Hello, everyone! Back from visiting my eldest in his new home on the continent. It's so nice having him close enough to reach by car. (Although anything closer than New Zealand would be nice.)
YellowAlien15 wrote:Season 2 wasn’t my favorite, but with you adding some of the back stories. I give it a two thumbs up.
Thank you! And thank you for reading all that. I know what a time investment it is to get caught up with this series. I didn't realize how long it was until my husband had it printed for me.
Rest assured I will never lose Grandma Dee. The story is technically from the perspective of the shapeshifters, but it's also from her perspective. She and Brivari (Langley) are the major anchors, and are probably in the running for one of the grumpiest non-couple couples in history.
November 22, 2000, 9 a.m.
Crawford Residence, Copper Summit, Arizona
Isabel was running. The ground beneath her feet was rough and hard as her feet pounded forward. Below her, far below, was a vast army...and Max didn't know. And Max had to know, so she was running, her chest heaving, hoping to reach him before it was too late. But the harder she ran, the more she seemed to never move; her target, a doorway far ahead of her, never came closer, while the army below advanced at a hideous clip. Her lungs were burning, panic rising, because not only was she not going to make it to Max in time, but it was all her fault. That army was there because of her….
Flailing, Isabel woke up, lurching upright in bed so quickly, she got woozy. The room swam in front of her, unfamiliar, unsettling, and it took a moment to remember where she was. Oh, yes. Vanessa Whitaker's house in Copper Summit, Vanessa Whitaker's bedroom, and Vanessa Whitaker's bed. Nothing like sleeping in the bed of an alien enemy to induce a good night's sleep.
Isabel jerked back against the headboard, tugging the sheet up to her chin. Nicholas was seated beside the bed, all decked out in a suit and tie. "What...what are you doing here?" she sputtered.
"Watching you," Nicholas answered.
"Watching me what?" Isabel demanded.
"What'dya think?" Nicholas chuckled. "Watching you sleep."
"What? Why?" Isabel said, her thin pajamas feeling almost invisible beneath the sheet.
Nicholas studied her for a long, awkward moment. "I used to watch her sleep," he said finally.
"You...watched your sister sleep?"
"Yeah. Just like this."
"So you sat much too close to your sister's bed and watched her sleep?" Isabel said. "Did that freak her out like it's freaking me out?"
"It's not freaking you out," Nicholas said calmly.
"I'll be the judge of what's freaking me out, thank you very much," Isabel said crossly.
"It's not freaking you out," Nicholas repeated as though this were established fact. "You like it." He leaned in closer. "She
Isabel's eyes narrowed. "I can't speak for what she liked, but I can speak for what I like, and I don't like someone leering at me when I'm sleeping. Back off."
Nicholas gave her a sly smile. "You don't mean that."
"Everything okay in here?"
It was Ida, wearing a quizzical expression which bore the shades of something darker. "Just fine, Mom," Nicholas said.
fine," Isabel corrected. "I woke up and found him here, staring at me. He seems to think I like it, but he's dead wrong about that."
"No, I'm not," Nicholas said firmly.
"Oh, dear," Ida clucked. "He was very close to his sister."
"So I heard," Isabel said coldly.
"Nicholas, dear, come along," Ida said briskly. "We need breakfast before the service."
"I don't want to," Nicholas said sullenly.
"Nicholas," Ida said warningly, "come along. Isabel and the rest of them need to get ready too."
In the tense silence which followed, the look which flashed from mother to son was decidedly non-maternal, matched only by Nicholas's answering glare. "I'd appreciate it if you left," Isabel said, eager to speed his exit.
The glare swung toward her, and she found herself matching it; just who did this little twerp think he was? She had the distinct impression things were about to get ugly when Tess appeared in the doorway. "Morning, everyone!" she said brightly, eyeing Nicholas up and down. "Hey, Nicholas. Nice suit."
Isabel let out a breath as the tension in the room evaporated. She'd bristled at last night's interruption, but this one was a godsend which broke the spell as Nicholas smiled and rose from his chair. "Thank you," he said to Tess. "I'll see you later…'Isabel'."
"We'll see you all downstairs for breakfast," Ida said in what was probably supposed to be a cheerful voice, but was overshadowed by something she muttered to her son on their way out.
