The Offer (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 41 - 5 / 21 COMPLETE

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The Offer (CC ALL, YTEEN) Ch. 41 - 5 / 21 COMPLETE

Post by Misha » Sat Nov 12, 2005 1:10 am


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

Summary: Seven months have passed since the gang left Roswell. Now, tired and scared for their latest escape from the Special Unit, they rest in a side rode motel without knowing that danger is, literally, just around the corner. Someone else wants to catch them, and he has in mind an offer that can make both parties get what they want, or so it may look…

Author’s Note: English is my second language, but don’t worry. I have a wonderful editor, KathyW, to whom I’m eternally indebted for her valuable time and endless corrections. Thank you Kathy!!

The Messengers
Book 1 - The Offer

The Catch

Steve Lewis checked his watch again. Three more minutes to start what he had been hired to do. Hiding below the only window of the motel room, he risked breaking his concentration for only two seconds and to watch the stars. It was a clear night by the end of January, and seeing the so familiar constellations for him made him take a deep breath. When the air came out of his lungs, it went like a white poof in front of him. Closing his mouth, he returned his concentration to what he and his other two companions where about to do.

This was the third attempt at taking these… kids to wherever it was that they were going to be taken. He didn’t know how old they were, but heck, they couldn’t even be older than 22 or something. The reason he and his two friends had been hired for this particular job was because they never asked questions, worked with all the rules that were given, and never said a word afterwards. Besides, the three of them owed a favor to Dave, so it was time for payback. No one wanted to owe anything to him, and they weren’t the exceptions.

Still, Steve felt that he hadn’t been given all the information he should have known. No surprise there; Dave would only tell them what he felt they should know, things that wouldn’t really matter in the long term –or that could be denied, or changed or covered up later- so whatever it was he hadn’t told them was because he wasn’t sure enough of them. Not that that hurt his feelings either. This job done, and he would never again have to do anything for Dave in his life. At least not out of favors.

When Dave had contacted them a month and a half before, Steve had tried to not seem surprised, because taking his targets just like that –they weren’t even in another country, for Pete’s sake- wasn’t exactly one of Dave’s usual favors. So, one easy job to get Dave out off their backs had sounded like heaven.

Except that the job itself hadn’t been as easy as he had thought. Which brought him back to why this was the third attempt. There were two specific problems as to why they had failed the past two times, though. First, Steve and company couldn’t track them. Dave was the only one who knew where they were, and he had said that they were going to be notified where and when the kids could be take, so Steve had had to be at the ready for five weeks now, and it was getting old. Dave had smiled, with that “I know it all” smile of his, and added that it was okay if they failed a couple of times, but that time was a pressing thing. That they weren’t the only ones following these targets –these adolescent targets, for crying out loud- and that they weren’t that easy to locate. Apparently, they did know how to hide, but Steve also knew that Dave hadn’t counted on five weeks of waiting. It wasn’t Steve’s fault, or Dave’s fault, it had been just a matter of finding the right time and place. And the six sleeping figures in the three motel rooms had done everything they could to not give them the right time or place.

They stay apart for two or three days, Ray had said, Dave’s strategist in tracking them down, but they always reunite after that. It’s only a matter of time before they choose a motel or a place where they are going to be together and away from too many people.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there was the second problem. One of the few specific rules they had to follow was that the subjects couldn’t know that they were being taken. How easy it would have been to use darts in plain daylight, while they were going for lunch or something, but that would alert the others, no matter how fast it was done. Besides, Dave didn’t want spectacles for anyone else, anyway.

So, the first time they had tried to do this, they were informed that there was always a sentinel; one of them stayed up till 1:30 a.m., until another took their place, whether the whole group was together or not. That kind of trashed the whole idea of none of them knowing that something was happening, but even if that could be taken care of, that night when they were getting ready to get close to the motel four weeks ago, a snow storm had hit, hard, and that had trashed the whole idea. It would have been impossible to take them out of the motel to anywhere with three feet of snow on the roads and no nearby place to get a helicopter set up. So they had let it pass.

The second time, only three days ago, the FBI had thought it was the perfect time as well. They were still too far away to really know what had happened inside that motel room, and all they had seen was windows being blown, a green light of God knew what, and thirty seconds later, cars started to explode out of the blue as well. It was one hell of confusion, and the six of them had gotten out by a miracle. That night Steve had learned two things: those FBI guys had no style on how to do a covert thing like this one, and that those kids knew how to get out of a trap, even if he wasn’t sure how. Which was fine with him, and made him even like the idea that he and his friends should do this as low key as it could get. Whatever those kids had done, they sure as hell could do it again. That also gave him some ideas as to why Dave and the FBI were behind them.

He had been tempted to ask, because he knew this was part of the things he was sure Dave hadn’t told them and that they actually should know, but Dave had been worried, really worried –something Steve had never even heard of- and had told them that this time they couldn’t afford to fail. Not only because this was their best chance to get their targets unguarded –the kids had left the FBI and were at the edge of losing it because of how close they had been to get caught- but because the FBI was getting better at tracking them. It was a matter of time –a short time indeed- before those idiots without style would get their targets before Steve and company did.

And that, Ray had said turning to look at Dave, would bring itself a whole host of logistical nightmares to get them out of there. So Dave did want these kids one way or the other. Stick to the plan, Ray had added facing them, but if something goes wrong… He hadn’t finished, but it was clear that if something went wrong, then they’d have to do this in whatever way was possible. Their creativity and resourcefulness were the other two characteristics of why they had been hired. He only hoped that whatever Dave hadn’t told them wasn’t going to interfere with whatever they would end up doing.

So here he was, with one minute and twenty seconds before they liberated the special gas that would send the six sleeping beauties inside to a much needed deep sleep. They were so tense you could break a baseball bat in their shoulders, and they wouldn’t even flinch. Steve had thought exactly that when he had first arrived at the surrounding areas of the motel and had taken a good look at the rooms. It was a motel at the edge of one of those little cute towns that were on postcards, that always seemed to have their roofs and pines full of snow, no matter what time of the year. A little hideaway from all the city chaos, he guessed. It wasn’t all cozy-cozy, but it was neat and clean. Too peaceful for him to like, but it worked perfectly for anyone traveling. Martin, one of his companions, had checked to see how difficult it would be to drill a hole in the wall of their room and found that it would be easy. So, half an hour later, he had joined them to plan out who was going to get what room.

It was close to 2:30 a.m. now, and as Dave had predicted, they were too tired to put a second lookout for the night. Steve didn’t blame them. With this cold weather and all stressed up, probably without a decent sleep in months, not to mention no sleep at all in the past three days, who would want to stay in the lookout when you thought no one was out to get you, at least not this night? Perfect.

They had approached the three rooms, two singles and one double all in a row, as quiet as mice, and had positioned themselves under their respective windows. Eight minutes before, the three of them had opened a tiny little hole about six inches above the floor, where they expected to find no obstacle for the gas to enter. Martin’s room hadn’t had anything on its side under the window, so they had assumed no furniture was going to be there in either of the other motel rooms. And, lucky them, none of them had encountered a problem.

Four, three, two—, Steve introduced the little tube that would carry the gas from its tiny container –it kind of reminded him of those oxygen tanks, just in micro size- into the room and let the valve open. They would have to wait twelve minutes to be sure it had worked. And hell, he hoped it was working. Because if they entered those rooms in twelve minutes and those kids were awake…

Dave had also given them darts with the liquid version of the sedatives. Martin had even joked that why all this fancy stuff. Why, are they allergic or something? We do have our own equipment, you know. But Dave hadn’t smiled –which Steve hadn’t liked. Whether he liked to owe favors to the guy or not, at least Dave was easy to get along with, and he liked to smile too. And when he hadn’t, Steve had known this was something serious. Use what I give you to use and collect your payment afterwards.

Which brought him to the only reason as to why Steve liked to owe Dave a favor. Dave paid, and paid well. Of course, Dave’s favors were never easy, but that was why he made sure the best owed him something, and why he also paid for a job well done.

Gosh, those twelve minutes were taking forever.

He had the stupid temptation of getting up and peeking inside from the window to see if his two guinea pigs were falling asleep as the experiment had dictated. But he couldn’t do that. Besides, he reminded himself, if it is working or not, they would still look asleep, just not as deep as we hope them to be.

Six minutes had passed by, only six more to wait. In six more minutes they would knock on the doors telling them that there was a possibility of a gas leak. If they were awake, well, then at least Steve and his team would have a cover up story to see that the gas hadn’t worked. They would re-group, and ambush the teenagers when they were leaving, because one way or another, they had to be taken this day. And there was also the oh so simple possibility that the gas had actually worked, and none of the kids would actually awake and attend to whoever was knocking on the door.

They hadn’t picked their cover up story out the air, either. If the kids were actually in “Morpheus arms” –as a friend of his liked to say referring to the Greek God of sleep- the three of them would continue knocking on the remaining five rooms with the same story. With everybody out and trying to figure out if there was a gas leak or not, paramedics were going to be called –courtesy of Martin’s cell phone- and would make a heroes’ rescue of the poor inhabitants of rooms 6, 7 and 8 who had had a gas leak while sleeping. Paramedics courtesy of Dave, of course.

Steve checked his watch again. Two more minutes till showtime, he thought. He wasn’t a big fan of acting stuff up, but he had learned long ago that it was a very useful skill. Especially in his line of work, where pretending to be someone else was a given. For some strange reason, that brought his thoughts back to his targets. He was thirty-four years old, had joined the army after high school, had been a Navy Seal for quite some time, and now he worked on his own, and was called pretty often to do covert operations for people in the government who didn’t want anyone else knowing what was going on. It was fine with him, and his bank account as well. He was used to pressure –even liked it- and coming and going without leaving a trace. But that was a life he had chosen. What had these kids done to be in such a situation at such age? Robbed a bank? Blown up a military base? Steve laughed at that one. But seriously, he would have liked to know the background story of the people he was about to put a show on for. He didn’t even know their names. He had just looked at gazillions of pictures of each one as individuals. According to Dave, they didn’t need to know anything else. Brennan, the third part of this trio, had joked around the first time they had seen them in the distance by labeling the couples as “dark hair, light hair, and mixed up hair”, since they had paired up like that. It had been too obvious that out of the six, four were romantically involved. He wondered why the other remaining two weren’t.

Brennan and Martin started to get up, and Steve did the same. For one single time, Steve thought as he watched the last seconds of the twelve minute wait go by, could this be an easy catch? Please? At least he had gotten the “dark hair” couple to deal with. He had no envy for Martin who had ended up with the “light hair” pair, since that guy did seem to be a little… edgy. And in the state of mind that they were… Sure enough they were going to smell a trap in here, but Steve, Martin and Brennan would have to play it along. Dave should have come in here and made his offer, Steve thought two seconds before starting to knock on the door to room number 6 like a maniac, ‘that’ would have been the easiest way to do this.

“Hey! Someone in there?? We think there’s a gas leak in the motel! Don’t turn your lights on!” Steve knocked as hard as he could, and yelled at the top of his lungs. Two seconds after he had started Martin had started with his own door, room 7, shouting pretty much the same thing, followed immediately by Brennan in room 8. Lights in the other rooms started to be turned on –and what was wrong with these people? Didn’t they know a spark could be enough for an explosion?-, but rooms 6, 7 and 8 remained in darkness. People started to get out of rooms 1 and 3, and lights were just being turned on in room 5, right the next one to where he was. Apparently, the guests in room 2 where as deeply asleep as he hoped his targets were, or there just weren’t any guests to begin with. There was always the possibility that they did have some brains and weren’t turning the lights on, one never knew. Room 4 was Martin’s, the closest room they had been able to get.

“What’s going on?” A man in his middle forties from room three approached the still yelling trio. They all were wearing pants, tennis shoes and thick coats, just making it look like they had been sleeping as well in room 4, and had just come out to warn the rest of the people in the motel. Steve hadn’t liked the idea of not having any kind of weapons with them, but they couldn’t take any chances. The little gas tank was well hidden in an inner pocket. The man who had approached didn’t suspect anything was off. Now, if only everyone would believe that, they would be just fine.

“There’s a gas leak in our room. We have just smelled it, and we didn’t want to take any chances with anyone else.”

“Gas leak? Are you sure? I didn’t smell anything in my room”, a woman in her early thirties, still trying to put her sweater on from room five added to the now growing crowd of motel guests. The owner of the motel, whose room was beside room number one, came out as well.

Martin approached him, with a terrible worry in his eyes. “Are there people in those rooms? I think I smelled gas in there as well”

“What? Gas leak? I haven’t had problems with gas leaks ever!”

“Man, that’s beside the point. Are there people in there? Because no one is answering, and it does smell like gas in there.”

Of course, Dave’s gas had that particular smell, it was just fainter. In fact, this whole circus had been Ray’s idea from the beginning, and Steve, Martin and Brennan had played it along. It was a weird plan, but so far, an effective one. The ironic part was that, all this acting and coordination and stuff was never going to be known by the only six people for whom it had been made.

“Yes, there are people in there. Two in each room, young couples, I think.”

“Open their rooms, I’m calling the paramedics”

As Martin started talking with the “operator”, the man from room three started to try to trash the door of room six, trying to get the people inside out of the lethal gas. The owner of the motel returned to his own room to get the keys.

“But I don’t get it,” the woman from room five said while her two teenage sons waited in her car, just in case something did go off. If it had been a real gas leak, people shouldn’t be so damn close to these rooms, Steve thought while trying to help the man from room three to tear down the room to his own couple. “If there was a leak in your room, why would there be a gas leak in any other room? In fact, why there wasn’t in mine? I’m in between of you and them.”

Great, a smart lady.

“Maybe it was just pure luck, or bad coincidence for us”, Brennan answered right before he broke into room number 7. The Paramedics’ sirens started to be heard in the distance.

Steve braced himself to hear someone shouting or Brennan being kicked out of the room or something –that was, after all, the light hair couple room-, but nothing happened. Another woman from room one entered as well to help Brennan with the two persons inside. Martin hung up his cell phone as Steve and the man from room three finally broke into room six. It hadn’t passed unnoticed to Steve that it had been harder than he had thought it would be, since they had checked the doors before –at least the one from their room- and it hadn’t seemed… solid to them. Of course, he would never know that the door knobs were melted from the inside.

Steve saw the motel owner running towards room eight, the last room that hadn’t been opened -apparently there hadn’t been anyone at all in room two- and then he directed his attention to his targets while he entered their room in a hurry. He was caught off guard by what he saw. In the years to come, Steve Lewis would look back at this specific moment and think that that was exactly the way a couple should always look. That he had been witness, or more likely an intruder, into the private world of these two persons.

The couple was peacefully sleeping, with the covers up to her shoulders and his upper chest, she dressed in a thick pajama with long sleeves and he with a plain gray t-shirt. She was resting her head over his left shoulder, her chocolate hair framing her face and cascading down to the pillow below her, with her left hand resting over his chest, as near to his heart as it could get. His left arm was embracing her in a protective way over the covers, almost as if he were afraid that someone might steal her if he made the mistake of leaving her unguarded. Whatever these young people were being chased for –he couldn’t call them teenagers again- it couldn’t be worth it. If they looked so in love while sleeping, how could they do anything wrong or at least wrong enough for so many people chasing them? His eyes caught a glimmer from the young man’s left hand, and Steve’s eyes opened a little bit. They were married? How old were they again? What have they had to endure to be married so young? These days kids didn’t get married, they just hooked up and that was it. But then again, they didn’t seem like kids to him anymore.

“You are right, it does smell like gas”, the woman from room five entered –the smart lady- shattering his musings about the why his targets were being chased and were also married. The room did smell like gas, but most importantly, the gas had worked. And if he didn’t start moving fast and get out of there, it was going to work on him as well.

The ambulances were just parking outside and Steve saw how Martin was carrying the young blond lady out of room seven.

“We have to get them out of here,” the woman said moving to the side of the young brunette woman as he moved to the opposite side of the bed. It might had been his imagination, but Steve was sure that when he and the guest of room number five had started to disentangle them after taking the covers off of them, they both had frowned slightly, as if they were sensing that they were being separated.

Two “paramedics” –although Steve had no doubt these people did know about medicine- entered the room and ordered them to get outside. Steve met with Martin and Brennan in front of the room, while all the guests watched with worry and sleepy faces how six other guests were being taken to the hospital in the three ambulances that so conveniently had been near by. He watched from the outside how his own two targets were put on the stretchers and were being checked out. Odd. Sure, the paramedics knew it wasn’t real gas so they could take a little time to do the check outs inside the room, but why taking all this care to see if their vitals were all right now? Was Dave afraid that his gas wasn’t as harmless as he thought? And people, if you don’t hurry getting the hell out of there, not only you are going to start falling asleep, but these other people are going to start suspecting. It had seemed like an eternity to Steve the time that they took to finally get out of the room and into the ambulances, but in fact the whole thing hadn’t taken more than two minutes. Brennan and Martin’s targets had also been checked before being moved into their own transportations.

Later on, Steve knew, the “gas company” would arrive and then would take care of all the belongings of their no longer targets. People would be told to move out in case of some serious trouble –in fact, people were actually already moving fast to get out of there. What would happen to the owner of the motel and all that, was beyond Steve’s knowledge –or care- but as he saw the last ambulance disappear up the road, he only wished that his dark-haired couple would be married for a long time. They sure had seemed to deserve it.

* * *

Ray Barlow glanced in the side mirror to confirm that the other two ambulances were still behind him. They had gone silent a couple of miles after leaving the motel. No point in attracting unwanted attention now that things finally seemed to be going their way.

They had been watching these kids for close to two years now. To know that two of them where comfortably sleeping in the back of the ambulance he was driving was a weird feeling. He wasn’t relieved, not yet, because there was still too much at stake and too many unknown variables to know if Dave’s plan would work in the long term, but he was glad. Glad they were now in their hands. The Special Unit was planning on taking them on the road around 6 a.m. that same day. Ray had found out about that just an hour before. If Steve and his friends hadn’t been able to get them…

Steve and his friends. They already knew too much, if only because they knew Dave had a very special interest in their targets, but Ray would have to trust them –just as Dave did- and in the fact that they would keep their mouths shut. If Ray had worked for anyone else, he knew those three wouldn’t see the dawn of this day. Actually, if Dave didn’t trust them, Ray reflected, it could very well end like that all the same. But this was Dave, and because of who he was and how he did things, people respected him. People worked hard to earn his trust, and to remain in his trust as well. And not only people like Steve and his friends, but more dangerous, skillful and greedy people. Besides, like Dave always said, “It can all be changed, denied or covered up, Ray. Chill out.” Dave could have one of the brightest minds on the planet, but he still talked like a child. He just doesn’t care, Jake would say, he’s an Aquarius. He’ll never care what other people think, including what they think about his way of talking. Ray rolled his eyes at his imaginary dialogue with his imaginary co-worker. He had been spending way too much time with the good doctor lately, and that obsession of his with astrology was getting on his nerves. Ray liked good, hard facts, things that were tangible, measurable, or studied in any way. In that aspect, Ray sounded more like a doctor than Jake did.

But Jake was the science whiz, and the good, hard fact of alien life was soundly asleep less than three feet behind him. They were tangible, measurable and not all that easy to study. Ray had never been happier in his life that he was plain simple human Ray. But that was beside the point. In the two years that he had known about them, he had learned to respect them.

The first time he had seen them –or a part of the group, anyway- they had been studying for finals. Finals. It had been the strangest thing for him to see them acting so normal, so preoccupied, and concentrate on actually studying to graduate. Why would they need a diploma, anyway? They had gathered up information about the subjects, everything they could put their hands on, and he had read it all. In fact, he knew more about these kids concerning on how everyone else viewed them than any one else on this planet, except, of course, Dave. And even though a lot of things didn’t add up, when he had first seen them after a year and a half of just reading and seeing pictures about them, he had expected something else. He wasn’t sure what, but stressing about finals hadn’t been it.

Still, they were a tight knot, a unit by all means, for as long as they had shared their own little secret. There were incredible gaps in what they had done for months, changes in the dynamics of the group, and with their families. Things so out of character –like robbing a convenience store for no apparent purpose at all- that he was soon as hooked up in the puzzle that were these kids as Dave was. There were so many questions Dave was always asking out loud, that sometimes Ray thought that his friend was going to knock on their doors, sit down, and simply start asking them to their faces. He was sure Dave had thought about that too. But Dave wasn’t a… bringer, Ray thought absently. Dave didn’t get the informants to headquarters. He had messengers to gather all he wanted to know and still keep a safe distance, if not the whole anonymity, with whatever he was studying. But something had changed.

Sure, the fact that suddenly the Special Unit was reformed again and trying to shot at them on their graduation day –and to think they had studied and stressed that hard, Ray had thought sadly for a brief second- was one of the things, but something else had happened, it was just that Dave hadn’t said anything about whatever that had been. It was as if watching them had gone from a hobby to a duty. They had lost them since the graduation day and it had taken them nearly two months to find them again. That was impressive, especially with Dave’s resources. It was even more impressive when they had kept losing their trail for days, often for weeks, and three months ago for a whole month. They moved fast, and they moved quietly, but they were no professionals, they didn’t know how to live with the pressure of being hunted day after day. Not like this, anyway. Eventually, they were going to make a huge mistake, and the Special Unit was waiting for that.

For those months, Dave had been indecisive about whether or not to bring them aboard. It was as if he were trying to see how dangerous they really were. But aliens or no aliens, they were acting like teenagers. The Special Unit wouldn’t have had to wait too long.

Still, whatever they were, they were loyal to each other. And that Ray respected a lot. He was sure they would never abandon anyone, and if it came to it, they would die defending each other as well.

“How far are we?” one of the paramedics, John, asked him while he sat in front with him. Actually, of the six paramedics only three were actual paramedics. The rest were very certified doctors. Ray never ceased to wonder of the variety of people that owed Dave a favor.

“We are about twenty minutes from the landing area. Why? Is there a problem?”

“No, everything is fine. I’m just curious. And a little bit anxious I guess… I don’t like flying all that much.”

Yeah, but once you see your bank account, I’m sure you are going to be more than happy about having taken that flight, Ray thought silently. He knew John didn’t like flying, but he also knew the paramedic didn’t have a phobia about it either. He would do fine; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been cleared out for this mission.

John started to fidget beside him. Ray knew the guy was being eaten up with a thousand questions about why would they snatch six teenagers out of a motel room, go through all the problems with the gas leak story, hire actual paramedics and doctors to take them from the ambulances to an improvised heliport in the middle of nowhere, for a flight to the other middle of nowhere in Minnesota. Especially when the only thing he had to do was to just watch their vitals. Of course, if something did happen to any of the six kids, then they would have to do something more than just watch, but chances were –as they hoped- very low on that “something” happening. Well, sorry John, no answers in here for you.

John started talking about the Super Bowl, and Ray easily went with the conversation for the remaining twenty minutes of the drive. If John wanted to pretend everything was fine, he was doing a good job. He had stopped fidgeting and apparently he had decided that whether or not he wanted some answers, there was nothing he could do to get them. It was amazing how people forgot about other people when it was more convenient. After all, for all John knew, they could very well be kidnapping these kids for ransom, but that, of course, wasn’t John’s problem. Besides, if morale was a real problem for John –and it wasn’t much for most of the people who owed Dave something- he could always tell himself that Dave wasn’t that kind of guy. Or gave himself a pep talk or something.

Ray always thought that when he was traveling with someone who was working for Dave for one mission only. What did these guys think about Dave? A terrorist? An opportunist? A business man? A guardian angel? Most of them were like Steve. People who were hired for even weirder things that they just didn’t question, or didn’t question out loud anyway, or that just simply didn’t care. And that was perfectly fine with Ray. For the right price, you could always get someone to do the job. For the right price and obligation, that “someone” appeared a lot quicker and was a lot more loyal than to just hire anyone for money. Dave knew that. And Ray thought, just like Steve had thought an hour before, that that was why Dave always made sure that the best owed him something.

Parking a few feet from the improvised but very neat heliport, Ray watched as everyone was taken down from the ambulances and carefully put inside one of the three red motionless helicopters. Each one would depart twenty minutes or so from the other, flying in three different routes, and getting to the camp around the same hour. If Ray could have had it his way, they would be flying to headquarters in England and not in Minnesota, but Dave hadn’t like the idea. They are going to freak out if they are not in the U.S., Dave had said after considering it for a while. They were going to freak out about so many things, Ray didn’t see the point, but he hadn’t argued any further.

It was still before 4:30 a.m. when Ray boarded the last of the three helicopters, making sure that nothing that mattered was going to be left behind. Before dawn hit the hills, someone was going to take care of the ambulances –around the same time the gas company was going to take care of the three rooms in the motels- and the kids he had watched over the past two years would be gone without a trace. For all the FBI Special Unit was going to know, these helicopters could very well be spaceships taking them to their home planet. Well, maybe not home planet, but it is indeed home to me, Ray thought as the helicopter started to fly through the night sky.

* * *

Last edited by Misha on Mon May 21, 2012 11:22 pm, edited 109 times in total.
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Post by Misha » Fri Nov 18, 2005 10:36 am

Hey guys! My internet service at home went kaput yesterday, so I'm posting one day early from my office :wink: Oh, and the first chapter was also edited by jero! Thanks a ton girl!

behrinthecity, SweetnSpicyCandy, youre my dreamgirl, RhondaAnn, Anniepoo98 thank you guys for stopping by and post! I'm glad the start has intrigued you enough to come back and see what I'm planning out :D

Ger, being that I told you the whole plot a year ago, I'm very glad you still remember it :P And I'll do my best with cliffhangers and plot twists ;)

Kathy's kids, does she do a lot of corrections??

Kathy aawwwwnnnnnn Thank you! I knew from the start that the last place where I wanted to start my fic was at the van :D

The Blue Room

Max Evans started to stir from his sleep, but he wouldn’t open his eyes. Just not yet. He couldn’t remember when had been the last time that he had slept so well, so deeply, and he was just holding to the last gasp of this wonderful feeling of being… rested. If he had been able to, he would have returned to it and slept a little bit more, just a little bit more… but wakefulness was starting to win over. There was no turning back.

He couldn’t remember any of his dreams, which was odd. He always remembered at least a little bit of them when he was still in that space between sleeping and waking. He had read ages ago –around the time Isabel had started to dreamwalk- that one could only remember thirty seconds of the entirety of the dreams one had –and that had relaxed him a little bit, because it meant Isabel’s incursions might not be remembered at all. But the point was that he always remembered something.

He moved his head a little to dig a bit more into his pillow, noticing that he hadn’t thought the bed was so comfortable the night before. Of course, the night before he had been too exhausted to complain about anything at all –much less if the bed was comfortable or not- and he had just wanted to sleep with Liz at his side.

Max didn’t need to reach out with his arm to know that Liz wasn’t in the room with him. It had happened before that she would wake up earlier than he did and just went to the other rooms, especially when she and Maria had time to chat a little bit. Except that now that he was really waking up he couldn’t sense her nearby either. In fact, he realized in an instant, he couldn’t sense her at all. He opened his eyes immediately.

And that almost made his heart stop immediately as well.

Since he was face up over the bed, the first thing he saw was the ceiling, and his eyes wouldn’t move themselves from it. It took him a second to register that the walls weren’t white, but that they were blue, which was enough for him to know that he was not in the motel room, definitely not over the motel room bed either, and that Liz was nowhere to be sensed at all. He froze.

If this was a dream, he needed to wake up from it, fast. But he knew that this was no dream. He just couldn’t bring himself to face what this really was. His neurons just wouldn’t process the fact that they had been, finally, caught. They had barely escaped from the Special Unit three days ago, but now they were here. Not ‘us’, Max thought, maybe just me.

He had the wild impulse to shout out to whoever was out there –because he was sure someone was outside these walls- that they had made a mistake, that they were wrong about him, that this wasn’t fair, that— But his throat wouldn’t move, and deep down he knew that it wouldn’t work anyway. It hadn’t worked the first time, he bitterly thought, and it wouldn’t work this time either.

He kept staring at the ceiling, feeling how his breath increased at a very fast rhythm, just like his heart had been doing since he had come to terms with reality two seconds before, so he closed his eyes and made his hands into fists to get a grip. He was not going to freak out. That hadn’t led him to anywhere the first time around either. He just needed to convince his body and a good part of his mind about it, though. He tried to let his mind blank before he hyperventilated. It seemed to work, and though his muscles weren’t relaxing at all, he felt a little bit of control returning to him. A quick subtle test to feel a spark of energy in his hands failed, and that told him that he was powerless. No surprise there. At least that explained why he couldn’t sense Liz, but that knowledge didn’t do anything good to ease his fears.

Max absently moved his right hand to scratch a little itch in his left arm, and in the middle of the movement he realized he wasn’t strapped to the bed. He opened his eyes and then he noticed that he was fully dressed as well, with the clothes he had been wearing that same day. Except that he had changed to go to sleep –he did remember that- so how come he now was wearing the same clothes?

He slowly started to sit up in the bed. He also had his watch with him, and according to it, it was six thirty-eight in the evening… and that it was, he realized a second later, three days later than when he had gone to sleep. So now he knew when, he just didn’t know where he was. He stared at his watch for a whole minute as if the thing was going to give him the answers. He was trying very hard to not lose it in here, and he was starting to feel panic rising in his throat, almost paralyzing him again like two minutes before. Finally snapping out of it, he slowly lowered his arm and took a good look at his room.

It was a very small rectangular room, around six feet by nine feet, with his bed put on one side –the bed occupied the whole space of the six feet, so there wasn’t any room for anyone walking- and, as he expected, there were no doors, windows or any way of seeing anything outside the four walls. Although there was no one in the room with him, he could feel eyes watching him all the same.

The light in the room was white, but it was sort of dim, clear enough for him to see, but not bright enough to hurt his eyes. They were common white light bulbs, he guessed, though he could just see the plain roof, which was about eight feet from the floor. The walls had some sort of soft material on them, as if the whole room was covered with a blue carpet. And they were bare.

In the left corner in front of him was a full size mirror, from floor to roof, in which he could see himself sitting in the middle of the bed. He didn’t need to go and try to break it to know it wouldn’t. Sure enough it was one of those mirrors that were in police stations. Maybe the feeling of being watched was being caused by someone standing right behind it. And the impulse to shout out something came rushing back to him again. But he tightened his jaw. Sooner or later someone was going to start talking to him, and then he would get to shout out knowing someone was listening. He just needed to wait.

However, his attention was diverted from there when his gaze went to the right corner in front of him. There were some sort of book shelves, built into the middle of the wall. But what caught his attention was that there were books inside it, and when he started to read the titles, Max lost the little control he had gained over his breathing and stopped it altogether. Those weren’t just any books, they were his books. The books he had read more than twice, that he had read over summers, taken on road trips with his family when he was younger. They were neatly placed in two rows, ordered by author, just as he would have put them. He started to breathe, fast, and his heart started beating fast as well. Right beside the books in the lower shelf were some CD’s, neatly arranged in a tower. Max knew without being able to read the titles that they were also going to be his CD’s. Below the book shelf there was a closed drawer. He guessed he was being encouraged to explore. How thoughtful of them.

With his heart still beating crazily inside his chest, Max stood up, cautiously putting his weight on his legs. He wasn’t fooling himself; he knew his whole body was in full alert mode, and that doing fast movements wasn’t going to help him at all. When he was about to take his first step, he saw that his sneakers were beside his bed, with the laces untied. Liz always teased him about how he always undone them at night, and the time and precision he took on tying them in the morning. “God is in the details” someone had said, and now Max was thinking that someone was playing God with him.

