainstorm ways to "help them remember". But they never had, caught up in the usual rigmarole which always surrounded moving and Nasedo's frequent absences, an anomaly which had caught her by surprise. He'd sent her alone to the grocery store, the hardware store, the post office, and so forth, where she'd taken to scanning every face she saw for one of the Others, to no avail. Waiting for the first day of school had been excruciating, and now here she was waiting for this blowhard to shut up.

Finally, he did. "I appreciate your guidance," Nasedo schmoozed, pumping the principal's hand as she resisted the urge to gag. "I only want the best for my Tessie."

" 'Your Tessie' would like to go to class now," she announced as the principal opened his mouth to offer even more "guidance". "Are we done?"

Nasedo scowled at her, but the principal beamed. "Of course, Miss Harding," he smiled as she resisted the urge to smack him. "You have your schedule, and the room numbers—"

"...are listed next to the courses," she finished helpfully. "Yes, I know. Sorry," she added hastily as Nasedo's expression darkened dangerously. "I've just moved a lot. I know the drill."

"Of course you do," the principal said soothingly as she ducked away from the arm he attempted to put around her shoulder. "I'm sure you're eager for everything to go back to normal. Left out the door, down the hallway—"

"Then a right, fifth door down on the left," Tess finished. "Got it. I...memorized the floor plan," she added when the principal blinked.

"My goodness, what a prodigy you have here!" the principal enthused. "You've got your hands full, Mr. Harding!"

"You have no idea," Nasedo said, smiling through gritted teeth. "Thank you so much. I'll be in touch."

Tess winced as the hand he put on her arm fastened like a vise which pulled her out into the hallway. "What do you think you're doing?" he hissed at her. "Showing off like that? You're supposed to be inconspicuous!"

"I just want to get this show on the road!" she exclaimed, wrenching her arm away. "I've been hanging around for a week while you disappeared off to God knows where without telling me anything."

"I was always close," Nasedo protested, "and when there's something to tell, I'll tell you."

Tess snorted softly. "Oh, that's helpful. I've seen so little of you that I didn't even know which face you settled on until I saw you this morning. You've been through at least five since we got here, but I never thought you'd pick that one."

"It was a last minute decision," Nasedo said irritably. "I was going for 'middle-aged male, non-threatening'."

"Well, you managed the first two, but I don't think 'non-threatening' is in your repertoire," Tess said dryly.

"Is there a particular reason you decided to act up at this horribly inconvenient time?" Nasedo demanded. "Have I not impressed upon you the gravity of our situation?"

"No," she retorted, "you haven't. You still haven't told me a thing. You said the Others may have been found, and you dropped everything and dragged both of us up here, and then you disappeared over and over, leaving me all by myself with no explanations, no instructions, no nothing!"

"Your 'instructions' are the same as they've always been," Nasedo said. "Keep your eyes open, and run and hide if you have to."

"That's just it, I've been 'keeping my eyes open'," Tess argued, "and that's how I know something's weird. I've run from the Unit my whole life, but this feels different."

"Of course it feels different," Nasedo said impatiently. "We're not running from the Unit this time, we're running toward it."

"I...well...okay, but it's still weird," Tess insisted, struggling to hide her annoyance that he was right. "How am I supposed to—"

Nasedo's phone rang. Tess stared at him suspiciously as he took it out of his pocket. "What?" he said curtly. "When?" He consulted his watch. "I'm on my way."

"Who was that?" Tess demanded after he hung up.

"Go to class," Nasedo said. "And do try not to draw attention to yourself."

"But—"

"Later," Nasedo ordered. "I'll do my job, and you do yours, which right now is being a high school student. Go!"

He left her then, standing in the middle of the hallway with an armful of notebooks, a crumpled class schedule, and a full head of steam. What was he thinking, leaving her out of the loop like this? Didn't he know it was dangerous not to tell her the full extent of their peril? She was still fuming when she reached her first class and walked in, late, of course. She marched up to the teacher and handed over her schedule, ignoring the inevitable stares of her new classmates as the teacher made the typical welcoming speech. "Why don't you take a seat," the teacher suggested. "I'll send a textbook along in a moment."

That's an improvement, Tess thought. Teachers usually left you standing in the front of the room while they rummaged for a textbook, all the better for your new classmates to give you the evil eye. At least that part of this oh-so-familiar ritual would be truncated this time, and she slid into an empty desk toward the back of the room near the window, another oddity given that empty desks were usually up front. The teacher must have made everyone move up.

And then she spied the girl two seats away to the right.

The teacher was talking, papers were shuffling, but Tess wasn't listening. Her eyes were fastened on the blonde head two rows over, now bent over a folder, unaware she was being watched. Isabel. She'd know her anywhere; she'd studied those pictures Nasedo had taken until she could practically draw them by heart. She hadn't expected to see any of the Others until at least third period. This was an unexpected gift.

"Miss Harding?"

It was the teacher with the promised textbook. "Oh," Tess said, flustered. "Thank you."

"You okay?" the teacher asked.

"Yeah," Tess said quickly. "Sure. Fine, thanks."

The teacher leaned in. "I know it's hard starting a new school," she whispered. "Let me know if you need anything, okay?"

"Right," Tess smiled. "Thanks."

That was nice, Tess thought as she left, but wrong. It wasn't hard starting a new school, not this time, because this time there was someone else here just like her. For the first time in her life, she was sharing a room with someone just like her, even if that someone had no idea who she was. She was smiling, basking in the warm glow of a kindred soul, when she glanced out the window.

Nasedo was descending the front steps at speed, hurrying in the direction of downtown.




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




Crashdown Cafe




The cafe door's bell dingled, and Dee looked up from the remains of her breakfast. "Where is he?" Jaddo demanded, marching up to her booth.

"Good morning to you, too," Dee answered. "He's not here yet."

"He just called me," Jaddo said, sliding into the booth. "He said he was on his way."

"Then he's on his way. But you're here, so tell me—are my grandchildren in danger?"

Jaddo glanced around, but Dee had chosen the very back booth, not a popular place with customers, most of whom were crowded toward the front. "The Unit isn't here," he reported, "at least not yet."

"Oh, thank God," Dee breathed.

"Don't thank him yet."

Dee blinked as Brivari slid in beside Jaddo. "Where did you come from?" she demanded.

"Antar," Brivari deadpanned. "But I thought you knew that."

"No, I mean I didn't hear the bell," Dee said in exasperation.

"I've hated that bell since the fifties," Brivari answered. "One of these days, I'll silence it for good. Did you say the Unit wasn't here?"

"I did. Yes, I'm sure," Jaddo added. "They're not here. Yet."

"And 'yet' would be the operative word there," Brivari said. "What I found was...disturbing."

"Where did you go again, exactly?" Dee interjected.

"Into the bowels of the FBI," Brivari answered.

"And he got out alive," Jaddo added. "That's something."

"Try not to sound so surprised," Brivari said dryly.

"Why wouldn't he get out alive?" Dee asked. "He's a shapeshifter. He can look like anybody."

"It's not that simple," Jaddo answered. "The military figured out how to identify us years ago, and the technology has only improved since then."

"You mean those shoe fitters?" Dee said.

"I mean modern scanners peppered all over the Bureau," Brivari replied. "All high security areas have a hand scanner which most agents associate with fingerprints, but which also have a secondary purpose."

"To check their bone structure," Dee said faintly. "To check for...you."

"Exactly," Jaddo said. "There was a very real risk of being caught. That's why neither of us have attempted this before. The risk was too great when there was no need. This time, there was a need."

"Oh, dear," Dee said sadly. "I'm not going to like this, am I?"

"You're in good company," Brivari said. "Word is there's a so-called 'shadow Unit' forming, supposedly a response to Freeh's emasculating the Unit and folding it back into the Bureau."

"Louis Freeh?" Dee said. "The FBI director knows about the Special Unit?"

"Only belatedly," Brivari answered, "and he was none too pleased to find a covert Unit operating under his nose. It was Freeh who failed to replace Agent Summers, the last Unit head Jaddo removed. Rendering it leaderless was reportedly a precursor to disbanding it altogether."

"And somebody's not happy with that," Dee said. "So they're taking matters into their own hands. Could this just be speculation?"

"I wish," Brivari said darkly. "I found plenty of evidence that it's true. Supplies are being ordered which then go missing, agents are disappearing on fake assignments, equipment is being appropriated, then disappears."

"Someone is stockpiling," Jaddo muttered.

Brivari nodded. "Exactly. And it works because the supervisors turn a blind eye. Someone is stockpiling not only supplies, but converts, in high enough places that this is allowed to continue. The few who notice and ask questions are politely misled."

"Isn't anyone suspicious?" Dee asked.

Brivari and Jaddo exchanged glances. "That would be Agent Stevens," Brivari said, "and the agents he sent to Roswell. They all went missing, which is what tipped us off. But they're not all missing anymore; Stevens and two of the agents he sent here are dead. Kathleen Topolsky is the only one still unaccounted for."

"Dead?" Dee echoed incredulously. "Someone killed them?"

"They didn't just kill Stevens," Brivari said. "It was made to look like a gang execution. His body was found in pieces. Several of them."

"Good God," Dee said despairingly. "That's downright sadistic."

"And familiar," Jaddo said. "Are you going where I think you're going?"

The tension in the booth had soared, and Dee looked back and forth from one Warder to another in confusion as Brivari hesitated and Jaddo stared at him intently. "Your source was correct," Brivari said finally. "Pierce did have a wife who was pregnant when we executed him. His son was raised by...Bernard Lewis."

Jaddo abruptly rose from his seat just as the salt and pepper shakers began to rattle, followed by the building shaking enough to cause startled looks from customers and staff alike. It didn't stop until he'd stalked out, not bothering to silence the wildly ringing bell.

"Wow!" Mr. Parker called to his wide-eyed patrons, having appeared from the back. "Don't get ones like that very often, do we?"

Much chuckling ensued about New Mexico's experience with earthquakes as Dee eyed Brivari with alarm, well aware that had been no earthquake. "What on earth was that about?" she whispered.

"Daniel Pierce," Brivari explained. "one of Jaddo's captors. He had a son we were unaware of, born just after Pierce's execution and raised by Major Bernard Lewis, the one who wanted to perform a 'living autopsy' on Jaddo because our bodies have the unfortunate habit of turning to dust following our death."

Memories of Urza's treatment at the hands of the military flooded back as Dee pushed her plate away, the smell now making her nauseous. "A psychopath and an animal," she muttered. "Talk about unfortunate parentage. But what does this have to do with the current problem?"

"Jaddo has long suspected that Pierce had a son, and that son is the most likely leader of this 'shadow Unit'," Brivari answered.

"But...so what?" Dee said. "What matters is that it exists, not who's heading it, right? Even if someone else were heading it, it would still be there and still be a threat, right?"

"A point I've already made," Brivari said. "But what really matters is that now this is personal. And we all know what happens when it gets personal for Jaddo."

"Wonderful," Dee sighed. "But it's still speculation. Any way of confirming it? What about Topolsky? You said she was still missing. Can you find her? Any idea where she is?"

Brivari shook his head. "None."




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




Stevens residence,

Santa Fe, New Mexico






"Okay, what was that again?" Miriam Stevens asked, one hand to her forehead. "A 'W-9'? So I need to fill that out and attach the death certificate, and...what? No, I have no idea if he filed Schedule C. I don't even know what that is."

The accountant's voice droned on, and Miriam closed her eyes in despair. As if it wasn't bad enough to suddenly lose her husband, she now had to handle all the myriad details he always had, like taxes, due next month and Greek to her. How was she supposed to handle all this? She couldn't do it. She just couldn't.

"Look, I'm sorry I can't be more helpful," she said in a brittle voice that was close to tears, but I..." She stopped as a knock sounded on the door. "I have to go. I'll call you back."

Miriam hung up quickly before the accountant could protest. It was probably just another flower delivery, but anything would be better right now than trying to think. Accepting a flower arrangement was about the most she could handle at the moment.

But the young woman who stood on her doorstep wasn't holding flowers. "Hi," she said uncertainly. "Is this the home of John Stevens?"

"Oh, for God's sake," Miriam said irritably, "why don't they just tell everyone? What's the big secret? My husband is—"

"Dead," the young woman finished softly. "Yes, I know. May I...come in?"

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


I'll post Chapter 92 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 92

Postby Kathy W » Sun Oct 28, 2012 6:00 pm

CHAPTER NINETY-TWO



April 10, 2000, 10 a.m.

Stevens residence, Santa Fe





"Take your coat off and make yourself at home while I get us some coffee," Mrs. Stevens urged. "Do you take cream or sugar?"

"Neither, thank you," Kathleen Topolsky replied, shrugging off her coat as Agent Stevens' widow, a petite, dark-haired woman who looked like she hadn't slept well disappeared into the kitchen. The little living room was cluttered, every flat surface hidden by piles of papers, as was the table in the nearby dining room. The fireplace mantle was covered with photographs, and she lingered in front of them, noting the progression of a young couple from their wedding to their 25th anniversary, and two boys and a girl from toddlers to adults. Not long ago she would have burst into tears at the sight of these pictures. Now she just felt numb, numb and...exposed. Along with her coat, she'd stripped off her scarf and sunglasses, and it was startling how naked she felt in the morning sun streaming through the front window, how much better she felt when she'd closed the curtains. It only felt safe in the dark.

"Here we are," Mrs. Stevens said, emerging from the kitchen and pushing aside stacks of papers to set a steaming mug of coffee on the crowded table in front of the sofa. "Are you sure you don't want...my goodness," she finished uncertainly, looking around. "It's so dark in here."

"Sorry," Topolsky said, gesturing toward her eyes. "I...just had an eye exam. The light hurts."

"Oh, I hate those drops," Mrs. Stevens said. "They tell you it wears off in a couple of hours, but it was always several for me. I'm surprised you could get an appointment this early, Miss...I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name?"

"Agent Topolsky. I used to work for Agent Stevens."

"Miriam Stevens," Mrs. Stevens smiled. "Nice to meet you, agent. I apologize for the way I answered the door. For some reason the Bureau hasn't told everyone what happened, and every time I get a call or an e-mail and have to explain...well..." She stopped, closing her eyes briefly. "It's like losing him all over again," she finished in a brittle voice. "Over and over."

"That must be awful for you," Topolsky said gently.

"It is," Mrs. Stevens agreed. "I...I'm sorry. I still find that I just...I just..."

"Cry at the drop of a hat?" Topolsky finished. "I know," she went on. "I did the same thing after my father died. Something would remind me of him, and I couldn't stop it. And that was my father. I can't imagine what it must be like with a husband."

"It's...overwhelming," Mrs. Stevens admitted, glancing at the piles of papers nearby. "I took care of the bills, but John took care of the taxes, the investments, the house, the yard, the cars. I'm trying to sort it all out, but it's a steep learning curve."

"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Stevens," Topolsky said. "Your husband, he...he saved me. There's no other way to put it."

Mrs. Stevens leaned forward, studying her closely. "Were you working on the same case that John was?"

"Not...exactly," Topolsky lied. "I just meant that...he was a good boss. Supportive, you know. That's important when you're a woman in a man's world like the Bureau."

Mrs. Stevens' face fell. "I was hoping you could tell me something," she said, disappointed. "They won't tell me anything, the Bureau. He'd was missing for three weeks, and they wouldn't tell me a blessed thing. They just told me when he was dead. Guess I should be grateful they bothered."

The tone was bitter, and Topolsky kept her eyes on her coffee cup. The Bureau had known Stevens was in trouble, of course. Pierce had seen to that.

"What I can't understand is how John got involved with gangs," Mrs. Stevens went on. "He was a supervisor, for heaven's sake. He had a desk job." She paused, smiling faintly. "I remember how worried I was when we first married, how scared I was that the day would come when he wouldn't come home. He was a field agent when our kids were young, and then he moved up the chain, and I was so relieved. I thought I didn't need to worry any more. What was he doing out chasing drug cartels?"

"Is that what they told you?" Topolsky asked.

"Something about the way he died being the signature move of a particular cartel the Bureau was after, like a branch of the Mafia or something," Mrs. Stevens said. "I gather they..." She stopped, the color draining from her face. "I gather they leave a very recognizable calling card, a...a..."

"Finger," Topolsky finished for her.

Mrs. Stevens stared at her. "How did you know it was his finger?"

"I...heard some rumors," Topolsky answered quickly. "The...cartel in question always starts with the index finger."

"So you do know something!" Mrs. Stevens exclaimed eagerly. "Can you tell me anything, agent? Anything at all? Even if it's..." She paused, one hand to her mouth. "Even if it's horrible," she finished in a shaky voice. "I never thought I'd say this, but not knowing is more horrible than knowing. Even knowing...that."

Don't count on it, Topolsky thought, overcome with guilt as Stevens' widow fought back a fresh round of tears. Agent Stevens had been captured because of her, because of the call she'd placed in her own desperate effort to run from Pierce. The phone she'd used in Pierce's rural mansion hadn't been bugged, but Agent Stevens' phone had been, and when he'd come looking for her, Pierce had been ready. Turns out Stevens had reached the psych floor at Bethesda only hours after she had, and when he wouldn't cooperate, Pierce had made his point at the end of a scalpel—literally. She knew the first finger to go had been his index finger because she'd been there when Pierce had amputated it. It sounded like Mrs. Stevens didn't know about the rest of the body parts which had made their way to FBI headquarters. Probably best if she didn't.

"Please," Mrs. Stevens begged when she didn't say anything, "anything you could tell me would be a Godsend. I promise I won't tell anyone I spoke with you. I won't get you in trouble."

You couldn't possibly get me in any more trouble than I'm in already, Topolsky thought heavily, torn between wanting to help a grieving widow and not wanting to say anything that would inflame her further. Stevens' family had already been dealt a huge blow; to infer that the Bureau was somehow responsible would only make things worse. But something didn't add up, hadn't added up for the last month as she'd watched in horror as Pierce mutilated her boss piece by piece, keeping him alive as long as he could even though that boss ordered her over and over to give Pierce nothing. Pierce had wanted something from Stevens, something he couldn't get any other way, not even from her, whom he'd been content to drug and plop in front of Stevens' "interrogations" in an effort to scare her into cooperating. And he might very well have succeeded had Stevens not finally succumbed just as she'd managed to line up all the pieces necessary for her escape, his death making the case that she needed to go and go now before she faced a similar fate.

"Mrs. Stevens," Topolsky said carefully, both hands working in front of her, "I'm...looking into the circumstances surrounding your husband's death. I desperately want to catch these people. I can't tell you how much I want to catch these people. I give you my word that I will devote the rest of my life to bringing them down if that's what it takes. But I need your help."

"Anything," Mrs. Stevens said immediately. "Name it."

"The last night you saw your husband," Topolsky said, "he received a phone call from an agent."

"Yes, on the home line," Mrs. Stevens nodded. "That was very unusual. He was very protective of our home number, rarely gave it out."

"And then what?" Topolsky asked, working hard to keep the urgency out of her voice. "What happened after that?"

Mrs. Stevens stared into her empty coffee cup for a moment. "I knew something was wrong," she said after a moment. "I could always tell, you know. When you're married to someone that long, it almost becomes a reflex. But he wouldn't say what it was; he never could, of course. But I knew it was big, especially when he called Pamela."

"His assistant?" Topolsky said in surprise. "He called Pam?"

"Yes. He told her she needed to go back to the office right away. She was on her way home, and he told her to turn around, to get off the interstate and go back to the office. He didn't say why."

He didn't need to, Topolsky thought. Given Stevens' concern about her "new job", he likely had an exit strategy planned with Pam. Pierce would have raided Stevens' office after his capture, but Stevens had seen to it that there had been nothing to find. "And then what?"

"He told Pam he wouldn't be in the office the next day because he had 'something to mop up'," Mrs. Stevens went on. "Said he'd be 'silent' for a few hours. I didn't know what that means. Do you know what that means?"

It means he went in alone, Topolsky thought sadly, with no back up, no trail, no way to follow him. She'd suspected as much, but she'd never been able to figure out why. Had it been a desire to spare the Bureau embarrassment? A feeling of personal responsibility? Whatever it had been, it had cost him his life.

"I'm not sure," Topolsky answered. "What did the Bureau think it meant?"

"The people who talked to me didn't seem to know what was going on," Mrs. Stevens said in disgust. "Those who would talk to me, that is. Most of them wouldn't, but those who did seemed every bit as lost as I was."

Because they are, Topolsky thought. The Bureau likely had no idea why Stevens did what he did, and Pierce had indeed copied the barbaric actions of a known drug cartel the Bureau was currently chasing. Anyone looking at this would be spending all their time trying to connect Stevens to the cartel, completely bypassing the real culprit. Which was, of course, the point.