"What did she say to him?" Isabel whispered.
Tess came into the room and closed the door. "Something about, 'some things never change'. What was that all about?"
"You tell me," Isabel groaned, flopping back onto the bed. "I was having this awful dream, and I woke up and found him sitting in that chair, eyeballing me."
Tess's eyebrows rose. "Creepy."
"Worse than creepy," Isabel corrected. "He claims he used to watch Vanessa sleep and that she 'liked' it. Can you imagine him sitting next to her bed like that and watching her while she slept? There was something icky about the way he said it, something almost…"
"Sexual?" Tess finished. "Maybe Nicholas was 'close' to his sister in ways we hadn't thought of."
"Oh, God, that's nauseating!" Isabel exclaimed.
"If you ask me, this whole family is nauseating," Tess said.
"He kept arguing with me," Isabel went on, "telling me I liked it when I made it very clear I didn't. Even his own mother couldn't pull him off me. I'm glad you showed up when you did. Nice work complimenting his suit."
"I wasn't lying," Tess said. "I didn't even know Brioni made suits that small."
"I'm sure they'll make anything if you give them enough money," Isabel said. "Where's Max?"
"He went down to breakfast," Tess said. "He wants us all packed and ready to go so we don't have to come back here after the service."
"No argument from me," Isabel said. "I never want to see this place again as long as I live."
The voice was faint, but Courtney heard it. It took her a moment to put together the background thrum and gentle rocking motion and remember where she was, which was stretched out on the back seat of Rath's car. "How long have I been asleep?" she said, pushing herself to a sitting position.
"Few hours," Rath said. "Same as Maria."
Courtney glanced at the front seat, where Maria was leaning against the window in what looked like a very uncomfortable position. "Oh. Guess you were talking to her, not me."
"I was talking to you," Rath said. "We're almost there. Anything look familiar?"
A look out of the window revealed acres of land with nary a house in sight. "It looks appropriately middle-of-nowhereish," she answered, "but I wouldn't know. I haven't been here in decades."
"Really?" Rath said. "When was the last time you were here?"
"1959," Courtney said. "The year I came to Roswell."
"So you've been in Roswell since 1959?"
"No. I was outed as Resistance, and had to run."
"Oh, yeah," Rath said. "They killed your dad." He was quiet for a moment. "So why here?" he said at length. "Why this particular middle of nowhere?"
"We landed in the mountains nearby," Courtney said.
Rath twisted around. "You have a ship here? You mean a spaceship?"
"Eyes on the road, Mikey G," Courtney said dryly. "If there's no point dying in Copper Summit, there's sure as hell no point dying before you get there. And yes, we had a spaceship, with 'had' being the operative word. The shapeshifters destroyed it ages ago."
?" Rath said sharply. "There's more than one?"
"There was way back then," Courtney said. "Nasedo was the last one left."
"What happened to the rest of them?"
"You've been here for a while," Courtney noted, "and people have been fighting over you all that time. The human military, my race, accidents...they got picked off one by one."
"Oh," Rath said. "Bummer."
That was close,
Courtney thought as Rath lapsed into a disappointed silence. God, but she'd have to be careful; once again, it was instructive just how much damage a simple plural could do. "But why set up shop in any middle of nowhere?" Rath went on. "Wouldn't a city be a better place to hide? Whitaker was in Washington."
"Only after decades of experience in acting human," Courtney said. "We had to learn. We came off the ship in small groups, and practiced blending into human society. A small rural community was an easier learning curve."
Maria stirred, and Courtney was gratified to see Rath look her way in dismay. This was the private conversation they'd missed and needed to have, free of interruption and the constant miasma of suspicion. It would be a damned shame if it ended just as it began.
It didn't. Maria turned, rearranging herself into what looked like an even more uncomfortable position before growing still once more. "So...1959," Rath went on. "You worked at the Crashdown."
"It's was Parker's then, but yeah."
"So it was you in that photo Mr. Parker had, not your grandmother?"
"Duh," Courtney said blandly.
"Not 'duh'," Rath corrected. "For all I know, you brought your grandmother along with you."
"Don't I wish," Courtney said wistfully. "No," she added quickly, "no, I don't. Coming here was basically a death sentence. I knew that, my whole family knew that...I would never wish that on my grandmother. What?" she went on when she saw the astonished look on Rath's face. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You...have a grandmother?" he said.
