All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Complete, 10/11

Finished stories set in an alternate universe to that introduced in the show, or which alter events from the show significantly, but which include the Roswell characters. Aliens play a role in these fics. All complete stories on the main AU with Aliens board will eventually be moved here.

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

Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 68, 3/22

Post by Kathy W » Sun Mar 29, 2009 1:45 pm

Hello to everyone reading!





CHAPTER SIXTY-NINE


September 17, 1959, 11:40 a.m.

Norwood State Hospital, De Baca County




Valenti paused just inside the double doors, listening. But there wasn't a sound inside the deserted hospital save for his footsteps when he began moving forward again. He passed through the gate he'd seen through the window and reached an interior hallway, dark save for the light coming from the front entry behind him, noting the thin layer of dust on the floors and a lack of the typical critter population one usually found in abandoned buildings. It hadn't been long at all since this place had been in use.

Working his way down the hallway, he opened one door after another. These were offices judging from the furniture inside, although any paperwork or personal objects had been removed as a trip through various drawers revealed. At the end of the hall was a stairway, and he climbed it slowly, his flashlight trained on the upper stairs. The floor above was straight out of a horror movie: Door after door with tiny windows, slots to slide food trays through, and bare metal beds, most of which sported leather straps with a multitude of buckles. At the end of the hall was another stairway, and he paused in the stairwell, looking up and down. The upper floors were likely more of the same, and this place gave him the creeps. Why anyone would want to meet him here was a mystery, but Valenti decided he wasn't staying; the potential for some kind of ambush was just too great. He went down, emerging at the end of the hall of offices near the gate.

"Hello, Sheriff."

Startled, Valenti nearly dropped his flashlight. A man was standing in the middle of the hallway, suit, long coat, hands in his pockets....and a face which looked vaguely familiar.

"Who are you?" Valenti demanded.

"I'm Agent Cates," the man answered, his voice echoing oddly in the empty building.

"You got ID? Slowly," Valenti ordered as Cates' hand started to leave his pocket. "And both hands where I can see them."

Cates obediently removed both hands from his pockets, one holding a leather wallet. Valenti edged closer and took it from him, inspecting the picture. "Sheriff, I understand your paranoia, but I'd appreciate it if you'd lower your weapon. I'm unarmed."

"Prove it," Valenti replied.

Cates raised both hands and turned around. A full pat down later, Valenti holstered his weapon. "You do look familiar," he said as he handed the wallet back to Cates. "You were there when we were chasing that Anderson fellow."

"Right," Cates nodded. "I see you've had a look at the place. I can wait if you're not finished."

Valenti's eyes narrowed. "How long have you been here?"

"About an hour. I knew you'd be here early."

"The door was chained shut," Valenti reminded him. "How did you get in?"

"The FBI has access to this facility," Cates explained. "I came in the back. Check the footprints in the dust."

"If you were here already, why didn't you show yourself?"

Cates smiled faintly. "Because I wanted to see what you'd do. Trespassing to get some answers. Very good. You're exactly what I hoped you'd be."

"What the hell are we doing here?" Valenti asked in exasperation. "What is this place? Why is it abandoned?"

"We're here because no one else is, and no one would think to question my coming here were they to find out about it," Cates answered. "This is the closest thing to a safe place for us to meet as we'll ever find. I'm sure you've already figured out Norwood was a mental hospital. It was closed last month because they'd piled up too many violations. And the reason they piled up too many violations has to do with the former occupant of this office." Cates opened the door to his left, ushering Valenti into an office he'd already looked at. "One Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Pierce, a medical doctor who went AWOL in June of 1950. Does that date ring a bell with you?"

"Yes," Valenti said guardedly. "But I don't remember a 'Pierce'."

"I don't believe you ever met him," Cates said. "But you met his co-commander, Lieutenant Colonel Sheridan Cavitt, whose downfall you were partially responsible for. And you've met his nemesis, Bernard Lewis, a former Army major and good friend of Cavitt's who resigned rather than face court-martial in the summer of 1950. Lewis always wanted Pierce's position, but he never got it."

"A veritable lovers' triangle," Valenti said dryly. "I know what Lewis and Cavitt are like, so I can't imagine Pierce was much better. Why did he go AWOL?"

"He lost his test subject in 1950," Cates replied, "and his methods were coming under increasing scrutiny. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say he took with him a good deal of information that the Army would like to have, along with the FBI, the CIA, and just about any government agency you can think of. He eluded capture until July of this year, when that former test subject finally tracked him down and killed him, right here in this office."

"Let me guess," Valenti said softly. "That 'former test subject' wasn't human."

"No, it wasn't," Cates agreed, leaning on the desk. "This is where it all began for me, sheriff. I was one of the agents called to the scene to take possession of Pierce's body. This was the birthplace of the Special Unit, the reason Director Hoover was willing to give Lewis the task force he wanted to hunt aliens. They resurfaced here in July, and they killed that actress in August....and I don't care."

Valenti blinked. "Excuse me?"

"Oh, I used to," Cates assured him. "I was all fired up when I started. I was going to help save the world from the big bad monsters." He paused, his expression hardening. "And then I found out we didn't have to leave the planet to find monsters, that we had monsters of our own, monsters who would kill a man just for thinking the wrong thing."

"Been there," Valenti said. "Back in the forties. It was Cavitt who explained that to me, so I'm not surprised a friend of his explained it to you."

"Believe me, Agent Lewis is well aware of the obstacles you threw in Colonel Cavitt's way," Cates replied. "He's had it in for you ever since he found out you were sheriff in Roswell. The only reason you and your family didn't go down for what happened last month is that your fellow sheriff called in the press. Hoover wasn't willing to move against you with the eyes of the media on you, but someone had to pay for our failure.....and that someone was Chris."

"I'm sorry about what happened to Agent Owens," Valenti said, "but I'm not sorry my family was spared. What do you want from me? It must be pretty important if you're willing to risk being discovered."

"It is." Cates reached into his pocket and withdrew a sheet of paper which he handed to Valenti. "This was left by Dr. Pierce. I couldn't remove the original, so that's a handwritten copy."

"Serum?" Valenti murmured, inspecting what appeared to be a copy of a letter. "What's this 'serum' for?"

"Don't know. But Lewis wants it badly. Keep reading."

"So....Pierce's kid inherits this 'serum' at the age of thirty," Valenti said, skimming through to the end. "And how old is he now?"

"Two days."

Valenti raised an eyebrow. "I gather Lewis doesn't want to wait three decades for the tot to grow up?"

"To put it mildly," Cates agreed. "He has our entire unit trying to track down the mechanism Pierce is using to transfer the serum thirty years from now.....and I don't want them to succeed. I want to find it first and make certain Lewis never does, not now, not ever."

"And I come into this.....how?"

Cates stood up, gazing at him intently. "I want you to join the hunt. Chris had the utmost respect for your investigational skills. I was late to that party, but I got there. You found that thing that killed Agent Feldman, I know you had suspects when we were pursuing Anderson....and the way you slipped the actress' body out from under Lewis and emptied your files of anything he'd want was priceless," he added with a grim smile. "And ballsy. He would have come after you for that if he could have."

"Like he'll come after you if he gets wind of this," Valenti pointed out. "How am I supposed to investigate this without Lewis finding out? If your entire unit is on the case, we're bound to run into each other, and it's not like they wouldn't notice me. I don't think I need to point out that you're running with a rough crowd."

"Chris thought so too," Cates said, looking out the window at the desert beyond. "Always claimed he'd rather take his chances with the aliens than Lewis. I thought he was exaggerating, if not just plain nuts, but now.....now I'm not so sure. What I am sure of is that there's no way out for me. No one quits the Special Unit, sheriff; if I leave, I'll wind up hunted or six feet under just like Chris. So I can effectively commit suicide, or I can stay and be a good little soldier....or I can stay and gum up the works. I want to make Lewis pay for what he did by keeping from him what he wants the most. I would think that would appeal to you given what he did to your family, not to mention what he wanted to do."

"Fine, but the logistics—"

"I'm not stupid," Cates interrupted. "I'll walk the beat, you'll be my sounding board. I won't get caught; I've been careful to call from pay phones, to use disguises, to type that letter I sent you so they couldn't trace the handwriting—"

"They can trace the typewriter," Valenti said. "You should know that."

Cates broke into a completely incongruent smile. "Of course I know that. That's why I used the typewriter that belongs to Chris' murderer, a fellow agent and Lewis' right-hand man. I was almost hoping they'd figure it out just to see the look on his face."

"You're playing a dangerous game, agent," Valenti warned.

Cates' smile dissolved. "Of course I am. Aliens are dangerous business. But then you know that already, don't you?" He paused, waiting for an answer, walking into the hallway when none came. "I couldn't remove any documents relating to Pierce, so I hand-copied those I felt most pertinent. If you'll follow me to my car, I'll get them for you."

"I haven't said I'd help you," Valenti noted.

"I'm on the clock, sheriff," Cates said urgently. "There are eight other agents actively looking for that serum. You've already shown a willingness to go out on a limb to keep Lewis from getting what he wants, and I need you to do that again. Chris took the fall for your family. I know you didn't ask him to, wouldn't have asked him to. But he wound up doing it anyway, so do this for him, if nothing else. You owe him that."




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



Pesos Diner

Route 285 South





"You sure you don't want anything, hon?"

"No, thank you," Atherton replied. "I'm still waiting for someone.

"You've been waitin' a while," the waitress observed, tucking her pencil behind her ear as she walked off. "A body could starve waitin' for whoever you're waitin' for."

'Whomever', Atherton corrected privately, craning his neck to get a better view of patrons entering the diner along the road to Marathon where he and Langley had stopped on their first visit to his house, right after escaping the FBI. Or perhaps "patrons" was too ambitious a word for the typical Pesos customer, who wore boots, smelled heavily of smoke, and was armed more often than not. Verbiage aside, he did wish Langley would hurry up and get here. He still hadn't figured out how his friend traveled, so he wasn't certain if he should look for a car, or a truck, or....

"Good afternoon."

Atherton nearly jumped out of his seat. "Langley! Where did you come from?"

"I'll assume that to be a rhetorical question," Langley said dryly. "Coffee, please," he added to the waitress, who had resurfaced. "And a grilled cheese."

"The same," Atherton added, waiting impatiently as the waitress seemed to take forever scribbling down such a simple order. "How did you get in here?" he asked after she finally left. "The last time we visited River Dog, he mentioned that you come and go on little cat's feet, but he doesn't know the half of it. I've been watching like a hawk, and I completely missed you! Never mind," he added when Langley raised an eyebrow. "I've been dying to talk to you. I'm all moved in, and I've met three of them!"

"Three?" Langley repeated. "I thought you were merely going to observe."

"I was," Atherton agreed. "But they came downstairs shortly after I arrived, and then the landlady suggested they help me move in, and that awful 'Nicholas' objected, and another one showed up and gave him what appeared to be a tongue lashing....oh, this is so exciting! Not only have I found what I've dreamed of finding all my life, I'm right in the middle of a conflict! I've never felt so energized, so full of purpose, so....alive!"

Langley sighed and shook his head. "I know your type, James. They exist in every species on every world I've ever visited: Those who laugh in the face of danger, who crave peril as a means of amusement. Be careful. As you humans say, those who play with fire are bound to get burned."

"I hope you're joking," Atherton replied in a wounded tone. "My years of successfully sporting pseudonyms should speak for themselves. Don't you even want to hear what happened?"

"Of course I do," Langley said gently. "I only wish to remind you who you're dealing with. Nicholas is not one to trifle with."

"I wasn't 'trifling'," Atherton objected. "I was minding my own business when this adolescent boy came flying down the stairs and literally shoved me into my room. And then he must have done something because the whole room went pink, some weird kind of light."

"They have a device they use to identify members of my race," Langley said. "He was checking to see if you were one of us."

"Really? It's a bit obvious. Anyway, the man staying with him, name of Nathaniel, is posing as his father, and he apologized profusely, and insisted Nicholas apologize, and—"

"Did he?"

"Reluctantly," Atherton allowed, "and with ill temper. Nicholas left, insisted his 'father' follow him, and they both retreated to one of the upstairs rooms. I tried to listen, but all I could hear were raised voices when another, older man entered the building, walked right by me up the stairs and into the same room. Shortly after, Nathaniel joined me outside and helped me move in my belongings. A nice chap, that one, though quite jumpy. He seemed very much on edge as to what his 'son' would do."

"With good reason," Langley noted. "Did you get a name on the older man?"

"No. But I did write detailed descriptions," Atherton said, pulling a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket. "I'll keep notes on everyone I see going in and out of there—"

"No," Langley said firmly. "If those 'notes' are found, your life will be forfeit."

"Fine, I'll keep mental notes," Atherton sighed. "I do wish you'd stop treating me like a neophyte, Langley. I've been undercover for years now, posing as everything from a janitor to an Oxford don, and I've never been caught."

"You've also never had to deal with those who would kill you—or worse—were they to discover your true purpose," Langley noted.

"My, but you're dramatic," Atherton chuckled. "Were you always such a pessimist?"

"My pessimism has kept me alive on more occasions than I can count," Langley observed. "You should try it some time."

"If I were a pessimist, I wouldn't be doing this, now would I?" Atherton smiled. "Let's see....what else do I have for you? The layout of the rooming house is very similar to the one you lived in; Nicholas and Nathaniel have the two rooms upstairs, while I have the room downstairs. From the little I could hear, the ruckus was over the fact that I was moving in. I gather Nicholas didn't want me there."

"No doubt he planned to move another operative into that room," Langley replied. "It would be to their advantage to have the entire house to themselves."

"Then I'm delighted to have ruined his day," Atherton said cheerfully. "The older man who came later is apparently a person of some importance judging by the way he walked right in on them without knocking. He also wasn't fretting the way Nathaniel was; he looked angry, if anything."

"Most likely Nicholas' second," Langley said. "As in 'second-in-command'. He would enjoy a certain amount of largesse by virtue of his position."

"That would explain it," Atherton agreed. "And that's it, I'm afraid. The older man left while Nathaniel and I were unloading, and Nicholas was still upstairs when I left to meet you. I can't for the life of me understand why a military commander would choose to present himself as a child. I suppose posing as a child might avoid suspicion, but I would think the limitations it would place on movement within our society would outweigh that. God knows it's giving his handlers fits."

"It was not a choice," Langley said. "It was a punishment from his master for killing mine, one we hope will render him so frustrated that it clouds his judgment."

"And it appears to be working," Atherton said. "I'm mulling over how to get into their rooms—"

"You will do no such thing," Langley declared. "You will find nothing in their rooms that will be of any value. As we discussed earlier, what we need most is information."

"All right, then, I'll work on finding a way to eavesdrop," Atherton said stubbornly. "You don't really expect me to just hang around and do nothing, do you? What good will that do anyone?"

"Listen to me," Langley said intently. "The best way to get information is to earn the trust of those from whom you seek it."

"Preaching to the choir," Atherton declared. "What, pray tell, do you think I've been doing for the past several years? Earning the trust of those who have information I want, that's what."

"This is different," Langley insisted. "There are two ways to earn trust: Directly, by favorable interaction, and indirectly, by little or no interaction. By becoming so typical, so usual, so unremarkable that you fade into the background, causing people to say and do things in your presence they normally would not because they do not find your presence of any note. The direct route might work with Nathaniel; he is purportedly a remember of the resistance, and might be amenable to human contact, at least so far as he feels it necessary to maintain their cover. But you will never win the trust of Nicholas and his closest subordinates because they shun humans. For them, you want to fade as far into the background as possible to encourage them to lower their guard in your presence. Which is why I insisted you do just exactly that when I approved of your presence there, and you agreed."

"Of course, of course," Atherton said dismissively. "Child's play."

"Not for you," Langley said dryly. "Fading into the background is not one of your strong suits."

"Nonsense," Atherton scoffed. "I've 'faded' many times. I shall fade and unfade as necessary, have no fear."

"I wish to make it clear once more who you're dealing with," Langley pressed. "Do not be fooled by appearances. Nicholas commands the Army of the king's chief rival on my world, the very rival attempting to steal his throne. Watch yourself, James. Do not let your enthusiasm make you rash."

"Langley, I assure you, this is the defining moment of my life," Atherton said sincerely. "I will do whatever is necessary to assist you in staying free of either my people or yours. I will not let you down."




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




Parker's Diner



"What've you got?" Mr. Parker asked through the pass-through.

"I need two cows, one on the hoof, hold the mayo, the other a hockey puck, keep off the grass, one blue plate special, and a tube steak," Courtney answered briskly, clipping an order slip to the turntable and loading up her arms with plates of cooked food. "Back with more in a minute."

"Courtney?" Mr. Parker called as she started to walk away.

"Yes?"

"Glad to have you back."

He disappeared then, back to his grill and the grease that seemed to form a curtain in the kitchen air, but those five words put a smile on Courtney's face as she delivered the plates to one of her tables, producing a bottle of ketchup and the required number of straws from her pocket. At least someone was glad she was back. One would think her father would be among those "someone's", that bringing the Warders and the resistance together for the first time since the coup and managing to produce only dialog and no causalities would be worth something. One would think.....but one would be wrong. She'd been doing a slow burn over her father's tongue-lashing yesterday, her last encounter with her father as he hadn't been up this morning before she'd left even though she'd had to wait for Greer to leave. The previous twenty-four hours with its peril and lack of sleep had been bad enough, but the current set was proving no better, what with her being reprimanded and propositioned. Perhaps it was a good thing her father hadn't been there for the morning's excitement. He may have told her to go ahead and give Greer what he wanted.

I've been here too long, she thought as she clipped yet another order to the turntable. Argilians viewed the human act of mating as no more than recreation, playing with their husks, seeing what they could do; it certainly wasn't regarded as a personal encounter the way humans would view it. Yet she had recoiled in disgust, indeed was still recoiling in disgust at Greer's suggestion much the way any human girl her age would have, and not just because she hated Greer. Which was silly, really, given that many, if not most, of her people had tried that activity, a fact which was kept largely silent in deference to their leader's deficiencies. She could probably get Greer in trouble just by casually mentioning his suggestion to Nicholas.

"Afternoon, ladies," Courtney greeted her next table, a group of three elderly women who came in twice a week for lunch. "What can I get you?"

"There you are!" one of them exclaimed. "We've been so worried about you! We've heard the strangest things! Whatever happened?"

Courtney dutifully gave the short answer to this oft-asked question, and the women mercifully didn't press for details. "We're so glad to see you again," another of the women said, pattering her hand. "You're our favorite waitress. And don't let anyone give you a hard time over what happened, you hear? Every single one of us has someone who's likely to make us jump out a window, so no one has any business picking on you."

Beaming, Courtney took their order, checked on her other tables, and headed for the back. On the way there, Nancy tucked a bill in her pocket. "From Herman," she whispered confidentially. "I think he really missed you. You were always kind to him, which is more than I can say for the most of the girls here."

Courtney set her plates down in the dirty dish bin and pulled the bill out of her pocket. Five dollars? Five whole dollars? That was a huge sum of money coming from someone like Herman. It was as though the human world was working overtime to contest her father's impression of her, to tell her they were glad to have her and that she did a good job. And I do, she told herself proudly. She knew this place backwards and forwards now, and was capable of doing virtually any job necessary, including the cooking. She'd not only survived on her own on a strange planet, she'd actually carved a niche for herself, and she'd brought two warring factions together besides. Chew on that, Papa, she thought with satisfaction. She couldn't be a total incompetent if she'd managed to pull all that off.

Back in the diner, Courtney pulled her pad out and fetched her pencil from behind her ear as she stood before the latest customers, a man and a woman. "Can I get you something?"

"Yes—an explanation," the woman answered. "How do you manage to carry around all that flesh without gagging?" She smiled when Courtney blinked. "Hi, Courtney! Long time, no see!"

Courtney's pencil froze over her pad as she catalogued the woman's voice, which was not as unfamiliar as her face. "Angela?" she said in disbelief.

"I told you she'd remember!" Angela beamed at the man across from her. "I redid the hair," she confessed, running a hand through her husk's hairdo, "so I wasn't sure you'd recognize me."

I almost didn't, Courtney thought, recalling the frightened girl who had arrived at her father's house on tottering legs, having only just donned her husk. That had been three months ago; was this an indicator of who Nicholas was sending to Roswell? Maybe the Warders didn't have anything to worry about after all.

"Isn't this exciting?" Angela was saying, looking every bit as excited as she sounded. "Do you really think the Warders are here?"

"We'll see," Courtney said evasively. "So....how are you? I'm sorry I left right after you arrived. I was reassigned."

"We know," Angela assured her. "This is Robert," she added, nodding toward her companion. "He's kind of my teacher. You have someone teaching you, don't you?"

"Not anymore," Courtney said. "He was reassigned too."

"So you're here alone?" Angela asked, wide-eyed. "Wow! I wonder if I could ever do that. But I'm getting better," she added in a whisper. "I know things like 'long time, no see' and other human colloquialisms. But I don't think I could ever be around all that flesh. How do you stand it?"

"Honestly, I don't even notice it any more," Courtney admitted.

"Have you begun to eat flesh?" Robert asked.

His tone was casual, but they were both obviously waiting avidly for an answer. They had all been taught to eat meat, of course; refusing to do so was considered odd in the human world, at least this part of it. But in private it was shunned as the mark of a cruel, primitive society, the same opinion Courtney had held when she'd first started working here and had made a point to avoid watching Mr. Parker cut raw meat. Now she'd seen it so much, it didn't even register, although she still couldn't bring herself to consume it.

"No," she answered. "Of course not. Did you want to order, or shall I choose something suitable for you?"

"I was actually thinking of trying the flesh," Robert confided.

"No!" Angela whispered. "Don't use a field assignment as an excuse to regress! Just look at that massive woman over there. That's what happens to humans who eat too much meat; they get fat and stupid."

Courtney flinched as she followed Angela's gaze to find Nancy, who was plump by human standards and far more than that by Antarian. "It's 'meat', not 'flesh'," she said. "And Nancy eats very little meat, so that's not why she's heavy."

"You mean there are other reasons for humans being fat and stupid?"

Courtney closed her eyes briefly. "The link between weight and intelligence is a myth," she said, praying for patience. "Nancy is not even remotely stupid."

"She must be," Angela chuckled. "She's only human."

"She's been nothing but kind to me," Courtney said sharply. "I'll get you some drinks while you look over the menu. Try not to blow your cover while I'm gone."

Angela's startled face stared after her as she stalked off, seething. I should have expected this, she thought. It was inevitable that those of her people coming to town would find their way into Parker's, but frankly she'd been too busy recovering from the past couple of days and fretting over her rift with her father to give it much thought. She would soon be surrounded by operatives, some of whom would be out and about in the human world for the first time just like Angela, Copper Summit not really counting because there they could keep to their own if they chose. Many, if not most, of those operatives regarded humans as little better than cave men, so she would have to listen to their negative opinions, to the people she cared about being torn apart by those who fancied themselves "better". It was not a pleasant thought.

Behave yourself, she told herself firmly, filling two glasses with water and heading back out to the table, where Angela was blatantly staring at the elderly women in the booth across the aisle who had been so pleased to see Courtney.

"How old are they?" Angela whispered as Courtney set the glasses on the table.

"In their seventies, at least," Courtney answered.

"That's very near the end of their lifespan, isn't it?" Angela asked Robert, who nodded. "Why would they let themselves live that long? That's selfish!"

"Humans don't believe in ending life prematurely, even if their continued presence is a drain on resources," Robert explained. "I believe it has some sort of primitive religious connotations."

"It's rude to stare, and this isn't the place for a discussion like this," Courtney said bluntly when Angela opened her mouth to answer. "Keep this up, and you'll doom the mission before it starts. Still think this is 'exciting'?"

Angela flushed. "I....need to use the bathroom," she said, ducking out of the booth and scurrying away as Courtney rounded on Robert.

"What kind of a teacher are you, letting her act like this in public?" she whispered furiously.

Robert smiled faintly. "They can't hear us, so that's not it. You've gone native, haven't you?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Courtney demanded.

"Just making an observation," Robert said blandly.

Courtney slid into the seat Angela had vacated and fixed him with a hard stare. "Then allow me to make one of my own. Behavior that gets you noticed is bad. Our orders are to blend in, not stick out. Being rude and staring at people makes you stick out."

"So does jumping out windows," Robert observed.

"I was in the field," Courtney said acidly. "Have you ever been in the field, Robert?"

"A couple of times," Robert said defensively.

"Wow," Courtney deadpanned. "A whole couple of times. Congratulations. At least that's more than Angela, who wasn't even able to walk last time I saw her. Take it from one who's lived here for several months and save your denigrating conversations for somewhere private."

"There are plenty of operatives far more advanced than you," Robert retorted.

"And are those operatives also the third's daughter?"

Robert's eyes dropped. It worked, Courtney thought in amazement. She'd never pulled rank on anyone, never had enough experience to think she could get away with it. Now she felt like she should be the first one consulted on any subject regarding humans or human society.

"I'm sorry," Angela whispered, reappearing at the table. "It's just all so new and everything.....I'll keep my mind on the mission," she promised, sliding into the booth after Courtney slid out. "We both will."

"Good," Courtney said. "I'll get you both some salads."

Both looked suitably chastised as she made the rounds of tables again, retreating into the kitchen before she even let the truth cross her mind. Robert was right; the real rub was not the threat of being discovered, it was that people she cared about were being treated badly. Her reminding them of her parentage had worked this time, but she had to be careful not to do that too often. Throwing her familial weight around on behalf of humanity would not be taken kindly by either her father or Nicholas.

"What the hell?" Mr. Parker grumbled behind her.

Courtney pulled her head out of the fridge where she'd been rummaging for salad fixings. The lights were blinking....no, not just blinking, but changing. From white to pink, to be exact, and back again, short bursts that had every head in the diner turning this way and that. Every head but two, that is, that were dutifully scanning the entire diner for infrared signatures.

Great, Courtney thought wearily. Her little harangue had earned Parker's the honor of being the place where it all started.



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


I'll post Chapter 70 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 69, 3/29

Post by Kathy W » Sun Apr 05, 2009 2:10 pm

Hello to everyone reading!





CHAPTER SEVENTY


September 17, 1959, 12:30 p.m.

Parker's Diner




Courtney let the back door bang closed behind her as she hauled three bags of trash to the dumpster behind the diner, the sharp thwack of the slamming door a fitting accompaniment to her mood. Back inside the lights continued to flicker from pink to white and back again as Angela and Robert worked their generators, scanning the diner for any sign of Covari. And this was just the beginning; soon there would be enough operatives in Roswell that multiple locations could be scanned at one time, making movement treacherous for any Covari. This was what she'd learned two nights ago at the Proctors, why she'd had to come back to warn them even if that meant she didn't survive. If Nicholas caught so much as one glimpse of a Covari in Roswell, he would have every operative under his command here in a matter of days, not just the few dozen he'd brought with him this time. It was the resistance's preference that the Warders leave the area to avoid any chance of discovery, an argument both she and her father had made to no avail. Hardly unexpected, given that the hybrids were probably hidden close by.

What she hadn't expected was for her own strategy to be used against them. There had been much discussion about the fact that humans were bound to notice weird lights all over, and Nicholas had apparently solved that problem by using the same flashing technique she'd used to warn Brivari the first time the generators had been employed. Last time they'd tried this, steady lights had alarmed the humans, causing numerous calls to the sheriff. But Courtney's flashing light on the movie set had been taken as a sign of a malfunction, as it was now being viewed inside Parker's. For all her carping about Courtney's incompetence, Vanessa had apparently been paying attention after all. Damn! Courtney thought furiously as she heaved the first bag of garbage into the dumpster. She'd been hoping that the fear of human reaction would limit the use of the generators, but now her own idea had made that much less likely. "Damn it!" she exclaimed, out loud this time, the expletive punctuated by the thud of the second bag landing in the dumpster, followed by the third....which snagged a sharp edge and burst, showering garbage everywhere. The expletive she uttered this time was much worse that the first.

"Want some help?"

Courtney's eyes nearly leaped out of her head, the mess she was standing in forgotten when she spied Malik. "What are you doing here?" she demanded, glancing furtively toward the door before pushing him behind the dumpster. "Do you have any idea what's going on in there?"

"Of course I do. That's why I'm out here."

"You shouldn't be anywhere!" Courtney exclaimed. "If they see you—"

"I'm well aware of what will happen if they see any of us," Malik interrupted calmly. "You know as well as I do that those infrared washes work best indoors, where the beam has something to bounce off of. Outdoors is relatively safe for the moment, at least during the day."

"Nowhere is safe!" Courtney insisted. "I did not go through everything I've been through just to see you get caught!"

"This is weird," Malik chuckled. "You're more tweaked about this than I am."

" 'Tweaked'?"

"Upset, worried, concerned; pick your adjective."

"Oh," Courtney said darkly. "Then try 'pissed'. It's much closer to what I'm feeling right now."

"What are you 'pissed' about?"

"Why, nothing!" Courtney said with savage cheerfulness, grabbing a paper plate to use as a shovel as she began corralling the spilled garbage. "Let's see....I've got a father who's furious with me to the point of ordering me out of his sight. I met two other operatives inside who act like they're in some kind of zoo, picking on people who've been kind to me and saying those nice old ladies shouldn't be allowed to live, and humans are so primitive, and so on, and so forth. One of them even accused me of 'going native'. I was just so happy to be back, back in my apartment, back at work, and they spoiled it....." She stopped, realizing how silly and self-centered she sounded. He had bigger problems. They both did.

A sound made her look up; Malik had started on the mess, shoveling across the pile from her. They worked in silence for a minute or two, the physical labor dulling the edge of her anger, her jerky motions contrasting with his smooth ones. "I'm not surprised your father's mad," he said at length, "but I'll be surprised if he stays that way. He can't afford to, not with everything else that's going on. And I remember my first encounter with an elderly human; it was very strange. No one on our world ages so visibly, so we're not used to seeing that."

"Stop making excuses for them," Courtney muttered.

"I'm just pointing out that you can't expect much different from them," Malik countered. "The human race is very young by our standards, and that takes some getting used to. You've adapted quickly, but you're more open-minded that most of your people."

"You do recall that they want to kill you, right? Acting as their apologist just doesn't make sense."

"I did the same thing when Dee wrote you off back when we first discovered who you were," Malik said. "I told her she couldn't hold your attitude about me against you because it was all you knew. Are you saying I shouldn't have?"

That was different, Courtney thought as she scraped at the pile of potato peels and coffee grounds, pissed all over again at having her own behavior compared with that of people she was angry with. "Is there a point to this little visit, or did you just come to annoy me? Because I'm already plenty annoyed already."

"I just came to see how you were," Malik answered. "And because I could, because it's easier now than it will be in a day or two. I'm not supposed to; the Warders ordered me to stay away from you. They think you don't know about me, and they're not eager to share more than they have to. I know," he added when Courtney gave a soft snort, "but for the time being, we're going to have to continue the fiction that we don't know each other. It's harder for me than it is for you; I see them all the time."

"Maybe so, but I'd take the Warders over Nicholas and his henchman any day."

Malik stopped scraping. "Really?"

Courtney felt her husk's face flush. "Well, why not?" she said defensively. "They're both as likely to kill you as look at you, but at least they're defending their Wards. All Nicholas cares about is his own ambition. Don't look at me like that," she added sharply, Malik's expression making her supremely uncomfortable. "I haven't changed my opinion of Covari. Saying I prefer you to Nicholas isn't saying much."

They were done. Courtney threw the last scoopful of ick into the torn garbage bag and heaved it into the dumpster. Her hands were a mess, she needed a new apron, and she wanted desperately to throw something, but she was done, thank goodness. Coming out here had proven almost as aggravating as staying inside.

"Wait," Malik said when she walked off without saying goodbye. "About that 'going native' comment.....you need to be careful about what you say around other operatives."

"Great," Courtney said sarcastically. "Just what I needed; someone else to pass judgment on my judgment. The line's getting long. Maybe I should start handing out numbers like they do at the bakery."

"If you're too sympathetic to humans, you'll attract attention," Malik said, ignoring her temper. "That's a very bad idea. Especially now."

"And I need you to tell me this?" Courtney said incredulously. "Just exactly how stupid do you think I am?"

"Of course I don't think you're stupid," Malik said gently, "just so upset right now that you might not realize how dangerous that one little comment could be. Something like that, it gets around. You're better off agreeing with their opinion of humans no matter how wrong you know they are, or at the very least not arguing with them. They'll notice if you're different.....and no one likes 'different'. Trust me on that one."

If he said anything else, Courtney didn't hear it; she'd walked away, back into the diner, hoping Robert and Angela had moved on so she could slip back into the boring humdrum of waiting tables. Rounding a corner, she ran smack into Nancy.

"There you are!" Nancy exclaimed. "Thank goodness the lights stopped going whonky. Did you.....what happened to you?" she finished, staring at the ruined apron.

"The bag broke," Courtney said curtly.

