The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) 11/18 COMPLETE

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The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) 11/18 COMPLETE

Post by Misha » Mon Jun 04, 2012 2:53 pm

Title: The Message – Book 2 in “The Messengers” Trilogy
Disclaimer: Gees, would I love to own them?! But nope, you all know who the owners are, and certainly that doesn’t include me. I’m just writing for fun :) But to make it official: The characters of "Roswell" belong to Jason Katims, Melinda Metz, WB, and UPN. They are not mine and no infringement is intended.
Category: Sequel to The Offer - CC/All – Post Graduation
Rating: YTEEN, for very occasional language

Summary: Eight years have passed, and much has changed in the pod squad's lives. From being essentially captives to infiltrating Dave's worldwide organization. Yet things seem rather mundane for awhile until Michael intercepts a message from their far away home. Is someone contacting Dave? And is he answering back?

With cryptic messages and shadowy characters all around, answers well kept for so many years are bound to get discovered. Answers that hold the key to save Max's life on time.

AN: This is a sequel to The Offer. This story won't make much sense without having read that one first. You can find it here: ... =4&t=12161

Thank you so much to Michelle in LA and marmez for taking the time to beta this story! Although the story is complete, some edition is still required, but I hope I'll be able to post every Monday.

Let's see what Dave's been up to...
Last edited by Misha on Sun Nov 18, 2012 6:44 pm, edited 13 times in total.
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 1 - 6/4

Post by Misha » Mon Jun 04, 2012 2:55 pm

The Message

Part 1 – Soon
November 2nd, 2011

1 : Michael

T minus 3 hours, 17 minutes

They had stayed.

For eight long years the six of them had stayed within Dave’s shadowy empire. Things had changed since those cold February days when they had accepted the offer, he would admit, but two simple things still remained: they still were under Dave’s supervision, and they still were not clear about what exactly Dave was aiming for.

But not for long, Michael thought as his eyes swept the park. He was sitting on a bench in Central Park, the early November wind chilling his exposed hands. Tucking them in the pockets of his black coat, he tried not to get his hopes too high. He was waiting for Max and Isabel to share his latest discovery, and this time things did seem promising, if in a dark way. He could be wrong though, like so many times before. He actually hoped he was wrong this time, too.

Somewhere, children were laughing. The park was filled with trees in greens, yellows and reds, and more buildings Michael cared to count. Despite being in one of the world’s most crowded cities, sitting here in a deserted area should feel lonely. But Michael always had the feeling that someone was watching him, at every turn, every time he stepped out into the world. Maria said it was only his paranoid self, and after years of being out and about, he thought that was probably true. Still, he felt edgy. Where were Max and Isabel?

Glancing at his watch for the hundredth time, he cursed his bright idea about being early. They had agreed to meet at 1 pm, and there were still 17 minutes to hit the mark. His foot impatiently drummed the floor, marking some inner rhythm that eluded his conscious mind. He was so eager about sharing his news he had rushed to this bench, but his eagerness was fast becoming dread.

He had news from home. That is, their other home.

Funny how he had spent half of his life wanting to know about it so much it hurt, and then he had spent the other half unraveling the secrets kept in his memories, just to be sitting on this bench pondering whether or not, now that home was closer than ever, he actually wanted to know.

He remembered what the view from Dimaras Rock looked like, how the skyline from the Palace looked, but most of what he remembered was facts. There had never been a sense of wonderment attached to those scenes. That life had always been about being alert, always being on the lookout. For some reason, he didn’t remember much about what he felt for people or situations, and sometimes he wondered if it was because he didn’t want to remember, or if nothing in that past life could compare to how he felt now. Here, in this time, in this world, he was in love, and for the longest time now, he felt like he fit in. Here on Earth. Although not exactly here on this bench.

He didn’t remember much of his childhood back on Antar. None of them did. He didn’t remember how he had died either, although his mind liked to play tricks on him from time to time and he would wake up in a cold sweat. He could never retrieve those memories, he wasn’t even sure that those nightmares were about his death, but something told him that what lay dormant in his subconscious, was better left alone for now. At least until they could decide what to do with their growing knowledge.

He impatiently looked as a jogger went past him. The trail where he was sitting was secluded, but by no means private. New York was a busy city, and the fall foliage was a spectacle all on its own, making Central Park busier as well. But being out in the open made it harder for anyone following them to listen in on their conversation. Dave could swear all he wanted he was not following them, but Michael knew deep down with some inner sense that that wasn’t the case. It was the strategist in him, the soldier in him maybe, that would not allow himself to feel comfortable about sharing this man’s secrets in close spaces.

Eight years was a long time to learn about his enemy. And even if Dave still kept things behind firewalls, Michael had gotten past almost all of them. He’d learned a great deal about what kinds of business Dave liked to do, and what kinds of people Dave liked to make deals with. That was why, when he had deciphered the Level Six codes yesterday, he had frozen.

It was lucky the three of them were in the same city –let alone the same country these days—
and he had taken full advantage of that. What he had read was not something he wanted to discuss over the phone, or worse, with their human circle around.

He winced slightly. He hated keeping things from Maria, but this was a necessary evil. Once he knew what to do with these memories and responsibilities, then he would tell her… some of it… maybe. There was just no good reason to bring this subject to the table only to decide later on that his long forgotten past would stay forgotten. The current theory was they should embrace it but keep it at a distance. Hell, if it were only that easy.

“Hey,” Max said by his left, making Michael jump out of his thoughts, his first instinct to defend. The closest lamppost flickered, and Max took an involuntarily step back with his hands slightly raised. A flimsy, small, green energy shield shimmered for about two seconds as they stared at each other. Then Max let it go and they both let go of the breath they’d been holding.

“Jesus, don’t do that!” Michael admonished. It had been at least a couple of years since he had lost control of his powers, and the reminder now was not welcome. At least Max had been startled too.

“Sorry, I thought you had… already sensed me.”

“I had other things on my mind,” Michael murmured, as Max took a seat beside him, both men feeling slightly embarrassed at their reactions. Their matching black coats gave them an air of mystery, though neither of them was conscious of that. They both subtly looked around, trying to see if anyone was paying attention to their energy surges. No one did.

“That was interesting,” Max said lightly, his eyes going to the tree line as Michael’s had done when he had settled in. Michael wouldn’t say almost-blowing-you-up was interesting, but Max always had had a dry sense of humor. “Last time you almost blew me up was five years ago…”

That was Jake’s fault,” Michael sourly reminded his best friend. He had never really trusted Jake –that was Max’s department— but after that day, he had trusted him even less.

“All I’m saying is,” Max said in a calm voice, still looking at the trees and the buildings further out, “that I haven’t seen you so tensed up about anything for a long time. How serious is this, Michael?”

The last sentence was not a question, really, more like a command. Here was Zan’s side of the equation, talking to his good ol’ general. Out of the three of them, Max had had the most success in blending in his former memories with his own, but it didn’t mean he wouldn’t sometimes slip into that part of him that was used to giving orders and expecting answers. Michael was getting there. Isabel was still struggling, but damn if any of them would confess such things to anyone outside the three of them. Except maybe Jake.

He was not going to get into another argument with Max about Jake, nor was this the appropriate time to get into any kind of argument.

“It’s serious,” he simply answered, and Max nodded once, acknowledging he understood.

There were few things they would consider serious enough to have a private talk about, and they all pretty much involved Dave or the Special Unit. Now Michael was bringing up a third option.

Max turned to his right a second before Michael did. Now that he was focused on sensing her, Isabel’s familiar energy was getting near. They had always sort of felt each other in close proximity, but after years of training, they could pinpoint exactly where the other was in a 100 feet radius. That is, if they were not worrying about something else. No wonder Max had thought it exceptionally odd that Michael had been startled.

“We’re not gonna like it, are we?” Max asked, his posture a little less regal. This was Max talking, and Michael was happy about it.

Do we ever? Michael silently thought as he shook his head. They had rarely had any sort of meeting this way, usually preferring Isabel’s dreamwalking sessions for exchanging information, but the problem with dreams was that details got lost by the time they awakened. He could not afford for details to get lost now.

Turning the corner, Isabel’s red coat and blond hair were hard to miss. Her smile shone the second she saw them, and it was hard not return the smile. They had not seen her in the flesh in the last five months.

“Hey!” she said enthusiastically as she hugged Michael first, and Max second. “I’ve missed you,” she added, looking them both in the eyes, her smile dwindling as the seriousness of their faces sunk in. “We’re not gonna like it, are we?” she asked the same way Max had.

“I finally broke through the Level Six codes,” Michael said without answering her. She would know soon enough how much she was not gonna like it.

“And?” Max said, surprised and afraid at the same time. They had known for a long time that in those codes lay the answers to all their questions about Dave. Or at least they had thought so.

“I only went through a few of the files, and the Network Keepers helping me were having a heart attack at managing to get in, but there was one… about high-energy microwave signals in deep space.”

“Wait—like Brody’s microwave signals?” Max asked, trying to understand.

Exactly like Brody’s microwave signals. I got the file, and went to decipher it on my own. They seem to be messages, back and forth, though most of them are still gibberish.”

“What are you saying?” Isabel asked, worry now in her voice. If there was one thing she hated, was remembering anything that had to do with Antar and her traitorous past. “That Dave’s been communicating with someone out there?”

Someone pretty much meaning Khivar, and that would make Dave the next in line for the traitor title.

“It seems exactly like that,” he somberly answered.

“Is there any chance he might be just monitoring communications?” Max added, ever looking for ways to make things not so bad. Michael reluctantly nodded.

“It’s not like they have a sender and a subject, or that I could see where the signals are coming from here on Earth, I still have work to do on that, but… The last message that came through a couple of weeks ago was very clear: Someone’s coming for us.”

2 : Liz

T minus 2 hours, 59 minutes.

The thing about the Czechoslovakians, Liz thought, was that they were nowhere to be found. All three of them were out there somewhere, cell phones off. It would usually not bother her, but since she had arrived early at JFK Airport, she thought it would have been nice to see her husband sooner rather than later.

Now, stuck in traffic inside a yellow taxi, she wondered where on Earth he was. It wasn’t like her to worry, but she just felt something off coming from his side of their connection. He was worried, therefore she couldn’t stop the domino effect. She had to worry too.

They had been planning this vacation forever. All seven of them were going to converge in New York City for the next seven days. Max, Michael and Isabel were already here. She was supposed to arrive the next day, and Maria and Kyle two days after. She wasn’t sure about Jessie.

What she was sure of was how much work they had all put into coming to the city, and convincing Dave it was a good idea. Funny how eight years ago they could not go anywhere without the whole group, and now it took six months of planning and coordinating to get them to the same spot roughly at the same time.

And here she was, arriving one day early in order to surprise Max. If only he would pick the phone before he got a chance to sense her close by. She was so thrilled about their upcoming time together as a group she was sure it would take him no time to decipher she had already arrived. She was also trying not to feel let down at the unexpected feeling she’d gotten from Max. He’s always worrying about something, she told herself with a small smile. He’d gotten good at covering his feelings when they had some hundred miles apart, but seldom when they were close, and never when they were together.

The taxi stopped at a red light, and Liz aimlessly turned to see the street. People walking, tourists gaping, and posters everywhere. If there was a city in the world where anyone would like to advertise, that was New York City.

Best view of the City. Come to the Empire State Building.

The car moved, but Liz’s eyes remained fastened to the hanging poster as long as she could. Her heart was beating fast, and her hands started to sweat. She didn’t know why, but something terribly important was going to happen there. Something concerning Max.

3 : Isabel

T minus 2 hours, 43 minutes

Sometimes she wished she could just forget about the whole thing. About being alien, about being a glorified prisoner. About being Vilandra.

“What do we do?” she asked, sitting on the bench where Michael had met Max and her earlier. The two of them were standing, sentinels guarding who was coming and how far they were.

“We find out more about this,” Max sternly said, his face turning a bit hard. “Especially about how much Dave knows about this. He’s been hiding us for so long, he might be hiding us from them too.”

“Why do you always believe he’s on our side?” Michael asked, exasperated, the same hardness coming to his face. It was the same argument all over again. It wasn’t that Max trusted Dave, it was that Max trusted they were valuable enough for Dave to keep them safe. The problem was, they weren’t sure exactly for how long they would be valuable, because they still didn’t know what about them was that Dave wanted the most. Eight years had passed, and they were still guessing in the dark.

“Did it say when? How many? Where?” Max asked, refusing to rise to the bait. He was right, they needed more information, Michael would not argue about that. Everything else was fair game, though.

“Soon. That’s the most I got. The Keepers are going really slowly about it, they don’t want to risk Dave finding about this too soon.”

“Of course not…” she whispered, worried, frowning at the possibility of how soon soon meant. Max was their glorious king, Michael their glorious general. She had been glorious too, but how much did their planet truly know about her role in their downfall? How many people had died because of her past selfish self?

A comforting hand was placed on her shoulder, and Isabel looked up to see Max’s soft smile. He knew. He always knew when she was being dragged into her past memories and her current worries.

“We’re not them,” he had once said, when their memories had started to come with shocking definition, “at least, we’re not them anymore. This is our life. These are the memories that matter. We are the people who matter.”

“What do we do if soon turns out to be next week?” she suddenly asked. “Do we go to Dave? Do we run?”

“We have to see first what we’re up against. It doesn’t mean we don’t plan,” Max rushed in at Michael’s pained look at being told to wait and see. “How long do you think it will take you to decipher all the messages? Without caring about Dave finding out?” Max asked, making both Isabel and Michael looked at him a bit shocked. Max was always so cautious when it came to Dave, that hearing him proposing an open defiance of their deal was so un-Max like that it scared them. They blinked.

Michael recovered first. “A couple of days, maybe less. “

“If he finds out, would he just shut everything down? The entire system?” Max pressed, trying to decide how feasible the plan was.

“Would he?” Isabel asked, “There are a lot of other things than just us in Level Six codes. Practically everyone who has a deal is there, right?”

“Keepers won’t help us to cover our tracks if the risk of Dave finding out is that big,” Michael added, “So I might just grab blindly before he shuts me out. He doesn’t need to shut everything to everyone.”

“Blindly won’t help us if— ” Max trailed off, slightly looking at his left as if he had heard something. He frowned. “Liz is in the city already…” the frown turned into a small smile.

“Wasn’t she supposed to come tomorrow?” Isabel interrupted Max’s happy thoughts, checking for Jessie on her own connection automatically. They had arrived in New York together, and while she had her “secret” meeting, he had gone to see one of Dave’s businesses. They would meet at their hotel in two hours.

“Can we focus here?” Michael interrupted her happy thoughts. They both turned to look at him a little annoyed.

“Blindly won’t help us if we won’t have another shot at it,” Max finished his original sentence. “At the very least, we’ll need something to confront him with. We cannot break this deal without some sort of insurance against Dave. You know that.”

“There might be something else… someone else,” Michael slowly said, the wind sweeping the trail and making the three of them cover their hands on their pockets.

“Who?” Isabel impatiently asked. Michael was already trusting Network Keepers, Dave’s own hackers, to get this much information. Who else could be out there who was skilled enough to help them get into Dave’s files?

“He used to be a Network Keeper, about six years ago.”

Used to be?” Max asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Rumor has it he did break Dave’s codes, made a deal of his own, and left with Dave’s secrets on his hard drive.”

All of them?” Max asked, this time worried. Dave had always said the only people who knew who and what they were remained just Jake, Ray and himself. And they relied on that promise a good deal.

“I don’t know,” Michael agreed, “but I’ve been tracking him for the past two months. I think I might have found him, but…”

“…but asking him might mean we’ll have to let our secret loose with this hacker as well,” Max finished for their friend. Michael nodded with a grim look on his face.

“But if he knows how to get in, he might already know,” Michael added, still not liking the idea. “At the very least we should check him out, make sure we won’t get surprised again somewhere down the line. He might not touch us now, while we’re under Dave, but once we break free…”

“You want me to check him out?” Isabel asked, eager to be useful.

“I’m not sure if I’ve got the right information, let alone the right picture. Once I get the right guy, I’ll give you the impression.”

Funny how getting ‘impressions’ had come from working with Jake. What used to be a random flash under stressful circumstances, was now an incredibly reliable way to pass information between them. They connected, and in doing so they shared thoughts, feelings, images. They couldn’t hold it for too long, and there was only so much they could tell each other, but it didn’t matter. All she needed was a brief impression from Michael’s mind about the man he was thinking about, and she would be able to dreamwalk him.

They had once tried it all three together, and the overload of all their thoughts and feelings at once had given them a collective migraine. The thought made her wince.

“How long before you get the right man?” Max asked, looking thoughtful.

“I’m meeting a contact in a couple of hours. I’ll know for sure then. Isabel can be dreamwalking him tonight if he’s close enough.”

That shouldn’t be a problem, Isabel privately thought. Her best distance was New York to Paris, and she only ever did it with Jessie, but with the proper motivation, she was sure she could find this guy as long as he was inside that radius.

“Okay,” she agreed. “What’s our other option? I mean, if Dave is not a part of this ‘coming for us’ plan… Do we ask him for help?” Would he even want to help us?

“I’ll talk to him if that’s the case,” Max said without pause. He had already formed a plan in his head about this. “He won’t be happy we got into his files, but it’s not like he would be surprised about the message. Remember, he already knows about this. He’s just not telling us about it.”

“Which should be the hundredth big, fat clue to you that he’s not in our side,” Michael didn’t lose time on pointing that out. Max didn’t react to their old argument. They knew where each other stood, and they both wanted to get out of Dave’s shadow as soon as possible. It was just the approach that was abysmally different.

“Is there something else we should be doing besides waiting?” she changed the topic before Max would really rise to the fight. When Max got into what she privately called Royal Mode, then things tended to get heated. Add Michael on his own Royal Mode, and things tended to explode. Though truth to be told, it had been years since that had literally happened. “You know, to speed things up, or set things up…”

“Having fun?” Michael humorlessly said. “Maria’s gonna kill me if we ruin her vacation.”

“Maria’s gonna kill us if we pass up an opportunity to turn the tables on Dave,” Max countered, though not cheerfully. Liz would probably kill Max too. Sometimes Isabel thought she was the only one of the three aliens who had a sane marriage. That was, until Kyle finally decided to propose to his own darling and be done with that.

They fell silent as a couple passed them, a curious look cast their way.

Soon,” Max said to no one in particular, repeating Michael’s findings out loud. “We’ve been preparing for years for something like this. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.” There was resignation in Max’s voice, a subtle calm that belied the uncertainty they all felt about their future. One that soon would be redefined.

Isabel could defend herself pretty darn well, but that was when it came to physical combat, and evasive maneuvers. She had no idea how to deal with political charges in the worst case scenario. She wasn’t even sure she could play princess to tell the truth. Everything Vilandra represented was toxic to her. She didn’t want to be thinking about it now. Not now or ever.

“Maybe we should take this opportunity to tell them,” Max proposed quietly, taking a seat besides Isabel. “We’ve been dealing with this for so long now, afraid of how they might take it, but…”

“We’re running out of time,” she finished for him. None of them were thrilled about sharing this news, but least of all her. How could she face Jessie with so much blood on her hands? I’m not her! she’d been repeating in her mind for years, and she still didn’t quite believe it.

“If someone is coming for us, they should know we’re not as in the dark as they think,” Max added. “They already know we haven’t changed because of our memories. They’ll understand.” He sounded so confident, but Isabel knew better. There was a good reason none of them had told their significant others about their memories: they might not understand. It was a lot to ask of them to deal with their past lives, with their past loves and responsibilities. Plus, not even they had been sure what it meant to know all these things. What side of them was more important? And would their past selves overcome their present selves?

Now they knew better. Now they had answers to give. Nodding, she agreed to Max’s suggestion, and they both turned to look at Michael.

Michael looked up at the gray sky. “Maria’s really going to kill me now…”

4 : Kyle

T minus 2 hours 37 minutes

“He’s going to ruin it,” Maria said out loud, staring at the seat on the front row, slightly shaking her head.

“What are you talking about?” Kyle absently asked, as he was waiting for the stewardess to get him his drink. Flying first class never got old.

“Michael. He’s going to ruin our vacation. I just know it.”

“I think he’s too afraid to do that,” he said, as the young, pretty attendant went to his aid. Pretty, yes, but she had nothing on his own girlfriend. Soon to be fiancée, if he could find the right time to propose on this trip. She was not part of their vacation –one that included only the “I-Know-An-Alien-Club” members, but she was going to arrive in the city right when everyone was leaving. He might even score a bachelor party, now that he was thinking about it.

“I know! I’ve been terrorizing him over ruining this for two months now. He promised he wouldn’t mess it up.”

“Well, there you go,” Kyle said, taking his headphones in his hand, with all the intention of spending the last hour of their trip listening to nothing else but sports news. Maybe some music.

“He’s up to something,” she explained, now turning to look Kyle square in the eyes, practically daring him to put those headphones on and effectively shutting her out.