"Of course I have a grandmother," Courtney said. "Everyone has a grandmother, and a grandfather, two of each, in fact, and a mother, and a father. We have families just like humans."
"Yeah," Rath said quickly. "Yeah, of course you do."
Courtney leaned forward, resting her arms on the front seat. "No, of course we
do. We're from the same planet, remember?"
Michael turned to look at her again as Maria stirred once more, as though sensing an argument she'd like to participate in. "Eyes on the road," Courtney reminded him. "There'll be plenty of opportunities to off ourselves in spectacular fashion when we get there. And let me take this opportunity to once again remind you that this is a very bad idea, and that we still have time to turn the car around."
Rath returned his eyes to the road, narrowly missing a pothole which looked deep enough to wave to China. "Not gonna happen," he said firmly.
Courtney leaned back against her seat. "Of course not. But I had to try."
Rath's eyes flicked toward her in the rear view mirror. They rode in silence for another minute.
"So what are we gonna find when we get there?" Rath said. "Who's in charge?"
"Hopefully we'll find nothing but a sham memorial service," Courtney said. "And who's in charge would be Nicholas. He's Khivar's Second, just like you're Max's Second."
"The guy who stole Max's throne," Courtney clarified.
"And what's Nicholas look like?"
"Oh, he's not hard to spot—he's a height-challenged, scrawny little tweenager. Long story," Courtney amended when Rath raised an eyebrow. "He's the one who looks like a kid."
"So the leader of the Skins looks like a kid?" Rath said skeptically.
"Great disguise, huh?"
"I guess," Rath said doubtfully. "Okay, so when we get there, the first order of business would be to find Max and the rest of them."
"Correction," Courtney said. "Your
first order of business is to find Max and the rest of them. I have other plans."
"Why?" Rath said sharply. "What are you doing?"
"Destroying the new husks," Courtney said. "If you're really going to barrel into Copper Summit, I might as well do something useful. Denying Nicholas and the rest of them another 50 years on this planet is my definition of 'useful'."
"But you need a new husk," Rath protested. "So does everybody in your 'resistance', don't they?"
"Yes," Courtney said sadly, "but I can't save only some husks. Either they all survive and are harvested, or they all die. I vote for die."
"And I don't," Rath said firmly. "We're here to rescue Max and the rest of them. We'll come back later for the husks."
"Don't you get it?" Courtney said. "There is no 'later'. It's now, or never. We won't get this chance again, and we can't afford to let those husks be harvested. Once they're mature, they can be preserved for a long time. If Khivar decides to send more troops, the last thing we want waiting for them is a closet full of human suits."
"Is he doing that?" Rath said in alarm. "Is he sending more Skins?"
"Not that I know of," Courtney said. "But he could."
"So that's just hypothetical," Rath said. "But your husk is dying, which means you're dying...and that's not hypothetical."
"I'm not the one you should be worried about," Courtney said. "I don't have a planet waiting anxiously for my return."
Rath fell silent as Courtney looked out the window, resisting the urge to scratch at said dying husk. Any other time, she'd be basking in Rath's obvious concern for her, but this was no time for sentiment. According to Future Zan, the husks had been harvested in that other timeline, and Rath had secured one for her. That was the good news; the bad news was that, given their losses over the years, most of those harvested husks would not have been used. Until Khivar arrived, that is, with troops that needed a useful way of blending into the human population, and found one at the ready. Aliens wearing human skins—it was the stuff of human nightmares, and it was real. Here, now, in this timeline, things had changed. A chance to change them further, to prevent the harvest from happening, had dropped into her lap, and she had to take it. Hopefully Brivari's safe house would actually be built in time. Hopefully she'd make it out of this alive to actually see it.
"So do you know Max and Isabel's grandmother?"
Courtney snapped back to the present. "What?"
"Mr. Parker showed me a lot of pictures of you from 1959," Rath said. "You were talking to Max's grandmother in one of them."
"I...was I?" Courtney stammered. "I don't know. That was a long time ago, and Mr. Parker...the old Mr. Parker...took a ton of pictures because he'd just expanded the bar into a restaurant. It was probably just some random photo."