"Oh, dear," Nancy fussed. "Take that off; I'll get you fresh one. Are you all right?" she went on, eyeing Courtney closely. "You look upset. Would you like to go home early today? We've got more than enough—"

"No," Courtney said quickly. "I'll stay. I want to stay," she insisted when Nancy began to protest. "I need to work. I need something to take my mind off......things," she finished evasively.

"Ah," Nancy said knowingly. "One of those days? I've had'em. This job could put anyone into a daze, and sometimes that's welcome. I know exactly what you mean."

So much for her being stupid, Courtney thought as she settled her new apron around her waist. The last thing she wanted was to go home early to face her father. The second last thing she wanted was to meet more operatives. Because Malik was right; annoying as it was, she'd have to humor them. Being seen as a human-lover would never go over well. Or a Covari-lover, she added, still feeling the sting of having her opinion of Covari compared to Angela's opinion of humans. No matter how badly her people viewed humans, there was simply no comparing them to Covari. However "young" they may be, humans were real; Covari were not.

Keep telling yourself that, she thought as she headed back into the diner, and some day, you might actually believe it.




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



Eagle Rock Military Base




Brivari's footsteps echoed as he walked down the main hallway of the compound where Jaddo had been held prisoner. He could have walked silently if he'd chosen to, but that would have meant denying himself the satisfying sound of a deserted building. Nine years of abandonment had produced a thick layer of dust in the empty offices, the silent mess hall, the walled over white room which had been Jaddo's cell. There was no sign of habitation here, nor any activity or interest of any kind. The human military was busy with other concerns, aliens not being one of them. This was good news for it meant their only real concerns were the FBI and the Argilian contingent currently advancing on the town, and with Atherton's foray making it clear that the former was at loose ends, they were free to focus their energy on the latter. He had left Malik to keep an eye on the town while he inspected the base, and Jaddo.....

"Did you know Atherton has returned to town in disguise?" demanded a voice behind him.

And Jaddo is back already, Brivari finished, sighing privately. He'd been hoping to keep Atherton's presence quiet a bit longer, but very little escaped Jaddo's notice. "Good afternoon to you too," Brivari said mildly. "What did you find out?"

"That's not an answer," Jaddo declared. "And what are you doing here, of all places?"

"Looking for signs of activity, of which there are obviously none," Brivari replied, running a finger along the edge of a table and producing a wad of dust. "The military is worried less about us and more about 'communists', a place called 'Vietnam', and the visit of one 'Khrushchev'."

"Never heard of him," Jaddo said. "And you still haven't answered me."

"Yes, I did. I merely chose which of your two questions to answer first. Yes, I knew Atherton was in town. He is there on an undercover assignment."

"For whom?" Jaddo demanded.

"Why, for me, of course."

Jaddo's eyes widened as he digested that. "Do you mean....do you mean he knows?"

"Of course he knows," Brivari replied calmly. "He's not stupid, so he was bound to have noticed a few....'incongruities' when I denied the FBI the pleasure of his company."

Jaddo fell silent, too angry to speak for a moment....but only for a moment. "While you're in the mood to confess, is there anyone else you'd like to tell?" he exclaimed in exasperation. "Perhaps you'd like to take out an ad in the newspaper, or make one of those television commercials, or rent a billboard along a highway?"

"Oh, stop it," Brivari answered. "We have had human allies since our arrival. The Proctors know. River Dog knows."

"That's different," Jaddo insisted. "Both have proven their worth and their discretion many times in many dire situations. Is there anyone else who knows about us that I should be aware of?"

"You mean that you should kill?"

"That I should protect us from," Jaddo corrected angrily. "That makes two humans you've exposed us to in as many months!"

"Audrey was your fault. She would never have known a thing if you hadn't so helpfully shown her."

"Like you 'helpfully' showed Atherton?"

"Like Atherton discovered while I was fending off the FBI, who was after him because of Audrey's death.....and now we're back to you," Brivari retorted. "All roads lead back to you, Jaddo, which is neither here nor there at this point. What's done is done; Atherton knows, and we have gained a valuable and gifted ally in the process. Had Audrey lived, we might have gained two."

" 'Might' being the operative word there, and by what right do you call him 'valuable and gifted'?"

"Atherton belongs to a group of humans who have searched for us since the crash," Brivari answered. "He has—"

"So you now intend to satisfy the curiosity of every 'UFO nut' out there?"

"—amassed an impressive collection of information about your own imprisonment, and is far from a mere 'UFO nut'," Brivari continued. "He has documents from this very compound, eyewitness accounts, genuine artifacts....it was all very interesting."

"Perhaps if one has nothing better to do," Jaddo said sourly. "And I fail to see how collecting detritus from nearly a decade ago makes him 'valuable'. I don't need documentation of my imprisonment, Brivari. I was there. So were you."

"Atherton is also skilled at disguise," Brivari continued, ignoring him. "He recently infiltrated the FBI and brought back information regarding their pursuit of us."

Jaddo paused. "What information?"

"Ah," Brivari said softly. "So you would like to hear the report of the 'UFO nut' after all?"

Jaddo gave a snort as he turned away in disgust, wanting to know what Atherton had discovered but not wanting to lend him credence by asking. Eventually the desire to know won out, as Brivari had assumed it would.

"Fine," he said impatiently. "What did he discover?"

"That the FBI has still not located Pierce's serum," Brivari answered. "Lewis has all of his agents working on finding it, but they have no leads. In other words, they have reached a dead end; good news for us."

"How did he learn this?" Jaddo asked suspiciously.

"He trailed a disgruntled Special Unit agent who believes one of his colleagues was executed by Lewis, posed as a similarly disenfranchised government employee, and encouraged him to become inebriated. The rest, as the humans would say, is history."

Jaddo was silent for a moment. "Impressive," he said at length, albeit reluctantly. "But what's he doing in Roswell?"

"He is living in the same rooming house as Nicholas."

Jaddo stared at him uncomprehendingly. "Do you mean to tell me that you placed him right on top of Nicholas?"

"It was his idea, and a good one," Brivari answered. "He has already reported on who is living there, furnished us descriptions, along with the aliases they're using, has seen the infrared wash used, and witnessed an altercation between Nicholas and a subordinate. As more Argilians arrive, they will no doubt court their master, and when they do, we will have someone on site taking careful note of details that are harder for us to obtain because we cannot risk getting too close."

Brivari waited patiently while Jaddo turned this over in his mind, ultimately reaching the expected conclusion.

"This is a very bad idea."

"Somehow I knew you'd say that," Brivari sighed. "And I'm certain you're about to tell me why this is a 'very bad idea'."

"You barely know Atherton!" Jaddo exclaimed. "Yet there he sits, in a prime position to give us away!"

"And how would he do that, exactly?" Brivari asked. "I've told him precious little about us, he doesn't know how to find either of us. There is nothing he could tell them that they don't already know save for identifying a handful of resistance members."

"Then what about him?" Jaddo persisted. "Even if he remains loyal, have you considered that he could get himself killed if he's discovered? This is an odd move for someone supposedly concerned about his 'friends'."

"He has nothing that would identify him," Brivari argued, "no device, or mark, or—"

"Nothing but his mouth," Jaddo interrupted. "An overactive mouth, if I recall."

"Like your overactive temper?" Brivari asked pointedly. "It's done, Jaddo. He's there, and we have already benefited from his presence. He is under strict instructions not to engage the enemy, merely to observe, and he is very, very good at that. We would be foolish not to avail ourselves of those talents at a time like this. Unless, of course, you have another option? I still haven't heard your report."

Jaddo eyed him darkly for a moment before answering. "Malik appears to have been correct; there are Argilians living in his former house in Copper Summit."

"I wonder what made him think of that?" Brivari murmured.

"It was a logical first place to check," Jaddo replied. "It took me a while to ascertain if the inhabitants were human or Argilian; there is truly no way to identify them on sight. What gave it away was the porch light, which has been fitted with an infrared wash. To humans, it appears to be merely an oddly tinged lamp."

"So they have begun to expand the use of the infrared," Brivari said. "If they do that here, that could be a problem. Who was living there?"

"One male and two females. But there was a steady stream of people to and from the house; I tracked them back to dwellings all over the town."

"Meaning that Nicholas has managed to infiltrate a large percentage of the town."

"Of course he has," Jaddo snorted. "That's what he does; he spreads and devours, like a human virus."

"Even a virus needs something to feed on," Brivari reminded him. "Deprive it of sustenance, and it dies. Deprive Nicholas of what he's looking for, and he will get nowhere. That remains our strategy."

"But he's not there," Jaddo argued. "This is the perfect time to strike, and doing so will draw them away from Roswell."

"If reports are accurate, there are more than enough operatives in Copper Summit to bring us down," Brivari reminded him, "not to mention that any retaliation could attract the attention of our human enemies. We are the only two Warders left, with a strong possibility that only you will live long enough to see our Wards emerge. That makes the risk of actively engaging an enemy too great unless absolutely necessary."

"So we do nothing?" Jaddo demanded. "Again?"

Brivari sighed deeply, privately noting that both Jaddo and Atherton shared a reluctance to sit still, although the latter could be more easily reasoned with and induced to squelch that. "For the moment," he clarified. "Unless circumstances change. I know that pains you; I know you don't wait well. But you're going to have to find a way to wait and stay out of sight until Nicholas loses interest and moves on. In the meantime we will gather as much information as possible from every available source in case we have need of it in the future."

"Wonderful," Jaddo muttered. "So the Warders for the king and his second sit on their hands while the UFO equivalent of Bozo the Clown does reconnaissance. Just for the record, when did you plan on telling me about this?"

"What about what you haven't told me?" Brivari asked. "Like the outcome of your visit to Michael Harris. Did you think I didn't notice?" he added when Jaddo's expression turned guarded. "You are not the only one capable of being observant, Jaddo. Did you have a nice chat with the one who wants Rath on the throne?"

"I only wanted to know why they were looking for us prior to current events," Jaddo protested.

"And?"

"And....." Jaddo hesitated, looking away. "And the resistance is concerned that we may have hidden all the hybrids in one place, and that even if we haven't, we are the only ones who know where to find them. They wish to split them up if they haven't been already to reduce the chance that all would be killed if they are discovered, and to be entrusted with the location of some of their hiding places."

Brivari stared at him in shock for a long moment. "Are you serious?" he whispered finally. "Are they serious?"

"Quite," Jaddo answered. "And while that was also my initial reaction, I find myself reluctantly agreeing that they may have a point. Several points actually, one of which you just made. What if something happens to us? Even if something happens only to me, the hybrids may well outlive you. If the timeline for returning Zan to the throne has indeed lengthened as you fear it has, might we not find it necessary to reconsider our original strategy?"

" 'Might' being the operative word there," Brivari said, anger rising within him like a tidal wave. "Do they actually expect them to entrust our Wards to their care, to anyone's care? We have so few—"

"He doesn't know that," Jaddo interrupted. "He thinks there are hundreds....and there were, initially. And frankly, our having so few makes those few all the more precious and only bolsters the argument. We would keep the best set, of course, but the rest—"

"We will speak no more of this," Brivari said sharply. "The notion is presumptuous, not to mention absurd."

"And valid," Jaddo added. "That's what bothered me, and what's bothering you....isn't it?"

Brivari walked closer, coming face to face with Jaddo. "Know this," he said in a deadly voice. "The day will never dawn on this world or any other that would find me willing to entrust our Wards to anyone's care but our own. Have I made myself completely clear?"




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



4:30 p.m.

Roswell Sheriff's Station





"Daniel Pierce," Valenti murmured, his eyes raking the papers spread out in front of him, "come out, come out wherever you are."

Late afternoon sunshine filtered through the blinds, illuminating some, but not all, of the copied documents Agent Cates had given him. After returning from Norwood, Valenti had closeted himself in here, reading every word before spreading everything out, rearranging the sheets, trying to get a sense of who Pierce was and looking for patterns, connections, anything that would point him in the right direction. The irony was that he had still been undecided when he'd accepted the file from Cates outside the abandoned hospital, undecided but unbearably curious, and unwilling to pass up the opportunity to throw a monkey wrench in Lewis' plans. It was clear from the earlier documents Cates had delivered that Lewis had wanted Valenti to take the fall for his unsuccessful pursuit of aliens in Roswell, and only Sheriff Wilcox's timely intervention had stayed his hand. He and his family had escaped a world of torment by little more than a hair's breadth, and another man had died, all because Lewis had done exactly what Valenti had told him not to. That he hadn't gotten what he'd wanted was satisfying. Depriving him of something else he wanted would be even more satisfying.

And it couldn't be happening to nicer people, from the looks of things. The evidence Cates had copied on Dr. Pierce painted a picture of a megalomaniac with a disturbing lack of ethics. While it wasn't clear exactly what Pierce had been doing at Norwood, it was clear that whatever he'd been doing involved an alarming number of young women who later wound up dead. It was also clear that Pierce had gone directly to Norwood and stayed put after going AWOL, as evidenced by the date he'd bought his house and the few employment records the FBI had managed to salvage. So Pierce had known exactly where he was going when he'd left the Army and taken whatever precious something they wanted with him, having very likely set the whole thing up ahead of time. This was a man who knew he was living beyond the boundaries of society's ethics and planned accordingly, setting up escape routes, making the necessary alliances to keep his identity secret, hunkering down in safe havens......and withholding something lots of powerful people wanted, delivering it instead to his child three decades in the future. Someone out there was keeping an eye on Pierce Jr., and it must be a private arrangement because there was no mention of it in the will.

Valenti plopped down in his chair, one finger tapping on his desk. When one was pursuing someone, information such as this helped you form a picture of your quarry, a sense of how they thought. That was vital....but even more vital was what you learned while actually retracing their footsteps, talking to the people they'd lived and worked with, making connections that could never have been made if you'd been restricted to mere papers. This told only part of the story; if he was really to help Cates, he'd have get into Pierce's shoes, an impossibility given the number of FBI agents currently pursuing this very same path. If Lewis caught so much as a whiff of him in his territory, there would be hell to pay, and judging from his narrow escape the last time he'd stepped on Lewis' toes, Lewis would jump at a second chance to make him pay it. So paper would have to do, at least enough to give Cates some marching orders so he could bring back information Valenti couldn't reach. "One sibling dead at five," he muttered, skimming a page, "attended Cornell......went right into the military.....parents dead, three cousins, one overseas.....colleagues, but no friends.....where'd you put it, Daniel? Who'd you give it to?"

A knock came on his door. "Come," Valenti said impatiently.

Hanson poked his head in. "Sorry, sir....I know you didn't want to be disturbed—"

"Then why are you disturbing me?"

"Well....." Hanson paused, glancing at the spread out papers. "We've gotten a report of strange lights around town, just like last time."

"Lights?"

"Yeah....you know, the weird lights that everyone was reporting a couple of weeks ago? They're back."

Valenti glanced at the window. "That was at night."

"Yes, sir, and they're just flickering this time, not staying on like last time. But people who saw them last time said they're pretty sure it's the same light. A lot of people called the power company, and the power company called us just in case."

"In case what? Nothing ever came of it last time."

"I know, sir, but the power company has no idea what's causing this."

"And Hollywood's gone," Valenti sighed. "That was my working theory last time, that it had something to do with the movie crazies. Where'd they start?"

"Parker's, sir. Here's the list. They're in order."

It was clear from the list Hanson handed him that things were different this time; the locations were random, not in the circular pattern Valenti had noticed before. "All right; I'm on my way home, so take reports from those who've seen them, and we'll see what's what. Make sure you get the time on any new reports so we can put them in chronological order. I'll talk to the power company tomorrow."

"You're going home, sir?" Hanson smiled. "You'll be home in time for dinner. Mrs. Valenti will be pleased."

I hope, Valenti thought silently as he scooped up Pierce's records after Hanson left. He'd never returned her phone call from this morning, had completely forgotten about it until this moment. He could say he'd had a busy day, but that wasn't the convenient excuse it had been when he'd been hunting his mole during the filming. It'll have to do, Valenti thought as he pulled out onto the road, his mind still churning over Pierce. He was driving by Parker's when he screeched to a halt.

The lights were flickering, causing customers and pedestrians alike to stop and stare. Valenti pulled over and climbed out, staring right along with everyone else for a moment before heading inside. It's pink, he thought as the door closed behind him, the little bell jingling cheerfully.

"Evening, sheriff," Nancy said, glancing toward the ceiling. "Yep, there they go again. Second time today."

"When was the first?"

"Lunchtime. Weirdest thing I've ever seen."

Valenti glanced up at the fixtures. "You got any colored bulbs in here?"

"No," Nancy chuckled. "Not even in the bar."

"So what would make it pink?" Valenti wondered.

"Haven't the faintest. Excuse me," Nancy added, squeezing past him with a tray.

Valenti stepped back to let her pass, his eyes on the ceiling. People had reported the lights as colored before, but he hadn't actually seen them. What could possibly cause lights to go pink? Wait a minute, he thought, inspecting the fixture directly above his head. If he stared at the bulb when the lights flickered....

"Nancy," he said as she whizzed by again, "do you have a stepladder? I'd like to get a closer look at....."

The flickering stopped. So did diner conversation as everyone waited to see if it would start up again. It didn't, and the murmur of voices gradually rose again.

"That's what happened earlier," Nancy sighed. "They blinked for a few seconds, then stopped. You still want that stepladder?"

"No," Valenti said, his eyes still on the light fixture. "No....thanks, anyway."

"You'll let us know what it is when you figure it out, right?" Nancy said.

"Sure. Sure, I will. And you let me know every time it happens. Take note of the time of day and how long it lasts."

"Oh, of course; I was bored and needed something else to do," Nancy deadpanned. "Just kidding, sheriff," she added with a smile. "I'll keep track. You'll get sick of hearing from me."

"Unlikely," Valenti assured her. "You have a good night, now."

Valenti drove away in a trance, driving on auto pilot. For just a moment, it had looked like the fixture above him wasn't flickering, yet the entire diner had been bathed in the pinkish/reddish light. Which would mean the colored light wasn't coming from the regular light fixtures, but from some other source entirely. He had no idea how that could be, but one thing was clear; he would never have noticed that if he hadn't been there, been looking himself. "I'll walk the beat," Cates had said. But there was simply no substitute for walking one's own beat. Cates didn't see things exactly the way he did, and he never would.

Stopping at a traffic light, Valenti checked his watch. De Baca County was nearly a two hour drive one way, and finding more time away from the office would be tricky. His not having returned Andi's phone call actually made today an easier sell; coming home late would only reinforce the idea that he'd had a very busy day. If he stopped home first, he'd have to endure pleas to stay for dinner plus a likely continuation of yesterday's argument about him putting work ahead of family....and not without reason since that was exactly what he was doing. On the other hand, it seemed exceptionally foolish to pass up the opportunity to learn more about the aliens he knew were in his town and thwart a dangerous enemy, all in one fell swoop. One didn't get two-for-one offers like that very often, and this wouldn't last forever, probably a couple of weeks, tops. Andi and Jimmy would still be there when he was done, and might be a whole lot safer.

The sound of a horn honking startled him back to the present; the light had changed and he hadn't even noticed. He hesitated for one more second before flipping on his turn signal and hanging a right, away from home and onto Route 285, heading due north, straight for De Baca County.






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


Next week is Easter, so I'll be posting Chapter 71 in 2 weeks on Sunday, April 19. Starting with Chapter 71, we jump forward to October and the closing chapters of the book. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 70, 4/5

Post by Kathy W » Sun Apr 19, 2009 4:30 pm

Hello and thank you to everyone reading!


Misha: Once we get to the part that coincides with the show, there's going to be so much going on "in background" that there'll be a whole other show out there! :lol:





CHAPTER SEVENTY-ONE



Six weeks later




October 29, 1959, 1:30 p.m.

Pierce residence, De Baca County, New Mexico






"Pass me that box, will you?" Agent Douglas said as he opened the refrigerator door.

"Don't you need a garbage can?" Agent Stanton asked, giving the nearby empty box a shove which sent it skidding toward Douglas. "No one's lived here in over a month. I seriously doubt there's anything edible in there."

"Okay, that's old," Douglas said, pitching a moldy loaf of bread into the box. "And that....whoo!" he exclaimed, turning away in disgust as he inched the lid off a casserole dish. "That is nasty!"

"Told you," Stanton chuckled. "That's why I offered to do the pantry."

"Tell me again how we got stuck cleaning out our boss's wife's house?" Douglas demanded, holding another container at arm's length while inspecting it.

"Beats cold-calling people and asking them if Pierce hid anything in their coat pockets," Stanton answered. "Like they'd tell us if he had."

"I might agree if I weren't standing in front of a botulism farm," Douglas said. "That woman had enough leftovers to feed the entire Unit for a month, and they're all putrid. And....oh, God. That's the vegetable drawer."

"Might need a gas mask for that one," Stanton said cheerfully. "Sure you don't want to go back to cold-calling?"

"At least I'm accomplishing something here," Douglas sighed, donning a pair of rubber gloves. "We've all been hunting that serum like mad and come up with zip. Maybe this is punishment."

"Nah," Stanton answered. "It's just dawned on Lewis that we may never find it. Under normal circumstances I think he'd be all too happy to dump baby and mama in the boonies and visit now and then, but if Pierce's kid doesn't reach thirty, no one will find it. He doesn't want him out there alone and unprotected. What if something happens to him?"

"If you ask me, he's gotten a little paranoid on the whole subject, having everything delivered to his apartment and not even telling us where the wife and kid are," Douglas said, grimacing as he dropped what used to be a head of lettuce in the box. "It's hard to imagine him ferrying all this crap over himself."

"Del Bianco's helping," Stanton replied. "He's the only one who knows their new address. Apparently Lewis told his wife that there had been death threats made against him, so they had to move somewhere secret to keep them safe."

"While he takes his sweet time moving from his apartment so he doesn't have to consummate the marriage," Douglas chuckled. He paused staring at something in his hand. "I think this used to be a peach."

"Don't analyze it, just pitch it," Stanton advised, closing the lid of the box he was working on. "Pantry's done. I'm going to start on the freezer."

"No fair," Douglas complained. "You get the frozen decomposing stuff. Man, this is not what I had in mind when I joined the FBI."

"Putrid food, putrid people....what's the difference? Tell you what," Stanton added. "You do half the fridge, and then we'll switch."

"Really?"

"It's still better than cold-calling," Stanton answered. "As soon as this house is emptied, we'll be right back at it with everyone else. I'll take the fridge any day."

"Maybe they'll find something while we're knee-deep in trash," Douglas said hopefully. "God knows Cates is burning up the road."

"Yeah, what's up with him?" Stanton asked, raising the lid on the freezer. "He got all down in the dumps when Owens died, missed the wedding, mouthed off to Del Bianco, and then all of a sudden got religion. He's logged more miles talking to Pierce's contacts than all the rest of us put together."

"He was just upset about Owens," Douglas said. "We all were."

Stanton frowned. "But that was different. It was like he blamed someone. Someone other than the bastard who did the hit and run, that is."

"Maybe he blamed himself," Douglas suggested. "Maybe he's trying to make up for it, make Owens' death count for something."

The phone rang. "Your turn," Douglas said. "I'm up to my armpits in mushy apples."

Stanton sighed and picked up the phone. "Pierce residence. Yes, Agent Lewis," he said, both he and Douglas straightening as thought Lewis could see them even though he was over two hours away by car. "Yes, we're still.....now? Yes, sir. We'll be there." He hung up. "Lewis wants us back in Santa Fe. Something about a report for the Director."

"Can't say I mind leaving this behind," Douglas said, peeling off the rubber gloves. "What's Lewis going to tell Hoover, anyway? We haven't come up with a bloody thing."

"I think that's where we come in," Stanton answered. "Right now the only thing Lewis can claim to be doing for the cause is safeguarding Pierce's son by putting him in hiding."

"Hoover's gonna love that," Douglas commented, hoisting the box of what used to be food. "I'll put this down at the curb in case the garbage truck decides to come by."

The front door closed behind them, a key rattled in the lock, and silence fell over the empty house. Well....not quite empty. Five minutes after the agents had left, Valenti cautiously opened the door to the basement and listened hard before walking quietly through the kitchen to the living room window. There was no car out front and a neat pile of trash at the base of the driveway near the road, awaiting the somewhat unpredictable garbage collection prevalent in De Baca. The agents were gone, and for the rest of the day from the sounds of things.

Thank goodness, Valenti thought, having grown weary of crouching on the basement landing, poised to flee if anyone came down there but still close enough to eavesdrop. For all the hours he'd spent in this house, this was the first time he'd almost been caught. Still, it had been worth it; this was the first independent corroboration he'd found that Agent Cates was telling him the truth. Not that the lack of such corroboration had stopped him from spending every available minute for the past several weeks contemplating how Pierce could have done what he'd claimed to do or actually in pursuit of it, a pursuit which had begun right here, in this house.

His arrival here had been something of an accident. On that night last month when he'd left work and impulsively headed for De Baca instead of going home, it had belatedly dawned on him that he was still in uniform and driving his cruiser, belatedly being just as he was crossing the county line. Unwilling to go back but well aware that no one could know that Roswell's sheriff was investigating Pierce, he'd hit upon the idea of checking out his house, the address of which was in the documents Cates had copied for him. If Pierce's son really was only two days old, his mother must still be in the hospital, meaning the house might be empty. He'd observed the house from a distance, noting no vehicles or signs of habitation, then pulled into the driveway and around the back, shielding the car from view. Knocking and peering through the windows revealed nothing, so a quick lock pick later, he was inside Pierce's empty house, an investigator's treasure trove. He'd spent so much time there that he'd gotten home quite late and caught an earful from Andi which he'd written off as a necessary evil, especially when FBI agents had begun packing up the house just two days later. There wouldn't be anything to look at much longer.

Now he sank into the chair in what appeared to have been Pierce's office, rocking back against the leather, his hat in his lap. The study had been the first room emptied, but the furniture was still here, along with the pictures on the walls. He liked to sit in Pierce's chair and look at what Pierce had looked at, trying to find the invisible footprints that everyone left behind. Ironically it had been in this very chair that he had learned the most about Pierce. Careful inquiries around the area, always in plain clothes and sporting a pseudonym, had turned up little; the Pierce's, or "Pearson's", as they were known around these parts, didn't get out much. The missus had been seen on weekly grocery runs, but sightings of Pierce himself seemed to have been rare, perhaps contributing to the mystique Valenti had run into almost everywhere. People seemed to think he was a doctor who worked for the government on secret projects, projects which they had apparently decided must have something to do with fighting communists, a noble endeavor which made Pierce well-regarded in De Baca and which accounted for the reverential tones people used when speaking of their former neighbor, not to mention further underscoring how easy it was to concoct a lie.

Since no one had really known Pierce, the best place to get a sense of the man was here, in his house, especially his office. Valenti had written off his initial surprise at the pedestrian nature of Pierce's house as the price of going AWOL and living in hiding, but the office had proven his instincts correct. No expense had been spared outfitting it, from the thick carpeting, to the mahogany furniture and shelves, to the leather chairs and sofa, the crystal lamps, even the brass knobs on the drawers. What looked like expensive art work adorned the walls, all hung in the symmetrical patterns decorators abhorred. Everything in Pierce's office was symmetrical, precise, geometric; nothing was haphazard, nothing out of place, right down to the placement of the leather blotter on the desk or the brass pencil cup. Pierce had revered order, control, and predictability, befitting a man who was trying to orchestrate the fortunes of government agencies from the grave. He would have set very precise mechanisms in place to insure that he would have what he wanted, would have considered every contingency he could think of. And since his circle of acquaintances was so small, this should be easy.

But it wasn't. Pierce's only "confidantes", if one could use a term like that with a man like him, were his colleagues at the now defunct Norwood Hospital, whose halls Valenti had spent many an hour walking. The hospital's executive director, one Joshua Burke, was under investigation by the state and stood to lose his medical license; lesser personnel had been assigned elsewhere. According to Cates, the FBI was aggressively pursuing Burke, but Valenti doubted anything would come of it. Pierce would never have entrusted his "serum" to someone like himself, who would have been only too likely to keep it for his own glory or sell it to the highest bidder at the earliest opportunity.

The grandfather clock in the hallway clanged 2 o'clock. Time to go home. He hadn't gotten much done, having spent most of his time hiding on the basement landing, but perhaps he could come back later tonight, especially since the Special Unit was busy preparing a dog and pony show for J. Edgar Hoover. On the way out he noticed one of the paintings on the wall was askew, and when he went to right it, it came off its nail so suddenly he almost dropped it.....and a piece of paper fluttered off the back, landing on top of his shoe. A note? Valenti thought, puzzled. Pierce didn't seem the type to keep love notes behind his paintings. He replaced the painting and bent to retrieve the note, which had yellowed tape at the top and had been written—and signed—with a fountain pen.

A slow smile spread across Valenti's face. So Pierce had had a friend after all. At long last, something specific to follow up on. But not now. He had a meeting in two hours with the head of Roswell's gas and electric company about the other mystery on his plate, one that continued to confound everyone and was growing worse by the minute.




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



Alice Wentworth's rooming house,

Roswell





"Nothing!" Nicholas said angrily. "Not a blessed thing in six weeks! Are you sure everyone is at their posts when they're supposed to be, or are they out partying?"

As you would like to be, Michael thought with satisfaction as his master fumed in front of him. Roswell had not turned out to be what Nicholas had hoped in any sense. Not only were they lacking even a whiff of the Warders' presence, but he had largely been trapped in this room, unable to move about until late afternoon and evening for fear of running afoul of regulations which stated that humans his age must attend "school". Even then his amusements were decidedly limited; he was deemed too young for service at any of the local entertainment establishments save for movie theaters, while his interests tended more toward alcohol and females. With any luck he'd decide any minute now to give up and go back to Copper Summit.

"We have personally inspected the various details many times," Greer answered. "All are reporting as ordered."

"Then what's wrong?" Nicholas demanded in exasperation. "We should have seen something, caught something, a glimpse, anything."

"It would appear that either the Warders are successfully avoiding us, or they are not here," Greer replied. "At least not at the moment. Even if the hybrids were hidden in this area, there would be no need for them to actually live here—"

"But they were living here, or one of them was," Nicholas interrupted. "You heard all the townspeople—the sheriff suspected the clapper loader on the movie of being an alien and killing that female."

"Yes," Greer said patiently, "and while the sheriff is correct in deducing that an alien killed the female, he may or may not be correct in suspecting this 'Langley'. The fact that 'Langley' did not leave immediately following the death argues against his having been a Warder. Why would they have tarried in such circumstances?"

"Who knows why they do what they do?" Nicholas said crossly. "They're things, not people. They do what they're bred to do, and none of them were bred for something like this. Pull in more operatives," he ordered. "Saturate the surrounding areas as well as Roswell."

"You may wish to reconsider," Michael interjected. "The humans have been puzzling over the infrared washes since our arrival, assuming it had something to do with faulty power or fixtures. But since one of our night details was spotted at an hour when few lights were on, questions are being raised. Expanding the sightings might not be wise at this point."

"A night detail was spotted?" Nicholas repeated sharply. "When?"

Greer and Michael exchanged glances; neither of them had been in a hurry to report this, knowing full well it would open a hornet's nest. "Two nights ago," Greer answered. "Roswell is normally deserted in the middle of the night, but someone driving by a local grocery reported seeing red lights through the window when only one of the store's lights was on."

"Who?" Nicholas demanded. "Who did it?"

"They were there on my orders," Greer said calmly, "because the dead of night would appear a safer time for the Warders to move around. It is very unusual for humans to be about at that hour, so—"

"Who was it?" Nicholas broke in. "I want names!"

Michael sat stock still, feeling Greer stiffen beside him. Normally he hated Greer, but now he almost felt sorry for him. This was the first time in the nearly ten years they had been on this planet that a large number of operatives were engaged in active pursuit of their quarry, meaning this would also be the first time that their leader's long established and very ingrained command style would rear its ugly head in just this way....and it must not be allowed to.

"Their names are of no consequence," Greer answered. "They did their duty as assigned. I will monitor the human response, but I seriously doubt—"

"No consequence?" Nicholas echoed. "They screwed up! I don't keep screw-ups in my ranks, Greer! I want to know who it was, and I want them executed!"

Greer regarded his master levelly for a moment before answering.

"No."

Nicholas blinked. "Excuse me? Did you just refuse to obey a direct order?"

"Sir, I know that in the past, you have dealt harshly with the inept, and justifiably so—"

"Names!"

"—but in this case, we cannot afford to simply dispose of personnel when we have no means of replacing them," Greer continued. "Not to mention that this is a heretofore unseen situation, meaning the usual assessment measures must be altered—"

"Names, Greer!"

"—given that many operatives are new in the field, on a strange planet, and wearing a husk. Under those circumstances, there were bound to be some stumbles, and this is a minor one. In the future, I recommend that the usual punishment be reserved solely for cases of treason, not—"

"I want names!" Nicholas shouted.

"—mere bad luck or even simple mistakes, which could be corrected by retraining." Greer paused. "And your mother agrees with me."