“Maria, he’s always up to something. They all are. It’s their nature. We’re just along for the ride,” he patiently argued. Plus, if he started to worry, then he would start listening to everyone’s thoughts in the plane. Granted, he could barely do it, and most of what he got was gibberish anyway, but it also meant having one hell of a headache. Yet as long as he was relaxed, then everything was normal.

“You would tell me if he were about to ruin it, right?” she finally asked the question that was eating her alive inside.

Kyle got gibberish for almost everyone, but he got pretty clear thoughts from their alien trio. Random, and usually without any context and quite short, but the fact was, he did get them.

“No,” he simply answered, as if they hadn’t gone over this pretty much weekly since he had discovered what his latent power had turned out to be.

“Pleeeease,” she stretched the word, making goo-goo eyes at him.

“No, Maria. The only reason they don’t exile me to the North Pole is because I promised them I would never say anything they were thinking. And they still look at me funny when I’m around.” Which wasn’t entirely true, but it might just be the thing to make Maria drop it.

“Just a yes or no…”


“’No’, he’s not gonna ruin it, or ‘no’ you won’t tell me?”

“Would you like me to tell him what you’re thinking every time he asked and I actually had an answer?” he sternly asked, the headphones right in midair by this point.

“That’s different. We band together. You know that,” she said with a mischievous smile, although Kyle was sure she meant exactly what she had said. It would always be different when it was about humans than when it was about aliens.

“Look, do you think Michael actually goes around thinking up ways to ruin your vacation?”

Our vacation, Kyle. He’s not going to ruin this just for me. Michael always goes all the way.”

“Right, right…” Kyle decided to ease out of the argument. He wasn’t usually that big on defending Michael, but he was very big on defending his brain. If he started babbling the snatches he got from anyone to everyone, pretty soon no one was going to want to be around him. Except those who wanted to know. Like Maria.

“So?” she insisted.

“So I’m not telling you. You can ask Liz if she sees the end of the world once we have landed.” This time, it wasn’t a smile that met him. It was complete annoyance. Liz wouldn’t tell her either, and Kyle knew it. Finally putting his headphones on, the conversation was over.

5 : Jake

T minus 2 hours, 31 minutes

“Have you tried to contact Dave?” Jake asked over the phone. He was supposed to be on a plane to Heathrow, London, right now, but he had just missed it. On purpose. Now, standing in a corner at JFK International Airport, he was trying to get through to his best friend in the world. Except Dave was not picking up. The next obvious choice had been Ray.

“I talked to him yesterday,” was his quick answer, but his voice had gained a worried tone. This wasn’t a surprise question, more like an expected one. Ray had noticed something before I called, Jake realized.

“He’s not answering. And I’m being followed.” Jake turned to look at the police officer that passed by, slightly smiling as he nodded at him in greeting. The man went on his patrol, Jake’s eyes went to his fellow passengers. He had bought another ticket, this time to Madrid. In ten minutes, Network Keepers would buy him a dozen more locations. He just had to call Ray before setting that plan in motion.

“Can you get out?” Ray’s voice came loud and clear.

That was the question. He had little on him to change his appearance, and although he was reasonably sure his tails were now stuck on his discarded plane, he could not be sure all of them were there. He would wait a reasonable time to see all the current passengers board. Then he would disappear into New York City. By 5 pm he would be at Grand Central, taking a train to either Boston, or some random suburban town down the line in the opposite direction. He wasn’t sure yet. He didn’t know if he wanted to spend hours stuck on a train or not.

“Jake?” Ray’s voice gained an edge of urgency now.

“I’m not sure, Ray. I think I have a plan, but I’m cornered here at JFK for the next couple of hours. I’m more worried about Dave. If they found me, they must have found him too.”

“Dave is sneakier than you are,” came Ray’s reassuring tone. “He might be in a tight spot, just like you.”

He would make sure I was okay, a small voice said at the back of his head. It was selfish, and certainly, Dave could be in enough trouble right now to not be able to contact him, but… They had been together for so long now, and the stakes were so high if either of them got captured, that Jake needed to know for sure that Dave was okay. That his friend was okay.

“Could you track him, please?” he asked the only man in the world he would trust with such request.

“I’m already on it, Jake. I’m working on getting to you, too.”

6 : Maria

T minus 2 hours, 23 minutes

Please turn off all your devices, as we are preparing for landing,

The stewardess’s voice came somewhat loud, and kind of clear through the speakers, followed by some words by the captain about the weather and estimated landing time. Welcome to New York, he ended his little speech.

She smiled. She’d been in New York City too many times to count, and at some point, she’d wondered if she should consider it her home. She’d even gone as far as telling Liz that she was thinking that this was the place to be after they left Dave’s shadow. It’s the perfect city to get lost in, she’d said, to what Liz had replied, Yeah… but it’s the kind of place Dave would expect us to go.

For the past three years Maria had been trying to find the perfect spot on Earth to ‘go under’. It had been around their fifth anniversary under Dave’s deal that they had finally decided they did want out, and their options were narrowed to two: they went out with Dave’s approval, or they went out without it.

The first option had been taken by Michael. It meant telling good-bye to Dave while ensuring he would stay away. The only way to make that possible was to find something about Dave to keep him on his side of things. The second option had been taken by herself. Finding a place where they could run, where Dave would not find them. It meant vanishing, and probably getting on the man’s wrong side. And then, Kyle had ruined everything.

She elbowed him as he listened to his music.

“Ow! What was that for?” he said, rubbing his arm. She had not been gentle.

“For falling in love with Sybelle,” she simply said, a smile on her lips. He smiled at her.

“Yeah, I sort of screwed things up by falling for the boss’s daughter, uh?”

Technically speaking, she was Dave’s sorta, kinda, somewhat goddaughter. Kyle had met her under some odd circumstances, but Maria did not regret it. The one and only time Dave had ever asked for a favor of the alien trio, it had been to help protecting Sybelle. It was the one favor they had on Dave, and damn if she didn’t love it. The downside had been that now Kyle wad dating her. He was coming with them just because she had to take her finals in Cambridge and then she would come to New York to celebrate. Kyle had wanted to be with her, but on a last minute decision, she had convinced him to travel with Maria. He was a distraction, Sybelle had said, and she really needed to study.

So, if Kyle and Sybelle tied the knot together, it meant tying the knot with Dave as well. He was not Sybelle’s father, but he was certainly involved in the woman’s life. He was paying for her tuition, and he was going to pay for her vacation in New York as well. Her adoptive family had money, but not the kind of money that paid for one of the most prestigious colleges in Europe, plus all expenses on a vacation on another continent. She was a spoiled brat, and Maria liked her.

Under any other kind of circumstances, she would be thrilled for Kyle. As things stood now, she was happy, but the dark cloud was always following them with this conversation. For them, it meant either leaving Kyle behind never to see him again, or making peace with Dave and becoming one big, happy family. Neither of the two choices was great, but as long as they didn’t have to make them just yet, she was not going to examine them too closely. Besides, Kyle was big enough to make his own decisions, anyway.

She’d seen him change. He had been the odd man out once Jessie had returned to Isabel’s life. Maria was the odd man out when it came to powers, but at least she had then had Jessie to commiserate with about being plain human. Kyle had tried to date, but he was always afraid of his latent powers. Once they had stabilized, he had been afraid of someone discovering his secret. Yet one look at Sybelle – and Sybelle’s motorcycle – had knocked him flat. All his fears had crashed like the sea on the sand.

Sybelle didn’t know, and that was a problem. She was used to secrets, but it was different to have a godfather who seemed all-powerful and wonderful, than to marry a man who had no intention of sharing his own secret life.

“You should ask them,” Maria said out of the blue as Kyle was repositioning his headphones.

“What?” he asked, taking them off again.

“The Pod Squad. You should ask them about telling Sybelle.”

“Oh, they already know,” Kyle nonchalantly said, intending once more to put on his headphones.

“Wh-what?” she stuttered, “And they said yes? Wait, when was this? Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t Michael tell me?!”

“Calm down!” Kyle admonished when the passenger in front stood up to retrieve something from his carry-on. “I asked them in an e-mail two days ago. If it comes down to it, they agreed I can tell her the same alibi we used to have on the compound. It explains things away without complicating them.”

“You are going to tell her they are psychics?” she whispered, confused. How was that better?

“Well, yeah. It keeps them human in her eyes, and if they need to ignite the barbecue with bare hands, she won’t freak out. Much,” he amended with half a smile.

“Yes, but when the alien-hunters come down the street…”

If they come down the street, Maria. Plus, you think Dave would leave his precious flower without protection?” Kyle asked, bringing to front and center the issue of Sybelle’s ties to their jailer. Maria really didn’t want to go there, but now that he was bringing it up… “Listen,” Kyle interrupted before she could start, probably having read where her thoughts were going, “I’m not even sure if she wants to settle down. Or even if I want to settle down. I’ve just been thinking about… things. Jessie has giving me good advice too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really want to hear how this game ends.”

Maria wanted to keep going, but what was the point? Kyle had not proposed yet, Sybelle had not said yes yet, and they were still unsure about how to leave Dave. So many things were up in the air.

Turning to look out the window, all she could see was ocean and clouds. Shutting her eyes tight, she really wished all these thoughts away. Starting with Michael ruining their vacation and ending with Sybelle ruining their lives. She was going to have a good time. It was the first time in ages they were all going to be together. Fun, fun, fun, she chanted, and when the city finally came into view, she had a genuine smile on her face.

Nothing was going to ruin her vacation.

7 : Max

T minus 2 hours, 5 minutes

“Can I borrow your phone?” Max asked Michael, stretching out his hand. It was one thing to know Liz was one whole day early in the city, and another entirely to hear her sweet voice on the phone. They had tried for years to turn their connection into actual telepathy, but it had never really worked out that way. A word might cross between their minds, but never anything more complex, like a concept or an elaborate image. Never an impression. Beyond feelings and a sense of each other’s direction, they needed the aid of a phone to actually communicate. His, unfortunately, was not letting him call, text, or email her for the moment.

“Yours isn’t working either?” Michael asked, reaching for his cell phone on his right pocket and turning it on.

“What?” Max asked, frowning. It was the first time that day that he sensed something wasn’t right.

“It’s been acting weird all day long. I lost internet connection, and then the entire network around 10 am. I can’t even get calls out.”

“Mine did the same thing as soon as I got off the train at Grand Central,” Max elaborated, going through the settings on his phone to see if he could fix it with a touch of his finger. Unfortunately, healing an ailing human body was way easier than fixing his phone’s connectivity.

“Maybe it’s something on the network,” Isabel added, taking hers out too. “Jessie’s and mine stopped working as well once we came into the city’s perimeter a couple of hours ago.”

Max’s eyes went searching for people far off. People talking over their phones. He didn’t have time to get paranoid anyway, as a ring went off his phone right that moment, startling him into almost dropping it. He’d gotten a message.

“Well, it seems yours is back on,” Michael absently said, reviewing his own device.

“What is it?” Isabel asked as Max was reading the text.

“I’ve got an urgent meeting with Dave at the top of the Empire State Building,” Max summarized for her, his voice both surprised and annoyed. He had been officially on vacation the moment he had left Washington behind. What on Earth was Dave doing in New York City, anyway?

“When? Now?” his sister asked, taken aback as well. The three of them were off duty by this point, plus Max wanted to call Liz and make plans now that she was here. His phone refused to get the call out, however, and it was back to being as dead as five minutes before.

Isabel raised her eyebrows expectantly, waiting for his answer. Looking at his watch while holding the phone to his ear in a vain attempt to call again, he finally answered: “In exactly two hours.”

T minus 1 hour, 59 minutes
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 1 - 6/4

Post by Misha » Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:29 pm

Ah, so you guys noticed the phone thing, uh? 8)

Thank you all for coming back to read! I've just realized tomorrow is going to be chaotic at the office, so I better post now. The thing about this book is that we're going to catch up on the major events that have happened during these 8 years. But don't worry, we will come right back at the present with the next chapter. One past, one present :mrgreen:

So, eight years ago...

Part 2 – Wireless
March 15, 2003

1: Max

T minus 8 years, 7 months, 17 days, 6 hours, 57 minutes

“You do realize this will get pulverized during the test, right?” Max said while holding a small, silver device in his right hand. Jake absently nodded as he attached some transparent, light weight circles to Max’s fingers. They tickled, but that was far from being his biggest worry. Today was the first day they were moving from theory to practice in Jake’s lab. The fact that it was Max’s birthday was a small distraction, but it settled his mind to know that, in a few hours, he and his friends would be free to go to the small town six miles south of the compound to celebrate. A victory Jake had earned them with Dave, so Max had dutifully agreed to start gathering actual information for their doctor; testing his limits when it came to his powers. And for today’s show Jake had picked diamond making.

The small metal object in his hand was supposed to represent a coal. “Just think of it as the same thing, and try to compress it as you would when you are making the diamonds,” Jake said one last time, looking Max in the eye seriously, and then boyishly smiling. He could tell Jake was loving this, and Max had to admit that some of that enthusiasm was rubbing off on him. Not much, but enough to calm his nerves. “Whenever you’re ready,” Jake said, finishing with the attachments. There were half dozen on his hand, a half dozen trailing from his arm and his chest, and a dozen attached to the white cap he was wearing. It felt kind of heavy, but not uncomfortable.

This was also the first time Samantha had been invited to participate in Jake’s lab, and she was furiously taking notes on her laptop. For the month and a half they had been in the compound, Jake had been taking things slow, finding out what they could do, and what they liked to do. Jake was trying to make these sessions as stress-free as possible, and Max didn’t have the heart to tell Jake he was failing miserably. But then again, his heart monitor was probably already betraying his anxiety.

Behind Jake and Samantha, Michael’s eyes never left Jake. Michael hated being here twice as much as Max, and that was one of the main reasons Max had volunteered to go first. Max also suspected that Jake would not even suggest to Michael to participate; of course, waiting for Michael to actually want to do anything might be longer than waiting for hell to freeze over.

Nodding to Jake, and then to Samantha, Max closed his hand into a fist. In his mind, he pictured the device, and then the diamond he wanted it to be. He took a deep breath, and held that image in his mind. His hand tingled right before it started to glow, and the circular, transparent sensors attached to his fingers started to itch. He ignored them as the device in his hand started to shift into what he wanted. He felt the exact moment the device cracked, becoming dust, and then deeper and deeper he went until all he could picture in his mind were tiny particles. He could do many things with those particles: liquefy them; toast them; change their color; probably even their density. Make them a long thread, or a flat surface. What he could not do as easy was make them into a diamond.

He inwardly frowned. He’d always preferred coal for this trick because it was easier to relate in his mind. Concentrate, he coached himself, and in the particles went, finally, finally, becoming the diamond he wanted it to be.

Letting out the breath he had been holding, he opened his hand to show a tiny yet shiny diamond. The sensors had been disintegrated and probably reintegrated into the gem everyone was staring at, something he had not truly anticipated. “Sorry,” he softly apologized for ruining Jake’s equipment.

“There’s more where those came from,” Jake said with a slight smile, holding out a metal tray where Max placed the diamond. It really was smaller than he had intended it to be. The smallest he’d ever done, and that puzzled him. Samantha offered him a wet towel to clean up the sweat, startling him. He hadn’t realized he was sweating.

“What happened?” Samantha eagerly asked, her eyes slightly magnified by her glasses. She knew as well as he did that that was not his standard diamond size.

“I think I need the actual coal to make it into a bigger one,” Max slightly shrugged, a bit embarrassed.

“Well, we have those, too,” Jake said amicably, reaching for a small, metal box on the table beside him. A dozen coals were inside, and randomly picking one, he handed it to Max. “Would that one do?”

“It should,” Max agreed, weighing it with his hand. It barely weighed anything, and left black dust where it rolled on his palm.

“Okay, let’s take a ten minute break, would that be enough?” Jake asked, looking at Max, then at Samantha, and turning all the way around, at Michael. Michael simply glared, although as Michael’s glares went, it was a mild one.

“Yeah, that should be enough,” Max agreed, taking the cap off his head. Standing up from the couch where he had been sitting, he didn’t know what to do about the other sensors, but thinking it through, he decided it would be too much trouble to take them off and then have Jake put them back on. Leaving them in place, he walked towards Michael in search of a glass of water.

The room they were in was bluish-white, 18 by 18 feet in size. It had a large, light brown couch against the farthest wall, where Max had been sitting, faced by two smaller ones, where Samantha and Jake had been monitoring him and taking notes. Half the room was occupied by lab equipment and computers, which were undoubtedly recording his every breath, heartbeat and everything else Jake deemed interesting. Trying to ignore the flashing monitors, Max served himself his much needed glass of water.

“Having fun?” Michael asked dryly as he watched Max taking a sip.

“You know, we can learn a lot about ourselves too,” Max said in a low voice. It wasn’t as if Michael didn’t know that, but Max felt compelled to explain himself.

“Whatever. Are you okay?” Michael said dismissively, changing the subject.

“Yeah, just the usual fatigue.” As he watched Jake retrieving more of the circular, wireless sensors, Max wondered how many diamonds he could make in a row before passing out cold. This test had hardly taxed his strength, but he had barely made the diamond. Making one with a coal was harder, and took a real toll on his strength, but the result was much better. On the other hand, it had been more than two months since his last diamond, and he hadn’t made all that many to begin with; now that he was thinking about it, he was curious.

Beside him, Michael grunted. He had been in a foul mood all week long, and it was one more reason to thank Jake for letting them leave for the weekend. Ray wasn’t happy about it, but Max couldn’t care less. A month and half underground, and he was more than ready to get out and see the stars.

“There’s something… I need to talk to you about,” Michael whispered, glancing in Jake’s direction. “Do you think you could hurry this up so the others won’t notice we’re late?”

A chill ran down Max’s spine. He didn’t like Michael’s tone, and much less the look on his face. He was pretty sure he was not going to like this secret meeting, for the very reason that it had to be secret. Max nodded.

“I’m ready to continue,” he said out loud, making Samantha almost shout in delight.

When the coal became a diamond in his hand six minutes later, all Max was thinking about was Michael’s troubled face.

2: Michael

T minus 8 years, 7 months, 17 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes

After forty-five minutes and the fifth diamond, Max was more than ready to call it a day, and Michael was ready to bail.

“You sure you don't want to rest here?” Jake asked with concern, taking the last sensor from Max’s forearm.

Max looked wiped out, but Michael knew from experience how totally exhausted Max could look when he was really at his lowest point. This time, Max would be fine after a couple of hours of sitting down. If Michael was honest with himself, he felt slightly guilty for rushing Max this way. But, since it had been Max’s idea to go through five diamonds so quickly before saying he was done, well... it wasn't really Michael's fault.

“I'm sure,” Max said, his breath returning to normal as he wiped the sweat off with a towel.

“You know, the town will still be there even if you're a couple of hours late...” Jake reminded him, pressing a hand on Max's shoulder, maybe a small attempt to not let Max go just yet.

“I know... I'm really okay...” Max assured him, looking uncomfortable.

“Okay,” Jake finally conceded, “but if you feel like you need to come back, my door is always open,” Jake pointed out, taking the towel from him.

“Sure... thanks,” Max said, walking towards Michael and waving good-bye to Samantha. They were not coming back until Monday afternoon, so they had better be happy with whatever data they had already gotten from their little experiment.

“You sure you're okay?” Michael asked once they were out of the room, Jake's piercing eyes following them all the way to the hall.

“Positive. Or I will be in a couple of hours. Do you have a place in mind where we can talk? I could use a place to sit down...”

There weren't many secluded places in the compound, –maybe a few in the cafeteria and the gym, plus their own apartments—but Michael didn’t want to talk about it down here, so the only option was up there. He swiftly guided Max to the elevator that would take them right by Dave’s office, and then outside.

“Did you have any trouble with the diamonds?” Michael asked, partly to make small talk while they waited for the elevator doors to open, and partly to stop himself from asking Max if he was truly okay.

The doors opened, and in they went. “There was something inside the pieces of coal. I guess it was some sort of measuring chip. I tried not to crush it before I started with the diamond, but I really don't know how much data they are going to get...”

“Well, that's their problem,” Michael sighed in frustration. He didn’t know how to react. He couldn’t tell Max to stop doing it any more he could stop Jake from wanting to know. Both parties wanted to know, but it made Michael feel so damn vulnerable to see Max be a willing lab rat. The elevator doors opened, and he wisely chose to keep that thought to himself all the way up.

As they walked out of the elevator they both looked to their left. Perfectly concealed, Dave's office door remained closed. Dave was not in the compound, had not been for at least three weeks, when he had come for a short stay to say hello to Jake for his birthday. Sometimes, though, Michael wondered if Dave would sneak in to watch them without their knowledge.

Once outside, cold snow met them, the wind chilling Michael's face. Parked in front of them was the red suburban they would use to go to town in about an hour. It was empty, just as Michael had hoped. Max didn't miss a beat and went straight for the passenger seat.