"So what happened after he called Pam?" Topolsky asked.

"He spent a few minutes changing clothes, and then...he left," Mrs. Stevens whispered. "I asked him where he was going, but he wouldn't tell me. He made it sound like it was no big deal by saying he'd be home the next day, but I knew better; after he left I found out he took two of his guns. Not just one, but two." She paused, swiped a hand under one eye. "Find them, agent. Find the animals who killed my husband. I'm not even looking for the details any more. I just want them to pay."

"So do I, Mrs. Stevens," Topolsky assured her. "You have no idea how much I want that." She rose from the sofa. "I appreciate the coffee. And the candor. You've cleared up some things I didn't understand."

"Maybe Pam could help too?" Mrs. Stevens suggested. "I'm not quite sure where she is—"

"No," Topolsky said quickly. "I mean, that's not necessary. Pam already gave her statements, but nobody seemed to have talked to you. I wanted to know what you'd seen."

"Well," Mrs. Stevens said, looking pleased, "that's refreshing. The Bureau seems to have spent most of its time avoiding me."

Topolsky reached over, took one of Mrs. Stevens' hands in her own. "You have my deepest sympathy for your loss, Mrs. Stevens. I'll do my best to put things right."

Mrs. Stevens' eyes brimmed with tears. "Thank you. If you need me for anything else, you can reach me at our home in Alexandria. I'm done with this place. Too many memories."

Emerging into a rainy gray day, Topolsky pulled up her hood and headed for her rental car. She'd love to talk to Pam, but doing so was problematic. Given Pierce's low opinion of women, it was doubtful he'd considered that Pam might have had a hand in thwarting him, but visiting Stevens' admin might put that thought in his head, whereas visiting Stevens' wife would not. Assuming Pierce knew where she was, that is. She'd seen no sign of Pierce in the previous week she'd spent hopscotching across the country, trying to throw him off her trail...and that was puzzling. She'd covered her tracks well, but Pierce was smart; that would only slow him down, not stop him indefinitely. If she really had managed to stymie him, that wouldn't last forever. She started the car, glanced in the rear view mirror...and froze.

A dark car was parked down the street, and as she watched, it began to move. It slid toward her at a leisurely pace, behind her, then past her, slowing as it passed, it's tinted windows obscuring the occupants. Topolsky broke into a cold sweat, watching until it was out of sight, her hands shaking. What the hell was that? Was that Pierce, or one of his minions?

Breathe! she ordered herself, finding it difficult to do so. If that had been Pierce, he wouldn't have merely driven by. It took a good five minutes for her to calm down enough to drive, and when she did, she drove with a such a vengeance that she had to remind herself to slow down, that getting a ticket would be a disaster. It was a hard lesson to keep in mind because this had always been a race against the clock. She couldn't go to anyone about Pierce or approach the Bureau in any way; his tendrils now reached so deep that one of his spies would intercept any message long before it reached its target. Even some of the Director's staff had been compromised. No, the only hope would be from someone bigger than the Bureau, someone with technology and power greater than Pierce's. The sooner she reached them, the better.




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



Saucer Motel,

Roswell






"Did you get the Mallomars?" Pierce asked, his eyes on his magazine when Brian entered the room. "I'm starving."

"Yeah, I got'em," Brian said in disgust, dropping the candies on the hunk of wood which passed for a table. "Seriously, Danny, I think this is a mistake."

"Nonsense," Pierce said, flipping a page in his latest copy of Penthouse. "My cholesterol isn't anywhere near 200."

"Not the candy bars, the stakeout!" Brian retorted. "You shouldn't be here. If someone spots you in Roswell—"

"Then what?" Pierce interrupted. "Stevens isn't exactly in any position to oppose me, report me, or do anything to me; that's what happens when you wind up face down in the ground. And who else would know? The Bureau isn't here, and even if they were, one of ours would stop any report on the way up the food chain before they could reach me."

"Then can we at least get a real motel?" Brian grumbled, shying away from a stain on the bedspread. "Does hiding out mean we have to hide in the most flea-bitten place in town?"

"This is where Hubble was staying when he was so unceremoniously gunned down," Pierce said. "I asked for his room."

Brian stared at him. "Okay, that's...creepy. Even for you."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Pierce chuckled. "Relax, Brian, he didn't die here."

"But why would you want to stay in the same room?"

Pierce shrugged. "Maybe I'm trying to channel my 'inner Everett'."

"That's a disturbing thought if ever there was one," Brian muttered. "And besides, you hated that guy."

" 'Hated'?" Pierce said. "That's harsh. I only 'hate' aliens. And their allies, of course. Everett could be a pain in the ass, but he and I had that in common, along with one other thing—we were both one of a kind."

"Past tense," Brian said dryly. "Makes sense for Hubble, but what about you? Does this mean you're not 'one of a kind' any more?"

"Very funny," Pierce said. "Toss me a Mallomar."

Brian sighed as he sent a candy bar sailing through the air, which Pierce caught one-handed. "How long are we going to sit here and cool our heels? It's been almost a week."

"She'll be here," Pierce said. "Give her time."

"I'm still not clear on why you think she's headed here," Brian said, "or why we haven't lifted a finger to find her all week. What if you're wrong?"

"I'm not," Pierce said. "What she took from Evidence can only be used here."

"Here?" Brian repeated. "What she took from Evidence can only be used in Roswell? What, did she steal the key to the ship?"

"The ship is in Utah," Pierce answered. "Don't believe they ever found the key; I gather it was quite the scandal when the compound at Eagle Rock broke up. No, Topolsky took a communicator."

Brian's eyes widened. "A communicator? An alien communicator?"

"No, a Russian communicator," Pierce deadpanned. "Of course an alien communicator. Try to keep up."

"But what would she want that for?" Brian asked, bewildered. "She risked recapture to take something we've never gotten to work? Does that mean she knows how to work it?"

"It might," Pierce said thoughtfully. "There are several possibilities, but we do know one thing: They only work in pairs. We learned that from the alien prisoner back in the '40's."

"And...we believe the alien prisoner?"

"Put it this way—we never got the one we found to work, and we never found another one," Pierce replied. "They even left the communicator in the alien's cell, and it never touched it."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning that lent credence to its claims," Pierce said. "Why would it have passed up a chance to use it? Wouldn't it have called home, or called for help, or something? If it needed two, one would have been useless."

"Seems weird it'd need two," Brian said doubtfully. "I mean, one on each end, sure, but two in one place? Why would a technologically advanced race do something stupid like that?"

"Same reason they'd do 'something stupid' like try to invade our planet," Pierce said. "Who knows? Who cares? The point is that if it's true, she'll need another one, and what better place to find that than here?"

"But why?" Brian persisted. "Who would..." He stopped, staring off into space. "She's trying to contact the aliens, isn't she?"

"Ten points to Agent Samuels," Pierce said dryly. "Our lovely Agent Topolsky has apparently decided to do a Ramey. As in General Ramey, commander of the Eagle Rock compound during my father's tenure. The feeling at the time was that he was working with the aliens and that's how we lost the prisoner."

"Jesus," Brian muttered. "Traitor."

"Exactly. And so, it seems, is Topolsky."

"I wonder what they offered," Brian said. "I don't suppose alien governments deal in greenbacks."

Pierce shrugged. "Power? A position in their own culture? Whatever they offered, I'm sure it was a lie. In some ways, I'd like to just leave Topolsky to her fate."

"So what was Ramey's fate? What happened to him?"

Pierce dropped his eyes. "He served in Korea."

"And got killed?"

"No. Came home more decorated than when he left."

"And then he died?"

"No. He lived well into his eighties and retirement."

"So...no repercussions from being a traitor?"

"None we could see," Pierce said crossly. "Your point?"

"I'm just trying to find the downside," Brian said. "Seems like for Ramey there wasn't one. And if I noticed that, Topolsky might have noticed it too."

"Yes, because she's so wise and intuitive and all those other nice things you're always saying about her," Pierce said sarcastically. "Honestly, Brian, I'd think you were sweet on her if I didn't know better."

"She slipped past you, Danny."

Pierce's expression darkened. "Once. A lucky break. It won't happen again."

Brian raised an eyebrow. "Hasn't it already? You don't know where she is, do you? You think you know where she's going, but as each day passes without her here, it's looking less and less likely that you're right."

Pierce's eyes flashed, and he'd opened his mouth to retort when his phone rang. "Hold that thought," he ordered, answering it. A moment later, his face broke into a wide smile. "Excellent! Right on schedule. Where did you say this was? Really? An odd place to visit. Did she see you?" Pause. "Good. It was very important that she see you. Keep in touch."

Pierce hung up, grinning. "Oh ye of little faith!" he crowed. "Topolsky was spotted leaving Miriam Stevens' house in Santa Fe."

"Agent Stevens' wife?" Brian said. "What would she go there for?"

"No idea," Pierce said cheerfully. "Guess she's more sentimental than we thought. Probably feels guilty, or some other such rot. Whatever, she's headed down 285 South in a green Camry. And oh, by the way...I was right. You were saying?"

Brian held up both hands in supplication. "You were right. But I still don't get why it took her so long."

"God, but you fret over the stupidest things," Pierce said, climbing briskly off the bed. "She's here, or will be very soon, and we'll need to watch her carefully, where she goes, who she talks to. With a little luck, she'll lead us right to the people she wouldn't tell us about. Like my stepfather used to say, just hand them the noose and let them hang themselves. Saves all kinds of time."

"Why did you tell the tail that it was important for her to see him?" Brian asked, grabbing his coat.

"For effect," Pierce answered. "I've left her completely alone this past week, let her get complacent, lulled her into a false sense of security. Now she sees a tail so close to her goal, she'll wonder if she just missed us or if I somehow knew where she was going. She'll start to doubt herself. Most importantly, she'll get rattled. Rattled people make mistakes. I intend to rattle her until she's shaking so hard, she can't stand up. Head games, Brian," Pierce said, tapping his temple. "The military runs around with guns and bombs, but so much can be achieved without ever firing a single shot. Remember that." He held up the car keys, rattled them. "Shall we?"




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




Crashdown Cafe




"Maria, would you mind?" Liz asked.

"Go ahead," Maria sighed, a sound so full of despair that it almost made Liz feel guilty.

"Thank you," Liz smiled.

"Live the life I so desperately want," Maria added despondently as Liz walked away.

Okay, it does make me feel guilty, Liz amended, walking past the indignant Isabel to where Max was waiting for her, wrapping her arms around him. She knew Maria was miserable watching her and Max together, but she just couldn't help herself; she'd waited too long for this, through too many obstacles, from FBI agents to Indian sweats to murderous convention goers to their own misgivings and fears for the future. And our parents, she added, pulling Max up short when she spied her mom just outside the cafe's side door as they headed for the jeep, putting a finger to her lips.

"They'll find out you're gone," Max whispered as they scooted past the moment her mother went back inside.

"But it's a light night tonight, and Maria's covering for me," Liz said. "I cover for her, she covers for me. It's always worked that way, so why not now?"

"Sure you don't want to change?" Max asked when they reached the jeep.

"No way," Liz answered. "They'll give me the third degree for sure."

"We're just going to a movie," Max said.

"Try telling them that," Liz said dryly.

"So you are worried," Max teased.

Liz leaned over, pulled him toward her, planting a kiss on his lips. "Just drive," she whispered.

"Yes, ma'am," Max smiled.

The jeep pulled out, and Liz breathed a silent sigh of relief. She was worried about what her parents reaction would be, worried enough that she had her phone on and planned to answer it should they call. But it had been a month, for heaven's sake, with her and Max scrupulously behaving themselves, or at least appearing to. Surely they'd earned a movie. Surely her parents couldn't object to a simple movie.

"You cold?" Max asked when she shivered. "I've got a shirt in the back."

Liz reached back, pulled the dark, heavy shirt on, grateful for the warmth. Polyester uniforms weren't noted for offering much protection from the elements. Then again, this gave them an excellent excuse to snuggle, and between the shirt, Max's arm, and the blasting heater, she was snug as could be when they pulled over across from the movie theater.

"Looks dead," Max said.

"Maybe it's closed?" Liz said hopefully.

"It's a Monday night," Max noted. "Not exactly a busy movie night."

"We might be all alone in there," Liz said, trying to sound nonchalant instead of eager.

"Yeah," Max said, gazing into her eyes. "We might have the theater all to ourselves."

The thought of a dark, empty room all to themselves was enough to prod Liz out of the warm jeep. Then she saw the couple who reached the box office just ahead of them, hanging on each others' arms and buying tickets for the same movie, one they obviously had no plans to watch.

"Next!" the clerk called.

Liz and Max exchanged glances. "You know, I heard this got bad reviews," Liz said suddenly.

"Really?" Max said. "Then it would be a waste of money to see it."

"Yeah," Liz agreed. "But that leaves us with a couple of hours and nothing to do."

"Don't worry," Max advised with a sly smile. "I can think of something."




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



285 South




Brian checked his watch, glanced out the window. "Hmm. Suppose she took a different route?"

Beside him Pierce grunted, managing to make even a grunt sound petulant and annoyed. Danny was brilliant, to be sure, but sometimes that made him miss things. Sometimes he seemed to think that anyone who wasn't as brilliant as he was, which would be pretty much everyone, was just the opposite, as in drop dead stupid. Sometimes he missed the fact that there was a whole spectrum of intelligence, and his being on one end of it didn't mean that spectrum didn't exist. Sometimes he was so focused on one thing that he didn't notice other, equally important things, or so determined to get what he wanted that he refused to even consider the possibility of defeat, a mistake, that, as considering it could lead one to take steps to avoid it. A mistake he was making now.

"Where the hell is she?" Pierce demanded angrily.

"No idea," Brian admitted. "Why don't you call her tail?"

"Why? He would have called if anything had changed."

"Maybe not," Brian said. "You're pretty intimidating."

Pierce stared at him. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Just what I said," Brian answered. "People are scared of you."

"They damned well better be," Pierce muttered.

"Which I know is what you're going for," Brian continued, ignoring him. "But the price of that is that they may not keep you as well informed as you'd like because they're afraid you're going to eat them alive."

"Jesus, I don't believe this," Pierce declared. "So why would calling them work? If I've got everyone crapping their pants, why bother asking?"

Brian held out his hand. "Give me the number. I'll call him."

"Oh, so they'll tell you?" Pierce demanded.

"Do you want to know where she is, or not?"

Muttering expletives under his breath, Pierce slapped his cell into Brian's hand, and Brian punched the number into his own phone. "Agent Pierce would like an update," he announced to the cautious voice which answered.

"Well?" Pierce pressed when he hung up.

"He lost her," Brian said.

"He what?"

"Lost her," Brian repeated. "He followed her into an outlet mall, and she dodged him. Left the green Camry behind and presumably took off in another car."

Pierce stared at him in disbelief for a moment before pounding his fist on the dashboard. "Shit! Do you mean she could have whizzed right past us with us none the wiser? Shit!"

"She's an FBI agent, Danny," Brian said. "Don't forget that. She was trained to be a tail and to lose one."

"Shut up and take us back to town," Pierce snapped. "And get some more people down here. We're going to need them."




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




Buckley Point




Max Evans came up for air, cold air, to be sure, but he didn't care. How wonderful, how blissfully wonderful to have absolutely nothing else on his mind but the girl in his arms. He couldn't remember a time when he'd been so completely focused on something happy without dark thoughts wandering around his head demanding attention, lurking in the background. To feel safe, even if only relatively, was a rare gift. To have nothing more to worry about then getting enough oxygen was nothing short of heaven.

"What's wrong?" Liz asked.

"Absolutely nothing," Max said.

"Do you mind missing the movie?" she whispered.

"I heard it got bad reviews," Max answered with a perfectly straight face before diving back in.

A minute later, a hand rocked the jeep sideways, and that newfound feeling of safety evaporated.

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


I'll post Chapter 93 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 93

Postby Kathy W » Sun Nov 04, 2012 5:26 pm

^ The communicator's shape was always a mystery to me. Our cellphones are smaller and sexier; aliens must have big pockets! :lol: That said, I eagerly watched eBay when the show ended, but I never saw one for sale. Anyone else see one?





CHAPTER NINETY-THREE



April 10, 2000, 8:30 p.m.

Roswell






"Max, slow down," Liz said fearfully as he took a corner at top speed. "Slow down. You're scaring me!"

Reluctantly Max eased his foot off the accelerator, slowing the jeep slightly, enough so that Liz started breathing again as they sped toward town. That was the best he could do given that his heart was pounding, his adrenaline was pumping, and his fragile little bubble of peace had popped loudly enough to be heard on his home planet, wherever that was. Of all the people he may have expected to see at Buckley Point, Kathleen Topolsky wasn't one of them. Hell, of all the people he would never have expected to see at Buckley Point, Kathleen Topolsky wasn't one of them either, so to have her appear out of nowhere, looming out of the darkness like a wraith, was every bit as startling as her message. You're in danger, all of you, an odd announcement from a former source of danger. Don't trust anyone. A good axiom, that, and one he usually followed, but did that not include not trusting the crazy woman banging on his window?

"Isabel's gonna kill me," Max muttered.

"Why?" Liz asked, one hand braced against the dashboard as Max cornered another turn a bit too sharply. "You haven't done anything wrong."

"No, just reassure her time and again that Topolsky's gone. That they haven't sent anyone else. That we're safe."

"Max, we don't know anything for sure," Liz argued. "Are we even sure that was Topolsky?"

"Sure sounded like her."

"Yeah, I know, but it was dark, and we were...busy, and...and, you know, it might not have—"

"Liz, do you think it was Topolsky?" Max interrupted.

Liz's mouth opened, closed. "Um...yeah."

"So do I," Max agreed. "And this was—is—Isabel's worst nightmare, that Topolsky or the FBI would come back."

Liz shook her head. "They wouldn't send Topolsky. The way she just picked up and left when we figured out who she was, that means they'd want someone we don't know, and we know her."

"Which means they'll send someone we don't know," Max said grimly, "someone we'd never suspect. Which is exactly what Isabel was afraid of. Like I said, she's gonna kill me."

"I still don't see how this is your fault," Liz objected. "How is this your fault? I mean, you...you didn't..."

She stopped, no doubt having arrived at the same conclusion he had; if he hadn't healed her, none of this would have happened. "I don't regret it," he said softly, reaching for her hand. "Not for a minute. For all we know, they would have found us anyway some other way."

She nodded mutely, put her hand over his. "You'd better slow down some more, or you'll get a ticket."

"She said to 'act like normal kids'," Max noted. "Driving fast would be normal."

"I'm pretty sure that's not what she meant."

"So now we're taking advice from the not-Topolsky banging on the window?"

"No, we're avoiding the not-falling-for-it sheriff who'll give you the ticket," Liz corrected.

Max was quiet for a moment. "I was really enjoying the not-movie," he said finally.

"Yeah," Liz said softly. "So was I."

They drove on in silence, hands clasped, Max having slowed further now that he had only one hand on the wheel and they'd reached the outskirts of town. He hadn't been exaggerating; Isabel would have a field day with this one. She'd been looking over her shoulder for months now, and the bogeyman had finally arrived. But I have someone to lean on, he thought, glancing at Liz. So did Michael, even though he'd resent any suggestion that he needed to lean on anyone. But Isabel didn't have a Liz or a Maria, although it was clear to anyone with working eyeballs that Alex would gladly fill that role if she'd let him.

Liz squeezed his hand as they turned a corner and the Crashdown's wildly blinking sign came into view. "Remember, we don't know anything for sure yet. For all we know, this is just the FBI's next attempt to scare us."

Max turned off the jeep, pulled out the key. "Then I'd say it worked."

Liz stared at him a moment before looking away. "Let's go in."

"What if your parents see us?"

"What if they do?" Liz said, climbing out. "Right now, I don't care."

But Liz's parents weren't in the diner when they went inside, the gaily tingling bell contrasting sharply with their nerves. No one was in the diner save for a couple in a back booth who were doing more necking than eating, and a single individual at the counter who turned around when he heard the bell.

"The prodigals return," Alex said.

"Where is everybody?" Liz said. "It wasn't this empty when I left."

"Is now," Alex noted, rather unnecessarily.

"Where's Maria?" Liz asked, pushing open the kitchen door. "Wait...where's Michael?"

"Gone," Alex said.

"Then who's cooking?"

Alex shrugged. "No one. And since there's no one to cook for, that kind of works out."

"Alex, what happened?" Max demanded, fearful that the FBI had beaten them back to town. "Who did this?"

" 'Did this'?" Alex repeated. "Well, it started with Liz taking off early to go with you to a movie. Which must have been a short movie," he added, glancing at his watch. "What was it, a cartoon?"