"Didn't look like it," Rath said. "You looked like you knew each other."
"Maybe we did—then," Courtney allowed. "I don't know any grandmothers now."
"Huh," Rath said. "That's weird. I mean, I know she'd be a lot older now, but you don't look different. I'd think she would have recognized you—"
"Ummpf!" Maria said, awakening suddenly.
"Morning, Sunshine," Courtney said.
Maria gave her the stink eye as she stretched, or tried to, in the front seat. She'd enjoyed the silence and the chat with Rath, but the King's Second had put two and two together much too quickly. One well-placed kick to the back of the front seat had produced the necessary distraction.
"Where are we?" Maria said.
"Almost there," Courtney said. "Ready to be Supergirl?"
Anthony tried Courtney's kitchen door, and found it unlocked. "It's just me," he called. "Don't get too excited."
A moment later he was in the living room, where Dee was on the couch, disheveled and bleary-eyed. She'd fled their house last night in a panic after Courtney's phone call, and raced here only to find Courtney gone, and Michael with her. Finally able to see the impact of what she'd been pushing for, she'd refused to come home, bunking at Courtney's house on the couch, of all places. She looked none too comfortable, and no wonder; time was when they'd both been able to sleep on the couch or the floor without every muscle in their body shrieking at them, but that time had long since passed.
"You look awful," Anthony remarked.
"Gee, thanks," Dee said sourly. "What are you doing here?"
"I brought breakfast," Anthony answered, holding up a McDonald's bag. "Egg McMuffin, hash browns, orange juice."
"Why?" Dee said. "I thought you were mad at me."
"I am mad at you," Anthony said. "Doesn't mean I want you to starve, or be crippled. Why didn't you sleep in the bed, for heaven's sake? It's not like Courtney's using it."
"I don't want to be squirreled away back there," Dee said. "I didn't want to miss anyone who came in."
"And why would anyone come in?" Anthony said. "Given when they left, they should be getting to Copper Summit right about now, assuming he floored it, which he probably did. The only way they'd be here now is if they turned around and came back."
"Which she said she was going to try and get him to do," Dee reminded him.
"And which you didn't want him to do," Anthony reminded her. "Did you?"
"Yes! No! I don't know," Dee said wearily. "I only wanted Michael to go; I certainly never wanted Courtney to wind up there, or Maria. Courtney will be recognized a mile away."
"And you didn't think of that?" Anthony said. "It didn't occur to you that if Michael went, he'd take her with him, or that she'd choose to go with him? You thought Michael would actually go without Maria, or that Maria would let him go without her?"
"I think," Dee said in a brittle voice, "that we've established that I didn't think anywhere near as much as I should have."
"And you sent three more people into harm's way because of it," Anthony said.
Dee stared at her hands. "Don't you think I know that? I feel bad enough about this as it is. I really don't need you making me feel worse."
They sat in silence for a moment, him with his sogging McDonald's bag and her slumped on the couch. His hard-headed wife reminded him of schoolmates who always got A's; they thought getting a B was a tragedy, a C the end of the world. Dee was right so often that she'd forgotten how it felt to be wrong, that she even could be wrong. He couldn't remember when he'd seen her this down, if ever.
"Maybe Courtney's right," she said finally. "I'm too close. Maybe I should've pushed harder to have someone else adopt them."
"Don't be ridiculous," Anthony said. "You're definitely having trouble with the bigger picture, but those kids wouldn't have lasted a year without you, certainly not this last year. Then there wouldn't be a bigger picture to see."
"So what do I do?" Dee said miserably. "How do I fix this?"
"That's the point, Deanna," Anthony said gently. "You're so accustomed to wrestling the world into the shape you want that you've never really made peace with the fact that there are things you can't fix. This is one of those things." He held up the bag. "Have something to eat. You'll only feel worse if you're starving."
"I want to feel worse," Dee said dully. "I deserve to feel worse."
"Far be it from me to rain on your pity party," Anthony said, "but making this all about you definitely isn't the way to fix it."
"I'm upset!" Dee exclaimed. "Can't I just be upset?"
"You're upset because you screwed up," Anthony clarified, "because you aren't perfect. Join the club; no one is, not even you. If it makes you feel better, look at it this way. If the cavalry rides back into town and needs your help, how much help will you be if you haven't eaten in ages? Do you really want to fail them twice?"