Max took a deep breath and steadied himself. His eyes went to the mirror in the left corner. Whoever was watching was waiting for a reaction from him, but the fact was that he no longer had a clue as to how to react. He no longer wanted to shout or go and see what was in the drawer. All he wanted right then was to at least feel Liz, to know that she was all right. If he was the only one caught, then Isabel wouldn’t take too long to try to contact him, but that was wishful thinking, and he knew it. He felt the adrenaline leaving his body. He was losing the will to fight even before the fight had started. You can do this, he coached himself, you can stay in control, find out what happened to her and the others and find a way to get out of here. You just have to keep a clear mind. He was about to argue with himself about how can one keep a clear mind when your world was falling apart, when he heard something. Something that lightened and heightened his spirit almost as much as hearing Liz’s voice would have. He heard Maria’s voice. Or more precisely, he heard Maria’s shouting voice.

“I swear if you put one hand over him, you’ll wish you had never brought me here to begin with! You are just a bunch of cowards and idiots! You just come in here and—

“Maria!” Max went to the right wall, and started shouting himself. He didn’t care how relieved or how scared his voice sounded, he was just plain happy to hear someone he knew. “Maria! Can you hear me?”

“Max? Oh my God, Max is that you?” Max heard how Maria moved to the wall, and he could almost sense her own relief to know that he was right in the next room.

“Yes, Maria, it’s me. Are you all right? Is Liz with you?”

“No, Liz isn’t here, I’m all alone. But yes, I think I’m all right. I just woke up in this creepy blue room, with personal stuff all around me, and it hit me that you guys would be in trouble. Is Michael with you?”

“No,” Max said in a lower tone. He had hoped so bad that Liz had been there with Maria.

“Max, are you all right? And don’t give me some crap if you are not, you hear me? I really want to know. So if you are feeling dizzy, weak, dry-eyed or whatever, just tell me.”

Max looked straight at the wall, almost as if he could see through it and see that fire in Maria’s eyes, those eyes that wouldn’t let you lie to her even if you were telling her the worst of news. And Max knew exactly what Maria was thinking: If he wasn’t all right, then Michael probably wasn’t either.

“Yes, Maria. I’m all right. I feel fine. My powers are gone, though.”

“Yeah, that much I figured, or you would have busted a hole in the wall to see if Liz was in here. You can’t sense her, can you?”

Through the months that they had been on the run, Max and Liz’s bond had strengthened, right to the point that when they split, they would know that things were alright with the other by just sensing. They couldn’t really communicate thoughts or ideas, just plain feelings, but who knew what they would do with time. Except that right now, just plain feelings would be enough for Max.

“No…”, he answered with a whisper.

“Max, you there?” Obviously Maria hadn’t heard him.

“No”, he said in a more clear voice. “I can’t sense her.”

“Max, you know she’s fine, right? I mean, no amount of drugs or whatever would stop you from sensing her if she needed you. You know that.”

Max rested his forehead on the wall. Did he know that? Was Liz just in some blue room sensing his emotions? Was she really just fine just like they were? In that instant Max was tempted to glare at Maria, partly because she couldn’t see him, and partly because he didn’t want hope right now. He wanted answers, and he had to focus on that. If he let other thoughts –other horrible images- get into his mind, he would lose it. And he had learned a long, long time ago that losing it was a luxury he couldn’t afford.

“Maria, when you said ‘personal stuff’ before, what did you mean?”

“Well, there are two little cypress oil bottles on a shelf in the other corner of the room –as if sniffing them is gonna help- and some books that I had at home. There’s one that I even ordered before we graduated, and I never got to see it, till now I mean.”

“Yeah, there are books in here too.”

“But the thing that really makes me angry is that there is a replica of Alex’s guitar as well. I swear, when someone gets in here, I’m going to take it and hit them right in the middle of their stupid heads.”

Max smiled. He had not only spent a whole summer with Maria three years ago, but they had spent a lot of time together these past few months as well to picture exactly her face as she was saying it. She was way beyond pissed off at this moment, but he just couldn’t feel pity for the guy that was going to enter that door. Max also knew that she was scared. Scared for Michael and Isabel and himself. He wondered if she had realized that she was in danger too.

“Max, I know it’s a stupid question but, what do they want?”

Max stared at the wall. It did sound like a stupid question, but he knew what she meant. Why go to all the trouble to bring in all this stuff they used to have?

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s a test.”

“A test to see what? If we recognized our past lives?”

“Could be worse,” Max answered while he turned his attention to the shelves. He hadn’t noticed before that in the upper shelf was something else. A house. A toy house. He swiftly moved to stand in front of it, and as he was reaching to take it, Maria spoke again.

“Do you think they are okay?”

Max didn’t answer right away. Instead, he took the toy house and stared at it. It wasn’t his toy house, but an exact replica. His had had a little scratch below one of the windows. This one had it too, but it wasn’t the same. He had stared way too many times at his own toy house, wondering how he was going to get back home, to not know it.


“I don’t know Maria, but if you and I are fine, there’s a good chance they are.” He put it back in its place. “How did you know the guitar was a replica?”

“I passed one hand over its strings before starting to shout, and it didn’t sound the same. I spent too much time tuning it during the last months of senior year to not know it. The books are from the library though. Exactly the same ones I checked out. God, there are even elementary books in here.”

Max’s eyes wandered down, to the drawer, and he steadied himself before opening it. He put his right hand on the handle and slowly slid it open. There were a number of things inside of it. A few Scientific America magazines; an astronomy map he had used when he was nine; the pocket knife Liz had given him four Christmases before; a worn out piece of paper with the Spanish lyrics he had sung to her, and a lot of other things he had kept, little personal treasures that told a story of who he was and what he had done. But all this he registered in a blur, because in the middle of the drawer, in a black square paper, with silver ink was drawn the royal seal of Antar. For the second time since he had woken up, he stopped breathing. This wasn’t a test, this was a demonstration. A demonstration that was saying ‘I know you’, loud and clear.

“Max, how did this happen? How couldn’t… we foresee it? I went to sleep last night and I woke up in here.”

Maria’s words entered the fog in his head as a distant sound, and it took him a couple of seconds to understand them. He didn’t take his eyes off the drawer.

“We went to sleep three days ago. At least, that’s what my watch says.”

“What? Three days? How the hell did we lose three days? No wait, don’t answer that… You know what the other creepy thing is? These clothes. I went to sleep with my pajamas, and now I’m dressed like yesterday—I mean, like three days ago.”

The thick fog that was surrounding his thoughts wasn’t getting thinner fast enough. It took Max a few seconds into thinking straight what Maria was saying, almost as if he were hypnotized by what he saw in front of him. Facts. He needed facts, he reminded himself.

“You too? What else?” While he was still looking at the five dots making a V, his brain started to make questions. How could they know that? And not only about the seal, about everything that was in there.

“What else? Isn’t that creepy enough for you? Max? Max, are you there?”

Max closed the drawer slowly, still trying to piece this puzzle together. But a part of his mind told him that if he didn’t answer Maria –even if it were just on a yes/no basis- the girl would kill him. Right now, silence was the one thing that would scare them the most.

“I don’t know. I’m just trying to figure this thing out.” He was about to tell her about what was in his drawer, when Maria’s urgent voice came through the wall.

“Max! Max! Michael has just woken up.”


“Michael. I’ve just felt it.”

True, for the past three or four months, Michael had started to feel Maria’s emotions in a way that resembled the way he and Liz felt each other. It wasn’t the same though, because Michael and Maria were just way too explosive sometimes. They got too intense too fast, enough to knock themselves out if they actually went through that level of connection in any other way than the slow one. But it hadn’t been often, and it had been only Michael who could feel Maria. They had guessed –Michael and he- that it might have to do in part because Maria hadn’t been… changed by Max, and in part because even after everything they had been through, Michael didn’t want Maria feeling everything he did.

“It’ll just be too much, you know? She’s already in danger because of us, and she shouldn’t be. Besides I don’t want to freak her out feeling what I feel. It’s bad enough that I’m scared for her and that she’s scared for me. And to overall both feeling each other’s fears like that too? No Max, I don’t want that.”

Max had tried to tell him that it wasn’t like that, because he could sense Liz’s fear just as he knew she was sensing his, but they both took comfort from each other, tried to be strong for each other. But part of the truth also was that they did tune their connection down a little from time to time. Just to have some space from each other. Even they needed that. And Michael was right; it could be really hard to feel the other panicking when you were panicking… Still, even if they tuned it down sometimes, they were never really without each other’s presence. That was, of course, until now. And right now discovering that Maria could sense Michael was a relief. He wasn’t going to question why it was happening now or how much she could feel him, because like his father liked to say, ‘you just don’t question luck’. He forgot everything about the black sheet and the royal seal, and turned to the wall again in a rush.

“Is he okay? Can you tell?”

Maria didn’t answer for a few seconds, and it took all his will to not start punching the wall just to get rid of his nervous energy. Instead, he put his hands against the wall and put his whole weight against them, as if he were going to push it down. It was better than just standing there watching the blue space. He hadn’t even noticed the nervous energy building up inside him until now when he was waiting for her answer. No wonder Michael was always punching things. Max, Maria is a total drama queen, he could almost hear Liz saying with a laugh. Except that he knew that Maria wasn’t doing this on purpose, and that Liz wasn’t saying that either. Please Liz, be all right.

“Well, if you call pissed off and scared to death okay, then he’s fine.”

Max put his forehead against the wall and sighed. ‘Pissed off and scared to death’ did sound like Michael. He knew it sounded like him too. Was Liz getting his feelings as well?

“Max, what are we supposed to do? Sit down and wait? Because if that’s it, I can’t. I need to see Michael right now. He needs to see me right now. God, I feel as if Michael is about to—to—explode or implode or tear something apart—I don’t know. Max we have to do something!”

Max stared at the wall feeling more helpless now than in his entire existence. And boy, he did know about feeling helpless. But having Maria behind that wall, almost seeing her beautiful green eyes welling up with tears of anger and frustration and fear was breaking his spirit. What was he suppose to say? ‘Everything’s going to be alright?’ Right now he couldn’t even sense Liz to know if she was ‘pissed off and scared to death’. At least Maria had that.

“I know Maria. I know we have to do something. But right now I don’t—”

A muffled sound came from the other wall in the room, right at his back. Max barely turned his head to the right to see if he could hear it again. He didn’t know what it was, but it had been something. Now, was it something good or something he definitely didn’t want to know about?

“Max? Max?!” Maria was getting frustrated on the other side of the wall.

“Wait, Maria, I think I heard something.”

“Something like what?”

“Give me a minute to see if I can hear it again.”

Max straightened himself up and turned the 180 degrees to face the other wall. It took him three steps to be in front of it, and as he tentatively started to raise his hand to touch it –almost as if he were expecting to find something movable there- he heard the sound again. But this time, it made complete sense.

“Someone in there?!” Kyle’s voice came through the wall still sounding muffled, but Max couldn’t mistake it. It didn’t even take him a second to answer him.

“Kyle! It’s me, Max”

“Max? I can’t believe it! Wait till I tell Isabel!”

“Isabel? Is she with you?” Max’s heart started to beat anxiously, eagerly, his voice carrying a hint of relief. Apparently, when luck wasn’t questioned, it stayed with you.

“She’s in a room next to mine on the other wall. It was her idea that I should see if someone was on this side of the room. I’m telling her now”.


But Kyle didn’t answer back, obviously having gone to the other wall of his room.

“Max? Don’t leave me waiting here, for Pete’s sake!”

Max turned immediately again, and doubting for a split second if he should stay there waiting for Kyle or go to Maria, he went to the other wall.

“It’s Kyle, he’s in a room next to mine, and he says Isabel is in another room next to his”, he wasn’t surprised to hear the joy in his voice. He wasn’t surprised at all to feel the little smile on his lips.

“Are they okay? Do they know anything else?”

“I’m going to ask him now. But you should check the other wall in your room and see if someone’s there.”

Max went back to the left wall, and he got there in time to hear Kyle calling his name. It didn’t pass unnoticed by him that it was a lot easier to hear Maria than Kyle. He had to almost shout out to the wall for Kyle to hear him, and he was pretty sure Kyle was having the same trouble. It was as if the wall between them was thicker than the one between his and Maria’s rooms.

“I’m here. Maria’s in the room on my right wall. Are you okay? Is Liz with you or with my sister?”

“No, it’s just the two of us. But we are okay. Well, Isabel said she was, but are you okay Max?”

“Yes, both Maria and I are okay. Although my powers are gone.”

Kyle paused for a few seconds, and in the distance he could hear Maria yelling in her own room. He hoped against hope that Liz would be next to her. Finally, Kyle answered, but he did it very slowly, accentuating every word.

“Yeah. Her. Own. Powers. Are. Gone”.

Max stared at the wall frowning. Why would he say it in such a peculiar way? Was he afraid Max would miss the words? Sure he sounded muffled, but it wasn’t all that bad. And then it hit him. Kyle was afraid Max would miss the message implied in his words.

Three months before, it had finally happened. Kyle had started his “buzzing and crackling like tinfoil in a microwave” process, as he had so eloquently said months ago, and it had been a really scary moment for them all. Especially since they had no idea what powers Kyle would have. Would he be able to see the future just as Liz could? Or a power they already had? Or would it be something completely different? Kyle had been freaked out and said he didn’t want anything to do with green weird electricity or anything green for that matter, or getting flashes, or exploding things. Although he did make a comment about the benefits of dreamwalking for which Isabel had playfully slapped him. But they still weren’t sure what powers Kyle had at this point. The only thing they did know was that at least he wasn’t “glowing in the dark” anymore.

And now Max knew by Kyle’s tone that what he meant was that he had his own powers, or whatever they were in this stage. Of course, that didn’t mean that Kyle could burst a hole in the wall and get them all out of there, or anything useful for the moment for that matter, but it did give him hope that Liz could have hers. Sure, the love of his life couldn’t really burst a hole in the wall just because she felt like it, but under extreme pressure, Liz’s outbursts of energy did come. At least she could defend herself if it came to it.

“I understand Kyle. But the main thing is that you are okay. Listen, do you know anything about how we got here?”

“What? You don’t know anything either? We just went to sleep and then I woke up in here. Isabel said the same. Hey, she wants to know about your room—wait, she’s saying something else.”

Silence followed Kyle’s last statement. Seconds went by, and when Kyle finally returned calling his name to see if he was there, Maria also started to talk to him from the other side of the room.

“Kyle, wait, Maria’s now talking”

“Max, Max, Max, Max, no, this is important!”

“Just give me a second,” Max didn’t miss the urgency in Kyle’s tone, but he needed to know if Maria had heard something. If she had found someone.

“No one’s answering, and I yelled with all my might. Now, what is Kyle saying? Is Isabel all right? Is Michael with her? Because I think I’ve felt relief coming from him.”

Max tried hard to not let Maria’s news crumble his spirit just yet. It was getting difficult to tell her what Kyle knew and to ask Kyle what Maria wanted plus what he wanted plus answering what he had asked before. He was thinking about that when he answered her back.

“No, Kyle said Isabel and he are alone in their own rooms, but that they are fine as well. Are you sure Michael is feeling relief?” If Michael was fine, chances increased that Liz was fine as well. He had to remind himself that he couldn’t let himself go into thinking that she wasn’t, because if he let that thought in his mind, he would not think about anything else… and it would just consume him, not letting him think about how the hell he was going to get her and everyone else out of here.

“Hey, it’s not as if I do this everyday, you know. But yeah, I guess he’s somewhat less explosive or something.”

“Max!” Kyle called, obviously yelling pretty loud for Max to hear him.

“Maria, wait a second, Kyle has something urgent to tell me.” Without waiting for Maria to answer him back, he moved again to the right wall of his room.

“Kyle, I’m here.”

“Liz is beside Isabel!”

Max’s heart made a double beat at Kyle’s words, and for one second it was as if a hundred questions wanted to get out at the same time, so they just stuck together in the middle of his throat.

“Max? Max? Did you hear? Come on, don’t freeze on me now!”

Finally, his questions took a number to get out, and he was able to ask them then.

“Is she okay? Did she say something out of the ordinary? Is Michael with her? How—“

“Max! I’m no freaking secretary to write it all down! You know, between you and your sister you are going to make me go crazy!”

Max stared at the wall with his mouth half open with an unspoken question. What was wrong with Kyle? This was Liz they were talking about, for crying out loud! But some tiny little part of his brain did understand that Kyle couldn’t answer him all that he wanted to know at once. This was going to be a very chaotic exchange of questions and answers if they didn’t find some way of communication that actually worked. Max sighed with exasperation.

“Is she okay?” he asked again, this time giving Kyle time to answer back.

“Yes, but she’s really worried about you because she knows how you’re feeling, if you know what I mean.” This time, Max didn’t lose time in getting the message implied there. If Liz could feel him then she also had her own powers. At least whoever had them knew Liz wasn’t one of them. Who the hell had thought that she was part alien to begin with had always been a question to which he had wanted an answer.

But besides that, Max tried to calm himself a little bit so Liz could sense that coming from him. When he tried to block all his fear so she wouldn’t be twice freaked out, he couldn’t tell if he was doing it or not. So that was what had happened to Michael. He just couldn’t block Maria because he didn’t know if he was doing it or not.

“Okay, tell her that I’m okay and that I love her, would you?”

“Sure, just let me get all the messages across from everybody else. Besides that, Michael is at the end of the row besides Liz’s room. And yes, he’s okay too. Isabel is insisting on knowing about your room, because ours are way too high on the creep thermometer, and Michael wants to know how Maria’s doing since he can’t sense her.” Kyle paused for a few seconds, “Yeah, I think that’s it. Now, go and ask Maria and then come back and tell me her and your answers so I don’t have to come here and go back there again with all that. This Q and A is getting freaking biblical every time I get to one of these walls.”

Max turned around, but in the middle of his room he stopped. Something in Kyle’s words made a lot of sense in actually fixing their communication problem. So he went back for just a second.

“Kyle! Tell everyone to stop asking or saying anything for just a minute.” Before he went to Maria’s wall, he heard Kyle again.

“What? What are you talking about?”

“You hear me Kyle. Just do it. I’ll explain in a second.”

Without waiting for anything else, Max moved swiftly to the other side of his room.

“Maria, Michael is beside Liz who is beside Isabel. We are all fine.”

“Are you sure? Are they really fine? I mean, what else did Kyle say?”

“Yes, I’m sure, but listen, we need to get an order to what we want to know and make everyone else know the answers as well, or we are just going to end up asking the same things and getting messages back and forth while losing valuable time.”

“What do you mean? How do we do that?”

“I’m not quite sure, but for starters, let’s get straight what you and I know, so I can pass it to Kyle and he can do the same to all the others, and then wait to hear what they have to say back.”

“All we know? Maybe we should break it in sections or something.”

Max thought for a second that they really didn’t know all that much to begin with, but he did have to admit that it was going to be harder as the questions and answers began accumulating. So breaking them down did sound like a good idea.

“Okay. You’re right. But first of all, let’s see what we are going to pass first. We all know that we are okay, that’s an important thing. Isabel, Michael and I are out of powers.” Max paused. How could he tell Maria that Kyle and Liz had theirs? He decided that there was no way he could tell her that so that no other ears would hear. So he let that piece of information out. He just hoped Maria wouldn’t ask it.

“Are they in creepy blue rooms too?”

“I think so, but I don’t know for sure. Anyway, we are not asking anything now, we are just saying what we know.”

“Okay. What else are you going to tell Kyle?”

“That it’s been three days since we last were awake. Anything else you think might be useful?”

“The clothes. Ask him about what are they wearing. Or just tell him that we are wearing the same stuff. You know what I mean. And Max, could you tell Michael that I love him?” Maria’s voice was full of apprehension, of fear when she had said that, almost as if she were afraid that it would be the last time, or the last chance she would have to say it. Max closed his eyes. He knew exactly what she was feeling, but after taking a deep breath to steady his emotions inside –and God, he would give anything to feel Liz’s right now- he went and passed Maria’s message first, and then explained to Kyle what he was trying to do and what they knew.

So the very slow process to get the information from one another began. It took them around an hour and forty five minutes to get straight that everyone was indeed in a blue room, wearing the same clothes they’d been wearing the day they had been caught, with personal things that they used to have or liked at one point or another in their lives. From Michael’s complete collection of Metallica’s CD’s and the DVD of Braveheart, to Kyle’s first Buddhism book, or Isabel’s favorite brand of lipstick. Liz said there was a blank replica of her journal too. No one said anything about any alien symbols though, and Max decided to wait till everything was settled down to say something about it.

The only thing that appeared to be missing was Liz’s engagement ring. He had his own wedding ring, just as Liz said she had her golden band, so it was just that. Isabel had hers though. It intrigued Max just as much as it intrigued everyone else.

Besides that, everyone felt fine, had woken up with a feeling of being rested and had pretty much guessed immediately that they had been caught. Liz had said that she had felt him waking up and that his feelings –she was kind enough to not say his panic- had woken her up. When she had finally shout out to see if he could hear her –after all, she did know that he was nearby- Michael had heard her. It had been pretty much the same with Kyle and Isabel. After Kyle was done walking the small room, he had started to shout out for someone to tell him what was going on. Isabel had heard him then, and after a brief exchange she had suggested that maybe someone else was behind the other walls.

It was Liz who first hinted that the walls being thicker or thinner were on purpose. She had no problem listening to Michael, but it was hard to hear Isabel, just as it was hard for him to hear Kyle. Of course, if they were like that on purpose, what did that mean? Maria did tell him from time to time that Michael was getting really impatient about the slowness of it all, so Max asked him what he thought they should do, to which Kyle had answered that Michael had said he had no idea. In fact, no one had any idea. And that had started the questions every one was eager to ask.

Who had caught them? Why bother with all their stuff? And the unspoken one that was on everyone’s minds: How were they going to get out of there?

“Michael and Isabel said that it could be the FBI playing tricks with us, but Liz and I think this is way too fancy for the jerks from the government”, Kyle was telling him, “though Liz said that it might just be another agency, just not the Special Unit.” Maria was thinking pretty much the same thing Liz was.

Max then decided that it was time to tell them about the royal seal. After three or four minutes, Maria told him that Michael was way off the scale of pissed off, and that if he could please, please stop pissing off Michael because it wasn’t a nice feeling. After another three or four minutes, Kyle returned with everyone else’s answer.

“Hey, Isabel said that Liz told her that Michael is furious at you. Isabel also says that what did they give you for you to forget mentioning it before, because she’s going to kill you if you have a clear mind and yet decided to not say that before. Oh, and neither of them had very nice voices, although I’m just assuming on Michael’s behalf.”

“I didn’t want to scare any of you. We had to see the basics first and then try to figure out things. The royal seal would have just complicated everything in everyone’s minds before. And—

“Max. Stop it. I’ve already told you I’m no freaking secretary writing it all down. You know I won’t tell them all that, so why don’t you tell me exactly what you think that means so I can pass it on, uh?”

Max sighed heavily. He was getting tired of going from one wall to the other, and was getting more frustrated by not having any answers at all. But he was not eager to have someone coming to his room to tell him either. He instantly blocked the images that threatened to invade his mind about the time he had had to wait when he had been first captured. He was sure Liz didn’t need to feel that as well.

“Maybe whoever that has us isn’t… human.”

“What? You think there are aliens involved in this?”

“It might be a possibility. I don’t think the Special Unit ever found out about the meaning of the symbols, or even ever saw the symbols to begin with.” After telling Maria what he had told Kyle and a couple of minutes had passed, Max also began to wonder about another possibility. Maybe whoever had put that there didn’t know the meaning of it either. Maybe it had been just pure luck. But then again, why that specific symbol? The spiral galaxy was a much common pattern. It even looked like it meant something more important too. Nasedo had used it at the night festival years ago. Surely the Special Unit had a record of that.

It took them another hour to get everyone’s opinions on how probable it was that this was alien related or not. If it were, who? Khivar? The Skins? Someone else? If it weren’t, how much did their captors know? Was it really just a coincidence? Why only in Max’s room? Why not pick out other symbols for Isabel and/or Michael? And of course, by the end of the discussion –right around the time when Max didn’t think he could get more tense and Maria had told him that now she understood why Michael didn’t want her feeling his emotions- they didn’t have any straight answers. Just plain conjectures. It was clear that whoever had them had to show himself –or herself- sooner or later, and that waiting was their only option right now. Everything that was left to say was just pure comfort for one another. Gosh, they couldn’t even begin to try to figure out a way to get out, especially since they couldn’t discuss Liz and Kyle’s powers out loud. They could very well be their last chance, but the element of surprise was a need. Max did wonder if whoever was watching did know about those… changes, but there was no way he could know that either.

So, after yet another hour had passed for them to get to that point, Max finally sat on the bed against the right wall, with his head looking at the roof, his knees almost to his chest, clasping his hands around them, and started to talk to Maria about anything he could think of. Anything to make this wait from hell weight less heavy on her and on him. That had been the last thing they had decided. Michael and Liz and Isabel and Kyle were doing the same right now. If any of them had any other idea or comment, they would pass it along. The last message they had passed was how much they cared for each other.

“Do you think they will starve us to death?” Maria asked out of the blue.

“I don’t think they would have gone through all this trouble to starve us to death, Maria. Why, are you hungry?”

“Not really, but I’m really thirsty. All this talking takes its toll, you know.”

Water. Maria had had it easy being on the extreme end of the row. Just like Michael. But everyone in between had had to shout out to one another because of the thicker walls. Kyle had complained several times about the lack of a glass of water and had joked about prisoners’ rights being violated. Max was thirsty too, but he was trying hard to not think about it. Just like he was trying not to think about going to the bathroom, because once one hit that particular idea, one just couldn’t stop the feeling from coming. Thankfully, Maria didn’t comment on that either. Probably she had reached the same conclusion.

“You know, talking about the trouble they went through, couldn’t they have brought us a damn game so we wouldn’t be bored to death? Seriously, Liz and I used to play lots and lots of those board games.”

Max and Isabel both had a one hundred dollar bill from Monopoly in their drawers. They had played with their parents regularly when they had been kids, and less often when they had been growing up the last years. Kyle had a baseball ball, and he had guessed it was there because he had been in Little League when he had been a kid. Lucky Kyle was probably bouncing it against the walls right now. Still, he had to keep it a light conversation. He was done with being serious and was trying really hard to send some calmness to Liz.

“Well, Maria, can you imagine us playing Monopoly right now? I mean, how would you pay the bills and keep straight who has what property?”

“Easy. Liz will know who owns what properties and you will know who owes what to whom and how much. Isabel would kick our asses, Kyle will try to steal from the bank and Michael will be so bored to death by the middle of the game that he would take me out of the room—I mean, conversation- since I’ll be bored to death as well. Since we are both in the extremes, you four can still play, so there won’t be any trouble at all. But of course, they couldn’t think we might actually find a way to play it, so they didn’t put a Monopoly game in each room. Idiots.”

Max smiled at Maria’s comment. He could picture it so well in his mind. They had played some games during the months they had been on the run, mostly cards, but it was hard to get the six of them to sit down and play. Someone was always on the look out, or driving, or they just hadn’t been together. If they could get out of this one –correction, when they got out of this one- he would make sure they sat down and played at least one game of Monopoly just in honor of this conversation. So he could hear Maria say ‘I told you so’ while Michael was dragging her out of the room by the middle of the game.

It didn’t matter to him when a tiny little voice told him inside that it might take years before he could fulfill that promise.


AN: The part that said "There were a number of things inside of it. A few Scientific America magazines;" was used as a small homage to one of my all time favorite fanfic authors, Danilise, who was co-writer of the Future Arc and Roswell Elementary series. She specifically used the Scientific America magazines reference on her fic Breathe, which you can find here:

The line "Kyle had complained several times about the lack of a glass of water and had joked about prisoners’ rights being violated," was inspired by Roswell High Book #5, but if you haven't read it, I won't spoil it ;)

And one final little request: Does anyone have time to be my second beta reader? :oops: Kathy W is the best out there, but she doesn't get to see my corrections over her corrections all of the time.... sssooooo.... anyone interested? :)

I'll post chapter 3 next Saturday, Nov. 26
Last edited by Misha on Fri Dec 02, 2005 7:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Misha » Sat Nov 26, 2005 7:05 pm

Hey guys! Sorry for posting at this hour, but this way kind of a chaotic, busy -but fun- day in my life :D

Thank you to everyone who is reading!!

youre my dreamgirl and tequathisy, lol! I guess it is kind of funny to imagine the guys going around in their rooms. Personally, I really liked Kyle's "I'm no freaking secretary!" That was fun to write ;)

RondaAnn, Maria could feel Michael because Michael wasn't "blocking" her. It'll be explained later in more detail, but basicaly that was it.

trulov aawwwwnnnn thank you! I'm always thinking that I write way too complicated sometimes, so it is good to know I actually sound coherent after all ;)

behrinthecity, well, I sort of need to have you guys intrigued, so cliffhangers are inevitable. And yes, there is a very good reason why they were paired like that and why the walls where thicker/thinner. You'll just have to wait and see ;)

Kathy, Thanks girl! Let's just hope they still like it some thirty parts ahead :D Have I told you that you always have the best insights when it comes to my story?

Ger, lol! You imagine everything on screen, I imagine everything on a book :P And I know it was 2:00a.m. when you read it, sooooo.... But thanks for remembering!

So, here's next part. Hope you guys find it interesting :)

A Deal of a Lifetime

It was close to midnight when Ray entered the room where Dave was completely absorbed watching the six monitors.

“It was supposed to be done an hour ago,” Dave said without taking his eyes off the screens. Ray had wondered a lot how Dave always knew when he was entering a room, until he had told him that it was because he made a particular sound when he stopped walking. Besides Dave, no one had ever noticed that.

“I know, but we had a little problem clearing out all the guests in the motels. How are they?”

Dave sighed. Tearing his eyes from the monitors, he finally stood up and faced him. “Frustrated. And very thirsty. Make sure there’s cold water on the table.”

“You are going down now?” Ray asked walking out of the room with him.

“I was supposed to be down there forty five minutes ago,” Dave said hinting that he didn’t like things off schedule. “But I understand what kept you. Anyway, Jake still has to give me the final report and I’m not completely sure Samantha is done with all her own analyses. My best guess is that I’m going to be down there in half an hour, though. So make sure that everything’s ready. I don’t want any more delays.”

They both took separate corridors.

* * *

Gosh, Max was feeling so helpless that Liz was certain that if there was a spoon in her cell –she couldn’t call the blue space surrounding her a ‘room’- she would start digging a hole to where he was. It didn’t matter what she tried to feel for him, because he wasn’t getting any feelings from her. She knew Michael wasn’t getting any from Maria, and her brother-in-law didn’t sound like he needed a spoon at all. He would just dig the hole with his bare hands to where Maria was.

Sitting in the same position that her husband was –though she didn’t know it- Liz tried to feel everything she could from Max, because that was somehow reassuring her that he was okay, that he was alive. Sure, he was scared to death and fighting so hard to keep in control and not lose it, but she didn’t care. As long as he was okay, she could endure anything. She just wished that Max would be in the next cell, because as much as she loved Michael, she just needed to hear Max’s voice, needed to place her hand on the wall and know that he was doing the same on the other side.

She had given up trying “small talk” a long time ago, because Michael just wasn’t the kind of guy who would go for small talk so you might take your mind off things. Not even for Maria. Instead, he had been going around with what had happened and why he hadn’t been able to stop it. Actually, she was thinking pretty much the same thing. Why hadn’t she seen this coming?

For months now she had been getting better at this clairvoyance thing. She had been able to take them to safe places and gotten them through narrow escapes when her premonitions would happen minutes before. They had managed to stay undetected for more than half a year now. Even if half of the time her premonitions were of useless things, she was starting to be able to recognize the contents of them faster, to decipher them without much thinking. But there had been a problem: It was taking its toll.

Around the time that Kyle had been sparking in electric green, she had started to have headaches. Small ones at first, but they had soon turned into real migraines. Max was way too busy worrying about Kyle for her to bother him right then, and it had been the first time that she had been able to really block him out. It hadn’t lasted, though. The forth time that it had hit her, it hit Max too. She could still remember his hurt look, not because of the migraine itself, but because she had kept it a secret. She had vowed right then to herself that she would never lie to Max again so he wouldn’t look at her like that.