"It got bad reviews," Liz said impatiently. "Where's Maria?"

"Michael and Maria decided to 'close early', which I'm guessing is another euphemism for 'go to a movie'," Alex continued as Liz flushed scarlet. "Which left one grumpy waitress to take care of everyone already eating and cash them out."

"Agnes," Liz sighed. "She's probably out taking her break even though there's no one else here."

"Probably," Alex agreed. "But we're all that's left, so you can hardly blame her."

"I left Isabel here," Max said. "Where is she?"

"Yes, Max. you did leave Isabel here," Alex agreed. "She was quite vocal about that."

"Well, where'd she go?" Max demanded.

"I heard her asking someone for a ride home," Alex answered.

"Where are my parents?" Liz wondered, glancing up the stairs. "I can't believe they didn't notice."

"Never mind that," Max said. "We have to find Isabel before Topolsky does."

Alex blinked. "Wait...who? Find her before who does?"

Liz and Max exchanged glances. "Come with us, Alex," Liz said. "This concerns you too."




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




Evans residence




"I suppose we could allow them to see each other a little bit," Diane said uncertainly. "You know, maybe just on Fridays and Saturdays. Not school nights. And not too late. Something like that."

"We should start slow," Philip added, "and build up as they rebuild our trust. What do you think, Mom?"

Dee glanced at Anthony, who gave her one of his patented try-not-to-set-the-house-on-fire looks. "I think you're probably late to the party," she answered. "Don't they already see each other every day at school?"

"Well, yes," Diane allowed.

"And after school?"

Diane shot a startled look at Philip, who shrugged. "Don't tell me you think they're not seeing each other after school," Dee said incredulously. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If Max and Liz want to see other, they will find a way with or without your approval. If you want to stay in the loop, make certain it's 'with'."

"Which is why we're setting ground rules," Philip said. "How about if we..."

Annoyed, Dee tuned out the rest of it. Drop it, her husband's expression warned, and she had to agree that was best. Philip and Diane continued to fret over Max's nocturnal adventure last month, and she was growing tired of it. Granted, she knew details they didn't; things looked much different when you factored in alien healings and chirping communicators. But their continuing to fret even though there had been no more noisy groping in closets or desert sleepovers seemed like overkill to her as the threat of the FBI loomed over them like a cloud. Brivari's report this morning had not been encouraging, nor was the lack of evidence of the Bureau's presence in town reassuring. She'd spent the day scrutinizing everyone she saw everywhere she went because virtually anyone could be an undercover agent. It was a return to the old paranoia, all the more so because a Pierce was possibly back in the picture. She remembered that name. It had been a Pierce who had impregnated Yvonne White with a half alien fetus which would have killed her had an alien not agreed to end the pregnancy. Dee shuddered involuntarily at the memory of her mother and Yvonne in her old bedroom, of how Brivari had shown up after months of banishment at her mother's hand and been allowed back inside their house to save Yvonne's life. That had not been her first lesson in how inhumane humans could be, but it was definitely one of the most memorable.

"Mom?"

"What?" Dee said, startling back to the present.

"You're pale," Diane said. "Are you all right?"

"Of course," Dee said, brushing aside their concern with a wave of her hand. "I was just...remembering something."

"Not something nice, from the looks of it," Philip noted.

"No," Dee agreed. "Probably one of the worst memories I have."

"What made you think of something like that now?" Philip wondered.

"Hush, sweetheart," Diane whispered, giving her a pitying look. "Your mother is..."

The sentence hung in the air, Diane having apparently thought better of finishing it. What had she been about to say? Old? Senile? Off her rocker? Dee felt a flash of anger and a sudden sympathy for her mother, who endured looks like that all the time. No wonder her mother was so grumpy.

A door slammed. Heads turned, and a moment later, Isabel appeared in the living room looking none too pleased.

"Hi, honey," Diane said. "I didn't expect you home so early."

"Yeah, you and me both," Isabel said tartly.

"Where's Max?" Philip asked.

"Not here," Isabel answered.

"But...didn't the two of you leave together?" Philip said.

"Yes, Dad, we did."

"So...where is he?" Philip pressed.

"Ask him," Isabel said with an edge to her voice.

Philip and Diane exchanged glances. "I can't ask him," Philip said patiently. "He's not here. You are, so I'm asking you—where's Max?"

"What am I, a Max-wrangler now?" Isabel said irritably. "When did that happen? Because I missed that family meeting."

Oh, dear, Dee thought wearily. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where Max was, and Isabel was working up a good head of steam.

"Sweetheart, I just asked you where he was," Philip said reasonably. "Is that such a terrible question?"

"You want to know where he is?" Isabel demanded. "Fine. He's with Liz."

"What?" Diane said in alarm. "They can't be! They wouldn't!" Not after—"

"Oh for heaven's sake, Mom, get real!" Isabel snapped. "They're necking all over school, all over town, even. Have been for weeks."

Diane shook her head vigorously. "No. The principal would have called us, or one of the teachers."

"Yeah, well, the principal and the teachers seem to be the only ones who don't know," Isabel said sourly. "And you and Dad, of course."

"Okay, let's just leave the subject of who knows what for the moment and focus on the important part," Philip said as Diane blanched. "Do you know where they are?"

"No, and why should I?" Isabel huffed.

"Well, did they say anything about where they were going?" Philip asked, shushing Diane.

Isabel folded her arms in front of herself. "They 'said' to a movie."

"Which movie?" Diane pressed.

"Who cares?" Isabel exclaimed, throwing up her hands in exasperation. "We went to the Crashdown together, and he ditched me and took off with Liz. And then Michael and Maria took off, and I couldn't even get anything to eat, and I had to get a friend to drive me home. You want Max? Go find him yourself."

Isabel stalked off toward her bedroom. Diane started to follow her, but Philip held her back. "Mom, you go," Philip urged. "She listens to you. Maybe you can get something out of her."

"Of course," Dee said, grateful for the escape.

She found Isabel flopped on her bed. "I know, I know," she sighed when Dee poked her head in the door. "Blowing them in was petty, and mean, and whatever else you want to call it."

"Pretty much," Dee agreed, taking a seat on the end of the bed. "But I can certainly see how being dumped wouldn't be any fun."

"They're just everywhere," Isabel complained. "It seems like everywhere I go, I see my brother sucking face, and it's just disgusting!"

"Mmm," Dee murmured.

"And then Maria's mooning over Michael," Isabel went on, "and Michael's trying to act like he's ignoring her because...well, because he's Michael. And sometimes it seems like..."

"Like you're the only one without someone?" Dee suggested.

Isabel stared at the ceiling for a moment in silence. "Yeah," she said finally. "That." She twisted her head around, looked at Dee. "Did Dad and Mom ever act like that?"

"I wouldn't know," Dee answered. "They met in college. And I was his mother, not his sister; sisters see far more than mothers ever will."

"What about you and Grandpa?" Isabel asked, propping herself up on one elbow. "Did you do that?"

"Grandpa and I were never crazy in love that way," Dee admitted. "We met very young and grew up together. Our relationship was more...pragmatic. Kind of had to be, with all the running and hiding and..." She stopped, noting the look of surprise on her granddaughter's face. "Let's just say we had some stressful times when we were younger," she amended. "And PDA's just aren't our style."

"I would never have thought they were Max's style," Isabel grumbled.

"Guess you don't know till you get there," Dee allowed.

"So are Mom and Dad going to go ballistic?" Isabel continued. "Put Max under house arrest, and call the Parkers, and all that?"

"I doubt it," Dee said. "They just got really worried when Max and Liz stayed out all night. We all did."

"That wasn't...what they thought," Isabel said. "They won't do it again."

"I know," Dee answered. "I mean, I'm sure they wouldn't do anything to upset your parents again," she clarified. "Or set off their teachers. Not after what happened the last time." She leaned in closer. "So," she said in a conspiratorial whisper, "are they really necking all over school?"

"Oh, God, yes," Isabel groaned. "Everyone knows it but the grown-ups. They don't skip classes, and they think they're being so clever, but it's the worst kept secret at school."

"And no one's told on them?"

"I think everyone's secretly enjoying watching them do it right under the teachers' noses," Isabel admitted. "Or maybe not so secretly. I think..." She stopped, her ears pricking. "Wait...is that the jeep?" She climbed off the bed, looked out the window. "It's Max," she reported. "And Liz. And...Alex? Why is Alex with them?"

Why indeed? Dee wondered, following Isabel out to the living room just as Max came into the house. "Max!" Diane called. "You're back!"

Max glanced from his obviously agitated parents to his sister and grandmother, and back. "Yeah. So?"

"Well...we thought...we heard..."

"Isabel said you and Liz went to a movie," Philip finished when Diane became tongue-tied.

Max looked at Isabel, who looked at the floor. "Yeah, we did," he admitted. "But it got bad reviews. I need to talk to you," he said to Isabel. "My room."

Max gave Dee a cursory smile as he headed down the hallway, but she'd seen that look before; something was wrong. Isabel saw it too, trailing her brother with a concerned look on her face, unaware that her grandmother was trailing her.

"...so I'm sorry," Isabel was saying, her voice coming faintly as Dee lurked in the hallway. "I wasn't trying to get you in trouble, I was just...well, you ditched me, so—"

"Never mind that," Max broke in. "I need you to come with us."

"What's going on?" Isabel asked. "Alex is out there, and...what are you doing with that?"

"It's not safe to keep it here any more," Max answered. "We need to talk to Michael. Now."

"Max, you're scaring me," Isabel said, her voice strained. "What's wrong?"

"I'll tell you on the way," Max replied. "Let's go."

They left so quickly that Dee hadn't made it back to the living room when they hit the hallway, but if either thought it odd, they didn't show it, so preoccupied were they in rushing away. "Max, we need to talk to you," Diane began when Max and Isabel zipped past the living room.

"I'll be home later," Max said.

"But we—"

"Sorry, Mom, I have to go now," Max interrupted. "I'll be home later; we'll talk then."

Diane looked at Philip and Dee as the door closed behind their children. "That went well," she sighed.

"You were going to let them see each other again," Dee reminded her. "And it's not a school night."

"But I wanted to talk to him about it first," Diane complained. "Philip, go tell them to come back."

"Just leave it, Diane," Philip said. "He didn't do anything wrong. We can talk later."

Dee left them bickering and retired to the bathroom, where the number she dialed went to voicemail. "Never thought I'd say this," she muttered as she dialed a different number, "but maybe it's a good thing we have two Warders again."




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




Tumbleweed Inn




The phone rang, an unfamiliar, strangely muffled sound. Startled, Tess looked around the messy motel room which the Tumbleweed euphemistically referred to as a "suite" and finally located the phone buried beneath a pile of clothing. "Hello?"

"I'm calling for Ed Harding?" a doubtful voice said.

"Uh...he's not here now," Tess said, taking a second to recognize Nasedo's new alias. "Can I take a message?"

"Yeah, tell him this is Pete from ChemLawn. We're gonna seed the yard a week from tomorrow. That okay?"

"A week?" Tess repeated, grabbing a pencil. "I'm...sure it is. I'll tell him."

She set the phone down with a sigh, dropping it back into its cradle with a thunk. She'd moved dozens of times in her life, and it was always disorienting. New house, new name, new face for Nasedo, new school, new everything, and as if that wasn't bad enough, he was gone again; she'd come home to an empty motel room, and it was still empty. The last time she'd seen Nasedo had been this morning when they'd parted on less than stellar terms at school, and she was getting worried.

"Who was that?"

Tess nearly jumped a foot. "God, you scared me!" she admonished as Nasedo appeared behind her holding bags of groceries. "Where have you been?"

"Out," he said shortly. "I bought dinner."

"I've already eaten," Tess said sullenly.

"Oh. Well, maybe breakfast then," Nasedo said, setting the bags on the counter in the makeshift kitchen. "Who was on the phone?"

"ChemLawn. They're seeding the lawn a week from tomorrow."

"Good; right about the time the movers should be arriving. How was school?"

"It was school," Tess said. "Just like the millions of other schools I've been in."

Nasedo raised an eyebrow. " 'Millions'? They do teach you to count, don't they?"

"You know what I mean," Tess said crossly. "New teachers, new books, new schedule, blah, blah."

"That's nice," Nasedo said.

Tess stared at him. Nice? Did he have any idea how hard it was to change schools as often as she did? The only thing that made this particular move bearable was the fact that she would finally get to be with the Others. Which reminded her...

"I met one of them today."

That got his attention. Nasedo paused, a gallon of milk in his hand. "Who? Max?"

Don't I wish, Tess thought privately. She'd scoured the school for any sign of the boy who would be her husband, but hadn't been able to find him, caught up as she'd been with first-day minutiae. "Isabel," she corrected. "She was in my first period."

Nasedo's expression soured. "Oh. Her."

"Yes, 'her'," Tess said. "Why don't you like her?"

"I never said I didn't like her."

"You don't have to," Tess noted. "It's obvious."

"You're imagining things," Nasedo said. "She just wouldn't have been my first choice."

"That's not it, and you know it," Tess said stubbornly. "More to the point, I know it. What did she ever do to you?"

Nasedo slammed the refrigerator door shut. "I'd be up all night answering that one," he said darkly.

"Fine," Tess said. "I've got all night."

"No, you don't. You've got school tomorrow."

"And what have you got?" Tess demanded. "Are you ever going to tell me anything about what's going on here? You keep telling me to 'do my job' and help protect them, but then you don't tell me anything. How am I supposed to do my job if you don't tell me anything?"

This is pointless, Tess thought as Nasedo's eyes flashed. These arguments never went anywhere, and given how many they had, she would know. So she was nothing short of flabbergasted when, after staring at her hard for what seemed like forever, he gestured to the room's one table. "Sit down."

Tess blinked. "What?"

"I said, 'sit down," Nasedo repeated. "Or do they not teach you that in school either?"

Surprised enough to eschew a retort, Tess sat down, sending up a blast of vinyl-scented air from the cheap chair cushion. "You remember Agent Summers, the head of the Special Unit?" Nasedo said, taking a seat across from her.

"Yeah...sure," Tess said. "But I thought you said he quit."

"He did. And then the FBI's director retired and a new one took his place, one who didn't know about the Special Unit and was not pleased to learn of it. This new director didn't replace Agent Summers. Word was that he planned to disband the Unit."

"Good!" Tess said.

"Bad," Nasedo corrected. "Certain elements within the Unit objected. They've apparently begun operating illicitly within the Bureau without the director's knowledge."

"Oh," Tess said faintly. "That's...not good."

"An understatement, if ever I heard one," Nasedo said dryly. "This 'shadow Unit' is on the move. Agents previously assigned here have gone missing. Several have turned up dead. Do you know what this means?"

Tess swallowed hard. "It means they're coming."

"Exactly," Nasedo agreed. "The only question now is who will come and when. And this time, we don't run; we stay and fight."

"Of course," Tess nodded vigorously.

"I've got four of you to look after now," Nasedo continued, "plus the Unit to watch for. I can't be around as much as I normally am, so I need your help, the skills you've honed over a lifetime of being hunted. This 'shadow Unit' is comprised of Unit agents, so we'll likely recognize them. If you see one, or see anything that looks the least bit suspicious, you're to call me immediately."

"I will," Tess promised. "What about the other one?"

"What 'other one'?"

"The other...alien," Tess finished, for lack of a better term. "The one who came to visit and blocked my powers. The one who isn't afraid of you."

"You're mistaken," Nasedo said. "There's only me."

"No, there's—"

"There's only me," Nasedo repeated firmly. "Whatever you think you saw, however you interpreted it, you're wrong."

"What, you mean he's...he's human? He can't be! No human would..." Tess stopped, having been about to say "no human would ever dare talk to you like that". But that wasn't true. The woman was human, Nasedo's former nurse from his days as a captive, and she wasn't afraid to challenge him either. Had she just imagined that her powers had been blocked?

"I may need your help in another way," Nasedo went on, changing the subject. "It's quite possible the others will need to learn to fight, and quickly. We may need to bring them up to speed faster than I would have liked. You would be the best person to help them access their memories, the way I helped you access yours."

"Oh, so we'll have to fight about it, and I'll say 'no' a million times, and then I'll...sorry," Tess finished when Nasedo's eyes narrowed. "I...right. I'll...do what I can. But I don't remember much myself, and you said they know so little—"

"Which means you have your work cut out for you," Nasedo said. "And you either remember or know far more than they do simply because you've been raised knowing you're not human...hang on," he said when his phone rang. "Hello?"

Tess watched Nasedo's expression darken. "When?" he demanded. "Where were they going?" Pause. "I'm on my way." He clapped the phone shut. "Stay here," he ordered. "Don't leave this room for any reason."

"What happened?" Tess said in alarm. "Is the Unit here? Is—"

But he was gone, leaving in that maddeningly fast way which was more akin to vanishing. Tess stood alone in the suddenly quiet motel room looking at the yet-to-be-unpacked groceries, the smelly vinyl chairs, the clothes piled haphazardly all over, the unfamiliar and very dark parking lot looming through the single window. Moving was always jarring, but it had always had one redeeming factor—they moved to escape the Special Unit, all the hassles of settling in a new place paling beside the relative safety of having evaded them once more. But this time, as Nasedo had so bluntly pointed out, they weren't running from the Unit, but toward it. This time there was no safety. This time there could be anything out there, and she felt herself shivering involuntarily. When she'd been very little, Nasedo had secured her cooperation when moving by telling her horror stories of what the Unit would do to her if it found her. Now those stories came flooding back, of being locked alone in a room for years, of humans staring at you through glass like you were some kind of zoo animal, of being pumped with drugs which dulled your powers, of—

Stop it! she told herself fiercely. This wasn't getting them anywhere. Everything she'd learned, every survival skill she'd gleaned from her long years on the run must now not only be put to use, but transmitted. The question was how to do that. She couldn't very well hold their hands and attempt a connection the way Nasedo had; even if they'd let her and even if it worked, she might transmit too much at once. She'd scoffed at Nasedo's concern that his disastrous first connection with the others would be repeated, but now she found herself afraid of the very same thing. No, she'd have to find another way, and she'd have to decide whom to start with.

A moment later, she smiled. Would that all of this would turn out to be so easy.

Isabel.




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




"What?" Brivari said irritably into his phone. "I told you I'd call you if I found anything, and I haven't—"

"That's because we're looking for the wrong thing," Jaddo said, "or rather, the wrong person. I'm outside Rath's apartment. Meet me here.

"What for?" Brivari demanded. "The whole point was that we'd split up. It'll be far easier to find the Unit if we're both looking."

"We don't need to split up," Jaddo said. "Finding her won't be difficult."

Brivari blinked. " 'Her'?"



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


I'll post Chapter 94 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 94

Postby Kathy W » Sun Nov 11, 2012 6:13 pm

ImageThanks to everyone reading, and thanks ^ for the feedback! Always appreciate it!







CHAPTER NINETY-FOUR




April 10, 2000, 10 p.m.

Guerin residence, Roswell





Jaddo was leaning on his car and nursing a cup of coffee when Brivari pulled up behind him, still of two minds about this incredible story. "All right," he said, climbing out of the car. "I'm here. But I'm still not clear as to why you're buying this. It doesn't make sense."

"You're not the first to reach that conclusion," Jaddo noted. "But it appears Zan and the female have seen her."

"I assume you mean the Parker girl?"

"I mean the human he was necking with in a place called 'Buckley Point'," Jaddo replied.

"One of Roswell's 'Lovers' Lanes'," Brivari said, "and quite remote, if I recall."

"Aren't they all?" Jaddo said sourly. "Imagine Antar's monarch being caught in such an undignified position."

"He has no idea he's Antar's monarch, and trust me, he's been in worse. Don't look so surprised," Brivari added when Jaddo did just that. "It's hard for a king to court. I caught him and Ava in all kinds of 'undignified positions' prior to their going public."

"TMI, and not the point," Jaddo argued. "The point is that he's wasting his time with a human."

"He's been 'wasting his time' with that human for months now and you haven't paid much attention," Brivari said. "Can we stay on topic?"

"Perhaps it looks different now that I'm here with his wife," Jaddo muttered. "Whatever; Zan and the female say Topolsky approached their car and warned them they were all in danger, whereupon they returned to town and gathered the faithful. I listened until they'd reached a consensus, or rather until Zan imposed a consensus, and then I called you."

Brivari smiled faintly at the all-too-familiar slap which meant that Zan had rejected Rath's recommendations, whatever they might have been. "And?"

"And there is debate over how to proceed," Jaddo answered. "Rath felt it was a trick, another effort by the Unit to draw them out. The female disagreed, claiming Topolsky looked scared for herself as well as them. Zan stayed out of it and let the rest of them duke it out until it came time to impose order."