Nicholas' next outburst was cut short as that last argument trumped all others. No, of course Ida would not countenance her son's typical method of dealing with anyone who had made a mistake. She was far too practical for that, far too aware of what all of them had gone through to survive in this hostile environment, not to mention far too aware of what her precious son stood to gain should they be successful. The strength of the Argilian force lay in its numbers, numbers which would naturally head downward should her son start killing operatives the way he usually did, the way he wanted to now that he was closer than he'd ever been and frustrated. Nicholas' best chance of finding the Warders and the Royal Four was to have as many eyes and ears on the planet as possible, so the life of each and every operative had suddenly become precious. To a man accustomed to treating his subordinates as disposable, this would be a very hard lesson to learn.

"Well, we have to do something," Nicholas said angrily, prowling the room like a tiger in a small cage. "What we're doing now obviously isn't working. How are the experiments on the electrical grid coming?"

"Quite well," Michael answered, "although we should be cautious about—"

"I'm tired of being cautious!" Nicholas exploded. "I want that up and running as soon as possible, and I don't care if every human for a hundred miles sees it! Where are they?"

Hiding, Michael thought with satisfaction as Nicholas continued to fret. The Warders had taken his warnings to heart and vanished, although he was quite certain they were monitoring the situation. At least he thought they were; he had not laid eyes on a Covari since his encounter with Jaddo shortly after their arrival.

"Maybe we're going about this all wrong," Nicholas said suddenly.

Michael's ears pricked. Nicholas' tone had changed; he now sounded deadly calm and serious, a marked departure from the tantrum of a moment ago. This was not good news; he was largely harmless when he was angry and thrashing because he didn't think things through. When he mustered the maturity to move beyond that, he could be extremely dangerous.

"Maybe," Nicholas said slowly, "we're looking for the wrong thing."

"Meaning?" Greer asked.

"Maybe we should be looking for the hybrids, not their keepers."

To Michael's relief, Greer immediately shook his head. "We've been over this already. We at least have an idea where the Warders are, but we haven't the slightest idea where the hybrids are. They could be virtually anywhere, and we'll never spot them because they don't move around, they don't need to eat, they don't kill people.....I don't see how we can find them stumbling in the dark."

"Maybe we don't need to stumble in the dark," Nicholas said, sinking into a chair, his hands folded in front of himself, fingers tapping as his mind worked. "They came here. Why were they coming here? Did they have a hiding place picked out ahead of time?"

"They crashed here," Greer corrected. "We have no evidence that they were originally heading for this area."

"But they may have been," Nicholas argued.

"And they may not have been," Greer countered.

"But they crashed here," Nicholas persisted. "Whether or not they intended to, they would have had to hide the hybrids here."

"Initially," Greer agreed. "But a great deal of time has passed. They could easily have moved them."

"And we've always assumed they did," Nicholas said. "But what if they didn't? What if they're right where they left them? It certainly wouldn't hurt to look. Start with the area immediately surrounding the crash site."

"We thoroughly canvassed the entire area when we first arrived," Greer said. "I haven't the faintest idea—"

"Then look again," Nicholas said testily.

"Access to the crash site is restricted," Greer pointed out. "Our people run a very real risk of encountering enforcers—"

"I don't care!" Nicholas snapped.

"You don't care if your operatives are apprehended?"

"Are we more advanced than these apes, or aren't we?" Nicholas demanded. "Figure out a way to not be apprehended."

"Fine," Greer said impatiently. "And when we've combed hundreds of square miles of desert with no success—again—what then?"

Silence. Nicholas looked to Michael, who gave a small shrug and shook his head, all too happy to let Greer do the work of the resistance for him. While Greer was right that, in some ways, the hybrids would be harder to find, in other ways they presented a more attractive target—they were not mobile, hence could not sense danger approaching, flee, or defend themselves in any way. Except for their guardians, they were completely helpless.

"Zan's father spent years conducting research on this planet," Nicholas said. "What if they were headed here because this was one of the locations they used? Wouldn't they have constructed a testing facility nearby?"

"Wouldn't they have simply used the ship?" Greer asked doubtfully.

Nicholas shook his head. "Too far. They would have had to land too far away from human habitation, so they would have had to do their work closer to their subjects. What kind of data do we have on that?"

"With us? None," Greer answered. "I would have to contact Antar."

"Do it," Nicholas ordered. "Tell them to send anything they've got on the human genome project. There could be a stray mention that points the way."

"And if the 'way' is 'pointed'....what then?" Michael asked. "Surely any hiding place is secured with a bioimprinted lock. Even if we located it, we'd need to either capture a Warder or blast our way in."

"Which could wind up destroying exactly what we're after," Greer added.

"Don't fret, gentlemen," Nicholas replied with a nasty smile. "If we get anywhere near their precious Wards, I'm quite certain the Warders will show up lickety split. And when they do, we'll be waiting for them."




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




His ear pressed to the heat vent, Atherton strained to make out the conversation taking place in the room above him, catching only faint snatches of sentences save for the outbursts from the leader. Someone had displeased him, that much was clear from his insistence on being furnished with "names". The voices droned on, the low murmur of subordinates punctuated by further exhortations from their master as Atherton cursed the fact that he couldn't hear more, do more, see more, just....more. Weeks spent undercover had left him feeling ineffectual and superfluous, a feeling growing worse by the day.

It hadn't always been that way. Initially he'd been thrilled to be in the thick of things, amongst not only aliens but two different factions of aliens. His eagerness to be of service to Langley had kept him up at all hours, keeping careful track of all the apparent humans who trooped up and down the rooming house stairs to visit the room above. Over the course of two or three weeks he had amassed an impressive record of what every supplicant looked like, who they arrived with, and any snatches of conversation he'd overheard, all written in a kind of personal shorthand unreadable by anyone but himself. The end result had enabled Langley to identify the vast majority of those hunting him, track their movements, and avoid the ever increasing appearance of the identifying reddish lights which had the entire town puzzled. The frustration he was hearing overhead was likely the direct result of the intelligence he'd furnished Langley, and Atherton could safely say he had never felt more proud of any accomplishment.

But after the work of identifying the infiltrating aliens had been finished, there had been little left for him to do. Visits dropped off, with only the hulking Greer and quieter Michael making regular appearances. He had managed a cordial relationship with Nathaniel, who nonetheless kept him frustratingly at arm's length, rendering him basically useless as a source of information. Attempts to listen at the upstairs door had failed; these old houses had thick doors that made eavesdropping inconvenient, and the one time he had tried, he had nearly been caught, drawing a sharp rebuke from Langley who reminded him that no news was good news. "We want them to get bored and leave," he had said. "You are seeing little activity because there is nothing to report. That is precisely what we want."

Right, Atherton had grumbled inwardly, privately noting that he was sorely missing the action. The rush of excitement, of meeting a race from another world at last, of being taken into their confidence and actually being allowed to assist them had been replaced by a monotonous boredom punctuated only by the odd jobs that provided his reason for being here and which left him chomping at the bit and looking for some way, any way, to obtain more information. And that was when he'd remembered something else about old houses, about the tendency of sound to carry through the heat vents. His first attempts had been disappointing; either there was little conversation overhead, or it was too quiet, or they were seated too far from the vent to hear. Today was the first time he'd heard anything of merit, the first time he'd have something real to report in weeks.

Voices picked up again....no, a voice. Atherton pressed his ear to the vent so hard that his head nearly disappeared inside it.

"But what if they.......where they left them? It........hurt to look."

It was the leader, with that high-pitched, not-yet-changed voice of the young adolescent male, swerving in and out of range, suggesting he was pacing. Come closer! Atherton begged, straining to hear something intelligible. Closer!

"Too far...... had to land too far......do their work....."

They must be talking about whatever ship Langley and his people came in, Atherton thought. And what did "do their work" mean? What kind of "work" did Langley's bunch have to do?

"With.....None," answered a deeper voice. "....would....contact Antar."

Atherton's eyes widened. Antar. What was that? A person? A base? Maybe a military establishment? Someone else spoke more softly, inaudibly, and he was so lost in thought as to what "Antar" could be that he jumped a foot when the leader's voice came floating down clearer than it ever had.

"Don't fret, gentlemen," he said, having apparently moved very close to his end of the vent. "If we get anywhere near their precious Wards, I'm quite certain the Warders will show up lickety split. And when they do, we'll be waiting for them."

Chairs scraped. Atherton scurried out into the hall, busying himself with a screwdriver and the coat rack so as to be there when Greer and Michael came down the stairs, which they did a minute later. "Good morning!" Atherton said cheerfully, then glanced at his watch. "I mean, good afternoon. Goodness, how the time flies!"

"Good afternoon," Michael answered courteously, while Greer gave him his customary hard look.

No chatter today, Atherton noted as they marched by. "Antar"? "Wards"? "Warders?" What did it all mean? Did it refer to escaped alien convicts? Did it have something to do with Langley's role as a guardian for his king? But that king was now dead.....wasn't he? And yet Nicholas seemed to think whatever was being "warded" was here, something he could get close to, thereby drawing the "Warders" out.

Whatever it was, it was clear that the aliens upstairs were looking for more than just Langley. "You've been holding out on me, Langley, old boy," Atherton murmured, grabbing his coat and hat. "Time to fess up."




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




Parker's Diner



Good riddance, Courtney thought as the last Argilian operative in the diner left, the little bell on the door tinkling merrily behind him. Dealing with her people and their lousy attitudes toward humans or just about anything other than themselves was now a daily occurrence, so it was always a treat during those all too rare times when there were no operatives in the diner. When she could smile at her co-workers and customers, talk with them and joke with them without being called upon to either explain it later or tolerate pity thrown her way for having to "pretend" so convincingly. It was usually the former because Malik's prediction had proven correct: The accusation that she had "gone native" had indeed gotten around just like he'd said it would. His pointing that out to her had saved her from making things even worse, but hadn't stopped a relentless few from questioning why Nicholas had let her keep her job. Courtney knew why—he needed someone to remain here if the Warders weren't found, and he knew it wasn't going to be Mark. Having been supposedly sent after Crist by her father, it was now widely accepted that Mark had disappeared just like Crist had, and perhaps for the same reason. Nicholas had gone into full paranoia mode, cooking up all sorts of conspiracy theories about why two of his operatives had disappeared, one on the heels of the other, and the resistance had sat back and smiled. Anything that kept Nicholas occupied and diverted his attention from the Warders was good as far as they were concerned.

"Hey, hon," Nancy smiled as she headed into the back. "Your father's here."

Courtney's happiness abruptly turned to annoyance when she turned around to find her father standing at the far edge of the counter. What was he doing here? The two of them had established a perfunctory working relationship after their rocky reunion last month, but each avoided the other whenever possible, and it was an unwritten rule that her father did not frequent Parker's while she was working.

"What do you want?" she asked curtly when she reached the end of the counter.

A flicker of pain crossed her father's face. "We need to talk."

"I'm off soon; can't it wait?"

"Do you really think I'd be here if it could?"

"All right, then, what?" she asked impatiently.

"Not here. We should go in the back."

"I can't; I'm working."

"Get someone to cover for you," Michael insisted. "This is important."

She was all ready to argue when the look in his eyes convinced her not to....but that didn't mean she was happy about it. "Nancy!" she called in exasperation. "Can I take five?"

"Go ahead, dear," Nancy answered, eyeing her father.

Michael followed her through the diner and out the back door to where the dumpster was. "What is it?" she demanded.

"I need you to locate them for me," Michael said.

"Locate them how? I don't know how to do that any more than you do."

Her father blinked. "You mean you don't see Malik?"

"Not since last month," Courtney replied stiffly, still smarting from their last encounter in this very spot when she'd been so selfish and whiny. She'd been out here dozens of times since then, and every time she had looked around hopefully, hoping he'd be waiting for her. But he never had been.

"So you haven't seen him at all? I'd assumed he would remain in contact on at least a somewhat regular basis in case anything happened."

"What happened?" she asked sharply.

Her father took her by the shoulders, the way he had since she was a little girl, the way she hated. "We need to find them," he said urgently. "It is imperative that I pass on what I've learned immediately. Is there any way you can think of to locate them? Any way at all?"




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



Proctor residence




David Proctor turned off the engine and climbed out of the car, the blessedly cooler October air a welcome relief from the summer heat which had lasted well into the early part of the month. Emily was waiting for him on the porch with an envelope in her hand and a strange expression on her face.

"Is that from Dee?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Good," David answered. "At least....I think it's good," he added, eyeing her closely as he reached the bottom porch step. "Isn't it?"

"Of course it is," she answered. "It's just.....no," she amended, tucking the letter back inside. "We'll talk about that later. We....you....have a visitor."

"A visitor? Who?"

"I think you should go inside," Emily advised.

Mystified, David opened the front door and walked into the house. Michael Harris was seated on the living room couch, and he rose as David entered.

"Mr. Proctor, forgive the intrusion. But I need your help."






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


I'll post Chapter 72 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 71, 4/19

Post by Kathy W » Sun Apr 26, 2009 2:56 pm

Hello to everyone reading!


Michelle, when I visited California, I recall not minding the heat because it was so dry compared to the lovely northeast, which, as you well know, can get humid enough to vie for the title "armpit of the nation". I also didn't mind Vegas' fierce heat for the same reason when we visited last summer, even though it was literally 110 in the shade. :mrgreen: So if you don't mind dry heat, you'll probably be just fine even in the depths of summer. It's good to hear you're happy in your new home, garden and everything!

Oh, and Courtney's father has met Mr. Proctor once, but not Emily, Malik is still around, and can you tell I've had my own pass at cleaning out a fridge? :lol: Sorry if I ruined your lunch. :wink:





CHAPTER SEVENTY-TWO



October 29, 1959, 5:45 p.m.

Proctor residence





"Mr. Harris," David said. "This is a surprise."

Michael's eyes dropped to the hat he was holding in his hand. "I apologize for not contacting you before coming, but time is of the essence. May we talk?"

"Sure," David answered. "Just let me hang up my coat."

A moment later he was in the kitchen with Emily on his heels. "He got here about half an hour ago," she reported in a whisper. "I told him I wasn't sure when you would be home, and he said he wanted to wait."

"I could have called him," David pointed out.

"He wouldn't leave," Emily said, irritation lacing her voice. "He wasn't exactly rude, but he wouldn't budge. Even if I'd insisted, I think he just would have parked himself on the front lawn and waited. I'm beginning to see what Courtney's talking about."

"So what does he want?" David asked. "Did he say?"

"Only that it was urgent," Emily answered. "Do you think something's happened to Courtney?"

"Did you ask him?"

"Of course I did, but he wouldn't answer me. He just kept saying it was urgent, and he would wait."

David shrugged. "Let's find out."

Michael was still standing when they returned to the living room, gazing at the bullet hole in the wall. He turned when he heard them coming, and for a moment the entire room was bathed in a reddish light. Emily blinked; she'd heard about the lights, but hadn't actually seen one yet.

"I mean no disrespect," Michael said, "but I would be more comfortable speaking only with you, Mr. Proctor, as we are both military commanders."

"There isn't anything you could say to me that I wouldn't tell my wife—"

"It's all right," Emily broke in. "Can I get you something, Mr. Harris? Some coffee, perhaps, or tea?"

"Privacy is all I require, Mrs. Proctor."

Emily's expression hardened. "Very well, then. It was so nice meeting you, Mr. Harris. Courtney told me so much about you, and I see she understated things."

Emily swept out of the room as Michael deflated slightly. "Did I offend her?" he asked.

"Of course you did," David answered. "You could have just said, 'No, thank you' to the coffee. I know you're familiar with human customs, so I can't imagine why you didn't use them."

"Of course," Michael said quietly. "My mistake. I apologize. I just....." He paused, as though considering whether or not to finish that sentence. "I am no expert in human munitions," he continued, apparently deciding not to, "but this damage to your dwelling looks like weapons fire."

"It is. That's from the night the hunters came for the Warders."

"There was more than one?"

"Two were sent here," David replied. "One got away, but I killed the other one."

"You mentioned that in our previous conversation," Michael noted, sounding skeptical. "So....you killed a hunter?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"I shot it," David answered. "Why?"

Michael was silent for a moment. "I had just assumed you were boasting, and a Warder had killed it. I mean no offense," he added quickly. "I work for a very boastful man, and hunters are very difficult to kill."

"None taken," David said. "I guess I'm a bit boastful myself, if only privately, because we never repaired the damage. It's something of a badge of honor." He took a seat. "Now.....what's this about, Mr. Harris?"

Michael perched stiffly on the edge of couch across from him. "I need to find the Warders, Mr. Proctor. It is a matter of utmost urgency. My daughter advised me to consult with you as to how best to contact them."

David smiled faintly. "So you're taking advice from Courtney? Does this mean the two of you have patched things up?"

"My relationship with my daughter is not germane to this matter," Michael replied in a markedly colder tone.

"Why would you think I would know how to find them?" David asked.

"You are a valued ally. I'm assuming you have some sort of regular contact with them."

"And you're a potential enemy, so I'm assuming they have you under close surveillance," David said. "I'm betting you'll be getting a visit from one very soon. Or I will," he added dryly.

"Perhaps," Michael allowed. "Perhaps not. They know my daughter and yours are friends; they may not think to inquire further. I cannot take that chance."

"Why? What's happened? You keep saying this is 'urgent'," David continued when Michael hesitated, "yet you were content to wait until I came home from work, and now you're balking. It can't be that urgent."

"Nicholas has expanded the parameters of his search," Michael said after a few more seconds of introspection. "They need to be informed."

"What, he's going to use those red lights more often? Not a good idea," David said, shaking his head. "People are getting more and more upset about that; there was an article in the paper today about the lights appearing in a grocery store in the middle of the night. They're scaring people."

"Nicholas is growing frustrated, and any place where food is available is a logical target because even Covari need to eat," Michael answered.

"But how is that 'urgent'?" David asked. "The Warders are already aware of the lights."

"I said Nicholas had expanded the parameters of his search," Michael repeated. "I did not say that was how he had done so."

"What, then? He has another way to identify them?"

Michael spun his hat in his hand. "He has begun an active search for something besides the Warders," he said evasively. "That is what is urgent, and what they need to know as soon as possible."

"So he's actively looking for the hybrids?"

The effect of this statement was interesting; Michael froze, his face becoming expressionless. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he said finally.

"Like hell you don't," David said calmly. "Dead royalty, killed by your master? Re-created in human form, hidden here on Earth until they've matured? Ring a bell?"

Michael sat back on the couch, absolutely stunned. "They told you this?"

"They didn't have much of a choice," David answered. "The military captured some of the hybrids, and the Warders rescued them. But they'd both been hit with tranquilizer darts on the way out; Brivari was captured, and Jaddo only managed to stash them somewhere and make it back here before passing out. We had to go get them."

Michael stared at him in disbelief. "Do I understand correctly, Mr. Proctor, that you have actually.....seen hybrids?"

"I've seen them, hauled them around, even hidden them in my house briefly," David replied. "The fetuses were small at the time, but those sacs were heavy, and the fact that they were glowing didn't make things any easier."

"You have seen them!" Michael breathed. "So some of them did survive the crash!"

"You didn't know that?"

"We had no way to be certain," Michael answered. "The Warders reported have successfully created hybrids, but they would have done that in any case if only to throw doubt on Khivar's regime. They are designed to protect their Wards' interests even if those Wards are dead. Mr. Proctor," Michael said earnestly, "do you know where the hybrids are hidden?"

"Sorry, they don't trust me that much," David lied.

"I don't believe that," Michael said firmly. "Royal Warders entrusted you with the guardianship of their Wards, even if only for a short time; that is virtually unheard of. Anyone so favored could also be entrusted with at least one of their hiding places."

"And anyone 'so favored' would know enough to keep his mouth shut," David said. "What makes you think I'd tell you even if I knew?"

"I don't need to know all their hiding places," Michael pressed. "Knowing even one of them might settle the question of whether Nicholas' latest effort poses a true threat. It is not safe to have them in the hands of only two, and a hunted two at that. I said as much to the Warder who visited me shortly after my arrival here, and asked for the resistance to be entrusted with some of the hybrids so all would not be lost if some were found or the Warders killed, but it didn't listen."

" 'It'?"

"I do not have time to debate the relative sentience of Covari," Michael said impatiently. "I need to know if Nicholas is on the right track, because if he is, we have a very big problem."

"Tell you what," David said slowly. "Why don't you tell me what 'track' Nicholas is on, and I'll tell you if it sounds the least bit familiar to me."

Michael regarded him levelly for several long moments before answering. "I'm afraid I can't do that. Do you or do you not know of a way to contact the Warders?"

"Directly? No," David answered. "If I happen to see one, I'll tell 'him' you stopped by."

Michael considered that in silence before rising awkwardly to his feet. "Thank you," he said. "I would appreciate that." David trailed him to the door, where he paused, gazing up the stairs. "Is this where my daughter stayed while she was in hiding?"

"Yes. Upstairs in Dee's old bedroom."

"I see." Michael hesitated a moment more before opening the door. "At our first meeting, I did not thank you properly for looking after her, or for returning her when she asked. She was fortunate to have you to turn to. Your dwelling seems to have become something of a way station for people from my world."

"I didn't realize you considered Covari to be 'people'," David said.

"I don't, and they're not. But I can see why you would think otherwise." Michael settled his hat on his head. "Goodbye, Mr. Proctor. Thank you for your time."

The door closed behind him, and David watched through the window as he walked away. "Charming," Emily muttered, coming up behind him. "A Warder isn't a person, I'm not a person, his daughter doesn't seem to be a person....does that guy think anyone's a person?"

"It's not that bad," David said. "He's just your classic military man with no use for women. And he did apologize."

"To you," Emily said pointedly. "Do you think he's telling the truth about getting closer to finding the babies?"

"He was scared about something," David said thoughtfully. "But even if they do find that rock room, I don't think they can get in there."

"He thinks they're hidden in multiple places," Emily murmured.

"Maybe they should be," David said. "The way it is now, if anyone finds them, they'll find all of them. I hate to tell Brivari how to do his business, but it may make sense to split them up."

"Are you going to tell him that?"

"Why not?" David said. "Or whoever shows up. I'm sure someone's watching Michael, so one of them will be curious as to why he came here."

"Someone else is going to be curious too," Emily said, pulling a letter from her apron pocket. "This came in the mail today. Things changed at the last minute, and it turns out they can make it home this weekend after all."

"This weekend?" David repeated faintly, opening the letter to find his daughter's handwriting. "She said she couldn't make it home until Thanksgiving."

"She thought they'd be tied up until then," Emily answered, "but they're not. They'll be here tomorrow. All of them."

"When she'll be bound to notice a few things," David sighed.

"Yes," Emily said heavily. "Just a few."




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



Pesos Diner

Route 285 South





"Where have you been?" Atherton exclaimed as Brivari slid onto the bench across from him. "It seems that every time we meet, you arrive later and later! I ordered for you."

"I see that," Brivari answered, "and it is you who are early."

Atherton glanced at his watch. "Oh. Sorry. I would have sworn it was later than that."

Brivari smiled faintly. Atherton's eagerness to play detective could get the better of him at times, causing him to behave much like a human child on the ever popular "Christmas". "Does this mean you have something new to report, or is this merely garden variety impatience?"

Atherton sat back in the booth, the wide smile on his face serving as answer even before he opened his mouth. "So tell me, my friend," he whispered. "How are things with 'Antar'?"

"That would be 'on' Antar," Brivari corrected.

Atherton's eyes widened. "So what is it? A base? A continent? Maybe a space station, or—"

"A planet. And things are not well, as I have already outlined. Where did you hear that?"

"From Nicholas himself," Atherton said proudly.

"James," Brivari sighed, "have I or have I not made it clear what would happen if they caught you eavesdropping?"

"Of course you have, and I wasn't," Atherton objected.

"So you expect me to believe Nicholas voluntarily gave you the name of my planet?"

"Well.....no," Atherton admitted. "I...." He paused. "All right, I was eavesdropping, but not the way you think," he rushed on when Brivari rolled his eyes. "I was listening in my own apartment. Sound travels through those old heating systems, you know, and I found that if I listened very hard, and whoever was talking was close enough to the vent, I could hear....something, at least," he finished lamely.

Something, indeed, Brivari thought. It was inevitable that Atherton would learn more than he had initially been told, and although Brivari intended to keep that "more" to an absolute minimum, it was a risk he was willing to take. Atherton's sharp eyes and detailed descriptions had allowed them to identify every single Argilian operative in only a matter of days without having to run the risk of being near a trithium generator. Even Jaddo had grudgingly allowed that Atherton's presence was a benefit, a huge admission on his part. Still, the more Atherton learned, the greater the danger to both himself and their Wards, so as of now, all he had was a basic explanation for their presence here with nothing about shapeshifting or hybrids, much the same tale told to River Dog. Even Quanah had never learned Brivari's true origins, although he had probably suspected. One couldn't tell what one didn't know.

"I wasn't certain what 'Antar' was, but that came through loud and clear," Atherton was saying, his eyes glowing with delight. "And there was more. Nicholas was very upset about something, yelling and demanding 'names'."

"Then let us hope he receives them, because whoever is named will likely be executed," Brivari said calmly.

"Oh," Atherton said faintly. "My goodness."

"Anything else?" Brivari asked.

"Well.....he's looking for something."

"We know that," Brivari reminded him.

"No, no, something besides you," Atherton said. "Something he seems to think you brought with you on your ship; he was talking about there not having been enough time to 'finish your work', or something like that. And he was asking for 'data', and someone said they would 'contact Antar', and that's when I started wondering what exactly that meant....."

Atherton babbled on as a prickle of unease stirred in Brivari. Nicholas was no doubt looking for the hybrids. He couldn't easily enter the pod chamber even in the unlikely event that he found it, and how would he find it? Any information regarding their research here had been dutifully destroyed before Khivar could reach it, a fact Marana had bitterly attested to.

"....and then he said.....and I heard this quite clearly because he was very near the vent.....he said, 'Don't fret, gentlemen. If we get anywhere near their precious wards, I'm quite certain the warders will show up lickety split. And when they do, we'll be waiting for them.' Just like that. What did he mean, Langley? Is 'warder' your true name? But that can't be it because he referenced 'warders' plural, like it was a title or something, and....."

Let him wait, Brivari thought. Given the size of the area, Nicholas could spend years blundering about, hoping he got close enough to spook them into showing themselves. Which they must be very careful not to do unless there was a real and credible threat, something other than a frustrated second to a pretend king.

"Relax, James," Brivari said, cutting Atherton off mid-sentence. "You already know I guarded a king; the closest verbal approximation for my position is indeed 'warder', a term I understand carries the negative connotation of guarding the incarcerated."

"But why 'warder'?" Atherton asked. "Why not 'guardian', or 'bodyguard', or—"

"Does it matter? From your perspective, they're all the same. I guarded a king; I was the Warder and he was my Ward."

"But I thought the king was dead," Atherton said. "Nicholas sounded like he was looking for him, actively looking for him. Why would he be looking for him if he's dead?"

Brivari was quiet for a moment, weighing his options; there were several ways to explain this depending on how much detail he wished to provide. "The king is dead," he said to Atherton, who leaned forward eagerly to listen. "But he was much loved, and on my world there is a tale circulating that he survived the attack and managed to escape, to find sanctuary on another world where no one would think to look for him. Naturally this is to our advantage; such tales promote unrest with the current regime and will make the task of regaining the throne for the true heir all the easier."

Atherton's jaw dropped. "So....Nicholas believes this? He believes the king escaped, and is trying to find him?"

"Under the circumstances, he would at least have to entertain the possibility," Brivari answered. "We took the bodies of the royal family with us when we fled and disposed of them elsewhere in order to promote just exactly this type of story. Without the bodies, they can never be sure."

"So they didn't just come here for you and the rest of your people," Atherton said slowly. "They came to find out if the king survived. But....why are you waiting so long to install this 'true heir'? Why not do it now? Why....." He stopped, his eyes widening so severely they threatened to flatten his nose. "Langley!" he whispered, leaning forward intently. "Are you....are you the king?"

Brivari broke into a rare smile. "No, James, I am not the king. Sorry to disappoint," he added dryly when Atherton's face fell. "And the heir cannot be installed until he comes of age. All of us are in hiding until that happens."

"But where is the heir in hiding? Here?"

"At home," Brivari answered, "safely hidden while the myth of the king's escape occupies the usurper's time and energy."

"Ah," Atherton nodded knowingly. "So that's why you're willing to play this game. It's keeping forces occupied on two planets and diverting attention at a crucial time. Very sharp, Langley, very sharp."

"Eat your lunch," Brivari advised. "It's getting cold."

"Right," Atherton said absentmindedly, reaching for his soup spoon, taking a sip, and grimacing. "Stone cold," he reported, pushing it toward Brivari. "Would you mind?"

Brivari resisted the urge to sigh as he took hold of the bowl of soup; seconds later, it was steaming again. For some odd reason, Atherton never tired of watching him reheat food, most likely because that was one of the few abilities he'd seen demonstrated. "I'll keep listening," Atherton said, slurping noisily. "Please don't lecture me about eavesdropping; I'm in my room, so I can't get caught."

"One would hope," Brivari said.

"I just want to feel useful," Atherton said earnestly. "I felt so useful in the beginning, but now I feel like I'm not contributing. Maybe if I go back to Santa Fe—"

"You did," Brivari reminded him, "and were unable to locate your unhappy FBI agent."

"I know," Atherton sighed. "No one had seen him at the bar for some time."

"And perhaps that is good news," Brivari said. "Perhaps the suggestion you planted about bringing a regime down from within has borne fruit. Excellent advice, that, and an approach that certainly works. I should know."

Atherton's expression softened. "That's exactly what made me think of it. I want to do the best I can for you, Langley, which is why I'm going to keep plugging along. I can't hear much unless someone's close to the vent or yelling, but I got lucky this time, and I might get lucky again."

"Perhaps," Brivari agreed, knowing full well that there was no argument on Earth or Antar that would keep Atherton away from that vent now that he had actually learned something via that method. "As long as you understand the inevitable ebb and flow of conducting surveillance. We're now in the lull in which everyone undercover finds themselves more often than not, where one is merely watching and nothing is happening. If that proves too frustrating for you, you are free to withdraw at any time. You've already provided us with invaluable information; I couldn't ask for more."

"But more is what you shall have!" Atherton declared. "I realize you're the surveillance expert, but I can learn, can't I? Besides, this kind of experience will serve me well in the future. If this 'heir' isn't old enough to take the throne yet, you could be here for awhile and have need of my services."

"Very true," Brivari agreed. "And in light of that very real possibility, I would like you to have something, a token of my esteem." He reached across the table. "This belonged to the king's sister....and now it is yours."

Atherton almost stopped breathing as he extended a trembling hand toward the necklace Brivari had set in front of him. It was Vilandra's, the one Rath had given her, its black and silvery surface gleaming in the diner's incandescent light. "Oh...oh, my," Atherton breathed, his hand stopping short as though afraid it might come to life. "What....what is that symbol? What does it mean?"

"It is an ages old representation of my planet," Brivari answered, "from a time when we thought our world was the center of the universe."

"We suffered from a similar misconception a few hundred years ago," Atherton nodded.

"Most species do," Brivari agreed. "The triangle in the center represents Antar, the swirls around it the rest of the universe. It was given to the princess by a suitor, but as she has no further need of it, I am giving it to you."

"Is it....does it....." Atherton's voice trailed off as he stared at the pendant, still reluctant to touch it.

"It's an ornament, James," Brivari said gently. "What you would call 'jewelry'; nothing more. You can't wear it, of course; we certainly can't let Nicholas see it, and appearances aside, it's not made from any materials found on this world. But I wanted you to have something from mine because you have done so much for us, and will only do more in the future."

Atherton looked from the pendant to Langley, and back again. "Thank you, my friend," he whispered in a husky voice. "To think this rested around the neck of an alien princess! It's mind boggling! I've waited so long for this....so long...."

"I know," Brivari said. "And here you are."

Atherton responded with one of his trademark wide smiles. "Indeed," he replied with enormous satisfaction, cradling his gift lovingly. "Here I am. Thank you, Langley. I will treasure this as long as I live."

"You're very welcome," Brivari answered. And with any luck, it will distract you from risky behaviors, he added privately, hoping this little bit of Antar would calm his friend's frustration and make him feel like he was getting somewhere. He needed Atherton right where he was, and he needed him to keep a clear head. If raiding Vilandra's jewelry box would accomplish that objective, then so be it. He doubted she'd mind. In the brief time he'd owned it, Atherton had already displayed far more interest in her gift from Rath than she ever had.




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




Roswell Sheriff's Station




"Sheriff, you can't pin this on us," Mr. Ferguson said angrily. "We've run every test we can think of and haven't even been able to reproduce these weird red lights, never mind explain why they pop up randomly the way they do."

"I'm not 'pinning' anything on anyone, Dwight," Valenti said soothingly. "I'm just trying to figure out what we know and what we don't know."

"Nothing and everything, in that order," Ferguson said sourly. "We haven't the faintest idea where these damned things are coming from, so we can't be expected to fix it."