“Max…” she had whispered, almost as if she were asking for his forgiveness.

“Don’t Liz, don’t ever. Promise me.” He had walked to her, and placing his hands on both sides of her head, he had waited for her to promise him before he healed her.

“I’m sorry… I just—”, she had tried to explain that she was going to tell him, that she was just waiting for Kyle to get better, that he should save his energy for a real emergency, that she didn’t want to worry him just yet, but she hadn’t been able to. In the instant that she looked into his eyes, she didn’t see a worrying husband or a scared-for-her-health lover. No, in the instant that her lips had said “I promise”, it hadn’t just been a promise. She had been vowing to a king that she would never, ever lie to him again.

She still wondered about that look. Max didn’t consider himself a leader, much less a king, and their little group was a democracy as far as it had gone, but no one was fooling themselves. Max was the leader. And if the occasion would present itself, he would act as one. And they would follow. Like right now. He had taken the lead about how to go about things, how to get the messages through, what to discuss first. He would argue that it had been because he had thought about it but… Liz sighed. One day Max was going to become a real king, but that didn’t scare Liz. What scared her was rather an insight question: Would she become a real queen as well?

“What are you feeling from Max?” Michael asked her in a resigned voice.

“He’s calmer now than before. He’s probably talking to Maria about nothing important.”

“Figures. He’s trapped by who the hell knows, and he’s getting calmer.”

“Give him a break Michael. He’s probably doing it for me and Maria.”

“I know, but blaming things on him makes me feel calmer.”

Liz laughed. A real, if short, laugh. Michael and Max had become closer, if anything, just as they had used to be when they were younger. They had reached a balance, where both their tempers would work for the benefit of them all. Even if Isabel still had to play referee sometimes, it had always been about silly stuff like where they were eating or who would get to drive, or what station should be on the radio. When it came to really important things, they both planned things out together. Sure, her premonitions helped a ton, but if they hadn’t acted like a team, they would have been in the Special Unit’s hands ages ago.

“I’m glad she’s beside Max, though”, Michael continued, “because she prefers to hear that everything’s gonna be alright, even if she knows he can’t assure her of that.”

She didn’t have the heart to tell him that Max had stopped saying that like two years ago. Of course, why would Michael notice such things? But that didn’t mean that he didn’t work for things to be alright. That right now he was racking his brain about what they could do.

“Are you kidding? Maria’s probably going to strangle whoever thought putting you and she at the extremes was a good idea.”

“That would make two of us, then… Liz, do you think we have a chance?”

Let’s go back to premonition land, Liz thought. She knew what Michael was asking: Had she had any premonitions about them getting out? Or about their being stuck in here? She wished she had had either one, because so far, she hadn’t had even a hint of a premonition. In fact, she hadn’t had a coherent premonition since Max had healed her that day three months ago.

She had told them that about a month before. Whenever she had a premonition about any of them, they would be in strange places. She had seen Maria sitting on a bench in the middle of a very crowded plaza, surrounded by Chinese people walking in all directions. She had seen Isabel dressed for a very exclusive party in some fancy hotel. Michael getting out of a taxi that had the driver’s seat on the right side of the car. Her last premonition had been two weeks ago. Max being shot outside a café. A café that had menus in French. Although it hadn’t been the first time she had seen that particular one. She had gotten a flash of it when they were deciding to leave the country a couple of weeks after they had left Roswell. Try to get to Canada. Then she had been sure it was going to happen in the French part of that country, and she just wouldn’t set a foot in it. In the end, since they had been getting out of the Special Unit’s claws pretty good, they had stopped thinking about going to Mexico, or any other country for that matter.

Now she wished they were as far away from the US as they could get.

“I don’t know Michael. I really don’t know.”

Since that last premonition two weeks before, she hadn’t seen anything at all. It was as if Max had ‘discharged’ her or something. Sure, there were no more headaches, but tension had been building up. And finally, three days ago –correction, six days ago- the FBI had found them. Although no one blamed her for not having a premonition about that, it was a huge weight hanging over them that now their only real advantage to keep escaping was gone. And that had been the reason why they were so tense, so exhausted and so out of it when they had gone to sleep three days ago. Now she had woken up in this creepy blue space, feeling Max panicking right to the bottom of his soul by fears not too deep beneath the surface of his being. Max never talked about his experience in the white room, except by occasional hints that he would rather die than go back there. He always blocked the dark parts of himself, no matter what she said to him.

She hadn’t lied to Michael about Max being calmer though. She had only omitted the fact that, on Max’s scale, he was barely holding up. Whether he wanted to admit it to himself or not, he was waiting for the white room to repeat itself. He was just trying really hard to not let those thoughts invade him, and he was sure that he wouldn’t let them break down his spirit now either. Because of her, he wasn’t going to lose this battle. And because of him, Liz wasn’t going to lose it either. Still, those thoughts did little to make her feel better. If anything, this waiting was making her feel worse.

Her despair was cut off by a sound. Something moving. Glancing at her left, she saw the mirror moving, opening like a door towards her cell.

“Michael!” she half said, half shouted, while feeling at the same time Max’s own surprise and apprehension for whatever was going to enter there.

Except that nothing did. Slowly, very slowly, Liz started to move, to disentangle from her own embrace. Eyes locked on the mirror-door, she put her own sneakers on. She hadn’t really paid much attention to the cell’s temperature until now. A somewhat cold air was entering from the opened entrance. Outside the door was dark, but in the distance she could see light.

“Listen,” came Michael’s voice, urgent, “tell Isabel that we are all getting out at the same time. Two minutes after twelve thirty, ok?” Liz checked her watch. It was twelve twenty seven. “Okay.”

After telling Isabel Michael’s message, those five minutes felt like five hours. Isabel had returned the message three minutes after by telling that they all agreed. Thirty seconds before the hour hit the thirty-two minute mark, Liz stood up. Taking a deep breath, she took short but firm steps to the door. It wasn’t freedom, that much she knew, but whatever it was going to be, at least she was going to be with the five people that meant the most to her in the world.

* * *

It was a human thing to make mistakes, but how can you say that when you are half alien? Because Michael knew that being half human didn’t make his actions just half mistakes. He was the one who was supposed to be on the look out for that night. If he had been, he could have prevented this. Prevented them all from being in this waiting from hell in this stupid little blue room. But of course, he had been exhausted –they all had been- and he had decided that because it was too soon for the bastards at the Special Unit to gather up again, it was okay to sleep just for that night. Stupid, stupid mistake.

So, when the mirror opened itself, Michael was determined to not make more mistakes. After telling Liz that they should go out together, he placed himself beside the entrance, being careful that he was still covered for whoever was outside, and waited the few minutes. He wasn’t sure what to expect, especially since all the cells had been opened, but sure enough, their priority was to get everyone out of there. Of course, first, he had to know what was out there. Then they would make plans, efficiently and rapidly. They could do this. They would do this.

When the last seconds were ticking away, Michael realized that he had never felt more helpless in his life now that his powers were gone. He had felt along these months and way before since the day Max had saved Liz different levels of helplessness, of impotence, even of hopelessness, but never this sensation of being… powerless. Yes, he did have in himself strength and height, but it didn’t make him feel any safer at all.

Twelve thirty two. Since they always had synchronized watches –and they had checked that two hours before too- he knew that everyone was going to get out at the same time. But he also knew they wouldn’t leave the rooms in a rush, no matter how creepy the rooms/cells were.

In a slow movement, Michael placed himself against the door that was now against the inner wall, and peeked outside to the left. He knew Liz would be coming from his right, so the real immediate danger would be from the side where no one was. The light from the rooms was the only thing illuminating the immediate outside, but it wasn’t hard for Michael to determinate that there was, indeed, no one on his left side.

When he turned to the right side, his eyes met Liz’s. Obviously the girl had thought that any danger would be coming from that side as well. The slow movements were over. In a smooth and agile movement, Michael went out of his room and taking Liz by the shoulder, they both went in a straight line to the now emerging Isabel. He could see Max by the end of the doors taking Maria’s hand in a fast movement and coming to the middle as well. They needed to regroup and to get out of the dark corners. He was becoming aware that they were in some sort of warehouse and that there was a light coming from the further end of it, when Maria practically collided with him. Who knew the girl was so strong? She hugged him as hard as he was hugging her now, and that was saying a lot. He forgot everything about being cautious and looking over his shoulder and the place where they were, so he could focus only on feeling Maria, on getting as much comfort and reassurance from her and to give the same back. All that mattered to him in that instant was that Maria was in his arms and that she was unharmed.

* * *

Max could stay in this embrace forever. He could believe that the sole purpose of his life was to be in Liz’s arms as well. In that instant, nothing else mattered. And in a spot in the middle of his soul he could feel Liz feeling the same thing. He was certain that it wasn’t that his powers were coming back. This was something beyond synapses and brain waves or whatever. This was his soul calling to hers. And hers was responding as loud as it could.

He finally let her go just a few inches so he could see her. Her chocolate eyes were beyond worry, just as he knew his were.

“Are you all right?” he heard himself asking her, barely above a whisper, almost as if he were afraid that everything would disappear, including her, if he dared to talk louder than that.

“Yes,” Liz answered in the same tone, still staring at him. “Yes,” she said again, this time with more strength, bringing them both out of their own private world, moving her eyes down to his chest, as if she were looking for something out of place. Apparently satisfied with her quick glance, she turned her head to the others.

Next thing Max knew was that Isabel was hugging him while his wife was hugging Maria. Although these were quicker embraces, because their situation was now crashing really hard on them. No one said anything more, and in the close circle of friends, strength was being built for whatever was coming. They all turned their eyes to the only place where they were obviously supposed to be looking: The far side where the only light was on.

Max exchanged worried glances with Michael and then with Isabel. For all the six of them had been through, the three of them always knew that it was because of what they were that everyone they came in contact with was in danger. Being in this place pretty much summed it up for them. Now the fears the three of them had been trying so hard to not think of became tangible, like a dense fog surrounding their thoughts. Surrounding their hearts and their souls.

The three 100% humans of this group didn’t miss the exchange, so they tried to show the other three beings of their group that it was okay, that they understood and had accepted this fate with them a long time ago. It was time to stop worrying about the should’s and would’s. Liz reached for Max’s hand, just as Maria passed her hand around Michael’s waist and Kyle gave Isabel a brief hug. Max gave Liz one of his small smiles, and sighing, tried to let go the guilt that had been building up for the past minute.

Max took the lead. With Liz at his left side, the other four followed swiftly at their sides as well. They were in a very large empty warehouse, and because they were only looking forward, they didn’t notice when the doors to their rooms were closed. They didn’t notice either that in some part of the huge complex where they were, someone was letting escape a big sigh of relief for a job well done in research, replica making, trips to libraries, and hours and hours of deciding which things had a special meaning and which ones didn’t. The rooms had served their purposes. Another favor had been paid to Dave.

When they were halfway there, they could see more clearly what the end of their path was like. There was a long dark table, with six chairs put on one side of it. It reminded Max of the summit table in New York, although it wasn’t the same table or chairs at all. It was the feeling that was the same, though. They were here for some sort of summit, and the person that was going to be their counterpart was sitting alone in front of the six chairs on the other side of the table.

He was staring at them, patiently waiting for them to reach the table. For a very, very short instant Max wondered if this man had been possessed by an alien emissary, but he wasn’t sure what he would prefer for an answer. Both yes and no had their very complicated problems implied.

* * *

Twelve thirty eight in the morning was a very strange hour to finally meet the people he had been watching for the past two years, but then again, what wasn’t strange about this whole situation? And Dave had been in very strange situations through all his thirty seven years of life. He was calmed though, a luxury he rarely gave himself when meeting with people. He wasn’t distrustful by nature, but he didn’t exactly deal with trustworthy people either.

Ray hadn’t liked that he was going to be alone at all, and had insisted that guards were put nearby in the shadows. Dave had refused. If Michael saw any guard in there, there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that he would trust him. Max, on the other hand, would just close off, never to open again. No. He needed these kids, the six of them, to trust him, and although he didn’t have any glimmer of hope about earning that trust this day, at least he wasn’t doing anything to prevent it from forming in the future.

As they were getting closer, their steps began to slow down. Both Michael and Isabel glanced at the sides, to the shadowy corners, while Max was studying him. Their human counterparts where doing the same. When they were a few feet away, they all halted, and stared at him. A whole minute passed where they appeared to have become statues, frozen in time. Finally, Dave gave up.

“You can sit, you know”, he said leaning over the table with his elbows, clasping his hands in front of his chest.

“Why the hell would we do that?” Michael answered him back, with a fire in his eyes that was saying that he was on the edge. What was Michael thinking? They outnumbered him, but they were powerless. Probably, there were men just around the corner and the place was wired to the last inch. He couldn’t do anything to him, not without risking the lives of the others, but that didn’t mean that he couldn’t show how pissed off he was or to resist –even if just for a second- a command. No one else said anything or even moved. Dave let go a small smile.

“Well, because you all want to know who am I, why I brought you here and how you can get out of here as well.” Signaling the glasses with ice water that were each in front of every chair, he added, “And I think you’re thirsty too.”

Six pairs of eyes went to the glasses on the table. And still, no one moved. This time, Dave sighed.

“I want to talk, and if you prefer to stand, it’ll be fine with me.”

At his words, Max looked him straight in the eye, and after a few seconds of consideration, he nodded almost imperceptibly. Finally, he took a step forward, and standing beside the chair he would take, Max looked down at the table. Besides the glasses of water, there was nothing else over the thick black glass table. Dave knew that Max had paid particular attention to his own person. The glass table was to ensure them that he was carrying no weapon, and that there weren’t drawers or secret compartments where he could place one either. He was wearing black jeans and a black long sleeved shirt –after all it was really cold outside- but now that he was thinking about it under Max’s quick gaze, he realized he hadn’t paid much attention to what he was wearing that day. It had been a very messy long day for him to consider if he looked fashionable or not.

Once Max moved to sit down, the other five followed. So Dave had Max in front of him with Liz at Max’s left and Isabel at his right. Kyle was at the right end of the table and Maria had seated beside Liz, leaving Michael at the other end. They all looked… in control. A little scared, a little jumpy, even a little edgy, but over all, in control.

“Let’s talk, then.” Max said in an even tone. Out of the corner of his eye Dave saw Maria attempting to reach for the glass of water. Dave turned his gaze towards her, and Maria froze in place. Dave lowered his hands to the table.

“You should all probably drink. It might be a long talk.” It wasn’t true. Dave knew that this talk would be over in less than fifteen minutes, but still, he needed to make them feel that it was okay for them to drink the water. Not because the water had anything in it, but because they were thirsty.

Max looked down at his glass. He glanced at Liz and when she returned his look with a “what the heck” of her own, Max moved his hand forward and grabbed the glass. Maria was already drinking by the time he was lifting it. Liz, Isabel and Kyle followed immediately. Michael was the last to do it, and all the time he was staring at him. Dave didn’t mind. He waited till they were somehow satisfied. There were certain pleasures in life that one shouldn’t take for granted, Dave thought, and one of those was to drink water when you are so thirsty that your own saliva felt dry.

Max drank half of his glass and then put it down. Still, Dave waited till Maria finished her own glass and put it down for him to start talking again.

“First of all, I’m not your enemy”, Dave started, but Michael cut him off.

“Then who the hell are you? You took us in the middle of the night, threw us into those stupid rooms for hours and—“

“Michael,” Max said turning to him, in a polite but firm way. Michael returned his gaze with daggers in his eyes, but Max’s gaze put out the fury in them. Max returned his gaze to Dave.

“Who are you?” he asked in the same even tone. If Dave hadn’t known better, he would have been sure Max had studied diplomatic relationships for years now. Well, with Michael as his closest and almost only friend, it was a skill that could very well have been developed through all their childhood.

“I’m Dave,” he replied simply. Names didn’t really mean anything after all, he thought, so he went to what actually mattered to the six persons he had in front of him.

“I’m a man of many interests and with many resources. In May of 2,000 a person contacted one of my companies with a strange request. To check the entire radio telescope network for anything unusual, and we actually found something highly unusual.” Dave made a small pause to marvel at the change in their looks. They had gone from being in control to complete shock. They know what I’m talking about, Dave thought before continuing, but it isn’t as if I didn’t already know they are aliens.

“We found a strange high-energy microwave signal coming from Roswell, New Mexico. That was the first time I paid attention to life outside the Earth. Of course, that alone, didn’t get me to you.”

Dave made himself more comfortable on his own chair leaning against its back. “No, it couldn’t be that easy. We waited for months to see if it would come again, and it did. In November of that same year, a very similar signal went to New York. So then we knew it was a real signal from deep space. But beside that, there was nowhere to go. We couldn’t pin down the exact location where it had hit. But then there was a twist of fate.”

None of the kids looked as if they were breathing. They hadn’t expected to hear this, and they certainly didn’t know where he was going. But Dave liked to tell stories, and he liked to tell them from the beginning. So, even if the whole point of the conversation was laying further on, he just wanted them to know how they had been… discovered.

“Another of my companies received one thing that would change what I had thought about those signals. An anonymous client wanted a waitress’s dress to be examined. We are the best at genetics and all its fields, and trust me, we had no idea what we were looking at under the microscope.”

Max’s eyes lost their focus for an instant. Dave wondered what exactly was Max recalling. The day he had healed Liz, maybe? There was no way that Dave could have known that what Max was really remembering was Meris Wheeler’s words: We analyzed that thing for 2 years. The best scientists in the world couldn't figure that out.

“That got us started on your search. Someone was receiving messages from outer space, and someone else was leaving a dress with a bullet hole on it without a corpse or a wounded girl, but with very intriguing genes. Of course, the only thing that related the two events was their location. Roswell, New Mexico. You got us all confused when you did your next move, though,” Dave said staring right at Max. “You healed children in Phoenix, a little far away from your home town.”

Max closed his eyes as Dave’s words hit him hard. The other advantage about the glass table was that Dave could also see what they were doing underneath it. Liz reached for Max’s arm, while Maria reached for Michael’s hand at the corner. Isabel lowered her eyes as well. Kyle sighed muttering something under his breath. When Max opened his eyes again, Dave couldn’t read them, but the message to continue did cross to him.

“And still, we didn’t have anything solid to piece it all together, until we researched the whole incident. When Sydney Davis turned up on the list of children healed, we almost stopped breathing. The daughter of our client that was searching the signals in Roswell, New Mexico? Too big to be a coincidence. Whoever healed her had to be connected to whoever was getting the signals as well. It took us two weeks to get the tapes from the hospital and finally find you. After that, it’s been a wild ride to keep an eye on you.”

“You’ve been watching us for two years?” Isabel’s voice sounded angry.

“Well, yes. We were trying to figure out what you were, why you were here, what did you want, how many of you were around. We really thought that no one else was watching over you. And since you just seemed to be… well… living as teenagers, we didn’t do anything else.”

“You didn’t know about the Special Unit?” Michael asked with disbelief.

“Oh, we found out later on. Around May of 2,001, when your friend Alex passed away. We found an ex-agent of the unit who was willing to talk for the right price. That’s when we found about what they knew. About the killings and the silver handprints left. About the crash. About your capture. Then, we didn’t know what the hell to do with all of you.”

“But now you do,” Max stated flatly. All of them had had a flash of sadness at the mention of their friend, but Liz had gotten a fierce look when he had started talking about the killings. Almost as if she wanted to strangle the idiot who had thought her husband was capable of murder.

“Well, not really.”

“Why did you bring us here, then?” Isabel asked, leaning over the table. She was the first one to do that. Although Max and Michael had their hands over it as well, they all were keeping their distance from the table, as if they might actually be burned by it.

“To make you an offer.” Dave paused while they all exchanged glances.

“What kind of offer,” Max finally broke in.

“I want the truth, Max. I want to know it from you all, because all I have is a bloody mess, as Englishmen say, and I can’t afford to have wrong ideas about any of you.”

Max lowered his gaze, just like everybody else did. Glancing at Liz, he returned his eyes to Dave.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” he said above a whisper. It didn’t matter to Dave, there was no sound but their voices in the entire warehouse.

“What exactly won’t I believe? That you are some sort of shapeshifter that has been killing people so you can survive on this planet—”

“That’s so not it—”, it was the first time Maria had spoken, and even if Dave didn’t really mean to, he hushed her with a glacial look.

“Or,” he continued talking to Max, “that you are an alien king waiting to return home with the rest of the royal family?”

It took a tremendous will from Dave to not laugh out loud at their identical expressions. Stunned would be an understatement. Half open mouths and very round eyes while their chests seemed to have lost the ability to rise and fall, to let air enter. He would have loved to have a snapshot right then. But the really creepy part of this talk was next. That killed any joy in him.

“Or maybe the truth is an entire different story. I just don’t know. I’ve been going around this puzzle for months, years, actually, but I’ve finally made up my mind about you. I can offer you a deal in which you’ll get what you want and I’ll get what I want.”

“We tell you the truth and you let us go?” Michael asked in a skeptical tone. This time, he too leaned over the table.

“No. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. I want the truth, yes, but that’s not just it. I want you, too.”

Michael narrowed his eyes, not exactly understanding what Dave was implying. But someone did. This time, Liz moved forward, though she didn’t place her hands over the table.

“You want to study them.” It wasn’t a question, and her eyes didn’t held fear, just pure hatred. “You just want the same that they want.” Liz said through a tight jaw, barely keeping herself in check.

“What?!” Kyle exploded in the corner of the table. “You want to cut them up? Is that your big offer?”

Both Michael and Isabel took their hands off the table as if it had, indeed, burned them. Dave turned his eyes from Kyle to Max, without saying a word. Though he noticed that Max was paler than a minute before, the leader of the six wasn’t losing his temper.

“If you had wanted just that,” Max said without moving a muscle, his eyes not leaving Dave’s, “you would have done so already. You want something else.” It took Max around three seconds for it to hit him. “You want us to cooperate with you, don’t you? To do it willingly.”

“Not to willingly let yourselves be cut up, no, but to study your abilities, yes. Still, you’re right. It has never worked for me to have people under my wings out of fear. Have you ever heard that ‘an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness’? I work with that. My offer is simple. You all cooperate with me by staying in here and I’ll throw the FBI not only off your backs but off your family’s backs as well. Everyone who has been implicated in this… well, mess, would be taken care of. I’ll give you a chance at a normal life. A chance to stop running. But it has to be all of you.”

“For how long?”

“Max!” Isabel hissed under her throat, in an accusatory tone. It was as if she were thinking he was already saying yes. Max glanced at her for just a second, almost as if saying ‘I’m just asking’, and returned his very controlled look to Dave.

“Indefinitely. But if you break the… ‘contract’, then I’ll withdraw my protection from everyone involved as well. You’ll be left as you were found. Alone.”

“And if we say no?”

“Then you are free to go. I will never offer it again, and you will never see me again either. I’ll let things run their course, and I’ll be really sorry when the FBI’s Special Unit puts their hands on you. Because they will, Max. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in a year, but they will. You are getting careless and they are learning from their mistakes. You are just too young and too inexperienced to outrun them forever. I don’t expect you to trust me or trust that I’m telling you the truth right now, because that has to happen with time, but at least consider this: You can only hope I’m telling you the truth and that things might actually work. The Special Unit will never give you a glimmer of hope at all.”

The six of them glanced at each other with fear in their eyes. Doubt of what to believe. It truly seemed as if there was just no right answer. Dave stood up, and fishing a little golden bag from his right pocket, he looked at them with a friendly smile.

“You are not the first ones to doubt me. So I’ll give you exactly twelve hours to decide if you think you can trust me or not. If you are back, I’ll answer your questions just as you will answer mine, and then we’ll work out the details of the contract.”

A door opened about twelve feet to the left from where the table was. They all jumped a little in their seats and were surprised when no one came. From where they were sitting, they could see snow falling into the warehouse.

“There’s one of your cars parked outside. All your belongings are in there too. You can find a motel about six miles down the road, or you can find wherever you want to spend the night around town. You can also just drive straight and not look back. I won’t care. From the moment you left those rooms behind you, there wasn’t a single camera on you. Outside this complex, no one that works for me will follow you. You are no longer being watched,” Dave said looking at Isabel. “And you should know too that your powers should return in about three hours.”

When no one moved, Dave sighed. He had seen just about every single reaction from the people he made this kind of offer to. People who would just start to cry, or nervously laugh. People who would just make a run for the door and never look back. People who had called him a liar, who had called him a saint, and everything else in between. But most people just sat there, not sure if they were dreaming or having a nightmare. Waiting for something else to happen, he guessed, or for him to continue talking. But there was nothing else he had to say, not at this stage anyway, and now everything depended on them.

Suddenly remembering the golden bag that he still had in his right hand, Dave leaned over the table and placed it in front of Max.

“Before you go, Samantha, one of my analysts, asked me to tell you that you have never made a more perfect diamond than this one. And that she was sorry she couldn’t finish with it earlier.”

Max lowered his eyes to the bag and reached for it. When he looked inside of it, his eyes turned to Liz. “It’s your engagement ring,” he said with a whisper, and they both returned their gazes to Dave.

“You are really free to go.”

And as if it had been the first time they had heard it –although probably it was the first time they had believed it- the six of them stood up and half walked, half ran to the door, without even a last glance at him. When he was alone, Dave sat down letting a huge sigh escape. He heard the car being started and then how it left. After a minute of silence, Dave started to feel the adrenaline leaving his body. Gosh, he was so tired.

“You can come out now, you know”, he said out loud. Out of the right corner of the warehouse, a figure started to move towards him.

“How did you know I was there?” Ray asked with a frown.

“I didn’t. I was just checking. But I think I told you I didn’t want you here.”

“No. You said you didn’t want any guards in here. You never said anything about me.”

Dave glared at Ray. Even if he knew that Ray was doing it to protect him, things could have gone really wrong if any of the six had seen him. “I’m going to get a lawyer every time I’m talking to you, then.”

Ray laughed while taking a seat.

“So, how did it go? Do you think they are coming back?”

“I don’t know Ray. They are way too used to trusting no one, that I just don’t know. They are also too scared.”

“Why do you want them in here, anyway?” Ray asked leaning over the table and staring at him. “How do you plan on using their abilities?”

“I have many, many ways in which their skills can be useful to me, I won’t deny that, but it is much more than that Ray.” Dave broke the eye contact and lowered his eyes to the table, as if he were thinking something very important. “I just hope for our own sakes that they say yes. There is just way too much at stake here. But nothing will work if they are not here willingly.” With a huge yawn, Dave stood up before Ray could ask him what he was talking about, and after telling him good night, he walked away from the table to a hidden door at one of the sides of the warehouse.

Dave hated lies, so he did whatever he could to not lie to anyone, but it was… okay if you just didn’t say all that there was to say. To keep certain aspects of the whole situation to oneself, to say it in a way. Of course, he knew Ray wouldn’t see it like that, -and if Max knew he wouldn’t see it like that either-, but his real motives would have to stay a secret for now. After all, what was the point of telling anyone a plan that wouldn’t really start its motion until years to come?

* * *

Author’s Note: The quote "An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness" is from Elbert Hubbard.

I'll post chapter 4 next Saturday, December 3rd.
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Post by Misha » Fri Dec 02, 2005 9:47 pm

Hey guys!! Thanks to everyone reading!!

Sternbetrachter, you'll get to see how heated their discussions will become all through book 1 ;) And, sorry, nope... Ray is around 35...

Asabetha, well thank you! I hope you do enjoy where I'm heading. And I do intent to keep posting every Saturday :D

tequathisy, the answers will come... sooner or later... 8)

Ger, your wish is my command, hehe "individual thoughts from the Pod Squad & co. about Dave´s offer," is exactly what follows in the next two chapters ;)

Kathy, ssshhhh!!!!! don't spoil my readers!!! :P

Author's note: Though I absolutely love long chapters, and try my best to write around 10 pages each time, this is my shortest chapter... Incidentally, this is probably one of the most crucial ones too, so I hope you'll enjoy it ;)

Decisions, Decisions

Kyle took the driver’s seat without even glancing at anyone else. In fact, no one else said anything at all when he went for it. Kyle had figured no alien should be behind the wheel right now, and besides, it was going to be practically impossible for anyone to separate Max and Liz and Michael and Maria from each other. Isabel was a whole other story. They both used to be close when the other four retreated to their own little worlds. But close as ‘just-friends’ close. They had become really great roommates, and had all these little inside jokes that made them not feel like outsiders in a group where most members were loving someone else. But right now, everyone was silent.

Out of the three cars that were theirs for the present month –they always changed cars at least once a month- Kyle was glad that it had been the Suburban that had been brought to them. He guessed that it was because they could all fit inside in a very comfortable way. Before they were out of that creepy warehouse, Kyle had been certain they would find the old van outside, just as a final proof of how much this Dave knew about them. So, his heart had made a little happy dance when he had seen his favorite car. And he knew this was his car. It had a tricky starter, which he had tamed over the whole month. He was certainly going to miss this car when it was time to change. Except that now Kyle didn’t know if they were going to change it at all.

It was starting to snow outside, and he wasn’t surprised when their own thick coats and gloves had been waiting for them in the back of the car, right in the last seat, where Maria and Michael were sitting now. Max and Liz had settled in the middle seats, as Maria had found the clothes and had silently passed them through. Sure, they had been in a town in Colorado, and it was bloody cold there, but wherever they were now, this was even colder, and it was around 1:00 a.m. too. He had set the heater to the highest level just after he had started the car. The good thing was that because he had woken up around 7:00 p.m., he wasn’t sleepy at all. Thirsty, scared to dead, with no real clue as to what was happening, and a little hungry, yeah, but not sleepy. It had to count for something.

The lights on the road were signaling him the path he had to take to get out of there. No one was waiting or looking or whatever outside. When he passed the gates three minutes later, he let go the breath he hadn’t even noticed he was holding. They were out of that place, but out to where? He kept going on the only road that there was, not noticing that inside his gloves his knuckles were white from the pressure with which he was gripping the steering wheel.

Isabel was staring outside, looking straight ahead, as if she were waiting for something to suddenly appear in front of the road. Actually, Kyle was staring at his side mirror expecting that someone was going to be following them. But behind him was just an empty road. Sure, if the car had some sort of tracking device, why bother with someone following, right? Granted, when the pod squad regained their powers, they could make sure they weren’t having “bug” problems, but till then… And besides, who said their powers were going to come back in three hours? Dave? Who the hell was he?

But more importantly, why would they accept his offer? It was freaking him out to even think about the possibility of saying yes. Not only for the implications for his friends, but for a more selfish reason: What would happen to him? Did this Dave person know about his changes? And if he did, what was he going to do to him? He had stopped being a human light for almost two months now, and he wasn’t complaining. Sure, besides that, nothing else had happened, and he was praying every hour of the day to Buddha or whoever the Higher Power was that that would be the end to his changes.

He still remembered how he had once said to Isabel that if he had one tenth of her power, he would have fun. Well, he now did posses a percentage of it, and he was still waiting for the fun to begin… He now knew why they wallowed in doom and gloom. "Oh, we've got to keep our secret safe; we've got to be boring and brooding". He had been wrong. There was nothing boring about being on the run. You were always jumpy, paranoid, edgy… It had been a freaking mess being at home, but on the road… gosh, and he had complained about blue crystals melting over him? Where were those days? At least inside that cave Alex had made him have some fun. He had put things in perspective too. Being an alien –or, in his case, being changed by one- didn’t make things easy or boring at all. If anything, it had given him a different perspective of how life was for his three friends. He’d gotten to know how important normal was for them, why they searched for it with such a passion.

And that was why Dave’s offer was so… tempting. The guy did know what he was talking about. There was nothing else in the world that the three of them –or to be sincere, the six of them- wanted more than normal life. But how normal could it really be? And how high was the price to get it?