Closing the driver’s side door, Michael turned the heat all the way up, while Max pressed his hand to the door, heating the air faster than the car system ever would. “You shouldn't be doing that,” Michael admonished.

“I told you, I’m fine. Besides, it's a small price to pay to get warm faster. Now, what did you need to talk about?”

It was uncharacteristic for Max to be so direct, but Michael really liked it. Beating around the bush was just a waste of time. “I had one…” he cryptically said.

“One what?” Max asked, puzzled.

“One of whatever you had. Remember? When you were going to Dave’s meeting, you had something more than just a flash.” Michael could feel the tension coming from within him. He had had a sort of episode six days ago, but it hadn’t been until this morning that he had actually had had a true memory taking over reality and planting him light years away.

“You saw yourself? On Antar?” Max’s eyes went round, both concern and surprise showing in his eyes. “What was it about? What did you see?” he continued, eagerness replacing caution.

“You, actually…” Michael started, feeling his muscles loosen up now that Max wanted to hear. “Well, I’m not even sure… You looked just like you do now… How’s that even possible?” The question had been nagging at Michael all week long. He’d only gotten a couple of glimpses at first, but this morning… this morning it had knocked him down.

“The guards in mine looked like regular people too. Dave said something about how he thought we humanize our past memories. Maybe he’s right. Maybe we see human forms because that’s what we are used to… What was I doing?”

“You were laughing…” Michael said, trying to hold the image in his mind. “I was telling you something funny, and you were laughing. It felt…”

“Surreal?” Max offered.

“Natural,” Michael corrected. “I didn’t even realize it was happening until it had ended.” Max nodded. “I mean, you said the same thing when you told us, but I didn’t think it would be so literal…”

“When I said it had been like walking straight into another life?” Max said with a small smile.

“Yeah… Hell, there wasn’t even a warning…” Michael acknowledged, the idea of losing himself so completely to something in his mind unnerved him.

“How did it feel?” Max asked, curious in a way Michael hadn’t seen since they had been chasing clues in the dark before Nasedo had come into their lives.

“Like I was in control,” Michael confessed. “Rath’s life… he was always so in control. Like everything was a strategy, but he was… I don’t know, he was having a good time, I guess.” Michael shrugged, not really understanding what had come from Rath’s mind. His mind.

“Zan was nervous about taking the throne…” Max elaborated from his own vision. “And I think… I think the moment I saw, was the exact moment when he realized he didn’t have a choice but to take it. And he was… glad he didn’t have a choice. All his life had been about this moment. He wouldn’t have known what to do with a choice to be anything else.”

“It wasn’t that long… I didn’t get that much information…” Michael said, looking through the windshield to the fallen snow. “I had some random images of it last week, when Jake told you we could go to town.”

“So the idea of… fun triggered it?” Max guessed.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t doing anything particularly fun-inducing when I had it. Maria wanted me to pick up your birthday cake and I was trying to avoid encountering that Danielle witch… And if Maria asks, you didn’t know about the cake,” Michael pointed out before he forgot. “I just thought about getting out of here, and the next thing I know I’m walking onto a freaking balcony in the Palace.”

“How did I look? I mean… was I happy? Nervous?” Max tentatively asked, his voice low.

“I think you were stressing the hell out, and you were blowing off steam… That’s why I made you laugh…” Michael said, thoughtful, turning to look at Max. Max gave him a slight smile.

“Thank you,” he simply said. A minute went by in silence, until Max sighed, “I thought hearing it would trigger the same memory in me…” there was relief in Max’s voice, but also loss. Michael understood. Max wanted to know, but then he didn’t.

“I’m just afraid of this happening randomly during the day…” Michael concluded. Ironically, from the moment he had heard Max talk about his own memory, Michael had secretly hoped he would get one. Not because he needed that other life, but just to validate that it had been real. That everything they had been told was, at least, somewhat true. Because sometimes it didn’t matter what thing he could find, just that he had found them.

“I haven’t had any other… flashes… besides that first one… It might not happen again. It could be a ‘one time’ thing…” Max offered. Michael looked at him with one eyebrow raised.

“Snap out of it Maxwell, this is going to keep happening. We might not like it, or want it, but this… whatever this is, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Max uncomfortably looked at his hands on his lap, silently fighting the facts. “I know…” he whispered at length. “I guess I needed to hear it, though…”

When Max had told them, it hadn’t really set right with any of them. Max had been careful to refer to his memory self as Zan, but now that Michael had experienced it, he knew how confusing it was. He’d seen Rath, but he would refer to the events as if he had lived them, as Michael… But then, he was Rath, ––and while he had been on that balcony, talking to Zan, Michael and Max were non-existent.

“This frightens me, Max,” he finally admitted. That was the main reason he had wanted to talk to Max. To figure out what the hell they were going to do before he had to face Maria’s questions.

“I know,” Max said, “if… when the next ones come, we should… I don’t know… try to figure out a way to stop them. At least when we are not in a safe place. Learn to deal with them if they become more frequent.”

“What… what if this takes over our lives?” Finally voicing his fears didn’t make them any less scary.

“We won’t let it,” Max fiercely answered.

“Max, we might not have a choice. Those were our memories…” he stubbornly pointed out. He couldn’t afford to do a Max on this, sit and do nothing about it. He just couldn’t.

“They were memories of people long dead…” Max countered. Michael didn’t feel –much less look– convinced, so Max relented. “Look, I know how intimidating they are… but we cannot give into them. And even if… even if we accept that those things happened to us, they are not our lives right now. They’ll never be our lives again.”

Michael slowly nodded, though his heart wasn’t in it. Max sounded so sure of how to handle this, but Michael wasn’t. It had felt so real. It had come from within him, and no matter what Max said, these past lives were within them, had been for more than fifty years now. But he let it go. There was nothing to do right now, not until they knew for sure the memories would keep coming back. Plus, it was Max’s birthday, and everyone was eager to get out of there. Knowing this secret session was at an end, he took out his phone and dialed Maria. It was time to go into town.

3: Kyle

T minus 8 years, 7 months, 17 days, 19 minutes

Freedom had never tasted so good, especially when it was accompanied by a beer.

Kyle watched as Maria got ready for the karaoke to start while Max and Liz danced to a slow song a few feet from their table. Michael had disappeared to order more food, which left him and Isabel alone. Again. They were always the odd non-couple out. They were used to it by now, but it still stung. Besides, he was the only one in the group who was having alcohol, and that depressed him even more.

He wasn’t surprised when he heard a wishful Jessie coming from Isabel’s direction.

“You miss him, huh?” he asked, trying to be sympathetic, although Isabel hardly ever talked about her husband. Or was it ex-husband?

“What?” Isabel asked, confused.

“Jessie, you just mentioned him…”

“I– no,” she said, even more confused. The slow song finished, and Maria prepared to go up on stage. Michael returned with a huge nachos plate. Anyone would have believed they were starved to death in the compound.

“But I was… thinking about him,” Isabel said, looking at him weirdly.

“She’s soooo good at this song,” Liz enthusiastically said as she and Max took their seats and Maria’s intro started. She really was good at singing, and Kyle made a mental note to ask her how that whole contract in New York had really gone. He’d only gotten the abbreviated version.

By the time she was half through the song, he was half through his beer. There was a sort of pressure building at the front of his head. Figures… of all the days to get a headache, he internally groaned. Someone was whispering, and he ignored it. Maria went for the final chorus while Liz cheered and Max and Michael clapped. Kyle did too, less enthusiastically. The whispering became insistent.

The song finished and Maria bowed. The place was pretty much deserted in the middle of the afternoon, and that was more than fine by them. Kyle clapped for his friend, and just as she arrived with a huge grin on her face, Isabel practically shouted at him. “KYLE!

“What?!” he turned, startled. Everyone at the table turned to look at him, surprised. All but Isabel.

“I didn’t say anything…” she said with worry all over her face.

“Yes you did. You practically left me deaf,” he countered, turning to look at the others for back up. They all blinked eerily at the same time.

“I didn’t say anything,” she insisted, “but I thought it.” It was Kyle’s turn to worry, the color leaving his face. “I think you just read my mind.”

T minus 8 years, 7 months, 17 days, 3 minutes
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 2 - pg. 2 - 6/1

Post by Misha » Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:42 pm

Yay! I'm posting on schedule :mrgreen:

Ah how I love your speculations! Thank you all!! :lol: I'm having a blast writing book 3 for CampNaNo, so your questions keep me sharp :D

PML, the chapter you want from The Offer is 21, Significant Others. :mrgreen:

Part 3: By the corner
November 2nd, 2011

1 : Liz

T minus 1 hour, 59 minutes

The hotel was gorgeous. As the clerk was filling in her information, Liz had to admit that Maria did know how to pick them. They didn’t travel together as much now, and luxury was not something Liz would usually make a priority on her business trips. Even with Max. Usually it was just “grab your things and let’s meet there”. With Max being on call and she doing her research, that was enough.

Now she was happy Maria had arranged everything, and as the clerk smiled to her and started explaining where her room was and the available amenities, she decided she would try to make luxury a top priority on her next just-the-two-of-us trip.

“Can you tell me if this person has already checked in?” Liz asked before leaving the counter, rummaging in her wallet for the name Max was using this time. They had used so many aliases by now, there was no way she could keep track of all of them. Finally finding it, she gave it to the clerk.

“He checked in earlier today. Would you like to leave him a message?” he politely asked. She smiled. She was anxious to see him, tell him that feeling she’d gotten at seeing the poster on the street, but just knowing he had been in this same spot a few hours before was enough to calm her nerves.

“No, that’s okay. Thank you.”

“Enjoy your stay.”

Oh, I will.

The bellboy took her things, and walked in front of her. Even if they were gathering in the same place, they all always booked separate rooms. Logistics would have them leaving and coming at different days and hours, and although usually each couple would use only one room anyway, it was a standard procedure that Ray demanded be followed. She didn’t mind. Max’s room was right next to hers, she knew Maria would have taken care of that.

She made small talk with the bellboy as they entered the elevator—How was the weather? How was the city? By the time they reached her room and she was giving the guy a tip, she was getting more and more excited about her time in New York. Their time in New York. She was so glad she had managed to come one full day earlier. Max had to know she was already here. If not here here in the hotel, certainly here in the city.

Taking her phone out, she texted, Already checked in. Where are you? And pressed send. Nothing happened. Her phone brightly displayed unable to send message. She frowned. Well, a little technology malfunction had never been a problem for them.

She reached inside herself, and followed their link. She always imagined it as a silver thread going into the darkness. And then, suddenly, there was light. Or, in a more practical sense, there was Max’s presence. She smiled, the feeling going through, reaching him some miles away. He smiled back, and it felt almost as if he were hugging her. Almost. For the hundredth time she wished they could send actual words.

She looked at her phone, waiting for his call. As the minutes went by, his presence dimmed. They couldn’t stay connected like that for long at such a distance, plus he was somewhere out in the city. Distractions like this could be dangerous. She frowned when the phone didn’t ring, and a minute later, she sighed in resignation. Wherever Max was, he couldn’t call her just yet. She couldn’t blame him for not expecting her, but she still wanted to hold his hands, watch those eyes, and kiss those lips.

Uneasiness crept over her.

She hadn’t had a premonition in years. Her most valuable insight came from dreams that she half remembered when she woke up. But sometimes… sometimes she would get these strong feelings, either foreboding or excitement. It was never anything in between, and never anything else. It was going to be really good, or really bad.

The feeling that was wrapping itself around her soul was not like that. It was stronger. It felt like something was going to happen that she was definitely not going to like. She hugged herself, imagining it was Max who was putting his arms around her waist.

“Hurry up,” she whispered to the empty room, trying to mask her anxiousness with impatience at having to wait for him. Just as she couldn’t tell when Max was keeping something from her, he couldn’t tell either if she was hiding something when they were apart. It was the only way that they both could surprise each other these days, and to keep a certain level of privacy as well.

Her cell phone chirped, the screen coming to life. She had a message from Max, the white letters announced.

Hey! Meet me at 4 at the bistro by the corner of the hotel.

Re-reading the message, she smiled. Glancing at the little clock on the phone, she slightly pouted at seeing she still had 1 hour and 44 minutes before 4:00pm. A long shower was in order, she decided, and that was that.

Not even once did she notice that her cell phone was effectively blocked after that.

2 : Jessie

T minus 1 hour, 53 minutes

“It’s always a pleasure doing business with you,” the redhead said with a genuine smile as they both finished their transactions and legal paperwork. Jessie smiled back. He loved working with Susseth, Dave’s personal assistant, because she was the most organized person he had ever known. Nothing was forgotten, no detail got lost, and there was no double standard. She wanted what was best for Dave’s companies, and Jessie wanted what was best for his wife, himself and their group. It just so happened that both things worked together.

“So, are you going to see Isabel now?” she asked, neatly stacking papers.

“Yeah, and enjoy the city. I can’t believe Dave agreed to let them all be in the same place at the same time,” he casually remarked.

“It wasn’t easy,” she conceded, not looking at him but at the legal paper in her hand. “It took no small amount of Jake’s powers of persuasion. He always has to battle for them when they are out of the compound.”

“You would think by this point, Dave would trust they won’t scatter to the winds. They hardly spend any time at all underground now,” Jessie pointed out, secretly delighted that Susseth was so willing to open up about their employer. Or jailor, as Maria put it.

Susseth chuckled. “I stopped presuming what Dave would do a long time ago. Whatever he thinks he’s doing, is not what you or I think he’s doing.” She smiled, and Jessie smiled too.

She was in her early forties, and still looked like she was in her early thirties. Although they talked a lot about work and legal papers, they seldom talked about their private lives or what each of them did for Dave that did not need the two of them involved. He wondered what this mighty organizer did in her free time.

She would have told him there was no such thing as free time.

“You’re going to stay for vacation, too?” Jessie asked, getting his own paperwork safely tucked in his briefcase. As of right this moment, he was officially on vacation himself.

“Oh, I’m meeting someone else for another project. I’m awfully early, though,” she said after consulting her watch.

“I can wait with you. I’m not meeting Isabel for another hour, anyway,” he offered. Technically speaking, he was supposed to meet with her in forty five minutes, but Isabel wouldn’t forgive him if he had passed up an opportunity to search the inner mind of Susseth and her working relationship with Dave.

“You sure? I wouldn’t want to interrupt…” she asked, and Jessie shook his head.

“How about another cup of coffee and something to eat?” Jessie suggested. At 2:15 pm, neither of them had properly eaten anything since their meeting had begun an hour and a half earlier. She didn’t like to have food with all their sensitive documents lying around.

He waved the waitress in and asked for menus as Susseth cleared everything off of the table. The luxurious hotel restaurant was crowded, and yet it felt like it wasn’t. They were sitting in the corner, a space that was big and private, just the way Susseth liked it when they were doing business in public.

As with everything she did, she was efficient reading the menu and ordering. Jessie pretty much ordered the first thing on the list. It was always a bad idea to make Susseth wait, not because she would get impatient, but because she would move on into the next thing on her mind. And this time, Jessie wanted that next thing to be Dave. He didn’t want to lose the topic now that they had begun talking about it.

“So…” Jessie started once the waitress was out of earshot, “How did you meet Dave? I don’t think I’ve ever heard the story.” The reaction was instantaneous. She blushed. And then sheepishly smiled.

“Yeah, there’s a good reason why I don’t think you’ve heard it…” she responded. Inwardly, Jessie cringed at the fact he was not going to get his answer. “It’s kind of embarrassing, actually…” she confessed, her eyes lost somewhere at a point on the table.

“Well, it certainly sounds like a good story,” Jessie subtlety pressed, and Susseth’s eyes met his, while she bit her lower lip. She looked like a lost, freshman college girl caught by her parents with a difficult question about her first date. Then she laughed, and all her self confidence came back.

“I met him during my last semester of college,” she began, getting comfortable with the memory.

“I thought Dave didn’t go to college,” Jessie said, confused.

“Oh, he wasn’t attending college… at least not for academic reasons…” she clarified.

“Wait… Are you trying to tell me this story is heading in the direction I think it is going? You were dating him?”

“Oh no, I didn’t have time for that. Plus, Dave would have never picked me…” she trailed off, with a little chuckle. “He was… well dating is a strong word. He spent the night with my roommate.”

“Oh… Awkward?” Jessie offered. He never, in a million years, would have pictured Dave as a one-night-stand kind of guy.

“Expected… I mean, not from him, but from my roommate. It was a new guy every Sunday morning for at least three months straight. She generally cleared up her schedule around midterms and finals, but otherwise… They would usually be gone before I woke up, but… there he was, in all his shirtless glory.”

Jessie laughed. “Oh, you can spare me those details.” She laughed with him.

“Well, you can’t blame a girl for noticing. And… I think I was more than noticing, actually. I mean, Janice always picked nice guys, but oh… I came out of my room and stood there wondering if I was dreaming… He’s been swimming since he was a little kid for his asthma, and it shows.”

“Note to self, take swimming classes,” Jessie joked, right on cue with the waitress bringing their beverages.

“So you met him half naked while he was in the kitchen,” Jessie resumed. “That’s definitely not how I had pictured it.”

“No one ever pictures Dave doing mundane stuff like that. Truthfully, he hardly does mundane things as us mortals do them…”

“Really? Do I want to know what you’re talking about?” Jessie teased, though internally he was more than willing to keep fanning Susseth’s uncharacteristic lustful thoughts. No wonder she had been blushing.

She looked at him as if deciding if she should share this bit of information or not. Slowly moving the straw in her orange juice, she finally relented.

“Dave… goes through phases. And once he’s gotten into a subject… you can’t shake him out of it for the world.”

Jessie frowned. “He was going through a one-night-stand phase?” he inquired. This was definitely not how he had pictured Dave in his twenties. But then again, he hardly ever pictured Dave doing anything but his current job.

“Something like that… I think… He’s never told me, and he was getting over that phase, but I think he was done looking for brains and was just trying to see what the world looked like when all you had was looks. Janice was certainly a prime candidate, not for lack of brains, but she did believe partying included a healthy dose of pretending to be dumb. I can’t say she wasn’t right, seeing her starring weekly record.” Susseth stopped playing with the straw and took a sip. Jessie trusted her insight, and if there was more from where that came from, then he had just found a gold mine.

“Anyway, there he was, reading the newspaper while drinking a glass of milk. So domestic…” she half smiled at that, and Jessie returned the smile. Dave always looked anything but domestic, indeed. “We started talking about one thing or another, and next thing I know I’m telling him my big plans for the world and how everything would be better if only there was someone daring enough to change it.”

“You impressed him,” Jessie said, understanding where this was going now.

“I sure hope I did. Though, to tell you the truth, I thought he was being a jerk when he offered me a job.”

“Really?” Jessie said, surprised.

“Well, we’d been talking for three hours, more of a brunch than anything else by that point, and he simply said, ‘You should work for me. I’ll give you 2% of my net profit and a three million dollar bonus a year for your own projects’. I laughed, obviously. Oh, did I laugh…” Susseth trailed off as the waitress came with their lunches.

“So, what convinced you?” Jessie asked, intrigued. He couldn’t imagine himself in Susseth’s place and actually believing the guy.

“I graduated a month later and he showed up in a limo, Jake in tow.” She went for her fish with a smile on her face. “Once I saw for myself the guy had money, well… it suddenly wasn’t so hilarious that he could give me a three million dollar bonus. Good thing Janice was not on campus that day, too… she would have had a heart attack seeing what she had let escape.”

“You never thought it was, well…” Jessie trialed off searching for the least offensive word.

“Odd? Risky? Illegal?” she listed, getting to the salad.

“For starters, yeah,” Jessie said, a tentative smile on his face as he focused on cutting his steak. He couldn’t risk looking her in the eye.

“Well… It wasn’t like Dave gave me his agenda and it said ‘meeting with terrorists’. I started with the less difficult and more public projects. He eased me into my job. Plus, all I could really think about was the three million dollars and all the things I needed to do with that money. You can get pretty blindsided when you want to save the world,” she said with a hint of nostalgia.

“And he kept his side of the deal? You still get the three million?”

Susseth stopped cutting her fish, and very seriously looked Jessie in the eye. “Jessie. He always keeps his deals. You should know that by now.”

It was like a wet blanket after all the laughs and information he had managed to get.

“I… I didn’t mean it to sound like that. He was young, and you were younger…” he trailed off, racking his brains for a smooth way to get back on track.

“He’d already established himself as one of the best hackers in the world and had been selling his skills for eight years by the time I had breakfast with him that fateful Sunday. By all means, he knew what he was doing,” she clarified in case Jessie had any doubt that young didn’t necessarily mean idiot.

Jessie dutifully nodded. She sighed, like she had just discovered what it meant to have a nice conversation and was missing that just now.

“So, it never surprised you? Any of what he does?” Jessie asked, in his most casual voice, trying to get the conversation going again.

“Well…” she considered, “He was just starting the foundations of what he has now. I’ve seen first hand what he can achieve, and… the truth is, he helps me with the causes I want to help, as well. I know he believes my way is too slow and reaches too few, but… well, that’s the way I know how to do things. Dave’s ideas always seem larger than life to me.”

