Part 1 : Friend or Foe
November 2nd, 2011 - New York
1 : Max
The time was 4:00pm.
As the elevator doors closed, Max had a feeling of déjà vu. He’d been in this exact same elevator ten years ago, one cold November afternoon, with Tess. He’d been so nervous and so afraid about the upcoming Summit, while she had taken it all in stride. He’d been lightheaded then, and he was starting to get lightheaded now, the memory strong enough to transcend time and space. Things had changed, though. So much.
Now he also carried the memories of one Antarian king, though he felt far from royal. If the Summit were happening today, it wouldn’t be such a nerve-wracking experience and no one
would be able to accuse him of not knowing who he was: Max Evans, proud husband, son, and earthling. Gone was the uncertainty of those days, when he’d been afraid of his alien self and what it represented; when he’d been terrified he would wake up one day and Max Evans would be gone.
The one thing that had truly, fundamentally changed was that he was no longer afraid to lead. Zan had been a natural-born leader, literally
. Not only had he been raised to lead an entire planet, he’d been bio-engineered to be good
at it. Max still didn’t like
it, and would gladly give up leading any given day, he just didn’t shy away from it, didn’t feel guilty about giving orders any more. Not that he got to issue orders on a daily basis, of course, he was hardly a king in this time and place.
Michael still thought he was too passive. Max still thought Michael was too impulsive. And that’s why we’re gonna make it
, Max told himself, the elevator movement making him slightly dizzy. They both valued their differences as assets now, and things didn’t get as heated as when they were kids. There were more compromises, more angles considered, and there was so much more at risk.
Someone coughed, a couple of girls giggled, and other, more important matters intruded in the here and now. This meeting with Dave was not really sitting well with him. Dave was never impulsive about things, and he was extremely
careful about not interrupting Max’s and Liz’s time together. That he would text him for a meeting in the middle of the day, right at the beginning of his vacation, could only mean trouble.
knows about those messages Michael intercepted from space. He knows someone’s coming for us
soon. Is that what this is about?
There were few other options. There was the ever present threat of the Special Unit, that Max knew was still out there. Ray kept them updated whenever they were in the US, and although news of the Unit was always an unwelcome reminder that they needed Dave to come and go, Max was confident that any threat from them was something Dave could handle in a heartbeat. So the Unit was hopefully out of the picture.
There was the possibility that something had happened to his parents. Family matters were always a sensitive topic, and something Dave would get to know before they did. Through the years they had managed to see their parents twice in person, and often through the computer. But, if this meeting were about his parents, Isabel would have been invited as well.
Someone’s coming for us.
Michael’s words echoed in his mind. That certainly qualified as a major
problem, and he could see why Dave would want to reason with him first before bringing Michael and Isabel into the picture. But why here?
The Empire State Building was anything but private. What would Dave want in a place like this, out in the open? Was he trying to manipulate Max into not reacting? But if Dave were afraid of him, he wouldn’t have chosen to speak in person. He would have been safely tucked away at the other side of the world while talking through the network.
What is it?
he wondered for the hundredth time as the elevator reached its destination, up, up, up
above ground. At the back of his mind, he had a nagging feeling that someone was watching him. People spoke in languages he did not recognize, and readied their cameras for the big tour. Their excitement would have been contagious had he not been so worried about what he was going to talk about with their “jailor”, as Maria was so fond of calling Dave.
Max was the last one to get out of the claustrophobic box, his mind feeling crowded with so many thoughts. Although he had only been here once, everything looked exactly as he remembered it. Couples were mingling, kids were shouting, everyone’s eyes were on the horizon. It certainly was a breathtaking view of the city, if one cared enough to enjoy it.
Max’s honey eyes looked around, searching for Dave.
Somewhere, out there, Liz was scared out of her mind. He felt her sudden panic like a jolt of electricity, the impact on his senses almost making him lose his balance. His fists closed, his heart skipped a beat. Trapped at the top of the building, there was nothing he could do but swallow hard, and concentrate on her. For the first time since he could remember, it felt as if there were a wall between them. A wall made of fog that let only the vaguest of feelings through.
he whispered in his mind, unsure of what this meant. Instinctively, his body turned towards her direction, and while his mind tried to figure out what was happening to her, he was already planning to take the next elevator down, to hell with Dave’s urgent meeting.
His plan was shot down a second after that. A green flash blinded him for a moment, and thinking it an annoying camera flash, he ignored it. But the next thing he registered was the lack of chattering sounds. And along with this realization came the fact that he was alone.
Everyone had disappeared.
For one instant he was sure he was strangely caught between his life as Max and a flash from Zan. Except it didn’t quite feel like that. It actually felt like… Nicolas
. The thought froze him in place. This felt exactly like the time Nicolas had come to Roswell and everyone had disappeared. Everyone but those who were aliens, with a few exceptions.