"Which is what kings do," Brivari reminded him. "And his orders?"

"Were to take her advice to 'act like normal kids' and not discuss this with anyone. And he gave the communicator to Rath."

"Because he knows he's the target," Brivari nodded. "He's quite properly reserving judgment because, from his perspective, either Rath or the girl could be right. We, on the other hand, know the girl is right."

"We do?"

"Of course we do," Brivari said. "We know there is upheaval in the Bureau. We know someone, whether it be a Pierce or not, has formed a shadow unit under the FBI Director's nose. We know Stevens, Topolsky, and her fellow Roswell agents went missing, and all but her turned up dead. She was the last loose end."

"But why come here? Why warn them? Like you said, it makes no sense."

"I don't know," Brivari admitted, "but whatever brought her here will also bring the Unit. We find her, we find the Unit."

"And then we finish this," Jaddo said. "Once and for all."

"And then we discredit them," Brivari corrected. "For a time. There is no 'once and for all' until we leave this planet, and you know it."

Jaddo was silent, staring into space, his coffee untouched. "Jaddo," Brivari said deliberately, "we can't kill him. Even if it is a Pierce."

"We have to," Jaddo said.

Oh, God, Brivari thought wearily. "Jaddo—"

"You know what they were like," Jaddo interrupted, "both of them, Pierce and Lewis. You know what they did, how they treated—"

"I remember," Brivari broke in. "I was there. Not the way you were," he amended when Jaddo's eyes flashed, "but I was still there. Regardless, this cannot be a vendetta against Pierce, whom you already executed."

"No, it's a vendetta against his offspring," Jaddo retorted, "raised by one monster with the genetics of another and obviously following in their footsteps. We can add 'bad career advice' to their already lengthy list of faults."

"I mean it," Brivari said firmly. "The FBI's director has emasculated the Unit, which is supposedly why they've risen in secret. The last thing we want to do, the very last thing, is to validate their existence, to give prospective recruits a reason to join or the Bureau a reason to reconsider. We have to discredit him, to shame him before his peers. Expose him, and we bring the Unit down; kill him, and it's reborn. This has to be about the long game."

"Suit yourself," Jaddo muttered.

Jaddo's coffee splashed to the ground as Brivari pushed him back against the car, his hands on his collar. "Listen to me!" he hissed angrily. "You have spent the past four decades dispatching Unit heads, oblivious to the fact that every single time you did so, you gave them a reason to be. But not this time. This time they're closer to our Wards, to your Ward, to my Ward, then they've ever been since the Army captured the pods, so this time you will behave yourself and refrain from erecting a billboard advertising our presence. Is that clear?"

"So," Jaddo said with maddening calm, "we're back to this. Just like old times. Such a pity there's no handy wall to throw me against, but I suppose the car will suffice. Although I do fear those humans over there suspect foul play. Either that, or a gay clinch."

Brivari's head swung around to find an elderly couple across the street regarding them with alarm. "Stop changing the subject," he ordered, releasing him. "It'll be 'just like old times' if you once again leave a trail of bodies for others to follow—"

"Oh, for heaven's sake, Brivari, I wouldn't leave a handprint, much as I'd like to," Jaddo said impatiently. "I'd make it look like an accident or, better yet, the work of one of his own; I am Covari, in case you've forgotten. Guess they've decided we're not boyfriends after all," he added as the couple across the street moved on, albeit with a few backward glances.

"What I haven't forgotten is how all these pious proclamations go right out the window as soon as you lose your temper," Brivari retorted. "We can't afford another of your tantrums, not this time. Where is Ava, by the way, while you brood outside your Ward's apartment?"

"Home," Jaddo answered. "Alone. Like she frequently is," he went on when Brivari raised an eyebrow. "Don't worry about her; she can take care of herself. I've made certain of that. The real question is, where's Topolsky?"




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




Holiday Inn

Roswell





Kathleen Topolsky slipped inside the hotel's back door, deserted at this hour. The elevator was also deserted, and she emerged onto the fifth floor, eyes darting everywhere. But no one was in sight as she crept to Room 526, held her breath, and tried the key.

It worked. The green light which greeted the key card was so welcome, she nearly burst into tears, and she lost no time closing the curtains, locking the door, and wedging a chair under the handle for good measure. It had been sheer luck that she'd overheard one Arthur Huffman tell a bar mate that he was leaving town earlier than expected so as to reach his next client sooner. Good old Arthur was a traveling salesman mid travel, which meant it would take several days before he noticed that he hadn't really checked out of the Holiday Inn Roswell, the key card he'd blithely deposited in the self checkout box having been retrieved and the room he'd only just vacated occupied within minutes. As far as the Holiday Inn was concerned, Arthur Huffman still resided in Room 526, and Topolsky meant to keep it that way. Hopefully the cleaning staff wouldn't notice that Arthur's suitcase was now a different color and sported a broken zipper, that most of his toiletries had disappeared, and that he'd suddenly developed the habit of raiding the minibar. She'd gone dumpster diving for the suitcase, taken the toiletries off a maid's cart, and used the minibar to supplement what she'd managed to glean from a local supermarkets' midnight cast-offs, it not being safe for her to enter a supermarket or any public place. She would only go out at night from now on, and only then in disguise. The race against the clock had just gotten tighter.

She'd been half an hour outside Santa Fe when she'd realized she was being followed, that the car which had slid by her while leaving Agent Stevens' house had been no coincidence. How he'd managed to find her was an open question, but she'd lost him before and she could lose him again. Certain that some kind of tracker had been planted on her car, she'd hit an outlet mall and swapped it for another. Reaching Roswell, she'd chanced upon Arthur Huffman and availed herself of his room key only to discover that she was still being tailed; two Unit agents she recognized came into the bar, and she'd spotted two more across the street when she'd fled. This was not unexpected; Roswell was, after all, in the direction they'd last seen her heading, and she'd spent the day in the shadows, watching the watchers, waiting for them to give up and move on.

But they hadn't. As the day had worn on and the agents continued to squat, Topolsky had grown more and more agitated. Why weren't they leaving? Did Pierce know where she was headed? Did that mean he knew what she intended to do? But how could he? It's not like she'd left a note or verbally stated her intentions to anyone. She'd hoped they were merely idling in case she appeared, and she'd taken the utmost precautions before trying to contact Evans, waiting until dark, following him away from the Crashdown in a newly lifted car up to Buckley Point. And it was there, when she'd spotted yet another pair of agents, that she'd finally realized the stakes; Pierce knew she was here. She'd barely managed to warn Evans and escape without them seeing her, driving back to town and abandoning the car in a nearby parking lot, watching to see if it was being tracked. But it was ignored, as were the clothes she'd deposited in a dumpster earlier in the day when she'd picked up a new set at Goodwill, so that's not how they knew she was here. Where else could Pierce have hidden a tracking device?

Topolsky glanced down with dawning horror, holding out one arm, then the other. The only thing left was her own body, a distinct possibility given that she'd been held captive for the last month. What had been in that medication they'd given her? Had Pierce used some kind of implant which allowed him to track her? Was he tracking her right now, following her movements like a mouse in a maze, waiting for her to reach the end before he revealed himself?

Nearly incoherent with paranoia, Topolsky stripped off her clothes and examined herself in the full length bathroom mirror, every mole, every freckle, every red spot on her skin held suspect as she twisted and turned in the yellow, distinctly unhelpful bathroom light. She found all kinds of bumps and lumps, but how to know if something had been inserted beneath the skin?

And then her eyes fell on the little disposable razor in the hotel's toiletry package.

Fifteen minutes later, her eyes watering, she stepped into the shower and let the warm rain turn the tub red as the cuts she'd made slowly clotted. This was crazy. If Pierce had put some kind of tracking device inside her, he wouldn't have put it anywhere she could see it; it would be in her back, her scalp, somewhere she couldn't reach it. However he'd done it, he'd found her, which meant the game had changed because Pierce wasn't here only for her; he was here for Max Evans and anyone associated with him. Everyone around Max Evans would die if she didn't warn them, just like Moss, like Butler, like Stevens. He'd been coming for them all along, but she'd thought she had more time. Now she didn't, they didn't, and it was imperative that they believe her, and fast.

Topolsky turned off the shower, watching the red-tinged water slowly run down the drain. Luckily there were things that could be settled with a phone call, and she held a tissue to one of her oozing cuts as she flipped through the Yellow Pages.

All she needed now was a florist.





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





April 11, 2000, 10:30 a.m.

West Roswell High School






The closet door opened, and Max jerked out of his trance, fearful it was a teacher. But it was only Liz, wearing a big smile which faded when she saw his face.

"Rough night?" she said gently.

"Kind of," Max admitted.

She took a seat beside him on the stack of copy paper boxes. "Did you get any sleep?"

"Not really."

"We still don't anything for sure," Liz said. "You know, maybe Michael's right—maybe it is all just a trick. He's right that I believed her the first time. I really believed she was a guidance counselor."

"Actually, you didn't," Max said. "You were the first one to flag her to me. You went to Michael's trailer to warn him that Topolsky was looking for him. We both eavesdropped on her. No, the rest of us were the ones who just believed her, not you."

"And not Maria," Liz said. "She's the one who put the idea in my head."

"So it was me, Michael, and Isabel," Max said heavily. "The ones she was after. We're the ones who bought the act. Great."

"Max, you can't go around suspecting everyone you see," Liz said. "That's a horrible way to live."

"Which is what I've been telling Isabel," Max sighed. "And why I've got egg on my face."

"Well, you shouldn't have," Liz said stubbornly. "Because you're right. You need some kind of evidence before you get suspicious."

"Like her banging on our car in the middle of the night?"

"Yeah," Liz sighed. "Like that. So how were your parents when you went home? Were they mad?"

"It was late, and they'd gone to bed," Max answered. "I'm sure I'll hear about it when I get home. What about you? Did they call your parents?"

"No. Not yet, anyway. But I figured they might, so I mentioned it to Mom and Dad when I got home."

Max blinked. "You told them? That you were out with me?"

Liz nodded. "I figured it was better to tell them, and then they can't claim I'm keeping things from them."

"So what'd they say?"

"Nothing. They just looked at me for a minute, then at each other, then went back to watching Nightline. I'll probably hear about it today. What about Isabel? You were so worried last night that she'd be mad, but she didn't seem that way."

Max looked away. "I haven't talked to her yet. She didn't say anything on the way home from Michael's, and I was afraid to. And she left for school this morning before I did."

"So talk to her here," Liz suggested. "She can't very well blow up in the middle of the hallway."

Max was quiet for a moment. "You know, that's not a bad idea," he said, standing up, then hesitating. "Would you mind? I know we usually..."

"It's okay," Liz said. "I can tell you're not in the mood."

"Sorry," Max said, flushing. "I just—"

"I know," Liz said softly, putting a finger on his lips. "I was there, remember? Go find Isabel. I know you're more worried about what she'll say than you are about your parents."

Got that right, Max thought as they did their usual two-step exit from the closet, with Liz going first. Here he'd assured Isabel that Topolsky was gone for good, and now she was back. He'd counseled Iz not to be so suspicious, and now it turned out he hadn't been suspicious enough. Where was the happy medium? Did one even exist?

He found Isabel at her locker, and she raised an eyebrow when she saw him. "Aren't you supposed to be closeted somewhere sucking face?" she said dryly.

"Guess it's not a big secret anymore," Max said.

"Hasn't been for weeks," Isabel said. "Look, Max, I...I wanted to apologize for last night."

"Wait...you're apologizing? What for?"

"For telling Mom and Dad that you were out with Liz," Isabel said. "It was petty of me, I know, but I didn't like being dumped at the Crashdown. Give me a heads up in the future, okay? That's all I ask."

"I...okay," Max said, barely remembering that his parents had mentioned Isabel had told him about the aborted movie. "You're right. I should have told you."

"So we're good?" Isabel asked.

"Almost," Max answered. "I came to apologize to you. You always said Topolsky would be back, and I kept saying you were paranoid. But you were right."

"No," Isabel said, shaking her head firmly, "I wasn't. This was never what I meant by 'back', and..." She stopped, glancing around the crowded hallway, lowering her voice. "Look, I know I was freaking out right after she left, but that was Thanksgiving, and a lot has happened since then. Valenti arrested Liz and Alex at that party, Michael almost died, Mom almost found out about you, and then the sighting, and then that nutcase tried to kill you, and then you found that...'orb', or whatever it is—"

"You left out the part where I got drunk and almost spilled our secret on live radio," Max said.

"I was trying to be diplomatic. Look, my point is, we've had one crisis after another since Topolsky left," Isabel went on, "and none of them had a thing to do with the FBI. Turns out we're pretty good at getting into trouble all by ourselves. It's not safe for us, Max, and it never will be, whether she's here or not, whether the FBI's here or not. So I think I'm pretty much where you were when she left, which is sick of walking around scared all the time. I don't want to live that way. So I'm just going to live my life and let the chips fall where they may because I—we—haven't done anything wrong."

"Wow," Max said. "And here I was getting all paranoid."

"Probably a direct result of some crazy woman banging on your window when you're necking," Isabel allowed.

"What makes you think we were necking?"

Isabel gave a soft snort. "It doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist to figure it out. Isn't that what you do? Isn't that all you do? Isn't that what everyone does at Buckley...wait. Are you saying...are you saying you were doing more than necking? No!" she exclaimed, holding up a hand with a look of horror on her face as Max raised an eyebrow. "Not another word! I don't want to hear it."

"You don't want to hear that nothing more than necking happened?" Max said. "Okay. Just checking."

Isabel gave him a swat. "Thanks for giving me a heart attack, brother dear."

"It was your idea," Max shrugged.

"You mean nightmare," Isabel muttered. "Imagine explaining that one to Mom and Dad. They think you went to a movie."

"It got—"

"Bad reviews," Isabel finished. "We heard."

"You know, I'm getting a little tired of the double standard," Max said. "We walked in on Michael and Maria making out last night, but he's not getting lectured."

"Don't count on it," Isabel warned. "The day is young. Anything could happen." She closed her locker door, paused. "What do you really think?" she whispered. "You saw Topolsky. Do you think it's a trick, or do you think she's really here to warn us?"

Max shook his head. "I wish I knew."




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




"Why aren't you up there?" Liz asked, sliding into a seat in the auditorium's middle section while the chorale blasted through its rendition of "Chattanooga Choo Choo".

His feet propped up on the seat in front of him, Alex shook his head. "I'm not in this one. Fine by me, because it's an awful song. Why aren't you hiding in some closet or other?"

Liz blinked. "That's supposed to be a secret."

"Not even remotely," Alex answered.

"Oh. Well...okay," Liz said, chagrined. "At least we managed to fool the teachers."

"Even teachers will catch up eventually, so you might want to move things out of the closet before someone blows you in," Alex advised. "I'm a little surprised someone hasn't."

"It's all that street cred we built up when we got caught in the Eraser Room," Liz said.

Her tone was earnest, but both of them burst out laughing a moment later. "Seriously, 'street cred'?" Alex said. "You? Never thought I'd hear Liz Parker crowing about her 'street cred'."

"Yeah, well, I never thought I'd have any," Liz said. "Guess things change."

"They do," Alex agreed, sobering. "They sure do." He was quiet for a moment. "You okay?"

Liz smiled faintly. "Do you mean have I had any more close encounters with freaky FBI agents? No. Not yet."

"Good to hear," Alex said. "What about Max?"

"He's better now that he's talked to Isabel and she didn't bite his head off. About Topolsky," Liz explained when Alex looked confused. "Isabel's been worried for ages that Topolsky would come back, and Max has been reassuring her that wouldn't happen, and..."

"And now it has," Alex finished.

Liz nodded heavily. "Right."

They sat in silence for several minutes as the chorale finished "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and started on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". "What's with all the World War II songs?" she asked.

"Is that what they are?" Alex said. "I thought they were just ancient and bad."

"I guess "Chattanooga" isn't strictly World War II," Liz went on. "It came out in May of '41, and Pearl Harbor wasn't until...December," she finished as Alex's eyes widened. "What? I don't try to remember this stuff. I just do."

"Which is how you get straight 'A's'," Alex said. "You remember the details."

Liz looked at her hands. "Is that why you supported me last night? About Topolsky?"

"I supported you because I trust your judgment," Alex answered. "Michael's wrong, Liz; you didn't believe Topolsky, and you convinced me to help smoke her out at a time when we weren't exactly getting along. Your instincts are good. If you say she was really scared, I believe you."

"But what if I'm wrong? What if it's a trick?"

"Then it wouldn't hurt to listen to what she has to say," Alex said, "which is all I was suggesting. Because either way is trouble—if she's right, they're in danger, and if it's a trick, they're still in danger. That's why I don't think they have anything to lose by listening."

"Yeah," Liz nodded. "I agree. Look, I'm...I'm really sorry that you got dragged into this, Alex. Maybe I shouldn't have pulled you out of the Crashdown last night. Maybe—"

"No," Alex said quickly. "No, I'm glad you did. I've been in the dark before, and I promise you it's better to know than to not know."

"But everyone's worried," Liz said, "and now you're worried too—"

"Of course I'm worried. Anyone who has the FBI after them should be worried. Look, I was marked anyway," Alex went on. "I'm the one who hacked her computer, remember? If she's coming for us, she's coming for me too. I'm glad you told me. I'd want to know." The chorale launched into "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree", and he grimaced. "Let me guess...World War II?"

Liz nodded. "It's a theme. Well...I told Max I'd meet him after school."

"Remember, no more closets," Alex said.

"Right. Kiss in public. Great advice." She shouldered her backpack, smiling when Alex rolled his eyes. "How are you and Isabel, by the way?"

"She's speaking to me again," Alex answered. "Which is wonderful, so let's not jinx it by talking about it."

"Okay. I was just thinking that...well...with what's going on now, she might want...need...a little support. That's all."

"You're jinxing it," Alex warned.

"Not a...not the 'D' word," Liz amended hastily. "Just someone to talk to."

"Jinxing!" Alex scolded.

"No, I'm...Max!" Liz finished, spotting Max coming down the aisle. "I said I'd meet you out front."

"I couldn't wait that long," Max murmured, slipping his arm around her as Alex adopted a pained expression. "Is everything okay?"

"Fine," Liz assured him. "Alex and I were just talking."

"About closets," Alex said. "Please, no more closets."

"Why don't you wait for me in the hall?" Liz suggested when Max's eyes widened. "I'll be right out." She waited until he'd retreated to the back of the auditorium before leaning in closer to Alex. "I meant what I said, Alex. I—"

"Jinxing!"

"No, not that! I'm really grateful that you stuck up for me," Liz said. "Although I do think you should talk to Isabel," she went on as Alex winced. "Just my two cents worth."

"Look, I..." Alex paused, glanced around, leaned in closer. "I already tried, okay? At lunch."

"And?" Liz said hopefully.

"And we got interrupted," Alex answered. "Or at least I think that's what happened. I hope so. Because if not, she cut me off on purpose, and I'd rather not contemplate that."

"Try again," Liz coaxed. "Couldn't hurt, right?" She straightened up, paused. "Who is that?"

"Who is who?"

"That blonde girl down in the front row. She's staring at us."

Alex craned his neck to see better, and his expression darkened. "She's new," he reported. "And the reason I couldn't talk to Isabel. She showed up, and then they got all girly together."

" 'Girly'?" Liz laughed. "Okay, well...she's here now, and Isabel isn't. And Max and I aren't the only ones headed home."




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




Nailed, Tess thought, turning around quickly when Max's girlfriend spied her. Alex's expression made it clear he was still smarting over her joining him and Isabel for lunch, but it wasn't him she'd been watching, or the girlfriend. It was Max, idling at the back of the auditorium, who had caught her attention, leaving her breathless in her seat with a pounding heart. She'd strained for a glimpse of him, any glimpse of him, all day yesterday and today with no luck, and now here he was, in the last place she'd thought to look. Good Lord, she thought, drinking in the sight of him. That was her husband? How could he possibly be ten times more handsome than in the photographs? For just a moment she imagined herself on his arm, imagined herself finally belonging, really belonging, to someone...

And then the girlfriend reappeared, and the way he put his arm around her, the look on his face, made it clear how he felt. Of course he does, she thought, deflated. Max had no idea why he was here, that he wasn't going to be staying here. Not that Nasedo had ever been forthcoming about their reasons for being here, but he'd told her right from the beginning that she was important, that the Others were important, that they had a great task ahead of them. Max knew nothing of that, so of course he'd be taking up with human girls and focusing on human things. It would only be natural.