"I don't expect you to fix it," Valenti said patiently. "I—"

"Then you're the odd man out, because everyone else does," Ferguson said bitterly. "I've had phones ringing off the hook for the past month demanding we 'fix' what we didn't cause in the first place."

"—understand your frustration, just like I understand the public's frustration and why it would be perfectly natural for them to look to the power company first. Everyone's frustrated, and everyone's looking for answers, so it would be helpful if everyone could just calm down—"

"Tell them that," Ferguson muttered, throwing a dark glance at the window.

"—and I'm going to start by asking you to calm down," Valenti finished. "I'll be talking to the newspaper tomorrow, and I'd like you to join me so we can present a united front. That is, if you're up to it. I won't tolerate any public tantrums."

Valenti waited while Ferguson chewed on that. Dwight Ferguson was the manager of the local power company, which was currently under siege because of the odd reddish lights which had been showing up all over town for the past several weeks. The citizens of Roswell had fingered the power company as the one at fault, but a month's worth of investigation had produced nothing specific. Valenti had been collecting data on the sightings and waiting for the power company to complete its own investigation, all the while expecting the lights to simply stop like they had the last time they'd shown up in late summer. Truth be told, he'd also been so preoccupied with chasing Pierce's hidden whatsis that he hadn't actively pursued what he thought he'd seen back when the lights had first started, an observation which had recently come to the fore when someone else had noticed the same thing.

"So what did you want to tell them?" Ferguson asked. "Other than 'we don't know anything', which isn't going to go over well."

"For starters, I was going to establish a hotline right here in the station for reporting the lights," Valenti answered. "I've been looking over the reports we've received and analyzing them for trends, but a lot of the reports are still going to you. I'd like all of them to come here."

"You can have'em," Ferguson said, "with my pleasure. So what'd you find out?"

"Most sightings occur during the day, and 99% have been in public places, mostly businesses, and only in the public areas of public places—no back rooms, offices, kitchens, and so on. And they've all been indoors; no outdoor lights seem to have been affected."

"Same thing we noticed," Ferguson, "but none of that's helped."

"And now a grocery reported lights in the middle of the night when only a few fixtures were on," Valenti continued. "There was only one witness at that hour, but if he's right, these red lights may not have anything to do our light fixtures."

"Well, what then?" Ferguson demanded. "Where else could they be coming from?"

Valenti hesitated. "Just talk to the press with me tomorrow, Dwight. Tell them what you've found out, I'll tell everyone to call here, make sure your operators know to vector callers over here, and then I'll have more to go on. It could be worse, you know," he added when Ferguson sighed. "Whatever these are, they're not hurting anyone or damaging anything. That's something."

"I suppose," Ferguson said, rising from his chair. "Well....if that's the best we can do......"

"We'll figure this out," Valenti said. "I promise."

Ten minutes later Valenti was pulling into a parking space outside Parker's. He needed someone to take into his confidence, and that someone was definitely not a pissed off power company suit. No, the one he was looking for was wearing a greasy apron and flipping hamburgers on a grill that looked to be twice the temperature of the sun.

"Hey, Pete," Valenti said, letting himself into the kitchen. "Can I talk to you for a sec? In private?"

"Sure, Jim," Pete said, handing his spatula to Nancy, his chief waitress and apparent stand-in. "What's up?"

"I need a favor," Valenti said in a low voice after he'd pulled Pete into the back hallway, out of earshot of the staff. "It's about these weird lights."

"Yeah, they showed again today," Pete said, shaking his head as he wiped his hands on his apron. "They come at least once a day, sometimes more. Any idea why?"

"Working on it," Valenti said. "The next time you see them....I need you to turn out your lights."

"Turn out the lights?" Pete repeated, puzzled. "Why?"

"I have a hunch," Valenti said. "I want to see what happens to the red lights if the regular lights are off. I know you can't turn out the lights after dark, but if it's during the day and you can hit all the light switches, I need you to do that and see if the red lights stay on."

"I can turn off most lights from over there," Pete said, gesturing toward a row of switches not far from the grill. "But why? What do you think is going on?"

"I'm not sure," Valenti admitted. "But I'd appreciate you doing the experiment, and further appreciate you keeping it quiet. Don't say anything to anyone, including your staff. Just turn off your own lights and note what happens."

Pete's eyes widened. "You think someone's doing this? Like, deliberately?"

"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," Valenti cautioned. "One thing at a time."

"All right," Pete said, still puzzled. "I'll let you know what happens."

"Thanks, Pete. I appreciate it."

Valenti nodded to the curious waitresses on his way out and headed for home, lost in thought. The first time the lights had appeared, they had done so in what appeared to be a circle, as though someone were following a circular path around the town. There had been no such obvious pattern this time, but the fact that it was always public spaces led him to believe that a prankster was at work, possibly several pranksters. Such types thrived on publicity, so the less they received, the better. He had no idea how anyone would have pulled off a stunt like this, but he meant to find out. Riling up his town put him in a very bad mood.

But he was in an unusually good mood when he pulled into his driveway, Johnny on the spot for dinner. He'd made a point of making it home on time for supper more often than usual, which made Andi less hostile and tended to offset his absences when he went Pierce hunting. Andi would be glad to see him, and with his new lead on Pierce and a more aggressive approach to solving the latest town puzzle, he was in a very good mood indeed.

Which made it all the more startling when he spied his wife standing in the doorway looking mad as a hornet. Valenti slowed as he approached the front door, taking in the stiff posture, crossed arms, and mouth set in a thin line, danger signals all when appearing singly, indicative of a tornado on the horizon when appearing in concert. What had he done wrong now?

"I need to ask you something," Andi announced, coming out onto the front porch and closing the door behind her, apparently not wanting Jimmy to overhear whatever she was about to ask.

"Okay," Valenti said warily. "Is something wrong?"

"I got groceries today," Andi said stiffly. "I took the car."

"And?" Valenti prompted, mystified.

"And I've been keeping track of the mileage," Andi said. "Jim, where are you going that you're putting so many miles on our car? Are you...." She stopped, her voice close to breaking. "Are you having an affair?"




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



I'll post Chapter 73 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 72, 4/26

Post by Kathy W » Sun May 03, 2009 1:51 pm

Hello to everyone reading!


Michelle, "bright as a brick". :lol: That's a good one! And that's a creepy story about the smog and the movie. Did you expect a replicant to be there when you turned around? :shock:




CHAPTER SEVENTY-THREE



October 29, 1959, 7 p.m.

Proctor residence




"I'm going over to talk to Mac," David said to Emily after dinner had been cleaned up. "Back in a bit."

"Tell him to say 'hi' to Rose for me," Emily called. "She's off visiting the grandchildren until early next week."

Then I should arrive bearing gifts, David thought, retrieving what was left of tonight's fried chicken from the refrigerator. Mac hated cooking, and even though Rose usually left the freezer well stocked, it might be nice to have something fresh. He'd made it to the back porch when he pulled up short.

"What took you so long?"

"Come again?" Brivari asked.

"I figured you'd follow him a lot faster than this," David answered, sinking into a chair opposite Brivari. "Like you followed me the last time."

Brivari's eyebrows rose. "Interesting....but I'm not following."

"Michael Harris," David prompted. "That's why you're here, isn't it?"

"Should I be?" Brivari asked warily.

"I would think so, given that he was here only a couple of hours ago......and you didn't know that," David finished when the look on Brivari's face made that clear. "I'm sorry. I just assumed you'd been following him."

"There are over eighty Argilians in town," Brivari replied. "We can't track all of them at once. Michael Harris came here? What for?"

"He was looking for you. He thought I could find you."

"For what purpose?" Brivari asked suspiciously.

"He claims Nicholas is actively searching for the hybrids, and he's afraid he might be getting close."

Brivari's eyebrows rose. "He actually told you there were hybrids?"

"Well.....no," David admitted. "He only said that Nicholas was 'actively looking' for something besides you; I'm the one who filled in the blank. He was very surprised I knew about them."

"What exactly did he say?"

David hesitated, wondering if answering that question truthfully would result in Michael's death. "He asked me if I knew where they were hidden, said he wanted to know if Nicholas was on the 'right track'. He felt that knowledge of their hiding places should be entrusted to more than just you and Jaddo. He clearly thought they were hidden in multiple locations."

"Because he expects we have many more of them than we do," Brivari said. "Which we did, of course, prior to the crash. "What else?"

"That was pretty much it. I told him I didn't know where they were, and that I'd let you know he was looking for you if I saw you."

"Did he say where Nicholas was looking?"

"I asked, but he wouldn't tell me," David answered.

"Curious," Brivari murmured. "I would have expected him to offer something, if only to gauge your reaction."

"So are you the Warder he claims he talked to about entrusting some of the hybrids to the resistance?"

"No," Brivari sighed. "That was Jaddo. Michael was not so foolish as to make such a suggestion to me, and it is just as well for him he was not. There is no conceivable way I would transfer custodianship of our Wards to his 'resistance'."

"But he does have a point," David said. "If something happens to both of you, no one will know where to find them. And if Nicholas really is getting close, he stands to find all of them if they're still all in the same spot. You may not want to share what amounts to physical custody, but it might be smart to split them up."

"Perhaps.....but we can't afford to take the risk of moving them," Brivari replied. "Not now, at least, not when Nicholas is so close. I do not believe he can find them. Any records of our activities on this planet were destroyed."

"That doesn't mean the information isn't out there," David warned. "Moving them may be risky, but not moving them may be riskier."

"Which may be exactly what Nicholas wants us to think," Brivari countered. "I have reason to believe he is on a blind hunt for the hybrids, hoping to get close enough that we will think he has genuine intelligence as to their whereabouts and be induced to move them."

"So....you think Michael's visit was a set up?"

"You heard him; I did not," Brivari answered. "What is your assessment?"

David considered for a moment. "He was scared," he said finally, "genuinely scared that Nicholas would find them. And he simply isn't ingratiating enough to be a your run-of-the-mill spy; he insulted Emily, and he was prickly with me. Most spies are careful not to offend those they want information from. Still, even if he really doesn't want the hybrids found, that doesn't mean he's on your side."

"Which has been my point exactly from the very beginning," Brivari nodded. "The Royal Four's hybrids are now the most precious commodity on Antar; his resistance may want to 'save' them for a very different reason than what he claims. Which is why I will never trust Michael Harris no matter what he says or does."

"Trust him or not, you'd better talk to him," David said. "The stakes are awfully high if he's right."

"Indeed," Brivari murmured. "Perhaps I should."

"Wait," David said. "If you didn't know Michael had been here, then why did you come?"

Brivari fixed him with a level stare. "As I said, I have reason to believe that Nicholas is hunting the hybrids, albeit haphazardly. I came because you are mistaken; Jaddo and I are not the only ones who know where they are hidden. I hope for your sake that your assessment of Michael Harris is correct because, regardless of what you told him, he is capable of betraying you as well as me. And if Nicholas should learn or even suspect that you know the whereabouts of what he wants......" He paused. "Good evening, David Proctor. A pleasure, as always."

David sat stock still as he left, that unfinished sentence hanging in the air like a bullet suspended in midair. It was even worse than that; not only did he know where the hybrids were hidden, but so did Emily and Dee.

And Dee was coming home this weekend, with her husband and her baby.



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



October 30, 1959, 6:30 a.m.

Valenti residence






Valenti stiffened but didn't look up when he heard footsteps coming down the stairs, padding into the kitchen. They paused directly behind him for several seconds before continuing on to the cupboard that housed the coffee cups.

"You're up early," Andi said.

"Yeah, well, the couch wasn't too comfortable."

"I didn't make you sleep on the couch, Jim. That was your own conscience."

"Bullshit," Valenti said flatly. "I didn't feel like sharing a bed with someone who makes accusations before asking a few simple questions."

"I figured I'd save us both a lot of time. Look where the answers to those 'simple questions' led me—nowhere, that's where."

"Well, excuse me that I'm not able to share every detail of cases I'm working on," Valenti retorted. "As if you didn't know that already. As if that were news."

"Of course it's not news, but what you did tell me didn't make sense," Andi protested. "De Baca County? Why would you be working on a case in De Baca County? Doesn't De Baca have it's own sheriff? Why does it need Roswell's?"

"Didn't you hear a single thing I said last night? I told you it was pertinent to Roswell, that no one could know—"

"Oh, right," Andi interrupted sarcastically. "That no one from De Baca could know that you're there because that would compromise the investigation."

"Why are you using that tone?" Valenti demanded. "That's a perfectly legitimate explanation!"

"You mean a perfectly legitimate excuse," Andi said sourly. "How better to write off a four hour round trip multiple times a week? 'No one can know. It would compromise the investigation.' In other words, shut up and don't ask questions. Well, I'm asking, Jim! I want to know what my husband's doing out of town for so long without telling me!"

Valenti pushed the map he'd been scribbling on away in frustration, nearly knocking over his coffee in the process. Their argument last night had been long and loud, with Jimmy retreating to his room in self defense before both had stopped from sheer exhaustion and likewise retreated, Andi to their bedroom and him to the living room couch. He had no intention of telling her or anyone else that he was freelancing for a pissed off FBI agent with a megalomaniacal boss, but he'd told her what he safely could, which should have been enough. That it hadn't been had kept him awake long into the night feeling agitated and betrayed. Investigations took time, and patience, and a good deal of slogging. It was just exactly that kind of investigating which had helped him ferret out Agent Owens, although he hadn't had to go so far afield for that one. Daniel Pierce had inconveniently chosen to live far enough away that pursuing him had become a pain in the ass.

"Did you really think I wouldn't notice that the mileage on the car had skyrocketed?" Andi asked. "Just exactly how stupid do you think I am?"

"What I would have thought is that you would have asked me why the mileage was so high, not immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was being unfaithful," Valenti complained. "And while we're on the subject, just exactly how stupid do you think I am if you think I'm using the family car to have an affair? If that were what I had in mind, I'd use a patrol car so you couldn't track it."

"I wasn't aware you'd considered how you'd do it," Andi replied frostily.

"Stop it, Andi! " Valenti snapped. "Just stop it! You're a sheriff's wife, and you're making a mountain out of a mole hill."

"But how do I know what you're doing when you're gone so far away so often?" Andi argued. "You said no one at the station knows about this 'investigation', so there's no one to ask, no one to back you up—"

"Why do I need anyone to 'back me up'?' What have I done to deserve this? And I'd like to point out that I could just as easily use your twisted logic to accuse you of having an affair. I have no way of knowing what goes on here while I'm away; does that automatically mean you're unfaithful?"

"I'm not the one driving hours away multiple times a week!" Andi exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Haven't we already been over this?" Valenti said impatiently. "I didn't want anyone else to know I was investigating there, and I still don't. I didn't tell anyone when I went hunting that FBI mole either. Try to wrap your mind around this, but it's not a good idea to advertise that sort of thing."

"Oh, don't you dare talk down to me, James Valenti!" Andi exploded. "If you—"

The phone rang, cutting her off in mid-sentence. "Who the hell is calling us at this hour?" Andi spat.

Who cares? Valenti thought, going out into the hall to answer it. At this point he'd welcome a call from Agent Lewis. His wife usually frowned on the use of profanity, so her using it herself meant she was very angry indeed. "Hello?" he said almost gratefully into the phone.

"Jim!" came a breathless voice. "It's happening again!"

"Pete? Is that you?"

"Yes, yes.....I'm at the diner," Pete said urgently, "and the lights just started flickering, and....."

"And what?"

"And I did what you said," Pete whispered, sounding spooked. "I turned off the diner's lights....but they kept flickering. How can a light keep flickering if there's no electricity getting to it?"

"It can't," Valenti said grimly. "All right, listen to me very closely. I want you to lock the doors. Don't let anyone in or out. I'm on my way."

"You....you want me to take my customers hostage?"

"Pete, someone is doing this," Valenti said. "I'm not convinced it's the light fixtures; if it were, then turning them off should stop it. The fact that it doesn't means that something else is doing it, and I'm betting it's some kid getting their jollies by setting the whole town on its ear."

"But I can't refuse to let people leave!" Pete protested. "What if they're late for work? What if—"

"You can with an order from the sheriff's department," Valenti insisted. "It'll take me fifteen minutes to get there. Just hold the fort and keep everyone there for fifteen minutes."

"But Jim—"

"Did you know your diner is hit three times as often as any other place?" Valenti interrupted. "I've been going over the sightings so far, and they're all over the map, but the focal point is your place. Whoever's doing this may be targeting you. Ever think of that?"

Anguished silence floated over the phone. Valenti didn't really think that was the case—the lights had been seen in far too many other places for that to make sense—but he'd say anything right now to get Pete to lock the place down so he could shake the patrons down for information when he got there. Maybe it wouldn't be so much of a lark if whoever was doing this found themselves subjected to the scrutiny of the law.

"All right," Pete said reluctantly. "But hurry. The lights are bad for business, but at least they're all over the place. This is worse."

"Fifteen minutes—clock me," Valenti said, slamming the phone down and vaulting up the stairs to get dressed, Andi's footsteps pattering behind him.

"What was that all about?" she called as he rushed into the bedroom and started pulling off his pajamas. "Was that Pete from Parker's? Why did you tell him to lock the diner?"

"Because those weird red lights started flickering again, and I don't think they're coming from the light fixtures," Valenti answered.

"Let me guess," Andi said dryly. "You think aliens are doing it."

"Very funny, but not this time. No, this is likely some prankster getting off on scaring everyone, and I mean to put a stop to it. It's been going on far too long."

"Is that why you were looking at the map?" Andi asked, sounding a shade less angry. "Is.....is that why you're going to De Baca? Does it have something to do with those lights? Well, why didn't you say so?" she went on, taking his hesitation in answering as answer. "You could have just—"

"No, I couldn't have 'just' because no one was supposed to know," Valenti reminded her. "If whoever's doing this thinks I'm getting close, they'll scoot. It has to be kept quiet, Andi. It's the only way."

He caught her expression as he flew past her, a dawning horror that she'd been wrong, had had a right royal fit for no good reason, even if the conclusion she'd reached wasn't accurate. And what of it? He could just as easily have been pursuing the lights or any number of other things that he wouldn't have been at liberty to discuss. Whatever he was doing, he was not having an affair; she was wrong about that. But I lied to her, Valenti thought as he slid into his patrol car. Perhaps not directly, but indirectly, by letting her go on thinking what he knew wasn't true.

Which should be bothering him....but it wasn't.




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



Ruth Bruce's rooming house




It was early morning when Michael Harris arrived back at his rooming house after having been out all night. He glanced briefly at his daughter's room, then at his watch before opening his own door. Courtney would be at work by now, and perhaps that was best. She had not been pleased with him yesterday when he had refused to tell her why he needed to contact the Warders quickly, but he couldn't afford to. With so many of their people in town, it was vital that information from closed sessions with Nicholas not be allowed to leak lest he go looking for that leak. And for all of Courtney's successes, the fact still remained that she tended to throw caution to the winds far too often for his liking and ignore long established rules which had been put in place for very good reasons. In his mind, the need to be creative in an unprecedented situation did not excuse that. A military without discipline was little more than an armed mob.

And yet David Proctor agreed with her, Michael thought, sinking wearily into a chair, too tired to even make anything to eat even though he was starving. After two encounters he still didn't know what to make of Proctor, an ordinary human by all appearances and an ordinary officer by his own admission.....and yet that ordinary man had the ear of the King's Warder. That a being of Brivari's experience and skill would seek the counsel of one so apparently insignificant prevented Michael from simply dismissing Proctor as mere annoyance, as did the revelation that the Warders had entrusted their Wards to him, even if only for a short while. Now if only he could shake the feeling that he was competing with Proctor for his own daughter's admiration, he might find him similarly useful. Or if he'd told me what he knew, Michael added, his eyes closing as sleep neared. He was convinced Proctor knew at least the original location of the hybrids and had refused to share it. Here he was, exhausted from his efforts to keep Nicholas off the trail, and he was receiving precisely no help from any quarter....

"You are late arriving home, Michael Harris."

Michael's eyes flew open. Seated across from him was a man he'd never seen before, legs crossed, hands clasped, regarding him calmly. Fumbling in his pocket, Michael switched on his generator. The red glow surrounding his guest didn't surprise him in the least.

"Brivari," Michael breathed. "Where the hell have you been?"

"An interesting way to greet the King's Warder, if somewhat unorthodox," Brivari observed.

"What took you so long?" Michael demanded. "I've been trying to find you since yesterday afternoon! I need a way to contact you in an emergency, some sort of signal—"

"If you felt this was an 'emergency', then why didn't you tell David Proctor where your master was looking for the hybrids? I would have found out much more quickly if he'd had that information."

"Because I couldn't take the risk," Michael argued. "One of the places Nicholas is looking is the area immediately surrounding your crash site—"

"You mean he hasn't investigated that already? But then Nicholas always was slow."

"—but the other involves places he thinks Zan's science teams may have constructed when they came to this planet to study the human genome," Michael finished, ignoring the interruption. "I couldn't very well bring that up. He would have wanted to know why Antarians came here earlier, and when he learned the answer to that question, you would likely have gained an enemy, or at least lost an ally."

Brivari raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. "Well?" Michael pressed. "Is Nicholas heading in the right direction? Should we be alarmed?"

"I am having difficulty recognizing why this constitutes news, never mind an 'emergency'," Brivari answered, completely unphased. "Nicholas has always been looking for the hybrids; they are, after all, what he was sent here to retrieve. His pursuit of myself and my fellow Warders was merely a means to reach them; failing that, he would attempt to reach them via other means. We know this; you know this. Why should this suddenly be considered alarming?"

"Aren't you the least bit worried that he'll find them?" Michael asked.

"No," Brivari replied. "There is no chance that Nicholas will locate the hybrids were he to hunt until Earth's sun burns low."

"But what if he does?" Michael persisted. "He's already noted that your ship was discovered mere days after the crash, meaning you would have had to hide them quickly, and likely close by. If—"

"Twelve years have passed since we crashed, so that is a moot point," Brivari interjected. "If Nicholas wishes to send his operatives into restricted territory where they will most certainly be apprehended, he is more than welcome to do so."

"Then what about the testing chambers? Is he right? Do they exist?"

"Another moot point," Brivari answered. "Records of our expeditions here were destroyed before Khivar could retrieve them."

"You hope," Michael countered. "But how can you be sure that all of them were destroyed? And what about the people involved? They were there. They knew. There is no way to be certain there is no trail."

"I am certain there is no trail because I am certain that is one of the first possibilities Khivar would have investigated," Brivari replied. "Unlike his second, he is not completely incompetent."

Michael rose from his chair and walked to the window. "I'm not so sure about that," he said heavily. "The five planets are still locked in combat. Every time things begin to settle, accusations begin to fly again, and fighting breaks out anew. Khivar fanned the flames of discord years ago in an effort to distract everyone from their unhappiness over his actions and the Royal family's missing bodies, but I would have thought things would have quieted by now, at least somewhat. Instead, they grow worse."

"Because he has lost control," Brivari said. "Because conflict has the nasty habit of taking on a life of its own, of growing larger than one ever intended, leaving one powerless to stop it. A common error, and not one of incompetence, but of inexperience, and, in this case, desperation. Khivar's own troops turned against him, murdering the Royal Four against his orders. A huge misfortune, but surmountable if responded to properly. And he didn't. Respond properly, that is."

"What possible way could he have responded that would have prevented the current outcome?" Michael asked.

"By sharing the people's grief," Brivari answered. "Yes, he seized power, and we both know Zan would not have lived long even if Nicholas had not taken matters into his own hands....but the people don't know that. If Khivar had expressed outrage at his second's behavior, had him executed for treason and mourned along with the populace as though the king's death was not his intention, it is quite possible they would have tolerated him much more willingly. But that would have required subterfuge and subtlety. He is somewhat skilled at the former, as evidenced by his affair with Vilandra, but has always been lacking in the latter."

Michael said nothing, keeping his face carefully blank. Khivar likely could have subdued Antar if he'd followed the path Brivari had just laid out. Granted, he still would have lacked the bodies and the royal mark, but that would have been of less importance if the people's anger had been directed at Nicholas and shared by Khivar. No wonder Riall had been such a successful ruler with advice like that whispered in his ear.

"You're wrong about Vilandra," Michael said, having no intention of actually praising a Covari to its face. "Khivar did love her. One of Nicholas' primary tasks is to retrieve his master's lover. If he doesn't try to take her himself," he added. "I believe Nicholas was in love with her too."

"Everyone was 'in love' with Vilandra," Brivari said dryly. "She had the effect of rendering men senseless, including her own brother, it would seem. 'Senseless' is not the same thing as 'in love'."

As if the likes of you would have any idea what that meant, Michael thought, catching himself just before saying it out loud. They were getting off topic; he would have no better luck discussing emotion with a Covari than he would discussing it with an insect. "However certain you are that Nicholas cannot locate the hybrids, the resistance does not share that certainty," he said. "We should be entrusted with at least some of them for safekeeping."

"I am not interested in the opinion of the resistance," Brivari said flatly.

"You must have hundreds, maybe thousands," Michael continued, undaunted. "I'm not asking you to give us the one with the mark. But surely you can spare some of the others—"

" 'Spare'?" Brivari interrupted sharply. "There are no 'spares'. Depending on their development, any one of those hybrids could become Antar's next monarch."

"Which is why you need to widen your view," Michael said urgently. "With only you and Jaddo left, what will happen to the Royal Four if you do not survive? Someone else will have to take your place. Who better to do that than the resistance?"

Brivari rose to his feet. "I am not having this discussion."

"Then you're being selfish!" Michael said angrily. "Not to mention neglecting your duty to protect the King in every way possible! We, too, are his subjects! We, too, seek to restore his throne!"

"After you attempted to unseat him. Did you really think I'd forgotten that?"

"If we are willing to overlook Zan's weaknesses and aid his restoration to the throne, you should be willing to overlook the past as well," Michael argued. "And if you're not, perhaps Rath's Warder will be more open-minded—"

Slam! With a speed that was positively terrifying, Michael suddenly found himself pinned against the wall, his breath cut off by the arm pressing against his throat, the eyes in the human face only inches from his own having gone completely, unnervingly black as though the Covari's control was slipping. Michael gasped for air, clawing at this throat as he mentally kicked himself for slipping into the trap of thinking that the creature which sat across from him was anything more than a very sophisticated, very deadly killing machine.

"You do not wish to finish that sentence," it hissed. "You are alive at present because it pleases me to leave you that way, because you may yet serve my Ward, if only inadvertently. Any attempt to turn my fellow Warder against me will serve as notice that your usefulness has come to an end. And when that happens, I promise you I will not be tardy in responding."

It let go, and Michael slid to the floor, coughing. "You have delivered your message," it said coldly. "And this audience is over."




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




Parker's Diner




Courtney was just delivering her first order of breakfasts when the lights started flickering, the faint pink glow accentuating the color of the ham on the ham and eggs she was setting in front of a customer. "There they go again," the man muttered, looking around uneasily. "Gettin' real sick of this."

You and me both, Courtney thought, throwing an annoyed glance toward the back of the diner. Angela certainly hadn't wasted any time getting down to business this morning, having been waiting outside the diner when Nancy unlocked the door and making a beeline for the back booth. She was smiling now, in sharp contrast to the worried expressions worn by the rest of Parker's customers, and Courtney made a mental note to remind her not to be so obvious. God knows she'd have the opportunity; Angela hung around her like a puppy longing for a master. Many was the time where she had sat quietly in her room and deliberately not answered the door, waiting until Angela stopped knocking and went away. This behavior had drawn a sharp rebuke from her father, who wanted the resistance to blend in as much as possible, but then everything she said, thought, or did seemed to bring a sharp rebuke from him, yesterday's sudden request for assistance notwithstanding. She still had no idea why he thought it so important to contact the Warders, and he wouldn't tell her. She'd pointed him in the direction of the Proctors only reluctantly, and given the way her father usually behaved, she probably owed Mr. and Mrs. Proctor an apology. It was poor thanks for all they'd done for her, but something about her father's tone had made her uneasy. For all that he was stubborn and rigid, he was no fool. Not that it mattered; Nicholas' frustration levels with his lack of success were rising daily, so she seriously doubted they'd be here much longer.

The diner's lights abruptly went out. Not the infrared Angela was cheerfully flashing from her generator, but the overhead lights. There was always a low murmur which accompanied the arrival of the infrared as people looked around with various levels of alarm, whispering as though they were afraid the lights could actually hear them. Now that murmur rose to a fever pitch as it dawned on people that the red lights had continued even though the diner's lights were off. Damn it! Courtney swore inwardly, grabbing a pitcher of water and rushing off to Angela's booth, which wasn't even hers this morning.

"Stop it!" Courtney hissed at Angela, who was still grinning like an idiot.

"Why?" Angela whispered. "You can see it better in the dark—"

"Don't you get it?" Courtney exclaimed. "They think our lights are coming from their lights, but now their lights are off!"

Angela stared at her stupidly, obviously not getting it, but turned her generator off anyway; a moment later the diner's lights came back on. The whole episode had only lasted a few seconds, but customers were still looking around uneasily. "Don't use that here again," Courtney ordered. "Not today."

"I'm only first shift," Angela answered. "Second shift is—"

"Okay, so you don't use it again," Courtney interrupted impatiently. "And don't smile when you use it; you stick out like a sore thumb."

Angela's expression made it clear she didn't know what a "sore thumb" was, and Courtney left her to figure that out on her own as she collected more orders from uneasy patrons and clipped them to the spinner. Mr. Parker was just hanging up the phone, and instead of starting the new orders, he headed out of the kitchen to the front door......and locked it.

Courtney froze in her tracks. No one had noticed yet, but it wouldn't be long before someone tried to leave. "Girls, I need to talk to you," Mr. Parker said, gesturing toward the kitchen. "Now."

Numbly, Courtney followed the other waitresses into the back, where everyone gathered in a huddle. "I've locked the doors," Mr. Parker announced. "We need to keep everyone here until the sheriff gets here in about fifteen minutes."

"You've locked everyone in?" Nancy exclaimed as Courtney's heart began to pound. "Why?"

"Because the sheriff thinks these weird lights might not have anything to do with our lights," Mr. Parker explained, "and I'm beginning to think he may be onto something. The red lights kept flashing when I turned our lights off a minute ago. How could they still be flashing if the lights were off?"

"What made you do that?" Courtney asked. "Was that the sheriff's idea?"

"Last night," Mr. Parker nodded. "He asked me to try it next time it happened, which couldn't be long because it happens a lot here. He doesn't think it's the electric company; he thinks someone's doing it for fun."

"So....what's he going to do?" Nancy asked, bewildered. "Shake down every customer out there?"

"That's his problem," Mr. Parker said. "Our problem is keeping everyone calm until he gets here. We're going to tell everyone we locked the door on the sheriff's orders, and let him do the explaining."

Shit. Courtney felt a river of trickle run down her back, soaking through her uniform. Valenti had figured it out, for the most part, anyway. Under other circumstances she might be impressed with his damnable intuition, but this was very bad news. Valenti was the quintessential hound dog; once he got his teeth in your leg, he wouldn't let go until he had what he wanted, as evidenced by his pursuit of her when she'd first arrived in town. He'd empty every pocket and pocketbook in this diner, and when he did, he'd be bound to notice a certain device with odd symbols on it. And when he started pushing buttons, which he was also bound to do, the fun would really begin.

"You can't be serious!" Nancy was saying. "You're turning the diner into a jail cell? Oh, that'll go over big. How in the name of God are we supposed to keep all those people here against their will?"

"It's just for a few minutes," Mr. Parker said soothingly. "Almost everyone here at this hour is a regular, so we ought to be able to appeal to their better natures and pull this off. I want this over with," he added firmly when Nancy began to protest further. "The whole town has been buzzing about these lights, and we're getting hit more than any other business. If the sheriff thinks this will help put a stop to it, then it's our responsibility to lend him a hand."

"All right," Nancy sighed. "How long ago did you talk to him?"

"Five minutes," Mr. Parker answered, checking his watch. "He should be here in ten."

"And no one's noticed," another waitress said hopefully. "Maybe no one will. Maybe if we just don't say anything—"

"Hey, Pete!" someone called. "Your door's locked, and people are tryin' to get in!"

The huddle in the kitchen fell silent. "Christ, I was so busy worrying about people trying to get out, I forgot about people trying to get in," Nancy whispered. "Now what?"

Mr. Parker swallowed as people outside began knocking on the diner door, and a chorus of voices rose from those inside. "Make up a sign for the window that says we'll re-open in fifteen minutes," he instructed Courtney. "The rest of you follow me."

Courtney gratefully stayed behind, watching through the pass-through as Mr. Parker and his staff arrayed themselves in front of the locked door, facing their puzzled patrons. A sign wouldn't take long to make, and she was now in a better position to get to Angela and take her trithium generator off her hands. Valenti was nothing if not thorough and would probably frisk the staff as well, so they'd have to relocate it until he gave up and left. The problem was how to communicate this to Angela, who wasn't very quick on a good day, never mind a bad one.

"Can I have everyone's attention?" Mr. Parker asked rather unnecessarily, as he already had that. "We've had a....we've run into a.....well......there's been a kind of......."