“Stop the car,” Max said, finally breaking the silence. Kyle did as he was told, parking at the side of the road, leaving the lights on to see if someone was coming in front of them. Everyone turned to look at Max.

It was curious, Kyle thought, that when it came to making decisions, everyone immediately turned to Max, even if the decisions were made by vote and not by whatever Max wanted. He had been outnumbered half of the time, and had not always been happy with what the majority had decided. But still, it was always he who had to be the one first looked upon. Max had told him once –in that weird past October night when they had actually started to be friends- that sometimes he wished he could become invisible so no one would turn to stare at him as if he had all the answers. Because hell, he didn’t have them all.

“What are we going to do?” Isabel asked in a very concerned and very fearful voice. Kyle knew he would sound exactly the same, if not worse. He noticed too, as weird as it was, that even if they still looked at Max first, they had stopped putting his name at the end of every question. But gosh, wouldn’t it be just easier to say what are we going to do, Max? and blame him for whatever the outcome was? No wonder the guy hated to be looked at like that…

“Right now we are going to wait till our powers are back. They are our only real defense against whoever might try to get us again.”

“And then what?” Michael asked, in a rather angry voice. Michael still hated to wait and see, but had gotten used to it after hours and hours of nothing else to do but to, well, wait and see.

“I don’t know,” Max answered sincerely. “But we have to discuss this through. What everyone thinks about this.”

“Are you seriously considering the offer?” Maria asked with disbelief in her eyes.

“I’m seriously considering the situation we are in, and that includes the offer,” Max said looking back at her, “because whether or not we accept it, we have to see…”

“To see what?” Michael asked, on an edge.

“If this is real,” Max answered, “and if we let it pass, at least I want to know we all agreed on that. I don’t want to regret it, okay?”

“No, it’s not okay,” Michael barked in response, “we are sitting ducks in here, Max. We should just go as fast as we can to put as much distance between that man and us.”

“We should think this first,” Isabel interceded, “before doing anything else. I’m with Max in this one, I think we should discuss it,” Isabel said in a more controlled tone now.

“You too?” Michael asked, almost as if he had been betrayed or something. Why did Michael always assume that because you were against what he wanted you were against him as a whole?

Isabel gave him one of those patented Ice Princess glares, even if time and time again they had proved futile against Michael. Kyle guessed that she still did it because old habits died hard.

“I mean, what is there to discuss?” Michael continued, ignoring Isabel completely, “if we accept we are willingly giving ourselves to be guinea pigs for the rest of our lives or whatever ‘indefinitely’ means. And I won’t let that happen to me or to any of you either. We have a better chance on the road. We have managed to stay alive and out of their claws all this time. We can keep doing it as well.”

“Would you listen to yourself, Michael?” Isabel asked him in a not so nice tone. “’Stay alive’, but we are not really living either. We have no place to return to because we are too afraid that something might happen to our parents and family. We are doomed to stay on the run for the rest of our lives!”

“Don’t tell me you want to accept it,” Michael said with a harsh voice.

“I’m not saying that, but considering it won’t kill us. Don’t you know what this means? If we agree, not only will we stop running, but they’ll take the FBI out off our backs, of our parents’ backs, of Jesse’s back as well.”

Oh. Kyle looked silently at the two counterparts. He understood Michael’s reason, but it had hit him hard now that he was hearing Isabel’s main reason: Her husband.

They had known for quiet some months now that the FBI was getting harder on their families. Their houses, cars, workplaces had been bugged, no surprise there. Everyone was always on the look out. They couldn’t even really talk to their kids because they knew how dangerous it was. So, neither the adults nor the kids knew about the other, and it was slowly killing both parties. Of course, since Michael didn’t really have a family that close outside this group he didn’t see that much trouble. But it was really different for the rest of the group who had grown up with caring parents. And besides, there was Jesse. Isabel hadn’t contacted him since they had left Roswell because she thought it would be unfair to Jesse that she would be coming and going in his life. It had to be a clean cut, so they both could continue. It was killing Isabel, and Kyle had no doubt that it was killing Jesse as well.

And now there was this chance that Jesse could be safe too. He wasn’t really safe out there with the FBI breathing down his neck with every move he made. They had learned from the first and only call they made home a month after they had left Roswell that he hadn’t taken the job in Boston, but instead he himself had disappeared off the map. Smart guy. Though the shadow that he might have disappeared courtesy of the FBI was over their hearts, they had all hoped he had managed the trick himself. And when a month later Liz had gotten a flash of him by touching Isabel, they all had breathed easier.

“I cannot believe it,” Michael simply said, with disgust. “You are willing to go through hell so Jesse can have a happy life? You don’t even know if what Dave said is true! For all we know he can say he’s going to protect them and never again give them a second thought.”

“We could ask for proof,” Liz said quietly. It was the first time she had talked, and five pairs of eyes centered on her. “I mean, he wants to earn our trust, right? He would have to work for it. He knows it. He wouldn’t lie to us on something like that.”

“Liz,” Maria said with doubt in her voice, “we don’t even know if once we are inside he’ll just grab Max, Michael, and Isabel and we’ll never see them again.”

“I know Maria, but why would he let us go then? All of us were in his hands, and he just let us go. If he really just wants to grab them, this course of action doesn’t make sense at all.”

“So, are you willing to believe him?” Max asked above a whisper. Of the three people most affected, he had been the only one who hadn’t jumped in with his reasons to agree or decline the offer.

“Max, I’m terrified of what he can do to you, all of you, and I know you are too, but he was right about one thing: He might be telling the truth. If the Special Unit gets their hands on you, they won’t ask if you want to cooperate or not.”

“What you are basically saying,” Kyle found himself saying out loud, “is that you prefer this new devil to the old known one?”

Liz’s eyes turned a darker shade, and she lowered her eyes to no point in particular. “I don’t know what I’m saying Kyle. This is so confusing. I guess I just want to believe him, but there’s no real guarantee, is there?”

Max put his arms around her waist and pulled her into him in a tender hug. “I want to believe him too,” he said quietly, “but he clearly said that we all have to agree on this one, and there’s still so much we don’t know.”

“We know he knows a lot about us, about our daily life stuff,” Liz started to say. “Max, he’s willing to believe you are not the alien who killed all those people through decades like the Special Unit is so certain you did. That all you three want is just a normal, peaceful existence”

“He wants to know the truth,” Isabel elaborated. “Besides, he said we could break the contract, we can always say no when we want, and be right back where we are now.”

“Are you two losing the whole point of this thing?” Michael said with a temper barely under control. “He wants to study us. How the hell do you think he’s going to do that? Before we know it, we are going to be strapped to a metal table, not moving because he’ll threaten to harm the three of you.” Michael finished pointing at Liz.

“He has already done it,” Max said tightening his embrace on Liz. They all turned to him with question marks on their faces. “That’s why three days have gone by.” When no one made any comment about that, Max finally explained why he was thinking that.

“My left arm was itching when I woke up, and I really didn’t pay much attention to it at first. But it makes sense. He would have had to take one blood sample to know that Liz isn’t one of us. He must have taken at least a blood sample from all of us. Who knows what else he did while we were unconscious? He was hedging his bets that we might not return and accept his offer, so he got a piece of us before we could refuse.”

“And you are still willing to trust him after that?” Michael asked with a still stunned face. The thought paralyzing.

“He’s playing in a win-win situation. If we accept his offer we’ll be in a position where we have everything to lose with no guarantee of anything to win. But he wins no matter what,” Max said more to himself than to anyone else.

“So you don’t want to accept either?” Isabel said almost with dismay. Max gave a heavy sigh.

“If this had happened two weeks before, I would have said no, but now that Liz can’t guide us… We were almost caught six days ago, and we do know what the Special Unit will do to us.”


“No, Michael, it was too close last time. You were hurt, and I was there to heal you afterwards, but what if next time it is me who gets hurt or killed? Who will heal any of you after I’m gone? You keep telling us that the whole point is that we are going to be willing prisoners, but don’t you see? Six days ago we were almost caught, and three days ago we were. We have already been caught. That was the whole point of keeping us apart, as if we were in a real prison, so we could know it can happen to us; that we are sitting ducks like you said. We were just lucky that he got to us first and not the Special Unit.”

“Lucky?!” Michael exploded, “Max, for all we know, he is the Special Unit! He’s going to do exactly what they would do!”

“Don’t tell me about what they are going to do because you haven’t been there. Don’t you think the idea is paralyzing me? That when I woke up in that blue room it took everything I had in me to not start just screaming that this isn’t fair? But I’ve been trying for months now to find a solution where we don’t have to keep running, and so far, I’ve failed, and now the Special Unit is so close to us that I just don’t know what to do anymore. Dave was right, we can’t outrun them forever. I can’t see the future, Michael, but as far as I can see, we are going to go to sleep one night and wake up inside white cells the day after. And no one is going to let us go at all, much less ask us if we are okay with it.”

“So, that’s it? You’ve already made the decision for all of us? You are accepting and we’ll follow?” Michael asked in a threatening tone that Kyle hadn’t heard in a long, long time. He was sure that if it wasn’t for the fact that they were all sitting inside a car, Michael would be standing right in front of Max, while Max wouldn’t back a single step. Those two could be scary when they were defending their own reasons.

“I’m not making a decision for anyone but myself.” Max said in a more calm tone, but without taking his eyes from Michael’s. “But just as you are saying why we shouldn’t accept, I’m pointing out facts that might help us decide what is best for us.”

No one spoke for a whole minute while Max and Michael stared at each other.

“You are willing to risk it all for this one possible chance?” Michael asked in a more controlled way. Apparently, it had finally hit him that screaming and yelling weren’t going to get him anywhere. Kyle had learned a long time ago too that if you wanted to crumble Max’s reasons you either went for pure logic –like Liz always did- or went for guilt, like Michael was trying to do now. “If this blows completely in our faces—“

“It’ll be the worst mistake ever,” Max finished for him. “I know. But Liz is right, if he didn’t want to back up his offer, why would he just let us go? To play with us? Is he a shelter or is he a cage? It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Give me one solid reason as to why we should accept this.”

Max lowered his eyes, trying to find something, but even Kyle knew there just wasn’t anything ‘solid’ about this whole thing. Everything was being based on guesses and hopes…

“I don’t have one.” Max finally answered leveling his eyes to Michael. “I’m just tired of waiting for the worst to happen.”

Michael arched his eyebrows in a surprised gesture. He had so not seen that one coming.

“But whatever is waiting for us there, can’t be worse that whatever is waiting for us on the road. It’s already been proven that we can be caught Michael. God, we didn’t even see them coming to get us, we never had even a chance to defend ourselves. And just like you, I don’t want anything to happen to me or to any of you… At least this way we’ll have some degree of control over what is going on. Can you give me a solid reason to not want to accept this?”

“You are basing this decision on hope.”

“We’ve been making decisions all along based on hope. But if I didn’t really believe there’s a real chance that this could work, I wouldn’t be saying all of this. You know that.”

After ten seconds or so, Michael was the one to turn his eyes away, with an exasperated sigh. It was like he had just given up on trying to convince Max. Still, that didn’t mean that Michael wanted to accept either. They were, well, stuck. And the rest of the group wasn’t exactly agreeing to one part or the other completely.

“This is so not helping us,” Maria said breaking the uncomfortable silence. “I don’t mean to diminish you or anything, but this also affects us. I mean, what would happen to the three of us?”

“Yeah,” Kyle said finally finding the courage to speak his inner fears, “I bet he’ll find it very interesting how one can glow in the dark courtesy of Max.”

“I don’t think they know anything about that, or you wouldn’t have had your powers either,” Isabel said with a thoughtful expression. “There was nothing anywhere that said a thing about that. I mean, we didn’t even know it would happen.”

“Yeah, but if they were following us everywhere,” Kyle said hating to be the bad news bringer, “they probably saw Liz going through her changes. Maybe even saw me…”

“No, I think Isabel is right,” Max said looking at Kyle, “He took our powers because he didn’t want us blasting him into oblivion. If he had known any of you could be capable of that, he wouldn’t have taken the chance. At this point he doesn’t completely trust us either.”

“But what exactly does he know about us? About the six of us I mean,” Maria asked leaning over Liz’s seat.

“Well, he can’t know all that much if he has all these doubts and questions about the past four years of ours lives,” Liz said thinking it through. “For one thing, the things in our rooms were things that at some point either other people knew we liked or were in our rooms at home. Things we did when we were little. Activities our parents, or classmates or even our teachers knew. Information easy to collect if you are a good researcher.”

“He had the royal seal printed on a black sheet in Max’s room, and he did know what that meant,” Maria said with a half sympathetic, half apologetic tone.

“The safety deposit box,” Michael said out of the blue. “The book and the translation were there.”

“Part of the translation,” Max said with a hint of new hope. “Dad told me he had emptied the box a week after we left, but you are right. They could have gone to the safety box before. Still, I was going through the section where our powers were being discussed so I might found something on Liz’s powers. I never put that back.”

“Still, how would that helps us anyway?” Michael asked with a resigned tone now. “If we are showing him what we can do, why would he need the translation?”

“Because we don’t have to show him everything we can do,” Isabel said with a bright, almost evil smile. “We don’t even have to show him how good we are at them. I mean, the fact that we might agree to stay there doesn’t mean we have to tell him everything. He wants to know the truth, so let’s tell him the truth without some details. There are things that he can’t possibly know about us. We can always be one step ahead of what they think they know. We can still keep some little advantage for ourselves.”

Michael glared at her, but for the first time Kyle thought that his very edgy friend was finally considering that they did have a snow ball’s chance in hell of getting into this with a plan of how to get out of it too.

“So, are we accepting then?” Kyle asked as everyone was considering Isabel’s words.

“I cannot believe it,” Michael said pulling Maria closer again.

“If we are going to do this,” Max said with a little sigh of resignation himself, “we need to get our story straight. We need to decide what we are going to say and what we are leaving out. We cannot be caught in a lie.”

“And what if he already knows stuff we are not saying?” Kyle asked with a little fear.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to just hope he won’t mind,” Liz said leaning over Max. “He wants us to trust him, but he’s going to have to trust us at the same time. Besides, I don’t think he’s going to tell us everything there is to know either… It’s just a feeling I have…”


I'll post next part Saturday, December 10th.
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Post by Misha » Sat Dec 10, 2005 10:06 am

Hey guys! Thanks to everyone reading! I have to come to work today -Saturday- so I don't have time right now to say much more... But, just as chapter 4th was the shortest, chapter 5th is the longest ;)

Before the Hour

“So, they went to the motel?” Dave asked while watching through his room window the snow falling outside. He loved to watch it fall. He loved to watch the rain fall, or to stare at waterfalls. He just loved to see movement, especially when it was nature’s movement.

“They arrived at the motel around four thirty in the morning.” Ray said while sipping at his hot chocolate. It was around 10:00 a.m. on that cold winter morning. It took a little time to Dave to get straight what day it was, and he smiled when he remembered it was February the first. His birthday was getting closer, and just as the movement, Dave loved his birthday. He made a quick mental note about remembering that Maria’s birthday was closer than his.

“They waited for their powers to come back,” Ray continued, “because that’s the only reason I can see for them taking close to three and a half hours to get from here to there. Although this is the first time I know that someone you talk to takes the first motel on the road. Especially since it was you who brought it to the conversation.”

Dave smiled. He had told the truth when he had said that no one who worked for him was going to follow them, and that they were no longer being watched, but if the news of strangers in town arrived by other sources, well, it wasn’t his fault.

Robert Watson was the owner of the motel six miles from the complex, and the sole purpose of his business was for him to know who arrived at town. Robert just plain loved gossip, that much to the point that Ray had once referred to him by saying that he should have been born woman and not man.

His motel was just in the intersection with the highway and the small road that lead to Dave’s properties. So, when the six teens had stopped at his motel at four thirty in the morning, Robert had probably told so to just about everyone else in town as soon as the sun had hit the frozen lake. Therefore, now that it was ten o’clock, the news were getting to Dave’s ears.

“They are going to accept,” Dave said confidently. “They are just re-grouping and probably trying to get some sleep before one in the afternoon.”

* * *

Gosh, Alex hadn’t been kidding, Isabel thought while looking through the window. It was close to midday now, and everyone had paired up in their usual pairs, each on their own room. Kyle was meditating or something in the other corner of the room, so she was perfectly still watching the snow falling. The problem with that was that now she had way too much time and way too much silence for all kinds of thoughts and all kinds of doubts to invade her mind.

She could remember when Alex had come to her house all excited because he was going to Sweden. He had made this whole research with Liz about Sweden’s history, with all the boring details, but she had gone through all of it just because he wanted her to. And she hadn’t complained either, and she was so glad now to have done it too. It gave her a good memory of Alex. But what had brought her thoughts to that evening was a comment Alex had made about a Swedish joke: when the Swedish people had first come to North America and had landed in New York, they had said that the weather wasn’t bad enough for them to feel like home. So they had kept moving forward, towards the center of the United States, stopping from time to time to see if it was, indeed, bad enough. And it was till they were in Minnesota that they had all agreed that it was so bad that it qualified as home.

And it was true: This was the worst weather she had ever been in. Sure, she had seen snow in Roswell, had had some very cold nights there too, and then had been on the road in practically all kinds of weather, but this was way beyond white and way beyond cold. The trees were all stripped down of every single leaf, and there was no one outside because they were in the middle of nowhere –although she doubted she would have seen too many people even if they were in town. Despite the fact that it was midday, the sun was so pale and the sky so clouded that you could believe you were about half the afternoon. It wouldn’t get any brighter, and she wondered if this was an indication of their destiny: Would their lives ever be brighter than this day?

Isabel sighed. She wished she could have the answers already. When they had arrived to the motel they had been still discussing their plans. It was till around eight in the morning –a very cold, gray, and soundless morning- when they had gone to their rooms. Maria had said something about enjoying their last hours of freedom, to which Michael had almost snorted, but seeing the worry and fear in Maria’s eyes, he had restrained himself. But she had to agree with Michael. What freedom? Watching the snow fall surrounded by trees that looked like they should be in a cemetery? Isabel sighed again. This was getting her nowhere.

When she had woken up in that room she had just frozen. Max had gotten up and went to the bookshelves, Michael had done pretty much the same, but she had just been frozen in place. She had woken up over her side, and had looked straight into the mirror. It didn’t take her more than a second to know the truth, but she couldn’t know how much time it had passed since that first realization and when she had heard Kyle. Time had been senseless while she shut her eyes and wished it all away, just like when she was little and sometimes had nightmares. She would close her eyes and wish all those bad things away, and it would work. Of course, this time it didn’t work, but Kyle had been next to her, and the relief of not being alone had gotten her to her senses again. She had then taken control over her emotions and actions, and was ready to act in whatever plan she or anyone else could come up. She didn’t like to be scared, and she didn’t like others knowing that she was either.

But Isabel was scared. Scared as she had rarely been in her life. Of all the three of them, she had always tried to pretend that it didn’t matter, that what they were didn’t affect who they were. So she had lived up to her own standards, had known she was beautiful and brilliant, and that she could be whoever she wanted to be. The future was there waiting for her. She hadn’t really thought about loving someone and telling him the secret, but those decisions could wait, because she was still a sixteen year old whose biggest problem was a Chemistry midterm.

And then Max had changed it.

She wished she could hate him but… I couldn't just let her die. Max’s words came echoing in her mind. She had wanted to strangle him right then because he had not only compromised her life, but the way she lived it. What they were did matter when it came to who they were, she had realized with his words. Because of what Max was, he was who he was. If Max hadn’t had the ability to heal Liz… It wasn’t as if Isabel didn’t like Liz, because she was a real good sister-in-law –had even volunteered to help her last Christmas- but she wished that day hadn’t lead to this day, where she was in the middle of nowhere, in plain winter, in a motel room, watching the snow fall, thinking if this would be the last time she would be able to see it.

That was why she was so scared now. Michael was right, they were more likely to end up as willing prisoners, but Max was right too: They had been caught by someone else, but how long would it take to the Special Unit to find them again? A week from now? A month? And they did know what that future held for them. The fact that Liz had somehow lost the ability to see the immediate future was just the final obstacle within them and a normal life. She had tried since the night they left Roswell to see a way out of this mess, to return to a normal life, or at least to pretend to have one. But they were always moving, never staying anywhere more than a week, traveling by pairs, or in trios, getting all together for brief times.

“We can’t keep going all together. A group of six will always be remembered. They’ll land on us a hell more sooner than later”, Michael had said the day after they had left Roswell, in a motel in Arizona, the first one of many, many to come.

“What do you suggest? That we split up as we had thought first?” she had asked him with disbelief. They needed each other, all six of them, or they would not make it. Especially her, and especially without Jesse.

“No, I suggest that we travel in different numbers, and get together in key points. We can even travel one behind the other just in different cars. I don’t know, it just sounds more logical than going all of us in a van that seems that will crack up any minute now.”

“I agree,” Kyle had spoken then staring out the window to the old van, “I don’t think it can get us too much farther.”

“So,” Max had said looking at Michael, “you still think we are safer as individuals than we are as a group?” it was a genuine question. Max was just as lost as any of them were. He had been serious about giving up the throne just the day before too.

“I do Max, but think about it. If we go in ways they are not expecting, we’ll find it easy to get mixed up in the crowd.”

And they had thought about it, and had agreed on it too. And that was how she had ended up sometimes traveling alone with Maria or Liz. In the seven months they had been doing the “exchanging partners” thing, as Kyle called it, she had gotten to know a lot more of the three human members of their group. And she had gotten to talk to Max too, gotten a chance to be brother and sister again. Even Michael had seemed more talkative after a few weeks.

After a few weeks too they had resigned themselves to the routine of always being on the move as well. Liz was always getting these flashes, and she wouldn’t even know how far in the future they were, so they had just assumed the worst was around the corner and had ran for their lives. Literally.

They had done more camping in those months than in all their lives put together. She had found very creative ways of using her powers to get rid of mosquitoes, make the ground under her sleeping bag stone-less and to cook without giving that weird taste. That had taken weeks of practice –and a lot of awful meals- but they had all managed it.

Then they would run out of provisions and would have to return to the nearest town. When they actually ran out of money, then it would be the nearest city. Max’s ability to turn carbon into diamonds hadn’t passed unnoticed by Michael and herself. Though the two of them couldn’t manage it –yet- if she could put together all the diamonds Max had already sold, they would make some very interesting sets of collars and earrings. She had teased him that for her birthday he was bound to give her something like that too.

Of course, when autumn and then winter had hit the United States, there weren’t many places to go camping. Or more likely, none of them had any inclination to camp under rain or snow. Even so, they had bought the equipment for climates with snow and all that, just in case. And it had been a good thing too, because for her 20th birthday by the end of last October, Kyle had started to go through his changes. And there had been no better place to hide and wait than to camp in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t snowing yet, but the weather was getting cold. And of course, winter arrived early too.

It was almost the end of November when they had finally felt safe enough to return to civilization. God, a hot shower had never felt better in her entire life. Nor a soft bed and an actual roof over her head. It had been a hard test to their living together skills, but since the woods were, well, roomy, you could always take your tent some further feet away to get a little more privacy. But to be sincere, if she never saw a camp site again in her life, that would be too soon.

And that might very well be a wish to come true, Isabel thought not really paying attention to the snow falling now. After that, they had kept to motels in the roads. By now, they knew how to spot the good ones, and how to make the bad ones good enough. Who would believe Isabel Evans was going to be an expert in motels? Ha. Who would believe Isabel Evans was half alien half human?

She had been able to deceive everyone, from her parents to the girls she hung up with, to the guys she flirted at, to her husband later on. She almost went to college in San Francisco, and actually had gone to Las Cruces, had gotten all those letters of recommendation from people who loved her, respected her, cared about her. People who knew who Isabel Evans was. She had deceive them all, and would have kept doing it as far as it provided her a normal existence. Because, that Isabel Evans was she. Despite the fact that Jesse had told her that she was a good liar, that didn’t mean that underneath she was a different person. She did care for all the people she helped, studied hard for her grades –okay, maybe not that hard- and made sure she was this perfect little angel, no matter who had come up with the Ice Princess name. She just had this little dark secret that only made a difference when it came to change her nail polish color, or the way her hair was, or heating a cold coffee. And then things changed.

Now that little dark secret was the center of her life.

Placing her forehead against the cold window, Isabel sighed by the third time. In a few hours she would be deceiving people again, but she was perfectly fine with it. She had had a long time to think while in that blue room about everything she had lost. About how easy it had been in the end to be caught. She hadn’t even been able to put up a fight. And when she had heard Dave’s offer, all those thoughts had come back to her. If it was a lie, why let them go? And she was gambling by believing it could be true, wasn’t she? They had almost been caught three days before they were caught by this man, and it had hit her hard that their chances of being able to keep escaping were nonexistent now. Had they been too quick in this though? Maybe, but none of their very limited options were exactly cheerful.

It didn’t matter now, their plan was already on the move. One of the first things they had decided was which powers should they show, and which should they keep for themselves. Liz had been the first to say that she shouldn’t say anything about her dreamwalking ability.

“There’s no way they can know about it, Isabel, and it might as well be the only way to communicate with each other if things go really wrong”, Liz had said with a very serious tone.

Actually, those words weren’t too different from ones that had been said around a week after their departure had passed. Isabel had wanted so bad to dreamwalk Jesse, their parents, tell them they were okay, tell them they were safe. Or to dreamwalk their hunters, to see what their plans were. But Max hadn’t liked the idea. Michael hadn’t liked it either.

”We don’t even know what they know about us and what they don’t,” Michael had started, followed closely by her brother.

“If they suspect that you can dreamwalk they might use it against us. If they don’t know it, there’s no reason to give them any clue you can do that.” Max had said, seating beside her. “It’s the only way we have to communicate with each other without anyone knowing it.”

“But what about our parents? What about Jesse?!” Isabel had insisted, desperately wanting news from home. Were they okay back in Roswell? She had seen Max’s eyes clouded with sadness as well. With sadness and terrible doubts.

“We can’t risk it, Isabel. Mom and Dad know nothing about that, you didn’t have a chance to tell them. But if you start doing it… If Mom and Dad, or Jesse talk about it… it will be just the same thing. Someone who isn’t supposed to know will know by listening to them. Besides… don’t give them hope just by entering their dreams. Don’t make them expectant of news from us. It wouldn’t be fair to them to wait and wait. And it will break your heart too. All of ours…”

So she had restrained herself of those visits, because it wasn’t fair. She did take sneak peaks from time to time, but looking into people’s dreams was not an exact science. And she hadn’t dreamwalked Jesse at all. Max was right, it was too much for her heart, knowing she couldn’t be with her husband, not being even able to tell him she was real and not a part of his dream because that wouldn’t be fair for him either. To keep another secret…

And now this. They had to assume that dreamwalking was an ability that no one outside their group knew about. Not the Army and not this Dave character. Because if things really went wrong…

None of them was throwing a party because they were going to accept. No, they were more scared than ever about a decision they had all made. And they were all way too aware of the consequences, the very worst consequences if it all blew up in their faces, like Michael had said before. So, if dreamwalk was off the story, so was Michael’s natural ability to explode things. He did it so easy, without an effort, when it took Max and Isabel a lot of concentration and some key point to make something explode like their friend –almost brother- did. And even then it wasn’t an equal explosion. So Michael would level his own power with their own. No point in showing them how destructive he could be.

The problem had been that they couldn’t “hide” Max’s unique talents, because healing was the reason they were here to begin with –both because of Liz and the kids with cancer- and it was more likely that they knew about his shield too. Even if they didn’t, it was something that might actually come handy for him to show and practice. Because out of all the dark places this was getting them, there was a good thing: the practice. They had known since the day they had met Tess that practicing was the key to improve their powers and to reach out for other hidden abilities. So Max getting good at his shield, and the three of them getting good at their shared abilities, might make a real difference in the world out there. Because sooner or later, they were going to get out of there. They just needed to know how to do it, how to elude their enemies, how to be strong, and this Dave could show them. They were certain of that. That argument had actually been the one that had finally convinced Michael.

When they were discussing about how to explain why Max had unique powers and the others didn’t, Maria had said that it would be obvious that it was because Max was the king, so he should have more powers or something. Her explaination became more useful when later on they were discussing the events that had led them to accept this offer. Their lives for the past four years. The big mess that had been their lives for the past four years.

Without Isabel dreamwalking, some things didn’t add up, such as how they had been able to discover where Max had been in Eagle Rock, or Nasedo’s body, or Laurie Dupree. So they had “blamed” it all in Tess. There was no way they could not bring her up, no matter how hard they tried. And including her meant including Nasedo as well. So, instead of Isabel doing it, it would be Tess doing it. After all, she was the queen, wasn’t she? She was supposed to have more powers, and hell she was way beyond their own capabilities. Maria had said something about Tess finally being useful for something. After that, they all had talked about Tess in a businesslike tone. After all, Tess was still a shadow over their group.

So, they hadn’t changed much about their first months after the shooting. How Liz had found out, how Maria had found out and later how Alex and Kyle had found out. It wouldn’t make sense to explain why the sheriff was helping them afterwards without bringing Kyle’s shooting. Even the message from home stayed the same, with Nasedo’s taking over the Special Unit.

Then they had discussed whether or not they should talk about Future Max. Oh yeah, Liz had explained that mess about two months after leaving Roswell. But Isabel was so not going to go there, because the whole thing was way too painful and too sad. She had so believed the worst of Liz when she had seen her brother so heartbroken. It hadn’t been fair. But now they had to decide it: What consequences could it bring to them? Did they even need to explain why Max and Liz were so apart during those months with such a story?

“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Liz had said not quite looking at Max in the eye, “because the knowledge that Antarians can travel in time might be a dangerous thing. Even if the Granolith wasn’t meant for that, I don’t see a point in explaining how great its power was.”

The Granolith. Whatever other purposes it had had, they were sticking to the concept that it was their ticket home. The Skins were looking for it for the same reason: They were dying in here because their husks had been annihilated. The Skins couldn’t be written off either. They explained Whitaker’s death, Nasedo’s death, their trip to Copper Summit –in case they had noticed they weren’t around home- and somehow the Summit in New York. Except that Max hadn’t liked the idea about talking about the Summit and their duplicates. Could those events go unlooked at?

“They know about the signal in New York, Max,” she had said to her brother.

“Besides, aren’t you going to explain Brody’s abductions? Or that guy in La Jolla either?” Maria had asked with a worried tone. How many lies could they manage before someone forgot one and screwed up all their plans?

So the Summit and the dupes had stayed, too. At that point, it became easier to discuss what wasn’t going to be said than what was. It would lead to less confusion as well.

“We’ll leave Kal out of this. I don’t want anyone behind his back. I went to California and found nothing in there.” Max had been deadly serious about that. And it was for the best too, since none of them had actually met the guy, or had known anything else but what Max had told them. The other thing Max had been dead serious about was his son.

“There is no way we can leave him out of this,” Max had said with a hint of resignation and sadness in his voice. “The Army knew about him, or could have known about him, and I spent way too much time trying to get him back to make another excuse for that behavior. Besides, we have to tell them that Tess came back, since she was the one who destroyed the base.”

“We can say she hid him away”, Kyle had offered with sympathy.

“They would search for him all the same,” Michael had said in a more practical tone. “Why would Tess come back to just hide him away? It would be obvious she would have left him with Max, as she did.”

“Wait,” Liz said, “we still have to say why she blew up the base. We know it was to protect Zan and all of you in the long shot, but we don’t have to say that. Maybe we can say that Zan died in a confrontation with the Army when she was trying to get away and that was why she ended up blowing the base. It would make sense; Tess was capable of that and so much more out of revenge.”