And depressing, she added as Max and the girl left the auditorium connected at the hip, followed shortly by Alex. The others had human friends; that was interesting. Not that she hadn't had human friends, but according to Nasedo, these human friends knew they weren't human, something her human friends certainly hadn't. For someone who'd spent her life hiding what she was from virtually everyone she met, the thought of someone finding out was terrifying. How had that happened? Why did it work? So many questions, and with Nasedo gone now more than ever, she had very little time to ask. Maybe she should make a list.

The chorale launched into yet another dreadful song, and Tess gathered up her books and headed outside. Today's lunch with Isabel had been promising but hadn't really gone anywhere. She needed to move some of her classes around so she could be in more classes with the Others, especially Max. Although it was doubtful she'd be able to keep her mind on the subject if he was anywhere in sight...

"Tess? Tess!"

Tess blinked, turned. "There you are!" exclaimed a breathless Isabel, jogging up to join her. "I was just telling Alex that you were coming over to my house this afternoon."

Tess glanced past her to Alex, who looked thoroughly annoyed. "I was? I mean, I was!" she amended when she saw the pleading expression on Isabel's face. "I'm so sorry, it just completely slipped my mind. New school, new schedule, new everything...it's a bit overwhelming."

"I totally understand," Isabel said. "So, Alex, maybe I'll catch you some other time at the Crashdown?"

"Yeah," Alex said dejectedly. "Sure."

He walked, or rather, trudged away, leaving them alone on the school steps. "Thank you," Isabel breathed. "I didn't want to...I mean, I just wasn't—"

"It's okay," Tess said quickly. "I get it."

"No, it's not what you think," Isabel protested.

"Actually, it might be," Tess said thoughtfully. "But you're off the hook, so...see you tomorrow?"

"What about my house?" Isabel said.

"Wait...you're serious? You want me to come over?"

"Sure, why not? We could help each other study, I could help you catch up. Would you mind?"

Tess hesitated for just a split second before breaking into the widest smile she'd worn in a long time. "No," she said sincerely, more sincerely than she'd said anything in her entire life. "I wouldn't mind at all."


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


I'll post Chapter 95 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 95

Postby Kathy W » Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:30 pm

^ Tess was indeed caught up. I do so love Michael's astute observations. :mrgreen:




CHAPTER NINETY-FIVE



April 11, 2000, 3:30 p.m.

Roswell





"So then she said that had to be the worst date she'd ever had in her life," Isabel said, punching the button for the crosswalk. "And I said, oh, so you think that qualified for a 'worst date'? I've got a dozen 'worst dates' that are way worse than that. Top of the list would be..."

The light changed, and Tess tuned out as they started across the road. They'd been walking for fifteen minutes with Isabel babbling about something inane the entire way, be it boys, girls, make-up, hairstyles, popular music, or whatnot. Here she'd been over the moon when Isabel had invited her home, eager to spend time completely in the company of someone exactly like her, but had she not known otherwise, she would never have realized that Isabel was anything like her. She sounded like every other popular high school girl, prattling on about trivial subjects that left her first bored, then annoyed, and were now starting to set her teeth on edge. For all the times she'd dreamed of her first real time spent with the Others, this was not what she'd imagined.

So what did you expect? she asked herself as Isabel launched into a description of her fourth "worst date ever". Nasedo had been clear that although the Others knew they weren't human, that was pretty much all they knew. They lived as humans with "parents" who considered them human, so it really shouldn't be surprising that Isabel was rattling on about nothing in particular, should even be considered commendable. Isabel was, after all, doing a marvelous impression of an empty-headed adolescent, one she herself had used many times. It was the perfect cover, one made all the more necessary in an environment where they had only each other to confide in, where they had to be careful even at home, the one place she had never had to hide. For all that she hated about her dangerous and nomadic lifestyle, she'd always had one safe place where she could be herself, where there was no need to pretend. To not have that, to have to be on guard every single moment of every single day of your entire life, sounded exhausting.

"Exactly," Isabel said.

Tess blinked. "What?"

"You just shuddered," Isabel answered. "And I totally agree. I mean, what was he thinking handing me the check? Didn't he know that guys always pick up the tab on the first date?"

"Incredible," Tess agreed.

"At least it was just the Crashdown and not Chez Pierre," Isabel went on. "That would have been expensive." She paused as they rounded a corner onto a classic suburban street which could have been anywhere in the U.S. "I'm so glad you agreed to come home," she said, sounding suddenly different. "It's so nice to talk to someone...normal."

"Do you normally spend a lot of time talking to someone abnormal?" Tess asked, privately noting the irony of that statement.

"Yes. Well, no," Isabel amended quickly. "There's just been a lot of...stuff...going on lately, and it's so nice to talk about something completely stupid and inconsequential. Know what I mean?"

"I do," Tess assured her.

"Sometimes it's all just a bit too much," Isabel continued. "It's like I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and I can't ever relax because I know it's coming...."

"But knowing doesn't help," Tess said. "It just makes it so you can't eat, and can't sleep, and when it finally happens, it's bad anyway, and it doesn't help that you knew. If anything, knowing made it worse."

Isabel stopped, stared at her. "Yeah," she said faintly. "That's it. That's it exactly. How'd you know that?"

Tess shrugged. "Been there, done that. So...what's your 'shoe', Isabel?"

For just a moment, Tess thought she was going to spill. But then the veil descended and Isabel resumed walking. "Oh, you know. Just the usual stuff."

Nothing 'usual' about us, Tess thought, nodding politely nevertheless. The longing she'd just seen in Isabel's eyes, the need to share your secret with someone, was something she was all too familiar with, and something she'd thought would be gone forever when she finally met the Others. It was incredibly frustrating to be inches away from the first of her own kind she'd met and not be able to admit that. Nasedo had warned her that it would be better to awaken the Others' memories so they could figure some things out themselves, but after a lifetime of having only him to confide in, the urge to just blurt out the truth was so strong, it was nearly overpowering...

"Here we are," Isabel announced. "This is my house."

Tess clamped her mouth shut, grateful for the interruption; if she'd done what she'd just been itching to do, Nasedo would have killed her. They'd turned into the driveway of a standard suburban house which bore more than a passing resemblance to many of the places she and Nasedo had called home over the years. Standard house, standard yard, standard car in the garage...but not standard in here, Tess thought as she stepped inside the door Isabel held open for her, feeling it instantly. She and Nasedo had stayed in many, many places over the years, from houses to apartments to hotels to, in one case, a drafty old mansion, all of which had one thing in common: They weren't really 'homes'. Oh, they'd lived there, to be sure, but that's where the resemblance ended. They were illusions, more akin to movie sets than actual places of residence, carefully crafted to appear normal even though there was nothing normal about her and Nasedo. She could feel the difference in the homes of the friends she visited, how theirs were real and hers was not, how the warmth and layers and feelings had crept into the very drywall. Their houses had pictures they'd scribbled lovingly taped to refrigerators; hers had the same, slapped up there by Nasedo because he knew humans did that sort of thing. Theirs had family pictures peppering the walls; hers had fake photos that changed with each relocation lest someone follow and identify them. Theirs had old baby clothes, baby pictures, baby dishes, all kinds of baby stuff which embarrassed them no end; hers had a small sippy cup and a few baby toys she'd never actually used because she'd never been a baby. It was all pretend, and she was reminded of that every single time she entered a non-pretend house. Like this one.

"This is kind of our 'mud room'," Isabel was explaining, wrinkling her nose at a nearby boot mat festooned with muddy shoes. "Mom hates dirt in the kitchen..."

"Bananas," Tess murmured, reading the scribbles on a chalkboard near the kitchen door. "Barbeque potato chips. Oatmeal squares. Macaroni and cheese. Tossed salad."

"That's the dinner menus and the shopping list," Isabel said. "Or, rather, that's where we write what we want Mom to get from the grocery store. We're not allowed to write on the actual list because she says we make it all messy."

"Who drew all these cute pictures?" Tess asked, pointing to the smiling banana and the grinning potato chip.

"My Dad," Isabel answered. "Sometimes you'd never know he has a sense of humor, but for some reason he does when it comes to Mom's shopping list."

"Dill pickles," Tess continued, running her finger down the list. "Yogurt, rye bread, I...'I love you'?"

"Yeah," Isabel said uncomfortably. "He does that too."

"Oh, that is so sweet!" Tess exclaimed.

"If you say so," Isabel said doubtfully.

"What? Don't you want your parents to love each other?"

"Of course I do," Isabel said. "Just quietly. Privately. When I'm not looking. Anything else is just...eeww. Come on inside."

Tess followed her through the kitchen and down a hallway which was decorated with dozens of framed photographs. "This is you," Tess said, pausing before a large frame with one large oval surrounded by eleven small ones, ten of which were filled.

"Those are our school pictures," Isabel said. "First grade through tenth. Senior picture goes in the big one. That's my brother."

Tess's heart raced as her eyes moved to the next frame with a similar layout filled with pictures of a dark-haired, dark-eyed boy. "He looks...serious," she ventured.

"Oh, yes," Isabel said, a faint note of derision in her voice. "Max is always serious. Except when he isn't."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing," Isabel said lightly. "Just a sisterly jab."

"So many pictures," Tess said, her eyes sweeping the hallway. "There must be dozens."

"That's my mom," Isabel said with equal parts exasperation and fondness. "She gets all weepy when she talks about us as kids. She can be a little overprotective, but she means well. She loves us to pieces."

"Are those your parents?" Tess asked, stopping before another picture.

"When they were in college," Isabel nodded. "They don't look like that any more."

"Kind of like baby pictures," Tess said. "Those are always so embarrassing. Where are yours?"

"Tucked away somewhere, thank God," Isabel said casually. "My room is down here."

Good save, Tess thought, knowing full well that Isabel and Max didn't have any baby pictures for the same reason she didn't—they'd never been babies. She followed her further down the hall, pausing again before a series of marks on the wall.

"What's this?"

"Oh," Isabel sighed. "That. That's a record of our height. Every year Mom and Dad would make us back up to the wall, and they'd mark how tall we were. Dad must have repainted this hallway three times, but Mom never lets him paint over that. She's sentimental about that too."

"Looks like they stopped when you were both 14," Tess noted, running a hand over the penciled horizontal lines, each marked with a name and a year.

"Yeah, well, we were getting pretty tall, and it was getting a bit silly."

"And they started when you were...6?"

"Guess that's when Mom first thought of it," Isabel shrugged.

"Wow," Tess said faintly. "You've lived here that long. I don't think I've lived anywhere much longer than a year. Have you ever lived anywhere else?"

Isabel shook her head. "Never. Why did you move so much?"

"My dad's job," Tess explained. "He gets transferred a lot."

"Does your mom mind?" Isabel asked.

Tess opened her mouth to give the standard answer, she's dead, which would produce the standard response, those twin gifts of sympathy and respectful retreat. "I don't know," she said, suddenly changing the script. "I never knew her."

Isabel's eyes widened. "Really?"

Tess shook her head. "Nope. She was gone before I was born, and my father never talks about her. It's kind of aggravating sometimes because I don't really know where I came from."

Isabel's eyes flickered, dropped. "Wow. That must be...hard."

"It is," Tess admitted. "It's lonely. And scary. It's like there's this big hole where I don't know the first thing about myself. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever find out, or if I'll like what I find when I do. Oh...geez, I'm sorry," she added when Isabel's eyes grew round. "I didn't mean to dump that on you."

"No, no, that's okay," Isabel said quickly. "I...I mean, we...I don't mind," she finished. "Really." She gestured awkwardly toward the bedroom. "Come on in."

Tess glanced back toward the penciled measurements as she followed Isabel into her room, mentally musing on how they'd managed to wind up in the same grade. Someone had decided that Max and Isabel were 6 year-olds when they'd come out of the pods, but who had decided how old she was? Nasedo? Someone else? "We can study in here," Isabel was saying. "Would you like something to drink?"

"Got any pop?" Tess asked.

"Sure. What kind? Coke? Root Beer?"

"Anything as long as it has extra sugar in it," Tess answered. "Would you mind?"

"Of course not," Isabel smiled. "I'm always adding sugar to everything. Mom thinks I'm nuts. Sorry about the mess," she added, eyeing her sort-of-made bed. "I didn't expect to have anyone over. It'll just take me a sec to clean this up, and then I'll get the drinks."

"Why don't I get them?" Tess said. "In the fridge, right?"

"Yeah," Isabel said. "And there are glasses in the cupboard by the sink."

Tess escaped into the hallway and leaned against the wall, closing her eyes. God, but she'd just come close to overplaying her hand. Nasedo would kill her if he found out she hadn't given the standard answer to the "mom question", but the thought of having someone to confide in, a kindred spirit at last, was incredibly attractive for more than just her from the looks of things. But she'd seen enough to know that simply blurting out the truth was unlikely to be well received, so it was just as well that she take a break.

When she opened her eyes she saw the measurements on the wall in front of her and reached out to touch them again. Max, age 8 read one. Izzie, age 9. They had lived in this house their entire lives, a fact which seemed incredible to her. What would it be like to stay in one place for that long? To have someone dote on your growth, put your pictures all over the place just because they liked looking at you, to be loved 'to pieces'? She'd never had any of that, and she felt a pang of jealously, not her first. The Others may not know as much as she did, but they had things she'd never had and never would, at least not until they figured out who they really were.

A door closed, followed by voices. Tess crept down the hall and into the living room, the voices becoming clearer.

"...just want to make her happy. And you're gonna tell me how to do it."

"It's not like there's a handbook," someone answered.

Tess's eyes widened as she peeked around the corner. It was the one Nasedo called Michael and...Max. His voice was rich and deep, as deep as those eyes, which seemed bottomless. She'd never been close enough to hear him speak before.

"...went to the French club meeting today instead of meeting me in the eraser room," Michael continued. "The French club...what the hell is that?"

"All right," Max said. "Romantic. When you're with her, act like she's the only girl in the room."

"She's usually the only other person in the room," Michael answered.

"That's a good start," Max said. "Um, try taking her out...some place nice. And surprises...they love surprises."

Tess listened in fascination as Max rattled off a list of ways to surprise a girl. This is my husband? she thought. Did she wind up lucky, or what? "How do you know women so well?" she asked, unable to contain herself any longer.

The discussion screeched to a halt as both Max and Michael looked at her first with surprise, then suspicion. "Don't let me stop you," Tess said quickly. "This is fascinating."

"Who are you?" Max asked.

"She's my friend," Isabel answered, coming into the kitchen behind her.

"How come we've never met her before?" Michael demanded.

"God, Michael, could you be any more rude?" Isabel scolded.

"Actually, it's kind of refreshing," Tess broke in. "I'm Tess."

"This is my brother Max, and our friend Michael," Isabel said, giving them a behave-yourselves look.

"Nice to meet you," Tess smiled.

Isabel reached into the fridge and handed her a bottle of root beer. "Here you go. I'll meet you back in my room."

Tess glanced from one face to the other, noting that she was clearly being dismissed. "Don't forget the extra sugar," she smiled, retreating immediately and hovering close enough to overhear.

"Okay, what's wrong with you guys?" Isabel demanded only moments after she'd left. "She just moved here. I'm helping her catch up."

"She looked pretty caught up to me," Michael noted. "Topolsky was a plant when she showed up at school. This girl could be too."

"She's a transfer student, Michael," Isabel retorted.

"She's a stranger, Isabel," Max said.

It was the same rich, deep voice, but this time it carried the unmistakable stamp of suspicion, of reproof, of...of authority, Tess realized. Whoever Max was on their home planet, he was definitely the one in charge here. I'm not a stranger! she wanted to shout, recoiling at his announcement even though it made perfect sense from his perspective. I'm one of you! I'm your family!

"Well it's not like I'm going to fall in love with her, and tell her our secret, and compromise our very existence," Isabel said in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "I thought we were supposed to be acting normal, right? Heck of a job you two just did."

Tess scurried back to Isabel's bedroom, arriving only moments before Isabel. "I am so sorry about that," Isabel sighed, plunking down on the bed. "They are so rude."

"It's okay," Tess assured her. "They don't know me. I understand."

"No, you don't," Isabel said. "They have no right, either of them, but especially Max, to..." She stopped suddenly, having apparently thought better of what she'd been about to say. "Never mind. Just don't expect courtesy from those two. I know I never do. So," she went on brightly, handing Tess the sugar. "What should we start with? English? Social Studies?"

Tess indicated the English book, but that wasn't what she really wanted to start with. What she really wanted to talk about was what she'd just overheard...and why she'd never heard any of it before.




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




Crashdown Cafe




"Large coffee, six sugars, no cream, to go," Brian Samuels told the young waitress behind the Crashdown's counter.

"Did you say six sugars?" the waitress repeated.

"Yeah, six."

"As in one, two, three, four, five, six?"

Samuels smiled faintly. "You can count. I like that in a woman."

The waitress raised an eyebrow. "I'm not officially a 'woman' till I'm 18, but thanks anyway."

"Is there a limit on sugars?" Samuels asked.

The waitress held up both hands. "Fret not. One blood sugar Molotov cocktail comin' up."

Maria, Brian read on the saucy waitress's name tag as she grabbed a coffee pot. Wasn't there a Maria on their list of suspects? Could be, given that said list sported at least thirty people, which was the main reason they'd gone to such lengths to narrow it down by soliciting information from those agents who'd been in Roswell. If only Danny had let him do the soliciting, they might actually have some right now.

"You'll need to stir this," Saucy advised, reappearing with a large Styrofoam cup. "The sediment at the bottom is impressive."

"Your concern is touching," Samuels said dryly, pulling out his wallet.

"Pay at the cashier," Saucy instructed. "What can I get you, sir?"

"Large coffee to go, six sugars."

Samuels' head swung around. "Bellow?" he said in astonishment. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Same thing you're doing, I imagine," Bellow answered.

"You're together?" Saucy said in a deeply ironic voice. "Now, why doesn't that surprise me?"

"Can I have my coffee please?" Bellow said tartly.

Saucy retreated with narrowed eyes, and Samuels turned on Bellow. "I mean it, agent," he hissed under his breath. "What are you doing here? You're not one of the agents I assigned here."

"No, Agent Pierce assigned me here," Bellow said calmly. "I'm getting his coffee for him."

"No, I'm getting his coffee for him," Samuels corrected. "And he and I went over the list of agents before I made the assignments."

"Then I guess he went over your head," Bellow said smoothly. "Last I checked, he's the Unit head, so he can do that."

"Here you go!" Saucy announced, brandishing yet another Styrofoam cup. "More sediment!"

"He doesn't want it," Samuels said sharply.

"Yes, I do," Bellow objected.

"No, he doesn't," Samuels insisted.

"Boys, boys!" Saucy admonished with mock horror. "If you're going to fight, fight over something worthwhile. FYI, deathly sweet coffee doesn't make that list."

"I'll take it," Bellow said, reaching for the cup.

"Like hell you will," Samuels snapped.

Bellow looked back and forth from him to Saucy. "Fine," he said sullenly. "But I'm telling."

He stalked out, leaving Saucy holding the coffee he'd ordered. "He's 'telling'?" Saucy said in disbelief. "I may not be 18 yet, but you guys are, like, 5 year-olds."

"Do you make it a habit to insult all your customers?" Samuels demanded.

"Only the ones who act like 5 year-olds," Saucy retorted. "Now what I am supposed to do with this? Sell it to the local dental association so they can drum up more business?"

"I'll take it," Samuels grumbled, grabbing the second cup out of her hands, paying the bemused cashier for both, and high-tailing it back to the motel where both coffees were still hot, Bellow was already there...and Pierce already had his coffee.

"Thank you, agent," Pierce said calmly to Bellow when he saw Samuels. "That'll be all."

Bellow's smirk faded at the dismissal, but he left, albeit slowly. "Danny, what the hell are you doing?" Samuels demanded just as soon as the door closed behind him. "I didn't pull Bellow in here, and on the way back from the Crashdown, I saw two other agents I hadn't assigned."

"What the hell am I doing?" Pierce echoed, settling back in the motel room's one chair. "Let me see...I think it's called 'running the Unit'. Yes, I'm sure that's it."

"I'm serious!" Samuels snapped, plunking the cups down on the table. "We're supposed to be under the radar here, and we can't very well stay that way if we bring in an army!"

"Gracious, Brian, calm down," Pierce chuckled. "Fine, I'll drink your coffee—"

Brian snatched the cups away, leaving Pierce's hand closing on empty air. "Listen to me," he said deliberately. "If Director Freeh gets wind of us, we're screwed, and attracting too much attention is a great way to do that. We agreed on how many agents we'd pull in. What gives?"

"What 'gives', Brian, is that I thought better of it," Pierce retorted. "And last I checked, I'm in charge, not you."