"Spit it out, Pete," a man advised as Courtney hastily scrawled on a piece of paper.

"The sheriff wants everyone to stay put," Pete blurted out in a rush after an encouraging nod from Nancy. "He asked me to not let anyone in or out until he gets here, which should be in about ten minutes."

"Why?" someone asked in alarm.

"He'll tell you when he gets here," Mr. Parker answered. "Most of you aren't done eating anyway, so it shouldn't be a big deal. And—"

With a roar to rival that of a tidal wave, the entire population of Parker's rose as one and surged toward the door, flattening Pete and the waitresses against the glass, behind which more people were hammering to come in. "Yikes," Courtney whispered, her pencil frozen over the paper.

So much for their "better natures".




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


I'll post Chapter 74 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 73, 5/3

Post by Kathy W » Sun May 10, 2009 2:53 pm

Hello and thank you to everyone reading!

Michelle in Yonkers wrote::D You just can't resist stirring everything up, can you. ;)
Nope. Can't. :mrgreen:

And sunburned? I hate you. :lol: We've had a few warm days here, but nothing that would get us sunburned. But at least it's not snowing! That's something. :P





CHAPTER SEVENTY-FOUR


October 30, 1959, 6:50 a.m.

Parker's Diner




Valenti's heart sank as he pulled over beside Parker's, outside of which a large crowd had gathered, peering through the windows or pushing others aside because they couldn't get close enough to do just that. Shit. As fast as he'd raced here, it still hadn't been fast enough to avoid a scene. But it appeared that none of the crowd could actually get inside, so perhaps Pete had locked the place up after all. He might yet pull this off.

"All right, everybody, back up, back up," Valenti called loudly.

Heads turned; the crowd parted. Like Moses, Valenti thought, walking between the walls of his own Red Sea, wondering if the water, or rather the sea of suspicious faces, would engulf him before he made it across. "Everyone just calm down," Valenti said soothingly. "I asked Pete to close Parker's down for a few minutes while I take care of something."

"But he's not letting anyone out!" someone objected, followed by a worried chorus of echoes.

"Right, I asked him to close the door and not let anyone in or out until I could talk to everyone inside," Valenti answered. "Nothing's wrong; no cause for alarm."

"Tell that to them," a woman muttered, pointing.

Valenti resisted the urge to swear again when he saw that Pete and his staff were pressed up against the door by obviously anxious patrons. Wonderful: He had a potential riot on his hands inside and out. "Pete, it's the sheriff," he called, banging on the door with the flat of his hand. "Open up!"

He saw Pete turn, watched his face flood with relief as he fumbled for his keys. People began shouting even before he'd squeezed through the door into the diner.

"Quiet down, everyone," Valenti commanded. "I said quiet!"

An uneasy silence fell over the diner as the crowd fell silent, still upset but responding to the tone of Valenti's voice. If he'd learned one thing from this summer's drama, it was that crowds were like children. They acted on instinct, spooked easily, required guidance, and responded to a firm hand. George Wilcox had said as much, and while Wilcox was usually right, he was right in spades on this one.

"I want everyone to stop blaming Pete," Valenti continued, making a point of looking each and every customer in the eye in turn. "He was only doing what I asked him to. I'm trying to figure out where these weird lights are coming from, and I asked him to call me the next time he saw them. That was just a few minutes ago."

Valenti paused, letting that sink in. Expressions had softened when he mentioned the lights; most residents had seen them at one time or another. "Now, I'm working with the power company to try and find out what's going on with the lights," he continued. "I have reason to believe they might not be coming from the light fixtures. I'm going to ask all of you to return to your seats and empty out your pockets, purses, anything you have with you so I can put this theory to rest."

"You think we're causing the lights?" a woman asked in astonishment.

"I think someone might be, Mrs. Waverly," Valenti corrected. "It's one possibility among many, and I'm exploring all possibilities."

"Is this legal?" complained a man. "Don't you need a warrant to search us?"

"I need a warrant to compel a search, Herman," Valenti corrected. "In case you didn't notice, I asked all of you to return to your seats and let me see anything you've got with you. I asked Pete to let me know when he saw the lights again, and I asked him to close the diner until I got here."

"So we can refuse?" Herman persisted.

"You certainly can," Valenti confirmed. "I'll just take down your name and address before you leave the scene of this incident in case I need to question you in the future. And no, I don't need a warrant for that."

Glances flew back and forth as each customer looked at another, trying to figure out who would stay and who would leave. "Folks, I'm asking for your help here," Valenti continued in a more conciliatory tone. "These lights aren't hurting us, but they are worrying us. I'm trying to solve this, and I need everyone's cooperation. And I can't see why anyone wouldn't be willing to cooperate in finding out what's causing them....unless, of course, they've got something to hide."

Eyes dropped; feet shifted. "Can you talk to me first?" Mrs. Waverly asked. "I need to be at work soon."

"Everyone who's pressed for time, raise their hands," Valenti instructed. "C'mon, people, be fair," he warned when a forest of hands rose. "Are all of you really that pressed for time? Have pity on your neighbors, and wait a few more minutes if you can." Several hands went down, accompanied by sheepish looks. "All right, everyone back to their seats while I make the rounds. This shouldn't take long."

Parker's customers obediently trooped back to their seats and began emptying pockets and purses. Valenti turned to Pete and his staff, who still had their backs against the door behind which a curious crowd peered in. "How'd I do?" Valenti asked, tapping his watch.

"Twelve minutes; you're early," Pete answered. "Thank God."

"Sorry about the drama," Valenti said. "I'll get this over with as quickly as possible.




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




He's good, Courtney thought, watching through the pass-through as Valenti deftly manipulated the situation, her now worthless "Closed for 15 Minutes" sign lying on the counter in front of her. He'd just made a veiled threat to haul anyone who didn't cooperate down to the station for questioning, and she knew he'd do it, if only to make a point. The crowd seemed to know that too, as well as having picked up on the suggestion that anyone who broke ranks was hiding something; everyone was looking suspiciously at everyone else as though ready to pounce on the first deserter. Valenti had essentially induced the crowd to do his work for him. Under any other circumstances, she'd be impressed.

But under these circumstances, she had a problem, or more precisely Angela had a problem. They had to ditch her trithium generator and fast, and the look on her face as she stood at the very back of the crowd, eyes darting left and right like a cornered animal, made it clear she'd figured that out. I can get it, Courtney thought confidently. After everyone sat down, the staff would probably circulate, talking to people, keeping them calm, and then she could just wander by Angela's table, palm it off her, and slip it into her own pocket. And then slip it somewhere else just in case Valenti frisked the staff as well.

A good plan....but one that required restraint. Restraint which Angela clearly did not have as she took advantage of everyone's attention being on Valenti to slip away from the group, heading toward the kitchen. Oh, no! Courtney thought, dropping her pencil and moving to head her off. If Valenti was planning on being suspicious of anyone who insisted on leaving, he sure as hell would be suspicious of anyone actually running away. Angela might not be a resistance member, but Courtney was all too aware of what humans would do to her if they found out what she was, and that was a fate she didn't wish on anyone. Well....maybe Nicholas. But just him.

"Stop," Courtney ordered when Angela appeared in the kitchen, wide-eyed with fright. "You can't leave. Not now."

"But I can't stay either!" Angela exclaimed. "He'll find it!"

"He won't," Courtney insisted, pulling her behind the door where no one could see her through the pass through. "Give it to me, and go back out there."

"Just let me go out the back door," Angela begged.

"I can't do that," Courtney said. "They'll know someone was sitting there, and once the sheriff realizes he missed someone, he will not rest until he hunts you down. I know him."

"I'm going to get arrested!" Angela moaned.

"No, you're not," Courtney assured her.

"Do you know what Nicholas will do to me if I get arrested? I won't get away with it like Vanessa did. Let me go!"

"You're not going to get arrested," Courtney insisted, dodging left as Angela dodged right. "When the sheriff doesn't find anything, there'll be nothing to arrest you for. Give it to me."

"But we're supposed to keep them with us at all times!" Angela wailed. "Those are the rules! If you let me go, I won't have to break the rules."

"I told you, I can't let you go, and this is an emergency," Courtney argued. "Emergencies mean you have to improvise."

"I'll have to report this," Angela said miserably. "I'll be blamed for it, I know I will!"

"Better to be blamed than arrested!" Courtney answered impatiently.

Angela's husk went white. "So you do think I'm going to be arrested?"

Courtney swore inwardly as she realized the conversation had come full circle right back to where she didn't want it to be. A glimpse at the diner showed Valenti going from patron to patron and eyeballing their possessions before dismissing them, presumably to leave judging from the sound of the bell on the door. Angela's dishes were still on the table; what were the odds he'd think the customer had left but the table just hadn't been bussed yet? Zero, she thought sadly. Just like the odds that Angela would live through being caught with a generator in her pocket. She'd either be executed by Nicholas for allowing Argilian technology to fall into human hands, or those same humans would do to her what they did to Jaddo.

"Angela, give it to me," Courtney ordered firmly. Pleading hadn't worked, reasoning hadn't worked, so maybe brute force would. "I'm the third's daughter, and I'm ordering you to give it to me."

"Can't," Angela whispered, fear reducing her to one word answers.

Damn, Courtney thought, fighting her own rising panic. That had been her last card. Valenti was nearing the back of the diner and would soon notice Angela's empty booth. She couldn't easily take it by force because it would be on her person; generators were never to be kept in anything that could be left behind like a purse or even a coat pocket. Meaning she would literally have to wrestle her to the ground to get it, and there was no way to do that quietly.

"Who was sitting here?" came Valenti's sharp voice.

Angela pressed herself against the wall, both hands over her mouth. "Give it to me!" Courtney hissed.

"Did anyone leave?" Valenti asked, followed by Pete's voice, unintelligible from here.

"Angela," Courtney said desperately, "I'll go to Nicholas and explain what happened. I'll tell him none of it was your fault, and that I ordered you to stay and hand over your generator."

A tiny bit of terror left Angela's eyes. "Really?"

"Really."

"Right away? You'll come with me right away?"

"Right away," Courtney promised, having no idea how she was going to pull that off. "Now for God's sake, hand it over!"

Angela reached into the pocket of her shirtdress with agonizing slowness and withdrew the black device, which somehow looked larger than usual. Courtney snatched it from her and slipped it into her own pocket just as the kitchen door swung open and Valenti stepped inside.

"Miss Harris?" he said warily, eyeing both of them up and down.

"She was trying to run," Courtney said quickly. "I was trying to talk her out of it."

Valenti turned hard eyes on Angela, who quailed. "May I see your purse, Miss?"

"Go on," Courtney coaxed, hoping Valenti wouldn't notice that her voice didn't match her own eyes, which were boring into Angela every bit as harshly as his own. "Show it to him."

But she needn't have worried; Angela was frightened past the point of voluntary movement or speech. Courtney reached out, slipped the purse off her shoulder, and handed it to Valenti, who rifled through it with professional speed before abruptly stopping.

"Is this what you didn't want me to find?"

Courtney's heart skipped a beat; what else did the very new, very foolish Angela have in her purse? She'd only been thinking about the generator. It had never occurred to her that there might be something else damning in there. And so it was that she almost collapsed with relief when Valenti withdrew a half-empty pack of cigarettes and held them up for their inspection.

"You don't want your parents to know you're smoking, do you?" Valenti asked.

Behind him Courtney slowly shook her head, and Angela mercifully had the sense to copy her. "I'm the sheriff," Valenti said gently, replacing the cigarettes in the purse and handing it back to her, "not the town snitch. Smoking may not be a ladylike habit, but it's not illegal."

"D-does that mean I can go?" Angela stammered.

"Absolutely," Valenti answered, stepping aside. "Have a nice day."

Angela fled, the little bell on the door announcing her departure mere seconds after she disappeared from the kitchen. "Nice save," Valenti said to Courtney. "How are you and your father getting along, Miss Harris?"

"Better," Courtney said, desperately wishing he'd leave.

"Anything's better than jumping out windows," Valenti commented.

"That was overblown," Courtney said.

Pete poked his head in the kitchen door. "Are we done, sheriff?"

"Yes," Valenti answered. "Yes, we're done."

And they were. The siege of Parker's was over. New customers were coming in, many of the customers who had allowed themselves to be frisked had left, and those who hadn't left were offered new breakfasts on the house to replace their cold ones, which prompted a round of applause. "I heard you caught a runner," Mr. Parker said proudly to Courtney as the staff scurried back to work. "Good for you!"

"Thanks," Courtney said. "Can I have the morning off, Mr. Parker? I'm not feeling very well."

"Heck, take the day off," he said magnanimously.

Courtney retreated to her locker, opened the door, and leaned against it for a moment. She hadn't been lying; she really wasn't feeling well. If dodging Valenti hadn't been bad enough, now she had to face Nicholas.




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




"Are you serious?" Jaddo demanded. "Your 'friend' Atherton has finally turned up serious information, and you refuse to act on it?"

Brivari resisted the urge to sigh heavily as Jaddo turned away in disgust from their perch atop a roof, as safe a place as any in Roswell these days. He hadn't been looking forward to telling Jaddo about the latest development with the Argilians, had even contemplated not telling him at all, knowing it would likely cause a confrontation. But keeping information from a fellow Warder could cripple them both, making it worth the cost of an argument. Now if only he could bring himself to believe that over the next hour or so, or however long this dragged on.

"So Nicholas has intensified the hunt for the hybrids, and you intend to do nothing about it," Jaddo said bitterly. "Typical."

"Nicholas' primary objective has always been the retrieval of the hybrids, so I fail to see how anything has changed. He can't find them, Jaddo. They are quite literally beyond his reach."

"Not if he is truly capable of learning the location of the experimentation chambers."

"Which he won't," Brivari said patiently, "because those records were destroyed."

"What about the expedition members? Do you honestly think there is no one on Antar they could drag it out of?"

"It wouldn't help," Brivari insisted. "No one would have coordinates, and even if they remembered the general area or climate, there are hundreds of such places on the planet and dozens of chambers. Besides, the last expedition is the one where five members went rogue; only Malik remains alive."

"Or so you think," Jaddo corrected. "Have you even considered moving them?"

"Have you even considered that that doing so could be playing directly into Nicholas' hands?" Brivari said sharply. "He will blunder around the area, hoping to get close enough to goad us into doing just exactly what you're proposing. Don't fall for it, Jaddo. You're smarter than that."

Jaddo lapsed into a frustrated silence, prowling from one end of the roof to the other, well away from the edge where no one could see them. He was in a foul mood, worse than usual as his most recent mission had not turned up anything useful. Malik had not yet returned from his own mission, but was unlikely to have fared much better. And so Rath's Warder was faced with two doses of bad news and unable to do anything about either, a recipe for trouble if ever there was one.

"I know this is hard for you," Brivari said as Jaddo continued to fret. "Your instinct is to act. But that is exactly what we must not do. Nicholas is still unsure of our presence here, never mind our Wards. Anything we do that reveals our presence in this place is a step in the wrong direction."

"You're making the assumption that we would be seen," Jaddo said irritably.

"Of course I'm making that assumption," Brivari answered. "I have to. And so do you. There is no safe way to move the hybrids, so that should be an absolute last resort. And we're nowhere near that, nor will we be. There is no way for him to find them."

"Can we at least consider a contingency plan in case you're wrong?"

"I'm not wrong," Brivari insisted.

"And why am I supposed to believe that?" Jaddo demanded. "Rath had nothing to do with the human genome project, so I have no idea what kind of records were kept."

"Which is precisely why you should listen to me," Brivari argued.

"However small the chance that you are wrong, you must admit that such a chance does exist, and that the results could be catastrophic," Jaddo persisted. "We won't get another try at this, so forgive me if I wish to rely on something a bit more substantive than your omnipotence."

"Oh, for pity's sake, I never claimed 'omnipotence'!" Brivari retorted.

"Then you don't object to a contingency plan?"

"I am not turning over hybrids to the resistance," Brivari said firmly. "For all we know, Michael Harris is not who he says he is and is merely trying to force us into the open."

"Or Nicholas is testing for leaks in his inner circle," Jaddo replied. "Yes, I thought of that. The desire for action does not make one blind, as you seem to think. But on the other hand, the desire for restraint should not be paralyzing. Having a contingency plan in place should the worst occur is simple common sense. Where could we move them? It would have to be isolated, from both habitation and traffic—"

"Which sounds very like where they are now," Brivari interrupted, sarcasm wreathing his tone. "Which is where they are staying, and why they are staying there."

"Indulge me, Brivari," Jaddo said. "If you're so convinced you're right, you can afford to. Use your imagination; if we had to move them, where would we take them?"

Brivari sighed deeply, weighing an answer. Jaddo was behaving exactly the way Nicholas would want him to, which made the notion of any contingency plan problematic; with such a plan in place, he was more likely to act on it. Then again, he desperately needed something to set his mind at greater ease on this subject and to occupy himself while they waited. Leaving him both anxious and bored was not wise at this juncture.

"If we were to move them, we would need to utilize an interim hiding place," Brivari answered. "It would be imperative to keep the move short to minimize the amount of time they were out in the open. The Proctors are out of the question because the resistance knows about them. A safer alternative would be the cave in which I sheltered near Quanah's dwelling. It has acquired something of a reputation since I used it; I understand no one goes there."

Jaddo considered a moment. "I like that," he said finally. "We could wall them off at the very back."

"But even if we moved the hybrids, there is no way to move the Granolith," Brivari reminded him. "That would require an effort even the humans might notice, not to mention Argilians."

"The Granolith is of no consequence," Jaddo answered. "Only the hybrids can operate it, so absent hybrids, it is useless; you saw to that when you had Valeris alter it. We need a permanent hiding place. Suggestions?"

"I suggest we cross that bridge if and when we come to it," Brivari answered. "Which we won't. There...." Brivari stopped, having been about to say there is no point in continuing this argument, which would no doubt have sparked yet more arguing. "There's Malik," he amended, looking past Jaddo. "And he looks....pleased."

And indeed he did, wearing a wide smile as he came abreast of them, his first words music to Brivari's ears.

"I found it!"




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



Alice Wentworth's boarding house




Perched on the couch in Mrs. Wentworth's living room, Courtney looked at her watch and frowned. True to her word, she'd headed straight for Nicholas' boarding house as soon as she left the diner, hoping to catch up with Angela on the way so they could discuss what they were going to say. Normally it would initially be Angela doing the reporting as Courtney had been working, and the need to maintain her cover would have postponed her audience until after her shift. But she'd promised Angela she'd go with her, and given her state of mind when she'd fled the diner, that was best anyway. Dealing with Nicholas was difficult on a good day, and Angela was not having a good day....and neither would Nicholas after he learned what had happened. It was better that there be another witness on hand.

Unfortunately Angela had not had the presence of mind to wait for her. She'd already been inside, wide-eyed and terrified, when Greer had opened the door to Courtney's knock and gruffly sent her downstairs to wait. And here she had sat for the past half hour in a living room much like Mrs. Bruce's and used for much the same purpose, as a public space for the roomers. Several times she had debated going home to see if her father was around, ultimately deciding that wasn't a good idea. Greer knew she was here, meaning she'd better be ready when called, not to mention that her father would no doubt give her the standard lecture about not antagonizing Nicholas which she'd heard so many times that she could give it to herself. Besides, Nicholas was bound to wind up antagonized anyway because she was absolutely certain he wasn't going to like what she had to say.

"My goodness, dear, are you still here?" Mrs. Wentworth asked, poking her head into the living room. "I can't imagine why Mr. Crawford would stack up two appointments at the same time."

Courtney smiled blandly. Nathaniel was posing as Nicholas' father, and his cover was that he was some sort of accountant, which explained why various people trooped up and down the stairs every day.

"I'm early," Courtney said.

"Can I get you some tea?"

"No, thank you," Courtney answered. "I'll just wait."

The sound of a door opening upstairs drew the attention of both to the front hallway. A minute later Angela appeared, looking much worse than she had thirty minutes ago. She paused before the front door, giving Courtney a miserable look.

"He wants to see you," she whispered before disappearing out the door.

"My goodness," Mrs. Wentworth said. "What was that all about? It's not even tax time."

"Money troubles," Courtney said lightly, rising from the couch. "They can make people quite emotional."

"Well, I can certainly understand that," Mrs. Wentworth agreed. "I've had quite a few in my lifetime. That's why I rented out the house after Mr. Wentworth died."

Like Mrs. Bruce, Courtney thought, saying a polite goodbye before heading for the stairs. On average, human females appeared to live longer than human males, something of a problem in a society where the males earned the currency. Yet another facet of the topsy-turvy human world that was difficult to explain. She had reached the base of the stairs when the door to the first floor room opened and a man emerged, giving a slight start when he saw her.

"I'm sorry," the man said. "Did I startle you?"

"Looks like I'm the one who startled you," Courtney answered.

"I just didn't realize anyone was here," the man replied. "Mr. Addison," he continued, extending a hand.

"Courtney Harris," Courtney replied, shaking it.

"Nice to meet you, Miss Harris," Mr. Addison said. "If you'll excuse me......"

He disappeared into the back of the house while Courtney lingered on the bottom stair, puzzled. Had they met? He didn't look familiar, but for some reason, she had the strangest feeling they'd met before.......

A throat cleared above. Greer was standing at the top of the stairs, visibly annoyed. Oh yes, we mustn't keep the lord and master waiting, Courtney thought sourly as she climbed the staircase. And as there was no way to know what Angela had said, she had no idea what she was walking into. Wonderful.

Nicholas was scowling furiously when the door closed behind her like a prison cell slamming shut, Greer and Nathaniel hovering in the background. "What the hell happened at that diner?" Nicholas demanded, advancing on her furiously.

"Didn't Angela tell you?" Courtney asked, hoping to drag at least a few details out of him before she gave her own.

"She told me all sorts of things," Nicholas said impatiently, "very few of which made sense. What did she do that made the sheriff show up?"

"Nothing other than what she'd been ordered to do," Courtney answered. "The sheriff had already set it up with Mr. Parker to call him the next time anyone saw the lights, and then he told Mr. Parker to lock the place up so he could search everyone."

"What the hell for?" Nicholas asked peevishly. "He's never done that before."

"Because he suspected the lights weren't coming from the light fixtures," Courtney answered. "And for that matter, he's right. He's human, not stupid."

"So you have gone native," Nicholas grumbled.

Courtney bit back a retort as Nicholas prowled in front of her like a caged animal, which he essentially was, having to hide here during the day under the pretense of being in school and then not having the latitude he'd like afterwards because of his "age". In spite of having spent months among humans, it was still a bit surprising how very small he looked to her now, how young. Don't fall for it, she told herself severely. No matter how childish he looked, Nicholas was no child, and extremely dangerous.

"I was merely pointing out that the sheriff, in particular, is quite intelligent," Courtney said carefully. "For example, he asked Mr. Parker to turn off the diner's lights the next time the red lights appeared to see if the red lights went away. And when they didn't, humans noticed."

"Like the grocery store," Greer murmured behind her.

"What grocery store?" Courtney asked.

"Angela said you wouldn't let her leave," Nicholas went on, ignoring her question. "Why not?"

"Because it was important for Valenti to find nothing to throw him off the trail," Courtney answered. "If she'd left, someone would have remembered her sitting there, and then he'd be on the hunt."

"He would have 'found nothing' if she'd left!" Nicholas snapped. "You should have let her go!"

"Angela's not your problem!" Courtney exclaimed. "Don't you get it? This is just the tip of the iceberg. Valenti won't stop there. He'll keep doing this, and everyone in town will help him out because everyone's fed up with the weird lights. Sooner or later he'll find a generator, and then what are you going to do? We've worn out our welcome here and haven't found a thing!"

Nicholas fixed her with a hard stare. "Are you finished?"

Courtney fell silent, feeling the waves of disapproval and sympathy radiating off Greer and Nathaniel, respectively, even though they were behind her. She'd gone too far, as evidenced by the murderous expression on their fearless leader's childish features. "I asked you what happened," Nicholas said coldly. "I didn't ask for your interpretation of what happened, or a lecture. You may be Michael's daughter, but you work for me."

"I took an oath to Khivar," Courtney said stonily. "And so did you."

Nicholas' face reddened. "Get out!" he snapped. "Go on, out!"

Wrenching the door right out of Greer's hands, Courtney clattered down the stairway, fuming. That little twerp was going to just sit here and keep doing what he was doing even if it meant his operatives getting arrested or worse, and without any evidence whatsoever that the Warders were still here. How typically myopic, how.....

The door to the first floor apartment opened when she reached the bottom of the stairs. "Miss Harris!" Mr. Addison called. "In here!"

Mystified, Courtney looked back up the stairs, but no one had followed her out. "Inside!" Mr. Addison pressed as she passed him. "Quickly!"

"What are you doing?" Courtney demanded in alarm when she heard the lock click into place. "I—"

She stopped as Mr. Addison reached up, and.....peeled off his mustache. He smiled broadly at her as she blinked at a face which had suddenly grown more familiar.

"Recognize me now?" he asked in a voice that was markedly different from the one he'd used only a moment ago.

"Good God," Courtney whispered. "Mr. Anderson?"




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




Black Range Mountains, New Mexico




*Do you see it?* Jaddo called anxiously. *Perhaps we don't have the right place.*

*Patience,* Brivari advised. *All the landmarks are here. He said it was well hidden.*

Jaddo's anxiety was almost palpable as they ringed the valley in the mountain range where Malik had directed them. What they were looking for was almost certainly not visible from the air, at least not to human eyes. Their eyes, however, were far from human, or even avian, their current form notwithstanding.

*There!* Jaddo called suddenly, falling into a dive with Brivari hurrying to follow. They dropped below tree level, real birds scurrying away as they sensed something wrong with the newcomers. And there, hidden beneath the canopy, was what they had come looking for. Both watched in silence for a moment, scanning the area.

*There do not appear to be any outside defenses,* Jaddo said at length.

*Of course not. They were not expecting us here. But I'm sure anyone on board will have trithium generators.*

Jaddo managed a nasty smile, quite a feat given his current form. *And once we're finished, they will have no means to make more of them.*

*Or escape,* Brivari added. *Shall we?*

They circled slowly at first, wary of any infrared fields they might trip on approach. But there was nothing, and they landed without incident on the hull of the Argilians' ship, tucked away in New Mexico's mountains in a place very like the one they'd been intending to land before they'd crashed. The ship's internal security systems would be active, of course. But entry was no problem for a shapeshifter.


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


I'll post Chapter 75 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 74, 5/10

Post by Kathy W » Sun May 17, 2009 2:41 pm

Hello to everyone reading!

Misha: Atherton is a little too enthusiastic for his own good. Methinks that will get him into trouble at some point in the near future. :wink:
Michelle in Yonkers wrote:Ahhh! And -- oh, rats! This is why Nicholas and Co. get stranded here!
I always thought Nicholas and Co. might be after the Granolith so they could get off the planet. It was weird that Whitaker seemed to care more about finding the Granolith than anything else, and I never bought Dupe Rath's "we worship it" bit. Although I suppose the Skins could have wanted it to pray to. :lol:

At any rate, in this little corner of fiction land, Brivari had Valeris alter the Granolith so that only one of the hybrids could operate it. So assuming all goes well, and they hatch and stay together, Warders and hybrids could all go back as one happy (?) family. Assuming all goes well, which we know it doesn't. :P






CHAPTER SEVENTY-FIVE


October 30, 1959, 8:30 a.m.

Alice Wentworth's boarding house





"Mr. Anderson?" Courtney breathed, unable to believe her eyes. "Is that really you?"

"It certainly is, my dear," he answered with his trademark smile.

"But.....why? How......what—"

"Never mind me," Mr. Anderson said firmly. "I'm concerned about you. I heard raised voices. Are you all right?"

"Me? Y...yes," Courtney stammered. "I'm all right. Why wouldn't I....wait a minute. You 'heard raised voices'?"

"Through the heating duct," Mr. Anderson confirmed, nodding toward the grate in the wall behind her. "I couldn't hear much, but I could hear enough to know that Nicholas was angry, and you were in trouble."

Courtney gaped at him in utter astonishment, trying to decide which was more of a shock: The fact that he knew Nicholas' name, or that he was spying on him. But why was he spying on him? Why was he even here? Mr. Anderson had disappeared from Roswell on that day the FBI had come looking for him, the details of which were still fuzzy for most people because there had been so few witnesses to what had happened. Add to that the fact that Brivari had discovered her shortly after and her subsequent flight, and she hadn't given much thought to what had happened to his friend. Did he know what Brivari was? Did he know what she was?

Calm down, she ordered herself severely. Mr. Anderson had not yet said what he was doing here. She mustn't make assumptions and give anything away. "I'm not in trouble," she said carefully, "and I'm not sure why you thought I was. And why are you here at all? I heard something about the FBI chasing you out of town."

"Oh, they did," Mr. Anderson said cheerfully, as though being chased by the FBI was a childhood dream. "And I escaped for one reason: Langley. He saved me. And in the process....." he leaned in closer and lowered his voice "....I found out who he really is!" he finished in a delighted whisper. "And learned about the rest of you, including that miscreant upstairs."

"Learned......what?" Courtney asked warily.

"Everything!" Mr. Anderson answered. "About Langley and his king, and how he died, and now your people are chasing Langley and the rest of his people....well, not all your people," he amended. "I gather you're a member of some kind of rebel faction within your ranks. Which is why I was worried about you. This is the first time I've ever seen you here, and whatever happened upstairs didn't sound good."

Courtney's heart was beating so fast, she began to feel light-headed. He knows. He knew Brivari wasn't human, knew she wasn't human, and, worst of all, he knew she was a member of the resistance. He knew something that could get her killed instantly, and he'd just said it out loud in the very house where Nicholas lived.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Mr. Anderson asked, gazing at her worriedly. "You don't look well at all."

"No, I'm not well," Courtney said in an anguished tone. "Do you have any idea what will happen to me if Nicholas hears what you just said? I'll be dead, that's what!"

"Oh, no, dear!" Mr. Anderson exclaimed, taking her by the shoulders. "I'm not trying to get you in trouble; I'm on your side! Yours and Langley's, of course. That's why I'm here, to help Langley."

"Help him how?" Courtney asked in bewilderment.

"By keeping track of who comes here and anything I overhear," Mr. Anderson replied. "I helped Langley identify every single one of your people. And then I discovered the heat vent, and the fact that I could hear through it! It usually doesn't work very well....whoever's talking has to be quite close to it in order for much to be intelligible....but I did learn that Nicholas is hunting for the king's body. Although Langley already knew that, it seems."

"Mr. Anderson," Courtney said carefully, "I know you want to help, but you really shouldn't be here. Don't let what Nicholas looks like fool you. He's no child, he's—"

"The commander of the armies of the king's rival," Mr. Anderson answered, suddenly sober. "Yes, I know. And in disgrace, I gather, from disobeying that rival and murdering the royal family. I imagine he has some major groveling to do."

"Then you know he's desperate to regain K—his master's trust," Courtney said, stopping herself just in time before she gave away something else. "He's a menace when he's not desperate, and that goes double now. Which makes the game you're playing incredibly dangerous."

" 'Game'?" Mr. Anderson echoed, puzzled. "Is that what you think this is for me?" He paused a moment, looking troubled. "Sit down," he said suddenly, steering her toward a chair, taking a seat across from her as she perched on the edge, all nerves. "I am fully aware that this is no game, Miss Harris. This is a war for a throne, for a world, for a dynasty, if I understand correctly. This is very serious business, indeed."

"Then why are you so happy?" Courtney demanded. "You're all smiling and cheerful, like this is some kind of joke!"

"You misunderstand," Mr. Anderson said earnestly. "I'm happy not because I don't understand the gravity of the situation, but because this is my life's work. I've spent years searching for new life, hoping to actually make contact with those from another world....and now I have! I've actually met people from another planet! I've dreamed of this day since I was a boy, and now not only is it here, but I find myself able to render assistance! How could I not be happy?"

"So....you're 'rendering assistance' by spying on what's going on here," Courtney said slowly. "But how do you let Langley know what you find out?"

"We have regular meetings," Mr. Anderson said. "And of course I have a way to contact him in an emergency."

"Like what?"

Mr. Anderson smiled indulgently. "I'm afraid that's between me and Langley. So you see, I can keep a secret. Including yours." He paused when she looked at him doubtfully, taking her hands in his. "I've kept your secret for weeks now," he said gently. "Remember that. And realize that you now have a secret of mine. I'm here in disguise under an assumed name. You could just as easily give me away, and I would wind up every bit as dead as if I gave you away."

"So why did you tell me?" Courtney asked. "Langley could be wrong, you know. What if I'm not really a resistance member?"

But Mr. Anderson merely smiled and shook his head. "Nonsense. I am an excellent judge of character, if I do say so myself. Not to mention terror," he added pointedly. "You were genuinely afraid I'd give you away a moment ago. That fear was real."