That did it. Her eyes flashed with a hopeful-looking and very familiar resentment as she snatched the bag out of his hands and unwrapped the Egg McMuffin, which bore little resemblance to the mouth-watering photos which appeared on the posters. They never did.
"Come back home," Anthony said as she wolfed down the food, hungry in spite of herself. "Sitting here isn't going to do a thing for anyone."
"No," Dee said firmly. "I will sit here until she comes back, until they
come back. Because they are coming back, every last one of them. And I will be here when they do."
Her phone rang, and she snatched it. "Hello?" she said hopefully.
Any hope that it was good news evaporated when her face fell. "Uh...hang on."
"What?" Anthony said. "What's wrong now?"
"It's Jim Valenti," Dee said in a hollow voice. "Amy DeLuca is looking for her missing daughter."
Copper Summit, Arizona
"Wow," Maria remarked. "What a dump."
Courtney through privately, gazing out the window at the first place she'd lived on this planet, now a dilapidated, tawdry version of the nice little town she'd left behind back in '59. Nicholas and Company had not been good stewards, but then that would surprise precisely no one. She'd heard that he'd leaned on tourism to bring in funds as the number of his troops had decreased, but she was unprepared for the level to which it had sunk. "Fortune Teller!" screamed one sign; "Wagon Rides!" screamed another, followed by "Bob for Apples!" and "Pick Your Own Berries!" She had no idea where anyone would find berries out here, but maybe they'd cooked up something. They certainly had the tech.
"It's like a third rate Disneyland," Maria said as they drove down the Wild West-themed street.
"More like fourth or fifth," Courtney said. "If that."
Maria turned to look at her. "Amazing. For once, we agree."
"Don't get yourself all sweaty over it," Courtney advised. "I'm not."
"So where is everybody?" Rath said. "Place is empty."
He was right. The streets were deserted, all the shops bore "Closed" signs, and theirs was the only car moving. "The memorial service was this morning, wasn't it?" Courtney said. "That's where they'd all be."
"Okay, so where's this 'Universal Friendship League'?" Rath asked.
"Beats me," Courtney said. "It didn't exist when I was here. Got an address?"
Rath handed her a copy of the letter which was sent to Vanessa. "Down this road and turn left," Courtney instructed, "assuming they haven't changed the street grid."
They hadn't. Nicky had bigger fish to fry than redecorating the town. Turned out the "Universal Friendship League" was the old town courthouse, no longer needed, of course, as justice was no longer dispensed here. They parked the car in front, and piled out.
"Looks closed," Maria said.
"Huh. This is where the service is supposed to be," Courtney said.
"Door's locked," Rath noted, trying the front door.
"And you can't see through the windows," Maria said. "Weird. Don't," she added when Rath reached for the door bell. "Let's look around first."
They circled the building, Courtney trailing behind. She hadn't been here in decades, and it looked so different now, like a failed fake ghost town, but here and there were little things she remembered. She'd been so naive back then, so idealistic, so...so many things she wasn't now. The last time she'd been here, she'd been a different person. The last time she'd been here, her father had still been alive...
But enough with the walk down memory lane. This was still enemy territory, and all four of the Royal Four were squarely in the middle of it, or at least she hoped they were. Was it possible Nicholas had figured out who they were, and fled the town with his prizes? But no; he would never leave his harvest behind, and that harvest must be here somewhere. Coming around to the front of the old courthouse, her eyes raked the unfamiliar fake western buildings, mentally overlaying the old architecture. The new husks would have to be in town; there wasn't enough space in the warren of rooms beneath Nicholas's house. "No one's here," she called to Rath and Maria. "Let's drive around and see what we can find; it'll be faster than on foot."
They piled back into the car, circling one block, then another. The buildings were all different, and Nicholas had had plenty of time to build new facilities since her departure, but any new infrastructure would likely be adjacent to the old for logistical reasons. And the largest of the old tech hubs hadn't been far from the courthouse, which would have put it right about…
"There!" Courtney exclaimed, pointing. "Stop the car!"
"Why?" Maria demanded. "I don't see anything."
"Of course you don't—it's inside. Stop the car," Courtney commanded, "or I jump out."