"So this is a power play," Brian accused. "This isn't about 'protecting the American people', this is about—"

"This is about finding Kathleen Topolsky," Pierce interrupted, "you know, the same Kathleen Topolsky you were so certain would point the way? We've got a laundry list of names and little idea where to start. The way I see it, we've got two choices—pull in agents now to find Topolsky and find out what she knows, or plant people here for weeks or months, even, to find out what she could tell us in a few sentences. I decided that more agents for a short period of time is better than more agents over a long period of time. And we're running out of time, Brian," Pierce went on as Samuels scowled. "She's been here nearly twenty-four hours, and we haven't found her. She's obviously capable of hiding herself, so we need as many eyes as we can get. If she tries to contact the aliens, we need to see where she goes."

"Assuming she's here," Samuels said. "You still don't know that. You're still just assuming that, and this is your solution? To have piles of agents wandering around looking anywhere and everywhere? Never mind Freeh; what about Valenti? Do you really think he won't notice his town's been invaded?"

Pierce pondered that for a moment. "Good point," he agreed. "See, this is why I put up with your cheek. Bellow!" he bellowed as Samuels winced. "In here!"

Agent Bellow reappeared much faster than he should have. "Stake out Sheriff Valenti's house," Pierce instructed. "And the station. I want someone there 24/7."

"Great," Samuels said in disgust. "Tip him off even earlier by plopping agents under his nose everywhere he goes. Yeah, that's a plan."

"Make it discreet," Pierce added to Bellow. "If he sees us, you'll answer to me. And don't look so smug," he added when Bellow gave Samuels a triumphant glance. "It was Agent Samuels' brilliant idea."

Samuels gave a snort of disbelief as Bellow frowned, gave a curt nod, and left. "You should be grateful," Pierce scolded. "I'm taking your advice to not underestimate our enemies, and I just gave you credit in front of a subordinate. Lesser agents would kill for that."

"Lesser agents would focus on the credit instead of the fact that this will blow our cover even earlier," Samuels retorted. "No thanks, Danny. You can have this one."

"Ye of little faith," Pierce said dryly. "We are the FBI, aren't we? We know how to do a stakeout. Wherever there are aliens, there's a Valenti involved; you're right about that, even if you don't realize it. But I do," he added with a smile. "That's why I'm the boss."





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





Tumbleweed Inn




"You're back," a voice called as Jaddo closed the door. "Good. Dinner's ready."

Jaddo rounded the corner to find their one table set, a candle burning, and Tess just pulling something out of the oven. "What's this?" he asked suspiciously.

"Dinner," she answered. "You know, the third meal of the day, typically eaten with family?"

"Very funny. What I meant was, what's with the Betty Crocker routine?"

"Betty Crocker was a baker," Tess corrected, "although I did make a pan of brownies. But that's dessert, and the mix was Duncan Hines. I think. Might have been a store brand."

"What I meant was—"

"I know what you meant," Tess interrupted crossly. "Can you find it within yourself to simply be grateful, and sit down and eat before this gets cold?"

Jaddo eyed her for a moment in silence before taking a seat, which seemed to make her happy. She was mercurial this one, practical one moment, emotional the next. Sometimes it worried him that this was the one tasked with easing the rest of them into the truth. Sometimes he wondered if she was the right one, if perhaps Dee wouldn't be better at it. That Tess was one of them made her both the best and worst choice; she might be more readily accepted, but she was much too close to the problem, and being an adolescent herself, part of the problem. Dee was also emotionally tethered, but had the benefit of maturity and a proven track record of instinctively knowing how to handle a crisis, even from a very young age.

"There we go!" Tess said with satisfaction, depositing a casserole dish on the table. "Macaroni and cheese. An American staple."

"And a burnt table top," Jaddo said, hoisting the dish into the air to reveal a scorched brown circle beneath. "Another 'American staple'."

Tess's face fell. "Oh. Um...we don't have a hot plate. Here, use the pot holder."

Jaddo set the dish on the pot holder and held a hand over the scorch mark, repairing it. "I gather Chinese wasn't your thing tonight?"

Tess shrugged. "I get sick of Chinese. And subs, and pizza, and Spaghetti O's. New house, new menu."

"The house won't be ready until next week," Jaddo noted. "And we've moved several times without a 'new menu'.

"But we've never moved here," Tess said serenely, holding out another bowl, cold this time. "Salad?"

It was a proper tossed salad laden with tomatoes and croutons, and Jaddo looked at it skeptically before deciding to hold his tongue. Whatever the reason for her sudden burst of domesticity, it would come to light in due time. Maybe she'd shot her mouth off at school or done something she shouldn't have. Wouldn't be the first time.

"Isn't this fun?" Tess said cheerfully, pouring dressing on her salad.

"If you say so," Jaddo answered.

"So how was your day?"

Jaddo blinked. " 'How was my day'? What kind of question is that?"

"It's a question people ask each other when they come back together after being away all day," Tess answered with an edge to her voice. "You know, normal people?"

"In other words, people not like us," Jaddo said impatiently. "Tess, what is this all about? You don't cook, and you certainly don't run around doing Betty...okay, fine, Donna Reed imitations."

"I told you, I got tired of take out. And it's good, I followed the recipe—"

"I wouldn't know," Jaddo interrupted. "I can't taste it, for the same reason I can pick up hot dishes without being burned. I repeat—what's this all about?"

"I was just trying to have a normal dinner for once!" Tess exclaimed. "Just normal people having a normal dinner. And Max and Isabel's mom was making macaroni and cheese tonight, so I—"

"Thought you'd do the same," Jaddo finished. "How fitting. Because they're not normal either. Their so-called 'parents' just think they are."

"But they know they're not," Tess said. "And they know other things, things you didn't tell me."

Jaddo's eyes narrowed. "Such as?"

Tess fixed him with a level stare. "Who's 'Topolsky'?"

"Who told you about her?" Jaddo demanded.

"I went over to Isabel's house today," Tess said. "Max was there, and Michael, and I...overheard a few things."

Isabel, Jaddo thought sourly. Leave it to Vilandra to muddy the waters, any waters she came near. Honestly, was that girl to be the bane of his existence for the rest of his life? "What did you hear?" he asked.

Tess's expression grew crafty. "Oh, no. You first. Who's Topolsky?"

"Tess, what did you hear?" Jaddo repeated.

"Who's Topolsky?"

"What did you hear?" Jaddo demanded.

"Who is Topolsky?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Jaddo said in exasperation. "Honestly, you're as stubborn as an ox!"

"Yeah, who am I like?" Tess challenged. "Anyone would think we're related. We're not, but Isabel and I are."

No, you're not, Jaddo thought privately, unless one counted being an in-law. But Tess didn't know that; he'd never explained the actual relationship of one hybrid to another save for what now looked like his ill-advised revelation that Zan had been her husband. Her reaction to that had been disturbing, so much so that he'd resisted the urge to tell her more because he couldn't be certain she'd practice discretion. "Is that what this is about?" he said. "About you being 'related' to someone? We have the Unit on the way, and you're nattering on about being 'related'?"

A flicker crossed her face, whether of pain of something else, he couldn't tell. "This is about you not telling me what I need to know," she retorted. "Tell me who Topolsky is, and I'll tell you what I overheard. Don't tell, and I won't either."

"I don't believe this," Jaddo huffed.

"Suit yourself," Tess shot back.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, or rather she did, stabbing her macaroni and cheese as though it had to be killed in order to be eaten. "Fine," Jaddo said at length. "Topolsky is Agent Kathleen Topolsky, the first Unit agent assigned to Roswell last fall."

Tess stopped chewing. "Assigned where? The school?"

"Her cover was a school guidance counselor," Jaddo confirmed. "Why? How did you hear her name?"

Tess pushed some macaroni around on her plate. "From Michael. He and Max weren't thrilled to see me. They were really suspicious, and when Isabel told them I was a transfer student, Michael said that 'Topolsky was a plant when she showed up at school', and that I could be too."

"What else?" Jaddo pressed.

"Then Isabel got all mad at them—"

"Typical," Jaddo muttered.

"—and said that they were supposed to be 'acting normal'. Aren't they always supposed to be 'acting normal'?"

Jaddo was quiet for a moment. "Topolsky was here for several months, but the hybrids discovered and exposed her, after which she left town. Shortly after, agents who had worked with her here began disappearing, then she disappeared. Now she's back."

"Why?" Tess demanded. "Where was she? What does she want?"

"I don't know. But I do know that she's contacted them. That's why they're suspicious of you, and rightly so. Did they say anything else? Did you see anything, hear anything else that would help us?"

Tess met his gaze briefly, then dropped her eyes. "Isabel said something to Max about falling in love with someone, and telling her their secret, and compromising their 'very existence'. She made other comments too, like she's mad at him about something. What was she talking about?"

Jaddo sighed deeply, pushed his barely touched plate away. "Last September, a waitress at a local diner was shot during an altercation between two customers, and...'Max' healed her. In public. In front of everyone else there."

Tess's eyes grew round, as well they should, given the magnitude of the indiscretion. "I...he can do that? I mean...wait...in public?"

"Most of the onlookers didn't realize what was happening," Jaddo continued, "but some did, and that set off a series of chain reactions which is what drew the Unit and Topolsky here. Not to mention that the girl Max healed discovered his true nature."

"Liz," Tess murmured. "So that's how she knows he's not human."

"Not just her," Jaddo answered. "Remember, several of their close friends are aware they're aliens. Needless to say, I'm not thrilled about it, although I must confess they've come in handy from time to time. But it remains a sore point among the Others, and rightly so."

"Yes, of course," Tess nodded. "But...but this is good!" she went on brightly. "They've told other people, so maybe they'll be more willing to tell me. But it's also bad," she added, suddenly crestfallen, "because it means he really loves her. Really, really loves her."

"What are you babbling about?" Jaddo demanded.

"Liz. I thought she was just a girlfriend, but...he saved her life. That's major."

"Nonsense," Jaddo declared. "He just thinks he loves her. He has no idea who he is, so how can he have any idea who he loves?"

His phone rang. Jaddo fished it out of his pocket and stepped outside the room, leaving Tess alone with her macaroni and cheese. "I didn't find anything," he told Brivari by way of greeting. "Wherever Topolsky is, she's laying very low."

"Hardly," Brivari said. "She just made her move."

"With who?" Jaddo demanded. "Zan? Rath?"

"Neither," Brivari answered. "Liz Parker."


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


I'll be posting Chapter 96 on Sunday, December 2. (Good Lord, is it December already? :shock: ) Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Image
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
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Chapter 96

Postby Kathy W » Sun Dec 02, 2012 8:25 pm

Hello everyone! This chapter comes to you via the flu. Image Fortunately I can't transmit flu germs via the web, so it should be safe to post. (Although if you don't want my bad karma, you might want to pretend you're not really reading. :mrgreen: )


cjeb, you're very welcome, and nice to see you! Glad you're still reading.

Misha, no Max this week, but we do have Liz. Will she do? Max shows up next week.

I'm guessing Tess lost her marbles when Nasedo died.

Thanks for the get well wishes. I'll take all the healing vibes I can get!






CHAPTER NINETY-SIX



April 11, 2000, 7:30 p.m.

Senor Chow's, Roswell





"What are you doing?" Jaddo demanded as he slid into the booth opposite Brivari, who was halfway through a taco.

"Eating," Brivari replied calmly. "That what they do in places like this. Have something?"

"I've eaten. Where's Topolsky?"

"Gone. She was only here a few minutes."

"Then why is the female still here?" Jaddo asked, eyeing the Parker girl one aisle over, ostensibly perusing a menu.

"I imagine she's trying to throw off anyone watching," Brivari answered. "Like us, for example. Could I get another Coke?" he asked a passing waitress. "And one for my friend too, please."

"I don't want a Coke," Jaddo said crossly.

"Low blood sugar," Brivari said apologetically to the startled waitress. "Make his a large. And yes, you do want one," he added to Jaddo as the waitress retreated. "This is a restaurant, and people eat in restaurants. The goal is to not attract attention, correct?"

"Which I can do sans food," Jaddo retorted. "I want to know what Topolsky's doing here, and if anyone followed her."

"She certainly fears being followed," Brivari said. "She came in disguise. Not a very good one, to be sure, but then our standards are high. She claims she came here to warn them."

"About?"

"About what we've already discerned. She said there's an alien hunter 'buried deep within the FBI' who answers to no one, not even the president or the Bureau's director."

Jaddo leaned forward eagerly. "Did she name this hunter?"

The waitress reappeared with the Cokes, and Jaddo waited impatiently for her to leave. "She did not," Brivari answered when she had. "But she did say he's after Zan, and claimed that Zan's friends are on some kind of 'list'. She also claimed their lives were all in danger, and it was clear she was also referring to her own."

"No surprise there," Jaddo said. "But what about her? Did she say why she went missing?"

"No. But she did say 'they don't know I'm here'. Given what happened to the other agents, I'm guessing she managed to escape."

"And came here," Jaddo murmured. "But why? Why warn them? And why do it through the female?"

"Topolsky's not the only one to consider the Parker girl a worthy liaison," Brivari noted. "That I was here tonight to witness their meeting is because of Dee, who suggested I tail the girl. She felt that were it up to her to make a choice as to whom to approach, the Parker girl would be at the top of the list."

"I can't see why," Jaddo said. "Now she's meeting with FBI agents behind Zan's back?"

"She didn't know she was meeting Topolsky," Brivari answered. "She received flowers earlier today with a note directing her here, and she thought they were from Zan."

"Inventive," Jaddo allowed, draining the Coke he hadn't wanted.

"As to why she would warn them, I don't know," Brivari continued, "and frankly, I don't care. She has to go."

"Not until we find out what she's up to," Jaddo protested, "and who's following her."

"We know who's following her," Brivari said. "The Unit is following her, and if they're not here already, they will be soon. She's precisely the wrong kind of magnet."

"Which is why we should watch her," Jaddo argued. "We don't know exactly who we're dealing with. Leave Topolsky where she is, and watch what the cat drags in. We can handle them."

"That we can," Brivari agreed, "but not without a price. We talked about this; we can't afford to alert the Unit to our presence. Yes, I know we can make it look like an accident, but how many 'accidents' will it take before the Unit gets wise? One," he went on, answering his own question. "The Unit will view any deaths as suspicious, so we can't afford to execute anyone unless there's truly no other option. And then there's the issue of her affect on our Wards. She told the Parker girl she wants to meet with them tomorrow night, and given her reaction, they just might do that."

"Rath would never agree to that," Jaddo said, "and neither would Zan. Tess was invited home by Vilandra today, and both Zan and Rath quite properly objected to her because she was a stranger."

"Vilandra?" Brivari chuckled. "That must have you steaming."

"She certainly wasn't my first choice, but any way in is a way in," Jaddo answered darkly.

" 'First choice'?" Brivari echoed. "What other choice was there? Both of our Wards have human girlfriends. And besides, Ava and Vilandra were always chummy. Except at the end, of course, when we could have used that."

"Don't remind me," Jaddo muttered.

"This isn't just about our Wards," Brivari continued. "They have human allies, and one of them may decide to meet with Topolsky. She's too dangerous, Jaddo, even if she is really trying to warn them. She'll have them in a compromising position in no time if we let her, which is why we can't let her."

"All right, all right," Jaddo said, clasping his hands together, his fingers working furiously. "Let's think this through. You said she wanted to meet with them tomorrow night?"

"At 8 p.m.," Brivari nodded. "Behind the theater."

"So much for inventive," Jaddo said dryly. "But that gives us another day before they might do something stupid. We should at least take that day to learn as much as we can. Please tell me you tailed her."

"Of course. She's staying at the Holiday Inn, room 526, under a male's name."

"Excellent," Jaddo said, pushing his glass away. "Let's go."

"Is Ava home alone?" Brivari asked casually.

Jaddo raised an eyebrow. "I thought we agreed we would keep our respective spheres of influence?"

"We did. I was just curious."

"She's fine, Brivari. She's been left alone on many occasions, had to be. I think you'll agree this is more important." Jaddo stood up. "Aren't you coming?"

"You go. I'm keeping an eye on the Parker girl in case she decides to act on what she's learned tonight."

Jaddo considered that for a moment before nodding. "Good idea."

He left. Brivari finished his Coke and ordered another, along with dessert. Ten minutes later, the Parker girl left, but Brivari made no move to follow her. What he hadn't told Jaddo is that Topolsky had good reason to believe she'd been followed because she had been. Two men had entered the restaurant not long after she had, men who had closely eyeballed every single patron it contained and one of whom had taken a booth, unaware he was also being watched. This was the most likely candidate yet for Unit agent, and it was imperative Jaddo not discover this. If the Unit was here, and—God forbid—if it contained a Pierce, he needed to discover that first.

Twenty minutes later, the target asked for his check. Brivari left enough cash on his table to cover his meal and a generous tip before following him into the night. Let Jaddo chase Topolsky and think he was doing something. This was the real threat.




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




Crashdown Cafe




Home was just across the street, but it seemed much further to Liz as she looked both ways for traffic as if in a trance, nearly stepping off the curb when she shouldn't have. Stop it, she chastised herself, pulling her heeled shoe back as a car rolled by. She was acting like a small child, like the mere act of swinging her head from side to side was a magic talisman protective in its own right, regardless of how many cars were bearing down upon her. No purpose would be served in splattering herself across the pavement, and she waited until the nearest car was several blocks away before venturing across, tottering on heels which now felt shaky and unstable. Weird, she thought, stepping carefully onto the opposite curb. They hadn't felt that way earlier when she'd sashayed into Senor Chow's with a smile and a set of expectations which didn't include meeting frantic FBI agents spouting doomsday announcements. Funny how fear could affect even footwear.

Now safely across the street, the next question was how to slip inside? The front door was out; the last thing she needed was a slew of questions from Maria about why she was back so early, and at this point, she wasn't betting she could lie convincingly. The back door was almost as risky given that Michael was in the kitchen, but he wasn't the real problem. The real problem was her parents, both of whom had blinked at her last night when they'd discovered she'd taken off with Max, and neither of whom had weighed in on said discovery. She'd put up a brave front this morning when Max had asked her how they'd handled it, but the truth was they hadn't had the chance; she'd made certain of that, leaving earlier than usual this morning and avoiding them like the plague after school. Although no time would be a good time to get into it with them, this was definitely one of the worst, and she headed for the side door, waiting for fifteen interminable minutes until Agnes had finished a cigarette and finally gone back inside before cracking the door open and listening carefully. Michael and Agnes were arguing in the kitchen, and she heard no one else; if she crept carefully, she should be able to make it to her room without being detected. Idiot, she thought as her high-heeled shoe hit the floor with a clatter that sounded like a gunshot. Why hadn't she thought of that? She reached down, slipped her shoes off, closed the door carefully, and had made it most of the way up the stairs when her mother appeared at the top.

"Hi."

Crap, Liz sighed. So close, and yet so far. "Hi," she said cautiously.

Her mother looked her up and down. "Nice dress."

Liz closed her eyes briefly; never had a two word compliment carried so much baggage. "Mom, this really isn't a good time to do this."

Nancy gave her a wan smile. "Is it ever? If I wait until it's a good time, we'll never 'do this', and you know it. So we'll do it now. Where were you?"

Listening to death threats from an FBI agent. "I...I was just..."

"Out with Max," her mother finished.

"No," Liz countered, grateful that was actually the truth. "Out with...a friend."

"Wow," Nancy said casually. "Must be some friend to call for dressing up like that."

"Yeah, well...I thought I was meeting Max," Liz said, deciding to go for the truth, or at least part of it. "But he didn't show, so I wound up having dinner with...someone else."

"Blew you off?" Nancy said sympathetically.

"No!" Liz said hastily, "No, he...he called. Something came up."

Nancy nodded. "Something always does."

Liz's fingers clenched around the straps of the shoes dangling from her hands. She doesn't know, she told herself. Her mother had no idea what was going down and so couldn't properly evaluate the situation, and that wasn't her fault. Of course it looked different to her; how could it not? "Actually, no," she said, keeping her voice even. "Something usually doesn't. Just tonight."

"But not last night," Nancy said.

Here it comes. "No, not last night," Liz agreed.

"When you left before your shift was over," Nancy went on.

"When business was slow, and we had too many people standing around with very little to do," Liz clarified. "So, yes, I asked Maria to cover for me, which she agreed to do."

"Well, of course she did," Nancy said. "She's your friend."

"She's also not an idiot," Liz said with an edge to her voice. "If she'd felt she couldn't handle it, she would have said 'no'. And I'm not an idiot; if it had been busy, I never would have asked."

"Liz, I never said you were an idiot."

The tone was wounded, not overly so, more regretful, really. "I'm sorry," Liz said. "That...wasn't fair."