And I'm a horrible actor, Courtney thought dejectedly. While her reaction to this latest bomb had been better than her reaction to Langley's true identity months ago, she'd still been much too easy to read. "So," Mr. Anderson said briskly when she didn't reply, "what can I do for you? Do you need anything from me, anything at all? Perhaps you'd like to listen at my heat vent? It could be that your hearing is superior to mine."

Courtney's eyes strayed south, fastening on the grate in the wall. Oh my, but that was a tempting offer. Nicholas and Greer were still upstairs. To hear what they talked about in private, when no one else was listening......

"No, thank you," she said suddenly before curiosity got the better of her. "I should....I should tell my father, she finished silently. It was her father who should be listening at that heat vent, not her, but at the moment, she couldn't imagine his reaction to the news that Langley had planted a human spy mere yards away from Nicholas. "I should be going," she finished. "I.....appreciate your concern, but the less you're involved in this, the better. For both of us."

"Are you sure there isn't anything I can do for you?" Mr. Anderson pressed.

Yes—move out, Courtney thought. He should get away from here, away from Nicholas, away from all of it. But he wouldn't, of course. Having been installed in the post of his dreams by none other than the King's Warder, there was no way Mr. Anderson was going anywhere. "The only thing you can do for me is promise me your utmost discretion," she said firmly. "I meant what I said: If Nicholas finds out who I'm really allied with, I'm dead."

"And if he finds out that I'm allied with the very same person, I'm dead," Mr. Anderson replied, nodding gravely. "I not only see your problem, I share it."

"Then we keep each other's secrets," Courtney said, eschewing argument on the subject of whether or not Langley constituted a "person", it being doubtful that Mr. Anderson had been gifted with the knowledge of a Covari's true nature. "Okay....I should be going now. I have to.....report on what happened here."

"Of course," Mr. Anderson said, rising from his chair. "Remember, I'm 'Mr. Addison'. And if you ever need anything....anything at all....please don't hesitate to ask. Like I said, you and I are on the same side." He walked to the door, motioning for her to wait. "Let me make certain the coast is clear. We don't want anyone to see you coming out of my room."

He disappeared, returning seconds later to beckon her into the hallway. She slipped out of the rooming house without another word, keeping to the sides of the house until she was on the side opposite Nicholas' room for fear he would look out the window and wonder why she was still here. It wasn't until she was halfway to her own rooming house that she started breathing normally again and began to tackle the problem of what to do with what she'd learned. She now had information that her own father, the leader of the resistance, did not have. And frankly, knowing her father.....she wasn't at all sure it would be wise to share it.




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



7:30 p.m.

Black Range Mountains, New Mexico





"Damn it!" Zachary muttered as his head connected with the upper edge of the doorframe. "Didn't duck far enough."

"Trouble getting your space legs back?" Mary chuckled.

"What space legs?" Zachary grumbled, plopping into a chair at the console. "We're hardly in space. We're parked in the middle of nowhere on a planet in the middle of nowhere. It's such a treat to be assigned to patrol nowhere."

"Settle down," Mary said. "Everyone takes turns babysitting the nursery, and it's our turn."

"I'm not in the mood to take turns," Zachary said crossly. "I had my own flat in London, a job, even a human girlfriend. Now I'm stuck here with nothing to do, and if I bump my head on a ceiling one more time, I'll scream. Bloody dinky hallways."

"They're 'corridors', they fit us quite well in our native form, and I don't know what 'bloody' means, but I can guess," Mary said calmly. "Goodness, but you're in a foul mood. Have you eaten?"

Zachary snorted. "Eaten what? The food here is so tasteless, it's hardly worth eating. Now I know what Covari feel like."

"They don't 'feel'," Mary reminded him. "And you've gotten too used to your human taste buds."

"Wonderful taste buds," Zachary sighed. "They can taste so much more than we can."

"Of course they can. They're a lot closer to their primitive state, where being able to taste poisons was important. Stop whining and go get a cup of jero."

"I like coffee better," Zachary muttered.

"Then eat something else," Mary said firmly. "Just put something in your mouth. Please. To keep it busy."

Zachary broke into a wide smile. "As it happens, I have just the thing." He reached down under a nearby console and grabbed something, which he plopped on his own console in front of an astonished Mary.

"A coffee maker? You brought a coffee maker on board?"

"Why not? If we're stuck here for a month, the least we can expect is coffee."

"Zach, the whole point of rotating everyone through here is to reacquaint us with our true selves and remind us where we came from," Mary argued. "Bringing anything of earthly origin on board is strictly against the rules."

"Screw the rules," Zach said darkly. "Bloody rules. Besides, you know you'd like some. Help me hook it up."

"Where? It's not like we have a handy plug with alternating current."

"We're a hundred times more advanced than humans," Zach answered. "I think we can handle it."

"Okay, but when the others see this, I plan to make it clear I had nothing to do with it," Mary said as Zach pulled a panel off the side of the console and began fiddling with power relays. "One of them is bound to tell Nicholas—"

"None of them are bound to tell Nicholas," Zach interrupted. "They've already asked me to let them know when the coffee's ready. There," he added, as the coffee maker began making a ticking sound. "We've got power. Now for the water. Back in a sec."

Mary sighed heavily as Zach took off again, managing to spare his head this time but spilling some of the water in the hunched posture necessary for movement around their ship in a husk. "Even the toilets are way too small," he muttered, dumping the water into the coffee maker. "Why can't the ops down in medical take this shift? There must a dozen of them."

"Because they're still recovering," Mary answered. "They're in no shape to take a shift."

"How much energy does it take to sit here and do nothing?" Zach asked peevishly. "What happened to them, anyway? What'd they do?"

"They didn't 'do' anything," Mary said defensively. "We've been here almost ten years now, and we were bound to run into a few husks with shorter life spans."

"You mean 'much' shorter. They're supposed to last forty or fifty years."

" 'Supposed to', yes," Mary agreed. "But a husk is a life form, and life expectancies for all life forms are all about averages. These were way below average."

"So what happens to them now?"

Mary was quiet for a moment, staring at the large screen in front of her which provided information on all of the ship's main systems. "Now they have to reacclimate," she said finally. "I went down there; I know one of them. She looked......awful. Absolutely awful."

Zach dropped his eyes. "Sorry."

"Yeah, so am I," Mary said in a brittle voice. "So stop bitching and be grateful your husk is still in good shape, or you'd be just like them—stuck here until we can grow new ones."

"I may as well be stuck here," Zach sighed. "I can't go back to my last post."

"We never do," Mary answered. "We're always reassigned. If we stay too long in one place, humans will notice that we're not aging the way they expect. You know that."

After a minute or two with no response, Mary glanced Zach's way. He had pulled out his wallet, that carrying device humans used for currency, among other things, and was staring at a worn photograph.

"Is that your girlfriend?" she asked gently.

He nodded mutely, his hands lingering on it as she took it as though reluctant to let go. The photo showed a human female, mid-twenties, perhaps, her tiny, bright blue eyes contrasting sharply with the long brown hair swept up at the ends in one of the preferred styles of the day, the large mouth painted with the bright red lip paint so prized now. She looked at it for a long time before handing it back.

"You don't approve," Zach said stiffly.

"I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to."

"I didn't say that," Mary insisted. "That's not what I was thinking at all."

"Then what were you thinking?" Zach demanded. "Nothing good, I know that."

"That still doesn't mean I don't approve."

"I'll believe that when you tell me what you were thinking," Zach said darkly.

"Well if you must know," Mary said sharply, "I was thinking....." She stopped, looking away. "I was thinking that a face like that doesn't look strange to me anymore. And our faces....our real faces.....when I visited my friend in medical, she looked....."

"Weird?" Zach suggested.

"Worse," Mary whispered. "They'd just removed her husk, and she was having trouble breathing. She asked me to hold her hand, and I....I'm ashamed to admit I had to force myself to do it. It just looked so.....grotesque......all of her just looked....misshapen....those huge eyes......" She paused, flexing her human hand in her lap. "I'm going native, aren't I?"

"Don't be silly," Zach answered. "If anyone's 'going native', it's me. You're just used to looking at humans, that's all."

"But that hand was my hand," Mary argued. "That face was my face."

"But that's not what you see when you look in the mirror," Zach reminded her. "You haven't seen that for nearly a decade. It's all in what we're accustomed to. When you see humans everywhere you look for as long as we have, including in the mirror, it's bound to be a shock when we see something else."

"Right," Mary agreed. "Which is why this rotation is so important, and why I'm not going to take any more lip from you about it, or about being reassigned. This is the only true taste of home we get, and we can't afford to get too attached to our lives here because they're not real. Remember that wherever you're assigned next. No more girlfriends, at least not any whose picture you'd carry around with you."

Abashed, Zach folded up his wallet and stuck it back in his pocket. "Do you really believe we'll ever go home? Nicholas can't go back without an offering, and we're looking for a needle in a haystack."

"Look long enough, and you'll find that needle," Mary answered. "A transmission came in earlier today with all the data we have on the king's human genome project and how it was conducted on this planet. Greer ordered it sent directly to him. I had to send it piecemeal because it was so big."

"What'd he want that for?"

"Oh, of course the second always explains his rationale for anything he wants," Mary said sarcastically. "How should I know? I assume it's about the hybrids. What else would it be about?"

"That's a big assumption," Zach argued. "Given the length of time we've been sitting here, anything he could've thought of should've been thought of ages ago."

"Well maybe he got new information. Maybe...." Mary stopped, staring at the screen in front of her. "That's weird."

"What?"

"Someone's changing the climate settings. Engineering," she called over the comm, "this is command. Why is the pressure rising?"

No answer. "Engineering, respond," Mary ordered. "Temperature and pressure are rising. Are you doing some sort of test?"

"How many people are down there?" Zach asked after several more seconds passed with no response.

"At least three," Mary said irritably. "Go down and find out what's going on."

"Me? Why me?"

"Because you're the one who's bloody complaining that there's nothing to do!" Mary exclaimed.

Zach sighed and rose from his seat. "Guess you figured out what 'bloody' means."

"Just get down there," Mary insisted. "And watch your head. Husks do bend at the waist, you know."

Minutes passed. The temperature and pressure continued to rise, slowly but inexorably. "Medical, this is command," Mary called over the comm. "Someone's messing with the atmosphere; are you all right down there?"

No answer. Mary's heart began to pound. "Medical, please respond," she called again. "I'm getting worried."

Silence. Mary looked back and forth from the console to the door through which Zach had left, or rather, ducked. There were only about forty operatives on board, ten of which were patients in medical, the rest scattered throughout the ship. If she went in search of whatever was going on, that would leave command unmanned, and she wasn't supposed to do that.

A light flashed on the console, and a moment later, command was bathed in a reddish glow. Mary's breath caught in her throat as she backed slowly away, sweat poring from every pore in her husk as she jerked her head left and right. That's not supposed to happen, she thought wildly. That had been installed as an afterthought, a way to make everyone feel better. No one had ever really thought they'd need it. "Engineering!" she called frantically. "Medical! Anyone! Anyone anywhere, please respond!"

Idiot, she told herself severely. What was she thinking? All communication was automatically suspended whenever the infrared was activated, although an automatic distress call would have been sent. Still, given the speed of human transport, help would be at least a couple of hours away.

The light continued to blink, slowly, each flash like a footstep coming closer and closer. Calm down, Mary ordered herself. She was a senior level operative; she knew what to do. A minute later she had locked down command and was fumbling in a storage drawer for what she needed, what they kept on hand against the unlikely much like humans kept fire extinguishers. Then she stepped into the corridor, pressing her hand to the print lock to bar entry to anyone but her. She wasn't supposed to leave command unattended, but it couldn't be helped.

Unless this was some kind of malfunction, there was a Covari on board.





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




*Interesting,* Brivari commented as infrared lights flicked on.

*Annoying,* Jaddo corrected. *I'll deal with that in a moment. Whoever is in command will no doubt move to lock down command functions, so I need to learn as much as possible before they accomplish that.*

*I was referring to the husks,* Brivari replied, gazing at the dead Argilians at his feet. *They have begun to heal even though the Argilians inside are dead.*

*They had better be,* Jaddo answered. *I took great care to ensure they were. Now.....there appears to be a crew complement of twenty-nine located in key places throughout the ship.*

*Twenty-six,* Brivari corrected, stepping over the three bodies on the floor.

*Right. And in addition to the crew, there are ten in medical.*

*It's a safe assumption that at least some will not be wearing husks,* Brivari said. *They will be the first to go when the atmosphere has finished adjusting.*

* Most stations have only one or two people manning them,* Jaddo continued, tapping the screen in front of him quickly as information flew by. *Engineering was second largest with three.*

*And the largest?*

*A crew of eight working a large section of the lower deck to which a massive amount of power has been diverted,* Jaddo answered. *I'm trying to.......oh.*

*What?*

Jaddo raised both hands from the screen. *I'm locked out. Took them long enough.*

*We weren't expected. Did you learn anything else?*

*The ship is basically functioning as a giant communications array with Antar,* Jaddo replied. *That, and a home for whatever they have on the lower deck.*

*Which I shall be pleased to leave homeless,* Brivari said. *Shall we?*

Brivari raised a hand to the atmospheric controls; a second later they were smoking, fried beyond use, leaving their current settings unchangeable. Jaddo did the same to the infrared beam, destroying the emitter which produced it. The red glow disappeared.

*Leave propulsion,* Brivari instructed. *We'll need it.*

*How long do you think it will take for the atmosphere to reach the point where it will do some of our work for us?* Jaddo asked, stepping over a body on his way to the door.

A loud bang made them turn; one of the bodies had disappeared, replaced by a cloud of floating skin flakes.

*Not long,* Brivari answered.




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




Mary crept along the corridor, keeping close to the walls, her head much too close to the ceiling, her eyes everywhere in the reddish light which made everything look weird and misshapen. Covari were the most insidious of species, capable of looking like anything or anyone, meaning one had to look in more than just the usual places; it could be on the ceiling, on the walls, flattened on the floor.....anywhere. Or behind me, she thought suddenly, spinning around to check the corridor she'd only just passed through, her heart racing wildly. The infrared was a comfort, but a small one given that she didn't know exactly what shape to look for or where to look for it. Right about now, she'd like to find whomever had made the decision to allow such a creature to live and wring their necks. Being stalked by a virtually invisible assailant was absolutely terrifying.

Think! she ordered herself, ducking into a doorway, desperate for a moment to clear her head. Where would it be headed? Why was it even here? Did it think Nicholas was on the ship? But its motives were less important than the fact that she shouldn't be here. If the sensors that looked for moving infrared signatures were tripped, everyone's orders were to lock themselves in their respective stations and wait for help or for the Covari to come to them, it being madness to hunt an invisible enemy even it was somewhat more visible than usual.

So why was she out here, creeping around in the red? She should have stayed in command and waited, waited for it to come to her, to have to navigate a locked door with her on the other side. Out here in the corridor she was vulnerable, exposed. But not as exposed at the patients in medical, none of whom were wearing husks. Medical had it's own systems, including life support, but she had no way of knowing if those systems had also been compromised. If they had, everyone in there but the doctor would be dead in short order; if they hadn't, medical was now the safest place on the ship.

Cautiously, she peered around the corner. The coast was clear. She had no sooner stepped out of the doorway when something moved to her right, and she whirled around, arm extended, ready to shoot.

"Wait!" Zach yelled. "It's me!"

And it was him, the lack of an infrared signature proving that. "You almost shot me," he said reproachfully. "I really don't think sedating me right now would be the best course of action."

"Of course I almost shot you!" Mary said irritably, lowering her weapon. "Why wouldn't I?"

"What are you doing out here? You were supposed to stay in command."

"Never mind that," Mary said crossly. "What about engineering?"

"I never made it," Zach answered. "The infrared popped on, and I headed back here. I think we already know who's tinkering with the atmosphere. What about you?"

"I locked out the controls, and I'm going to medical," Mary said, leaning against the wall. "They have redundant systems, but there's no way to tell if they're still working."

Zach sniffed the air, the composition of which was clearly changing. "Do you think they messed with medical's atmosphere too?"

"Hopefully they're too busy to bother," Mary answered.

"Wait....didn't you say you had a friend in there?"

Mary paused. "I said it was someone I knew. Let's go."

They'd made it only about five steps before the infrared clicked off, bathing the corridor in what now seemed like impossibly bright light. Mary and Zach froze in their tracks.

"Okay," Zach said, breathing heavily. "This is good."

" 'Good'?" Mary exclaimed incredulously. "Explain to me how this is good!"

"It's good because now we know where it is," Zach answered. "It could only have shut off the infrared from engineering. So if we run......"

And a moment later, they did; well, not 'run' exactly, which was impossible while wearing a husk on a ship built for their native form. It was more like scrambling, but they made it to medical in record time and pounded on the door for all they were worth. "Let us in!" Zach yelled. "Quickly, before it leaves engineering!"

"They can't hear you," Mary said wearily. "The comms are down, remember?"

"But they can see us," Zach said, pointing to the lens above the door, which was still lit. He pulled his trithium generator from his pocket and activated its infrared wash, which looked small and weak after the ship-wide version. "C'mon, c'mon," Zach said urgently, looking up and down the empty corridor. "Look at the monitor. Figure it out."

"Maybe they won't open up," Mary said. "We're not supposed to be here. We've broken protocol."

"But we are here," Zach argued. "They can't just leave us out here!"

Yes, they can, Mary thought sadly. And they should. Technically speaking, they shouldn't open that door for Nicholas himself, generator or no generator. Their orders had been very specific.

Which is why she was surprised when the door suddenly open and hands pulled them inside. "Quickly!" the doctor urged. "Before too much of our atmosphere escapes!"

The sudden change in atmosphere was jarring. Mary leaned against the wall, feeling lightheaded for a moment. The infrared was off in here too, that apparently not being one of the redundant systems. Most of the patients were half-sitting, half-lying on their beds with looks of alarm on their faces, including the face she had found so foreign just a short while ago.

"Are you all right?" Mary whispered, squeezing the huge hand as well as she could with her own tiny human hand.

"For the moment," she whispered. "I knew you'd come."

"I'll get you out of this," Mary said earnestly. "I promise."

"What are you doing here?" the doctors said behind her. "You were supposed to wait at your post."

"You have redundant life support systems," Mary answered, dropping the patient's hand self-consciously.

"Which they haven't tampered with," Zach noted.

"They may not have found the redundancy," the doctor said. "Do we know for certain there are Covari on board?"

Zach and Mary exchanged glances. "Something tripped the alarms," she said. "Something shut off the infrared."

"Okay," Zach said. "Now what?"

Now what indeed? Mary thought. They couldn't do anything from here, so being here suddenly made no sense. And that's not why you came, she added silently. It had just been a handy excuse. "We stay here," she said. "Command is locked down, so there's no point in exposing ourselves in the corridors. This is technically the safest place on the ship."

The doctor shrugged, not being part of the command structure anyway. The patients looked relieved. But Zach pulled her aside, lowering his voice so no one else would hear.

"We should go back."

"Didn't you hear me?" Mary said irritably. "It's locked down, and I locked it; they can't do anything without me. Frankly, I think it's better that I'm as far from command as possible."

"Really? Or is that you want to be as close to medical as possible?" Zach paused as she glared at him. "Were you going to tell me your sister was down here?" he continued. "That's why we're here, isn't it?"

"This isn't open for discussion," Mary said coldly.

"Fine," Zach said shortly. "Put your personal concerns ahead of your duty if you like. One of us should be in command, so I'll go."

"You can't go alone!" Mary protested.

"Looks like I'll have to," Zach retorted.

They squared off for a moment before Mary relented. "All right; I'll go back. But if....." She stopped, her eyes widening. "Where's my generator? I set it down on that table."

"Mine's gone too," Zach said, patting his empty pocket. "Doctor? Do you have yours?"

"Of course," the doctor answered. "It's right here in my......" He paused. "Or it was, anyway."

And then the three of them were in the middle of the room, their backs pressed together. Oh, God, Mary thought despairingly. I led them right here.




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


I'll post Chapter 76 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 75, 5/17

Post by Kathy W » Sun May 24, 2009 1:34 pm

Hello to everyone reading!





CHAPTER SEVENTY-SIX




October 30, 1959, 8:30 p.m.

Black Range Mountains, New Mexico





Mary, Zach, and the doctor stood in the middle of the room, their backs to each other, eyes everywhere. They saw nothing unusual, but that meant nothing; Covari could literally seep through the air ducts, and without the infrared, no one would know. The patients, ironically, were paying little attention, having slid back down in their beds after the initial excitement and not yet figured out what exactly was amiss. They must have followed us, Mary thought, kicking herself for having ever left command. It was highly unlikely that Royal Warders would have paid any mind to medical if not for operatives heading in that direction, so her pressing need to see her sister, to lay hands on her once again, had done nothing except lead them right here, right where she had never wanted them to be.

"Show yourselves!" Mary called to the open air, anxious to have this over with.

"You might want to keep your voice down," someone suggested.

For a split second, Mary thought it was either Zack or the doctor talking......until it dawned on her that she'd never heard that voice before. The others must have realized the same thing at about the same time because all three of them jerked in the same direction to find a man standing a few feet away, a human man who hadn't been there only a moment ago. He didn't appear the least bit threatening and looked no different than any other human man she'd ever encountered. It was clear from the doctor's and Zach's stillness that they were also having trouble grappling with who—or rather, what—this really was.

Any doubts on that score vanished as the man opened his hand to reveal three trithium generators which promptly crumbled to dust, filtering through his fingers to the floor like Earth's sand. Mary felt the two men stiffen beside her. They'd all heard the tales of the Royal Warders' enhancements of course; all of Antar had. To see it right in front of you was another matter entirely.

"Approach," the Warder ordered.

No one moved. "I assure you, proximity will place you in no greater peril than you are already in," the Warder said with a pointed glance at the pile of dust on the floor.

Mary's eyes flicked toward her sister, still lying on her bed with her eyes closed, then toward the rest of the patients who were similarly not paying attention. The unthinkable had happened here, yet none had noticed. A few glanced their way, but the presence of another human-appearing body meant nothing; every Argilian on the planet but these unfortunates were wearing husks that, without access to infrared, would be indistinguishable from the Warder's current form.

"If your concern is for them," the Warder added, "it might better serve to keep our negotiations private."

Negotiations. Mary eyed the Warder warily, wondering if that word offered a glimmer of hope or was merely a weak attempt at humor from a race which had none. Not that it mattered. She did have a card to play, and she intended to use it, shamelessly if necessary. She came forward slowly, trailed by Zach and the doctor.

"What do you want?" she asked coldly when she was as close as she was willing to get.

"You know what I want," the Warder replied calmly. "I want control of command, and I understand you can furnish that. Please," it continued when she opened her mouth to say something, "do not waste our mutually valuable time. I heard you tell your fellow operative that you locked down command. Therefore it must be you who unlocks it."

"No way," Zach retorted. "You're just going to kill us anyway, so why would we do anything for you?"

The Warder's eyes swung from Zach to the patients behind him. "What's wrong with them?" it asked.

Zach snorted softly. "Like you're the least bit interested in....."

His voice trailed off when the Warder's eyes fastened on his. "And why wouldn't I be?" it asked softly. "They are my Ward's subjects, after all."

Mary's heart nearly stopped. Brivari. This was none other than the king's Warder, the true architect, some said, of the dynasty that fell.

"Their husks failed," she said, trying to keep her voice steady.

"Why?" Brivari asked.

"Don't tell it anything!" Zach hissed furiously in her ear.

"What difference does it make?" Mary argued. She turned back to the Warder, who was watching her with something uncomfortably resembling amusement. "Premature aging," she answered. "We think. The husks simply.....died young. We don't know why."

"And this damaged the host?"

"No. We just don't have any spare husks. Is there a point to this conversation?" Mary asked irritably. "Somehow I find it difficult to believe that you just dropped in for a chat."

Zach froze behind her, as though bracing for a blow, but Brivari appeared unperturbed by her temper. "I was merely curious about the condition of my Ward's subjects," it said.

"Don't you mean your Ward's enemies?" Zach muttered.

"It was your choice to become an enemy," Brivari replied. "But enemy or not, you are still a subject of the crown."

"A crown now worn by Khivar," Zach said.

"For all the good it does him," Brivari answered. "The crown means nothing without the royal mark, which remains in the possession of the king." He looked at Mary, his eyes boring into hers. "I need control of command. Name your price."

"There is no 'price',' Zach said angrily. "If—"

"They live," Mary interrupted, nodding toward the patients.

"What?" Zach exclaimed. "You can't!"

"I can, and I will. They live," she repeated firmly. "All of them."

"Ah, yes," Brivari murmured. "Your sister."

Mary struggled to keep from shaking as the Warder's eyes fastened on her sister's still shape. Accustomed as she was to Nicholas' habit of using family members against them, she'd meant to keep that bit of information to herself. But it knew already, and it was no different than Nicholas; it was toying with her, asking for her "price" when it already knew full well what she wanted. She'd be crazy to even consider the notion that one could bargain with a Covari. Any minute now it would threaten to kill them, starting, no doubt, with her sister, and it would keep going until there was either no one left to kill or she had surrendered the lockdown codes it wanted.

"Very well, then," Brivari said. "The lives of these few for control of command. I accept your terms."

Mary blinked. "You.....you do?"

"You will accompany me," Brivari said to her, ignoring her question. "Only you," it added when Zach twitched behind her. "The rest will stay here."

"You can't open the door!" the doctor sputtered, finding his voice at last as the Warder reached a hand toward the door. "My patients aren't wearing husks—"

But the door didn't open, it.......melted, the edges vanishing into the wall surrounding it, making a smooth expanse which shimmered and rippled as though it had been liquefied. "After you," the Warder said to Mary in an almost courtly tone, gesturing toward the door-turned-wall. "I have dissolved the bonds between the molecules which comprise the wall so you may step through it. The inhabitants of this room will be unaffected."

Mary glanced around; none of the patients were showing any sign of distress. "You can't do this!" Zach whispered, pulling her aside. "It's treason! Nicholas will....."

Nicholas will what? Mary thought bitterly as Zach droned on. Kill her? Like that mattered now; she was dead either way because if by some miracle the Warders left her alive, Nicholas would surely execute her for what she was about to do. Now it was just a matter of who her executioner would be and whether or not she could manage to lower the body count.

"Take care of her," she said sadly, looking at her sister as she cut Zach off mid-sentence. "And tell Nicholas whatever you need to. Make something up. I don't care."

Before he could answer, she turned and walked straight into the rippling wall.




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




"It's been almost an hour," Andrew fretted.

"We're supposed to be on Antarian time when we're on the ship, remember?" Malcolm replied. "We don't have 'hours'."

"Call it what you like, it's been too long. Someone should have been here by now."

Malcolm sighed as Andrew paced in front of him, desperately wishing he were at one of the other duty stations. There were four on this level, all manned by two operatives, none of whom were panicking. Yet.

"It was probably just an accident," Malcolm said soothingly. "The infrared wasn't even on very long—"

"Exactly," Andrew interrupted. "Who shut it off?"

"Most likely engineering," Malcolm replied patiently. "But the protocol is the same any time the alarm is tripped for any reason: We stay put and wait for back-up."

"That could take hours!" Andrew exclaimed. "This is ridiculous. We can't contact anyone, we're not supposed to leave. So we just sit here? We're operatives, for heaven's sake!"

"Yes," Malcolm said deliberately. "Operatives with orders. And those orders are to stay put until we get the all clear. It's probably nothing. How would the Warders have located us anyway?"

"Maybe they're looking harder; Nicholas hasn't been hunting them so intensely until now," Andrew reminded him, gazing longingly at the dark communication panel by the door. "Maybe I could jury-rig something and reach another station, just to see if they've heard anything."

"Why? You wouldn't be able to believe anything you hear; Covari can sound like anyone. That's precisely why the comms go down, so they can't be used against us."

"I thought you didn't think it was Covari?"

"I don't," Malcolm sighed. "I think it's either an accident or a drill, maybe even a test. And the easiest way to flunk that test would be to disobey orders."

"They've never 'tested' us before," Andrew argued.

"And as you just pointed out, Nicholas is in pursuit," Malcolm replied. "So maybe he's testing us now. Look, if it were Covari, where are they? They wouldn't take this long to get here. What, you think they'd bust onto the ship and sit back for a cup of tea? Sit down, simmer down, and wait for confirmation."

"I can't," Andrew said irritably.

"Then go check the spores again."

"I just checked them."

"Then check them again," Malcolm said. "If you're going to pace, you may as well do something useful. Driving me crazy isn't useful."

With a snort of annoyance, Andrew stalked off toward the quadrant they were responsible for in the cavernous lower deck, his rubber-soled footwear slapping on the wet floor. It was dark in here, dark and wet with an Earth-equivalent atmosphere, the perfect set of conditions for growth. He was surprised to find that the silence he'd found so unnerving only a short while ago was now unexpectedly soothing, the damp mist that pervaded the room no longer clammy, but cooling. Maybe Malcolm was right; maybe he was worked up over nothing.

He reached the first set of spores, checking the read-outs even though he'd checked them only a short time ago. This was the "nothing" phase of development, when the spores were merely shapeless lumps that resembled nothing sentient, or nothing he'd ever seen, anyway. Further down the line the next oldest set had the beginnings of a face and limbs but were still undefined, their features mere suggestions which could turn into virtually anything. At this stage they were still lumps of clay, as the humans would say, ready to be molded.

Moving along, Andrew methodically checked each set, averting his eyes from some of them. The intermediate phases could be grotesque as the spores seemed to fight the mold into which they were thrust, struggling to become something else entirely. They had lost that struggle by the later phases, finally succumbing to human form, albeit the infant variety. From there they grew like any human would, through their surprisingly long childhood, given their lifespan, and into adulthood. These were the most interesting to watch. The process by which humans matured was simultaneously rapid and dramatic; height increased, hair sprouted in the strangest places, and various body parts underwent alarming increases in size. Many an Argilian stationed here had spent time in front of those spores, wondering what it was like to have one's body undergo such a rapid and unsettling transformation. Their own species had advanced to the point where such huge mutations were unnecessary. Thank goodness no one remembered a time before that.

Reaching the end of their section, Andrew paused before the final set of spores which resembled human children of about nine years of age. Nicholas' husk was not much older than these, it's development frozen, trapping him in a child's body. Although intended as a punishment, there had been many who had envied their commander his smaller husk, which had been much easier to grow accustomed to than the usual adult variety. Not until they had actually reached Earth and discovered the freedoms and opportunities an adult husk afforded them had the true depth of Khivar's punishment become clear. Andrew's adult husk had allowed him to move about this world in ways closed to the one he reported to. Any jealousy he'd harbored toward Nicholas for the much shorter and easier acclimation period he'd experienced had evaporated when it became clear that the prize for all that discomfort was very sweet indeed, as it would be for whoever wore these once they had matured.

If we need them at all, he amended silently. Maybe they wouldn't; maybe Nicholas would find what he was looking for and take them all back home, bearing the means to end the chaos on Antar and effect his own reinstatement. Looking at the spores now halfway to full development, Andrew was startled to discover that he had mixed emotions about the possibility of going home. This patch of Earth was peaceful, for the moment, at least, and he had enjoyed more freedom here than he ever had back home. Humans were advanced enough to be tolerable but still primitive enough to be interesting. Frankly he wouldn't mind if it took a while longer to find what they were looking for. Maybe a good while longer.

Selfish, Andrew chided himself, beginning the long walk back. To want to stay here for personal amusement while his world was in turmoil was unbelievably selfish. The walk had done him good, calmed him down and refocused his priorities. That was one of the goals of the ship rotation, to remind everyone of who they were and where they had come from, regardless of the face they saw in the mirror. It was easy to forget what was at stake when one was going to a human job every day, taking out the trash, and mowing the lawn. It was easy to forget why they were really here, to sink down into one's cover and make the mistake of thinking that was your real life. Perhaps he should stop fretting what was probably just a glitch or a test and take this opportunity to reconnect with people he rarely saw, people who were just like him.

Veering left, Andrew headed toward the next station over from his own. They couldn't reach anyone outside the nursery, but there were six other operatives stationed here. Eventually he'd go back and tell Malcolm he'd been right, but at the moment, he'd rather talk to someone else. He rounded the corner of a long row of spores and came to a sudden halt in front of the neighboring station when he realized there was no one there. Where were they? One of them could be out monitoring the spores or visiting a station, but only one; the station must be manned at all times, like Malcolm was manning theirs in his absence. Had they gotten impatient and left like he'd proposed? Had they......

Andrew looked down as his foot connected with something slippery. Something white and flakey.....lots of something's, actually. They were everywhere, he could see now, thin white flakes that had settled on the floor, the chairs, the instruments....everything.

"Oh, no," he whispered.

"Oh, yes," said a soft voice behind him.




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




Mary closed her eyes just before impact, uncertain of what to expect. Water, she thought as she slammed into it at a bit of a run. It felt like pushing through deep water, moving slowly despite her efforts to hurry up, to get this over with. And then she was through, standing in the corridor on the other side, gasping at the sudden change of atmosphere.

"Left," Brivari said behind her. "You will go ahead."