His heart beating in his ears, Max flattened himself to the wall. He was about twenty feet from the elevator, and some thirty from the emergency stairs. He had to get out of this place, and neither exit was going to be fast or risk free. If flight was not an option, there was always fight… At the very least, he would make Ray proud.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a tall man standing, looking at the city as if he were a tourist himself. His dark coat hid much of his body, perfectly concealing any weapons. He turned then, looking directly at Max, his face impassive. Long, dark hair snaked around him as the wind blew, loosely tied at the base of his neck. He didn’t look older than Max, and he definitely didn’t look surprised by the absence of people.
There was a sense of danger about him, of someone who was not used to being out in the open. He definitely didn’t look like Nicolas, but who was to say a Skin couldn’t change looks? Meeting up with that traitor was not a pleasant thought. On Antar, Rath had loathed him, and Zan had not been far off, a sentiment Max shared with them both in this life.
Energy tingled in his fingertips as Max assessed the situation. The man in front of him walked slowly towards him, giving Max plenty of time to make a decision. Fight or flight, Max?
Ray’s words echoed from hours of training and playing possible scenarios. Max swallowed, hard.
Whoever this person was, he was certainly skilled with Antarian technology. There was a very unsettling possibility that this man had a device like Brody’s that would disable his powers, and his powers were all he had for his defense.
The elevator or the stairs?
The man stopped some twelve feet away. The wind blew again, chilly, the sound of the city non-existent at this height. They both stared at each other for seconds that felt like eternity. Something odd was going on, but Max was barely aware of it. He couldn’t properly concentrate, couldn’t make the decision of how to get out of there, couldn’t stop questions from forming and going unanswered. If this man was not the enemy, then why go through all the trouble of this? What was happening to Liz? Where was Dave?
“Greetings, Your Highness,” the stranger finally spoke, slightly inclining his head.
A diplomat? A messenger? A soldier? A rebel?
Friend or foe?
“Greetings…,” Max answered, still cautious, still needing to understand so many things and clear his head for once. “Although it is clear to me you know who I am, I am not familiar with you or your reasons for this setting.” It was easy to summon up Zan’s words and tone. Much easier than Max would have thought. Or liked.
The man’s eyes flashed with emotion, excitement, maybe? And then it was gone. They weren’t cold, no. Rather like Ray’s, vigilant, and a little like Maria’s, passionate.
“I am Van,” he replied, standing still and very focused on him. “I am the commander of the Rebellion.”
This is too soon
, Max fleetingly thought, before his mind was stunned by the man’s next words.
“And I am your brother.”
2 : Liz
“I don’t have bodyguards,” Liz whispered, the shapeshifter sitting in front of her reading the menu in the exact same way Max did, from the back to the front. It was unnerving to see him, knowing he wasn’t really her husband.
“You do when you are out of the compound. It was required as a condition to let the King go out of the safety of Dave’s properties. And by extension, you.”
Michael was right,
Liz momentarily realized, we are always being watched.
“I don’t understand, why are you here now? Why are you suddenly in front of me, looking like Max? What do you want?”
He smiled Max’s slow smile as he leaned forward and quietly said, “All will be explained.”
She felt her heart racing, stuck between anger and fear. “Well you’d better start explaining fast, before—” she stopped in mid sentence. Before you get shot
. Her mouth opened in shock for an instant, as the vision played in her mind once more: Max getting shot at the French restaurant. Except it hadn’t been her Max, it couldn’t have been. Instead, somewhere, nearby, someone was getting ready right at this moment to shoot this Not-Max, and she was lucky enough to have a front-row seat.
She was torn. If the shapeshifter in front of her was lying, if he was an enemy sent to kidnap her or worse, then whoever was going to shoot was actually doing her a favor. But if the alien in front of her was actually on her side, she had to warn him. But how could she know? Every second that went by meant her vision was closer to coming true.
“Tell me what’s going on right now, or I swear you’ll regret it. Where’s Max?”
Now she was angry. Her fingers tingled with energy that was growing by the second. She had to make a decision in the next couple of minutes, either to trust him or to flee, and neither one of them felt right. The most important thing right now was to know where Max was. Why hadn’t he called her?
“He’s in a meeting, as I told you,” Not-Max said, “An important one, with our leader.”
“Khivar?” she whispered. Not-Max’s eyes went as cold as she felt.
“We live to see him die,” he said in a harsh tone. No amount of good acting could convey the hatred she saw there, twisting Max’s eyes. For a second, they were completely black. “We are the Rebellion,” he said a moment later, taking a deep breath to calm himself down. Max’s hazel eyes came back. “Van is our leader, and for the longest time, he’s been trying to make things right, to fight for what is true.”