“He sure makes a lot of money ‘helping out’,” Jessie pointed out, and Susseth broadly grinned.

“That he does. In spades. It kind of makes me want to smack him in the head for making it look so easy,” her laugh was back, and Jessie was relieved. Then she got thoughtful, maybe reading between the lines of what Jessie had just implied. “He’s no saint, Jessie. To manage that amount of money… He plays with both sides of the greedy companies and shadowy government agendas. He doesn’t believe in charity; that he leaves to me. He believes in profound change, and getting things done from scratch if that’s what it takes. Although sometimes it feels like he’ll hand you a shovel to finish his grand vision, and then leaves in search of another.” She chuckled at that.

Because of Michael, Jessie knew that Dave had a wide, wide, wide range of interests, so it wasn’t hard to picture him getting something half done just to delegate it and go in search of the next big thing. It would explain how he could have so many things going on at the same time.

“But what about you?” she inquired, “You asked me if I get surprised by Dave’s world, and here you are, married to a psychic woman. That must be exciting.”

Psychic powers was the official story for anyone who needed to be close to them, but not close enough to actually see a blood sample. Jessie tried not to react at the lie, taking the comment in stride.

“It… it never gets boring, that’s for sure,” he evasively answered.

“She’s such a beautiful woman. And you two look so happy together,” she complimented, making it Jessie’s turn to smile.

“That she is and that we are/ I’m actually relieved there’s no man in this world my Izzy can’t deal with,” he proudly said, though privately he knew Dave could very well fit that description. And the Special Unit.

“How did you find out about her? It must have been shocking!”

“I’m not gonna lie to you, it wasn’t… easy,” he honestly said, remembering seeing Isabel on the ground, blood seeping to the asphalt. “It hurt… you know, that she hadn’t confided in me, not even after we were married.”

“Ah… sorry, I didn’t think it… had been like that…” she apologized, looking conflicted.

“No, no, that’s okay. We’re okay now. We’re more than okay,” he reassured her. "But before knowing, I was more worried about dealing with her brother and friend, actually," Jessie easily said. That was a safe topic he could talk about, all things considered. Even if Susseth never really got to spend any significant amount of time with Isabel, Max or Michael, she did know about them, and some of the things they could do. This meeting had actually been about their finances, and how much of what Dave had gained from their research over the years translated into profit.

"Oh! You had to deal with Michael?" Susseth said in surprise. Maybe she had never given thought to their family dynamics, but no one ever doubted that dealing with Michael was highly explosive. It was kind of misguided now that Michael had a much better control over his temper, but he wasn’t about to point that out.

On the other hand… "Don't think Max is all sweetness and light. He broke my nose right before the wedding..." Jessie winced at the memory; Susseth's eyes went round as saucers.

"Max? You're kidding me?!" she exclaimed, half convinced he was joking.

"Not one bit. He had been trying to prove I was up to no good, you know... that I was FBI or whatever else could make me a monster. Turned out I was just a guy who wanted his sister.”

"That must have been a great way to start your life together. A broken nose..." she said sympathetically.

"I know better now, what kind of fear he was dealing with. They’d just never done anything that didn’t include the three of them, and… separation was always a life or death risk in their eyes. Never in my wildest dreams did I think they were hiding such secret. They had a lot to lose if Isabel had chosen wrong."

Good thing it wasn’t like that now. Jessie was not delusional; he knew that the price for staying with Isabel was accepting that she came as a package deal with Max and Michael, and all their troubles. It was a fair price for having her in his life, as far as he was concerned.

They were silent for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts.

"I can imagine all the cheating I could have done with their kind of powers..." she wistfully said, dragging him out of memories long past.

"You? A cheater? I can hardly imagine that," Jessie said, amazed at the admission.

"I hated art... God, I'm so not artistic... And gym... I mean, I was never really prone to be all that disastrous, but all that time could have been invested in bigger things! I had so many goals then, and those things were just in the way. My mother wanted me to discover the world with a free spirit. Thank God for my father who saw in me a genius for the corporate world and steered me in that direction”

"What do you tell them about your work?"

"Investment with this huge millionaire. I really don't have to stretch the truth all that much. And he's a good boss... Hardly knows where his head is, but... I can't really complain."

"I don't know if I could put up with the hours you do," Jessie confessed. She grinned.

"Dave tells me I work too much. Jake says I need a life. I say things need to be done. I don't know why people think I'm not happy with the way things are. I'm 41, Jessie, I've been on all the continents, seen hundreds of cities. I’m in a position to make things happen.”

“Doing what your younger self spoke of doing that morning with Dave?” Jessie asked, contemplating his life under Dave’s contract.

“Ideals only take you so far," she smiled, taking a sip of her juice. "But where would we be without Dave and Isabel? Working in an office from 9 to 5, wishing the world was a better place?"

"Safer," Jessie added.

"And with a normal wife?" she asked, teasing.

"Never," Jessie corrected, smiling. Never, indeed.

3 : Isabel

T minus 1 hour, 47 minutes

“How do you confess to blood on your hands?” Isabel asked, her voice trembling. By her side, Max took her hand on his.

“It’s not blood on your hands.” Max simply said, his gaze lost on some point ahead of them.

If she had to confess to blood on her hands, then he had to confess to having loved someone else. To being married. He’d never wanted that for Liz, for her to feel like she was not the most important part of his life, but it was hard to say that in the face of their past selves.

Isabel had seen him when he had mourned Ava. She’d seen his tears falling as he had simply said, Zan loved her. It had been raw and heartbroken to see her brother coming out of one of those memory flashes and start crying, because Zan had loved Ava, and Max had experienced that, knowing that Ava was going to die, and there was nothing Zan was going to be able to do to stop it.

She’d felt so dirty coming out of them when they had been about her “love” for Khivar. She felt so stupid, so used… knowing what was to come, knowing the price of what she was doing, it had made her physically sick on more than one occasion. Seldom were those memories about happy times that her present self would not hate.

“What are you going to tell Liz?” she whispered, anguish in her voice. Michael had already left them to meet his source and find more clues about Dave’s message files.

“The truth,” he answered. He made it sound so simple. “That I got half of Zan’s memories back, but I’m still me. After that, I’ll just take her questions. Liz knows me, just like Jessie knows you. They’ll understand, they might feel frustrated and left out… but they’ll understand.”

“You sound so sure about it… I already hid things from Jessie when we were in Roswell. He hates being lied to. And suddenly here I come, ‘oh by the way, I was once in love with a genocidal usurper who is currently ruling in place of my brother, but you already knew that, didn’t you?’”

“They all already know most of it, the broad sense of our history back on Antar,” Max pointed out, impassive at her outburst. It was in moments like this that he reminded her of Zan. The thought was depressing now more than ever.

“Max, this isn’t the same,” she snapped, as much for his benefit as for hers. He sighed, looking less regal. Looking like Max.

“As I see it, the only thing that has changed is that we know exactly how it happened. Iz, it’s up to us to decide what to make of those memories. It always has been. The only reason we never told them was because it was eating at us alive to think one day we would wake up with no memory or no regard for our human selves. And that never happened. And by the amount of information we already have, it’s not going to. Now we’re just stalling…”

“Do you really think Liz won’t be furious?” she tentatively asked, dreading any answer that was going to come from her brother.

“She’ll be disappointed I didn’t let her help me. She always knew I was keeping some things to myself. I think she’ll be relieved. I hope she’ll be relieved…” he amended, the slightest of smiles touching his lips.

“Jessie knows I don’t like it. My past… We never talk about it. Maybe I should leave it like that,” she proposed, liking the idea more and more by the second.

“Iz…” Max warned.

“No! Listen! He’s never asked. He’s okay.”

“Are you?”

“Yes!” she said too quickly. He simply smiled. “Yes,” she said more calmly. “All I ever want is to believe what you do. That it doesn’t matter. That those memories are not ours. That I didn’t do such hideous things… That I can be happy,” she whispered.

Placing his hand around her shoulders, he hugged her sideways. Max, Zan, it didn’t matter. He had been and was her brother, in that life and this one. The difference being that she would never, ever betray him here.

“It’s going to be okay, Iz,” he said, his voice barely audible as he soothed her fears. “It’s going to be okay…”

Is it? She didn’t want to know. God, she really didn’t want to know.

T minus 1 hour, 43 minutes
Last edited by Misha on Mon Jul 02, 2012 9:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 3 - pg. 2 - 6/1

Post by Misha » Sun Jun 24, 2012 5:12 pm


Another week of doom looms in the horizon for me, so before work keeps me from posting, here's the next chapter! This one is one of my favorites for this book :mrgreen:

Thank you all for the reviews!

Part 4 – Confident
October 23, 2004

1: Jake

T minus 7 years, 9 days, 5 hours, 13 minutes

Max was sitting on the leather couch, trying to look relaxed, and failing beyond miserably at it. He wasn’t fidgeting, but was just one minute away from giving his fingers free rein. His right leg silently drummed the floor, in a subconscious way of saying he didn’t want to be there. Black sweater, blue jeans, and black and white sneakers, Jake didn’t think he’d ever seen Max so uncomfortable in his own skin. It had been almost two years since they had accepted their deal with Dave, and this routine scan was, well… routine. Why was Max so nervous?

“Is something… bothering you?” Jake tentatively asked, leaving the preliminary report on his computer unfinished as he turned his attention to the jittery 21-year-old in front of him.

“No… Nothing…” Max evaded, his body going motionless, even holding his breath. His eyes were 100% focused now that he had been called to attention.

“Because… we could reschedule, you know?” Jake pointed out, completely closing his laptop, giving Max every cue that he could leave.

“No, no. Please. It’s okay…” he said, slightly nervous again. Something was going on, and now Jake was intrigued.

The first MRI Jake had been able to perform had come six months into their work, and it had been Max who had volunteered. It always was Max who volunteered to do everything, maybe as a way to ease Isabel and Michael into things. Maybe to prove it wasn’t dangerous. Most likely, it was just because he was Max.

Now he and Max did one every month, simple tests to see if there was any physical change since they were practicing their mental abilities every day, stretching their limits. Michael and Isabel were more reluctant to show up—maybe every other month—but Max always came.

They went through the motions in silence. Something was weighing heavily on Max’s mind, and Jake idly wondered if it would show up as an odd beep on the scan. The first time Max had laid down on the table, Jake had had to wait fifteen minutes before Max was reasonably calm. Jake knew it wasn’t that Max didn’t trust the machine, or trust that what was going to happen was harmless; rather that he’d had terrible memories about being treated as a specimen and not as a patient, plus years of untold fears about places like this.

“You okay?” he asked one last time as he finished attaching the last electrode. It was only the two of them in the lab, and Jake had all the time in the world to do this. This time, Max hesitated; his mouth opened slightly, probably unconsciously. Then, thinking better of it, he simply nodded.

The test was simple enough to follow, but challenging enough to mark subtle changes. Right at the point where Max’s eyes would comfortably look up, was a tennis ball suspended by a cord. Max would first change its color, then its shape, then its density, and lastly he would mentally hold it in the air. And repeat everything a second time, while keeping it suspended with his mind. The fact that he couldn’t use his hands to guide his energy added a higher degree of concentration.

It was as much a test to see how far they have come stretching their mental muscles as it was to see if there was any physical changes to the brain. Michael always cheated to show lower progress. Max probably did, too; he was just less obvious about it. Isabel was somewhere in the middle. The three always got results around the exact same graphics, probably as a result of rehearsal and planning amongst themselves, but Jake had developed a formula to compensate for the lack of trust in his methods—and his ethics—and it was against that scale that he would measure them each month. Or each time they would allow him a peek into the inner workings of their minds.

On the monitor, Jake watched Max as he looked at the ball, but Jake could tell he wasn’t really looking at it. He was anxious, and his body readings were starting to betray him. Max had done this twelve times already, and except for that first time, he’d always gone through the motions in a composed, slightly eager way. Just the same way Liz would listen to Jake explaining to them what the results were telling him. They wanted to know, Max and Liz, and Jake was more than happy to explain it to them. Michael was way more eager to know about the practical uses Ray came up with, something Maria and Kyle also shared. Unfortunately, Isabel didn’t seem to be eager at all. She just did as she was told but her heart wasn’t in it.

“Ready?” Jake asked over the intercom. Through the soundproof headphones they used for these sessions, Max heard Jake’s question and nodded again, this time really looking at the ball.

Jake started the machine, intently looking at the monitor as Max started the test’s first cycle. Thirty seconds into it, the ball stopped changing colors. In the brain scan monitor, the parts that would usually illuminate stopped doing so, and other parts started to look like fireworks on the fourth of July. The digital lines that monitored brain activity went crazy—just not the usual ones. Jake turned to look at Max, who was yet again looking-but-not-really-looking at the ball. He looked almost lethargic, though his biometrics indicated he was simply in a state of rest.

Far more worried than intrigued, Jake spoke again. “Max?”

He snapped out of it instantly. Max jerked a little, almost as if he were falling into himself, shutting his eyes tightly. The whole incident hadn’t lasted more than ten seconds.

“Max?!” Jake worriedly asked, stopping the MRI. Leaving the space where the monitors were, he hurried up to release Max from the cylindrical chamber. Max had yet to respond.

“Max?!” he all but shouted as Max was panting. It would be only a matter of minutes before Liz burst through those doors, a part of him fleetingly imagined.

Rising his hand blindly, Max waved him off, his eyes still shut. He sounded as if he were trying to contain… sobs? Still on his back, Max’s hands covered his face, as he was shaking with the effort of staying still.

Jake stared at him, wanting to ask, to comfort, but without a clue as to what had caused this emotional reaction. Silently, he watched as Max regained control of his breathing. Relieved and yet wanting to strangle Max for the scare, Jake had no option but to patiently wait for Max to explain. A couple of minutes later, Max opened his eyes, haunted by something only he saw.

“I shouldn’t have come,” he stated in a flat tone, looking at the ceiling. Jake didn’t have time to answer as Max continued, “God, I knew it would happen… but I just—” he stopped, letting a long sigh out, letting emotion leak into his voice. “I’m just glad I did.”

Later, much later, when Jake would see the few results he’d gotten, he’d see how the memory centers had flared to life with an appalling brilliance, giving him a good idea of how strong these episodes were. But in that moment, when Max slowly sat up, all Jake knew was that something had fundamentally changed between the boy who had entered the room, and the man who was sitting in front of him now.

“I need to talk to someone, Jake, but I need to know this won’t be a mistake. That it won’t leave this room.”

There was so much tiredness in that voice, Jake inwardly flinched. He’d heard that voice in himself, long ago, when he had needed to talk to someone about everything that had happened to him, everything he had lost, and the only one he’d had was a too-young Dave, who wasn’t able to give him the guiding hand he so desperately needed. Now he had a chance to guide someone out of that abyss. He wasn’t sure if he was up to the task, but he’d be damned if he didn’t try. He nodded.

“About two years ago… I started to have very vivid… episodes. Flashes. Memories from life on Antar,” he finally admitted. “They are random, and short, and so… so real.”

Jake swallowed. Max looked at the floor. The heart rate and temperature monitors were still attached to his body, and the doctor in him wondered what his MRI session was missing right now. Moving forward, he reached with practice ease for the circular attachments. Whatever this was, it was not going to be comfortably done while sitting or standing in this room.

“You had one of those episodes right now,” Jake calmly stated, understanding what had Max reacted to.

“It was my father’s funeral,” he solemnly said. “I’ve been having glimpses of it all morning long. Usually it takes a few days before the full scene comes, so I thought I was going to be… safe.”

It wasn’t a surprise, but it still hurt Jake’s pride to know they still considered him unsafe.

“I’m sorry,” Jake quietly said, “about your father,” he elaborated, even if he knew this had nothing to do with Philip Evans. There was pain in Max’s eyes. Jake understood that, although this event had happened decades and decades ago, for Max’s mind, it had just happened. The emotions were just as raw as if the king of Antar had just died.

The king is dead. Long live the king!

If Antarian tradition was like Europe’s medieval one, then Max had just been placed on a throne.

“Zan’s father,” Max said after a minute, once Jake had finished with the process of freeing him from the little, circular sensors. Standing up, they both walked back into Jake’s office. “That’s the problem, they’re not my memories, but I’m trapped in them, feeling them.”

Entering his office, Jake shed his lab coat while Max took a seat. Max wasn’t nervous any more, but his conflicted state of mind was not exactly an improvement. “I need them to stop,” he said, “I need to get them out of my head.”

Are Michael and Isabel having them too? Jake wanted to ask. Instead, he sat next to Max, who for once didn’t flinch.

“Don’t run from them,” Jake quietly advised. Max turned distressed eyes to him. This was not what he wanted to hear. “I don’t know why they are happening now, or how long they’re going to last, or what you’ll see, but Max, I know they’ll haunt you if you don’t let them come freely. They won’t just go away.”

Max shook his head. “They are so real,” he insisted, anguished, “so much that when they are over I’m left wondering if that’s reality and this is the dream.”

Jake slowly exhaled, and even more slowly placed a hand on Max’s shoulder. “I’m real, Max. This place, my couch… your wife? We are real. But most importantly, you are real, you hear me?”

Max’s eyes snapped at the mention of his beloved Liz. And then the fire that shone in his eyes subsided. “She doesn’t know,” he confessed. “How can I tell her that sometimes I wonder if I dreamed her up? She’s the best thing in the world that has ever happened to me, and I doubt her existence?”

Jake slightly smiled. “Are you doubting she’s real now?”

Max shook his head. “No.”

“Just while you are coming out of one of those memories?”

He nodded slightly, almost afraid of admitting it aloud again.

“Don’t you think it’s normal? I mean,” he amended when Max’s face despaired, “the disorientation that you feel. That’s quite an emotional blow you received just now, I can only imagine what it feels like every time this happens. You cannot blame yourself for doubting your surroundings.”

“I never doubt them when I’m there, that’s the problem. I never wonder about my human life… this life. It just doesn’t exist. Please, Jake…” Max whispered, “make them stop.”

It broke Jake’s heart to see Max doubting his grip on reality, on what was meaningful. It broke him more knowing that the answer was still no. People wanted to forget all manner of things, and yet the only thing modern medicine and psychology had achieved was getting memories back, not taking them away.

Taking a second to think how to phrase this, Jake looked Max in the eye. “What’s the worst that can happen if you do remember?”

Max’s entire body tensed up, ready to flee. Closing his eyes, he went motionless again, his muscles taut. “I’d lose myself,” he quietly answered, probably voicing his worst fear. “I’d wake up one morning, and I would have forgotten about my life. About Max Evans.” Opening his eyes, he slowly turned to look at Jake. “Or even worse, I’d still remember who Max Evans is, but I won’t really care. About him or Liz, or anything in this life. I’ll want that other life more.”

“Do you? Want it more? Right when they are over, and you don’t know which is the dream, do you want it more?”

Max did not answer immediately. “I don’t know,” he said at length. “I don’t want either in that moment. I just don’t know which one is real. There’s not enough time to want one over the other.”

“Okay, fair enough,” Jake agreed. He didn’t have a master’s degree in psychology, and he doubted very much there was any book written with advice on how to deal with past lives on other planets… Or maybe there was… The world was a strange place after all. “Let’s look at the other side of the coin, now. What’s the best case scenario?”

Max swallowed. “There is none,” he said, dejected, pleading with Jake to understand the terrible hell he was finding himself in.

“There is much value in anyone’s life, Max. Those memories, Zan’s memories if you’d like, they are a window to a man who had a very special life. He was a ruler, however briefly. He lived in another world, had other goals in his life, maybe the same as you. Maybe he was shy and had to get over it, fast. Maybe he had bad days, and good days, and loved his family just as much as you do. Don’t you think, just for a moment, that there might be value in you learning about his life?”

Max had never thought of this before. The perplexed look told Jake as much. “Maybe Zan is not your enemy, Max. Maybe you can make him a long-distance ally.” Maybe you can make this work without losing yourself.

Maybe. Just maybe.

2 : Dave

T minus 7 years, 9 days, 1 hour, 3 minutes

“How was the session? Anything interesting?” Dave absently asked over the phone as he had Jake on speaker. He had finally found an actual track on the elusive hacker who had been tantalizing him for almost two years now. And he had every intention of following it to the boy who was behind that keyboard.

Jake’s silence, however, stretched for far too long. Dave stopped typing, his eyes going to the phone, trying to picture Jake on the other side. “Jake?”

“Oh, sorry. Anything interesting? Regarding Max?” Jake repeated Dave’s questions.

“Yeah,” Dave answered, now his hands off the keyboard.

“He’s getting faster. I… well, he was distracted with Isabel’s birthday, I think, so he just rushed through it.”

Another birthday, another touchy day, Dave thought, completely forgetting Jake’s absent-mindedness. Completely missing that he was lying. Next year, Dave promised himself, next year I’ll let them roam the Earth. I just need to prove they are ready.