And it also made her nephew disappear of their story forever. Max had agreed. Which only left them with the tiny little detail of Liz’s and Kyle’s changes. It had been agreed since the beginning that Dave couldn’t know about that, but it wasn’t as much as not saying it but as other eventual problem: If Max was going to heal person after person for the sake of science, in two years a lot of those persons were going to start changing… what a nice surprise for whoever was studying them that Max could turn normal people into, well, something else. How could Max refuse to heal with a believable reason?

“You died,” Maria had said out of nowhere, at which everyone had turned their eyes at her. They had also agreed earlier that Max’s near dead experience wasn’t going to be mentioned either, but Maria continued all the same. “I know, I know, we are not supposed to say that, but why did you die in the first place?”

“Because I was trying to heal Clayton Wheeler,” Max had answered not really understanding Maria’s train of thought.

“Exactly. Aren’t you afraid that if you try to heal someone it might happen again? That you might die again?”

“I wasn’t trying to actually heal him, I was trying to undo the age—”, then it had hit Max. It had hit all of them, actually.

“Maria,” Michael had said hugging her, “you are a genius.”

“I know, don’t you forget.”

So, it did create a little problem and a little uncertainty what would they say to the fact that Max had transferred himself to another body, but even if there was no chance in hell he was doing that again, it was more dangerous for him to heal a lot of people –which would drain him all the same- and even more dangerous for the people he was trying to heal. If they thought Max just wasn’t willing to do it because it might kill him –or that he at least was afraid it would come to that— maybe they could get away with this one.

And the last thing they had discussed had been Liz’s premonitions. It was one thing to deny that Liz or Kyle or whoever else had been changed by Max’s healing, but another entirely to explain how they had been able to escape so many times without the benefits of seeing the future. This they couldn’t blame on Tess.

“Maybe we could blame it on us,” Max had said with a frown. “We do have flashes from the past, especially when things are intense and we are under a lot of pressure. And since we can’t really control them we don’t really have to prove it. It might be a good way to explain how we can see the future in flashes. And if Liz gets her premonitions back, she can tell us and we can say we had them.”

“That’s risky,” Michael had said thinking about it, “one thing is to say we don’t have some powers and another entirely to say we have one that we don’t. Can’t we just say we had luck or some sort of sixth sense?”

“I would vote for paranoia,” Kyle had volunteered.

“Maybe the sixth sense would work,” Liz had said looking at Michael. “I mean, lots of humans have a sense for danger before knowing what the source is. And like Kyle said, we can play it on paranoia as well. I mean, if I can’t see the immediate future, there’s no reason for you to say you can. If it ever comes back, then you can say you are developing it as well.”

Then all had turned to see Kyle, who had stared back with an exasperated “What?!”. They didn’t know what powers Kyle would develop, but the time was getting closer. It had taken Liz around three months from her electric green to her actual power to develop properly. And three months had already passed from Kyle’s aluminum-into-the-microwave phase to now. There was just nothing they could do about it, not Kyle, not Max, no one. If Kyle started doing some unexplainable things then lots of their lies would be uncovered. But there was no way around it. That was the weakest point of their plan, but they were going to follow it. Their only chance of getting out of there was on playing their parts to the perfection. Something Isabel had a lot of experience on.

* * *

Liz slowly woke up from their short nap. Laying over her right side, fully dressed with her back to Max’s chest and enveloped in his strong arms, she could almost believe that nothing was wrong with the world, or that at least, nothing was wrong with their lives. She moved a little closer to Max –as if that was possible- and tried to not worry too much, or her emotions would wake him up. Just like his had woken her up almost eighteen hours ago. She had rarely felt Max with such intensity, and it had been till now that she fully understood how Max shielded her from his own fears. Love, passion, happiness, amusement, mischief, he never held back. But it was entirely different when he was scared or frustrated or angry. Sure, she always knew, but never that deep. She couldn’t blame him, though. She always tried to not let Max know how deep those emotions were inside her.

She had felt it all from the moment she had woken up till the moment Max had started to regain his powers around 4:00 a.m. Then he had started to slowly stop the flow of his negative feelings and had tried to remain calm and in control. Not only because of her, but because of him as well. Max needed control almost as bad as he needed her when things were so out of their hands. He knew they would look up to him no matter what, and if he lost his ability to think clear, how could he lead them then?

Through all of it, Liz had stayed as in control as she could master. Because Max needed her to be strong too, just as much as she needed him to be. It had been the most terrifying moment of their lives from the instant they had decided to run away from Roswell, and they both had known the importance of remaining strong. So she would be strong, even if it meant to get back to that place and not let them know how scared they all really were. She couldn’t believe they were now free just to get back in less than an hour. What were they thinking? Thinking, probably nothing reasonable, they were more likely hoping.

She had understood perfectly what Max had meant about making a lot of decisions out of hope. He had healed her out of hope that she would keep his secret. They had stayed in Roswell out of hope that things would go back to normal. The three of them, no, the six of them, had made decisions out of hope that things would work out. God, she had married him for a lot of reasons, but one was that she was hoping that they would have a happy ending if they were together. After all, they had gone through so much for the only hope that in the end it would be all worth it.

Max’s left hand barely moved in front of her, catching her attention. His wedding ring shone with the pale day light. So far, it had all been worth it. There was a time when she had regretted that Max had saved her, but how could she now? How could she regret it while being in his arms? Her eyes went to Max’s watch. It was midday now. They would get out of the motel in twenty minutes and into the unknown. Into an offer that could potentially save their lives, or could equally end them.

Midday was a strange hour to be thinking about doom, Liz thought trying to get her thoughts away from the future she could no longer see with clarity. Midday hour was always full of light, when demons couldn’t play and when you were safe. Even if it was such a dim midday like today’s. Should she hope their future held some sort of midday too?

We create our own destiny, a voice from her past echoed in her head. It was the one line that was consistent with the two lifetimes she knew. It was engraved in their wedding rings and it was a constant reminder that despite everything and anything, they always would decide to be with each other. That brought a smile to her lips, diminishing all her fears for a couple of minutes.

She remembered their wedding day, just twenty days after Max had proposed. She had been 19 years old, and had been eloping, in a weird way, and it had been a perfect wedding. She hadn’t played I Shall Believe though. Just like Maria had said before their trip to Las Vegas, she needed to create her own memories, to get rid of the shadows of a future no longer hers. It was only fair for she and for Max.

He had smiled at her through all the ceremony, had actually smiled the entire day, a luxury she rarely had for that long. When Max smiled at her, something inside of her melted, danced, exploded. It was almost as seeing a ray of pure hope or light that made her believe she could face anything. And every time they had been in a dangerous situation, he would turn and smile at her. Sometimes it was a shy private smile, sometimes it was an it’s-gonna-be-all-right kind of smile, but most of the time it was an I-love-you smile. She knew all his smiles by heart. Had kind of catalogued them in her mind –and if he knew he would tease her as bad as Maria had with the color schedule board for the Crashdown- and in some rare occasions, he might even show her a different smile, and she would delight herself in memorizing it.

There was only one smile of his that she didn’t like, though. Fortunately, he had only made it once. He had turned to her during their graduation ceremony and had smiled. She had smiled back in that same resigned way, and then he had stood up and walked to the podium. While she had been getting out in the darkness of the auditorium, she had thought that Max had had a plan to get himself out of there too. It was till Michael and Max had met with all of them in the desert that it had hit her what kind of smile Max had given her. It had been a good-bye smile. Max had had no plan to get himself out of there, he had just made it for them to escape. It had frozen her right to her soul. Just as bad as waking up in that blue cell had frozen Max.

If she had known back at her graduation day what Max was doing, there had been no power in Earth or Heaven that would have stopped her from going to him. She had felt Max died once, she would not let that happen again without putting a fight. What could she have done then? She didn’t know, frankly, it didn’t matter now either, but her determination was clearer now than ever. She would do anything for Max, just as he would for her.

Though they both had had a very serious conversation before the day of their wedding about what exactly do anything meant. Because so far, besides the good and great things and the ever so present ‘I would die for you’, for the sake of the other they had lied, and hurt, and keep lying to each other. Both had had their reasons, their good reasons for that: From letting him follow a destiny, to giving her a normal existence. Things that none of them wanted to begin with. They had to stop assuming what the other wanted, or should do, or needed to do, and start asking. It was only when they weren’t communicating to each other that chaos would hit their relationship. And chaos was something they couldn’t afford. Not because they were running or because all their lives depended on trusting each other, but because they were getting married. And this was something that would last till one of them died, if not longer and beyond.

Among other things that they had promised to each other they had decided that no matter what, there was no more time travel. Liz had told him about a week before their wedding day every little detail of his future self and everything that had happened then, without letting him interrupt her. She had to explain in one long terrible speech why she had lied to him, had said and done all those things.

“Why did you wait so long to tell me?” he had asked with a still shocked face.

“Because I knew you would feel guilty, like I can feel you are doing now, and there was no point Max. It is all in the past now. I tried to change the future for a better one, for the world, and I did change things. I don’t know if for the best or the worst, but I had to do something before it was too late. And when everything started to fall out of place, what was I suppose to say? Go back again and tell me to not listen to your other future self?”

“It would have made a hell lot of sense what you were going through,” he had argued back, with a mix of pain and disbelief and oh yeah, the ever present guilt. She hated Max’s guilt. It was too heavy.

“Max, stop it. I’m telling you now, okay? No more secrets from each other, that’s what we want, right? Whatever your future self thought that he was doing, he was doing it for the best. He didn’t know things would go like they did. Besides, I’m willing to bet that my future self had something to do about it too, because when he--”

Max had hugged her then, not letting her finished her thought. He had hugged her as tight as if he were expecting her to disappear in thin air. “I should have known,” he had simply said. She hadn’t bothered asking him
how was he supposed to know, because right now, nothing she said would get Max’s stubbornness out of the idea that it was somehow his fault. So she had waited for him to calm down and to think about it.

“It was as much your fault as to whatever Zan did in your past life is. You didn’t have control over it.”

And slowly, really slowly, she had convinced Max that it hadn’t been his fault, and that
she should have known that he should have known all this before. That neither of them, present or future, had known that Tess would turn on them. That Alex would die, or that they would end up on the road. It had been passed midnight when she had fallen asleep, but she wasn’t sure if Max had slept much that night.

But six nights and seven days later, Max had been right beside her bed with breakfast and a light in his eyes that told her he was feeling as alive as she was for the thought of what was going to happen before midday. That day had been one of the best days of her life. She had thought that their wedding would have to wait because well, they were after all in the run from the FBI, but Max had said he wasn’t letting anyone ruining this day. They had both chosen the 21st of June because it was the longest day of the year. It was an astronomical day, a symbolic day, so it was just perfect. She had insisted that she didn’t want any alien shortcuts, so she had gone to the nearest town to buy her wedding dress. And since it was one of those months when brides everywhere decided to get married, there hadn’t been much to pick up. But she hadn’t cared. She had loved the dress that she had worn. Max had loved it too. He had said afterwards that he had never seen a wedding dress that was that easy to take off either. Liz had blushed, just like she was doing now.

“Having nice thoughts?” Max asked with a whisper from behind her, with a hint of mischief on it.

“Remembering our wedding” Liz said with a smile.

“Nice thoughts indeed. I loved that dress.” They both laughed. A comfortable silence fell over them. They both loved this short time when they were awake and still in bed. It wasn’t always running, running, running, she realized. There were days when she wouldn’t have a life-death premonition, and all of them would relax. Days when doing a good deed was actually possible than to just avoid the law.

Except that today was not one of those days when they would do good deeds or avoid the law. This was an unknown day, for putting it in some way, and that crumbled her good mood. She had truly forgotten for a couple of minutes that she no longer could see the future and that she had no idea what was in store for them. It made her doubt.

* * *

Max felt Liz’s change of thoughts. He had enjoyed every second of her happiness through their connection, so when her thoughts turned to the dark side, he felt that as if he had been the one going there. Of course, he didn’t need to actually go there. He was already there. Max sighed.

It wasn’t that he was rushing into things, it was that time had already run out. They had already been caught, he kept reminding himself. How long before that happened again? What had they learned from this? That they shouldn’t sleep? They never had had a chance.

His first instinct had been to keep running too, but he had to consider what was going on with a clear head. He trusted Michael’s instincts more than Michael would have believed, and just as Max had said, two weeks ago if someone would have come out of the blue to offer them that, he would have just told Kyle “keep driving and don’t look back”. But the way it had been done… The logistics behind everything that man had done… If Dave hadn’t been interested in their well being, had not intended on keeping true to his word, why bother with so many details? Why invest so much in saying “I know you and what you want”? Of course, it didn’t mean he was sincere, but it was telling Max that no one expended that much effort to just crash it later. That was why he had considered it in the first place. It didn’t mean that he was sure, though. He just put in perspective that all the options available were equally risky.

He saw on the wall clock that it was already midday. They had to get up and leave in about twenty minutes. They had, but they didn’t really want to. Not yet, not with so many questions.

“We can still drive to the other direction,” Max said in a serious voice, even if it was barely above a whisper, voicing his latest thought.

“I know, don’t tempt me,” Liz said with a little fear.

“I know I sounded too confident when we were discussing it earlier, but—”

“Shhh… I was feeling your feelings, Max. You couldn’t hide them, remember? I’m just as scared as you are, but I do believe too that this can work. That there is too much going on with this deal. Something tells me that this can work.”

Max hugged her tighter. He could lose her, God, he could lose every single person he loved the most in about an hour. He didn’t care what they did to him as long as it would ensure she would be all right. That they all would be all right.

“I liked it better when you couldn’t block me,” Liz said with a little warning in her voice. Sure, there were times when they would kind of shut off their connection –especially when she was with the girls and he was with the boys- and left it in the “I’m just sensing if you are okay or not” mode. But when they were discussing things, especially emotional things, it was sort of a not written rule. It wasn’t fair to shut the other off. That was the warning note in Liz’s voice: I’m letting you feel me, let me feel you back.

“I like it better when you don’t know how scared I am,” Max replied while opening his side of the connection to that part of himself. It had taken them some time to get used to it, to that sense of the other in this way. Just like the flashes had scared them in the beginning, this intensity of their bond had scared them too. And just like with the flashes, they had learned the beauty of it. It required a kind of commitment, he guessed, and it could be a little scary. But since Liz had become his wife, there was no commitment he couldn’t take, even though sometimes he had to be reminded of it. Just like now.

Liz turned over her back so she could talk to him. It always astonished Max that no matter what time or what day, Liz always looked beautiful.

“If this doesn’t work… if he is lying and things really go wrong… Max, promise me you won’t let them use me against you. That you won’t risk yourself because they threaten you with me.”

Max didn’t notice he had stopped breathing at Liz’s request. It wasn’t fair. If Liz were asked to do something, whatever, for his well being, she would do it. Why did she want him to promise something she wouldn’t promise herself?

“I can not promise that.” He simply answered. Liz sighed resting her head under his chin, such a familiar gesture by now. She knew he wouldn’t promise her that, and yet she had had to try it.

“At least you are not suggesting I stay out of it.”

“Even if Dave hadn’t said it has to be the six of us, you would have killed me if I have even hinted such possibility.”

Liz had been remembering their wedding day, so surely enough she had remembered the day before the wedding. They had been traveling alone for that day, meeting with the others around 9:00 a.m. next morning in their motel, so they had had time to talk. Sure, they had talked that day, but it all had started with a fight. Actually, with their last “big” fight they had had ever since.

He had suggested, actually really asked her if she was sure. Not of loving him, or marrying him, but if she was sure she was ready to give up a normal life with a normal husband. She still could disappear and start over somewhere else. It was he who was the problem, he who was different. Sure, he had changed her, but every cell of her body was human. Every part of her was human. And oh gosh, he had never felt Liz’s very human anger rise that fast and with such intensity. It had been the first time he had experienced their bond in such high level. He had gripped the steering wheel almost as if he were expecting to crash with something in front. It had taken a very controlled effort to not press the brake all the way down.

“What did I do wrong?” she had asked aloud, not exactly facing him, but clearly getting ready to knock some sense into him.

Max had stopped the car –slowly- and had parked aside the road. He had turned to face her, not understanding at all why Liz was feeling like that, or why she was saying such thing.

“You have never done anything wrong,” he had sincerely answered.

“Oh no, I did, Max. I must have done so because you are saying that you think I can have a normal life. You seriously believe I can go on and forget you or something and that I can start over. And you know what hurts the most? Your future self thought that too.”


“No, you are not going to stop me.” She had said looking right at him, a storm inside her beautiful eyes. He had seen Liz pissed off before –even at him- but he had never seen it
and felt it at the same time.

“After 14 years he still thought I could be better with a human. Is that what you are going to think as well, Max? That you somehow bound me to a life of misery? That being with you makes me… alien to my own life? Why is it that you have no doubt that you belong with me but you have to ask if I think I shouldn’t be with you?”

He hadn’t known what to answer back; he had been too absorbed on feeling how much that idea was hurting Liz that he couldn’t formulate something coherent to say. But Liz continued anyway, not waiting for him.

“Why would you do anything to protect me Max, including leaving me out? If you believed that by leaving me on the side of the road would make me safe you would do it in a heartbeat, without asking me what I want. I’d never want that, I’ve never cared that this isn’t safe, and I certainly don’t care that this isn’t ‘normal’.” She had paused then to take air, and to gather her thoughts, he guessed, while desperately trying to not let tears fall from her eyes. She still had so much inside, and he knew he couldn’t interrupt her, no matter what he wanted to do right then. “And I just can’t keep doing it. I can’t keep waiting or knowing that you would sacrifice your feelings and my feelings for a chance of a life. A life that neither you nor I want. I would rather die right here than have a hundred years to be alone. But you still won’t believe it, will you? Tell me, Max, what do I have to do and I’ll do it. How can I prove it to you? How can I prove that there’s no life without you?”

Max closed his eyes at the memory. If Michael thought that feeling Maria being scared was bad, he should try to feel her when he was hurting her. It was the most devastating feeling one could get. Liz did not have to prove anything. By the time she had ended Max knew exactly how she felt. He would never again even suggest that they should be apart. He would never again make anything that remotely might make Liz feel like what she was feeling then.

He had thought back at the time when they had first shared flashes and he had known beyond doubt that Liz didn’t see him as a monster or that there were hidden dangers or whatever about him and his alien status. But so much had happened since then. They had hurt each other as no one in this entire universe could. She had lost so much and given so much just to know him. He had had to ask. He had had to know if she was sure. And seeing Liz’s silent tears falling that day so long ago had finally made his doubts crumble. He would never ask it again because he would never doubt it again. He would never leave her out of his life just because he thought it was for the best. And she would never think it was for the best either. Just as she had said, a life without each other was just not a life at all.

Now Liz was beside him attempting to joke about him not leaving her out of the deal. Deep down Max knew that if there had been a chance about keeping Liz out, he might have taken it. He had no idea of what he would have done, no matter what he had promised her or how hollow it would feel in his soul to not have her by his side. It just wouldn’t have been fair that she suffered because of what he was. Nevertheless, even if there had been such possibility, he would never forgive himself if because of agreeing to the deal she ended up hurt or worse.

Sensing his despair, Liz reached up and gently kissed him, trying –and succeeding- in taking his mind out of those thoughts.

“What do you think he meant by a normal life?” she finally said breaking the kiss, for the first time one of them thinking how things could be for the best. “Because I’ve been thinking about it and I still have no idea…”

“I guess we are going to find out soon enough,” was all his answer.

* * *

Maria splashed water over her face by the third time in front of the bathroom mirror. It was as if, no matter what she did, she still could not awaken. As if the water never really reached her skin, so the coldness of it never really shocked her into wakefulness. She was in shock, she decided.

And why wouldn’t she? Michael was already out of the room knocking on Max’s door so they could return to wherever it was that they had come from earlier. It was just insane. It was just… She looked at herself in the mirror. There were no words for what this was. The risk was so huge, but the reward so high too. It was like a degenerated lottery or something. Had they taken the right lottery number?

Maria sighed. She was so tired of living as a fugitive by now. A fugitive of a crime that didn’t really exist, and one that she wasn’t even part of. Of all the six of them, she was the only one who couldn’t do freaky things, the only who had started normal and still remained normal. Sometimes, that made her feel like an outsider. It was as if everybody else knew exactly how to fear this deal except her. Oh, she had her own visions of doom, of course, but there was nothing really ‘interesting’ about her. She was terrified for Michael, for all of them, but she was also terrified of being left out. She just knew she couldn’t be in the outside wondering what was going on with them, that there was no possible way she could help them. A nightmare without ending.

She wished so bad that Liz could tell them what would happen to them once they were inside. It was just ironic that, even if it made her feel like an outsider sometimes, Maria had never wanted any powers at all. Liz was the strong one; she was the one who could deal with warnings from the future. But Maria? She would freak out at the first hint. She knew how to be strong for Michael, how to point him to the right directions when he was lost. She knew how to be the strong friend, the strong lover, the strong person that she needed to be to keep going. But having the responsibility of deciding what was right and what was wrong with your powers? Guiding others and having others counting on you to save them? There was a line between what she could be strong for and what she couldn’t be, and losing her ‘normal’ was in the latter.

Being with Michael had taught her that. She had found somewhat funny when Michael had said that he didn’t want to feel like a human being back when they were still in sophomore year. She had thought then that he must have been blind because everything Michael did, he did it with passion. His drawings, his moods, his way of looking at things, even the way he snapped back at her or whoever. There was so much emotion behind all his movements, all his acts, that he had to be aware of how human that intensity was. That underneath it all, he was just scared of being hurt. That was the easy part to read about Michael.

What she had to spend an entire summer learning was how ultimately isolated Michael was because of what he was. She just couldn’t understand what having powers was like, why the responsibility for Pierce’s death was so overwhelming for her boyfriend. She had wanted to ask Max a million questions, but every time she had attempted to start asking the whys and hows of alien powers, he would just be miserable thinking that Liz had left him in part because of those same powers. They had been so screwed up that summer.

It had taken her months to get Michael back. And she had kept losing him and getting him back again and again. They were always doing it and she wasn’t exactly sure why. He was scared for her, and finally that fear that if he lost sight of her it would kill her, had been the final drop. It was suffocating her that Michael couldn’t let her go knowing that she would come back. So she had broken up. She had willingly and knowingly broken his heart so he could see that she was going to be okay in the world. That she could be a whole person without him and that ultimately, she wanted to have a life of her own that she could share with him. She wanted out of his shadow, she guessed. But more importantly, she wanted Michael to trust her.

Michael had changed. He had finally understood her decision and had given her the space she was so craving for. It had been weird to be without him, because there were so many things she did miss about him as well. Michael’s energy always made her feel so alive. He hadn’t lost his intensity at all; he had just learned to control it. To let it flow in a more balanced way, to put it in words, and had learned that being the second in command wasn’t being the second in life. He had won her over, and so far, they hadn’t broken up again since they had been back together.

And now she was about to lose him, to really lose him. As much as she wanted to believe that things would turn out to be on the good side, more than half of her dreaded the worst. She was going to see those who she loved being held captive, and there would be nothing she could do about it. Maria closed her eyes trying to drown the images that threatened to reach her mind. She could not sense Michael, but she was sure he was putting everything he had on him to feel her emotions. He didn’t need to feel her panic. It was perfectly written all over her body. And gosh, she wasn’t even sure why Michael was accepting in the first place. Oh really, why they all were accepting.

When their powers had slowly come back, Michael hadn’t lost a second in shutting her out. It had taken him a lot of will and focus to do that with the little he could do at the time, but there was no doubt he wanted her “out”. Maria sighed in resignation while finally getting out of the bathroom. Whoever had said that love was simple, that it was oneself who made it complicated, had had to be kidding. Michael loved her, and she loved him back, and yet there was nothing simple about their relationship. Maybe the line was meant for human-human relationships, she thought while putting her coat and gloves again.

Granted, Michael had come a long way from not being able to apologize to actually staying on the planet for her, but life was always throwing crap at them, all of them, that a simple relationship was just out of the question. She had had it hard dealing with all that came from being involved with someone with the kind of past that Michael had, but she had endured it. Putting her hand on the doorknob, she paused for an instant. Could she endure it now, too?


She would endure it because Michael needed her to be strong. She stilled herself for a second, taking a deep breath. She had to focus on thinking that things would work out for the best. Or if not for the best, at least not for the worst. Suddenly, it seemed as if not taking those two cypress oil bottles had been a bad idea. A huge bad idea. Gosh, she needed something to relax her, and she needed it fast.

As if her prayer had been listened, when Maria finally opened the door a second later, she found Liz just about to knock on it. The two girls looked at each other for a moment, and then, at the same time, they both reached for the other in a comforting hug. That was way better than any oil on Earth.

“What are we going to do?” Maria whispered to Liz’s ear. She didn’t need to finish her question, because Liz surely enough was torturing herself with the same interrogate: what were they going to do if the two men they loved were taken from their lives?

“Whatever we have to,” Maria heard the other girl said in the same whispered tone. There was no doubt or fear on it, though. She meant it. She would do whatever it took to save her husband, and Maria would be right next to her as well.

“But let’s not get there before we have to,” Liz said disentangling herself. “Let’s just hope that everything would be…”

“Not the worst?” Maria offered with half a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.


The two friends turned their heads to see Isabel, Michael and Max talking quietly next to their car. Maria thought for a moment that it was funny that two almost-sisters had ended up with two almost-brothers. What were the odds?

“How’s Michael taking it?” Liz asked in a concern voice. Maria lowered her eyes to the floor, the snow slowly falling.

“He’s not saying anything.”

“What?” Liz asked with a confused look. Maria turned her eyes to her boyfriend in the distance.

“We got into the room, and he started to pace back and forth. It was driving me crazy, but I knew he had to be the first to talk. By the time I was finally sick of watching him, he just sat next to me on the bed and he… hugged me.”

“Just that? He didn’t start blaming Max for everything or pointing out how this is a big mistake?” Liz too turned her head towards Michael, her eyes narrow with suspicion.

“Oh, he wanted to do that, trust me. But no, after that we just lay on the bed watching the ceiling and he started to talk about everything we’ve done together. It was as if he had forgotten what was waiting for us in the next four hours.”

“You just talked? For four hours? Is Michael even capable of that?” Liz said turning to Maria, now the suspicion redirected at her.

“I think he is now. But it was scary, you know, because it was as if Michael was doing everything he could to not let me think about everything that might happen. That by talking and talking he could make all the troubles go away.”

“That would be so sweet,” Liz said turning a warm look at her almost-brother-in-law.

“He’s so scared Liz. He shut me out so I couldn’t see it, but what is he thinking? Doesn’t he know that he had all his vibes coming my way? It is just plain impossible that I cannot sense him, even if he’s so dead serious about we not having the kind of bond that you and Romeo have.”

Liz bit her lower lip. Maria’s eyes filled with concern.

“Speaking of which, how is Max taking it?”

“He’s just as scared as Michael is. Especially since, if things don’t work, he’s going to feel responsible for it. He would never believe that all of us agreeing to the deal also means that we are all responsible for the outcome.”

“That does sound like Max. Is he okay now?”

When their powers had come back around 4 a.m., Max had been the one to check that the car and themselves were, indeed, bug-less, and it had taken him a good effort too. He had said that it should be only him the one to do it because they couldn’t afford that Isabel and especially Michael were out of power, just in case.

“Yeah, we just took a nap. He’s fine now, or as fine as he can be.”

“Ladies,” Kyle said stepping out of his room, his word coming out with a white vapor cloud. It was so damn cold in here. “Are we moving on or just waiting to freeze beyond recognition?”

The three of them stared at each other. Somehow, being frozen beyond recognition didn’t sound all that bad, considering the alternative. Kyle finally sighed for the three of them.

“Listen, this might be the biggest mistake of our lives, but we have already made our minds toward it, right?” The two girls moved slowly their heads in a pathetic attempt to say yes.

“Yeah, and are we forgetting that it might just lead to a happy ending? Okay, maybe happy is too big of a word, but there are advantages, right? Good things can come out of this.”

“Kyle,” Maria said, “not even you can make our moods to light up.” She had started to forget why they had accepted in the first place, and her doubts and fears were starting to get out of proportions again.

“Maria,” Liz said putting a comforting hand on her elbow, “Kyle’s right. He offered a chance at a normal life, whatever that means, and he could have done so many things to them already. We have to believe that all the work he put behind everything we saw there was for real. That he will keep his side of the deal.”

Maria nodded, not at all convinced. A normal life. And she had complained about endless shifts and stupid homework? She used to have that, that sense of doing normal –if boring- stuff, and even when she had met Michael and had been more or less dragged into the alien abyss, she had still had some sort of normal life. Then she had lost it, and now she was sorry she had taken it for granted. So, to contemplate this chance, this almost out of the reach chance to return to something similar seemed somehow inappropriate. In that instant Maria’s eyes met with Michael’s, and suddenly she just knew that one of the reasons he had accepted to give in into this deal was so she could have that chance. God, she hadn’t thought she could love him more, but in that instant she did.

“Okay, Liz,” she said placing her eyes in her best friend, “I’ll believe it can happen, that he will keep his side of the deal. But if he doesn’t, be sure to remind me why we thought he was to begin with.”

* * *

Edited because it was, indeed, too long for it all to fit in here... It continues right away ;)
Last edited by Misha on Sat Dec 10, 2005 1:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Misha » Sat Dec 10, 2005 1:16 pm

It was just brought to my attention that the part wasn't finished! Sorry guys! I didn't have time to check it was all right after the "preview". I hate to work...

So, here's the end part ;)

* * *

“So,” Isabel said watching at the two of them after finishing a quick review, “we’ve got everything covered?”

“I hope so,” Max answered watching passed them to where Maria, Liz and Kyle were now gathering. “Everything we didn’t discuss should stay as it happened…”

“This plan sucks…” Michael muttered under his breath. Max and Isabel turned to stare at him. “But I’m following it,” he answered in an annoyed tone.

“Michael—” Max started to said but Michael cut him off.

“I know, okay? We all agreed and it makes sense what we’ve come up with, and I’ve accepted that, but it still sucks. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t look like we are about to enter a trap and end our lives in a dark little corner. So why don’t we just climb into the car, drive to hell, and be over with it? This waiting is killing me.”

Michael tried to do what he had just said, but Isabel didn’t move to clear him the way. When he was about to scowl at her, he noticed that Isabel’s eyes were filled with unspoken feelings of fear. Oh no, he thought, I could barely deal with Maria, not Isabel too. But before he could do anything about it, Isabel threw her arms at him, catching him in a tight hug. She loosened a little bit just so she could bring Max into her hug as well, who had stood with an awkward look watching them. And before he knew it, Michael returned the hug as well. He didn’t care how cheesy it might be, or the fact that they were standing under the falling snow with the other half of their group staring at them. This was about the three of them as siblings.

“We started together, and we are going together,” Isabel whispered as if knowing what Michael was thinking. “This time we are not going to leave anyone behind and we are going to make it.” She spoke with a confidence he wasn’t feeling, and by the way Max tensed at his right, Michael knew that his best friend wasn’t feeling it either. Through all the years they had been together, Isabel was always the peacekeeper between the three of them. She was just as controlling as Max was, but she knew how to disguise it under her charm. She, more than Max, was sure this deal would work. After all, she had been the one to lose the most out of the whole group. Not only her parents, her husband as well. He wondered if Jesse really knew how great was the woman he had let go.

Max and Michael nodded slowly at Isabel when she finally let them go, composed herself and opened the door. This time Michael noticed a fierce determination in her eyes. Even if he was sure he had seen fear before, it was wiped out now, or just very buried inside her. He had always thought he was the strongest one, but in times like this, he wondered if Isabel was just letting him believe that.

Turning to his left, Michael saw that the other three were finally coming their way. He hugged Maria without words –he had no idea what was left to say, anyway- and got himself into the driver’s seat. Max seated next to him just as they had agreed. The two of them at the front with Isabel and Kyle at the back, while Liz and Maria were in the middle.