“You’re here to take Max back,” she whispered, her heart aching. She didn’t need anyone spelling it out for her to understand that. “Where is he? Where’s Max?” her voice cracked at the last word. She didn’t care.
“There are a lot of things going on today and plans had to be changed. Dave is missing, your human hunters are getting closer, and Khivar is on the move. We couldn’t wait any longer.”
Down the street, a car’s horn startled Liz, reminding her they were not safe out here. “We need to move,” she said, standing up so fast her chair fell down. Not-Max stared at her, standing up as well. “Someone’s going to shoot you,” she whispered, taking him by the arm. His eyes immediately went up, to the closest building, his hand taking hers and pulling her in the other direction. An instant later, a bullet ricocheted two inches from where his free hand had been.
She didn’t have time to register that she’d prevented her vision coming true by a mere ten seconds. She didn’t even register the face of their waitress as they almost collided with her in an attempt to flee enemy fire. All she felt was this man’s iron grip on her wrist, her frantic heart beating wildly in her chest, and Max’s connection crumbling in her mind.
3 : Kyle
And you thought Michael was going to ruin our vacation…
Kyle thought with resignation as his plans for a relaxing week in the Big Apple and proposing to the girl of his dreams went up in smoke. While Jake was talking with Ray on the only functioning cell phone of the group, Maria, Jesse, Isabel and himself were pooling their rooms’ resources. Mainly, they had raided the mini-fridges and were dividing the contents into individual supplies. Chances were they might need to flee, and Ray was telling Jake where would be the safest place to go.
Michael had left not even ten minutes ago in search of Liz, while they were trying to digest the fact that Dave was missing and Max could very well be in danger. Isabel’s hands shook as she deposited what she’d found in her room, while Maria was eerily silent, unzipping their smallest backpacks.
With the tension going up, Kyle was getting snaps of everyone’s thoughts, especially Jake’s. Mostly, the doctor was concerned about Dave’s whereabouts. They had planned for this, for the eventuality that one of Dave’s deals would go awry or something would happen to him. Jake kept going to some image in a hotel room, one stormy night, not so long ago. As much as Kyle wanted to shut him out, his mind-reading was nothing if not unpredictable. I just need to calm down,
he coached himself, dividing Snickers, Milky Ways and bottles of water.
Jake hung up. Kyle’s mind was flooded with images of maps.
“Okay, there’s a warehouse on the outskirts of the city,” Jake started to say, getting a map of New York City out, spreading it over the coffee table where everyone could see. “Here. It’s a safe spot, and it’s unused for now. It’s not listed in the network, so whoever brought it down this morning would be unaware of it. Jesse and Isabel will take a cab to this location…”
More maps kept intruding into Kyle’s mind, this time more like blueprints. White lines over a black background started to get in his head, forming rooms, air vents, electrical systems.
“Maria and Michael will take this subway route, and then change lines here…”
Instead of blueprints, Kyle’s mind images changed to the lobby, the halls, the elevators’ locations. He turned to look at Jake, trying to understand why he was so focused on the hotel’s structure when they were about to flee the place, when his mind flashed on a gun. A professional looking Glock, the FBI standard issue handgun.
“Kyle, you and Liz will—”
Kyle cursed. “They are already here!”
4 : Michael
There was one thing in Michael’s mind and one thing only: Get to Max.
The entire day was becoming a nightmare. From the network being down, to someone taking Max and Liz in different directions, to the fact that Dave was missing.
His mind was being pulled in a thousand different directions. His top priority was to get the group together, and since Liz was at the corner, that’s where he intended to go first. Get her safely to the hotel, go get Max at the Empire State. He didn’t want to think one bit about the fact that it would take him half an hour before he could be standing at the roof of that building, and that was being wildly optimistic.
The lobby was a blur as he ran through it, recent memories of Max getting that message in the park and of Jake telling them Dave was missing merging into one another. He’d been right beside Max when the trap had been set and none of them had been the wiser.
He should call the Empire State and send a bomb threat. That would empty the building fast and hopefully would keep Max safe. Who could be skillful enough to take down Dave’s network and
send a message to Max with Dave’s name on it?
Worse, who would know
the connection between both men?
He made it to the street, but before he could take one step to his right, Maria’s emotions collided with his into a storm of pure fear. It felt like a physical blow, strong enough to make him gasp. It cut all his plans of going out and redirected him to the lobby once more, his legs weighing a ton. He couldn’t move fast enough. Whatever had scared Maria so badly could not be good. She was reaching for him with the same fear that he was sending towards her, their connection almost to the frying point.
He was halfway through the lobby when a man he hadn’t noticed grabbed him by the arm and effortlessly changed his course from the elevators to the emergency exit sign. The man was not fearful in the least, and considering the state of mind Michael was in, he was certainly risking his life. Instinct almost took over, almost
. The only thing that spared the man’s life right there were four simple words: “General, there’s a situation.”