"No, it wasn't," her mother said calmly. "Apology accepted. Now...for the record, this isn't about Max. Your father and I don't mind that you went out with Max, we just mind the way you did it. We thought you were working a shift, and then we found out you weren't. You could have at least checked to see if we were okay with you taking off early. You could have left a note."

An awkward pause ensued as they looked at each other, Nancy at the top of the stairs and Liz three steps down, her shoes still swinging. "And this is a disturbing parallel to last time," Nancy went on, "where we found ourselves in very similar circumstances—we didn't mind that you went out with Max, we just minded the way you did it. You didn't leave a note then either."

The pang of guilt Liz had been feeling abruptly evaporated. "That was overnight," she said, "so that was understandable that you'd be concerned. But last night it was evening, well before you expected me home. Maria and I have covered for each other a thousand times before. You know that, you've never objected to it, never questioned our judgment of whether or not it's appropriate, but now, all of a sudden, you are. So it looks to me like this is 'about Max' because that's the only thing that's changed. Now who's not being fair?"

Silence. Liz waited for her mother to say something, but Nancy merely dropped her eyes. "Sorry I didn't leave a note," Liz said. "Next time I will. Excuse me."

For a moment Liz didn't think her mother was going to step aside. But she did, and Liz went past to her room and closed the door quietly lest anyone think she was angry. Which she was, a little, because her mother wasn't being completely honest with her...but then wasn't she doing the same thing? She hadn't merely left last night, she'd snuck out, and she hadn't left a note as she normally would have because she'd feared her parents' reaction. If she wanted her mother to deal with her honestly, she'd have to start doing the same thing, or she was nothing but a hypocrite.

Thoroughly drained, Liz sank down on her bed and pulled her phone out of her purse. As much as this had been a bad time to get into petty disagreements with her parents, there was no denying the fact that having that petty disagreement now had delayed the inevitable hand-wringing about how to handle this latest encounter with Topolsky. Should she call Max and tell him about it? Was that even advisable? Couldn't phones be tapped? If there was even a chance that Topolsky was right, then they had to be extra careful about what they said and who might overhear them. Heck, even if she wasn't right, even if this was all a ruse to lure them out, they still had to be careful, maybe even more so; at least if Topolsky was right, she appeared to be on their side. No, she thought, tossing the phone aside. She couldn't risk it. She had to tell Max in person.

She flopped back on the bed, her dress splaying in a very unladylike fashion. Which means I get to stew on it, she thought wearily. All night.




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



Tumbleweed Inn




Tess sighed heavily and glared at her nemesis, namely the pot she'd used to cook the macaroni and cheese, now covered with a thick film of starch which more closely resembled glue and absolutely refused to budge. She'd tried everything; soaking in hot water, steel wool, the Dawn dish detergent used to remove oil from sea animals when oil tankers leaked, and last but not least, sheer elbow grease. Nothing made a dent. At the rate she was going, she'd scrub off the so-called "non-stick" coating, and the gunk would still be there. All those cooking shows never told you that cleaning up would be harder than the rest of it. It certainly didn't help that the dishes included in the makeshift kitchen which was part of what the Tumbleweed euphemistically referred to as its "executive suite" dated to somewhere in the stone age and had been used nearly as long. Deeply scratched, non-stick coatings from the 50's could hardly be expected to clean up well, and she decided to take a break, leaning on the sink, her arms aching. This was really so unnecessary. One flick of her powers, and the pot would be clean. That's the way she usually did it on the rare occasions when she cooked. Why scrub when you didn't have to?

The answer to that question sent her back to work with more hot water and more Dawn. This is the way the Others did things. The hard way. The human way. The way they shouldn't have to, but obviously did, judging by the clues she'd seen today at Isabel's house. Take their drinks, for example. After an hour of studying and shooting the breeze...well, mostly shooting the breeze...their cold drinks were no longer cold. Tess had absentmindedly touched hers and sent it back to frigid, while Isabel had taken a sip and grimaced.

"Yuck! There's nothing worse than warm pop," she'd declared. "I'll get some ice. Want some?"

"Um...mine's still cold," Tess had answered.

Isabel had reached over and touched Tess's root beer. "Huh. Weird."

"Maybe it was in a colder part of the fridge?" Tess had suggested.

"Maybe," Isabel had allowed. "I'll get some ice for you too just in case.

Tess had spent the next five minutes alone in Isabel's bedroom and too rattled to avail herself of the opportunity to snoop. Why had she done that? Because I can, she'd answered herself. Because I always do. There were hundreds of ways to use one's powers right in front of people, and they'd never know. She warmed and cooled food and drinks all the time with no one the wiser, but this was different; this was someone who knew better. So why was Isabel running for the freezer? Come to think of it, she couldn't remember ever seeing Isabel use her powers, even in surreptitious ways no one would have noticed. For all that she'd had to be so careful, running from the Unit all her life, pretending to be human everywhere she went, Tess couldn't ever remember simply not using her powers. They were as much a part of her as breathing, and almost as automatic.

But not for them, she'd realized when Isabel's "mom" had arrived home from work and begun assembling dinner. Their "parents" didn't know their children were different, and it was clear from the way Isabel moved around the kitchen that she would never dream of using her powers in front of her mother even if the odds her mother would notice anything unusual were virtually nil. That was a higher level of paranoia than even Tess was used to, and she found it simultaneously repelling and intriguing. Was this the trade-off for having people who measured your every inch and hung real photos on the wall? What would it be like to live like that? Could she even do it?

She'd used dinner to answer that question. Aching for a dinner invitation from Isabel that never came, she'd replicated Diane Evans' dinner menu, or tried to in the Inn's tiny kitchen. She'd had to stop herself from using her powers several times, but she'd managed, ultimately quite pleased with herself, although frustrated that she couldn't discuss this with Nasedo; he would have found the whole thing silly. But it wasn't silly because it helped her get inside their heads. Nasedo had always told her that the Others had been raised as humans, had lived among people who didn't know their true origins, but until today she hadn't really appreciated what that meant. Some of it was so wonderful that it made her heart ache; the photographs, the measurements, the little doodles on the shopping list. Some of it looked like a huge pain, such as feeling the need to hide virtually anytime you weren't alone in a room. She'd never had to hide her true self in her own home unless they had guests, which they rarely did. To have to hide there too sounded unbearable, but then maybe the Others didn't need that haven as badly as she did. They hadn't had to run the way she had, hadn't been hunted like her.

Until now, Tess thought, seeing an encouraging clean streak on the stubborn pan. She'd had no idea the FBI had planted themselves here, no idea the Others had been fighting a battle on their own turf. She'd always thought herself the expert on such matters, but now she wasn't so sure; she'd spent her life running, not fighting, always moving away from the threat, not challenging it. The Others didn't have that option and likely wouldn't take it if presented; Isabel was clearly very attached to the woman she called her mother even if she knew otherwise, and Max and Michael were clearly very attached to their girlfriends, who actually knew they were aliens. She still found it incredible that they'd let humans in on their secret. And after all her musing about how Isabel didn't use her powers in even the smallest way, to find out that Max had used his in the most public way imaginable was just mind boggling. He just thinks he loves her, Nasedo had said, but Tess begged to differ, and anyway, what did Nasedo know about love? Nothing, that's what, and no one knew that better than she did. He'd been a good protector, but nothing more. Realizing how little they used their powers just made it all the more astonishing that Max had been willing to take such a risk, and all the more obvious why he'd done so. He wasn't just dating Liz Parker, he was in love with her. She knew that even if Nasedo didn't.

Got it! Tess thought triumphantly as the starchy glue on the pot finally gave way. A few minutes later she set it triumphantly on the counter, clean and dry, until she noticed that all that elbow grease had indeed damaged the Teflon even more. She'd just raised a hand to fix it when she stopped. What would a human do? Get another pot, that's what; either that or eat from damaged Teflon, which you weren't supposed to do. If she truly wanted to feel what it was like to be Isabel, she shouldn't do this.

Her phone rang. Relieved of having to make a decision just yet, Tess answered it. "Hello?"

"Hi, Tess? It's Isabel."

"Isabel!" Tess exclaimed, hastily wiping her hands on her jeans as though Isabel were in the room with her. "Hi!"

"Look, I just wanted to apologize again for Max and Michael. They were incredibly rude, and they had no reason to be."

"Yes, they did," Tess said. "I mean, I'm sure they did," she amended hastily. "I'm sure they had their reasons."

"No good ones, anyway," Isabel said. "I promise you I gave them what for."

"Really, it's okay," Tess assured her. "I'm not offended."

"Then you should be," Isabel said. "And to make it up to you, why don't we get together again?"

"Really?" Tess exclaimed. "I'd love to!"

"Good! Hopefully Max and Michael will have other things to do than be rude to my friends. We could meet at the Crashdown and have dinner, and then decide what to do next."

"Something fun," Tess said eagerly. "I could do your hair, or you could do my nails."

"Or we could both go through my lipstick collection," Isabel said. "I've got way too many, and your coloring is different; maybe you could use some of them."

"That would be so cool," Tess said.

"Great!" Isabel said. "We'll talk tomorrow at school."

"Yeah, see you at school," Tess said, barely breathing as she hung up. Had that just happened? Had Isabel just called her? That had to mean something, that they had a connection, something Isabel sensed even if she wasn't aware of it. Of course we do, Tess thought. They were alike. Isabel had to know that, even if in some deep down, barely conscious way.

Nearly walking on air, Tess returned to the sink and looked at the damaged pot. A moment later it was no longer damaged or old, but as shiny as it must have been the day it was bought. It might be fun to play human, but the fact was, they weren't. It might be fun to dally with humans, but the fact was, that was all it was. They were different, she and Isabel and Max and Michael, and there was no getting around that. The Others would have to come to terms with that simple fact of life the same way she had.




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



April 12, 2000, 8:45 a.m.

West Roswell High School





Alex Whitman let his backpack slip to the ground as he opened his locker door. First period had just let out, and the halls were packed, especially at the peripheries where frantic students struggled to beat the new four minute passing time. Whoever had decided to shorten passing time from five minutes to four must be smoking something, maybe the same something smoked by whoever had decided to narrow their lockers from twelve inches to eight. Pretty soon the hallways would be scarier than any classroom mid-midterm. Not that they aren't already, Alex thought, gazing through a hole in the throng toward the end of the hall where Isabel and that new girl were having an animated conversation. What was her name...Bess? Jess? Whatever it was, he was wishing he'd never heard it.

"Alex?"

"Hey, Liz," Alex said. "I'm glad to see you and Max are out of the closet."

Liz smiled faintly. "I wanted to talk to you," she said. "I...how many books are you trying to fit in there?"

"All of them," Alex answered, struggling with the zipper on his bulging backpack. "This new passing time means I don't have time to come back for the rest of the day. Not if I want to do things like eat, pee, and walk from one class to another, that is."

"Yeah, it's nuts," Liz agreed.

"So, how was your date?" Alex asked. "I heard about the flowers. Pretty slick."

Liz blinked. "You know about that?"

"Who doesn't?" Alex chuckled. "Maria is in awe of your fabulous boyfriend and never misses an opportunity to instruct the male of the species on why they should copy him. I just wish I had a reason to."

"Oh," Liz said, following his gaze down the hall where Isabel and what's-her-name were still chattering. "Still nothing?"

"Haven't tried again yet," Alex admitted. "But I'm watching for my moment."

"Yeah, um...about my 'date'," Liz said. "Max didn't send me those flowers."

"What, you've got a secret admirer?" Alex said. "And, no, it wasn't me. I love you to pieces, but not—"

"I know that," Liz broke in. "It was Topolsky."

Alex looked up from his zipper fight. "Okay, that's...creepy."

"Tell me about it," Liz agreed. "Topolsky sent me those flowers. And met me at the restaurant wearing a wig and really scared, just like she was the other night. She says we're all in danger, not just Max."

"And that's...disturbing," Alex said, feeling his stomach take a washing machine-style churn. "Did she happen to say what kind of danger?"

Liz leaned in closer. "She claims there's an alien hunter buried deep within the FBI, and he's...he's after Max."

"Whoa," Alex murmured.

"Topolsky says this hunter wants Max and anyone associated with him," Liz went on. "She's says all our names are on some kind of 'list'."

"Shit," Alex muttered. "Sorry," he amended quickly. "I...I just..."

"I know," Liz said sympathetically. "I had the same reaction. And I didn't get much sleep last night."

"I'll bet," Alex said. "So what did Max say?"

"I haven't told him yet," Liz admitted. "I wanted to ask you something."

"Me? What could I possibly add to this discussion?"

"I wanted to know if you meant what you said yesterday, about me having good instincts."

"Yeah," Alex said without hesitation. "Absolutely."

"No, really," Liz insisted. "Because I think this is real. I feel it in my bones. I saw her before, and I'm seeing her now, and...and she's really scared, Alex. She's just not that good of an actress. But then another part of me wonders if I'm nuts, if I'm not just falling for a line because she's trying to scare me, and it's working."

"No, no," Alex said, taking her hands in his. "You were right last time, Liz. You thought there was something fishy about her from the beginning, the very beginning. So if you think she's legit now, then I think so too."

Liz visibly relaxed. "Okay. Thanks. I've got to tell Max about this, and I know what he's going to say, and...and I think we should all have a say in this. If this hunter is going after all of us, shouldn't we all have a say in how we handle this?"

The bell rang, and everyone around them scrambled. "I'm sorry," Liz said. "Now I've made you late."

"You're late too," Alex pointed out.

"I don't care," Liz said. "This is way more important. Besides, they're giving everyone a pass this week while we get used to it. Might as well take advantage of it."

"Yeah," Alex agreed. "Guess so." He was quiet for a moment. "You know what the worst part of this is?"

"Being chased by an alien hunter in the FBI?" Liz suggested.

Alex shook his head. "Nope. Not even that. The worst part is that there's no one to go to, no one we can ask for help because, if we did, either no one would believe us...or someone would. Either one is bad."

"Yeah," Liz agreed miserably. "I know what you mean."

"Which is one more reason we all get a say in this," Alex said, shouldering his way-too-heavy backpack. "We're on our own here."



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



Saucer Motel




"What?" Pierce said impatiently when a knock sounded on the door.

The door opened, and Agent Lehman poked his head inside. "Didn't you just leave?" Pierce said.

"Sorry," Lehman apologized. "I just wanted to clarify a few things so I know exactly how you want us to proceed if we find Topolsky. When we find Topolsky," he corrected hastily. "I meant 'when'."

"I like your attitude, agent," Pierce said approvingly. "Wish some of the others shared it. Come," he added, gesturing toward the foot of the bed. "Tell me what's on your mind."

Oh, I intend to, Brivari thought, taking a seat only inches from the spitting image of the handsome, cruel man who had been their most hated enemy. And when I do, you'll wish I hadn't.



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



I'll post Chapter 97 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."

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

Chapter 97

Postby Kathy W » Sun Dec 09, 2012 11:08 pm

^ It's been 17 years since I've had the flu, so I really can't complain (well, I can, and I do, but I shouldn't). Seventeen years is a pretty good record.

And nope, at this point, the kids are very much on their own, and they stay that way until Valenti comes down on their side. This is one time I'd be in favor of bringing Philip Evans in on things. For all that he's not one of my favorites, I'm betting he would have made one hell of an ally.





CHAPTER NINETY-SEVEN



April 12, 2000, 2:30 p.m.

West Roswell High School





Finally, Alex thought as the last bell of the day rang, followed by the predictable roar of hundreds of students dashing for freedom. Lots of school days crawled for one reason or another, but this one which had achieved a glacial pace unmatched by any other, especially since that charming side trip to the quarry at lunch time. He'd spent the morning queasy from Liz's announcement that Topolsky had made another pass, but it hadn't been until after lunch, after he'd heard the details, that it had turned into a full blown stomach ache which had him running to the bathroom at regular, inconvenient intervals. Now he wanted nothing more than to go home and hole up in his bedroom, the one place it would seem the FBI couldn't get him. He was passing the auditorium when the chorale director appeared in the doorway.

"Mr. Whitman? The guidance counselor wants to see you."

Alex felt his insides clench. "Who?"

"Your counselor," the director repeated. "Stop in her office on the way out, would you?"

Topolsky, Alex thought as the director retreated, unaware he'd just lobbed a mental grenade. Why would the counselor want to see him? He had no business with her, none that he knew of, anyway. This would be the perfect way for Topolsky to get to him in a way he'd never suspect, just like the flowers she'd sent Liz. Should he go? His head swung back and forth between the exit and the side hallway down which he'd find the guidance offices. It would be so easy to walk away.

No, Alex decided. He'd been in favor of hearing what Topolsky had to say earlier today, and he'd been voted down. That had upset him enough that he'd seriously considered conveniently being behind the theater tonight at 8:00 p.m. until he'd realized that wasn't fair. All of their names might be on some "list", but the fact remained that Max was the one they were after. It was his life on the line, but he'd put the issue to a vote anyway and would presumably have lived by the result; the least he could do was do the same. But this is different, he thought, working his way upstream through the crowd of students seeking escape. If this was Topolsky, she'd come to him, not the other way around, which meant he could do some fishing and honestly say he'd had no idea what was coming. Except I do, he thought queasily, his insides registering their profound disapproval. The fact that the new counselor occupied the same office as Topolsky didn't help things, and he paused outside to compose himself. He'd been scared shitless that time, and he'd survived. He'd survive this one too. Braced for battle, he opened the door...and his heart nearly stopped when he saw a blonde head at the filing cabinet.

"Alex! Wow, that was quick; I only just spoke with Mr. Borrelli."

"Uh...yeah," Alex said, a little dizzy as he registered the fact that it wasn't Topolsky. "Did...did you change your hair?"

"Why, yes," the counselor smiled, patting her hairdo. "I went blonde. Wanted to for ages, but never had the nerve. Guess it's my mid-life crisis, but I've heard blondes have more fun."

"Not always," Alex muttered. "I mean, I've heard that too," he amended hastily, managing a smile. "Looks nice."

"Thank you!" the counselor beamed. "I'm surprised you noticed. My own husband didn't."

Probably because he didn't associate "blonde" with "whacked out FBI agent", Alex thought, sinking into the chair in front of her desk and unsurprised to find he was sweating profusely. Five minutes later he was back in the hallway with a college brochure and a headache to go with his stomachache, but he made it outside this time. The fresh air and sunshine had never felt so good.

"Hey, Alex."

Not now, Alex groaned as Max came up beside him on the front step. "Hey, Max," he said tonelessly.

"So, what are you doing later tonight?"

Alex blinked. "Excuse me?"

"I said, what are you doing later tonight?"

"And...why would you want to know that?"

Max shrugged. "Just wondered if you wanted to hang."

"If I wanted to 'hang'?" Alex repeated incredulously. "Max, you and I do not 'hang'. We've done many things in our short time together, some of which I can hardly believe, but the one thing we have never, ever done is 'hang'."

"Are you okay?" Max asked cautiously.

"No, Max, I am not 'okay'!" Alex exclaimed. "I just got called to the guidance counselor's office when I wasn't expecting to be. And no, it wasn't what you're thinking," he added when Max's eyes widened, "which is exactly what I was thinking, and why I'm not okay. So forgive me if I'm questioning this sudden urge to 'hang'. I'm questioning pretty much everything right now, including the air I'm breathing."

Alex locked his hands behind his neck and turned his face to the sun as other students rushed past, their chatter a sharp contrast to the heavy silence between he and Max. He was just about to bag it and go home when Max spoke.

"Uh...the 'hanging' thing...the rest of us were going to the Crashdown tonight to...you know..."

" 'Hang'?" Alex suggested helpfully.

"I guess," Max admitted. "Just in case anything happens."

"Mmm," Alex murmured. "Like one of us meeting Topolsky anyway?"

To his credit, Max didn't flinch. "No," he said calmly, scratching an eyebrow as though they were discussing the weather instead of possible life-or-death decisions. "I meant anything like Topolsky trying to reach one of us again. Like you thought was happening just now."

"Shouldn't we all stay home?" Alex said. "You know, lay low? Stay out of public places?"

"I think the number one thing we shouldn't do is be alone," Max answered. "Topolsky went out of her way to get Liz alone, and it doesn't sound like she's thrilled about public places. So it seems like all together in a public place is the best place to be."

Alex considered that a moment. "Okay," he said finally. "But I won't be alone; I'll be home with my parents. So don't worry about me."

To Alex's surprise, Max didn't put up a fight. "Okay. We'll be there if you change your mind."

"Got it," Alex said. "Thanks."

"And Alex?" Max added as he started to walk away. "I'm really sorry. I never meant to drag you into this, and I don't want anyone to get hurt."