Before he started the engine, Michael glanced at Max, who glanced at him at the same time. He knew Max wanted to say something, but he just nodded almost imperceptible. Michael knew that Max was trying to tell him that he did believe Isabel. One way or another, they were getting in there and getting out of there together. And who knew? Maybe the deal would work.

It wasn’t that Michael was sure it would work, hell no, but he had tried to see an argument out of this, and “keep running till they catch us again” hadn’t exactly won him over either. Although he hated to acknowledge it, he knew -just like Max had known- that this man had so many resources at his disposal that he could do as he pleased. He had no need to lie to them, but Michael still wasn’t buying it. Although his instincts told him this was a dangerous man, his instincts also told him that their chances of escaping the Special Unit in the future were getting slimmer by the second. Without Liz’s premonitions, they just were screwed.

He turned his eyes to the road. Isabel had checked out the rooms before their little meeting, and since they hadn’t unloaded a thing from their car, there was nothing else left but to drive. Those were the longest and the shortest six miles he had ever driven.

Tension filled the car as no one spoke at all, all of them watching in full alert mode through the windows. He had feared when they had first arrived at the motel that it would snow too much for them to get on the road –towards the warehouse or in opposition to it- but there was not much as one inch over it. When he had seen the gigantic Minnesota map with all the tourist places marked on it hanging over one of the walls at the reception, he had understood why it was so damn cold. He hadn’t missed the shock in Max’s eyes to see where they were, now that he was thinking about it. He himself was having a little problem believing it.

He tried to rehearse what had been left out and what hadn’t of their lives, but he couldn’t concentrate at all. He looked at Maria by the rear mirror and tried that her reflection calmed him down. God, he loved her, and here he was, dragging her along to an unsure future. For the millionth time since he had finally agreed, he hoped he had taken the right decision. Ultimately, he could endure anything but to see Maria hurt. He wanted to ask Max how he was doing it, how he seemed to be so confident that the deal would be respected that he was bringing Liz alone. Probably Max wasn’t all that confident and Liz would kill him first if he let her out of his life, Michael reflected as he carefully kept an even speed.

He had spent enough time talking to Liz to know that she was just as stubborn as Max. Sometimes he thought she was even more stubborn than the man that was sitting beside him, but then he got to spend time with Max and it all came back to him. Though Michael and Liz had talked mostly about the childhood of their respective best friends with all those embarrassing little details than only best friends know, they had found that they did have some things in common besides that. It had been weird to sort of bond with Liz, to say the least.

So when he caught, in the rear mirror, a glimpse of Liz’s worried eyes turned to Max’s back, he knew exactly how she was feeling.

“You know, nothing of this would have happened if Max hadn’t saved me,” Liz had said while they were eating in the car, parked beside the road, their first break in five hours of driving.

“Are you kidding me? Max would have killed himself if he hadn’t saved you. Everything else that followed wasn’t your fault just as much as getting shot wasn’t.” Michael had answered back, taking a long drink from his Cherry Coke, ‘aliens favorite soda’ as Kyle called it.

“No, no, that’s not what I’m referring to,” Liz had said, putting her hamburger onto her lap, trying to snatch a napkin from the white paper bag at her feet. “Max saved me because he was in love with me since forever.”

“Yeah, what’s the point?”

“That till that day I had thought he was this really cute shy guy, the best lab partner I could have asked for, but nothing else. I wasn’t in love with him. At that point, we were barely friends. He shouldn’t have risked everything like that for someone he didn’t even really know. It is so unfair.”

Michael had stared at her like he was used to stare at Maria when she was making no sense. No wonder those two were best friends. “You are basically saying that you would rather be dead than to be saved by Max that day because he didn’t have the guts to talk to you, let alone ask you out, for ten years?”

“That’s not fair, Michael, Max had your secret to keep.”

“So did Isabel, and you and I know she didn’t think twice about going out on her dates. Max could have asked you and seen what you were really like, if he had dared, of course.”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

“What other way is there to put it? How were you suppose to know he was nuts for you? Even Isabel and I didn’t know it was
that bad. Besides, you got to know him and fell in love with him, isn’t that enough?” Michael had rested his case and had given another bite to his second cheeseburger without giving a second thought to Liz’s worries. Though he had to admit that putting things in perspective for Liz was a rare event.

Liz had sighed, now staring out the window. “If something ever happens to him Michael, I’ll never forgive myself.” Michael had stopped his hand in mid-air in an unsuccessful attempt to get his soda to his mouth at the seriousness of Liz’s voice.

Liz had meant what she had said, and the scary part was that Max thought exactly the same thing: If something happened to her he wouldn’t forgive himself. After all, Max hadn’t really made any move on Liz because he was scared of dragging her into a life without normal if things actually worked out between them. Back then he had pitied the idiot who got to hurt either Max or Liz, because Michael was sure there wouldn’t be much left for he and Isabel to avenge either of them. Fighting against Max’s or Liz’s fury for the loss of the other was something Michael couldn’t even imagine.

What he could imagine was what he would do if someone hurt Maria, and it wasn’t pretty. Opposite to Max, Michael had never wanted Maria out of his life, except for that long summer after he had heard his destiny. Max sometimes had the feeling that Liz might be better without him; Michael had always thought that as long as he could give Maria now, nothing else mattered. A very efficient advice from his mother-in-law, by the way.

He wondered if Amy would approve of this deal or not. In the last year in Roswell, Amy had gotten that sort of happy, if resigned, look that told him that she had finally accepted that Maria was going to end up with him. He had even encountered her in the super market a couple of months after Maria had broken up with him the last time, and had said to him that he shouldn’t worry, but that he seriously needed to think what Maria needed from him and to not spoil it for lack of understanding. He had thought about it, a lot, and slowly he had been able to see not only what he loved about her, but why Maria kept coming back to him, as her song said. He had taken the time to listen to her lyrics when she was singing under her breath at the Crashdown, got to ask Liz what Maria did before he had come around. If she wanted to be the ‘real’ Maria or the Maria from the past or whatever, he would help her do it. Of course, first he had to know how she had been back then, a task that hadn’t been all that easy to ask until he had been on the road alone with Liz.

He could picture her so well while Liz was telling him all the funny stuff she did, all the dreams she talked about. How they both studied after the shifts and how sometimes they bought each other’s loyalty for a big favor. For a moment he had understood Max’s fascination in watching Liz from afar for those long years. If Michael could, he might as well go back just to see Maria in her element, without any shadow of their secret. To see her living a normal life, a way of life that had never been permitted to Michael, Max or Isabel. He had realized then that that was exactly what he had taken for her: A sense of normalcy.

Michael kept driving, the others kept looking, and his thoughts went out to this morning. It had probably been the first time he had said he loved her with all the details of why without him running away in the next two minutes, or having to leave the planet in the next two hours. It had felt good, even if he knew there was the possibility he might never again tell Maria exactly why he loved her so much. Once behind those gates, he was almost sure that his time with the girl that had his heart could very well be numbered, and the numbers were getting close to zero.

When they entered that motel room, he had wanted to shout, wanted to point out all the stupid mistakes that had led them to that trap, blame it all on Max or Isabel or himself or on someone, and when he was about to do exactly that, he had seen Maria, sitting all alone in that bed, watching him pace arguing with himself inside his head. He had felt like the worst selfish being in the whole Universe. In an instant, he forgot everything about himself and just sat next to her, next to the only earthly thing that he really cared about, and hugged her. He could not stand to see Maria alone. It was just wrong. So he had talked. As uncharacteristic as it was from him –after all, he had never believed in ‘words’- he had done it as a way of saying ‘don’t give up on me yet’, because if he could make Maria feel that he was there, that he had always been there, then he would be able to face this future.

If by some miracle things work out, Michael thought as he could now see the gates of the place were the warehouse was in the distance, he would make sure that Maria got as much space and got to make her dreams come true. Maybe not all of them, but at least some of them. He would ensure that she could get as a normal existence as it was permitted, because in the end, it was only fair that she got back what he had taken away from her.

* * *

Author’s Note: The paragraph that starts with “He had smiled at her through all the ceremony, had actually smiled the entire day…” was inspired by the song “When I see you smile” by Bad English of their album Bad English.

The line “he had done it as a way of saying ‘don’t give up on me yet’”, was inspired by the song “Take me away”, by Lifehouse of their album Stanley Climbfall.
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Post by Misha » Fri Dec 16, 2005 10:38 am

Hey guys! Thank you to everyone reading!!

My brother marries tomorrow on another city, so I won't be around all weekend long. So I decided to post today ;)

Um... just in case you didn't notice, last week when I posted in a hurry, chapter 5 was "cropped", and it was till midday that someone told me so... That's why I had to change the title to chapter 5a&b... So.... if you guys got to read till "Author's note" in the end, you read the whole thing... Otherwise, you lost most of all Michael's introspective... Sorry for the inconvinience! :oops:

behrinthecity, it's always hard for me to write from Maria's or Michael's perspective,because I'm not a candy... so I'm glad you are enjoying that :D They are going to keep rethinking what to say and what to withhold to Dave, because the man knows more than he's letting see ;)

Kathy, still... ssshhhhhh!!!! 8) And yup, Dave seems so sure of himself, doesn't he? hehehe But then again, looks can be so deceiving...

Timelord31, ooohhh great insight! You'll have your answer right away about their demands :)

ISLANDGIRL5, thank you very much for reading :D I'm sure enjoying writing it! I'm not sure why, but a lot of people found chapter 2 to be funny ;)

tequathisy, well, I guess you'll have to keep reading to figure if it works out okay or not :D

Last week's post was reviewed and corrected by rar1942 and RhondaAnn, who were brave enough to be my second beta-readers :D THANK YOU GUYS!! Chapter six was also corrected by rar1942.

Now, here's where the ride really begins ;)

Q & A

The snow had stopped falling outside the square building. Sitting in the middle of the only office that was inside of it, Dave stared at the report with wide eyes. “Tell me this isn’t true,” he said without lifting his gaze to Ray.

“Sorry, but it is true. Jake ate those cookies by mistake.”

Reading the last lines of the report, Dave sighed with resignation. Of course it would happen today. Jake was allergic to almonds, everybody knew that, from the guy at the front gate to the girl that was developing the next gigantic computer virus in her free time in level five. But he guessed that with things so hectic and all, Jake had probably just grabbed the first thing he’d laid his eyes on and eaten the damned cookies. None of them had even stopped to sleep, much less to eat, in the past two days. Probably Jake hadn’t slept at all since the kids had arrived almost four days ago.

“How is he doing?” Dave asked putting the report on his desk.

“He’ll be fine, just give him a couple of days to get over the rash… I know you wanted them to meet him today and all, I’m sorry.” Ray said with a sympathetic smile, while he glanced at his watch, “By the way, it’s getting closer to the hour.”

“I know,” Dave said standing up from behind his desk. “They are probably at the gate now.” Just as in sync, his desk phone rang. He picked it up to hear Gary’s polite voice telling him that the Suburban had just checked in at the front gate and that he had directed them to building number 4 as Dave had told him before. Without waiting for a response, Gary hung up.

“They are coming,” Dave said walking through the room to the door, a mixture of relief and apprehension building up in his stomach. He was about to explain a rather complicated and strange plan, and he wasn’t sure if it would sound exactly the way he wanted it to sound. They both got out of his office and Dave heard the door closing in behind them. Of all the places in this complex, it was in this sort of living room where Dave liked to relax. So out of reach of everyone working, working, working. It was weird that it was in the space where he felt calmed and comforted where he was going to hold this meeting.

“This is going to be interesting,” he heard Ray saying in a good mood behind him as they both walked to the front door. He wasn’t sure if he was saying it because Ray was finally getting to see them up close and personal or because he enjoyed the sight of Dave being nervous.

“Yeah, it should,” was all his response as he heard the car being parked outside the building. It probably didn’t look like much of a ‘building’ to them, since only one story of it was above the ground. All the important installations were concealed underground because of the cold and to keep prying eyes away, as any good secret facility builder knew. Although now that he was thinking about it, not all his ‘secret’ facilities were underground; some were in very viewable buildings, just “hiding in plain sight”.

* * *

Ray kept a little distance in the background as he watched Dave opening the door. For a moment he had thought that Dave was going to wait for them to knock on the door or something, but had decided at the last minute to open the door himself before anything else happened. It amazed Ray that one instant Dave could be almost fidgeting with his own coat and that in the next moment he’d gotten a grip on himself so fast and was so controlled that no one would believe this man ever had doubts. It also reminded Ray of how much Dave trusted him if only by letting him see how nervous he could get.

The second the door was opened, Max’s eyes met with Dave’s in an instant, his breath coming in a white poof, all the muscles of his body tensing. Max then moved his eyes to see Ray. For one flying instant Ray had known that Max feared the worst and that his presence wasn’t exactly calming the 19 year old boy. Dave then cut the eye-contact contest, though, making Max’s fear disappear, replaced by a very serious look. You still need practice to conceal your emotions, Ray thought comparing Dave’s earlier behavior to Max’s now.

“You better get in before you freeze,” Dave’s words came making white puffs as well. Max had then turned to see someone at his left side –Ray couldn’t know who since the door was blocking his view- and the six of them had slowly walked in. First Max, then Liz, Maria, Kyle, Isabel and Michael. The other five members of the group each eyed him with surprise and apprehension when they entered, and Ray had the so unfamiliar feeling of not knowing what to do. So he had just made a short inclination with his head at each of them as they were passing. Michael glanced at him with a particularly suspicious look.

Ray knew that Dave had chosen his own private living room because it was practical. It was the only facility that had this ‘cozy’ looking aspect and it was the best heated one too. Besides, showing them the underground complex first and not later would just ensure that they were more than likely going to feel like they were trapped. And the last thing in the world that Dave wanted was for them to feel uncomfortable. One of these days, Ray thought while the kids were standing, glancing around, I’m going to find out why Dave is so damned careful with these kids and their feelings.

Dave stood in front of them, and Ray moved a little closer, standing besides Dave’s right hand, silence starting to feel oppressive over all of them. Finally, as if Dave had decided that it was enough time for letting them take the lead, he motioned to the large dark black sofa with his left arm, clearly inviting them to sit.

As the six of them deliberately moved slowly to take their seats, Ray and Dave did the same sitting in an equally large sofa in front of them. Ray loved to take naps on these pieces of furniture because they were not too soft or too hard. They were just his size too, and quite roomy as well. They were just perfect, and given that he hadn’t slept much in the past four days, all these thoughts about comfort weren’t exactly making him more alert.

“You have questions and I have answers, so shoot,” Dave said leaning forward, placing his elbows over his knees, clasping his hands in between and letting them hang freely. Ray sat upright, not wanting exactly to look suspicious, but it was just that, showing such informality like Dave was doing, wasn’t Ray’s style either. He guessed that the fact that he knew that three of the six persons in front of him could send him flying away through the window without as so much as waving their hands, didn’t do wonders to let his guard down. Sure, there wasn’t much he could do against waving hands, but he just couldn’t bring himself to be that… open in front of them. At least not yet.

“Who is he?” Michael asked right away. The remnant part of the group stared at him as well. Dave turned around almost as if he had forgotten that Ray was, in fact, sitting right beside him. Then he smiled one of those almost invisible smiles of his when something was hitting him hard. It wasn’t exactly that he had forgotten that he was by his side, he had probably forgotten that they didn’t know who he was. Sometimes Ray thought that Dave even planned what exactly he was going to forget in these meetings.

“He’s Ray,” he said, now addressing them, “he’s the person who tracked you down ever since you left Roswell and who planned how to… get to you four days ago.” And the one who would have broken you free if the FBI had gotten to you too, thought Ray as he watched the kids’ reaction to him. It was as if their faces were getting paler by the second and it had nothing to do with the cold outside. When Dave didn’t make any other comment about why Ray was there, the six of them started to look at each other, almost as if deciding how much they could –or should- ask.

“You said you could give us a normal life, how?” Max asked breaking the silence that was threatening to settle in again. Dave looked at the floor for two seconds, the way he always did when he was gathering his thoughts. This wasn’t exactly going to be such a short answer.

“I make deals of all sorts with all sorts of people, but it was quite difficult to figure out how to keep my part of the deal with you all. Now, before I answer you, there’s something that you must factor in: the other part of the deal that is upon me. I can try to give you a sense of normal life as long as it doesn’t conflict with the fact that I have to protect you from prying eyes as well.” Dave made a short pause, giving them time for the information to settle in.

“That means that, even if I can not give you a house in the country with a white fence, I can give you a space in here of your own. I want you to follow a career, of course—”

“What do you mean ‘a career’?” Liz asked interrupting Dave for the first time they had met. Go Liz, Ray thought smiling to himself. Almost nobody dared to interrupt Dave, especially not during this kind of meeting. It was something he admired from the young brunette. But that aside, Ray felt that Dave was going too fast with this. Still it was Dave’s talk, not his.

“Well, you have just graduated high school. Part of ‘normal’ is to get you to continue. I don’t expect you to sit around and do nothing while you are not keeping your side of the deal.”

“That doesn’t exactly explain it,” said Isabel in a serious tone, her eyes slightly narrowed.

“I guess not,” said Dave thinking about it for a second. “Look, our deal is for an indefinite time, so you should study something; get a career, so whenever you decide to leave, you’ll have some direction as to where to go, your chance of getting a normal life as I said at midnight. Of course, I can’t get you to college, but I can get college to come to you. I don’t think I’ve ever made deals with anyone as young as you, so I’m not sure how exactly that’s going to work. But you can choose something you want to study and I’ll see what I can do about that. Surely something that we do in here must interest you.”

“What if we don’t want to study?” asked Michael in a rather rebellious voice. Dave looked at him slightly frowning. Of course Dave couldn’t understand Michael’s question. Dave had always loved to learn stuff. That was why all his companies, all his projects, were devoted to finding out something, to research, to discovery, to learning.

“Well,” Dave said sorting it out, “there are a lot of other things you can do meanwhile, whether you want to study or not. We have a lot of activities to ensure that no one has to go out in this cold. You’ll be able to work in other areas too. You’ll get to see for yourselves how big this complex is. Is actually the biggest I own, it is like a little village or something.” Dave said with pride. Still, Ray hated cold, so being stuck in here wasn’t exactly a party for him.

“How many people do you have?” Kyle’s voice sounded a little high pitched.

“Around 500 people live in here. Well, more like down here. They are all the researchers, and engineers and all the people you need to run a place like this.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Liz said moving her hands to stop Dave from talking. “What exactly you do in here?”

“All kinds of engineering. From blue prints to space shuttles to engineering new crops of rice. That’s why I brought you here in the first place. Because of your genes. Because of what you can do about altering molecules and whatever else you can do to the environment around you. My best scientists in biology, physics and chemistry are somewhere down there. Let me tell you, it saves me a lot of time in putting a team together to keep all this data about your progress while getting you out of the country. Which gets me to the next point. By all means, you are not my prisoners, but it wouldn’t be wise if you leave this facility, at least not for a while.”

“Not for a while?” Michael said in a rather confused tone. Ray smiled at the equally confused looks of the other five. Well, in a figurative way, they were going to be prisoners for some time, they just had not expected to not be prisoners in a literal way. This was one of the points he had argued the most with Dave. And just as he and Dave had settled on a plan that would work for them both, Ray now was hoping it would work with these six as well.

“The Special Unit is right now wondering how on Earth you managed to just, let’s say, disappear. I can’t guarantee you that none of them is going to spot you in town or anywhere else. Taking down the Special Unit is going to take some time and it doesn’t mean at all that I can completely wipe it out. There’s a lot of politics involved, some favors to pay and some favors to collect as well. It is not going to be as easy as the first time that someone else dismantled it because you blew up a whole military base this time around.”

“That wasn’t us!” Maria said in a rather indignant voice.

“That doesn’t matter, they think you did, that’s enough for them. And I can’t be sure you aren’t followed by someone else. So I can only protect you as long as you let me. But that doesn’t mean than in the near future you won’t be able to go outside of this complex. As much as I love it, I know it can get boring if you don’t change scenery. Still, until I’m sure that it is safe, you’ll have to stay here, out of sight.”

“You said you were going to protect our families,” Isabel said in a cold voice, almost as if whatever the answer to that question was, it would make it worth the condition to stay ‘out of sight’. Ray understood why she was being so… skeptical. After all, as long as Dave decided it wasn’t safe, they would have to remain there, prisoners, both in a figurative and a literal way.

“Yes,” Dave continued explaining his plan, “even though I can’t just wave my hand over the problem and make it go away, I’ve been working on that for some time now, just in the event that you might accept. Since you haven’t contacted your families in almost six months you have made that part of the plan a lot easier than what I expected. As much as the Special Unit would love to keep breathing over your parents’ necks every second of the day, the fact is that they don’t have all the manpower that they need. So they had to hire a sub company to take over the surveillance while they chased you all over the country. Of course, we made ourselves very available.”

“It is you who watch them?” Isabel said in surprise.

“Yes. We make our report to the Special Unit if something interesting happens. We also make sure that nothing interesting happens to your parents. But if it comes to it, now that you are here, we can get your parents to safety, even if it blows our cover. You might want to know that a lot of the information that we used in your blue rooms earlier was gathered from this surveillance team. They are really good at what they do.”

“How do we know,” Liz asked in a serious tone, looking Dave straight in the eye, “that this is true? Any of it? You could be making up all of this.”

“Ah, proof. Of course. Now, think about this. I can’t get you to them, and for the time being, I can’t bring them to you either. It would be foolish, not to mention risky, for you, them and me. I can, however, establish some sort of communication line. Mail, e-mail, sometimes even by phone. Even if it is my company keeping an eye on your folks, the Special Unit is also keeping an eye on us, so we don’t have all the freedom in the world. Eventually, we can arrange some sort of visit time. But I don’t have a magic wand to make all these changes right away. You can talk to them, just not face to face.”

“So basically,” Max said after ten seconds had passed, leaning a little bit forward as well, almost as if trying to regain a little control over everyone’s fears, “we can keep in touch with our parents to make sure they are all right, and meanwhile we’ll be stuck down here, studying or whatever else there is to do. But what exactly do you want from us?”

Almost imperceptibly, Ray noticed them almost bracing themselves for the worst news in the world. They have all the right to expect that, Ray thought glancing at all of them. With their abilities, I would be worried too.

“Well, first of all, that you eat properly.” Dave was saying now, leaning back against the sofa. But before they could ask what the hell was Dave talking about –and they were going to do that just in a second- Dave continued.

“It is not the FBI who is gong to kill you in the long run, you know-- it’s stress. You are all suffering on one level or another from anemia because of the lack of good meals. Your immune systems are about to crack”, he said pointing at Kyle and Maria, who were sitting together, “and I bet your coordination is not exactly improving because of the lack of sleep either,” he now said pointing at Michael, who just scowled at him, “just to mention some points. You’ve been living under pressure for way too much time, and trust me, the body can get you just so far. There are a lot of things that we haven’t even gotten to analyze about you, but it’s clear that your health has seen better days. So you are going to take care of yourselves.”

Max lowered his eyes to Liz, clearly not having expected this. He also made eye contact with his sister, who was beside Liz at his left, and then they both returned their gazes to Dave.

“Secondly, we need to get your story straight.” The six of them tensed as one at this. Not exactly what you have in mind, Ray wanted to tell them, but you’ll get your time for that. Dave noticed too, because he suppressed a little smile that threatened to escape, managing to continue all the same.

“There are only three people in this whole complex who know the truth about you: Ray, Jake and me. Now, Jake is going to be your guide when it comes to your powers and how to use them, but he couldn’t come. You’ll meet him later. Anyway, whatever your real story is, I’m not interested in everyone knowing that you are half humans and half aliens. So the official story is going to be that you were part of a genetics experiment back in the eighties and that you are as far as you know, even if very gifted, human kids. If anybody asks, and I’m sure they will, you work at the genetics lab. You don’t need to give more explanation than that.”

“Why don’t you want anyone knowing the truth? What difference does it make to you?” Maria asked with curiosity, the other 100% humans curious as well, while the other three had a rather suspicious look.

“Because I can’t afford the FBI knowing that you are under my wing. I can’t ensure that there won’t be any leaks. So if this story gets to unwanted ears, even if I’m sure they would be interested in gifted kids, they won’t really bother to learn who you are and where you come from. But if you put the word alien anywhere in the story, even the word Roswell in it, they’ll know it is you, or someone like you. So this is just to ensure that no one will bother to learn why you are here or why I brought you here.”

Leaks. Ray hated the word, especially since it was going to be his job to ensure that these kids stayed far away from the Special Unit or anyone else like them.

“Now,” Dave said, “I do want to hear your side of the story, but we’ll arrange some time along the week to do it properly. When I’m not around, it’ll be Ray who you can turn to for any inquiries.”

“You won’t always be here?” Liz asked with uncertainty.

“No, I travel a lot. This might be my biggest complex, but I have lots and lots of smaller ones. But you’ll always be able to contact me if you need to. I trust Ray, though, that’s why he’s staying in here.”

Seven pairs of eyes turned to him, and he almost wanted to glare at Dave for the unwanted attention. Ray was the kind of guy who liked to watch and take mental notes, but he had never been known for giving long speeches. When Dave had decided that he would bring the kids in here and that Ray would be their babysitter, he hadn’t been exactly happy. Jake had joked about that for a whole two weeks as well, but by now he was used to the idea. Besides, his role in here was more to make them feel there was someone they could turn to than for anything else.

“And last but not least, I know you must have a great concern about what you’ll be asked to do in the lab.” Michael, Isabel and Max looked a little bit paler –as if that were possible- and as if they had stopped breathing altogether at Dave’s words. Kyle, Maria and Liz looked just as apprehensive and as tense as if they were facing a man with a gun.

“You are not obliged to do everything that you are asked to, but I do expect that you’ll be reasonable as to why you won’t do whatever Jake wants. You’ll work with him on the details of this, of course, but you can say ‘no’ or ‘enough’. I don’t expect you to kill yourselves to prove something, or to think that the deal is over if you don’t want to do some things for whatever reason.”

He wasn’t exactly sure why, but Ray had expected that they would look a little bit relaxed, or relieved by this revelation, but instead, they just looked the same: worried and scared. They do not believe it, Ray thought, and why should they?

“Now, I suppose you have your own conditions?”

Ray’s previous mental question seemed to repeat itself on their minds: why should they have any conditions? They really weren’t expecting it by the looks of uncertainty among them, but Max took the lead –as usual when they were at a loss for words- and got that so controlled way of his again.

“You will never again touch any of us without our knowledge and approval, or ask us to do anything without explaining to us the real motives behind it. We don’t want any surprises.”

Dave nodded, Max turned to Michael almost as if expecting his friend to say something else. Then, returning his gaze to Dave, Max continued.

“We won’t use our powers to harm any one, for any reason, and you will ensure the safety of everyone in this group while we are here.”

“That’s an understatement,” Dave said in a good mood.

“I just wanted to make it crystal clear,” Max said in a deadly serious tone. “And when we decide to leave, you won’t follow us or give our whereabouts to anyone at all. We will cooperate as long as we feel that you are keeping your side of the deal, but trust me, you won’t want us here if we don’t feel that.”

Ray tensed at these words. He wasn’t expecting Max to make any threats, or promises, or whatever that had been. But Dave only smiled, in that so careless way he did when someone wasn’t getting his points.

Dave got up, six pairs of eyes following him upward as well, not sure of what to do. “Then we won’t have any problems. You should also know that this is not a contract where everything is set in stone. You keep your part of the deal by cooperating, and I’ll keep my part of the deal by protecting you and your families and giving you as much of a normal life as I can while you are here. The details are always changeable. If you have any problems, you can reach me and we’ll work it out. If you want to break the deal, you better reach me and tell me so. I don’t like being left in the dark. But know this, if I think you are a threat of any kind, to me or whoever else that I’m protecting, I will terminate the deal immediately.” Dave ended with the same deadly serious tone Max had used. Clearly, Dave had the upper hand on this one, and was telling Max so too. Losing a little bit of the seriousness that had settled on his features, he continued:

“So, do we have a deal?” he said, extending a hand to Max, who in turn glanced at all the others.

Slowly, almost reluctantly, they all nodded at him, so Max stood up and shook Dave’s hand with a confidence that Ray knew Max wasn’t really feeling inside. Be smart, all of you, he thought while watching this, and don’t break Dave’s trust. You really don’t want to know what it’s like when he is the one chasing you.

* * *

Kyle stared at the huge cafeteria with the same round eyes with which he had been staring at everything he had looked at around here for the past half hour. The six of them were seated while Ray was talking to someone by one of those ear-mouth pieces that he had seen spies use in movies. They were alone for the first time since they had entered building number four. Dave had excused himself around fifteen minutes before and had left them with Ray’s company, who was now showing them the cafeteria at the request of their grumbling stomachs. Maria had been bright red when Dave had stopped talking about the fact that he didn’t like people knowing he was around and that they should keep that information to themselves as well, when they had all heard her hunger. For a moment Kyle thought that Dave was going to ask why they hadn’t eaten –especially since after Maria’s stomach, Liz’s joined in the concert- but had simply turned to Ray and asked him to lead them to somewhere with enough fast food. “We’ll talk later”, he had said and taking a different corridor, had disappeared, already talking to someone on his own communication device.

Dave was just a plain weird guy. Which didn’t exactly settle down Kyle’s doubts or fears.

“I don’t get it,” Michael said in a low voice, the six of them leaning forward on the table, so no one else could hear them, “why is Dave being so…”

“Convenient?” Maria supplied with the same suspicious look. “You’ve noticed too?” she said with a sarcastic tone.

“He’s trying too hard to convince us that this is the right choice,” Liz said staring at the middle of the room, where a buffet was being served.

“You are doubting him now?” Maria asked in dismay, losing her suspiciousness of just a minute ago, almost as if Liz not being sure was the last thing Maria wanted to hear. Actually, Kyle wasn’t exactly thrilled about it either.

“I never said I totally believed him, but this… Granted, we didn’t know what he meant by ‘normal’ before, but studying for our future… It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind… I’m just not sure if this is better or worse.”

“What do you mean better or worse?” Maria continued with the same dismayed tone, “I thought you’d be delighted by that!”

“It could be a tactic,” Liz said thoughtfully. “We can decide to follow something, and actually stay in here four or five years till we finish… Or we can end up working for him, or… I don’t know… why would he be so convenient, as you said?”

“We can always leave, right?” Kyle asked, now seeing that some girls and some guys were getting in line to eat. Overall, there weren’t too many people in here, being 1:40 p.m. and all… “I mean, I know it wouldn’t be all that easy but…”

“Let’s give it a try,” Isabel said turning around to see what exactly Liz, Maria and Kyle were so fixated with behind her. “I think we are supposed to get in line,” Isabel said, changing the subject a little bit too cheerfully. Kyle saw then that Ray was walking to their table.

“Sorry about that,” Ray said putting his spy-like device into one of his jeans’ pockets. He and Dave had put them on as soon as they had entered the complex, but apparently, Ray wasn’t going to be interrupted again. “So, you are hungry, I’m hungry, let’s go and grab lunch. I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” Ray started walking and five pairs of eyes fell upon Max. Though Max had seemed to Kyle as if he were lost in thought, the instant they all turned to look at him, Max let go a half resigned, half annoyed sigh. When he got up, the rest of the group got up as well.

They all fell in a line behind Ray. Max, Liz, Maria, Isabel, Kyle and Michael. It had almost been a silent agreement that Michael would always have the rear since Max was always in front. Isabel tried to stay in the middle as well. Despite the fact that down here the temperature was just at the perfect level for them to take off their coats and gloves, Kyle felt a chill run through his spine. You are not my prisoners, Dave had said, but he was feeling very much in prison between those walls, no matter who had said what.