T minus 7 years, 9 days, 53 minutes
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 4 - pg. 3 - 6/2

Post by Misha » Mon Jul 02, 2012 8:51 pm

Hey all!

Sneaking up from work :roll: I really don't like working late...

Thank you all for coming back to read! And for the reviews! They inspire the muse :mrgreen: Now that CampNano is over, I have book 3 in the works. Just don't expect it anytime soon with the amount of editing I have to do :shock:

Ken!!! Hope you're feeling better!!! ::hugs::

Part 5 – Missing
November 2nd, 2011

1 : Michael

T minus 1 hour, 41 minutes

The November chill ran over Michael's hands as he stepped out of the taxi. It had been a relatively calm trip, if one didn’t count the colorful expletives his taxi driver had insisted on shouting every two blocks. Now, standing in this part of lower Manhattan, Michael wondered what exactly a retired Network Keeper would look like.

He wasn't here to find him, exactly. More to find a link to him. Somewhere, in the neighborhood, lived an ex-Network Keeper's sister. A reporter sister, of all things.

All senses on high alert, Michael crossed the street and entered the building. Far from being intimidated, Michael rehearsed his alibi for wanting to find this man. She was a reporter, after all, so he guessed details had to be covered. On the other hand, it didn't mean she was a good reporter, he reflected as he made sure nothing suspicious was going on. Besides him, that is.

It also didn't mean she could read minds. Not unless Max had secretly healed her, and thank God Max had outgrown that nasty little habit years ago.

The sister, it turned out, lived in apartment thirteen. Just my luck, Michael fleetingly thought as he got into the elevator. He didn’t like elevators. They were death traps; difficult to hide in, to defend, and to escape from. He’d worked eight months with Ray learning exactly how many things he could do to an elevator to make it safer, but even with all that information, Michael still didn’t like them. Seven floors, however, were just too many to skip the metal cage.

An eternity later, the doors opened, and out he went. He glanced at the hall right to left, and listened for a full minute for any sounds coming from the apartments. Although he wasn’t expecting anyone to jump out of the shadows, habit had honed his skills to take every situation as if it was life or death. Something he now knew he had done back on Antar as well.

Of course, on Antar he had been looking for other kinds of dangers, and somewhere in the back of his mind, the sting of knowing he had failed Zan still hurt. It had been his duty to protect the royal family. And although he couldn’t remember it, he hoped he had died defending them.

Letting the memory go, Michael rang the bell once. A minute went by without any response; he rang it again. Two minutes later, he contemplated if he should enter the apartment by—well, not by force. He didn’t need more than the flick of his wrist to get doors open nowadays, but without a human being to answer his questions, there wasn't much he could get from the apartment itself.

They had never gotten good at getting that kind of flash. Psychometry, as Jake called it, had always eluded them. Only sometimes, under a high dose of stress, would they actually see something from the past by touching an object. They couldn't really call it at will, or at least not without a lot of effort and good luck.

The choice was taken out of his hands a second after he had decided to let it go. A woman in her early thirties opened the door, looking flushed. Short, black hair, not taller than Maria, she barely made a ripple in Michael’s inner radar. She wasn’t a threat. Michael raised an eyebrow at the way the woman was panting, as if she had ran to get to the door. Maybe he had come at a verybad time if the flush was any indication.

"Yes?" she asked, not intimidated by Michael's curious look.

"I'm looking for Christy Walsh?" he asked.

"Yes?" she asked again, her eyes narrowing with suspicion.

"I'm here to talk about Daniel—" The door shut instantly, leaving Michael standing in the hall. Just great, he inwardly grumbled. Just as he was about to knock, the door opened again. This time, the woman had a gun.

2 : Maria

T – 1 hour, 37 minutes

Maria had only one thing on her mind: Baggage claim.

Following her fellow passengers through the terminal, she noticed Kyle was lagging behind. After the interminable customs line, she really needed a shower, a soft bed, and another shower. Airplanes, even in first class, did not compare to a good bed and a shower. Especially not transatlantic ones.

“Kyle!” she snapped, tugging at his arm so he would continue walking. First class ended once they were out of the plane. Now they had to mingle and hunt down a spot with the rest of the people at the baggage carousel. And God! Let’s all hope my luggage didn’t get lost. Again, she somberly thought as Kyle didn’t move. The longer they took, the harder it would be to spot their stuff and take it out. Dreams of bubbles and hot water could only sustain her for so long.

“Jake’s here,” Kyle said, looking somewhere behind them.

“What?” Maria asked, confused. A second later, she understood. “What?” she repeated, this time in outrage. Jake had no business being here. Not in this airport, not in this city, not in the goddamned state!

“He’s… he’s really scared,” Kyle slowly said, his eyes moving from side to side as passengers passed them by.

“What are you talking about?”

“This isn’t good,” Kyle said, turning to look at her, and then fumbling with his pocket, he took his cell phone out. “Not good, not good,” he kept muttering as Maria turned to look behind them, searching for a tall, lanky, dark-red haired man. She found none.

“I can’t make any calls out,” he said, his eyes going wide. “My service is out.”

“Sometimes it takes a few minutes for it to connect the network,” Maria said, now worried. Taking her phone out, she searched for the emergency contacts. There were three. And one was Jake’s. Mentally skipping that one she went straight for Ray’s. She would never willingly call Dave as her first option, ever. A minute later, her phone wouldn’t connect either.

“Damn it!” she said as she tried again. And again.

Kyle walked a few steps back. “It’s useless; he’s probably at the gates right now. We cannot get back there.”

Why didn’t you pick it up before?! Maria wanted to scream, not at Kyle, but at the helplessness she was feeling.

“Well, he’s Jake, right? He probably has a gazillion protocols for whatever…” she rationalized. Kyle looked at her unconvinced. “What is he thinking?” she asked.

“That he’s cornered.” They locked eyes. They could very well just walk away. Nothing said they had to risk their lives for Jake. Or Dave. Still…

Looking to her right, she saw pay phones.

“Okay, let’s see who can tell us what the hell is going on here,” she stated, dragging Kyle by the arm to the wall, the decision already made. “Do you have any coins?” she asked as she stared at the dark slot. She hadn’t used a pay phone since forever.

“We’re arriving from London after a six months stay, what do you think?” Kyle sarcastically responded. She glared at him. “Credit it is,” she said under her breath. They avoided using credit cards like the plague, but always had one so they could be tracked. It was a red flare for Dave that something was going wrong. Since she wasn’t sure something was actually wrong, she wasn’t sure what the result would be. Better safe than sorry, she grimly thought as she put the card in.

Three minutes later, a slightly on edge Ray answered her.

“Who is this?”

Relief flooded her. “Ray! It’s Maria. I’m with Ky—”

“Listen to me, and listen carefully,” he cut her off, “someone has jammed our entire cell phone network in New York City. Jake’s being followed in JFK airport, and—”

“I know!” it was Maria’s turn to interrupt. If the entire network was down, then it meant… Her blood ran cold as the realization hit her. That meant this was an attack on Dave’s organization. “I’m here with Kyle, at JFK. Kyle has just picked up Jake’s distress.”

On the other side of the phone, Ray swore. “You were supposed to be in London! You have to get the hell out of that airport. Now!” Ray all but roared on the phone.

“But what about Jake? We are already outside security, but we could—”

“No, Maria. Get out of there. Go to your hotel. Call me when you get there, far, far away from that place.” Desperation colored Ray’s voice.

“At least tell me what’s going on!” she argued, hoping Ray wouldn’t cut the line without an explanation.

“We don’t know yet,” he whispered, “but we think Dave is missing.”

T minus 1 hour, 31 minutes
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 5 - pg. 3 - 7/2

Post by Misha » Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:27 pm

Hey! Thank you for coming back to read!

And thanks for reviewing! I'm about to start editing book 3, so all your comments are food for thought 8)

xmag, love how you summarized all the threads! It sounds so easy, but damn... I actually have an excel file so I don't get lost with where everyone is, when and with whom... :roll:

Now let's see a little bit of what happened six years ago... This chapter has one of my favorite endings :mrgreen:

Part 6 – Underground
May 3rd – May 4th, 2005

1 : Liz

T minus 6 years, 5 months, 29 days, 7 hours, 59 minutes

“Happy Birthday!” Doctor Allan Preston, Liz’s mentor, said excitedly as he gave her a white envelope. It was the beginning of their session, and although Allan was a jovial man most of the time, today he was extra-cheerful. For a second, Liz didn’t know if she should tell him it wasn’t her birthday yet.

She also privately resented his cheerfulness since she hadn’t slept well at all. That goddamned reoccurring dream had come visiting her again. The sunset, the petals… Max sneezing… and then everything crumbling beneath her feet. The whole thing was so surreal she had dismissed it as nothing but a weird dream her mind had fixated on. It had a beautiful sunset, she didn’t mind dreaming about that. It was the whole other part she dreaded.

Allan hugged her, shattering her momentary reverie, and gave her a kiss on each cheek, as the European custom demanded. He was always coming and going to and from the Old World, and sometimes he mixed up his cultural manners.

“Allan, thank you!” she enthusiastically said. “It’s a bit early for it…”

“Oh, two, three weeks? I’m closed enough and I couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. Go on, open it!”

His happiness was contagious, and already grinning, Liz eagerly opened the envelope. Inside, were two tickets. Getting them out, she recognized them for airplane tickets. Bound to Paris, exactly a week from now, to return three days before her birthday. Her enthusiasm evaporated.

She no longer had visions, but the ones she had had before Max took them away, were seared in her mind: Michael exiting a cab with the driver on the right side. Maria sitting in a Square surrounded by Chinese people. Isabel coming down some stairs in luxurious surroundings. And Max getting shot in a French restaurant.

Allan was excitedly talking by her side. All Liz could hear was the echoing thunder of a shot, a cup shattering on the floor, and Max moving backward by the force of the impact.

“No,” Liz whispered, paling, frenetically looking through their connection that Max was well. Confused and anxious, Max answered her back.

“I’m sorry, no?” Allan asked.

“I can’t go,” she stated, some of her sanity coming back with Max’s mental touch.

“It’s already cleared with Dave and Jake,” he said, more subdued now. “Liz, we’ve been working on this for two and a half years. You have to be there for the presentation.”

She mutely refused. Nothing would make her set foot in France. Nothing.

2 : Max

T minus 6 years, 5 months, 28 days, 15 hours, 7 minutes

“You should go,” Max said simply as he hugged her to his chest, both lying on the bed, telling each other how the day had gone.

“Max,” she said, turning to look at him in the dim light, “it’s not worth it. I won’t get to see Paris, so big deal. Millions of people never get to see it.”

He smiled his slow smile. The one that said “I understand, but you don’t”.

“We won’t go,” she assured him with finality.

I won’t go, Liz. It was me who was shot… And we don’t even know if it will happen in France. We never thought we were going to go that far…” he smiled again, a sad smile this time.

“Max, no.”

“I’ve taken so much from you…” he started. Liz groaned, effectively interrupting him.

“What?” he asked, a little taken aback. She looked him in the eyes, and took a minute to rise onto her elbows, even if one was squarely pressing down Max’s sternum. He flinched.

“Don’t start with that again. I know you said you wanted me to go see the world, and I was the one who told you it wasn’t fair that you didn’t get to do it, but neither of us thought we’d be in this situation. I just… I just wouldn’t feel right being there knowing you are stuck here…” she whispered, moving her hand to caress his cheek.

They had been underground for three years, and for the most part, the furthest they’d gotten had been the towns within a fifty mile radius, at best. But about six months before, Jake had been hinting at other places. Maybe a change of scenery, he would say. Maybe getting to know new surroundings, a new culture. They didn’t really pay much attention to it. The last thing they wanted to do was to find themselves breaking the deal and having to run in some foreign country.

“You’ve worked so hard on Allan’s research…” Max whispered, returning the caress.

“Research done thanks to how your metabolism works,” she pointed out. “You should be there, too.”

Max frowned. “I think the donor doesn’t really count.” They both smiled.

Allan’s presentation in Paris was about their breakthrough in rushing the healing factors of the human body. Allan didn’t know who the donor was, and he never really said much about what he thought he was looking at in the microscope, but Max had the feeling that Allan knew exactly who and what the donor was. After all, whenever Max went into the lab to help them out, Allan always looked at him with slightly narrowed eyes when he thought Max wasn’t paying attention.

“Ten days in Paris,” he taunted her. “You can’t pass that up.”

Liz bit her lower lip, not knowing how else to say no to this offer.

Placing his hand on the back of her head, he guided her to lie on his chest again. “I appreciate that you want to have such limited choices in traveling as I do, but it’s not necessary. Liz, you don’t have to sacrifice any more than you already have. I was born into this. You still get to decide. I’m sure if you asked them to send Maria with you, they wouldn’t object.”

She shut her eyes tightly at that. It was one thing for her to say no to Paris. But to also deprive Maria of the opportunity?

“Did that convince you?” Max tentatively asked. Liz just swatted him. He laughed then, her weight on him feeling just perfect.

“I’ll be back for my birthday,” she said out loud, the first hint she was considering taking the chance.

“I’m counting on it,” Max said, hugging her. A couple of minutes later, he cryptically added, “I’m dying to give you your present.”

She smiled, thoughtful for a second. Had he asked her, she would have told him that the way he’d phrased it gave her an unwelcome foreboding feeling.

3 : Kyle

T minus 6 years, 5 months, 27 days, 6 hours, 29 minutes

“I think she’s speechless,” Kyle worriedly joked as Maria stared at the tickets in her hand. Two minutes later, the shout of joy and delight proved him wrong.

4 : Jake

T minus 6 years, 5 months, 27 days, 5 hours, 13 minutes

“Explain this to me,” Dave said over the phone. “Allan, you and I conspired to give those two a romantic getaway as you suggested, and now you’re telling me Max refused but Liz wants to go? Are they having some problem we are not aware of?”

The question wasn’t serious, but the sentiment was.

“I don’t know Dave,” his honest answer came. Jake had been going to lay out plans for the other four so they wouldn’t feel left out, but this turn of events had baffled him as much as it had Dave.

“Well, you’re the expert. You keep telling me to do this and that, and when I finally agree there’s enough safety to get them out… they refuse it.”

“Technically speaking, they half refused it. Look, I’ll talk to Max, see if I can find out the reasoning behind this.”

5 : Max

T minus 6 years, 5 months, 27 days, 1 hour, 39 minutes

“There’s no problem… is there?” Max slowly asked, standing in the doorway to Jake’s lab. They were seldom called by Jake, so this unexpected summons had him on edge for the ten minutes it had taken to walk down the corridors and get down here.

Jake had been typing something on his laptop, and had vaguely acknowledged Max as he finished up his notes. Closing the lid, he looked up, a smile on his face. One thing Max had to give the man was that he always looked welcoming.

“Come, come. Sorry for the short notice.”

Max went inside, heading for one of the two chairs in front of Jake’s desk. Piles of files were neatly placed at his right, and as Jake opened and closed a drawer to his left, Max heard the familiar sound of a bag of chips being opened. Jake loved junk food, but he never indulged his taste when they were going to do an experiment. So that was out.

Silently offering Max the open bag, Jake also seemed to tense at something he was thinking. “I’ve already eaten,” Max politely declined.

“Good, more for me,” he smiled, getting his hand into the bag, and popping a couple of artificially cheese flavored goodies into his mouth.

“So, you’re not going to Paris,” Jake said without preamble. Liz had told Allan that morning, and now Max presumed the good doctor had been the one who had told Jake. By this time of day, it was almost a given that Dave already knew.

“Liz is going,” Max said, “if that’s okay, I guess…”

“Yes, yes, Allan has no problem with taking both girls, though he says he’s not going to go shopping and sightseeing.”

That wasn’t going to be a problem, Max thought. Maria had a built-in radar for shopping, no matter the city. She didn’t need a sixty-something guy trailing behind her if he didn’t want to go.

“The question is, why aren’t you going?” Jake said, repeating his statement of a minute before. “Is there something I should know?”

That was the tricky thing. Kyle could read minds, Liz could reach Max and have somewhat premonitory dreams; both of them would get spidery, green sparks if they were too stressed. And yet no one outside the six of them knew about that. A fact Max wanted to keep intact.

That meant telling Jake that Liz had had a vision about him being shot in a French restaurant was out of the question. Fortunately, Max had the perfect answer.

“I’ve been working on a… private project,” he slowly said, piquing Jake’s interest. How did the saying go? The best lies are the ones that have truth in them.

“I’m listening,” Jake said, his hand in midair as he was hunting for more fried cheese.

“It’s Liz’s present, actually…” Max elaborated. Jake’s eyebrows shot upward, a wide smile spreading. “I’ve been working down in genetics… They have this… um… plant research,” Max continued, now feeling slightly embarrassed. It was one thing that he thought it was romantic, it was another to talk about it before his project was fully realized and he could show it off. Jake simply nodded, his chips forgotten.

“Liz loves roses. White roses. So I asked around, and Henry, one of the technicians, has been helping me to understand how to breed new kinds of flowers.”

“Oh,” Jake said, slightly surprised. “Ray would give you extra credit on stealth,” he added a moment later. It was a relief for Max to know he hadn’t attracted any attention. “How long have you been working on this?”

It wasn’t difficult for his mind to grasp the basics, but patience played an important role when it came to crossing species and getting what he wanted. He wished he could speed up a lot of things with the aid of his powers, but he could only do so much without skewing the results.

“Um…I thought I was going to have it ready for Christmas… two years ago, and Henry just laughed at me.”

Jake frowned in sympathy. One thing Max had not known was how complicated it was to get the right rose. So much trial and error. So much time. Max had thought back then that it wouldn’t matter, since he could meddle with molecules. He had been wrong—oh, so wrong. It hadn’t stopped him, though. Knowing that the right rose could, in fact, be achieved, all Max needed was another special occasion. Now his special gift was going to serve as his excuse.

“The thing is, this last batch I have is going to be blooming right around when Liz is leaving. And I want to see it, make sure it’s ready. Plus, Michael threatened to kill me if I left Maria and him alone while we were seeing the Eiffel Tower,” Max rushed in, a detail that might sell his story just the right way.

“You know… it might not be easy, but maybe I could convince Dave to let you all go…” Jake said thoughtfully, his hand absently reaching for his snack.

“Thanks, I really appreciate it, but I really want to see this through,” and I really need to stay away from French restaurants.

“Allan is really proud of her, you know,” Jake said, leaning back on his chair. “Liz is really good at what she does, and has been learning really quickly.” Max genuinely smiled at the compliment. Watching Liz in her element was extraordinary. He was spending more and more time at Allan’s lab helping out just to be a witness to that. He’d always liked science, he just hadn’t been as passionate as she was. “I really wish you didn’t feel so strongly about not going…”

“She deserves it, but I’m pretty sure she’s going to have the workshop foremost in her mind, and Allan will want her 100% there, too. I would just be in the way.”

Jake looked at him for a moment, and Max was sure he was going to keep questioning. Sometimes it felt as if Jake had a lie detector in those dark brown eyes of his.

“Well, I can assure you it won’t be the last time you get a pass to Paris,” Jake smiled. Max smiled back, inwardly wincing. He would have to come up with very creative responses to keep avoiding that place and keep Liz’s ability secret. Anything would do. Anything but the truth.

6 : Michael

T minus 6 years, 5 months, 26 days, 22 hours, 59 minutes

“You sure about this?” Michael asked in a low voice as he pretended to study the blueprints of the car he had in front of him. It was their first day getting to know cars, but as Michael foresaw it, all cars where the same: four wheels, doors, chassis, and a million piece motor easy to tweak.

“Michael, I don’t want her to keep missing out on things,” Max said in an equally low voice, his eyes roaming the intricate blue lines on the paper. Michael knew, just as well as Max did, about Liz’s vision of him getting shot.

“I don’t like them going without any of us… The vision can still come true. Just because you’re not there, doesn’t mean one or both of them won’t get shot.”

It was a reasonably valid point, Michael knew, but he was not going to be the one to tell Maria she couldn’t go. Damn Max for not giving him a heads up!

“They’ll be with Allan the whole time. I’m sure… I’m sure they’ll be safe,” Max finished, not sounding so confident now that Michael was pointing out the risks. Of course, Michael didn’t look convinced; he was far from feeling convinced. The problem was, Max really wanted Liz to go, for whatever reason, and arguing about it was not going to be productive. He hated when he had to reach a compromise, but if he had learned something from his own memories, was that compromise was the only way to work with Zan. Might work as well with Max. “We should send Isabel. At the very least, Dave would add extra security just to make sure his precious cargo is not shot at.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Max said, as he traced with a finger a particular point in the car structure that would easily. “An all-girls trip. It might also cheer her up,” he added, voicing Michael’s thoughts. Lately, Isabel’s gloom was starting to get on his nerves.