He had almost blasted the man the minute he had made physical contact with him, and the tingling in his fingertips was proof of how close he had been. But those words had such an impact on the echoes of his memory, that for an instant, Michael was stunned, frozen to the spot.
This man was from before.
A second later, he registered the stranger was trying to make him walk, but Michael was having none of it. With the shock wearing off, his concentration went back to Maria.
“If they see you, they’ll shoot you, too,” the older man said, wary eyes darting over his shoulder to the elevators, then around the lobby check-in area. Applying more force to Michael’s arm, he felt Michael finally move.
already been shot?” he sternly asked, walking with half a mind to ditch this man and find his wife. He just needed to find out as much as he could before that. Maria’s safety depended on that.
“Liz, but she escaped,” the man rushed, “unhurt. She’s with one of my men, safe,” he added. They passed the Exit sign and kept going. To the kitchens
, Michael realized, one of Ray’s favorite escape routes. I beg to differ
, he grimly thought, changing directions once more, this time for the stairs. It was his turn to do the steering.
Pulling the man to the stair door, Michael looked him in the eye. “You’re telling me what’s going on and you have exactly three minutes before I find my wife and we disappear,” he stated, not letting this stranger dictate his moves any more. In they went a second after, the fire stairs seemingly empty all the way up.
“Your wife wasn’t supposed to be here,” the man started, climbing ahead of Michael’s watchful eyes. “None of the humans were.” No, they weren’t, yet here we are
, Michael somberly thought, the joy of having Maria two days before he had expected turning bitter in his mouth. So much for a surprise. “We were going to make contact tonight.”
“The Rebellion.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes. We’ve been planning this move for a long time. When, where, and how… We had a meeting yesterday with Dave. He said there were details he wanted to discuss with Zan first. Then he would introduce us to him and to you.”
Pieces started to fall into place in Michael’s mental puzzle. About the deal, about the messages, about Dave and the Rebellion in contact all this time. He would think about it later, much
later, when he had Maria safely in his arms, and Max where he could see him.
“You don’t know where Dave is either, do you?” he asked aloud, not all the pieces accounted for.
“He brought the network down. We took it as a signal to us that things were not going according to plan. Emergency contingencies were activated.”
Dave would know how to bring his own network down
. It hadn’t been an attack at all. It had been done on purpose.
They were passing the third floor now. He had left Maria not ten minutes ago on the eighth.
“Contingencies to take the king to secure ground,” Michael said. Rath’s strongest memories were always about protecting his king, and Michael needed to know Max was okay just as strongly.
“We still need to make sure he’s the king befo—“”
“It’s him,” Michael cut him, a big number 5 painted in white as they kept going up. If they didn’t believe Max was Zan, they would immediately withdraw their help. “Tell me it’s you who called Max,” he asked with clenched teeth.
“He’s with us,” the rebel answered, slightly slowing down. Michael pushed him up, thanking any gods out there that at least Max was not walking into a trap.
“What’s the current situation?” Michael’s eyes kept looking ahead, Maria’s fear not as strong now. She was moving, he just didn’t know where. Damn it!
“The Unit is about to close in. They have just failed at ambushing Liz and a decoy for Zan. We didn’t realize they already had your location here until—”
Fire alarms started to sound. First on the higher floors, and then on the one they were just passing, going to the floors below. In less than a minute, the entire hotel was one huge fire alarm.
Somehow, they knew. That must have been why Maria had panicked and now was on the move. This was the distraction they needed to bypass the Unit. Relieved beyond words, Michael grabbed his willing follower, this time heading down the stairs. With no directions and no phones, he couldn’t afford missing Maria and the others.
5 : Dave
“You kill Max Evans, you kill us all,” Dave said deadly serious. Across the metal table, McKay rolled his eyes.
“You always were one for the dramatics,” the older man said dismissively, thoroughly enjoying seeing Dave squirm.
“I don’t care what you think about me. If your men kill that man, that man’s army will destroy the Earth.” He had to make them understand. He had to
. If McKay thought he could take Max without repercussions… At the very least, Dave hoped Van would never hear about this. Van was not the kind of man one could cross.
“You traitor,” McKay hissed, his cold, blue eyes accusing him. “Sell your planet… for what? What are they offering you?”
“Ten years ago I stumbled upon those kids, and two years later I was face to face with the leader of their Rebellion. Do you know what he wanted? He wanted to try the entire planet for crimes committed against his king, crimes your goddamned Special Unit committed! You don’t understand what kind of power is behind that threat.”
For one glorious instant, McKay actually considered his words. And then the instant was gone.
“You disgust me,” McKay said, standing up. “I’ll tell you when we have that alien trash in our hands.”
Dave was left alone, with nothing to keep him company but the sound of his racing heartbeat.