“Okay, this is how it works. The cafeteria is always open; buffets are refilled every three hours. If you just want a snack, there are vending machines every two corners. You don’t need coins. Then there’s the option that you can always stay at your apartments and cook for yourselves. God knows that all the people from Asia hate that we don’t have enough condiments in here. In fact, we make a special offer for condiments and rare foods once a month, if you want to order something.” They were all looking at Ray as if he had grown a second head. Ray stopped with his hand in midair while reaching for a knife. “What?” he finally asked with confusion.

“Our own apartments?” Maria asked with one eyebrow raised.

“Yeah. We were going there when your stomach growled,” Ray said with a sympathetic look. “I will explain how things are run here once we are seated, okay?”

So they all went with a little bit more confidence around the four large tables. Kyle had a little bit of a problem believing that all that food would disappear in three hours, but then again, hadn’t Dave said that 500 people lived down here? Where were all those 500 people at lunch time? There were about seven types of salads, like eighteen different kinds of sandwiches and hamburgers and as many desserts as Kyle had seen in the biggest bakery back in Roswell. And those were only the first two tables. Sure enough the one next to this one was filled with fish, chicken and all kinds of red meat. Michael went to that table first. Kyle shook his head. One day Michael would see that red meat was bad for the body.

“There so much food in here that I’m feeling un-hungry now…” Maria said staring at the desserts.

“Are you kidding me?” Kyle said, diving his fork into the smashed potato, “I don’t think we have had the choice of eating any of this since we left home! And I’m not even factoring in that Dad was a lousy cook. Come on DeLuca, if the pod squad decides that this is too much for them, we might not get the chance to eat this well again in months.” Kyle moved next to Michael, deciding that he was definitely in for a good chicken wing.

Contrary to Maria, Michael was definitely not feeling un-hungry. Kyle doubted that Michael’s plate was going to be big enough for all that he was intending to put on it. “They want us to use our powers?” Michael said still staring at his plate, “Then I’ll use my powers”. And sure enough his plate grew a good two inches in diameter, making it so that all his food was perfectly placed all around it. I hope I’ll get something like that for a power, Kyle thought as he saw Michael heading for their own table. He was the last to join, deciding at the last minute that he could perfectly well return for his dessert once his plate was empty. There sure were enough of them.

“The tabasco order will arrive within the next two days, so you’ll have to do without it for now.” Kyle heard Ray saying while he was pouring ketchup on his hot dog and French fries as if he were trying to drown his food. The three tabasco consumers of the table didn’t make any comment about it, though. Ray, seated at one of the ends of the table, appeared unaffected by this while trying to open his Pepsi. “I hate these things,” he said in a low murmur after his third attempt at opening the can. Michael, who was next to Ray’s left, looked as if he wanted to ripped the damned can out of Ray’s hands, open it, and give it back in two seconds. The can snapped open, and all six of them returned their eyes to their own food, finally attempting to eat. Kyle hadn’t noticed he was this hungry until now, but sure enough he wouldn’t have been able to pass anything through his throat an hour ago. None of them would.

“Okay, now that we are eating, I can get to answer your questions about this place. You wanted to know about your apartments? Maybe I should explain how the complex is divided. It was designed in a cross fashion. Building 4 is right at the center of it. We are now at the south wing, which includes all of the non-research facilities. That would be the cafeteria, of course, the gym, the library and the apartments. It is a pretty big area, so don’t worry if you get lost the first couple of days.”

Ray took a big bite out of his hot dog, clearly expecting that they would ask something else because he was too hungry to keep chatting.

“You mean we’ll have an apartment for the six of us?” Maria asked, her food untouched. Ray swallowed hard, helping himself to a fast drink.

“There are five apartments for the six of you, since you two are married.” He said pointing at Max, who was in front of Kyle at the other end of the table. No one had wanted to take the seat right in front of Ray. “They are not all that big, of course, but are pretty functional. They are all in a row so you can keep an eye on each other.” Max looked at Michael from across the table, clearly finding that sentence a little unnerving.

“Though there is surveillance in all the labs and corridors, and including the recreation centers, once you enter your apartments you are on your own. Though it’s one hell of a problem for security reasons, you are not the only ones who want privacy. Dave even said you can fry the entire electrical system if you had doubts about you not being watched.” Ray reflected, taking another bite. By now the six of them had started to eat too, the smell of the food too strong on their senses and their stomachs too empty to wait another minute.

“How long have you known Dave?” Max asked out of the blue. Kyle glanced sideways while cutting a piece of his chicken, the white sauce blending with his smashed potato.

“Hm… about eight years, I guess.” Ray paused for a second, as if trying to decide something. “I’m not going to lie to you, Dave is no saint, but he’ll keep his word. Half the people working in here made one or another kind of deal with him and trust me, this system wouldn’t work if he didn’t keep his part of the offer.”

“How many people have said no?” Liz asked without looking up, all her concentration on cutting her fish into little pieces.

“Not as few as you would think, though Dave thinks a lot about his offers. It’s not something he does that often either. He carefully studies what the other person wants and what he wants in return. If he can work it out, well, deal.”

“And no one leaves this place?” Maria said staring at Ray, almost bracing herself for the cold reality that this place was, indeed, a prison. Kyle wondered how he was going to explain this to his father, assuming, of course, he was actually going to speak with him anytime soon.

“No one wants to leave. Didn’t you know Minnesota has the worst weather in this country?”

“That’s not what she meant,” Michael said curtly while putting more pepper on his meat. He had clearly noticed before that there were no tabasco bottles in sight and had gone with the next best thing. Still, Ray finished his last bit of hot dog before answering Maria correctly.

“Everyone in here is here for a reason. They do research of one kind of another, and trust me, they are really happy staying inside. That’s why this place is half empty at lunch time and why it is open 24 hours a day. Most of them come when they remember they have to eat. And even then half of them just go to the vending machines. But if you want to know if they can go outside whenever they feel like it, well, that would be a sometimes. If we had people coming and going all the time other people would get suspicious about what we do in here. If they had to live in town, leaks would be too probable. Security would be a complication after a complication.”

“So we are all stuck in here,” Michael said matter of factly, just before sticking a big piece of meat inside his mouth.

“You won’t see many of them though. People are very jealous of their work. Remember when Dave said that if anybody asked you should just say that you worked at the genetics lab? Well, they would answer exactly just that, with whatever lab they are at. Don’t push any further. Having bad neighbor relationships is not healthy when they live right next to you all the hours of the day.”

Wiping his hands on a napkin, Ray reached into his left pocket and retrieved six white cards, all with their silver cords, identical to the one Kyle could see that Ray was wearing around his neck and remembered seeing on Dave’s neck as well.

“These are for you,” he said while passing them, the six of them forgetting their foods and staring at their own card. They had one silver band in the middle, and they were about four by two inches, each one just like the other. “To avoid problems we created these cards. Each color represents an area, so everybody knows where you are from. Some labs required more security than others, so certain cards have certain codes.”

“They are keys,” Liz said turning her eyes to Ray. “Which area means white? Genetics?”

“Actually, white means free pass.”

“You are giving us access to all areas?” Max asked totally forgetting his cherry coke in mid-sip. Ray smiled at this.

“Well, it was more of a convenience. If you can change colors and open gates, what was the point of giving you any color or code to begin with? Besides, Dave said that if you wanted to meet the other researchers while they were yelling at you and kicking you out of their labs, that was your problem.” Ray started to pick at his French fries now that his hot dog was gone. Kyle had the feeling that if he could, Ray would stand up and pick another one.

“What are the research facilities?” Liz said, putting her own key card around her neck as they all did the same. “I mean, Dave was very vague about that.”

“Dave is very vague about everything,” Ray chuckled, “It’s quite annoying in the beginning, isn’t it? But you should get used to it, it doesn’t get any better. Anyway, research facilities? Well, engineering as in machines, and blueprints with all the physics and their work are in the west wing, right with our computer department. Then genetics is in the north wing, which involves all sorts of things I can’t even begin to comprehend. Jake will probably give you the grand tour once you get to meet him. Then there’s the east wing, which has to do with research on new medicines and old illness. Nothing viral, don’t worry. Genetics and Health work together in a lot of projects, from what I’ve heard, but I don’t go much there, though. Chemists are just plain weird.”

Kyle was just about to tease Liz about if she was weird, since she was the one who practically loved chemistry, but he just didn’t feel like it would be a good idea. Like this whole thing was way too serious, despite the fact that Ray was trying to lighten the mood. Watching a couple of girls entering the cafeteria, laughing at each other’s comments, Kyle wondered if he would ever feel comfortable enough to crack a joke about anything stupid in this place.

* * *

“Well, I have to give them the credit for really sorting out our dietary quirks,” Maria said while taking Snapples out of the fridge. Though all the apartments were the same size, they had gathered at Maria’s, since it was in the middle. Maria started to pass out the beverages, and Max absently took his and opened it. Less than half of his mind had been paying attention to Ray’s “tour” around the south wing earlier, while the rest of his thoughts had wandered to a more important matter.

Michael came out of the room, nodding at him in a silent gesture of reassurance that, as far as he could sense, they were bug free.

“You wanted to say something before?” Michael asked him, sitting in one of the living room couches. This wasn’t much different from the apartment the two of them had shared less than a year ago. One bedroom, one bathroom, a living room, a kitchen with a pantry. Big enough for one or two persons. It was barely decorated, most of the things seeming brand new. And except for Maria’s accurate comment about the contents of the fridge, nothing else in here had anything to do with anything else from their lives. It was, indeed, like moving on to a new apartment.

“I had a flash when I shook Dave’s hand,” Max said without waiting a second longer. Everyone stopped doing whatever they were doing in mid air. He was sure that if Maria had been drinking when he spoke, she would have spit it all out. The five of them looked at him with expectant looks.

“You know how we’ve been trying to figure out why he’s being so convenient with us,” he began, trying to gather his thoughts in order, “well, what I got was a flash of him staring at a picture of all of us and he was worried.”

“Worried?” Isabel asked. Max had noticed too that Isabel had been thoughtful ever since they had met Dave earlier that day. Now she seemed just as alert as anybody else in this room.

“Yeah, but… I got the sense that he was really worried about us not accepting it. That it was almost imperative for him to find a way of making us stay. What I didn’t get was why. There was this, I don’t know, this need, I guess, that we should accept.”

“That doesn’t exactly tell us anything new,” Michael said, a little disappointed. “We already know the guy wants us here, and why.”

“No, Michael,” Liz said turning to him, “we knew that Dave was fine if we didn’t accept. That was the whole point about letting us go whenever we want… but if he was really worried about us not accepting, that means he’s not at all unconcerned about us leaving…”

“Then he’s not letting us go at all?!” Maria exploded, knocking her Snapple to the floor, the cream carpet becoming redder by the second.

“I don’t… know,” Max said, almost having said ‘I don’t think so’, but not really knowing that. “But I didn’t get the sense that he wanted to hurt us either. Whatever the reason is for him wanting us here, it has to be for something else, or at least for something more.”

“Just perfect…” Michael got up and started pacing. Max followed him with his eyes. The last thing they all needed now was to second guess their decision, especially since they hadn’t even been there a whole day… awake, that was.

“But I think he does intend to back up his offer, if only to keep us under his watch.” Max said reassuringly, which didn’t stop Michael from pacing or the tension in the room to dissipate at all. Still, that was the truth. Max did believe that Dave intended to back up his offer as far as he could. Now he only had to discover why.

“I don’t get it,” Maria said picking up the bottle from the floor, “is that good or bad?”

“Right now it’s just safe. We are out of reach of anyone else.” Max said placing his hand over Liz’s, who had put hers over his knee. She was trying to reassure him that whatever the outcome, they had made this decision together. And Max knew that Liz wanted to believe this would all work for the best too. How could both of them be wrong?

“Safe?” Asked Michael finally standing still, a hint of annoyance in his voice. Here he goes, thought Max bracing himself for whatever Michael was going to say, which was probably going to have to do with the fact that he, Michael, hadn’t wanted to come here in the first place.

“Safe,” Michael repeated looking at him, and then, slightly shaking his head in a disapproving way, started pacing again. “For how long is he going to back it up? But that doesn’t even matter, because if he decides that he doesn’t want to back it up at all, we won’t have much to say about it, uh? Because we are already trapped.” He stopped again, and glared at Max. Dave’s in a win-win situation, Max thought again lowering his gaze to meet his sister’s. Which was almost a mistake, because he could so easily read what are we going to do, Max? God, he hated that. When were they going to stop looking at him as if he knew what to do?

“We need a back up plan,” Liz spoke before anyone else could even formulate a sentence, her eyes pinned to the red spot in the carpet.

“A back up plan?” Kyle asked. “I thought we had already settled on a ‘back up plan’ before. You know, powers and all that stuff…” he ended up in a whisper.

“That is to protect ourselves,” Liz continued now facing Kyle, and then turning to the rest of the group, “but we need to have something that would matter to him, you know? Like something against him. Just in case he doesn’t fulfill his part of the deal.”

Michael sat up, clearly intrigued by Liz’s train of thought. Max could feel Liz’s excitement as she was building her plan. You’ve got to have a plan was practically tattooed in Liz’s mind, and God, he loved her for that.

“Just think about where we are,” Liz said, her eyes sparkling, “there most be a million secrets concealed in here, and we have free access to all of them.”

“You seriously believe he’s got all his dirt right under our noses?” Kyle said skeptically.

“Well, not all that exposed, and it would look suspicious if we just go wandering around in places we shouldn’t be but… we are going to be here a long time, and if we look carefully, who knows? Maybe we’ll find out a lot more than we think, including a way to secure ourselves and to keep Dave at bay, just in case.”

It was risky, Max knew, especially because he didn’t think Dave would be thrilled by them lurking into his other projects. Max shivered. He hated to think that the six of them were just a project to someone. A part of him was angry. Angry that someone could know so much about him, about everyone he cared about so much, just because he thought it was interesting, a nice project. That part of him wanted Dave to feel exactly what he was feeling right now, deprived and cornered. So scouting for Dave’s secrets seemed fair.

The other part of him was terrified of what it could mean if they were caught on this. Granted, it hadn’t been mentioned in the deal, and like Dave had said, nothing was set in stone, and details were always changeable. Still, he was pretty sure this would be in the ‘no’ part of the contract, no matter how hard he tried to rationalize it.

Max put his arm around Liz’s shoulders, trying to comfort her as much as getting comfort from her.

“So, what exactly would we be looking for?” Michael asked frowning. What exactly would Michael be interested in finding here? Sure, Liz was in heaven, everything had to do with science down here, so she could know what to look for, and with a little help, so could Max and Isabel.

Now, Kyle and Maria… and Michael…

“I guess,” Liz said slowly, pretty much thinking what Max was thinking, “we should take an interest in different things…”

“What?!” Maria exclaimed, for the second time knocking her Snapple, the carpet gaining yet another red spot. “We have to pick up science crap?”

“He said we could choose,” Isabel said finally interceding in the conversation, “so he must know that not all of us are interested in keeping with the boring, complicated stuff. We just have to aim for different things. Cover as much ground as we can.”

“Like what?” Michael asked, clearly not only disliking the fact that only science was available, but that he would have to study after all. Max smiled to himself. It wasn’t that Michael didn’t want to study, it was the fact that he had been told to study in the first place that he was rebelling against.

“Guys, first we have to really know what’s in here,” Liz said leaning forward, Max’s hand sliding to her waist. “Then we’ll be able to decide.”

“Great,” both Michael and Maria grunted at the same time. But it made sense; Ray had only given them a general idea of what the labs were about, but not a specific guide. They were all tired, Ray included, to start questioning about that earlier. In fact, this was supposed to be a quick meeting, because being awake for almost 21 hours –minus the short nap he had taken with Liz- was now really taking its toll.

“Do you think you can shake the guy’s hand one more time to be sure we are safe?” Kyle asked with a resigned look.

Max looked at Kyle with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. There sure wouldn’t be an easier way to discover Dave’s plans and secrets than by getting them by flashes… of course, he couldn’t really manage getting flashes at will, not even specific flashes for that matter, but… could he perfect that little trick? “I guess I’ll be working on it, Kyle.”


I'll post next part on Saturday 24th
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Post by Misha » Fri Dec 23, 2005 9:29 pm

Hey guys!! Thank you to everyone reading :D

Just a small note: If this fic could have a theme, it would be "More than it seems" by Kutless. I've just found that song ;) You can find the lyrics here:

I can also send it to you if you PM me your e-mail address :)

BETHANN, well, thank you! You are making me blush! Your feedback is the best present I could ask for too ;) Thanks for delurking to post that :D

Majandria, weird as it is, the first idea ocurred to me after reading The Bourne Identity -love that book- but it morphed into its own thing :) Thanks for the thoughts on my way of writing Michael. I'm always unsure of how his "scenes" would come out :P AND! I can die a happy writer now that I've made some of your dreamer side come out again!!

nibbles2, I can't wait to post more either! but you guys are going to catch with me way sooner than I would have wanted to... sighs...

tequathisy, most of your questions will eventually be addressed. And Liz's powers faded because Max "healed" her, remember?

kittens, I've spent two and a half years figuring out how that place works... it'll be explain throught book 1, because any other way, it would be boring... But, you can thank KathyW for telling me that this idea wasn't as far fetched as I first thought. She's the reason I actually kept writing this fic :D

roswelllostcause, thank you! Twice! but it might take a little while to know where exactly I'm going with this ;)

behrinthecity, yep, Dave has more than just one set up. He's a very busy man ;)

ISLANDGIRL5, I know the facility is freaky, I always intended it like that. A close place. Now, I won't spoil you about Dave.

Now, before Internet decides to go kaput tomorrow and I can't post, I decided to post Friday night ;) And if you guys are still with me after chapter 6, chances are you are going to like the story from now on 8)


Liz sat on the bed, staring at the telephone by her nightstand. She knew that once she picked it up there was no way she could dial away from this complex, but still, the hope wouldn’t die until she actually picked it up and heard for herself.

Max was taking a shower, so she had scouted the length of their apartment to see what there was to find. Ray had just gotten them to the corner of the hall, and saying that he would leave them alone till dinner time around 9:00 p.m., had disappeared just like Dave had done two hours before. Now it was almost 3:30 p.m., and she was feeling all the weariness of the day wash all over her body. Sure, she had taken a nap with Max earlier, but since she had been all tense and stressed out, it hadn’t exactly done wonders for her need for rest. Now that she was somewhat calmer, sleepiness was trying to win her over, her body not caring what was worrying her mind.

Still, the phone had made her forget all about her tiredness and think all about the world that was beyond these walls. Who would she call first? Her parents, of course, and then Max’s parents, and then Jim, and last Amy. There was no one else she needed to talk to… She blinked once, then twice, her eyes refusing to leave the white object. Dave had said he would arrange the ways for them to talk to their parents, and actually, she needed time to think what else she was going to say after “I love you so much and I miss you with all my heart.” Because, come on, granted, she had sent her journal, and they should understand why she had done what she had done, but…

When they had decided to call their parents, it had been against the clock. One minute for each one of them. So, basically, she had said “I’m fine, I love you, I miss you. I might not call again for some time. Bye.” She could still remember her mother crying in the background for her father to give her the phone. Oh, he had been beyond mad at Max for taking her away, and at her, for being foolish enough to throw her future away as well.

“No, Dad, I swear you’ll understand—”

“When are you coming home? For crying out loud! You are only 19! Do you think—“

“Dad! Listen, I’m going to hang up in seven seconds, okay?”


“Because I love you!”

Because she loved them. Her journal had been sent that same morning, just a week after her wedding. Gosh, she hadn’t even got to tell her parents she had married Max. Except that, assuming her journal had arrived, now they knew… now they knew everything, and she had no idea what they were going to say. Now she wished she would only have one minute to hear all about it and be done with it.

Her eyes went to the side of the phone and stayed on a small yellow book. “Phone guide”, it read in black letters. She picked it up and went through its pages at once. There were about 120 labs listed in there, and another 43 non-research phone numbers as well. At the back of the guide was written: “If you wish to call any apartment, press 444 – 0 + the number of the apartment.”

The phone rang.

Liz froze.

The second ring brought her out of her shock. Quickly, she left the phone guide at her side and picked up the phone.


“Oh! Hi!” A female voice said in the other side of the receiver. “I thought you still weren’t home.” Liz winced at the word. Well, I’m not home, she absently thought. “I’m Samantha, and I was wondering if you—“

“The analyst?” Liz cut her off. She remembered the name. She had been the one who had been analyzing her engagement ring. Neither Dave nor Ray had said anything about any lab test starting today. Ray had even said that they would meet at dinner time, so—

“Yeah, I work as an analyst. But William and I were wondering if you would like a visit from your neighbors. We know how it feels to be in here and all.” Samantha sounded… well, cheerful. Was Samantha –and apparently William- in here because of some sort of deal? Were they supposed to talk about their own deals at all? Liz chewed her lower lip.

“Hello?” Samantha said, thinking Liz wasn’t there anymore.

“Um, well, you know, Max and I have just come—”

“Who is it?” Max asked coming out of the bathroom, wearing a pair of gray pants and just a white towel over his shoulders. It isn’t fair, Liz thought staring at him, Max already knows what his bare chest does to me. It made all her thoughts collide with each other, to say the least.

“Oh, I understand”, Samantha was saying, “we can wait till you are settled down, leave it for another occasion…”

“Hold on a second,” Liz put her hand over the speaker. “It’s Samantha.”

“The analyst?” Max said tensing.

“Apparently, she’s not one right this moment. She wants to visit us as in some sort of ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ thing or something.” Max thought for a second.

“Ask her if she can come tomorrow, so we can all gather in here. It can’t harm us to have information from other sources, can it?”



“As I was telling you, we are just coming in, but if you would like to come tomorrow? We’ll gather the others so you’ll get to meet all of us,” Liz said trying very hard to sound as cheerful as Samantha was being. Gosh, how could she manage? And would they even have the time to meet anyone tomorrow? Who knew what Dave or Ray would want then?

“Fabulous. We’ll be there then. Oh, and so you know, we are in apartment number 156. Bye.”

Hanging on, Liz turned to see Max sitting in the bed, throwing his towel on a nearby chair. She was about to tell him about the phone guide and how that would help them to see what they could choose to study, but she stopped herself before starting. Max looked tired, just like she was feeling. When they had left Maria’s apartment half an hour before, the six of them had said what exactly they wanted to do now: Sleep. Michael had stayed with Maria, while Isabel and Kyle had gone to their own apartments. Kyle had said that he couldn’t believe he was having his own room for the first time in ages, making Isabel glare at him.

“We should get some sleep,” Liz said reaching for him and softly pushed him down. Max didn’t resist. Instead, he put his arm around her, so they both were lying in the middle of the bed. In the silence of the room, Liz started to review everything they had done in the past 24 hours, and she started to doubt it all. The fears she had so desperately tried to hush were now getting louder.

“Are we doing the right thing?” Liz asked above a whisper, knowing that Max’s voice would make her doubts go quiet for a while.

“If we had let Samantha come now, Michael would have killed us for waking him up, not to mention Maria…”

“You’re right…” Liz answered, pretending that that had been the meaning of her question to begin with. Max only did that when he wasn’t sure of the answer either. He would just re-direct the question to something else, something that, generally, would make her laugh. It was just that now none of them were laughing…

“God, I love you,” Max whispered breaking the silence, while accommodating her so she would fit perfectly beside his body, her head between his chin and his left shoulder. Max held her closer, opening their connection in a total way for the first time since they had passed through the gates of the complex.

He was feeling everything she was feeling ten times worse. In so many ways Max was just human, with as many and as strong feelings as she had, but it was in times like these, when he was really scared, that it hit her for how long Max had been hiding and what he had been hiding too. How long he had been thinking about ending in places like this one or worse, about being separated from his family. Feelings that put everything he had done for her in perspective. He had risked his safety to save her… had risked his heart later on so she could know who he really was. That it was still him and not some monster from outer space. At least Dave didn’t seem to think that of Max, and that was what gave her hope that it would work.

“I think we did the right thing,” she answered her own question, Max tightening his embrace around her, but his own fears diminishing a little bit.

“I want to believe that so bad,” he said quietly, caressing her back in a slow motion, making her feel sleepier by the second. He was closing his side of the connection now, trying to let her fall asleep without any obstacle. The light of the room grew dimmer, and by almost closed eyes she could see Max’s right hand aiming at the light controller, one of those that let people chose how intense they wanted the light to be.

“It has its advantages,” Liz barely murmured referring to Max’s powers, feeling Max’s chest move with the sound of quiet laughter.

“Yeah, it does,” he replied sounding sleepy himself. Let’s just hope, she thought before falling asleep, that when we wake up we’ll still be here and not someplace else…

* * *

Isabel tossed and turned on her bed, on her perfectly comfortable bed, with her perfectly comfortable pillow… but there was no way on Earth she would just fall asleep. She had too many worries in her head, too many questions to be able to. Every second that passed, she grew more and more impatient, and the desire to talk to someone about what was eating her inside grew deeper too.

She usually had Kyle to wake up in the middle of the night to talk about what was bothering her. Granted, it had only happened three or four times during all their time together, but having Kyle nearby was enough to make her feel calm. Now Kyle had his own room -apartment, really- and she was all alone. Usually she wouldn’t mind the commodity and the luxury of privacy, but not this time… Could she just dreamwalk Kyle and be over with it?

But it wasn’t Kyle who she needed to talk to right now. As lovely and receptive and… well, Kyle-ness as Kyle was, he didn’t really understood what it was to be like her, like them. She needed to talk to Max, not only because he was her brother, but because right now she wasn’t in the mood to hear Michael complaining about everything. As a matter of fact, she had her own complaining to do. But she had to wait a little bit longer. Give time Max to fall asleep and start dreaming. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any dream to actually walk in…

Max usually fell asleep pretty fast, and started to dream before ten minutes hit. She had learned all about Max’s habits of sleeping during that long summer three years ago, when they were trying to not jump at every shadow thinking an unknown enemy was hiding there, waiting to attack them or anyone they cared about. She had learned it in order to help him, because back then Max wouldn’t dare to fall asleep knowing what his subconscious was waiting to show him. She had only gotten glimpses of it when she had dreamwalked him to rescue him, so she only had ideas of her own about what Max could have been dreaming of.

That first week after hearing their mother’s message had been… disastrous would have been an understatement. Of catastrophic proportions was closer to the truth for all of them, but not quite there. There was just not a word to describe it. With finals, dealing with Valenti, dealing with themselves and their new roles, with Tess still adapting to their group, with Liz avoiding Max and Michael avoiding Maria… she still wasn’t sure how she had gotten through it all, Alex having a big part in her conserving her sanity. To the contrary, Max had just shut himself up, had gone through the whole mess almost in automatic, not even bothering to study because that would have required actual thinking, and had pretty much just collapsed in his bed every night. But as the week wore off, so did his defenses.

“I don’t think I can put it off anymore,” Max had said in a tired tone that Friday night when every single high school scholar was out partying, celebrating the end of classes. She had gone to his bedroom to finally start discussing what they were going to do for the summer, but instead she had found him sitting in his bed with a white small plastic bottle in his hands. He was reading the label over and over again, almost as if searching for any mistake.

Isabel recognized it almost immediately. They were their father’s sleeping pills that he took when he was too stressed out to conciliate sleep. What was Max thinking? She didn’t dare to ask, she didn’t let herself go into that train of thought either. Instead, she just stood in the doorway, watching how Max started yet one more time to read the whole thing. He finally turned his face to her, looking way beyond tired and way beyond worried for someone who had just gone through finals. No wonder her parents had started to worry.

“I really don’t think I can go to sleep without seeing… it… all over again—”

“Max, maybe I can help you… maybe if I’m in your dream—”

“No! I don’t want you to see it, okay? It was bad enough that you had to when you were trying to find out where I was, but I don’t want you to do it now. There’s no reason for you to know it. So, I’m just thinking of taking one of these to see if I can sleep through the night.”

Realization had hit her then. He wasn’t thinking about taking the whole bottle, but just one pill. Their dad always said that those pills were miraculous, made him sleep like a rock. The problem was that they didn’t know how it would affect them. When they were kids they never got sick, so why bother with trying any kind of medicine, right? And when they had grown up a little bit more, and read a little bit more about biology, a new fear had settled in their minds: What would happen if they had to take medicines? Would it react the same way? So Max reading and reading about the warnings and all that over and over again was to see if somehow he could guess if it was safe or not. But the fear of dreaming overcame the fear of the unknown.

And, oh, it had worked. It had worked so perfectly well that Max had not only slept through all Friday night, but through all Saturday morning and half the afternoon as well. She had tried calling his name and shaking him a little, but nothing so subtle worked. She had been so worried by 3:00 p.m. that she had called Michael.

“How could he be so irresponsible?!” Michael had exploded, the first discussion of that summer about Max’s decisions of many, many, to come.

“You can’t blame him for wanting to sleep!” she had defended her brother. Michael had glared at her. Max hadn’t wanted to talk about anything that had happened to him, he had kept saying that it was over and that that was enough. But Michael had seen how weak Max had been when he had rescued him. Michael had his own ideas of what had happened to his best friend in there, so he hadn’t argued the point. For once.

“We need to get more help to know what we should do,” Isabel had said, sitting by her brother’s side. At least sleeping like that he wasn’t having any nightmares.

They would have called Liz to see if she knew anything about this, but the girl had disappeared off the map –they would know days later that she was in Florida- and they were all alone. There was Tess, of course, who they weren’t still perfectly comfortable with, and then, there was Valenti… Still, like Michael had answered back, “who the hell is going to know what to do?”

Which had led to the obvious answer: Nasedo. He had to know what to do, didn’t he? But Nasedo had been gone for six days now, and they weren’t even sure of how to contact him. In that early time, he hadn’t given them the number to reach him, things at the Special Unit being too chaotic to risk such thing. Not only did he have to impersonate Pierce and avoid all their X-ray scanners, he had to make a believable story as to why he was no longer interested in at least one certified alien. And yet they could try, sure, and Isabel was willing to risk the exposure again if that meant saving her brother’s life.

But Max had woken up half an hour later, more tired than rested and with a headache. That hadn’t stopped Michael from arguing with him or Isabel from telling him one or two things about worries and risks. It didn’t matter; Max already knew he didn’t want to keep taking them. This had finally led him that night years ago to ask her for help.

Isabel looked at her watch. Was it only 4:12 in the afternoon? But now sleepiness was finally winning her over. She would take her chance at Max being asleep now. Though it was harder to dreamwalk someone without a picture, it wasn’t impossible, especially with Max sleeping in the next apartment to hers.

Back in their summer from hell, it had been the easiest thing to do, to dreamwalk Max, because he was expecting it. Though she couldn’t change a thing about his dreams, she could tell him that he was actually dreaming. Because, after all, the worst part of a nightmare is that you don’t know it isn’t real. It had taken her brother about a month to recognize and change his dreams, to control them, but he had managed. Of course, by the time he had finally stopped having nightmares, their parents were so worried about his behavior that they had set him up with a therapist. It wasn’t long before they set her up with her own appointments as well. But who could blame them for jumping at every sound and not wanting to go outside and keep arguing about what to do?

Isabel easily slid into the dream plane, and surprisingly, got just as easily into Max’s dream as well. He was expecting her, she realized, when the dream version of her brother was sitting in a bench, right in the middle of their favorite playground at the park where they used to play when they were kids. It was just a perfect Sunday morning.

“I thought you might want to talk,” he said with a knowing smile, “maybe about Jesse…”

Isabel closed her eyes at the mention of her husband’s name. But was Jesse still her husband? Did she still have the right to think about him like that? She sat up by Max’s right, the sounds of cars passing by and kids laughing in the distance almost making her forget that they were in a dream. Max’s dreams were always so detailed. She had dreamwalked a lot of people, and had encountered a lot of dreams too. People who dreamed in black and white or with such brilliant colors it almost hurt to see. People who never put faces to the persons in their dreams or who never were part of their dreams at all, just like ghosts. But her brother’s were the only ones that were so rich in detail of the real world, with sounds and smells and colors. She was almost sure that if he were dreaming that they were in a restaurant, she would be able to taste the food.