“Gentlemen,” Ray said, reaching the table where they were looking at the blueprint. “Finished?” he asked, meaning their reading of the car’s internal structure. It was like learning how the guns worked, and since then, they had kept escalating the size. The guns had been trickier since they had been smaller. A car… a car had endless possibilities, and all they needed was a basic understanding of how the parts worked. They could scan now too, but they had never told Ray—or Jake—that. They didn’t need so much time looking at something anymore, but they feigned it all the same. When they both nodded, Ray smiled. “Proceed.”

Two minutes later, the car collapsed in a heap to the floor. They hadn’t touched it. They didn’t need to.

T minus 6 years, 5 months, 28 days, 21 hours, 41 minutes
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 6 - pg. 4 - 7/9

Post by Misha » Mon Jul 16, 2012 8:28 pm

I can't believe I'm still on schedule! :mrgreen:

Thank you all for your reviews! xmag, you're onto something, girl ;)

Let's get back to the present and see where everyone is, shall we?

Part 7 – Vanished
November 2nd, 2011

1 : Dave

T minus 1 hour, 31 minutes

The cloth on his head made breathing difficult, but Dave was managing enough to keep his breathing even. His hands were cuffed, and he was sitting on a metal chair. Although he’d been blindfolded from the minute he had been captured, his perfect memory retained every corner, turn, and street length the car had made. He knew exactly where he was. He just didn’t know how he was going to get out. At least, not yet.

“You look pretty good for someone who’s supposed to be dead,” an icy voice said from in front of him. Dave’s throat instantly closed. Goddamn it, not now! he frantically thought as McKay’s voice triggered an asthma attack. This was the man who had taken him, trained him, hunted him... And who had, ultimately, caught him.

2 : Michael

T minus 1 hour, 29 minutes

Although guns were no longer a general worry for him, when he was standing this close to a trigger-happy woman before he could disable it, then it was.

“You have thirty seconds to get out of my doorstep, and out of our lives," she said with a calm voice, even if her trembling wrists were betraying her. She had short, dark hair that kept getting in her eyes, so she tried to shake her head to clear the bangs from them. Michael slowly raised his hands, more to focus his energy faster than to surrender.

"I'm on your side," he slowly said, his eyes staring at the gun, his mind recognizing, cataloguing, and disabling it once he knew what the trigger mechanism was. All in all it took him about four long seconds. He hadn’t had many opportunities to do this in real life, and he was more than glad that he had learned—and practiced to death—the trick Ray had taught them so long ago.

"No one's on our side," she said, pressing the trigger just a fraction more.

"Well, lady, whoever is Dave’s enemy, is my friend," he said, hoping the words would ring a bell. They did.

Her eyes widening, she hesitated for a second debating if she should lower the gun or not. She opted for a third option. "Get in! Get in with your hands where I can see them!" she snarled, moving her gun to show he had to come in. Michael was fine with that, he wanted to have his hands at the ready as well. He closed the door behind him with his foot, the doorknob barely making a click. If there was anybody else in the apartment, he didn't hear it, and she didn’t call for any reinforcements either.

"What do you know about Dave?" she said in a hoarse voice, still pointing at Michael, circling him until she got the living room couch between the two of them.

"I have a deal with him." That was the wrong thing to say. Her eyes got suspicious.

"What did you do?" she asked in a clipped tone.

"What do you mean what did I do?" Michael asked, slightly offended.

"Only someone who has no choice makes a deal with Dave. So you must have done some law-breaking, or pissed off someone important and deadly enough that you had to run, and not exactly into the waiting arms of the law."

"Daniel didn't do anything wrong, and he still got tangled with him," he pointed out, sidestepping the reason for his own unfortunate circumstances.

"Daniel was too brilliant. Dave was just a goal. He got to Dave, Dave was impressed, and then he wouldn't let him go." All Michael needed to know was in those short sentences. It was all the confirmation he was hoping for. So it was true. That man had been part of the Network Keepers.

"And now you're on the run," Michael said, looking at the apartment. It actually looked well-loved and lived-in, not exactly what Michael would expect from someone on the move. She shook her head as if reading his mind.

"No... Not exactly," she amended. "Something's happened... something bad. Daniel called me this morning, said I should be on the lookout for weird people showing up on my doorstep. And oh, here you are, so nicely makeing Danny’s premonition come true," she sarcastically pointed out.

"I'm here looking for some answers he might have," he said. She looked skeptically at him. "Look, we needed Dave's protection, and we no longer want it. All we need is a bit of information to make him break the deal. As far as I can tell, Daniel's the only one who has ever managed that."

She lowered her gun, and narrowed her eyes. "How do I know you're telling the truth?" she asked, her gun now pointing more at the couch than at Michael, but still not a complete sign of trust. Granted, the gun was disabled, but that didn't mean Michael had to look relieved.

"I've been searching for something... for a long time. Dave's Level Six codes. I know Daniel went through them, and... I also know there are a few files in there that are about me. I want to know what is in those files. I want to know what Dave is planning to do with our deal."

"You're wasting your time. Daniel's not here," she said, tightening her grip on the gun.

"I expected as much. Listen, I don't need to sit down and have cookies with him. All I want is some way to contact him, ask him what he knows, how I can get myself out of this mess." How to fully breach the Level Six codes. Anything, really, he wasn’t going to get picky.

"Sure. Well, one word of advice? Don't think it's gonna be easy. My baby brother made a deal with that man for one year, and it took him another five to finally break it. Dave does not surrender his ‘investments’ easily."

How curious. “Investments” was one of Dave’s favorite words to describe their deal. This woman knew far more than Michael would have thought.

"Just one email address. One phone number. I know you talk to him, you just called him this morning." Michael’s eyes moved around the room, looking for something to touch, hoping to get a flash on what he wanted to know. If not now, he would come later.

"He called me, not the other way around,” she said, exasperated, probably because he was so nonchalant at having a gun pointed at him. “Do you want to know what finally got Danny out of that? He made another deal. His silence for his freedom."

Michael stopped snooping and centered on her eyes. If that was all it would take to get out of Dave’s shadow, he was more than happy to pledge a vow of silence.

"Dave bought that?"

"Of course he didn't. Not at first. But what was he gonna do? Shoot my brother? Dave is many things, but he's not a killer, especially not of Network Keepers."

"What?" Michael said, his turn to be surprised.

There were few things Michael had pieced together with solid proof, and one of them was that Dave was no saint. Every single Agent that had been part of the Special Unit in 2000 was now dead, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who had been able to trace and “dispose” of that group of people. Michael hadn’t known what to do with that information when he had found it a year ago, but just to see Max’s quiet acceptance, a little of that white room shadow disappearing, had been more than worth it. Whatever his reason, Michael couldn’t condemn Dave for it.

"You're not the only one who has been trying to discover that man's secrets, you know,” Daniel’s sister was saying, “I've been hunting him down for six years. Once Danny got out, I burnt it all. No sense having Dave coming to my doorstep.” She narrowed her eyes as if suddenly she was wondering who she had standing in the middle of her living room.

Michael didn’t care. "You must have something," Michael pleaded, desperation crawling in his voice. "I've been trying to find anything I can about Dave. And everything's been closed off.”

“Of course it is. You are working from the inside. You need a wide berth to get to his secrets. And—”

She paused as if she had heard something. Michael stopped to listen, too. A second later, her eyes widened. “Oh shit! NO! No! No!” she cried out, forgetting about the gun and Michael and their conversation, and turning back to run further into her apartment. Michael smelled it then: something was burning.

If the fire alarm went off, then firefighters would be on the scene in minutes. And there would go his chance at finding out way more than he had hoped for. He couldn’t let that happen. First he went for the system, touching his hand to the wall, pretty much frying half the house’s electrical wires. Then he followed her into the kitchen. White smoke was coming from the blackened cookies on the tray that Daniel’s sister was taking out of the oven. Not even his highly honed powers would be able to save those.

“Open the windows, for crying out loud!” she snapped at him, and Michael dutifully complied. After two minutes of trying to get the smoke out and frantically looking at the ceiling for signs of the imminent alarm, she finally sighed in relief. “I’m Christy,” she said, extending a hand.

“I’m Michael,” he simply said, shaking it.

“Well Michael, I promised Danny silence before he vanished. I never said anything about not listening.”

3 : Isabel

T minus 1 hour, 23 minutes

“What’s wrong with the phones?” Isabel asked, annoyance in her voice. She was supposed to meet Jesse in twenty minutes, but that didn’t seem likely right now. She was going to be late, but her discussion with Max on how to approach the subject of their alien pasts had seemed a little bit more productive than fretting over it. Jesse hadn’t called either, but with her phone not being capable of sending a message or a call, she wasn’t sure if she was going to receive anything either.

“I don’t know,” Max said, frowning. “I want to talk to Liz as much as you want to talk to Jesse. She must be at the hotel by now.”

“Are you going to see her?” Isabel asked, giving up on her phone. Max thoughtfully calculated his time as he contemplated his watch. “No. I won’t have time to go see her, and then go back to the Empire State Building. But if I can meet Dave earlier, I might just get this whole business over with and finally be on vacation with no phone.”

“Okay, want me to give her a message?” Isabel offered. Jesse was having lunch with Susseth in the hotel where they were staying. She could as well just say hi to her sister-in-law.

“I’ll meet her as soon as I can.”

“Right,” she said, with a confidence she was far from feeling. They hadn’t discussed a specific date, but postponing it all week long seemed hardly fair to Jesse.

Max stood up first, and slightly swayed. “Max?” she asked, standing up to grab him.

“Just… a dizzy spell. I stood up too fast,” Max said, looking confused for a second.

“You sure?” she pressed. The one and only time Max had gotten sick, she’d been a thousand miles away with no way to help him. Now she was right next to him, and the idea still scared the hell out of her.

“I’m sure. Don’t worry,” he said, smiling. “Iz,” Max changed his tone to a soft one, and gently hugged her. “It’s going to be okay.” He was not talking about the dizziness; he was talking about Jesse.

She gave a small smile. She wanted to believe him. She wanted to believe him so much.

“And if it isn’t, I’ll be happy to break his nose again,” he added with a hint of humor in his eyes. She slapped him on the shoulder. After all these years, she still couldn’t believe her passively-watching brother would actually hit the man she was going to marry the very next day.

She hugged Max tighter. He hugged her back. It’s going to be okay, she fiercely thought, and for the first time in a long while, she actually believed it.

4 : Kyle

T minus 1 hour, 19 minutes

“What do we do?” Maria asked in a worried whisper as they rode in the taxi. It had taken Kyle little effort to convince her to leave their luggage behind, for which he was surprised. Ray had really scared her. Hell, Kyle was scared, too.

“We go tell the others. And then we decide as a group,” he calmly said, but God, he was so not sure. Max was the one with the calming effect. Maria was the one with the crazy ideas. He usually just let himself go with the roller coaster. But it was okay, Maria always freaked out before coming up with her best plans.

“What if they’re not there?”

“Michael is going to be there,” Kyle reasoned. There was no sweetheart with super powers waiting for him, but Maria could be sure Michael would move heaven and earth to find his wife.

“No, Kyle. They don’t know we came early. We are two freaking days early!”

“Listen, the only way Michael is not going to come get you is if he’s locked up forty feet underground. He’ll reach for you the minute he suspects there’s something going on. Then he’ll know you’re here, right?”

“Our connection is not that reliable,” Maria murmured, looking out the window as if hoping she would get a glimpse of her husband. “We can feel emotions, we cannot tell direction. We’re always too intense for that…”

“Well, Max is supposed to be with him, right?” Kyle pointed out. Maria stopped looking at the street long enough to give him a confused nod. “Well, either Max will know something’s going on, or Liz will. She’s going to arrive tomorrow at the airport. So, in the worst case scenario, we go meet Liz. If by some freak accident Prince Charming Max is not there, he would still feel Liz’s warning once we talk to her.”

Maria looked at him for a second as if Kyle had spoken in a foreign language. Slowly agreeing with him, she turned again to look at the hundreds of faces walking by the streets. “I just want to know he’s safe,” she whispered.

“I know,” he whispered back, turning to look outside, hoping against hope he would catch a glimpse of their alien trio as well.

5 : Jake

T minus 1 hour, 17 minutes

“Mr. Holt?” a young woman asked Jake as he kept scanning his surroundings. She hadn’t been sitting at the gates. She had just popped up out of the sea of passengers, all innocent and girly-looking.

“Yes,” he firmly said. Not quite a statement, but definitely not a question.

“You’re about to become my father,” she sweetly said as she hugged him. Ray’s diversion, Jake’s mind quickly concluded as he awkwardly returned the hug back. Her red hair was way more flaming than his, but she would do just fine at looking the part.

“There’s a change of clothes in my backpack. Passports as well. We’re coming for vacation this weekend from London before heading north to our home in Canada.”

Her sweet voice and smile were in deep contrast to the seriousness of what she was saying. She looked no older than 18, but Jake knew better when it came to deceptions.

He went to the bathroom, changed, put on the goofy black and white hat with the mismatched orange jacket, reviewed his new identity, and went out before ten minutes had passed. He was more than eager to leave this place behind.

“Are there any tails?” the girl asked, taking his arm and walking wide eyed like the tourist she pretended to be.

“None that I could spot. The airline was very discreet about removing my luggage once I told them I wasn’t boarding.”

“Your tails must have already called in reinforcements,” she absently mused, tugging at him a little about something in a window display, “but getting through security takes a while, especially if they wanted to be sufficiently armed.”

“Are you sufficiently armed, my love?” he asked as they reached the immigration line.

“But of course, daddy, dear.”

“That’s my girl,” Jake said with fatherly pride.

6 : Ray

T minus 1 hour, 13 minutes

Rochelle was already in position with Jake, that was as much as Ray knew. It would take them a few more minutes to go through customs, and once out, Ray would get the all clear. Unfortunately, that would mean only one thing less to worry about.

Dave was missing. He had been since that morning for all Ray had been able to put together. Either Dave had sensed trouble and had gone underground, or Dave had never sensed it and someone else had made him go underground.

The clock was ticking, and Ray had to decide if he should activate the Network Keepers protocols to secure all manner of digital information. All Level Six, Five and Four codes were already locked up. Besides that, all the people who were in the inner circle of Level Six codes needed to be accounted for.

Funny that, since he had sent Kyle and Maria to mingle with the eight million New Yorkers who were roaming the streets, without any escort. Of all the times to be spontaneous and not following their itineraries, did they have to pick today of all days, and pick the same goddamn city where Dave had disappeared?

With Jake secured, Ray had to contact Max, Michael and Isabel. He’d already talked to the hotel, and had left messages. Liz was flying somewhere over the Atlantic, so at least someone was accounted for.

He wouldn’t know he was wrong for at least one more hour.

Where are you, Dave?

T minus 1 hour, 7 minutes
Last edited by Misha on Fri Jul 27, 2012 9:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 7 - pg. 5 - 7/1

Post by Misha » Thu Jul 26, 2012 5:42 pm

Ok! All set!! :mrgreen:

Part 8 – A Well-Wrapped Gift
May 13th, 2005

1 : Dave

3:57pm Paris
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 7 hours, 3 minutes

He honestly hadn’t planned to be in Paris at the exact moment Liz Parker was attending the workshop for which she had come, but circumstances had taken him to the outskirts of France, and then a little further, into Paris. After his schedule had been suddenly cleared, he had decided to go. Not because he had any real interest in the workshop, but because he had a very real interest in seeing Liz out in the world. Just to get a chance to talk to Liz outside the compound. Outside of Max’s earshot.

With both Isabel and Maria out spending a king’s ransom on clothing, Dave was the only person in the room who didn’t understand half of what was being said. His mind could follow, yes, but his mind wasn’t really paying attention. At the podium, Allan Preston was receiving question after boring question about the incredible results he’d gotten from studying Max’s metabolism, and Dave idly wondered if he should let Allan in on the secret, at least deep enough to be of assistance to Jake. Psychic powers could only push the scientific explanation so far. Allan had to know by now that what he had under the microscope was hardly human, psychic or otherwise.

In the front row, Liz was sitting, sandwiched between a really large woman, and a really large man. She looked so small she could have passed for a teenager. Not for the first time, Dave wondered how the weight of the world would feel on such small shoulders. According to Earth’s politics, she was Antar’s current queen. But what did he know about Antar’s politics? He slowly smiled. It didn’t really matter at this particular moment. As long as she kept Max human enough, Dave would not argue either way. She was Max’s anchor to this world, and for that, Dave would do anything for her safety.

The place was packed, and when refreshments were announced, the entire room stood up at the same time. It would seem that the genetics community did not feed their scientists well, Dave mused, as he barely managed to get outside without being crushed.

Allan never noticed he was there, since about a hundred people wanted to have a word in private with him while the break lasted. Liz, on the other hand, spotted him as soon as she was able to get out of the sea of people.

Her eyes widened, and she stopped in the middle of the room. Then, composing herself, she walked straight to him.

“Checking that we’re following instructions and being good girls?” Liz asked, and not exactly in a kind way.

“I was in the neighborhood,” he smoothly replied, that being somewhat the truth. “How’s the workshop going?” he asked politely and, for a moment, Liz’s eyes glimmered with the excitement of her achievement. Then it passed.

“Good enough. I’m sure Allan’s going to be thrilled you came,” she said without much emotion, turning to look at the mass of people surrounding their friend.

“I’m sure, once he gets a chance to see me above all those eager colleagues of his,” he pointed out with a movement of his head, while skillfully hunting for a mini-sandwich with his right hand from the tray of one of the waiters. Liz turned to look, her face filling with despair. It meant she had no convenient excuse to get away from him.

“I’m not here to kidnap you,” Dave said softly.

“Are you sure?” Liz asked, turning to look at him again, “because two years ago you could have fooled me.”

It had never been easy to talk to any of them alone, but he really couldn’t ask for warm smiles and blind trust. Jake had told him so.

“I wanted to see how you were doing,” Dave explained as Liz narrowed her eyes again at his sentence. “It was supposed to be a trip with Max. It’s turned out to be a trip with Maria and Isabel. I wanted to make sure everything was to your liking.”

He sounded so formal to his own ears. Maybe because he had been thinking that Liz was royalty. Maybe because she didn’t look like a scared teenager anymore, rather like a woman who was following one of her dreams, knowing the world was at her feet. At least it would be once he was out of the picture.

“We… we’re having fun,” she reluctantly admitted. “Paris has so much history, so much to offer…” she said, trying to not get carried away. Trying to not have a polite conversation with him.

“I was your age when I first saw Paris. I found it so intimidating,” Dave started, hoping for some sort of exchange. If Liz didn’t talk to him, how was he supposed to gauge her mood? To get some truthful answers?

“You were a lot of things at my age, huh?” she said, evading his bait.

“Yes. But a geneticist wasn’t one of them. So tell me, do you enjoy the field? Now that you have had the opportunity to see what it is like for real, with a good project and a great mentor to open the doors…” he trailed off. This time, Liz couldn’t keep her excitement at bay. Her eyes sparkled and didn’t lose the wonderment when she started to talk. Bingo. He’d just found the right conversation.

2 : Max

9:19am US
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6 hours, 41 minutes

“Missing the missus?” Henry genially asked as Max entered the north wing, where genetic projects were researched. With graying hair and a growing belly, Henry was the only one around who knew exactly what Max was working on here: Liz’s present.

“Yeah…” he shyly said, resisting the urge to stick his hands in his pockets. He hadn’t told anyone what he was doing, until Jake had called him the day after Liz had gotten her plane tickets to Paris, and Max had had to use his secret as an alibi.

“Well, how’s it going?” Henry asked, getting closer to Max’s station.

Max had been working on his roses for a very long time, certainly longer than he’d expected, although not really all that long as these things went. He also had to pick a name for his rose; all he really knew was that it would be Liz-related, but nothing seemed right. Now, staring at his newest batch, he sighed. The rose still had to bloom so he could see if he’d gotten it right this time around.

“I’m not sure. She’s arriving in two days, so I hope it’ll bloom right this time,” Max said, trying to not get his hopes up.

“What is it about roses that drive the chicks nuts?” Henry asked, “All we ever get are those nasty gashes while you’re trying to hand them to her. How’s your hand?”

The problem with Henry was that he liked to talk. A lot. And usually Max was okay with it, especially since he couldn’t talk about his own life all that much and certainly not all that openly. But about six days earlier, he’d gotten a not so nice cut from the thorns. Something he could have healed in two seconds had needed to stay there for as long as it took for his skin to heal because Mr. I Saw It All had been asking about it. Max was grateful for the concern, but not for the attention. It would have been hard enough to explain to Liz without giving himself up had she been around.

“Good, good,” Max said, looking at the buds starting to unfurl. It took him a heartbeat to realize that, so far, they were perfect. “It won’t even scar if I’m careful,” he finished without taking his eyes from those baby roses, letting himself hope he’d finally managed the right one. He still needed a couple of days for it bloom, and then to see how long it would live, and what kind of fragrance it would have, but at least, at this moment, Max basked in his partial triumph.

“Well, that’s looking pretty good, huh?” Henry enthusiastically said. “See what happens when you use my spray?”