"Let her," Maria advised.
"We don't have anything else to go on," Rath argued. "I'm sticking with her. And there's the jeep!"
Michael pulled over across from Zan's empty jeep, which was parked in front of a dingy wooden building labeled "Stagecoach Museum", one of the less ridiculous offerings on the Copper Summit tourist circuit. The door was open, the interior dark and dank, and she led them without hesitation past replica stagecoaches complete with life-sized dolls, including a creepy looking hearse with a corpse.
"Where are we going?" Maria hissed.
"The door would be in the back," Courtney said, "and it'll have a weird lock on it, like—"
"Like this?" Rath said, pulling back a curtain.
"Yes," Courtney breathed, stopping in front of a decidedly non-western door with a lock which would recognize Argilian DNA. Assuming they hadn't specifically locked her out, that is, which was quite possible…
But the panel lit, and the door unlatched. "Okay, you're good for something," Maria allowed, "but how does this help us find Liz and the rest of them?"
"First things first," Courtney said, already through the door to the stairs on the other side. It was a bad time to say this out loud, but Zan and the rest of them might already be lost. But she had Zan's Second with her; if she could destroy the new husks and convince him to leave, their world would still have a chance. The door banged closed behind them as they clattered down the stairs, Rath rushing ahead of her as they came around a corner just as someone collapsed on the stairs in front of them.
"Isabel!" Maria exclaimed. Ahead of them, Rath's hand shot out, sending a short figure flying amidst the sea of maturation chambers filled with husks.
"Get her out of here!" Rath shouted.
Her heart pounding, Courtney grabbed one arm and Maria the other, propelling the stunned Vilandra up the stairs. "Up we go," Courtney said briskly, reaching the top in record time. "Take her outside," she instructed Maria. "I'm going back in."
"I'm going with you," Isabel said, one hand to her forehead and looking none too steady.
"Me, too," Maria said stoutly. "Michael's in there."
"No shit," Courtney said. "One of you trapped in there with Nicholas is quite enough, thank you. Both of you stay here."
"You know Nicholas?" Isabel said.
"Unfortunately," Courtney said. "Let me deal with him."
"I am not leaving Michael's life in your hands!" Maria protested. "I'm—"
"Staying right here like I asked you to," Courtney said firmly. "Look, I know you hate my guts, and believe me when I say the feeling's mutual, but I don't want Michael dead either. I will get him out of there. Stay here, and don't become one more person I have to rescue."
Isabel put a hand on Maria's arm. "Do what she says," Isabel said quietly.
"But what if she needs our help?" Maria persisted. "If you were down there, Max and the others are probably down there too."
"No, they're not," Courtney said. "Stay here."
Vilandra gave her a strange look which Courtney ignored as she grabbed a crowbar from a nearby display and crept back down the stairs. Vilandra had been the only one down here because Nicholas had figured out who she was and singled her out, leading her away from whatever they had planned for the rest of them. They didn't know where the rest of them were or have time to find them, but there was still a chance, a chance which had been visible at the base of the stairs. Nicholas had taken a calculated risk to make the husks mature faster, and the gamble he'd taken could now be his undoing if she could manage to not let him see her. She crept around the corner, her feet making no sound.
"...gleam of dull stupidity in the eyes," a sarcastic voice said as she neared the base of the stairs. "If I'm not mistaken, you must be the king's second-in-command. I killed you myself in your last life. Ready to die again?"
"Bring it on," Rath said grimly.
Courtney thought wearily. Rath had no idea who he was up against, but she was willing to bet it didn't matter; even if he had, he'd be doing exactly what he was doing now, what he'd done in that other life on that other world when he'd met Khivar's army alone and paid the ultimate price. She wasn't sure whether to be dismayed or impressed; maybe both. Or maybe she should save the introspection for after she smashed that power crystal and rendered them all temporarily blind, deaf, and dumb. Rath and Nicholas were both raising their hands to begin their duel as she reached the base of the stairs, Nicholas unfortunately facing her, but all of his attention on the man he'd killed once already. But she had to move to get to that damned crystal, had to take the time to aim carefully, to make sure she hit it right at the juncture where it connected to the main power source, where it would do the most damage...and Nicholas was no fool. More's the pity.