"But command is—"

"I am aware of its location," Brivari interrupted.

Mary headed left, crouching as she walked. It would keep her alive as long as it needed control of command, so her sister had at least that long to live. Nothing else mattered to her now, not even the fact that one of the deadliest beings on either Earth or Antar walked unhurriedly behind her, not even carrying a weapon. It didn't need a weapon. It was a weapon.

"Left again," Brivari ordered.

Mary obediently rounded a corner, still unsure as to where they were going. They were halfway down the new corridor when the sudden change in atmosphere caught up with her; a wave of lightheadedness made everything dim, and she felt herself falling. Something caught her before she hit the floor, and she instinctively wrenched away, slamming her head into the nearby wall in the process.

"Don't....touch me," she rasped out, struggling to stay conscious.

"I was merely breaking your fall," Brivari answered. "Are you injured?"

"Like I'm....supposed to believe.....you care," Mary said breathlessly.

"Believe what you like. I repeat—are you injured?"

The lights in the corridor brightened ever so slightly. "No. Just.....winded. Husks.....take a few minutes....to adjust."

There was a pause. "Then we will wait until you have recovered."

She closed her eyes for a minute, taking slow, deep breaths. When she opened them again, she found herself on the floor slumped against the wall. Brivari was standing to one side, watching her with what appeared to be interest.

"Why does it take so long to acclimate?" it asked.

"How should I know?" Mary said irritably. "I'm not a bioscientist. What difference does it make?"

"None, really," it answered casually, almost as though they were two friends having a conversation instead of captive and captor. "I was just curious."

"Curious about finding a better way to kill me?"

"I am curious about all the doings of my Ward's subjects," it replied evenly. "And I have no need of a 'better' way to kill you."

Mary's head jerked up, searching the eyes, the face, the posture. But there was no hatred in its eyes, no menace in its voice; it had simply made a statement of fact. It was well known that Covari were emotionless creatures, but at the moment, she found that oddly comforting. Perhaps it wasn't worth wasting her energy getting angry with it; it wasn't responding anyway, and she could hardly expect it to, given what it was. This was merely a highly intelligent, albeit supremely dangerous guard dog upon whom emotions were wasted.

Her breathing was even now, and her head had stopped spinning. "Do you require assistance?" Brivari asked as she slowly climbed to her feet.

"No," she said firmly, one hand on the wall, the other outstretched to keep it away, a useless gesture if ever there was one. "Don't touch me."

"As you wish."

She started down the corridor, keeping one hand on the wall for a while, removing it only when she was certain the dizziness wouldn't return. The Warder walked in silence behind her, not even its footsteps making a single sound. A furtive look behind her showed that the Covari had adjusted its height so as to navigate the corridors more easily. She wished she could do that. Bending over like this was a killer for the neck.

"So why did you leave them alive?" she asked, deciding that simple conversation might be the most amusing way to pass her last moments. "Zach and the doctor, I mean."

"I saw no immediate need to kill them."

"I thought Warders automatically killed anything in their path," Mary said.

"Executing my Ward's subjects should never be done lightly or in haste, and only when necessary."

Mary glanced backwards, puzzled; for a moment there, it had sounded like it actually had scruples. "What if they get out?"

"Doing so would mean exposing those not wearing husks to a deadly atmosphere. The doctor, at least, would not do that."

"Zach might," Mary said.

"In which case he would condemn the patients to death and likely have to kill the doctor in the process, leaving me with only one operative to be concerned about. We're going down," it added as they approached a hatch.

Mary stiffened; so that was where they were going, and there could be only one reason why. What had she been thinking a moment ago, hearing the makings of a conscience? Live or die, kill or spare, it responded to a simple mathematical equation, a risk/benefit analysis that had nothing to do with conscience, or scruples, or anything related to true sentience. She must still be light-headed if she were thinking otherwise. Stepping aside after climbing down the ladder into the alcove, she waited until the Warder had joined her.

"An airlock," Brivari said slowly. "Why an airlock?"

"You know why," Mary said sullenly.

"What would be the point in asking if I already knew?" It waited for an answer, shrugging when it received none.

"Open it."

Stone-faced, Mary pressed her palm to the handprint lock. The airlock's door slid open with a hiss of escaping atmosphere, and they stepped inside. As soon as the door closed behind them, the exchange began.

"As I recall, this takes approximately one minute," Brivari commented.

Mary stared at it. "You've been in one of these before?"

"When I visited the scientist who perfected your husks."

" 'Visited'?" Mary echoed. "Don't you mean 'murdered'?"

"I would use the term 'executed'," it replied calmly. "But for the record, we visited first."

"Do you 'visit' with all your victims before you kill them?"

"He offered me hospitality," Brivari said. "It would have been rude not to accept."

A chime sounded, the time elapsed far less than a 'minute' given that the atmosphere on the ship side of the airlock was now largely the same as that on the other side thanks to the Warders interference. Mary was still wrestling with the notion of a Covari having any concept of "rude" when the airlock door slid open and the cavernous nursery loomed in front of them, dark and damp. Her eyes darted everywhere, straining for a glimpse of an operative, all of whom had generators which could block the Warder's enhanced abilities. Granted, it would still be able to shapeshift, but there were eight operatives stationed here; she made nine. Certainly nine against one was good enough odds to offer some kind of hope, even if it managed to destroy the nursery in the process.

But something was wrong. The Warder appeared completely unconcerned about encountering any kind of resistance, and as she advanced further into the nursery, she could see why: There wasn't any. Where was everybody? Were they hiding? Had it already been here and killed everyone?

"I gather these are new husks?" Brivari asked, standing at one end of a long row of spores.

"Yes," Mary said guardedly, waiting for someone, anyone, to mount any kind of resistance.

"That would explain the need to maintain an Earth-like atmosphere in this section. Is your first crop nearing the end of their lifespan?"

"No."

"Then why grow so many new ones?"

"You saw what could happen," Mary answered. "Those people in medical, their husks failed prematurely."

"You would need a very high failure rate to warrant such a large crop of replacements," Brivari noted. "What else is going on here?" He paused when she didn't reply and walked back toward her, stopping just in front of her as she struggled not to back up.

"Answer me," it said in a steely tone.

Mary hesitated, glancing toward a nearby empty duty station. These husks weren't going to last much longer anyway, so it probably didn't matter if she answered. "Nicholas wants to enhance our husks," she explained.

"Enhance them how?"

"The same way you were enhanced," Mary answered.

"You can do that?"

"We think so. At least to a certain extent."

The Warder considered that for a moment before walking back to the spores. "Impressive," it said at length. "And such a pity."

"What's a pity?"

"This represents a significant step forward for your race in the biosciences," Brivari answered. "It's a pity to see such ingenuity wasted."

"You call it 'ingenuity'," another voice said. "I call it 'treason'."

Mary spun around to find a man standing where none had been before, a human man wearing an unfamiliar face and hard, dark eyes. "Treason, yes," Brivari answered. "But you must admit.....ingenious, all the same."

"Forgive me if I don't share your joy at finding ingenuity in our enemies," the other answered impatiently.

"Ingenuity in the king's subjects should be encouraged," Brivari replied calmly. "Properly channeled, of course, as it wasn't here."

"We agree on that, at least," the other grumbled.

Oh, God, Mary thought despairingly. Two of them? No wonder it hadn't been worried about encountering resistance. It was well known that only two Warders had survived, so if her captor was Brivari, this second one must be Jaddo, Warder to Rath, the leader of the king's armies.....and much less likely to be as accommodating as Brivari had surprisingly turned out to be.

As if in confirmation, something caught her eye......a glimmer of light from the floor.....soft flakes. Mary's breath caught in her throat as she realized they were everywhere, covering every surface with a layer so seamless that it was hard to see even when you were looking for it. "You killed them," she whispered. "You killed all of them, didn't you?"

"Of course I killed them," Jaddo answered coldly. "Why are you still alive?"

"She and I have an understanding," Brivari answered, still inspecting the spores. "This one has the ability to unlock command."

"Then let's use it," Jaddo said. "I've finished diverting power. We should move on."

"We should," Brivari said, something suspiciously resembling regret in his voice.

"Are you serious?" Mary exclaimed. "I'm not unlocking anything for you! You said you wouldn't kill the patients in medical! How do I know this one didn't double back after we left and kill them anyway?"

"You don't," Jaddo replied flatly.

"Then I'm not unlocking anything," Mary said angrily. "Just kill me now, and get it over with!"

She backed away as it took a step closer. "If you insist," Jaddo said softly.




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




"We have to do something!" Zach exclaimed in a fierce whisper.

"And what, exactly, would you have us do?" the doctor asked quietly. "The door has virtually disappeared, there's no other way out, and it's something of a small miracle that no one has figured out what's happening yet, not to mention a blessing."

Zach huffed impatiently as he glanced at the patients, none of whom had discovered their peril. Their confrontation with the Warder had been so quiet, so.....so civilized that no one had noticed. Not even Mary's sister, the sister she was willing to betray all of them for, knew what was going on. "So you think it a 'blessing' that they don't realize we're being betrayed?" Zach said bitterly. "I think they deserve to be told, or at least defended. There must be another way out of here."

"But there isn't, not without venting precious atmosphere," the doctor argued. "And what makes you think she isn't defending them? It cut off communications, we can't call for help, and it's perfectly capable of gaining control of this ship without her—it will just take longer. Given that it will have what it wants in any case, what she offered was a small price to pay for these lives."

"We were supposed to remain at our posts!" Zach fumed. "She was supposed to stay in command, and this is why, so she wouldn't be tempted to cooperate." He looked up at the ceiling, studying the grates. "If I move fast, we wouldn't lose much atmosphere. I could get to engineering, maybe—"

"Weren't you just complaining that Mary didn't stay at her post?" the doctor interrupted. "And now you're going to leave yours? Your best chance of survival is right here. It will destroy the spores, but it just might spare us."

"He's right," a voice said behind them.

Zach whirled around to find Mary standing behind them, right where the door had been. "How did you get in here?" he demanded.

"From the wall, same way I got out," she answered. "They're waiting for me out in the corridor."

"Wait," the doctor interjected. " 'They' as in plural?"

Mary looked from the doctor to Zach and back again. "There are two of them," she said.

Zach looked away, feeling the doctor's eyes on him. One they might have escaped one, but two..... "Did you do it?" he asked Mary. "Did you give them what they wanted?"

"Not yet. I wanted to make certain all of you were still alive." She paused, gazing at her sister. "The nursery has been destroyed. The second Warder singlehandedly killed every operative in there, and I would be surprised if everyone else on this ship wasn't already dead. We can't fight them," she added firmly when Zach began to protest. "They're too powerful. If we give them what they want, it's possible we'll pose a small enough threat that they'll let us live."

"Are you crazy?" Zach exclaimed. "These are Covari! They're killing machines!"

Mary was quiet for a moment. "I'm not as sure of that as I was before. I heard them talking.....arguing......I don't know. Jaddo is what I expected, but Brivari.....I might be able to reason with him."

Zach made a strangled noise of disbelief. "Listen to me," he ground out, grabbing Mary by the shoulders. "Powerful or not, chatty or not, they are what they are. You're the only operative out there. You have to try and stop them, or at least thwart them. The only reason we're not dead is because they need something from you, and the minute they have it, it's over. We're over. So if we're going to die anyway, I say we die without giving them any advantages." He glanced at her sister, sleeping peacefully across the room. "She's dead anyway. We both know that. We're all operatives, and we have our orders. It's time you followed yours."




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



Mrs. Bruce's rooming house,

Roswell





I give up, Courtney thought, heaving herself into a sitting position with a sigh. She was exhausted, but going to bed early had been a huge mistake, producing nothing in the way of sleep and plenty in the way of tossing and turning, which had the ironic—and unfortunate—effect of making her both more tired and more upset. If she was going to stew, she may as well do it in a more comfortable position. Not that stewing will help, she thought as she opened her refrigerator, hoping maybe a late night snack would calm her nerves. Just knowing that Mr. Anderson was sitting in Nicholas' rooming house aware that she was a member of the resistance was absolutely terrifying. Granted, he wasn't the first to discover that: Malik, Dee, and every member of Dee's family knew that too. But that was different; Dee's family had a long history of impeccable discretion, and Malik understood the risks and benefits of either allying with or exposing the resistance. Mr. Anderson, with his booming voice and cheerful, I-just-had-my-dream-come-true demeanor seemed a poor choice to harbor such a secret. And yet Brivari told him, she reminded herself. The King's Warder was no fool, although his trusting Mr. Anderson didn't carry the same weight for him because he could always shapeshift and disappear. She had no such advantage.

The hand pouring a glass of milk jumped as someone pounded on her door. No....not her door; it was close, but not that close. Someone must be pounding on her father's door, and she set the milk bottle down and hurried to her own, remembering to douse the lights just before she cracked it open.

It was Greer, visibly agitated even from behind. He had just raised his hand to pound again when the door opened, her father's face appeared, and Greer pushed his way inside. Damn it, she thought as the door closed behind him. What was going on? Had Mr. Anderson been discovered? Had he ratted them out? But if that were the case, Greer wouldn't be merely knocking on her father's door, would he?

Cautiously, Courtney crept into the hallway and pressed an ear to the door, suddenly longing for Mr. Anderson's heat vent. The doors were thick and remarkably soundproof; she could make out little besides single words, including "signal" and "response", all delivered in urgent, alarmed tones. She shrank back into the shadows only seconds before the door flew open and Greer went pounding down the stairs and out the front door, making a sufficient quantity of noise to risk the ire of Mrs. Bruce. Her father's silhouette emerged a few seconds later, pulling back in surprise when she stepped out of the shadows.

"Courtney? What are you doing out here?"

"What's wrong, Papa?"

"I'm not sure yet," her father answered, his voice tense. "Go back to your room."

"Have they....." She stopped, tempted to tell him about Mr. Anderson right then and there. "Have they found us?" she finished in a whisper.

"No," he answered soberly. "But something else has been found."





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



I'll post Chapter 77 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 76, 5/24

Post by Kathy W » Sun May 31, 2009 1:24 pm

Hello to everyone reading!






CHAPTER SEVENTY-SEVEN



October 30, 1959, 10 p.m.

Black Range Mountains, New Mexico





*You should never have let her go in there,* Jaddo said. "We don't need her. We can disable any encryption they used.*

*Eventually,* Brivari allowed as they waited in the corridor for their captive to satisfy herself that her conditions were being met. *Having her do it for us is much faster.*

*Fine, but that doesn't involve reuniting her with other operatives,* Jaddo argued.

*Everyone else is dead aside from the few in there, correct? And leaving would be suicide for all but three of those,* Brivari added when Jaddo grunted an affirmative. *Before you mow virtually everyone down, kindly remember that some of them are useful, if only to motivate others.*

Another grunt. Jaddo paced back and forth in the corridor, the picture of impatience even though they had only been waiting a minute or so. *What happened after we split up?* Brivari asked, more to pass the time than because he needed an answer. *Did you encounter any resistance?*

*Only in the nursery. Every other duty station had only two operatives, which were easy to take out. One in the nursery managed to activate the dampening field with his generator. Which made no difference, of course. We don't need our abilities to remove them. Where is she?*

*It's only been a couple of minutes,* Brivari pointed out.

*But what if she tries to emerge with weapons, or—*

*She will not do anything to jeopardize her sister's life,* Brivari answered.

*And what makes you so certain of that?*

Because I lost someone, Brivari thought, sparing a moment of surprise that his pain had proven tactically valuable, enabling him to identify the same vulnerability in another....and a moment of discomfort that identifying it also enabled him to exploit it. It was not lost on him that Nicholas had brought operatives' family members along so he could use them in just exactly the way Brivari was using them now. An unpleasant thought, perhaps, but sometimes one didn't have the luxury of doing the right thing, the noble thing. Had Riall been here, he would have instructed him to do the same.

*We should go in there,* Jaddo announced.

*And we will if she does not emerge soon,* Brivari promised.

*Then 'soon' had better be very soon,* Jaddo warned. *I want to get this over with.*

And I don't, Brivari thought. Where Jaddo saw enemies and battle, he saw a familiar environment and the desire to linger awhile. He understood the desire for speed—undoubtedly some sort of distress call had been linked to the activation of the infrared—but in the meantime he was savoring the feeling of once again being onboard an Antarian ship amongst people from his own world, even if they were enemies. It had been so long, so very long since he had been on such familiar ground that he was surprised at his reaction. In here thoughts of Quanah or slowly maturing hybrids faded, replaced by a certainty of purpose and clarity of vision. Perhaps Jaddo was right. Perhaps he had become too human.

A soft knock sounded on the wall. Jaddo tensed as Brivari destabilized the wall's molecular bonds, but only the female operative emerged.

"They're still alive," the operative said.

"Then you are still willing to assist us?" Jaddo demanded.

"Only if you're willing to continue upholding your end of the bargain," the operative retorted.

"I made no bargain with you," Jaddo said.

"But I did," Brivari reminded him. "And a bargain made with me holds the same weight as one made with the king."

Jaddo threw him an annoyed glare before stepping back and motioning for the operative to go ahead. "Very well, then," he said stonily. "After you."




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




"Open it."

Her hand shaking, Mary glanced at the creatures behind her before pressing her palm to the lock. The door hesitated, as though unwilling to open for present company, perhaps including her. "We're all operatives, and we have our orders. It's time you followed yours." She'd been pondering Zach's admonition all the way to command, a journey made doubly uncomfortable by the presence of not one, but two Royal Warders behind her, each so completely silent that it would have been easy to forget they were there had it not been for their sheer presence. And now that they'd arrived, she felt no differently than she had when she'd impulsively made a deal with a creature she had never expected to meet face to face: Opposing them was suicide, and suicide struck her as a singularly useless gesture. Odd, really, for an operative who had been trained to accept suicide in just this sort of situation. And maybe she would have if not for the presence of her sister, so exposed, so vulnerable, and so alive because she'd rejected the notion of suicide. Perhaps Nicholas should have thought twice about bringing so many family members along.

The door finally slid open after contemplating for a full thirty seconds. Command was eerily quiet as they walked inside, the alarm lights still blinking because the infrared had been activated. "I have fulfilled my end of our bargain," announced the reason for that activation. "Now it's your turn."

Nodding slowly, Mary walked to the main panel....and paused.

"What happens afterwards?" she asked.

"That depends," Brivari answered.

"On what?"

"Restore control, and stop chattering," Jaddo ordered.

"What's to stop you going right back down there and killing everyone in medical after I restore control?" Mary argued.

"Not a thing," Jaddo said coldly. "If you won't—"

But it stopped when Brivari held up a hand; stopped reluctantly, but stopped. "I gave you my word that that those in medical would not be harmed if you gave us access to command," Brivari said. "My word given is the same as the king's word."

"So you won't kill them?" Mary pressed, aware even as she asked that it was a moot point at best; how could she stop them even if they were lying?

"Barring threatening behavior on their part, I will not kill them," Brivari answered.

"And what about me?" she persisted. "Are you going to kill me the moment I give you what you want?"

"You neglected to make your life part of our bargain," Brivari answered softly.

So I did, Mary thought sadly. She hadn't been thinking of herself, only her sister and the other patients in medical. If she didn't restore control, she would have broken their pact and her sister would die; if she did restore it, the same would very likely happen anyway. Or will it? she wondered, feeling foolish for even entertaining the notion. Jaddo was much more like she had always imagined a Warder to be, hostile and unfeeling, but Brivari....Brivari was different. A part of her actually believed the King's Warder would keep its word. Wishful thinking, undoubtedly, but again, what difference did it make?

Before she could dither any further, Mary pressed her hand to the main panel; it hesitated just like the door had, checking parameters usually ignored for a routine scan. These could be the last moments of my life, she thought sadly, looking around the room. The view wasn't great, but at least her feet were planted on something Antarian. She wondered how they would do it. Hopefully they'd break the seal on her husk, causing an instant death she wouldn't even feel. They seemed efficient, these two; even Jaddo did not appear to have tortured any of the operatives in the nursery, which was a far cry from what Nicholas would have done.....

Command suddenly flared to life, panels lighting everywhere as her handprint was confirmed and authorized. "We have control," Jaddo announced with satisfaction.

"Good," Brivari answered. "Work fast." Mary's throat constricted as he turned to her. "You will have a seat here," he told her, pulling a chair into the middle of the room, away from any of the panels.

He wants to kill me seated? she thought, sinking into the chair. But perhaps that was best. Skin flakes floating all over the panels might really mess things up. The thought of Royal Warders being thwarted by pieces of a dead husk gumming up the works was almost comical, and she swallowed a chuckle as Brivari walked toward her, stood behind her. She saw its hand rise briefly and braced herself......

The arms of the chair grew warm. Looking down, she was astonished to see them.....melting, rising around her arms to form a restraint. Brivari returned to the panel Jaddo was working on, leaving her pinned in the chair, unable to move her arms, captive.....but alive.

It took her a moment to process what had happened, or rather, what had not happened. She was alive? Why? And what were the Warders doing, anyway? She'd never stopped to think about why they wanted control of command. Destroying the ability to use the ship could be accomplished by brute force alone, something they certainly didn't lack. If they needed actual control, that meant they had other intentions.

"What are you doing?" Mary asked.

"Restoring communication," Brivari answered.

"Why?"

"Done," Jaddo said, ignoring her. "We have no way of knowing where he is, so we may have to wait like we did the last time—" He stopped as a light flashed on the panel. "Or not," he added with satisfaction.

"Is it him?" Brivari asked.

"It's his code," Jaddo confirmed, eyeing the communication data streaming across the panel. "Which may mean nothing at this point. It's been almost ten years. Shall we?"

Almost ten years since what? Mary thought, only to squeeze her eyes closed quickly as the meaning of "shall we" became all too clear. Few things upset Antarians more than watching a Covari change its shape: It was just.....wrong. When she opened her eyes, the Warders had mercifully finished and were now in their native form. And on the screen, gazing at them with an astonishment that matched her own, was a familiar face she hadn't seen for a very long while.

"Brivari?" Larak whispered. "Jaddo?"

"It is good to see you again," Brivari said, actually smiling. "It's been a long time."

"Too long," Larak agreed, staring at both Warders like a drowning man eyes the shore. "We heard they'd found you, and feared the worst. I can't tell you what this will mean to the resistance, to know that both of you have survived."

"Then I am happy to report we are alive and well," Brivari said. He paused, studying the image more closely. "How bad is it, Larak? You don't look well."

He doesn't, Mary agreed silently. Larak was one of the king's oldest friends and the biggest thorn in Khivar's side, sheltering what little remained of the royal family, offering sanctuary to fleeing Antarians, and keeping the myth of the king's return alive. In Zan's absence Larak had become the standard bearer for his friend's dynasty, a banner which the many who were unhappy with Khivar were all too happy to follow. Khivar had tried to take him down many times, without success....but that appeared to have taken its toll.

"On the surface, at least, things have improved," Larak answered. "We couldn't maintain the state of affairs I described last time we spoke without imploding, so something had to ease. We've traded open warfare for skirmishes, and the five planets are functioning, both individually and as a set, at least on a basic level."

"Do I sense a 'but' coming?" Jaddo murmured.

Larak gave him a level stare. "The intensity level may have dropped, but even a lower level of threat can wear one down if it lasts long enough. What we have now is worse, in my opinion, because it chips away at the very fabric of society in such small increments that you may not notice until the wound has grown so large that it's very difficult to heal."

"Death by a thousand cuts," Brivari murmured.

"A human expression, I imagine?" Larak said. "And an apt one in this case. Suffice it to say that you can't return fast enough for my taste. If—" He stopped looking past the Warders, his eyes falling on Mary. "Where exactly are you?"

"We have gained control of the Argilians' ship," Brivari answered.

"So that's a 'husk'," Larak said as Mary shifted uncomfortably. "Impressive. I had heard they would be, but this is the first I've seen of them."

"It represents quite a leap forward for their race in the biosciences," Brivari agreed. "Such a pity it was wasted."

"I understand they're grown from spores," Larak said, "much like Earth's fungi. How functional is it?"

"I'd appreciate you not referring to me as 'it'," Mary snapped. "Husk or no husk, I'm still an operative."

"The mouth works," Jaddo said dryly.

"As do the ears," Larak noted. "You'll need to get rid of her if you want to talk privately."

"Agreed," Jaddo said as Mary shrank back in her seat. "She has outlived her usefulness anyway."




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



Ruth Bruce's rooming house,

Roswell





"Papa, wait!" Courtney whispered urgently as she followed her father down the stairs, stopping short when he did. "What's happened? What was found?"

"Go back upstairs and stay in your room," Michael ordered. "I don't want you involved in this."

Involved in what? Courtney thought in exasperation as her father left, closing the door quietly behind him. But there was no arguing with him when he was in this mood, not that arguing with him in any other mood produced much in the way of success anyway. Flying upstairs, she stripped off her pajamas and threw on some clothes before stepping into the moonlight that flooded the front porch of the rooming house. Her father and Greer had already disappeared, but she knew where they were going, and she was intent on joining them. Mr. Anderson had offered to help, and that vent of his was looking mighty inviting now.

"Going somewhere?"

Courtney nearly jumped out of her skin before her brain registered the voice. "Where the hell have you been?" she demanded as Malik stepped out of the shadows.

"Around," Malik said simply, joining her on the top porch step. "Where are they going?"

"I would imagine to see Nicholas," Courtney answered, going down the porch steps.

"Are you sure you want to follow them?"

"Yes, I'm sure," Courtney said impatiently. "Why? Is there some reason I shouldn't? Then if you want to talk, you'll have to come with me," she continued when he gave her a noncommittal shrug. "Although God knows you haven't wanted to talk for awhile."

"It's easier for us to continue the fiction that we've never met if we stop meeting," Malik replied, falling in step beside her. "Not to mention that with all the infrared flashing, it's best if I lay low."

"You won't have to lay low much longer," Courtney said. "Valenti figured it out. Not about us, of course, but he figured out that the infrared isn't coming from the humans' lights."

"Of course he did. Valenti's always been sharp. Is that what your father and Greer are on about?"

"I doubt it. What little I overheard was about a 'signal' and a 'response', whatever that means."

"What are you going to do when you get there?" Malik asked. "You can't just knock on Nicholas' door and announce you'd like to know what's going on."

"I have another way," Courtney said evasively.

"Such as?"

"Does it matter?"

"It just seems like a big risk to take just to find out what you'll find out eventually anyway," Malik commented.

"If you're worried about me taking risks, why haven't I seen you for a month?" Courtney demanded. "I looked for you every single day!"

Malik smiled faintly. "Does that mean you actually missed me?"

Courtney felt herself flush. "Don't flatter yourself. I missed the information we could share. That's all."

Liar, she thought privately. She hadn't had any information to share, she was just......lonely. She couldn't talk to most of her own people, her relationship with her father was rocky, Dee was gone. How very ironic that the closest thing she had to a friend was this creature whom she'd found so repugnant only a few short months ago. It was downright embarrassing how glad she was to see him.

"Well....." Malik said slowly, "since we're sharing information...."

Courtney stopped. "What? Do you know something?"

Malik stared off toward Main Street, now only a few houses away. "We found your ship."

"What?"

"We found your ship. The Warders are there now."

"But.....there's a security system," Courtney stammered, "an infrared system."

"Which probably sent out an automated distress call, and that's why everybody's hopping."

Courtney stood stock still in the middle of the sidewalk, stunned. If the Warders had found the ship.......

"They're all dead, aren't they?" she whispered.

"I think it's a safe bet that you can kiss anyone on that ship goodbye," Malik said gently. "But there can't be very many; almost everyone's in the field now, meaning the ship contingent would be a skeleton crew. That's what made going after it now so attractive."

"They'll destroy it," Courtney said faintly.

"Most likely," Malik admitted, "along with any husks on board and any trithium. Unless Khivar sends more, the trithium generators you have now are all you'll ever have."

Courtney swallowed hard. "That was our only way home."

Malik dropped his eyes. "I know."

"And no husks means we're stuck with these," Courtney said, panic rising like a wave. "They have a limited lifespan, and no one knows for sure if it's as long as we think it is. I don't know if we have the means to make more of them without the ship." She stopped, staring at him in anguish. "I'm never going home, am I? I'm going to die here, across the galaxy from everything and everyone I know—"

The rest of that sentence was cut off when Malik suddenly enveloped her in a hug that should have sent her running as fast as possible in the opposite direction. Instead she melted into it, the pressure around her shoulders steadying her. It's not real, she told herself fiercely. But it certainly felt real. He felt real. He even smelled good, ironic given that he couldn't smell.

"I'm sorry," Malik said quietly in her ear. "Sometimes it's easy to forget this is a war. If it makes you feel any better, I'm going to die here too."

She pulled away then, looking at him curiously. "Why?"

"Because I'm not going home. When this is over.....assuming it ever is.......I'm staying here."

"Are you serious?" Courtney whispered.

"I belong here," Malik said gently. "It's the only place I've ever belonged. I'll see the Royal Four safely on their way back, but that's the end of the line for me."

Of course it is, Courtney thought. What did he have to go home to? A world that hated him? A life as a thing instead of a person? A possible charge of treason, although his subsequent loyalty should cancel that out? Who in their right mind would choose that when they didn't have to? A part of her protested that Covari did not "choose", that they were merely conditioned, programmed to behave in certain ways that benefited those doing the programming.....and she realized with a start that not only did she not believe that, but she hadn't believed that for quite some time now.

"You can do that," she said in a brittle voice. "You can stay here as long as you want. But I can't; I need a husk, and this one won't last forever."

"It won't need to," Malik assured her. "I'm sure Nicholas will find another way to make husks if need be."

The mention of Nicholas pulled Courtney out of her stupor. For all the drama, she didn't even know for sure that the Warders had found the ship. Or if they had, maybe they'd been captured; bad news for the resistance, but all the more reason to be sure of the facts before she got all worked up about this or anything else. "I need to know what's going on," she said as she resumed her trek toward Nicholas' rooming house, walking fast. "Now more than ever."

"I'm pretty sure that's what's going on," Malik said, trotting beside her.

" 'Pretty sure' doesn't equal 'certain'," Courtney noted, rounding the corner onto Main Street. "I—" She stopped as the street light nearest them began to flicker. "What's that?"

"The light's flickering," Malik answered. "The bulb is probably ready to go."

No, that's not it, Courtney thought with rising apprehension. All the street lights were flickering, faintly, but perceptibly, and all in unison. In rhythm. As thought they were all connected, all being controlled by a single source.

"Malik?" Courtney whispered.

"What?"

"Get out of here."




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



Black Range Mountains




"Something wrong?" Larak asked when both Warders reappeared.

"Only an old argument," Brivari said dryly as Jaddo scowled. "We are alone and may speak freely, but I imagine we have little time. There was an infrared security system installed aboard this ship. We disabled it, but I'm sure it sent some kind of communication."

"Then to business," Larak said. "Has the resistance managed to contact you?"

Brivari looked at Jaddo, who raised an eyebrow. "Argilians claiming to be resistance members have approached us," he confirmed, "but we have no way of knowing if their intentions are truly what they say they are. What do you know about it?"

"The leader of the resistance was taking about twenty operatives with him, including his youngest child," Larak answered. "I don't know what name she's using, but he was reportedly going by 'Michael'."

"We have met Michael," Jaddo said, "or rather someone who claims to be Michael. Unfortunately there's no way of knowing who is really inside that husk."

"Now you know how the rest of us feel when we're dealing with you," Larak smiled. "But we've heard nothing about Nicholas discovering the resistance within his ranks, so it's highly unlikely that Michael is anyone other than who he says he is."

"Even if he is, his objectives are questionable," Brivari answered. "He wants custody of the hybrids."

"Correction," Jaddo interjected. "He wants to be informed of the location of at least some of the hybrids so all would not be lost if Brivari and I fell. A sensible request, to my way of thinking."

"Sensible or not, it will never happen," Brivari said.

Larak's eyes swung from one Warder to the other. "Obviously I'm not there, and this is not my decision. But I would urge you to at least consider the idea. We still have a ways to go, about ten Earth years by my estimation, and Nicholas will never stop hunting them; he has too much to lose if he doesn't find them. He's already used up half their gestation time, so the clock is ticking." He paused, taking in their expressions. "What is it?"

"Tell him," Jaddo said softly.

Brivari hesitated, unwilling to deliver bad news to people who needed to hear good news. But as the leader of the resistance on the home front, Larak, at least, deserved to know what he was facing. Whether or not he chose to share that or with whom was his decision.

"It has come to our attention that the hybrids are not growing as we expected," Brivari said.

"Is something wrong with them?" Larak demanded.

"Not that we can tell," Brivari answered. "They appear to be thriving, including the Zan hybrid which bears the mark. But their growth rate is much slower than expected, and they're still very small, much smaller than they should be."

"How small?" Larak asked warily. "How much longer is this going to take?"

Brivari looked at Jaddo, who shrugged slightly. "We can't be certain, but they appear to be about two or three human years of age instead of the twelve years they should be," Brivari replied.

Larak's eyes widened. "But that means.....that means it could be dozens more years before they mature!"