Henry’s work was a mystery to Max in many ways, but the one Henry had been most proud of had been his “spray”. It was something like an elixir for plants, helping them grow faster. It was in its final stages before revealing it to the whole wide world next month. If everything was right, Henry would earn millions, and feed millions of hungry people as well. At least, that’s what Max had gathered from all the chatting.

“Yeah…” Max agreed, turning to look at his other pots. God, he’d spent so, so much time hoping the roses were the right gift, that now that he was so close he started having second thoughts. He was afraid he’d done something wrong; or Henry would unleash some deadly rose virus; or worse yet, tomorrow morning, when he came back, the roses wouldn’t have survived. Leave it to him to create a one day rose.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Max closed his eyes and found his inner self. Zan loved to fret. Loved to worry about millions of things. Max loved to worry, but he didn’t fret. At least not about roses and a potential success turning into failure. Jake had said he had to let these memories come, but when all he got were disjointed feelings that had little to do with his own temperament, he felt lost.

“Are you okay?” Henry tentatively asked, placing a hand on Max’s shoulders.

“Yeah, yeah. Just hoping I did everything right,” he half-truthfully answered.

“Don’t worry,” the larger man said with a grin on his face. “You loved them right, they are going to grow up right. You just have to wait a couple of days to see them in full bloom.”

No, I don’t, Max thought, his right hand twitching with the effort of not reaching for the rose bud and make it bloom in ten seconds or less.

Henry playfully sprayed his rose—and him—with that perpetual grin on his face. Two seconds later, Max sneezed. “Bless you. Anyway, just for luck!” Henry said, spraying one more time, this time to Max’s other roses. “It’s an upgraded formula. You’ll love it.”

Max doubted it. His nose still tingling, his mind returned to the fact that he could make them bloom. Just not with an audience. “You know, I forgot something in my apartment, I’ll come back in a minute,” he excused himself, taking one of the potted rose plants with him.

There were no hidden corners where he could stop and work his magic without the risk of being seen or recorded, so Max diligently walked south towards his apartment, the pot held fiercely in his hands. Names for the rose were running through his mind, forming, discarding, shaping up again. Halfway through the north wing, Jake turned the corner, leaving Max with no choice but to say hello.

“That’s the reason Paris had to wait?” Jake asked, curious at the tall rose buds in Max’s hands.

“Yeah… I… want to see them bloom, but I couldn’t make that happen with Henry watching over my shoulder.”

Jake understood perfectly Max’s reasoning behind his actions, and for some reason, shared his enthusiasm as well. “My lab is just around the corner,” he offered. “I’ll be delighted to see it bloom under your hand.”

Max didn’t say no, so his silence was interpreted as a yes. Jake excitedly went ahead of him. What Max had wanted as a private moment to either mourn or celebrate his success—or lack thereof—had now turned into yet another test. Jake never got tired of seeing them “perform”, as Michael put it. Yet Jake was their best ally, and Max was not going to let his anguish over his rose get in the way.

“We’ll have to stay in my office. One of my colleagues asked me for some equipment so he’s sorting things out in my lab,” Jake explained, showing his White Card to the reading sensor on the wall. The door opened, and in Jake went, Max following close behind.

Jake went for the coffee table and sat down on the couch, expectantly. Max went to the couch directly opposite him, and placed the pot on the table in between the two of them. They both silently stared at the rose for a few seconds.

Taking a deep breath, Max pictured the flower opening, and nothing else. He could inadvertently change its color by picturing what he was hoping to see, and he so did not want that. That had been the biggest reason he had not used his powers as often as he had wanted. He needed the roses to be true, not something he had manipulated that might or might not work with the next batch.

Placing his hand over the bud, he very carefully let his energy flow from his palm into the flower, hardly daring to breathe. Slowly, the bud he’d chosen opened up, its pearly white petals slightly lined with a silvery edge. The very center was a dark pink. It was visually perfect, indeed, and when that fragrance reached his nose, Max finally grinned, and barely restrained himself from shouting in joy.

“That’s beautiful,” Jake admired, smiling and obviously approving of the flower, not just the power used behind it.

This is worth Paris,” Max proudly declared. “Or at least I hope it’ll be once Liz sees it…” he amended, trying to picture Liz opening it. He could make any rose look like this by the flick of his wrist, so he had to make sure Liz knew exactly how much work had gone into it when he’d done it the “human” way.

“Oh, that girl has more brains than you and me together, so I’m sure she’ll know what it’s worth,” Jake said, standing up. “This deserves celebration! I’ll bring the bubbly!”

Jake disappeared inside the lab before Max could remind him he couldn’t drink champagne. On the other hand, he guessed his drunken self would be delighted at what he had in front of him.

He touched the rose with infinite care. So soft, he thought, his hand descending, his mind already deciding he wanted to keep this rose concealed somewhere as a reminder that true love could survive even in the harshest of circumstances. Even underground.

Even here.

The thorn cut Max’s index finger, and it stung. Hastily retreating his hand, Max hissed. He’d cut himself several times during his life, of course, even while working with his roses, but never had it burned the way it did now. A thick drop of blood swelled in his finger as Max turned his hand palm up, intending on sealing the wound and stopping the sting. And then he froze.

A rash was spreading from the angry cut as fast as he could follow it with his eyes. But it was just a scratch, Max thought fleetingly as an intense burning followed on the heels of the rash, expanding throughout his body with no mercy. Scared and in pain, Max tried to stand up to get to Jake, but he never made it. His throat closed. Green, spidery lines zigzagged in his arm as Max collapsed on his hands and knees, trying to get air, trying to get someone’s help. His chest was on fire, and his eyes started watering by the sheer terror of not being able to breathe.

Something crashed in front of him, dark, green glass pieces reaching his hands, along with the bubbling champagne. Strong hands took him by the shoulders and rapidly guided him to the couch. If Jake said anything, Max didn’t know. He met the older man’s eyes with panic, his hands reaching for his throat.

He didn’t think he was going to die. He knew it.

3 : Liz

4:31pm Paris
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6 hours, 29 minutes

The hall was getting emptier as the presentation was about to resume. Besides Dave and herself, there were a couple of people still devouring the mini-sandwiches and cocktails as if there were no tomorrow.

For the past half hour, she’d been talking with Dave about her involvement in Allan’s projects. She was nothing more than a glorified assistant, she’d honestly said, but she also wanted to know if there was any way she could get a real degree. She knew Harvard was out of the question, but… something?

As Dave was considering her question, Liz saw that they were now the last people standing outside. Watching the wooden doors close, she bit her lower lip. She really wanted to get inside and hear the second part of Allan’s answers to the public’s eager questions. She’d thought she knew them all, but Allan had surprised her.

She turned back to Dave to tell him they had better go in, and somewhere between glancing at the doors, and glancing at the man, the whole world disappeared into a black abyss.

Blindly, she stumbled forward, her throat closing without warning or mercy, her eyes instantly burning. An eternity later, someone caught her by the shoulders, bringing her out of the dark, bringing air back to her lungs, even if her eyes wouldn’t stop running.

“Liz?!” Dave was shaking her, hard. How long had she been lost in that place? Had that been a vision? Her hands started to sting, and the feeling rapidly extended through her skin. No, she realized with terrifying certainty, That wasn’t a vision.

“Max,” she whispered, seeing, but not seeing, Dave. “Oh my God, Max!” she all but screamed as she tried to free herself from Dave’s grip. She had to go to Max, she had to do something!

Dave didn’t let her go. “What are you talking about?” he asked in a restrained voice, furtively looking around.

“Max,” she answered, her voice choking, “Max is dying!”

4 : Jake

9:37am US
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6hours, 23 minutes

He doubted it just for a moment. Jake was no stranger to anaphylactic shock, but he’d never imagined in a million years that one of his hybrid friends would suffer from it. In fact, he’d been so sure that it couldn’t be the case, that he’d instantly ruled it out. Only to reconsider a second later.

Max’s eyes pleaded for help as his hands reached for his chest. Almost on automatic, Jake reached for his epi-pen and took it out of his pocket. He hadn’t used one in two years, his last brush with nuts a constant reminder of how fragile his life could be. Now he jabbed it in Max’s leg, releasing the epinephrine into his bloodstream, his mind racing ahead of what he had to do in order to stabilize his newfound patient.

Max breathed in like a man coming from underwater, and gripped Jake’s shoulders. Electric green lines flew through his hands, his neck sporting one hell of a rash.

“Stay calm, Max, this is going to pass,” Jake tried to sooth him, helping Max to stand up, wanting to get him into the lab. Max shook his head as he tried to walk, his eyes streaming.

“I’m burning up,” he strained to say, looking at his hands a second, and—letting Jake go the next moment— he tried desperately to get his clothes off.

What is this? Jake thought as he steadily guided Max through the door to the lab, while Max fought with his own clothes, blindly trusting Jake’s direction. Max could just wave his hand and do it faster, but Max’s mind was not thinking straight. Fear seldom allowed one to think straight.

“What the hell…?” a voice asked, coming from the other corner of the lab. They weren’t alone. Of course they weren’t alone. Gregg was there, borrowing some of his equipment for an experiment next week. Jake was both relieved and annoyed. Deciding a second pair of hands helping out was better than dealing with this crisis alone, he reached the decision to ask for Gregg’s help.

“He’s having some sort of allergic reaction. Maybe a toxic one. I’m not sure,” Jake rapidly explained as he helped Max to lie on an examination table.

Max was panting. He’d managed to tear off his jacket, his shirt, and had gotten half his jeans off, and his hands still wanted to reach down and finish undressing himself.

“Calm down, Max,” Jake said firmly. “Just concentrate on your own body, and help it to fight this.”

Max stopped struggling with no little effort. Shutting his eyes tightly, he fought to get his breathing under control, his hands clenching and unclenching from the effort of staying still.

“He needs to go to the sick bay,” Gregg pointed out as Jake headed for one particular spot on the wall. Once he hit that button, the whole compound would go on quarantine. Ironically, he didn’t do it because Max might be contagious, but because Michael was somewhere in those halls, and whatever agent or toxin had attacked Max, was potentially going to attack Michael as well.

An alarm sounded twice, and that was the only signal Jake needed to know that the compound was being sealed off. Somewhere, in his office, his phone started to ring. By the floor, Max’s cell phone started to ring too. Both phones were thoroughly ignored.

5 : Michael

9:41am US
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6 hours, 19 minutes

He was trapped in the gym. He’d been too far away from Max, and the unexpected shut down just fried his nerves to the breaking point. Five minutes ago he’d felt Max’s agony. Now, staring at the double doors that wouldn’t open, a chill ran down his spine. He’d heard the alarm, hardly remembered why it mattered and now, standing here, knowing Max was in danger, all Michael could do was blow the goddamn doors to kingdom come and help him. So he stood in front of them and concentrated on tearing them apart.

Nothing happened.

Two minutes passed before he realized why. The doors were made of depleted uranium, a heavy atom he could not manipulate. For the first time since they had arrived, Michael understood how trapped they really were. There was absolutely no way Michael could get out. There was absolutely no way he could reach his king.

6 : Maria

4:43pm Paris
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6 hours, 17 minutes

“Isabel, calm down!” Maria said as Isabel practically crawled inside the taxi. They were heading to the airport. She didn’t know what Isabel had felt from Max, but she did know what she’d felt from Michael. There was an ocean between them, and yet she could feel his emotions as if he were trapped in that taxi along with them.

She’d been trying to reach Liz every single minute since Isabel had all but collapsed on the sidewalk, barely controlling herself to not shout Max’s name. About three minutes later, Michael’s brick wall had shattered against her. Whatever it was, Liz had to know it. The obvious logical step was to take the next plane to the US. God, if only Liz would pick up!

7 : Max

9:47am US
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes

He wouldn’t be able to take it for much longer. Every single sensation his body had was hell. His skin burned, his hearing was so sharpened that every movement Jake and the other man did was screeching on his inner ear. The clinical smell of the lab made him nauseous, but worst of all was the light.

“Turn it off,” he pleaded, too loud for his ears yet, it seemed, too low for Jake’s. Jake ignored him as he took his blood pressure, the cuff feeling like an iron grip. The stranger stabbed him with a needle, and Max could feel how the cold IV went through his veins. He gritted his teeth, desperately trying to get a hold of his overstimulated senses so he could do something about the light.

“It’s going to pass,” Jake’s voice thundered, sticking the darn circular sensors on his chest to monitor him. They burned him even more, and all he wanted to do was to rip them off. “Turn it off,” he pleaded again, the light coming through his eyelids impossible to evade. He was on the edge of losing control. He would just obliterate the goddamned lights and be done with it. “Turn it off,” he begged, wishing Jake would just comply.

“Listen, Gregg,” Jake said, oblivious to what his voice was doing to Max’s mind, “there are going to be unusual things happening here…”

Jake placed his hand on Max’s face, which Max tried to escape. It was futile. Jake shone a light on Max’s right eye, and Max just lost it.

8 : Liz

4:47pm Paris
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes

“Turn them off,” Liz whimpered as Dave paced in front of her, trying to call Jake in one hand, talking with Ray in the other. She was seated in the deserted hall, riding Max’s agony along with him. And the lights! God, just turn off the lights!

“What do you mean you’re on lockdown?” Dave said harshly.

Her phone kept vibrating. She kept ignoring it. She knew it wasn’t Max on the other side, and that was all she needed to know. She’d given up calling him when she no longer had been able to withstand the hall lights.

“Get me Jake!” Dave all but roared, forcefully pacing in front of her.

“Turn them off,” she said again, shutting her eyes even tighter. They stung, and tears started flowing freely again. Dave stopped in front of her, frowning. He looked around, looking for her source of distress.

“Max…” she whispered, her mind reeling from the sensation. Her skin started to tingle but not in a good way.

“Ray…” Dave said, fearful. Liz looked up at him, as if they both knew something terrible was just about to happen. The lamps began to flicker. Dave didn’t take his eyes off hers. Not even when all the lights in the hall shattered.

9 : Jake

9:53am US
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6 hours, 7 minutes

Jake and Gregg froze when the lights shone more and more intense. Up to this moment he had ignored Max’s words in favor of getting data to treat him, and now it was obvious he’d made a terrible mistake.

“Gregg…” he warned, looking up. Max had gone very still, fists clenched, even his breathing suppressed. In his office, his phone kept ringing nonstop. The lights in the room flickered once, and then, without any other warning, exploded. Jake launched himself to cover Max while Gregg raised his arms over his head and ducked. Debris rained on them, and under him, Max took a harsh breath. The emergency lights came on a second later, everything looking washed out.

“What the hell…” Gregg whispered, slowly standing up.

“It burns…” Max whispered in agony. Jake stared at him, frowning, and then he hastily got off Max just in time to see the sheet under Max’s hands ignite.

Gregg backed up so fast he collided with the wall, while Jake grabbed Max’s discarded shirt and swatted at the fire.

“Max! Stop this!” Jake yelled; Max winced in pain. Whatever the hell this was, Max was not going to stop until someone made him stop. It felt like an eternity, but the fire finally extinguished, due partly to his own efforts, and partly to Max’s. Jake looked at him and saw that Max was barely regaining some understanding of what he was doing. He looked scared, and barely in control, but he held Jake’s eyes for a second, fully aware of what he had just done. Then the awareness froze, and Max’s eyes slowly closed.

“What the hell is he?” Gregg asked, panting, a syringe stuck in Max’s leg. Gregg had sedated him, and Jake couldn’t decide if this was better or worse.

10 : Liz

4:58pm Paris
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 6 hours, 2 minutes

“We’re going to the airport. Arrange departure in two hours. Traffic is going to be murderous,” Dave said over the phone. Liz barely registered they were riding the elevator down. Somewhere, up there, Allan Preston kept giving his lecture, answering questions. She idly wondered who was going to tell him she was gone.

She felt numb, as if someone had awakened her in the middle of the night, and now all she wanted to do was to sleep. She didn’t feel anything coming from Max, and that was starting to break her bubble; starting to make her worry. She felt cold creeping along her back, and she shivered, wishing for a coat. Her phone kept vibrating, and she finally, automatically, answered it.

“Liz!” Maria shouted on the other side, “What the hell is going on?”

“We’re going to the airport,” she simply said, “Dave is arranging our plane…”

“We’re going there, too. Isabel is freaking out. Michael is freaking out. We can’t get a hold of him, we couldn’t get a hold of you!” she accused, though it took Liz a couple of seconds to process that. The lights no longer hurt, but the fire alarm started shrilling just as she and Dave were crossing the lobby. Her scientific mind guessed the smoke from the lamps she had obliterated had finally triggered the alarm.

Dave grabbed her cell phone as they reached the main entrance, and started talking with Maria about where she and Isabel had to go, and how they were going to meet him. Liz hardly listened. If it wasn’t about Max, she didn’t need to listen.

She abruptly stopped on the entrance stairs then, eyes going wide as her mouth slightly opened. In front of her, above the lobby entrance, was the most glorious, realistic painting of an orange sunset. Her sunset. It was the same landscape, the same vivid reds and oranges she always pictured in her recurrent dream. There were no roses, and certainly no Max, but her heart broke all the same. Her dream had been a warning all along.

She almost sank to her knees, but Dave managed to keep her walking, guiding her to the passenger door as his car was delivered by the valet. She sat in stunned silence as Dave gave her the phone back.

“You. Have been keeping things from me,” he stated simply as he started the engine. She didn’t care. God, all she cared about was Max, and Dave couldn’t drive fast enough.

Nothing was happening fast enough.

11 : Dave

5:11pm Paris
T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes

“I’m getting a message from Jake,” Ray said over the phone. Dave waited, glancing at Liz, who was staring out the window. “He says I have to make sure Michael’s all right. From what I can see on the monitors, he wants to tear the doors down…” Ray trailed off.

“Go. Follow Jake’s instructions.” Dave ended the call, and stared at the traffic light in front of him. Gathering his courage, he managed to voice his biggest concern now. “Can you bring the plane down?”

Liz didn’t react at first, so Dave turned to look at her. “We are going to be flying for over eight hours. If I need to leave you here, I will.”

She didn’t turn, but he saw her slightly flinch.

“He’s… Max is no longer… I think he fainted,” she whispered, a half-profile all he could see of her face.

“That came from Max?” Dave asked, his eyes on the traffic. Liz didn’t answer. “Elizabeth?!” he scolded sternly. He had never called her by her full name, but he was feeling now the same way he did whenever Sybelle had done something stupid.

“It… partly… came from Max,” she whispered, finally turning to look at him, her eyes filling with tears. He ignored them.

“Partly from you, then…” He restrained himself from gripping the wheel and concentrated on getting to the airport.

“You already knew about our connection…”

“I didn’t know it could blow up lamps. We thought—Jake and Ray and I thought—that at best you would get a reading on his moods. At worst, neither of you would have any privacy. Now you’re shattering lamps while Max… God! What’s happening to him?”

This time he did grip the wheel, to hell if he was shattering the illusion that he was calm and in control.

“Don’t you think I want to know that, too?!” Liz shouted back, tears streaming down. “I don’t know! I don’t even know if he’s dead right now! I never wanted to come! He was not supposed to get shot! If I kept him away—if I kept him away, he was not supposed to get shot…” she finished above a whisper, no longer angry at Dave but at herself.

What are you talking about? Dave wanted to shout back, but not now. Not when Liz was lost in some inner conflict. Not when neither of them knew what had happened to Max.

His phone rang.

“Tell me he’s alive,” Dave said, wanting to hear the answer from Jake. Ray would only have one sentence. Jake would use a whole lot more. As he put the cell phone on speaker, Liz’s eyes locked with his for an instant.

“He is,” Ray answered, “but Jake is not giving us any answers. I don’t know what’s going on in his lab, but Max is under quarantine, and Michael is not happy about it. At all.

They both released a long breath. “Is everything ready at the airport?” Dave asked, turning a corner, mentally searching for the fastest way to get to his destination.

“Not yet, but give it another half hour.” Nodding as if Ray could see him, Dave hung up. Liz sagged in her seat.

Neither of them said anything else. They arrived at the airport, returned the rental, and went to the waiting room. He never let her out of his sight, but he didn’t ask questions, either. They had a nice, long, private flight ahead of them. He would get his answers then. He just had to wait a little longer.

T minus 6 years, 5 months, 20 days, 4 hours, 37 minutes
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Re: The Message *Sequel* (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 8 - pg. 5 - 7/2

Post by Misha » Mon Aug 06, 2012 8:21 pm

Finally! I'm here!

Thank you for the reviews. Here are some answers to long time questions. This is a chapter that has been on the making for eight years, indeed. Hope you enjoy :mrgreen:

Part 9 – Tell me
November 2nd, 2011

1 : Michael

T minus 1 hour, 7 minutes

“It took me no small amount of time, bribery, and deception,” Christy was saying while she served herself a second cup of coffee, the smell of burnt cookies fading. For the past twenty minutes she’d been telling him her credentials as an investigative reporter, how bright Daniel was, and how devastated she had been when he had disappeared six years ago. And how much skill one person needed to find Dave’s past.