"No!" Nicholas screamed when he spied her.
Her swing hit home. The crystal smashed, and gas spewed into the room as Rath ducked and Nicholas flew backwards, screaming, his hands to his head. "Run!" Courtney commanded, racing up the stairs with Rath on her heels. She reached the top, and wrenched the door open to find a nervous Vilandra and Maria waiting for her.
"Where's Michael?" Maria demanded.
"On his way," Courtney said. "Run!"
"What's that noise?" Vilandra asked as the sound of breaking glass wafted up the stairway.
"Good news for us," Courtney said, "but only if we run!
They did, thank goodness, and without hesitation, their feet sending up clouds of dust in the clearly unvisited museum. Ironically, that had been the easy part. God only knew where Zan and the rest of them were, and the effects of destroying the crystal would be acute, but temporary, so they had no time to look for them. The best they could do now was hope she'd given the rest of the Royal Four a chance to escape while escaping themselves with the King's Second and any remaining shred of hope for Antar. Convincing Rath to leave without Zan would be the hard part. Maybe she should lie? Say she knew where they were being held, and take off? But wouldn't he just turn around and go back when he found out? Not to mention he'd never trust her again, and that the best chance they had of finding the rest of them was right now, amidst all the confusion…
But her fretting was for naught. As they emerged from the fake museum, Zan, Ava, and Liz Parker rounded the corner on foot at top speed. "What are you doing here?" Zan demanded. "We gotta go now!"
"Way ahead of you, boss," Maria answered, looking behind her. "Michael? Where's Michael?"
Everyone followed Maria's gaze. What is he up to?
Courtney thought despairingly. He'd been right behind her! Had the idiot stayed to finish off Nicholas? With the husks gone, time alone would do that without Rath getting himself killed. She could feel Maria's accusing eyes on her, unable to tear her eyes away from the doorway as she watched it, willing him to appear…
He did, arms full of something large wrapped in a blanket. What the hell? Had he taken Nicholas hostage? "Open the trunk!" Rath bellowed.
Maria complied, and Rath deposited his burden inside. "Is that what I think it is?" Maria demanded.
"Just drive!" Rath shouted.
For once, Maria didn't argue, heading for the driver's seat without further objection just as the muffled sound of explosions came from inside the museum. But instead of celebrating that her plan had worked, that she'd managed to set off the chain reaction she'd been hoping for, Courtney was gazing in amazement at Rath, who hesitated before climbing into the car. Whatever had been wrapped in that blanket was much too large to be Nicholas. "Where do you think you got that new husk?"
Future Zan had asked her. "You and Michael were good together. If he'd lived, I bet you would have been great together. You were his match."
The car took off with Maria at the wheel, the jeep on its heels. They hadn't gone more than a few hundred yards when the Stagecoach Museum behind them exploded.
"What was that?" Maria demanded, unable to turn around.
"The building blew up," Vilandra reported, her eyes out the back window before coming to rest on Courtney. "What did you do in there? What are you even doing here?"
But Courtney was looking at Rath, whose eyes were on her. Future Rath had gotten her a new husk, and now that had been repeated in this timeline. If this wasn't evidence that the two of them would play out the way they had the last time, she didn't know what was.
Vilandra's phone rang. "It's Tess," she reported. "Max wants us to follow him. He wants to pull over."
" 'Course he does," Rath muttered.
"Why does he want to pull over?" Maria said. "Why not get as far away from here as possible?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Rath said darkly. "He wants to bitch at me for coming at all."
"As if!" Maria snorted. "We just saved his ass! I think," she added, with a glance back at Courtney. "Miss I'm-On-Your-Side hasn't answered Isabel's question."
The atmosphere in the car chilled as Maria's rearview-mirror-glare, combined with Vilandra's less hostile, but still suspicious gaze and Rath's questioning one made it clear she was not among friends. The crisis was over. Now the real work would begin.
"Hey!" Maria called. "She asked you a question. What did you do?"
"I'm afraid you don't count in the royal hierarchy, sweetheart," Courtney said. "I don't have to tell you a thing."
"What about me?" Vilandra said.
"Or me?" Rath added.
Courtney looked out the window. "I won't talk to anyone but the king."
I'll post Chapter 67 on Sunday, July 2