"I know you didn't," Alex said, "and I appreciate that. But I'll be fine."

"She'll go for you next," Max called when Alex started to walk away again. "Just keep that in mind."

"Me?" Alex echoed. "Why me? I'm the one who hacked her computer. Why would she go anywhere near me?"

"Because she wants 'smart'," Max answered. "You and Liz are smart. When Liz doesn't show, she'll try you."

"I see," Alex said slowly. "So, Liz and I are smart, and Liz and I are the ones who wanted to talk to Topolsky...say, do you see a pattern here?"

Max said nothing, his expression inscrutable. "Just tell me one thing," Alex continued. "If the vote hadn't gone your way, would you have honored it? Would we be meeting Topolsky tonight?"

There was a long pause while Max held his gaze for several seconds before dropping his eyes. "That's what I thought," Alex said. "So what's stopping me from going to meet her anyway?"

Max gave a small shrug. "Honestly? Nothing, I guess."

It was the admission Alex had wanted, but it was the tone that got him. Max's voice was a stew of fear, regret, and resignation, and Alex felt suddenly childish for dangling this in his face. The FBI was after the guy, for Christ's sake, and here he stood threatening civil disobedience. "I won't meet with her," Alex said. "Whatever you would have done, I'll honor the vote. But I'll honor it my way, in my own home, fretting in my own room." He turned around. "See ya."

"I would have honored it too," Max said behind him.

Alex stopped, turned. "I just wouldn't have liked it," Max went on. "I would have done it, but I wouldn't have liked it."

Alex nodded slowly. "So now you know how I feel."




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



Saucer Motel




"Guh," Pierce said when Brian appeared. "More coffah."

"Huh?"

Pierce pulled the pencil out of his teeth. "I said, 'good, more coffee'. Can't you understand pencil talk?"

"Haven't seen you like this in a while," Brian commented, dropping a stack of sugar packets beside the coffee cup. "Look at you, chewing on a pencil and all hunched over your laptop with your tie off and your sleeves rolled up. Anyone would think you were actually working."

"Such a vote of confidence," Pierce said dryly. "If I...oh, shit," he finished darkly as the sugar packet he was opening exploded, sending sugar everywhere. "Can't we buy sugar in bulk instead of wasting time on these stupid little packets?"

"Suppose so," Brian said, eyeing him warily. "What's gotten into you, Danny? You've been sitting here in your suit and tie, and now you're all business and get up and go. Nobody's even laid eyes on Topolsky yet. What's so pressing that you don't have time to rip open a few sugar packets?"

"Thank you, Doctor Phil," Pierce said tartly. "Did you get what I asked you for? Then let's hear it," he went on when Brian nodded. "Quick, before my coffee gets cold."

Brian pulled a notebook out of his pocket as Pierce settled in with his coffee and breathed a snort of annoyance that Brian had noticed, along with a sigh of relief that he'd managed to re-direct him. He was indeed hard at work, for twenty-four hours had passed with not so much as a whiff of Topolsky, and although he wouldn't have admitted it to God himself, assuming he believed in him, which he didn't, he was starting to get worried. What if Brian was right? What if they were squatting here, pulling in piles of Unit resources while Topolsky was off gallivanting to Hawaii, or some other place? Hell, what if she was already off the planet? They really had no way of knowing, and with that possibility looming, it was time to hedge some bets. He'd pulled a lot of people down here, so many that a failure would be inconveniently public. This was the Unit's first real assignment on his watch, and it was imperative that he produce something of value even if it didn't come in a blonde, long-legged package. To that end he had tackled the list of suspects, attempting to narrow their focus. Agent Stevens had managed to destroy a great many documents before he'd been able to get his hands on them, so he'd set both he and Brian the task of gleaning whatever they could from the few resources left. If Topolsky didn't show, he'd need to know where to start.

"Okay, first, our chief suspect, Max Evans—"

"I know about him," Pierce interrupted. "Next."

"Next would be the beneficiary of his largesse...assuming it really was largesse," Brian added hastily when Pierce's eyes narrowed. "One Elizabeth Parker, daughter of Jeff and Nancy Parker, owners of the local watering hole, the 'Crashdown Cafe', which was the scene of the alleged healing. Parker is a straight 'A' student and all around goody two-shoes who's now dating Evans. She was last observed yesterday evening at Senor Chow's, a restaurant across the street from the Crashdown. She was all dressed up, but eating alone."

"Alone?"

"The hostess said she'd asked for a table for two," Brian noted, "but no one else ever showed."

"Interesting," Pierce murmured. "Next?"

"One Maria DeLuca, Parker's best friend. Bit of a nut job, I understand. Nothing else on her."

"Next."

"Isabel Evans, Max's 'sister'," Brian continued. "Beauty queen looks, good grades, notable mostly for her hourglass figure. Michael Guerin, a foster child from a trailer park, is a friend of theirs. His is a long and interesting history of truancy, brushes with the law, and most recently, formal emancipation spearheaded by none other than Philip Evans, Max's father."

"And why was he emancipated?"

"Foster father lost interest," Brian answered, "although I gather he was never terribly interested to begin with. Left town, got a job elsewhere."

"Where?" Pierce asked. "Find out," he ordered when Brian shrugged. "Next?"

"Kyle Valenti, Jim Valenti's son," Brian went on. "Dyed-in-the-wool jock, middling grades, and Elizabeth Parker's former boyfriend. Word is he wasn't too crazy about her defection to Evans."

"Which may not have been voluntary," Pierce mused. "I could easily see them threatening to reinstate that gunshot wound if she doesn't toe his line. Flag that one," he added. "We might be able to use that resentment to our advantage. Next?"

"Everyone else is peripheral," Brian replied. "There's Valenti, of course. Evans' parents, Philip and Diane. No idea if they know what they're harboring or not. There's the school principal, some history teacher who was mooning over Kathleen—"

"Still on a first name basis, are we?" Pierce said dryly. "I still say you're sweet on her."

"—the apartment manager from the complex where she lived while she was here," Brian continued, ignoring him, "and a whole crap load of teenagers from the school. What have you got?"

"The mother lode," Pierce answered, spinning his laptop around to face Brian. "I had to re-hack the adoption records, which is a pain when you have to cover your tracks so that even the Bureau doesn't know, but get this—Max Evans was adopted in 1989 after he was found wandering in the desert. Three guesses where he was found."

"The crash site," Brian breathed.

"Yep. Pohlman Ranch. He was judged to be 6 years-old, and a birth certificate was issued accordingly."

"But...the crash was in '47," Brian said. "How could he be 6 in 1989?"

"Our records indicate that some kind of glowing sacs were salvaged from the wreckage of the ship," Pierce answered. "They were removed from the base, and the doctors who were working on them were murdered, presumably by aliens and with the help of a soldier...damned traitors," Pierce muttered. "But I'm betting those sacs contained more aliens, and Evans is one of those."

Brian whistled softly. "Wow. Seed those all over the planet and have them disgorge human-looking aliens on a rotating basis—"

"And you've got the perfect invasion," Pierce said grimly, "one we'd never see coming. God only knows how many of those there really were. We may have only found the tip of the iceberg."

"Do you think they're all kids?" Brian asked.

"What better way?" Pierce said. "Human-looking children would be accepted without question, taken into human households, mature in human communities. It's the perfect cover."

"Sheer genius," Brian agreed.

"Getting the enemy to raise your army? More like diabolical," Pierce said. "And eventually, genocide. We've got our work cut out for us. Any idea where to start?"

"I thought we were waiting for Topolsky," Brian said. "Or have you given up on that?"

The tone was neutral, but Pierce knew better. "I still think she's here," he said defensively, "and we're staying. But in the meantime, there's no reason not to find out everything we can, especially since we haven't really had a chance to after Agent Stevens so inconveniently destroyed so very much."

"And so something will have come out of this little field trip even if she doesn't show," Brian suggested with maddening accuracy. "Which I still think she won't."

"Jesus, I thought I was the impatient one around here," Pierce said crossly. "Lehman sounds just like you."

"Agent Lehman?"

"Yes, Agent Lehman," Pierce said. "Do you know another? He thinks Roswell's too obvious and Topolsky skipped over it. I say the aliens are here, and that's what she's going for. Time will tell which one of us is right. Now...where do we start?"

Brian shrugged, shuffled some papers. "They appear to hang out at Guerin's apartment a lot, probably because he's emancipated and lives alone. Besides the Evans kids and Parker, the inner circle seems to be the DeLuca girl and a kid named Alex Whitman. But not Kyle Valenti; he doesn't seem to be—"

"Wait, who?" Pierce broke in. "The one after DeLuca."

"Alex Whitman," Brian repeated. "Straight 'A' student, computer nerd, all around geek."

Pierce spun the laptop around and typed furiously. "Curious," he said finally. "When Topolsky was recalled, they had to hack into her laptop. She told them she'd changed the password in a hurry and then forgotten it, but when they decrypted it, it wasn't what they'd expected." He paused. "It was 'Alex'."

Brian's eyebrows rose. "You think this Whitman kid hacked her laptop?"

"A distinct possibility," Pierce said. "And if he did, they presumably know we're onto them."

"Great," Brian muttered.

Pierce sat back in his chair, staring at the screen. "I think," he said slowly, "that's it's time Mr. Whitman and I had a little talk."




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




Evans residence




Dee checked her watch, looked out the living room window, cursed her arthritic knee, checked her watch again. It was well after school, but neither Isabel nor Max were home yet. She'd offered to pick up some dry cleaning for Diane, supposedly because she was picking up some of her own, but that was really just a pretence for visiting, and a poor one at that; if Diane had really stopped and thought about it, she would have realized that her in-laws owned little in the way of anything which required dry cleaning. That list consisted of one item, the comforter on their bed, and even that didn't require it; it was simply too large for a regular washing machine, and she was simply too lazy to take it to a laundromat and sit there for hours while it washed and dried. Diane, by contrast, had a wardrobe full of suits which were constantly making the rounds to the dry cleaner and which now provided an excuse to visit for what looked like a perfectly acceptable reason. She was actually quite lucky that Diane was as laid back as she was; many a daughter-in-law would have objected to the frequency with which Dee stopped by. With the FBI looming, she had more of a mind to move in than stop by, but of course she couldn't do that. The best she could do was collect Diane's suits and ferry them home as she'd done now, waiting on pins and needles to see just how bad off her grandchildren were.

Voices sounded in the garage. Dee began fussing with the suits she'd draped over the back of the living room couch, trying to look nonchalant, and a moment later, Isabel appeared. "Hi, Grandma! I didn't know you'd be here."

She certainly looks all right, Dee thought, having been afraid the kids would be buckling under the stress of knowing they were once again under surveillance. "Just dropping off the dry cleaning for your mother," she said airily. "I was driving by, so I offered."

"I'm still not sure why polyester suits need dry cleaning, but whatever," Isabel said, wrinkling her nose at her mother's definition of fashion. "Grandma, I want you to meet a friend of mine. This is Tess. Tess, this is my grandmother."

A blonde head stepped into the doorway as Dee's eyes widened. She'd known Jaddo and Ava were in town, of course, but they'd only just arrived, and she'd never expected to meet Tess here, of all places.

"Hi!" Tess called cheerfully. "Nice to meet you."

"Same here," Dee said.

"Tess is new here," Isabel explained, blissfully unaware of the irony of that statement. "She and her family just moved in."

"Me and my dad," Tess corrected. "He works for the Army."

That's the story, Dee thought. "Welcome to Roswell," she said out loud. "I hope it doesn't take too long to get settled."

"Nah, I'm an old hand at this," Tess answered. "We've done it, like, a million times since I was little. We're always on the move."

More like on the run. "I had a schoolmate like that once," Dee said. "They liked it, always going somewhere new, but I'm not sure I would have enjoyed that. How about you?"

Tess shrugged. "It's life. It's what I've got. You make the best of what you've got. That's what my dad says."

Dee smiled faintly. "Does he, now?"

"Grandma, since you're here, could you help me make that no-bake chocolate cake of yours?" Isabel asked. "I know it's supposed to be simple, but I'm kitchen challenged."

" 'No bake'?" Tess repeated. "How does that work?"

"You melt the chocolate, mix it all together, and refrigerate it," Dee explained. "It won't be ready to eat until later tonight."

"That's okay," Isabel said. "Tess and I are getting together tomorrow too, so we'll eat it then."

"Whatever, I'm all for anything chocolate," Tess agreed. "Can I help?"

"Of course," Dee said. "It'll be three girls in the kitchen with chocolate. Can't get much better than that."

Tess broke into a wide smile. "Great! I'll dump my books in your room and be right back out."

"She's cheerful," Dee commented as she and Isabel went into the kitchen.

"Yeah, it's amazing how she lets stuff just bounce off her," Isabel said, pulling two root beers out of the fridge. "Honestly, people can be so mean to someone new, especially someone who looks like she does, but she doesn't seem to let it get to her."

A useful skill given who raised her, Dee thought dryly. "What's with the sugar?" she asked as Isabel spooned extra sugar into both root beer bottles. "I mean, I know you like it that way, but does she?"

"Actually, she does," Isabel smiled. "Isn't that crazy? I thought I was the only one who did that, but Tess does it too. What were the odds?"

Bigger than you think, Dee thought, pulling bowls, spoons, and pans out of cupboards. She was digging through a drawer for baking chocolate, grateful that she had a bona fide reason to hang around longer, when the kitchen door opened and Max appeared.

"Hey, Grandma. What are you making..."

He stopped, staring across the room. Isabel and Tess were standing in the opposite doorway, and Tess's eyes were fixed on Max.. "I'm...helping Isabel and her new friend make a chocolate cake," Dee answered, her voice filling the now tense silence.

"Oh," Max answered in a clipped tone. "Isabel, can I talk to you for a moment?"

"Why, of course, brother dear," Isabel said in a sickly sweet voice which fooled no one. "I'll be right back," she told Tess. "Grandma will show you what to do."

They retreated, and Dee unwrapped a bar of baking chocolate on the cutting board. "Wonder what that's about?" she said lightly.

"It's probably about me," Tess answered.

"You? What about you?"

"Well, I was over here yesterday, and Max and Michael didn't seem too thrilled about it," Tess said. "Guess they don't like strangers. Which I totally understand," she added hastily. "I'm not mad, or anything."

"Very magnanimous of you," Dee said. "Now, how are you with a knife? We need to chop this bar of chocolate into pieces small enough to melt fairly quickly."

"I can do that," Tess said confidently. "I'd actually love to learn how to cook more. My dad is more of a take-out person."

"To each his own," Dee said casually. "We need a double boiler. I think Mrs. Evans stores that in the closet because she doesn't use it much. You chop, and I'll be right back."

She left Tess happily chopping and crept down the hallway. Isabel and Max were in Max's room, and they weren't making much of an effort to be quiet.

"...just don't see why you keep bringing her home," Max was saying. "Can't you see her in school? Isn't that enough?"

"This is my house too, and I'll bring home anyone I want," Isabel retorted. "Weren't you the one who said we shouldn't live in constant fear? What, and now you want me to?"

"Of course not," Max's voice answered, patient, level, faintly exasperated. "This just isn't a good time to let someone new into our home, not with Topolsky snooping around. And this isn't like you, Isabel. We get new kids all the time at school, but you don't take up with them. What's with this one?"

Plenty, Dee thought. Isabel obviously sensed a kindred spirit, although she had no idea just how kindred and likely would recoil when she discovered that, which she inevitably would. "Couldn't find it," Dee announced upon returning to the kitchen, where Tess had reduced half the bar to chunks. "Must be out here somewhere."

"So how bad is it?" Tess asked.

Dee blinked. "Excuse me?"

"The argument," Tess explained. "That's why you really went back there, wasn't it? To listen to them arguing?"

Ooookay, Dee thought, taking in the matter-of-fact tone, the easy-breezy accusation of eavesdropping, and the complete lack of judgment about said eavesdropping. She'd found eavesdropping a useful—no, an indispensable—skill since childhood, but she'd still always felt faintly guilty about it. Somehow she was guessing Tess wouldn't.

"So tell me," Dee said, pulling the double boiler out of the cupboard she'd known it was in all along, "do you always make casual accusations against people you've just met, or is this something new for you?"

Tess stopped chopping, stared at her...and broke into a completely unexpected smile. "Sorry. I guess that didn't come out the way I thought it would."

"I'm guessing it did," Dee said bluntly, "but I confess to being at a loss as to why you're smiling. I just rapped you on the knuckles."

Tess's smile changed to a laugh. "You think that's knuckle rapping? You should see my dad. Believe me, that's nothing. And I like it when people say what they mean. A lot of people don't, and I think we'd all get along a lot better if we just spit it out."

"Like you just did," Dee observed.

"And you," Tess added.

Dee raised an eyebrow, but Tess merely returned serenely to her chopping, certain she was right because she was. Dee filled the bottom half of the double boiler with water and set it on the stove. "The chocolate goes in the top part," she explained. "The hot water will melt it. That keeps the chocolate from getting burned."

"Cool," Tess said. She paused. "Isabel's really lucky. To have a grandmother to teacher her stuff like this, I mean. I wish I did."

The tone was matter-of-fact, but there was no avoiding the wistfulness it contained or the lack of so much as a drop of ill will from their last exchange. Jaddo's Tess was a girl who simultaneously hid everything and nothing, including some things she should have, like that look on her face when she'd spotted Max, a look full of wonder and longing. For Tess, it must be a dream come true to find others like herself.

Max and Isabel might see it differently.




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




Kathleen Topolsky pulled her coat tighter around her as she approached the trailer park, an unlikely beacon of light in the dark night. She'd hitched a ride on the back of a truck, unbeknownst to the driver, but he hadn't been going far enough. She'd had to walk the rest of the way, and she had no idea how she would get back. It wasn't safe to hitch a ride, so she'd likely be walking, on legs which had already had a work-out. The hour she'd waited behind the theater for the kids to show had turned into a trek to Valenti's house when they hadn't, which had then turned into a trek to the Crashdown, where she'd gazed through the window at the kids she was trying so desperately to reach all huddled in a booth, obviously avoiding her. Here she'd thought she'd gotten through to Liz Parker, and maybe she had, but the aliens had clearly nixed the whole thing. And why not? It's not like she'd given them any reason to trust her. Even Valenti wasn't buying it. Add to that the ever growing number of Unit agents prowling Roswell's streets and it was clear that time was running out even faster than she'd thought. Which is why she was here, at a trailer she'd visited months ago in a very different set of circumstances, prepared to wait as long as it took to make one more pitch to someone who just might listen. It was a long shot, but she was running out of options.

A dog barked. Before Topolsky could react, the trailer's front door opened and an older woman appeared, wearing a bathrobe and a suspicious look. "Who are you?" she demanded.

"Hi, I'm...looking for Michael Guerin," Topolsky said uncertainly.

"Not here," the woman said shortly. "He sprung the coop."

"He...what?"

"Left," the woman clarified. "Moved away. Place is mine now."

"Oh...okay," Topolsky said, having just seen Michael at the Crashdown. "Do you know where he went?"

"He got 'mancipated," the woman answered, shuffling closer to the door, warming to her subject. " 'Twas the talk of the park. Lots of kids 'round here would like to be 'mancipated, but—"

"Wait," Topolsky interrupted. "Are you saying he's living on his own now?"

"Got an apartment 'n everything," the woman declared, sounding impressed. "Got a job. Got a—"

"Where?" Topolsky demanded. "I mean, do you know where he's living now?" she amended when the woman's eyes narrowed.

"Roswell," the woman said sullenly. "Now get off m'porch."

"No, wait!" Topolsky pleaded. "Where in Roswell? Do you have his address? I really, really need to find—"

The door slammed. Heads poked out of nearby trailers, wondering what the ruckus was about as Topolsky glanced around the dark trailer park and shivered. What now? She didn't have time to go hunting down Guerin. Maybe go back to Jim Valenti and see if he'd give her the address? Maybe try Maria? Maybe Alex?

No, she decided. Everyone else lived with their parents, not exactly unusual for high schoolers, or what looked like high schoolers. If Michael had his own place, that would be the safest bet, and she'd just have to find it herself. Going to Valenti had been a mistake. He hadn't believed her an hour ago, so there was no reason to think he would now.




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




Valenti residence




Jim Valenti took another swig of his Scotch as he pondered the telephone in front of him. His head told him this was all a wild goose chase; his gut told him otherwise. Part of him wanted to settle the argument and part of him didn't...because part of him already knew the answer. Only one way to find out, he decided, setting down his glass and dialing.

"Federal Bureau of Investigation," a woman's voice answered. "How may I direct your call?"


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


I'll post Chapter 98 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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