"That was our assessment as well," Brivari said quietly. "I'm sorry."

Brivari waited while Larak wrestled with this latest news, much the same way he had wrestled with it months earlier, albeit for different reasons. If Brivari faced a longer exile with death on a foreign planet, Larak faced decades more locked in combat with Khivar. "We can't keep doing this," Larak said, as though reading Brivari's mind. "We can't go on that long in our current state; if we do, there won't be anything for Zan to return to."

"We agree," Brivari said. "Which is why we must ask a difficult thing of you. We must find a way to keep the news of the king's eventual return alive while ensuring the survival of the five planets in Zan's absence."

"The very notion grates," Jaddo said sourly.

"But it must be done," Brivari said firmly. "The state of affairs Larak has described must not be allowed to continue for the length of time we now know it will take for the king to return."

"He's right," Larak said heavily. "This changes everything. Our current strategy was developed with a very specific timeline in mind which doesn't apply now."

"Then perhaps we, too, should consider other alternatives," Jaddo said. "For example, should we bring the hybrids home?"

Brivari blinked. " 'Home'? Are you serious?"

"Why not?" Jaddo asked. "We have a ship, and Larak could shelter them—"

"No," Larak broke in. "The only reason the hybrids have survived this long is because they're safely out of the reach of all but a few. There are plenty who don't believe they're on Earth, and they've torn the five planets apart looking for them. If they're here, someone will find them; I guarantee it. Best to leave them where they are, especially since it will take much longer for them to mature."

"They may be 'found' here as well," Jaddo noted. "Nicholas is actively scouting possible locations for them, and given the track he's on, he may very well find them."

"Then you must move them at once," Larak answered. "Have you?"

"Nicholas will not find them," Brivari answered. "The Argilians do not possess the information they're looking for. And given the number of operatives in the area, there is a far larger risk from moving them than from leaving them right where they are."

"How many are we talking about?" Larak asked. "Can't some of them be moved?"

Brivari hesitated as Jaddo raised an eyebrow. "There are only three complete sets remaining," he answered.

The shock on Larak's face was almost painful to see. "Three?" he whispered incredulously. "Only three? That's all we have left?"

"We only need one," Brivari reminded him.

"But they're scattered, right?" Larak asked. "You don't have them all in one location, do you—you do?" he continued, noting Brivari's expression. "My God, Brivari, you have to correct that! We can't have Antar's fate piled in one place!"

"Good luck," Jaddo muttered.

"I am certain he will not find them," Brivari repeated with a dark look at Jaddo. "As I said, we risk far more by moving them."

"I disagree," Larak objected. "Whether or not you're willing to involve the resistance in their relocation is one thing, but they should definitely be relocated, just in case."

"I have said the same several times with no success," Jaddo said.

"We are not moving them," Brivari said flatly, "not here, not home, not anywhere. They stay right where they are, safely hidden until their emergence. Is that clear?"





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




Roswell




"Go," Courtney insisted when Malik didn't move. "Go now."

"Why?" he asked.

"The lights. They're....they're wrong."

Malik looked up at the nearest streetlight. "I think you're getting a little paranoid," he said gently. "They're not red, they're just flickering."

"But they're all flickering," Courtney argued. "Just get out of here," she added urgently. "I don't like the looks of this."

She had no sooner finished that sentence when the street lights abruptly changed, bathing the street in a faint red glow. Horrified, she looked at Malik, who was standing on the sidewalk next to her surrounded by a thin red line, outlined like a human child's crayon drawing.

"Run!" she hissed.

And finally he did, moving so quickly she barely saw him.....but not quickly enough. A moment later, he was sprawled in a heap on the ground about twenty yards away from her, with her not even having seen him fall. Time seemed to stop for a split second....and then she was running toward him, her feet pounding on the pavement, skidding to her knees beside him, rolling him over....

Two more pairs of feet appeared across from him. She looked up to find two operatives she was barely acquainted with, both of whom appeared every bit as shocked as she was.

"Would you look at that!" one of them breathed. "We caught one!"




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


I'll post Chapter 78 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 77, 5/31

Post by Kathy W » Sat Jun 06, 2009 9:32 pm

Hi everyone!
kj4ever wrote:Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!
Yeah, I know. I really like Malik. Much more so than the other two. :P




CHAPTER SEVENTY-EIGHT


October 30, 1959, 10:50 p.m.

Roswell





Courtney bent over Malik's body in a panic, the two operatives who had emerged from the shadows keeping a safe distance from what they considered a dangerous creature, from what she had considered a dangerous creature not all that long ago. How had this happened? When had the infrared been channeled through the street lights? Her father would have known about that, probably had known about that....but then she and her father hadn't exactly been chatty recently. She placed her hand on Malik's chest, which rose and fell with reassuring rhythm. Alive, but unconscious....for the moment.

"Is it really a Covari?" one of the operatives whispered dubiously.

"Of course it is," the second operative answered. "Look—infrared, all around it. What else could it be? And we caught it," he added proudly, a huge smile on his face that evaporated when he saw the look on Courtney's. "I mean, we all caught it," he amended hastily. "We're not trying to take credit from you. You're the senior operative here."

Senior operative. The fog of panic thinned slightly as Courtney realized that was her best weapon. As the third's daughter, she had the opportunity to shape what happened next. It was their only chance.

"We'll have to take it back to Nicholas," the second operative was saying. "Grab hold—"

"I'm not touching that thing," the first operative declared. "I can't believe she touched it."

"It's out cold," the second operative insisted. "Watch....." And he aimed a savage kick at Malik's mid-section that sent him rolling into Courtney.

"Stop!"

The two operatives froze. "Are you out of your mind, damaging a captive?" Courtney demanded. "Who the hell are you two, anyway? Names!"

"Uh....I'm Paul," the first operative said uncertainly. "And this is Alan. We—"

"Why is the infrared still on?" Courtney demanded. "Turn it off before the humans notice it. Go on....move!"

They did, scrambling over to an electrical pole at the other end of the block as Courtney mentally ran over her depressingly short list of options. Getting Malik out of here would be next to impossible; he was indeed out cold, and in a large shape that was much too heavy for her to carry. There were no humans around at this hour whose attention she could attract, and that wouldn't necessarily be a good idea anyway; Malik would likely be taken to a hospital, where it would become clear very quickly that he wasn't from around here and attract a whole host of new enemies.

"It's off," Paul reported behind her.

"Good. Help me get him off the street before someone sees us," Courtney ordered.

" 'Him'?"

"It," Courtney corrected, the pronoun sounding strange to her now. She hadn't called Malik "it" for months, and she'd have to be very careful to start doing so. "Come on—help me. We can't leave it here."

A minute later Malik had been laid as gently as she dared in an alley between two buildings, with her and Alan doing most of the work because Paul was still reluctant to touch "it". "Now what?" Alan asked. "Who makes the report?"

The report. A glimmer of light appeared at the end of the tunnel as Courtney remembered that her father was at Nicholas' right now, having only just been summoned; that's why she'd been following him in the first place. If she could get to him, perhaps they could dispense with these two, drag Malik off somewhere, and say he revived and escaped. They'd have to take the heat for losing a captive, but at the moment, she didn't care.

"I'll make the report," Courtney replied. "You two stay here."

"I'll come with you," Alan said.

"I can't leave one of you alone with it. Stay here; I'll be back shortly. Nicholas' house is just down the road."

"Oh, I see," Alan said angrily. "You want all the credit, don't you? I said I'd share, but you're going to get Daddy over here, make it look like this was all your doing—"

"She is the senior operative," Paul reminded him.

"But we caught it," Alan argued. "All of us. She couldn't have caught it herself."

"Protocol requires that two operatives remain with a prisoner whenever possible," Courtney said. "And it's possible, so that's the end of it."

"Then I'll go," Alan said stoutly. "You and Paul can stay."

"It's my call, and I'm going," Courtney said coldly. "Your orders are to stay here and await back-up. And if I find it damaged when I get back," she added menacingly, advancing on Alan so quickly that he backed up, "I'll tell Nicholas that you both left the infrared on while you stood around nattering. Have I made myself clear?"

"Very," Paul said quickly.

"Yes," Alan said sourly.

I'm no good at this, Courtney thought, taking one last look at Malik lying helpless on the ground before taking off down the street, moving as quickly as she could without actually running. All this pulling rank and giving orders was new to her. It didn't help that a good deal of the "rank" people were responding to wasn't her real rank, but her social rank; being Michael's daughter gave her more power than she ever would have had as a mere third level operative, although the two she'd just left were likely no higher than that. The fact that she really was only third level meant she hadn't had to personally deal with all the political wrangling that was life in Nicholas' troops, had only watched it from the sidelines as operatives jockeyed for position, their only hope for advancement being to shove another out of the way. Like she just had....but for a very different reason.

Nicholas' rooming house wasn't very far away, but it seemed to take forever to get there. When she finally charged up the front walk, it occurred to her that she had no idea how she was going to get to her father. She couldn't very well go barging in there even on a good day, and if Malik was right and the Warders had found the ship, this wasn't a good day. I have to get to him, she thought desperately, standing helplessly in the front hallway and gazing up the stairs. He was so close, so close.....

Five minutes later, after a trip up the stairs and an ear to the door which revealed only muffled, unhappy voices, she'd come up with exactly....nothing. What could she do? Should she just wait? What would happen to Malik? Paul was afraid of him, but Alan wasn't, and the longer she took to return, the more likely they would take matters into their own hands. What about creating some sort of disturbance, like breaking something? But that would bring not only her father, but everyone else besides: Nicholas, Greer, the landlady...........

......and Mr. Anderson. Just this morning, he'd offered to help her. Just this morning, that offer had horrified her. Funny how things could change in only a few hours.

"Mr. Anderson?" Courtney whispered, knocking softly on his door, praying he was home. "Mr. Anderson? Open up!"

Footsteps, and then the door opened a crack. "Miss Harris!" Mr. Anderson exclaimed, poking his head into the hallway for a quick scan which included the upstairs landing before pulling her inside. "I'm surprised to see you again! What.....what's happened?" he amended when he saw the look on her face. "Is something wrong?"

"They caught Malik," Courtney blurted out.

"Who?"

"Malik. One of Mr. Langley's.....associates," she said when Mr. Anderson looked blank. "I couldn't stop it," she finished, her voice taking on an embarrassing tremor. "I didn't even know.....if I had.....if only I'd......"

"There, there, it's not your fault," Mr. Anderson said soothingly. "Hindsight is always twenty-twenty."

"What?"

"That means we can always think of something we could have done better or differently in retrospect, when it's too late," Mr. Anderson explained. "How can I help? If I go with you, is it possible we can free this person?"

For a moment, Courtney hesitated. She could deal with Paul and Allan; all she really needed was help moving Malik somewhere safe. Should she just leave her father out of it?

No. "I need to get to my father," Courtney said urgently. "He's upstairs with Nicholas, and I need to get him out of there without drawing the others out as well."

Mr. Anderson broke into a wide smile. "No, problem, dear. Leave it to me."




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




Black Range Mountains, New Mexico





By the time the door to the compartment in which Mary had been stashed opened again, she'd had a good deal of time to think things over. Reflection had been an unaffordable luxury while captive and marched around the ship from one disaster to another; the bit of solitude afforded by the Warders' desire for a private audience with Larak had given her much-needed perspective and a chance to ponder things she'd heard but not processed. Why, for example, had Jaddo referred to "diverting power" from the nursery? Where were they diverting power to, and for what purpose? Why had Brivari so readily acquiesced to her demand to leave everyone in medical alive? Its explanation for why it hadn't killed Zach and the doctor was plausible, but these were Covari; they were designed to mimic plausible, not be plausible. It was clear to her now that they planned to destroy the ship, which would account for the diverted power and their willingness to leave some alive. Such "mercy" meant nothing if they planned to destroy the ship anyway.

"Done chatting?" Mary asked, blinking as her sluggish human pupils struggled to cope with light after several minutes in darkness.

"Yes," Brivari's voice answered at the same time that she felt the restraints on her arms melting away. "Come with me."

She was pulled from her chair and steered onto the empty bridge. "Where's the other one?" she asked bitterly. "Killing everyone in medical?"

Wordlessly, Brivari turned on a monitor which revealed medical. Most of the patients were sleeping, the doctor looked worried, and Zach looked fit to be tied, but they were alive. "I require your assistance," Brivari announced, indicating a station at navigation. "Please. Sit."

As if I have a choice, Mary thought, walking slowly toward the station. "What do you need me for?" she asked. "You can blow up the ship all by yourselves."

" 'Blow up the ship'?"

"Isn't that what this is leading to?"

It regarded her for a moment in silence. "We are unfamiliar with your systems," it said, ignoring her question. "We have programmed a course, but we need the failsafes shut down and everyone's command codes erased so that course cannot be altered. Naturally we could do this ourselves, but you can accomplish it much faster."

Mary stared at the display in front of her. They're going to destroy us in space, she thought sadly. That's what the power diversion was for, so that the ship could launch and get far enough away from the planet that the humans wouldn't notice when it self-destructed. This settled the issue of why they'd kept her alive after yet another argument between the Warders over Jaddo wanting to dispose of her, an argument in which Brivari had ultimately prevailed....again. And no wonder. It had other uses for her.

"And what do I get for this.....'assistance'?" she asked, her voice heavy with irony.

"Your life," Brivari answered.

For a few more minutes, anyway, Mary thought. She had no idea how much time had passed since they'd been boarded, but if she took her sweet time doing what it asked, she might be able to stall it long enough for help to arrive. Any stray minute that she could buy herself and her sister might prove the minute that put them over the edge.

"All right," she said, lowering herself into the chair. "It may take awhile."

"Work quickly," Brivari advised. "If it appears we could do it faster, we will."

There was no threat in its voice, but the implication was clear. Mary started with the command codes, erasing them as slowly as she dared. Brivari sat nearby, eyes glued to a display at the communication station.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Inspecting the communication logs. Why are they so sparse?"

"A high percentage of messages are for Nicholas' eyes only, so they're vectored directly to him," Mary answered. "We're basically a relay station." She paused, wondering if chatter would keep it sufficiently occupied so as to not notice that she was stalling. "So.....Larak didn't look so good."

"Few do after years of war."

"But it's not out-and-out war now," Mary said. "You heard him. Things have gotten better."

"If you had been listening, you would have heard that 'better' is sometimes actually worse," Brivari replied.

"I didn't get that part," Mary admitted. "How is it worse to have less war? How is killing fewer people a bad thing?"

"You're assuming that physical death is the only way to kill a man, and further assuming that nothing is worse than death. Neither is true."

Mary's hands paused over the controls. Was she actually having a metaphysical discussion with a Covari? Covari were well known as great mimics, but was it possible to mimic this level of thought? It must be, she thought, shaking her head as if to shake off yet another ridiculous notion that these things were actually more than what everyone knew they were....or, rather, weren't.

"Okay, I'll take the bait," she said. "What's worse than death?"

"Hopelessness," Brivari answered. "The feeling that nothing one does has any impact or will ever have an impact. That there is no respite, no purpose in continuing to fight because fighting is all one can ever hope to do."

"Then stop fighting," Mary said. "None of this would have happened if everyone had just accepted Khivar's rule."

"Correction: None of this would have happened if Khivar had followed the established protocols for challenging the throne," Brivari countered. "Why should anyone accept his rule when he is clearly unwilling to follow the rules?"

"He was merely taking what should have been his in the first place," Mary argued. "His father challenged Zan's father for the throne years ago—"

"And lost," Brivari interrupted. "Khivar's father played by the rules and lost, and to his credit, accepted the verdict fate delivered and stepped aside. Grudgingly, perhaps, but stepped aside because he realized that to do otherwise would destabilize our entire world. His son has destabilized not only Antar, but the five planets as well."

"Before Riall, Antar always had war when the throne changed hands, and it never 'destabilized'," Mary objected.

"This is different," Brivari replied. "Those coups were violent, but brief; they had to be because the question of who ruled had to be answered quickly. But there will be no quick resolution to this situation. Khivar can never legitimize his claim without the royal mark, so he will sit steps away from the throne for years to come. In the meantime, the seeds he has sown will choke the five planets like weeds, and their deaths will be every bit as final as if they were attacked outright."

"Then surrender," Mary said stubbornly. "If you're going to praise Khivar's father for accepting his fate, don't you think you should follow his example and accept yours?"

"And what fate would that be exactly?" Brivari asked softly. "After all Khivar has done, the mark still resides with the king. Khivar cannot take the throne without it, and he is tolerated only because the king has not yet returned. Which he will, eventually, at which time it will be Khivar's turn to accept his fate."

"Speculation," Mary muttered.

"Tell me something," Brivari said casually. "From a personal perspective, were you better off before or after Khivar seized power?"

Before, Mary thought silently, although Earth's proverbial wild horses couldn't have dragged that out of her. During Zan's reign, there had been plenty of talk about seizing power, but no one had actually expected it to happen. And now that it had....well....that was why she was soon to die on a backward planet in another part of the galaxy. It would be hard to argue that represented some kind of improvement.

"That's what I thought," Brivari murmured.

"I didn't say anything," Mary protested.

"Your silence spoke for you. How are you coming with the deletions?"

Slowly, Mary thought sourly, deliberately slowing her pace even further. "It'll be done when it's done," she said flatly. "Don't fret—that will give you more time to play with me. You enjoy playing with your victims, don't you?"

"You continue to present yourself as a 'victim' despite the fact that you're still alive," Brivari said in a tone which may have been amused, or puzzled, or both. "It's almost like you want to be executed." It paused as Mary made a mental note to stop talking before she went too far. "You might be interested in where this ship is going."

Mary's display abruptly shifted, showing a sector of space instead of the list of operatives whose codes she'd been disabling. And what it was showing was not somewhere out in the middle of nowhere.....

"But....." She paused, double-checking, triple-checking. "But this is....."

"Yes," Brivari answered.

"Oh, of course," she said bitterly. "You want an audience. Why didn't I think of that?"

"When the coordinates are reached, the following message will be broadcast," Brivari continued.

The display shifted again; Mary's hands froze over the controls as it played. It was brief and to the point, and when it finished, she sat in silence for a long time, unable to believe what she'd heard.

"Why?" she finally whispered.

"Have I not already answered that question? What's needed is a willingness to look beyond ourselves to the greater good. This is bigger than any one man's ambitions, any one race's ambitions. Someone needs to see that."

Mary's display shifted back to the way it was before. She stared stupidly at the list of names in front of her, a list which had looked large and impressive only moments ago, but now seemed small and insignificant. Had her perspective really been that narrow? And had it really just been widened by a creature created and programmed in a lab?

"I see a rather large transmission was received and forwarded just this morning," Brivari continued. "What did that concern?"

Mary's hands shook as she resumed her work. She shouldn't answer that. Answering that question would amount to treason. It would be so easy to say that she didn't know, that she wasn't aware of the content. That's what she should say. That's what any loyal operative would say.

"It contained all the information we have on the king's human genome project," Mary answered.

"And where would I find a copy of that?"

"We don't keep copies of Nicholas' private transmissions here," she answered truthfully. "Our portable communicators can't handle a transmission that large, so I broke it down into smaller sections and sent it on. Check for yourself if you don't believe me."

"Did you see any of it?"

"No. I...." She paused. "I'm sorry."

Their eyes locked briefly before she dropped hers, unable to reconcile what she'd seen in those eyes with what she'd been taught couldn't possibly be there. Several minutes passed in total silence before she spoke again.

"I'm almost done. Another minute or so."

"Really?" Brivari murmured. "I expected it to take much longer."

"I know," Mary said quietly. "So did I."




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




Alice Wentworth's boarding house,

Roswell





"Why wasn't I informed?" Nicholas demanded. "This happened hours ago!"

"We thought it was merely an accident," Greer answered. "So we sent a response and waited for some indication that the alarm had merely been tripped accidentally."

"And?"

"And none was forthcoming," Greer admitted. "So we dispatched back-up, of course. But human transportation being what it is, it will take—"

"And how long did you wait before finally doing what you were supposed to do in the first place?"

Nicholas hovered like a menacing thundercloud as Michael watched sympathetically. Not that he had any love for Greer, but having been in this position several times, he knew firsthand how ugly this particular situation was going to get just as soon as Nicholas' question was answered.

"An hour," Greer said, "but—"

"An hour?" Nicholas exclaimed. "You waited a whole hour? What for? If it was an accident, they would have replied immediately!"

"Not necessarily," Michael broke in, giving Greer time to regroup. "The alarm shuts down communications, which the crew would have needed time to restore. Plus there was simply no reason for us to believe the Warders had any idea where our ship was, so the notion of it being an accident was perfectly plausible."

"The operative word there being 'was'," Nicholas said acidly. "Damn it, Greer! Our nursery was on that ship! The operative word being 'was'!"

"I know, sir," Greer answered patiently. "But—"

"But what I'd really like to know is how they knew," Nicholas said. "How did they know where to look?"

"We still don't have confirmation that this is due to the Warders, or that we've suffered any losses," Greer reminded him. "If—"

"I don't need confirmation, and neither do you!" Nicholas snapped. "It's them! We all know it's them! So how did they find our ship? It could be anywhere on this rock, and they just happened to find it? If I didn't know better, I'd think—who the hell is that?"

Someone had knocked on the door. Michael checked his watch; it was late enough that few humans would be about, and operatives rarely approached Nicholas directly. "Hello in there!" boomed a cheerful voice. "It's Mr. Addison from downstairs. I'm sorry about the late hour, but I could use a hand, if you wouldn't mind."

"Great," Nicholas muttered. "Just what we needed now—a human clown. Get rid of him."

When Greer opened the door, the human boarder from downstairs was outside, wearing his trademark foolish grin. "I'm sorry if I'm intruding," he began, "but—"

"You are," Greer said coldly.

"Oh, but it will only take a few minutes!" Mr. Addison protested. "I'm having guests tomorrow, and I need some heavy furniture moved, and.....well, I'm afraid I'm not as young as I used to be. I don't want to throw my back out, so I thought I'd nip up here for some help. I did help the Crawfords move in, after all."

"And they were grateful for your assistance," Greer said, "but—"

"All right, if not you, then how about you, sir?" Mr. Addison said, looking directly at Michael. "Surely you could spare a few minutes?"

Greer gave a soft snort. "Mr. Addison—"

"Just a few?" Mr. Addison pressed. "Please? I'd be ever so grateful."

"Of course," Michael said, giving Greer a pointed let-me-go-and-shut-him-up look.

"Marvelous!" Mr. Addison exclaimed as though he'd just won a prize. "Really, it won't take long. I'm right downstairs. I've seen you come and go a lot; do you work for Nicholas' father? Or perhaps you're a client? Or....."

Michael followed the chattering human down the stairs, smiling pleasantly and saying nothing because it was neither necessary nor possible; one couldn't get a word in edgewise with this one, which was probably just as well under the circumstances. "Right in here," Mr. Addison said, gesturing grandly through his open door. "Step right inside, and......" He paused, closing the door behind Michael. "And now, we get down to business."

Michael turned abruptly; the smile had fallen from Addison's face, and his tone was radically different. " 'Business'?" Michael echoed. "What 'business'?"

Mr. Addison said nothing, merely nodded toward a point over Michael's shoulder. Michael turned around to find the last thing he'd ever expected to find: His daughter, arms wrapped tightly around herself and looking very upset.

"Courtney? What are you doing here?"

"She needed to speak to you," Mr. Addison said, now the very picture of gravity. "I had to get you out of there without the others knowing."

" 'Others'?" Michael repeated sharply. "Courtney, what is going on?"

"He knows, Papa," Courtney said quickly. "Mr. Addison knows about us."

"Knows what, exactly?" Michael demanded.

"Never mind that now," Mr. Addison said earnestly. "Something has happened, and you need to listen to your daughter. If you stay down here too long, they'll get suspicious."

"Courtney," Michael said warningly, "why is this.....this human acting like he's familiar with us?"

"Because I am," Mr. Addison said. "I am here on Langley's behalf."

Langley? Michael glanced at Courtney, who nodded. The King's Warder had placed this human here? Why would it do a thing like that? Still, it meant he couldn't simply be removed, which had admittedly been Michael's first thought.

"Never mind about him," Courtney said impatiently. "Papa, they've got Malik. Someone hooked the infrared up to the street lights, and we were out walking, and.....and they caught him. Did you know about that?"

Michael looked from his daughter to the inexcusably knowledgeable human and back. "No....yes," he amended. "I mean, we were in the testing phases; it wasn't ready for launch yet. Do you mean to tell me they actually captured something?"

Courtney nodded miserably. "He's unconscious. I left him with two operatives. We have to get him out of there and take care of the operatives. He's too heavy for me to move by myself."

Michael stood, stunned, absorbing this information. What an extraordinary stroke of bad luck that a mere test had actually produced a captive....or was it? He glanced toward the ceiling, toward the storm brewing overhead, the renewed hunt for the hybrids, the probable loss of their ship. This changed things.

"Papa, we have to go," Courtney said urgently. "Those operatives won't wait forever. Tell Nicholas whatever you need to, but we need to go."

"I could go back upstairs and say I waylaid him for longer," Mr. Addison suggested.

"No."

Two startled faces stared at Michael. " 'No'?" Courtney repeated. " 'No' what?"

God, this will be hard for her, Michael thought sadly, reaching out to stroke his child's face. "No, we're not going to get it," he said gently. "We can't save it."

"But....we have to!" Courtney protested. "If Nicholas gets hold of Malik, he'll know the Warders are here for sure. He's not sure of that now."

"And if we 'take care of' the operatives who are with it now, Nicholas will think the Warders are the reason they're missing and reach the same conclusion," Michael said gently. "I'm afraid there's no avoiding that either way."

"If that's the case, there's no reason not to save him," Courtney said stubbornly.

Michael hesitated, glancing at the human who was keeping a respectful distance that was still well within earshot. "Listen to me," he said, drawing Courtney further away. "The odds are good that the Warders have attacked our ship. Nicholas is furious. Having a captive will take his mind off what we've lost. This couldn't have come at a better time."

But Courtney backed away, her head swinging slowly from side to side. "I don't believe I just heard that. You'd abandon him to Nicholas?"

"It's not a 'him'," Michael reminded her. "It's just a Covari. It's not even a Warder, and we should be grateful it isn't. It will take Nicholas a certain amount of time to figure that out that he doesn't have a Warder in his possession, and in the meantime, he will be preoccupied enough that his attention will not wander into the more dangerous places it has of late. I'm sorry," he added. "I know that's not what you wanted to hear."

But the apology was not accepted, as evidenced by the furor building in his daughter's eyes. "How could you?" she demanded, no longer pleading, but angry. "We're resistance! We're supposed to help them, not stand back and watch them be killed, or worse!"

"We are helping them," Michael said firmly. "This is war, and in war, sacrifices must be made. Given what's happening, this is a sacrifice that must be made, and a minor one at that. Malik is really of no consequence."

"Because he's Covari," Courtney said bitterly. "That makes him expendable. Disposable. Just toss him away, and—"

"Think, daughter," Michael commanded. "You're falling into the trap of believing the illusion. You know what they are—and what they aren't—every bit as well as I do. What difference does it make if Nicholas amuses himself with one of them for awhile? They're not even sentient—"

"Yes, they are!"

Michael sighed heavily as his furious child glared him. He had been afraid it would come to this. The signs had been there for quite some time now, signs that Courtney was falling prey to the same misconceptions the Covari's human allies suffered from. She had been here too long, been with them too long. She had lost the ability to differentiate.

"We will not discuss this now," Michael said firmly. "I'm sorry, but there is nothing I can do for it, especially when its captivity is so useful. We need to report the capture, and you need to take the credit for it."

"No." Courtney said stubbornly.

"Yes," Michael corrected. "Your personal preferences or, in this case, misperceptions, must not be allowed to determine the course of the resistance. Come with me."

But Courtney turned to the human. "Mr. Addison?" she said pleadingly. "You offered to help me."

But Mr. Addison, to his credit, was looking uncertain. "I know you're upset, dear," he said gently, "but your father is the leader of your resistance, so I think you should defer to his—"

"No!" Courtney exclaimed, nearly in tears. "I'm not leaving him!"




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



Black Range Mountains





"It's all right," Mary said hastily when the door to medical slid open. "The whole ship is repressurized to Antar's atmosphere. It's over."

The doctor and Zach stood there as though in a trance, staring at the door which had just opened even though it had previously been welded to the wall. "But....what happened?" the doctor asked. "Did back-up arrive? Are they gone?"

"No....and yes," Mary answered, stepping across the threshold, looking past him to her sister, who was asleep.

"What does that mean?" Zach asked, bewildered. "What—" He broke off as the ship gave a lurch. "What's happening?" he demanded, his voice rising. "That felt like a launch."

"It was."

Zach's eyes widened as he took her by the shoulders. "Mary, what is going on?"

"The Warders are gone," she answered, "and we're leaving Earth. The ship is set to return to our own region of space, where we'll be taken into Larak's custody for the duration of hostilities between Khivar and the King."

The doctor gave a sigh of relief, knowing full well that Larak was unlikely to kill them. "You managed to keep us all alive," he said admiringly. "That's more than I ever would have hoped for."

"Wait....so we have the run of the ship?" Zach asked.

"For what it's worth.....yes," Mary answered.

He took off then, out the door, pounding down the corridor, his footsteps fading quickly, he was moving so fast. "Whatever you had to do, I expect he won't agree with it," the doctor said. "Would you like me to talk to him?"

"No; I'll do it." Mary gave her sister one last look. "I'll be back," she said. "You're all safe now."

When Mary reached the bridge, she found Zach running frantically from one station to another. "I can't access anything!" he exclaimed. "Navigation, propulsion, communication...."

"We have control over life support, but that's all," Mary said.

"But I'm trying everyone's codes, and none of them work! They can't have purged them all without seriously damaging the very systems they needed to use."

"They're all gone," Mary said. "Everyone's access has been cut off. Even mine."

"And how do you know that?"

"Because I'm the one who did it."

Zach's head jerked up, horrified comprehension dawning for several long, very awkward seconds. "You did it?" he echoed finally. "Do you mean to tell me that you not only gave them access to command, but you actually did their dirty work for them? Why would you do that?" he continued, his voice growing more shrill with every syllable. "You don't really believe that tale about sending us to Larak, do you?"

"As a matter of fact.....I do."

Zach straightened up, came face to face with her. "What happened to you?" he asked bitterly. "Covari lie. We both know that."

"Not this time," Mary said. "There's a message that will be broadcast to the five planets upon our arrival. Destroying us would be counterproductive."

"Then they'll destroy us after it's broadcast!" Zach exclaimed.

"I doubt it. Given what they're saying, that would be counterproductive as well."

"How would you know what they're saying?" Zach demanded. "Have you heard it? Why would they show it to you...." He stopped, backing away. "You really have gone over to the enemy, haven't you?"

"I did what I had to do to keep us alive!" Mary exclaimed. "And have you ever considered that maybe we're our own worst enemies? This is bigger than us, Zach, bigger than all of us! We're helping one man wreck five different worlds just for his own ambition! Does that seem right to you?"

Zach stared at her uncomprehendingly. "That's a somewhat different perspective than I would expect from one of Khivar's operatives."

"Well, maybe that's something else I walk away with besides my life, and yours, and everyone else's in medical," Mary said angrily. "Maybe we all need a little perspective. And given how long this is likely to last, we'll have plenty of time to acquire it."

"No," Zach said coldly, shaking his head. "Not you."

His arm whipped up; seconds later, Mary was clutching her chest as she sank slowly to the floor, the blast having gone clean through her husk all the way to.....her. Red human blood mixed with her own, spilling over her hands despite her attempts to apply pressure, soaking her clothing.

"I'm within my rights to execute you for treason," Zach said coldly. "But I'll say the Warders did it. I still can't figure out why they didn't."

"Doctor....patients.....they've seen.....me," Mary panted. "My.....sister....."

"I'll tell her they left a booby trap," Zach said calmly, as though he did this all the time. "They'll believe it. These are Covari, after all. And now if you'll excuse me, I need to see if I can get control back somehow." He took two steps, then paused. "I told you not to help them. Too bad you didn't listen."

Alone in command, Mary slumped helplessly against the console. He wouldn't be able to regain control; she'd made certain of that. And she wouldn't be able to save herself; Zach had made certain of that. Even now her vision was blurring, and it was getting harder to breathe. With the ship repressurized, her husk would remain intact, and she would die within it. With any luck, she would pass out; otherwise it would be a long and painful death. Ironic, really, given that, had the Warders chosen to execute her, it would likely have been quick and painless. I was right, she thought sadly. She'd always suspected she wouldn't survive.

The only thing she'd been wrong about was the identity of her executioner.




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

My vacation is this month (back to Vegas!), so I'll post Chapter 79 on Wednesday, June 17, and Chapter 80 on Sunday June 28, which will get us back on the regular Sunday rotation. Then we should be all set for weekly updates until the end of the book (Chapter 93). The next book is nearly finished, and will be about 30 chapters. ( I actually wrote a short one! :lol: )
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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