The great thing about someone with an ego as big as hers was that she actually couldn’t stop talking. Somewhere in her mind she had decided that Dave’s information was off limits if it was about now, but his past was worthy of a lengthy novel.

So far, however, things had yet to get interesting. Her beloved brother Daniel was a genius with computer codes, like everyone who was a Network Keeper needed to be. He’d been sixteen when he had found Dave. Seventeen when Dave had found him.

“Dave had to have a past, that’s the first thing you know about everyone,” she said, finally getting to what Michael really wanted to hear. He politely nodded, wondering if Christy could figure out his past when it was on a far away planet at best, buried in a pod in the desert at worst.

“His parents were radical human rights activists in Africa,” she began, as Michael braced himself for some sordid story. Human rights activists was not exactly how he had pictured it starting. “His father was a freelance photographer for National Geographic, an English guy who fell in love with a very outspoken Islamic woman. Neither of Dave’s parents kept ties with their families and, as far as I’ve been able to follow, Dave was never interested in searching for any relatives.”

“They are dead, right? His parents?” Michael pointed out. The pieces of the puzzle that they had were few, and now Michael was eager to determine if all those little clues Dave had left behind had been truthful or not.

“Yeah. Landmine. I don’t think they would have made it too far with the kind of uproar they wanted to make, if you ask me. But we’re getting a little ahead. Dave was actually named David Cole, born in some really weird circumstances at the US Embassy in Algiers. He was riding the same car his parents were when they hit the landmine. Dave was six.”

“So he was orphaned. Where did he go?”

“To the US embassy, of course. Dave’s parents had wanted him to attend a school for the ‘gifted’ and had sent applications to a variety of schools and programs. Tests were sent, Dave scored the highest they had ever seen, so they had arranged for Dave to visit some of those school and be retested. Those results traveled fast, and once little, orphaned David was identified, the US claimed him as a citizen. With no one to contest custody, they got away with it.”

Michael frowned. “He’s always hinted at… more than just a little disdain towards the US government.”

“Of course he has. He was working for them by the time he was seven.”

It wasn’t hard for Michael to imagine himself, freshly hatched from his pod, in a room full of people wondering how he could be used. “With that kind of IQ, I can see why.”

She nodded her agreement as she sipped her coffee.

“It was the middle of the cold war, mind you. But most significant is the fact that it was the place where Dave met Jake.”

“A partnership made in hell,” Michael whispered.

“I couldn’t really find much about the place, actually. Most of what I found was related to a US secret project named ‘Alpha’, where they put to good use the brightest, youngest minds in America. They thought children’s creativity along with their brainpower would result in out-of-the-box solutions. Dave was good with codes, so most of his time was spent deciphering and creating them. Jake had a talent with chemistry, bio weapons, that sort of thing.”

“But… Jake was like, what? Eleven?” Michael asked. He wasn’t the doctor’s best cheerleader, but he liked Jake well enough to endure the endless questions and star-struck eyes.

“He was six himself when he started. When Dave arrived, Jake was twelve.”

“What about Jake’s parents? All the kids were super geniuses without anyone to claim them?” Wouldn’t that be just a little too convenient?

“Not really. Most of the kids were there with their parents’ consent. Not only did the government pay them well, they were being patriotic. Working for the National Defense is hardly child abuse. Dave and Jake and a handful of others were orphans, but they were the exception.”

“So it doesn’t sound like a horrible place, and they were probably treated decently? Dave didn’t come out very patriotic…”

She thought it through. “That’s something I have not uncovered. Except for a handful of paper trails, all I managed to find was that they escaped. They have been chased for more than thirty years, so there must be something those two know that is still valuable ‘til this day.”

She sighed, maybe thinking telling him all this was not such a great idea after all. “It’s never easy with Dave. Half of the things I got are incomplete at best, but it seems like Dave was… difficult, when he arrived. So the man in charge of the division asked Jake to supervise Dave. Get him to work. I bet McKay kicked himself into the middle of the next week when the match he made figured out a way to escape. He was the supervisor of the project at the time,” she explained at Michael’s raised eyebrow.

“How old were they?” Michael asked, intrigued. Michael didn’t have to be very creative to know why would Dave be valuable thirty years later: his mind. Just like Michael knew that thirty years down the road he would still be valuable for just his powers.

“Jake was eighteen. Dave was twelve. With all they knew, I imagine the Defense Department wanted them back, and quick. It was 1977, and the next logical step for them would have been to go to the Russians.”

“But they didn’t?”

“I don’t really know… There’s hardly any evidence of what they did. Dave faked his own death when he was nineteen. By the time he was twenty-six, he’d already started his own small company. He bought and sold information around the world. He was three steps ahead of everyone from what I’ve gathered. By 1991, the world was moving into the internet, his very own domain, and Dave didn’t waste time.”

Michael thought about it for a minute, while Christy went to check her second cookie tray. Standing up, he followed her a moment later. “So why is Dave so desperate to keep his identity secret? They already know who he is.”

“You mean, besides the fact that he’s supposed to be dead?” she reminded him from the kitchen. “A man in his position doesn’t want to be found, whether you think he’s alive or not.”

“He’s made a lot of enemies,” Michael concluded as he stopped by the sink.

“He’s Dave. Of course he has. But McKay never stopped looking for Jake. Dave has done a lot of things to screw them up over the years, too. That’s how Danny found something important enough to make Dave leave him alone.”

“I thought he’d gotten into Level Six codes?” Michael asked, taken aback.

“He did. Half of what I’ve told you was there. Danny threatened to go to McKay and give him the Level Six encrypted files. Dave let him go the next day.”

“I don’t get it, why wouldn’t’ Dave make him disappear?” Michael asked, confused. There was a twenty-four year old man out there holding the key to Dave’s empire, and he was still alive?

Christy looked at him equally confused. “I thought you said you work for him…?” she slowly said.

“For the past eight years and then some…” Michael admitted with an annoyed tone.

“Then you haven’t been paying attention. Dave never kills. He lets your problems kill you. He sees that as some sort of poetic justice.”

How long do you think the Unit will take to catch you once you are out of here? Dave’s words echoed in Michael’s ears. Dave never made the threat about himself. He always made it about the Unit. A Unit that he had slowly but efficiently disbanded. Or was Dave just keeping track? There had been nothing indicating that Dave had done it himself. It really didn’t make sense: with no Unit, Dave had no leverage to keep them in check. On the other hand, only the agents from 2000 were dead. The Unit was still out there. Michael had checked it out himself.

“And because Daniel had no enemies willing to kill him…” Michael trailed off, mentally adding, no one was there to finish the job.

“Danny is not an idiot. He has too many files that people in high places would be more than willing to kill him for. So he keeps to himself. He doesn’t tell me where he is, or what he’s doing, and I don’t ask.”

She opened the oven and took the cookies out. This time, they weren’t burnt. “So whatever you want from Dave, you’re pretty much on your own here.”

Michael was about to argue his case, when something more urgent and desperate came to his attention. Maria’s fear. It hit him like a ton of bricks, and Michael had to brace himself against the sink so he wouldn’t fall.

“Are you all right?” Christy asked, going to his aid.

“No… Yes,” he corrected. “I just remembered something I need to look into. Can you tell Daniel to contact me?”

“He won’t do it,” she simply said.

“Just try. Here is my contact information,” Michael said as he gave her a card. “Thank you for all you’ve told me.”

“Sure,” she said with a small smile. He turned to leave. “Michael?” she said before he stepped out of the kitchen, making him turn to look at her, “Don’t come back.”

Two minutes later, he was in the elevator descending to street level, trying to get a hold of Maria.

2 : Jesse

2: 57pm
T minus 1 hour, 3 minutes

“More coffee?” the waitress asked politely him as he was finishing the last remnants of his tiramisu cake. Susseth had left ten minutes before, and all he had to do now was wait for Isabel to show up. She wasn’t near—that much he could tell—which would make her unusually late, and although Jesse had tried to call her, his phone was refusing to make any calls. She hadn’t texted him either, but she probably was not going to be that late. The traffic was reason enough for such delay. Plus, she hadn’t seen Max and Michael for some alone time in months, so they were probably still catching up.

Sometimes that made him feel like such an outsider. Isabel, Max and Michael shared something Jesse would never be able to understand, and although he loved her, her whole self, he was always more inclined to pretend what she could do didn’t matter. She was a formidable lawyer, and she did far more with her way of working with the law than with changing molecular structures, so it was easy for him to forget that his wife had a non-human side.

She hardly ever talked about it, about what she could do, about her past life, which made him think he shouldn’t talk about it either. It worked for both of them. This was their life, this was their reality.

He was no fool though. If Isabel wanted to talk about it, he would have to swallow his fears, his questions, and listen to the woman who had stolen his heart one July afternoon ten years ago. He knew what it was like to not have her in his life, and no amount of weirdness would ever make him stand aside and watch her leave him again.

He kept staring at the entrance. He had gained only a little information about Dave and Susseth’s first encounter, but everything was important for their mental files. Once they knew they had enough to disappear, all six of them would. The only wild card now was Kyle.

Finishing his cake, he decided it was time to leave the table. He wanted to secure the paperwork in his room’s safe, and change out of his business suit. Taking his briefcase, he made sure nothing was left behind on his table, and headed toward the lobby in search of the elevators. Before he reached them, he was intercepted.

“Jesse!” the enthusiastic voice called from his right.

“Liz!” he greeted his sister-in-law. He had not seen Liz for almost a year now, and she had changed little, if at all. They hugged. “I thought you were coming tomorrow,” he said.

“Yeah. I was freed up early so, why not? You can never get tired of New York.”

“You bet. Where’s Max?”

“Waiting for me around the corner, in an hour. I was hoping I could sneak a peek at one of the stores in front of the hotel. Get a head start on Maria and Isabel.”

They both smiled. Liz might be a good shopper, but the title was always being disputed by both blonds whenever they were in the same city.

“You haven’t seen my wife, have you?” he asked.

Liz’s shook her head. “They were supposed to be here by now, right? Didn’t she arrive with you?”

“Yes, but I had a meeting with Susseth and she wanted to have a talk with Michael and Max. You know, one of those secret meetings they think we don’t know about?” Jesse joked, though the truth was very close to the surface.

“Yeah, Max tries to… be discreet. You know they are only trying to spare our feelings, right? They’ve done this bonding thing since they were kids.” Leave it to Liz to explain it in a rational and logical way. It still stung.

“Anyway, what are you planning to do? Just hang around?” Liz asked, looking at the lobby.

“I’m waiting for Isabel, actually. She’s supposed to meet me right now, but I can tell she’s nowhere nearby.” He frowned a little. Even if Liz understood perfectly well what he was saying and how that felt, it was still weird to talk about it, openly, in a public space.

“She’s probably with Max,” she reasoned, not missing a beat. “Since they are both heading in this direction, maybe she’ll come with him.”

Well, if she was already late, it made sense. She didn’t get to spend too much alone time with Max and Michael. That would leave him with enough time to go up, take a shower, and change his clothes into something more vacation-ish. If Isabel did come, she would surely ring his room.

“That sounds right, but I haven’t been able to get any messages through to her. If you happen to see her when you meet up with Max, can you tell her I’m waiting for her? To call the room if she doesn’t see me?”

“Sure. I’ll keep it in mind.” She smiled, already eyeing the door and the stores beyond that.

Giving her a light hug, he said, “Guess we’ll see each other at dinner then.” She nodded with a smile, and then went on her way. Jesse kept looking at the doors until she was out of sight, hoping he was wrong and Isabel would come through them. Finally letting it go, he turned towards the elevators, in search of hot water and comfy clothing.

He didn’t know it, but dinner was going to be a late, late affair for him that night.

3 : Max

T minus 57 minutes

He’d been preparing for this day for a long time, but it didn’t feel any easier now that he had to tell her the truth than it had been when he’d chosen not to tell her. Although hiding secrets from Liz was killing a part of his soul, the idea that Liz would doubt him—that she would think he was Zan and not Max—had always paralyzed him.

He hadn’t meant to wait eight years, though.

He’d told Michael and Isabel the first time he’d gotten a vision, but he hadn’t known how to break it to Liz. He’d thought there was a real chance that he would become Zan, and as Zan, he wouldn’t care about her. So, as long as he was still Max, he would spend as much time with his wife as he could, always dreading the moment where he would disappear. That’s what he’d told himself. The real fear, however, was that he’d been dreading that Liz would reject him. Liz knew Max, not Zan. She was in love with the small town boy, not the alien king of an entire planet.

She’d told him that herself, a lifetime ago. She was afraid he would choose that life over this. Tess over her. And although those dark times were gone, he couldn’t deny the lasting effect those words had had on him.

Now he knew better. Now he knew who he was, what he wanted. So why was his stomach tying itself in painful knots, then? Because no matter what I do, or how I do it, I’ll end up hurting her…

Walking alone in Central Park was barely helping him get a grip on his thoughts. Although the flashes were scattered by now, he’d still gained half of Zan’s memories back. And often, when he was thinking things through the way Zan used to do, he did wonder if Jake had been right: if Zan was a valuable long-distance ally after all.

Except that, for this little dilemma, Zan didn’t have an answer.

He sighed. Soon someone from Antar would come, bringing news from home. Soon he would need to fight for his right to be Max. And sooner than that he would attempt to explain to his wife how exactly it felt to have someone else’s life at the back of his mind.

He could talk about Zan almost as well as he could talk about Michael, except Zan was more like a guest who had arrived unannounced and had never really left. It didn’t mean he was Zan any more than he was Michael, and Max had certainly never looked at the mirror and thought of himself as Zan.

He’d learned things, yes, he couldn’t deny that. He’d learned about self-confidence and authority; about overcoming fears and hiding insecurities. About walking a little bit straighter, talking a little bit more confidently. But that was as far as Max would go. Everything else Zan had cared about, was not what Max cared about. Not the throne, not politics, not Ava. That was all Zan’s.

Sometimes, Max did dream about Antar. Those days, when he was waking up, he couldn’t tell which one had been the dream and which reality. It was only for a heartbeat, but it was such a painful, endless heartbeat, in which he always knew which life he wanted more: this one, with Liz. To doubt, even for a second, that she was just a dream was hell. It would mean he would wake up to royal duties, spending a lifetime of knowing his soulmate was just dream.

His heart ached at that. This isn’t a dream, he told himself, the cold November wind playing with his hair. His connection felt muted, somehow, as if Liz was taking a nap. He didn’t like having to go to Dave now, not when Liz was across the city waiting for him. Keeping allies, though, was equally important, and Dave would not call him on a whim. Whatever this was, it had to be important.

Leaving behind his worries about telling the truth, Max focused on the task at hand: Getting to the Empire State Building on time.

4 : Jake

T minus 53 minutes

Rochelle’s car roared to life, but Jake was hardly aware. He had been able to talk to Ray through his “daughter’s” cell phone, one that was not connected to the network, and found that Dave was still not answering calls, and no one had seen or heard from him since early morning. In other words, he was still missing.

For the past week, their friendship had been strained almost to the breaking point. Dave had lied to him. Lied. For eight long years, Dave had been playing a dangerous game—dangerous not only to himself but to the kids as well, and had dragged Jake into it without his consent. Without trusting him.

But… if he could see past the indignation and the hurt, he understood what was at stake. It had taken a week for Jake to finally calm down, and when he had tried to reach Dave after seven days of silence, his friend was not answering. Dave was too eager for Jake’s thoughts to have not answered. When he’d spotted the three men following him, Jake hadn’t been really surprised. Scared, sure, but certainly not surprised.

One week ago, when they had met, Dave had finally given in. He’d been hanging up his cell phone when Jake had found him in his penthouse, standing like a statue looking down at the sea of lights that was the city.

They’re coming, he’d whispered, looking out the window as the rain fell with no mercy that night.

Jake wished he hadn’t asked who. For the first time he wished Dave had not been honest with him. Why didn’t you keep lying? Jake somberly thought as streets and cars became a blur on his passenger window. Jake already knew the answer: Dave could no longer bear the burden on his shoulders alone. And that night a week ago, as he had turned to look at Jake, Dave´s eyes had told him he knew what he was about to say would not be easily forgiven.

“Here’s your new cell phone until the network is back,” Rochelle said as she waited at a red light. They were heading for the hotel where the kids were staying for their long-awaited vacation. Kids. They are no longer kids, Jake thought as he accepted the new device. He hadn’t wanted to spoil this time for them. Between what he knew about the hybrids’ memory recovery and what Dave had told him, he knew they had on their hands a volcano ready to erupt.

Ten years ago on a plane to Japan I made a deal… I put my nose where it wasn’t supposed to be, and I ended up in the middle of another planet’s conflict one sunny afternoon. Dave had looked… relieved in some strange way. Also resigned, Jake thought, knowing this was the end of the game. Jake had stared at him, feeling something cold taking residence in his heart. Not you, not them, he’d wanted to say, but had stood there, just listening.

They wanted Zan to come back. But Zan was a seventeen-year-old who could barely rein in his merry band. When Jake had first met Dave, all those long years ago, neither of them had had any friends. It had been an easy friendship. Granted, Jake had been assigned to make sure David understood that what he was doing was important, was for the good of the free world. Jake hadn’t wanted to babysit David, but Jake had wanted to get out of there. How strange that thirty-four years later, it had been Dave who had dragged him into the abyss.

And I thought… the fate of the world hangs in the balance of a teenager’s view of the world? Who is he? What is he going to do with all that power? Does he even consider himself human? McKay had never understood David. Jake didn’t fear the General, because Jake had learned how to play the game. How to bury what his gifted mind understood: what his contribution to science would do to a human body. But David… David would always rebel against it, against the notion of war, cold or otherwise, and the idea that bad people existed was against everything his parents had taught him. He’d tried to deny them the use of his mind, and Jake had been all too eager to tell him he was doing the right thing.

So I told them, ‘I’ll keep him safe. When he remembers his old self, then Zan can claim his throne.’ They didn’t trust me. They said Zan was being hunted like an animal. Hunted by people like me. You have no idea how much I begged them to give me a chance. Jake had figured out how things worked by paying attention, being a nice kid, and talking to the adults in the program. Kids with parents didn’t stay more than a couple of days at a time. But those kids—and those parents— were never given too much sensitive information. The handful that lived there, on the other hand… The program had had barely started when Jake had joined at the tender age of six. But by the time David arrived, Jake had already seen the older kids disappear. The ones who didn’t have parents. The ones who knew too much. The ones who did special projects. So he could either go ahead and try to play it nice and not disappear, or he could disappear on his own terms.

By the time they finally granted me guardianship, the kids had barely escaped their own graduation ceremony. Their leader? He was furious… I don’t know what kept him from retaliating, but I’m glad it did. Jake… if anything happens to Max, to any of them, Earth is doomed. He´s already wiped out the entire Unit that captured Max as justice for crimes committed against his king… What do you think will happen if his king dies by human hands? He had convinced David to escape before David had turned eight, but David was still a kid, and at fourteen, so was Jake. Yet Jake worked hard, made plans. By the time he was eighteen, he would run for it. David would be twelve. Not exactly a teen, but definitely not a defenseless child. Then, once David was settled in the world, Jake would follow his own path.

One look at them… at Max… And I knew I had to do something. I had to make sure that Earth would stand a chance. That no matter what else had happened, Earth was their home planet. That they would love it as they might love Antar. That they would stand by it. Defend it as their own. The night before the escape, Jake had looked into David’s determinate eyes and asked him, seriously asked him, if he knew what it meant to be out. It means I would stand a chance, he had solemnly said. Jake had wholeheartedly agreed.

And now they are coming for Zan. Except Zan is nowhere to be found, because Max despises that side of himself. What are they going to do when they realize their king is not here? I can no longer protect them. This is a test they will fail. They had run all the way to the interstate, and panting, David had looked straight ahead. “Don’t call me David again… Okay? I don’t want to ever remember how he used to say my name. Ever.”

Watching by the window in silence, Jake’s mind repeated that, again and again. Jake had never told Dave that Max did remember Zan a great deal. And he was fairly sure Michael and Isabel did too, though they had never approached him. Because he had been hurt. Because Dave had kept this from them, knowing full well this was in store for them somewhere down the line. Because no matter what Dave thought, Jake had told him, Max would rise to the occasion. He just hadn’t explained himself beyond that.

“You couldn’t tell me that?” he softly whispered as the tall buildings loomed in the horizon. The city he had been ready to leave was impossible to abandon, it would seem.

I couldn’t risk you! Goddamn it Jake, if those people even suspect you know half of this, they’ll kill you!

“If you can’t contact Ray, you should contact me. The numbers are already programmed in,” Rochelle said as she effortlessly drove through the lanes heading for the hotel where the kids were staying. Ray wanted them all in the same place. And fast. Goddamn it Dave! Please tell me they didn’t kill you.

T minus 47 minutes
"There's addiction, and there's Roswell!"