Putting a hand on her right shoulder, he pulled her closer to him, embracing her, making her head rest on his shoulder.

“He’s okay wherever he is,” he said in that quiet way of his that made her believe that he actually knew Jesse was okay. But he didn’t know. None of them did.

“I thought that he would be covered too, you know?” she said, barely suppressing a sob. “That somehow Dave would bring it up, something about where Jesse was and how he was going to protect him. I was so certain he would bring Jesse into the deal… I was such a fool.” Isabel ended, her own tears feeling so real in this dream world.

“No, you’re not. I was expecting it too… but it wasn’t my place to ask for him. Why didn’t you do it?” Max tentatively asked. Isabel thought for a minute.

“I was about to… but if Dave doesn’t know anything about Jesse now, then he must be safe... Dave would have known if the FBI had gotten to him, right?” She asked with fear, second guessing her own thoughts and conclusions, dreading what Max’s answer would be.

“I would think so… yeah.” Isabel relaxed a little bit. Of course, Max didn’t know that either, but this time, it didn’t bother her at all.

“So I thought that Jesse might just be getting over us, starting a new life. And if I opened my mouth he would be dragged again to our world. How could I do that to him, Max? If he’s out there, finally living the life he was supposed to have to, why should I take it away from him again? Just so I could feel safer?”

“You would have done it to keep him safe,” Max said, soothing her back.

“Are we doing the right thing Max? Things are turning into such… unexpected ways…” Isabel said straightening herself up, facing her brother.

“I know… it seems impossible that things might actually work for us for the better. It’s kind of… kind of believing in miracles I guess… But I have a feeling it’s time to try, or we are going to mess up this thing before we can do anything about it.” Max paused for two seconds, as if weighing something, deciding whether to tell her something or not. He finally spoke again. “Still, I think Dave knows where Jesse is. It wouldn’t make sense if he didn’t, since he has taken such… precautions with us. I bet he was expecting you to say something about Jesse too. He would have had that covered.”

“You seriously believe that, don’t you?” Isabel said with fear, Max’s perfect dream day starting to cover up with gray clouds. If it had been a real day, she would have expected rain in less than half an hour.

“Yes. Dave is keeping us here for something else, I just can feel it. The way he said that us staying in here made it easier for him to keep the record of our progress… there’s something wrong about that. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m sure it has everything to do with whatever his real motives are.” Max concluded frustrated. He had been thinking a lot about it, she was sure.

“If you are so certain that there’s more than he’s letting us see, why did you accept too? If you had said no, we wouldn’t have doubted you, we would have backed you up,” she said, confused and a little bit angry too. Why would Max have kept his mouth shut when he knew something was wrong?

“Because like I said to Maria, this is safe.” Max said, resigned. “The FBI would have gotten to us sooner or later without Liz’s guidance, that is true, but it is also true that while we are here, no one would want to see us dead. This is a shelter, even if a dangerous one, and we need to get in shape. Dave knows that too. Like Ray said, he must have thought about this a lot. Whatever he wants,” Max said thinking it through, “he must want it so bad that he’s willing to keep his part of the deal if only to keep us here. I bet that even if we break some rules he wouldn’t mind.”

Max’s dream shifted, the temperature dropping, the sounds and the people disappearing. The park was virtually deserted now.

“That’s why he’s giving us such freedom down here,” Max said more to himself than to her, “so there isn’t much we can break… God, I wish I knew what he wants!” Max stood up, clearly angry at himself for not being able to figure it out.

“Do you think that it is dangerous?” she asked quietly, not wanting to upset him more, but needing to ask too.

“I don’t know. But whatever it is he knows we wouldn’t have accepted if we knew… or maybe we wouldn’t have accepted for the right reasons… I just don’t know. What if we really made a bad decision, Iz? What if we really shouldn’t be here? What am I going to do if something happens to any of you?”

Rain started to fall, to pour actually, Max being completely oblivious to that, his eyes fixated on hers, as if she had the answers to that. But she didn’t have any; she had actually come to get her own answers. How selfish of her, she thought, but it had been true. And now she was in Max’s position, and it wasn’t pretty.

“Max, you said it yourself: This is safe, and I believe that too. Even if my main reason was Jesse, everything Dave is offering us is what we need right now. That’s why we all accepted. And we are going to figure out why he really wants us here, okay? We’ll make that our goal.”

As if he were a five year old who had been told to stop crying so he’ll get an ice cream, Max simply nodded. “Okay,” he said quietly, making himself believe that too. As fast as it had come, the rain just stopped falling, and Isabel wasn’t surprised when she found herself dry, the logic of dreams never following the logic of the real world. Isabel stood up, going to her brother and embracing him in a soothing embrace. It was so weird to do that, it was he who always went to her. And for this once, being in Max’s positions wasn’t a bad thing.

“Just,” Max said still in her embrace, “don’t tell Michael about my theory about breaking rules, or he’ll be more than happy to try it…”


* * *

Actually, Michael was having his own theories about breaking rules. He was staring at the ceiling while holding a very asleep Maria beside him. It was 8:49 p.m., so dinner time was getting closer. Still, he didn’t want to disturb her, so whatever “dinner” meant, it would have to go without her. There was no way he was going to wake her up when she could perfectly well sleep through the whole night. Tomorrow he would deal with her wrath about not being included, but right now… God, she looked like an angel, even when she was kicking the sheets in her sleep, and occasionally kicking him too. If someone dared to even hint that something would happen to her if he didn’t cooperate…

Would they do that? Would Dave or Ray or whoever this Jake was do that? Just break the contract? What were they going to do then? Sue? He knew perfectly well there was no real way out of this, and yet, here they were. Michael could feel his own energy building up inside him, his frustration threatening to let his powers go and have some fun. His self control had to do wonders to keep him in check, because it was one thing to break things, and a whole different thing to put them together… He needed to calm down.

They –the aliens- had never really needed to sleep all that much to begin with, so he was now wide awake, trying to not drown himself in misery and frustration about being stuck in here. Which was a very hard thing to do, especially since he was an expert on seeing the dark side of things. But he had to try. They all feared the worst now with Max’s revelation earlier about Dave not really wanting them to go, and if he had learned one thing on the road it was that panic, just like fear, was a contagious thing, a very bad contagious thing, and if you added frustration and anger and pointing fingers, you wouldn’t get anything done at all. So, for the sake of the group, he needed to stay calm.

His eyes left the ceiling and stared at the picture that was hanging on the front wall. He hated it. It was about a bed of flowers losing their petals to the wind. He hoped that whatever was in his own apartment had nothing to do with flowers or something cheesy like that. Still, he kept staring at it. There was something odd with the frame. Even if the lights were completely off, the ceiling gave a certain light, a clarity to the room, almost as if there were moonlight rays entering. It was an eerie effect, but it was so dim that it didn’t bother you to sleep. Still, in that almost non-existent light, Michael was trying to decipher what was wrong with the frame. Because he had seen something like that before, hadn’t he?

Realization hit him, but he couldn’t believe it at first. Was it one of those two inches flat plasma TV’s? Because if it was, then he would be able to turn it on, right? Michael slowly raised his hand, expectation building inside of him. Did they have satellite too? Maybe this place wasn’t going to be as bad as he thought…

A low knock on the front door ended his little experiment. Glancing at his watch he guessed it was Ray calling for dinner, and seriously, this schedule thing wasn’t working for him. The knock repeated, and Michael glanced at Maria. Nope, he wasn’t going to wake her up. So he slowly disentangled himself from her, Maria not even registering that he was moving, and giving an evil glare to the –hopefully- two inches flat plasma TV, left the room.

He got to the front door before whoever was outside knocked by the third time. Didn’t they have door bells, now that he was thinking about it? Like he had paid all that much attention to begin with… He opened the door, and was surprised when he found Max standing there, wearing a t-shirt, pants and his favorite sneakers. Clearly, his clothes had been waiting in his apartment, just as Maria’s had been in here. Michael hadn’t checked his apartment yet, but sure enough, he knew his belongings would be there. The two boys stared at each other for two seconds. The weird thing being that Max was alone and not with Liz.

“I didn’t want to wake up Maria,” Max said before Michael could jump to any conclusions, as a way of explaining why he had knocked instead of using the door bell. Stepping outside, Michael just nodded. Closing the door behind him, he glanced to the corridor, his eyes lingering a moment on the camera that he couldn’t see but that Ray had said was there earlier. He hated knowing he was being watched.

“Let’s go to my apartment,” Michael said starting to go to his left, assuming Max wanted to talk to him alone. Kyle, Maria and Michael’s apartments were all in a row, while Max and Isabel’s were in front of them. They were the only five apartments in the whole corridor. Every single corridor they had passed to get here had been the same.

“Actually,” Max said turning to Michael’s right, “we are going to Isabel’s. We are having dinner there.”

“What? Why? Aren’t we supposed to meet with Ray for that?”

“He actually came here. He brought pizza too. He’s there now,” Max replied frowning a little, like the idea of Ray bringing pizza was somehow… odd. Which it certainly was.

“I don’t like that we have to do whatever he wants,” Michael said under his breath, changing his direction.

“I know,” was Max’s flat answer before they reached apartment # 136. When he entered, it surprised him that, aside from Isabel and Ray, there wasn’t anyone else in there.

“Didn’t want to wake up Liz?” he asked Max while Ray and Isabel both came out of the kitchen, she bringing some napkins and he bringing some sodas.

“No, and she’s going to hate me for that tomorrow…” Michael just gave him an I-know-your-pain look before meeting with Ray. While the three men in the room where dressed pretty much in the same way –except that Ray was wearing a jacket- Isabel had clearly put more attention to what she was wearing: jeans and a gray sweater. How did she manage to look so… ‘well dressed’ just with that? There was never something off with whatever she was wearing… something Maria had complained a lot while on the road. Something he couldn’t believe he was actually noticing now.

“I’m glad you could come,” the older man said balancing the sodas to shake Michael’s hand. If Max had been lucky enough to get a good flash earlier, Michael wasn’t going to waste any opportunities of getting one himself. So he shook Ray’s hand without hesitating. Rays’ handshake was firm and short and, unfortunately, it didn’t give him any flashes.

“Yeah… I thought we were going to the cafeteria. Isn’t it open like you said?”

“Sure it is, but you barely got, what? Five hours of sleep? I thought about not coming at all, but since I had said I would, I thought I should bring dinner for you. I was surprised to find Max and Isabel already waiting for me.”

Michael turned to look at Max, a hurt expression in his eyes. They had met Ray without him?

“We were just about to get you,” Isabel said with a firm tone, not letting him doubt that it wasn’t the truth. “I went to Max first and he was telling me that he wasn’t going to wake up Liz when Ray crossed the corner.”

Silence fell in the room, clearly the exchange of doubts and explanations in front of Ray making them uncomfortable.

“What kind of pizza did you bring?” Isabel jumped in, sounding a little bit too rushed, but Ray went for it, making the awkward moment go away.

“Well, I didn’t know what to bring, so I brought just about everything I could,” Ray said showing the three huge boxes that were waiting on the table in the middle of the living room. Michael was about to tell him that it was weird that he didn’t already know their tastes in pizza, but let it pass. He had to play diplomatic if he wanted to get some answers, right? God, this was going to be one long evening…

“You really thought we were going to eat that much?” Isabel asked while sitting on the larger sofa, wincing her nose. Clearly, the girl had never seen Michael and his shift devouring one of these babies. Three pizzas like those would barely be enough for them. The three men followed her example and sat as well.

“You can always save it for breakfast,” Ray said opening the first box, which apparently was half vegetarian, half Hawaiian.

“Men,” Isabel said passing the cherry Cokes.

“And,” Ray said reaching into one of the inner pockets of his jacket, “a guy at the gym told me he still had a bottle of Tabasco,” he said with a smile, placing the half full jumbo size bottle on the table. Except that none of them smiled back. Michael just wanted to explode the damn thing as a statement of how much he hated them for knowing all those details and keep rubbing them in their faces. Ray noticed too, because leaning backward in his place he let his smile go as well. Instead, he sighed.

“Listen,” he said in a serious way now, “I know you are all thinking what the hell are you doing here and that it isn’t fair that we know so much about you. I was beyond mad when Dave approached me the first time too. But you accepted the deal and now we are all stuck in here with each other. I’m not your guard and I’m certainly not your baby sitter, but I do need that we start to build some trust or we are going to go nowhere.” He paused, looking at each one of them in the eye, trying to make it sink in to them.

“Don’t you think I’m scared too?” Ray asked, this time leaning forward, the three of them stared at him with surprise. “You are afraid of what we are going to do to you, but it goes both ways, you know? You could kill with a touch. Hell, you could kill me without even touching me. And I bet you can do worse things than that, but I have to trust that you won’t. So I’m going to stop being Mr. Nice Guy if this isn’t working for you, but you have to say what you want or you are not going to get it otherwise.”

“We want more answers,” Max said in the same serious tone, leaning forward as well, clearly not going to let the opportunity go.

Ray’s eyes held doubt for two seconds. He certainly didn’t like to be in this position, but it felt good that for once they weren’t the ones being interrogated. “I’ll tell you whatever I know if that’s going to calm you down, but I’m sure most of those questions are for Dave to answer.”

“Where is he?” Michael asked narrowing his eyes. This was about to get interesting.

“Sleeping, I guess.” Ray replied shrugging, like whatever Dave was doing was not important to him, and shouldn’t be important to them.

“Where was he earlier?” Isabel asked, her Cherry Coke completely forgotten in her hand.

“With Jake. Jake had an allergic reaction this morning, that’s why he couldn’t come. Jake and Dave have been friends since forever, so he had to check on him. By the time he was free you were already sleeping. There’s no big mystery about what Dave does, you know?”

Yeah, right… Michael was sure both Max and Isabel were thinking exactly the same thing.

“What does he do?” Max asked, his expression firm, his body tense. “He said he travels a lot and has all these places, but what exactly does he do? Where do the resources to keep all this come from? Research?”

Ray seemed to doubt this one for a second, clearly not sure if he should answer or not. He glanced at them, almost as if deciding that, if he wanted trust, he needed to give a little too. The thing that Ray didn’t know was that, no matter how hard he tried, none of them would actually trust him. They couldn’t afford to.

“In part, but not really. Those are his projects, you can say. What Dave really does is to get information and sell it later on; all kind of information, from all kind of sources. He also uses it as he sees fit.”

“Blackmail?” Isabel elaborated.

“Sure, why not? To intimidate, to get favors, to keep people where he wants them to be. Just about anything you can think of.”

“So he has some sort of spy agency?” Max said, a little confused.

“No, he’s the intermediary between the spies and whoever they work for. Do you have any idea how hard it is to pass information from one point to the other? Most of the work he does is just that, doing that particular service. There’s no more lucrative value than information. And you know what they say about information: It’s power. That’s why he researches as well… it’s kind of a circle, I guess. Projects create information as well.”

“And now we are his next project,” Max said as a matter of fact. Michael knew that his friend was barely holding in check, his whole body tense, sending angry vibes impossible to miss.

“I don’t know if he would call you that,” Ray said reaching for a piece of pizza. Maybe that lonely hot dog from lunch hadn’t been enough, Michael absently thought.

“What would he call us?” Isabel said, still forgetting that she was holding a can in her hands, the thing just seconds from dropping to the floor.

“I don’t know,” Ray said truthfully. “But he went through a lot of trouble to get you here, that much I can tell you. Still, ultimately, it was your decision to stay that made you stay. Don’t ever forget that.”

Like they could. But it wasn’t that simple either. Dave had manipulated them into accepting, with his big offer and his plans for their future. What the hell did Dave know about what they wanted to do with their future? Michael wasn’t even sure himself. He had never really thought about a future on Earth when he was a kid, and by the time he had found out that he was staying, didn’t give a damn about it either.

“That’s the reason why you are here too? You accepted an offer?” Michael ventured to ask. Getting to know Ray was something that they should add to the list of “things to know”.

“It started like that, yeah. My contract is indefinite like yours, but even if it wasn’t, I’d stay. Being around Dave has taught me a lot of interesting things.”

Like aliens? Michael bitterly thought. What could Ray have that Dave had offered him an indefinite contract as well? He didn’t think that Ray would tell them even if they asked it, though.

“What do you do in here, anyway?” Michael asked, deciding that was a better question. He had the feeling this Q. and A. wasn’t going to last long.

“Now, that’s a good question,” Ray said with half a smile. “My main job was to look after you, to know where you were, as Dave said. But now that you are here, things changed. Even though I still have to keep you safe, I’m more like a representative of Dave’s deal. While he’s absent, you can turn to me. I have to make sure that Dave’s part of the deal is carried on properly. And that you are carrying yours properly as well.”

So that was why Ray was trying so hard to be Mr. Nice Guy, as he had said earlier. Dave wasn’t going to be around, but he had made sure they weren’t going to be left unguarded or unwatched. How thoughtful of him.

“Is he going to keep it?” Isabel asked, not quite looking Ray in the eye. “Is he really going to keep his side of the deal?”

Ray reached for a Cherry Coke and in one movement opened the can, making Michael wonder if he not being able to open his Pepsi earlier that day had been just an act.

“I’m going to tell you this once and I hope it will sink in on you: I’ve never even heard of Dave breaking a deal, and he will do whatever he can to keep his side of the contract. That’s how his business works, his credibility and the way other people know his word is worth it. But what I have indeed seen is people breaking their side of the deal, and it isn’t pretty. If you betray him, he’ll make sure you pay for it. You think he’s being convenient? Hope that you never have to see him being inconvenient.”

“So, he kills whoever wants to get out?” Michael said, not sure whether to believe Ray’s words were true. He could be just trying to scare them into being nice little guinea pigs. And that word, convenient, was it just a coincidence, or had Ray somehow listened to their conversation in the cafeteria?

“That’s not what I said,” Ray turned his dark eyes to him. “If you want to end the deal, you can do so. That’s part of the contract. But you have to say so, don’t go and do anything behind Dave’s back. He just doesn’t tolerate being betrayed. And trust me, Dave thinks that death is not a punishment at all. Now, if you want to know more about him, you’ll have to ask him yourselves. He’s set up individual meetings with you all this week, and since he’s leaving in exactly seven days, he expects you to keep with the schedule. Because tomorrow is Sunday, he said you should rest, get to know your surroundings.”

“What are we supposed to do? Walk around?” Isabel asked a little bit irritated.

“It’s your Sunday, you do whatever you want. You have free pass, you have all day.”

“Samantha called to see if she could come. She and someone named William, I think. Liz and I told her to come tomorrow to meet all of us.” Max said turning to Michael and Isabel, as if not knowing if he had done the right thing.

“The analyst?” Isabel asked frowning. The three of them turned as one to see Ray, who was now half through his slice of pizza. The man was hungry. Putting the half slice down, and wiping his hands on a napkin, he cleared his throat.

“You’ll love Samantha. Everyone loves Samantha.” Ray said not really caring about that. “Just make sure you have your story straight up before you start spreading it around. Anyway, the meetings.” Reaching into his other inner pocket, he took out a paper sheet, neatly fold. “Here are your times and meeting places for next week. My number and Dave’s are at the bottom if you have any more… questions,” he said while handling it to Isabel, who just took it. She stared at it, not saying nor doing anything. Ray kept talking; Michael and Max were fixated as well with the white paper sheet that Isabel was not letting them see.

“You are good kids, that much I know about you. But you think Dave is hiding something from you,” the three of them forgot all about the schedule and put all their attention to the man speaking, “and he probably is, but he must have his reasons. The guy is a genius, has this… I don’t know, this ‘view’ of things wider than most people. And if keeping you safe is part of the offer, he’ll make sure you stay safe.”

He stood up and took the second pizza box into his hands. “I think you have a lot to talk about,” he said as a means of ending their conversation, and without any other word, he let himself out of Isabel’s apartment. It didn’t pass even two seconds before they had forgotten all about Ray and had returned to see what the schedule was all about. Isabel quickly unfolded it, her hands slightly shaking. Max and Michael positioned themselves at both her sides to read over her shoulder.

“We are going to the lab on Monday,” she said in a flat tone, for the first time Michael feeling cold inside, a shudder running all over his spine, paralyzing him. Who would guess that eight words could have such an effect on him?

* * *


Author’s note: The line that says “It’s kind of… kind of believing in miracles I guess… But I have a feeling it’s time to try,” is from the song “You Make Loving Fun” by Fleetwood Mac from their album Rumours.
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Post by Misha » Fri Dec 30, 2005 3:46 pm

Hey there! Thanks to everyone for coming back to read :)

ISLANDGIRL5, lol! then you are feeling exactly what they feel right now too. Trust no one ;)

Majandria, yeah, The Bourne Identity movie was great, but the book differs a lot. If you have the chance, you might like to read it :) Oh, wait till Michael starts hiding things from them too...

nibbles2, um... deeper... like really, really deeper... 8)

Roswelllostcause, something big *is* coming, just not as soon as you might want :)


Kyle was serving himself some very sweet, very colorful cereal into a white bowl –and there was a feeling of emptiness, he guessed, with the fact that almost everything in there was white- when he heard the doorbell rang. At 7:32 in the morning, there weren’t many candidates as to who it could be. Certainly not Michael, nor Maria. Isabel liked to sleep late too, so… Max or Liz? He was the wake-up-early guy of the group; it helped him to meditate when no one was around to disrupt the energy around him. He crossed the kitchen and went to the door, ready to exclaim something about the advantages of waking up with dawn, when he froze in place. What if it was someone else?

The doorbell rang again, but it didn’t make Kyle move any faster. Well, if it was someone else, he would deal with him or her. They were protected, after all, right? And he was supposed to move around freely, right? Kyle put the hand on the handle and, taking a deep breath –in a perfect imitation of his father, though he wasn’t aware of that- he opened the door.

A tall, thin, slightly older and very pale guy was standing there, his hand in midair ready to ring the bell for a third time. His sparkling green eyes met with Kyle’s brown ones, and Kyle had the very distinctive feeling that this guy, whoever he was, was the kind of person who would disrupt the energy of whatever place he was in. It seemed like being standing still was taking a lot of his self control too.

“Hey!” the stranger exclaimed, changing the tool box he was carrying to his other hand, so he could shake Kyle’s. “I’m Jeremy. I’m here to repair your phone. It isn’t working properly.”

Kyle blinked once. He had seen a phone, hadn’t he? He remembered stumbling across the room yesterday, not bothering with the lights, and just hitting the bed. He hadn’t woken up till 6:55 this morning, figuring he had missed the whole dinner business, and had been rummaging around the kitchen to see what was there for breakfast. He was still wearing yesterday’s clothes, for crying out loud, but he couldn’t really picture any phone anywhere in his apartment. Still, if this guy said there actually was a phone in his place, who was he to say ‘no’?

“Sure, come in. I’m Kyle,” Kyle said, shaking Jeremy’s hand and letting him in. Jeremy was wearing a long gray T-shirt that said “Hackers are the true rulers of the world”, wore out blue jeans and black and white sneakers. His hair looked like it hadn’t seen a comb in a week or more. It reminded Kyle of the time long ago when Michael let it just be wild, except that Jeremy’s didn’t defied gravity as his friend’s once did.

“So…” Kyle began while watching Jeremy enter his bedroom. He grabbed his breakfast from the counter and followed. “You are the maintenance guy?”

“What?” Jeremy stopped in midair and turned to look at Kyle with a hurt expression. “Of course not! I’m the Network Keeper.” He said in a very serious tone. Kyle just stared at him.

“The what?”

This time, Jeremy smiled, “I guess I am the maintenance guy. I keep the virtual network working, and since phones are part of the network,” he said sitting in Kyle’s bed and grabbing the white phone by the night stand, “I’m responsible for them working properly.”

“Oh,” Kyle said leaning over the closet door, holding his breakfast. After two seconds, he had to ask: “What virtual network?”

Jeremy was searching something in his tool box and, finding it, turned to see Kyle. “The one that controls all communication devices. You know, like phones, and the satellite, and the inner e-mail service, among other things…” He turned and with something that looked like a metal detector, he started inspecting the phone.

Kyle kept eating while watching Jeremy finish searching his phone. Even though he hadn’t really understood what the heck the maintenance guy was talking about, he decided to let him do his work in peace. He would ask later. Apparently satisfied after five minutes had passed, Jeremy put his tool inside the box and stood up. “Done. The number was just not registered, so I added it to the network. It happens all the time with the never used apartments.”

“You mean this place is brand new?” Kyle said getting out of his room, with Jeremy at his heels.

“Brand new? Not exactly, but as far as I know, no one has lived here before… That’s why the number wasn’t in the network. It would have been a waste of bytes.”

So, their apartments weren’t ready? That was interesting to know, especially since Dave looked like the kind of guy who would have nailed every single detail down.

“You are going to my friends’ apartments now?” Kyle asked leaning now with his right elbow over the kitchen counter, almost done with his breakfast.

“No. At least something there isn’t working? Is anything else not working in here?” Jeremy asked with a little bit of… hopefulness? Kyle stopped eating. Anything else? Like he had the time to even see what everything else there was…

“Well, not that I know of… I mean, the fridge is working fine… ”

“I’m not referring to that. I meant anything network related.” He said a little bit exasperated.

“You tell me. What else is there in here network related?” Kyle knew he had said something wrong by Jeremy’s expression of total disbelief and… indignation?

“You don’t know what else is network related?”

Um, you see, my friends and I have just been thrown into this place, and we really don’t have any idea of what to expect… so, if you just stop with the stupid questions… He couldn’t say that, now, could he? Instead, he just shook his head.

“Everything is network related. You just have to habilitate it, of course.” Jeremy left his tool box in the floor and went to the painting in the furthest wall of the leaving room. Except that it wasn’t a painting, as he saw Jeremy touching it and the screen –which was what it really was- came to life. Kyle almost dropped his bowl.

“The main control is at your bedroom, of course, I’m surprised you didn’t notice the plasma screen. And how could you miss the inner compartment under it with the keyboard?” Jeremy was saying, talking to the wall, while pressing plasma buttons with practice ease. A map of Kyle’s apartment came to view.

“Now, not many know this, but you can actually activate a lot of functions with voice. Like lights and temperature and that kind of stuff. E-mails usually arrived at the bedroom screen, but you can also configure them to appear on any screen.”

“Any screen?” Kyle asked moving closer to see what the hell Jeremy was doing.

“Yeah, bedroom, leaving room, kitchen and your G.E.S.” Kyle was hating it, but he had to add a question mark to everything that was leaving his mouth.

“G.E.S.?” He asked while turning to the kitchen to see where the hell the plasma screen in there was.

“You don’t—you haven’t seen yours, yet? Who the hell brought you here? How were you supposed to get anywhere without it?”

“We had a tour…” Kyle said still not seeing where the kitchen screen was. “I guess Ray or Dave would have come later on to tell us…” When Jeremy didn’t say a thing about it, Kyle finally turned around to see why. Jeremy was open mouthed, with big blank eyes staring into space.

“I knew…” he whispered entirely to himself and not for anyone else, “I knew he had to be here… I mean, even if it is his birthday and—” Jeremy stopped in mid sentence. “You know Dave? I mean, you have actually seen him?”

“Sure… why, shouldn’t I? We made a deal just yesterday…”

“Really? You actually, like, shook hands with him?” The technician asked in amazement, making Kyle feel nervous. Was he saying too much or something he shouldn’t be saying at all? But then again, Dave would have said so, wouldn’t he?

“Yes. He’s here, or at least was here. Why? And why you don’t know him?”

“Barely anyone knows him in a ‘shake hands’ bases. He’s always too secretive. 82% of the people who had claimed they had met him, differ completely on his description. The man is a shadow. The other 18% is either too afraid or too close to him to actually give his description. And now you are telling me he’s here, just wandering around? Are you sure it was really him?”

Kyle opened his mouth just to shut it up again. Was he sure it was him? Was it someone talking in Dave’s name? Had they made a deal with a man who had never really shown up at all? A phone rang, a cell phone, and when Jeremy didn’t react at all, Kyle suspected that the man in front of him wasn’t aware of anything but whatever Kyle could tell him about Dave.

“Shouldn’t you answer?” Kyle changed the subject, making Jeremy react at the sound of his own phone.

“Yeah?” He answered in a annoy tone, turning his back to Kyle. But Kyle was grateful that now he had a minute to think. Actually, he wished he could go to the others and tell them this unexpected turn of events. They knew exactly how Dave looked like; wouldn’t that be sort of what they were looking for? Certainly, Dave did care a lot about who saw him and who didn’t. That was, of course, assuming they had met the real Dave…

“Now?!” Jeremy almost shouted to whoever was in the other side of the line. Whatever the answer had been, he hadn’t liked it, because he had just hung up without another word. “We’ll continue this later,” he said in a matter of fact voice and, taking his tool box, left Kyle standing alone in his living room.

It took Kyle about a minute to process what had just happened and what he had to do. Well, early or not, the rest of his merry group would have to wake up now. This was important news.

* * *

Maria kept pushing plasma buttons, watching how screen after screen appeared and disappeared in front of her eyes. When Kyle had arrived an hour ago, daring to wake her and Michael up, she had been ready to bite his head off. That was, of course, until she had found out that Michael hadn’t woken her up for their supposed dinner last night. By that time, Space Boy had covered his bases by having Max, Isabel and Kyle as a shield. Liz had been right beside her, ready to bite Max’s head off too.

But then all their attention had drifted to Kyle’s reckoning of his breakfast events, showing them that the big paintings at the bedrooms and leaving rooms were actually screens. The screen in the kitchen was actually on the fridge’s door, perfectly concealed by matching the screen color with the door’s color.

“I thought they were TV’s,” Michael said approaching her, watching the screens go back and forth as Maria was exploring the menu. Maria just glared at him, and when Michael actually raised his hand and pressed a TV shaped icon, she changed her glare for a scowl. The fact that the first channel that entered was a hockey game didn’t exactly do wonders for her appreciation of Michael’s exploring techniques. She turned it off immediately, the screen now looking like the painting it really wasn’t.

Michael was just about to argue when he thought better of it. Maria just turned around without saying a word, and sat flatly beside Liz’s left side in one of her sofas. Actually, it was extremely weird to think of anything in here as hers. God knew she hadn’t owned anything but the clothes she had carried around in the past seven months.

“Anyway,” Kyle finished his story after Maria had been done with exploring the plasma screen while all of them had stared at it with amazement and suspicion. “I guess that was why Dave told us he didn’t like people knowing he’s around.”

“Yeah, it would make sense,” Max said, thoughtfully.

Kyle nodded at Max’s words, and then he said out of the blue, “Does anyone know what the hell a G.E.S. is?”

As one, they all turned to see Liz. It was a long learned habit, Maria thought, because she and Alex used to do it since the fifth grade. Liz was like this human encyclopedia or something, and certainly, the three aliens of their group with Kyle had learned the trick too. Liz looked annoy.

“I don’t know what a G.E.S. is. You guys, I’m just as lost as you are.” As one, again, they all turned to look at anywhere but Liz. Max, who had been standing next to Isabel, walked over to sit beside his wife. He was just about to put an arm around her shoulder, when Liz glared at him.

“I’m still mad at you.” She said in a threatening tone.

Max kept his arm to himself and sighed in a resign way. Now that Maria was really paying attention to all of them, she noticed the distinctive differences in the group. These were three very tired looking half aliens. While Liz, Kyle and Maria had slept through all the night, the other part of their group hadn’t been that lucky. It was obvious they had just tossed and turned around all night, and their mood wasn’t exactly cheering either. Liz must have noticed too, because her features softened immediately.

“What happened? What did Ray say?” Liz asked looking first at Max, and then to Isabel and Michael. Though she was still angry that Max hadn’t waken her up last night, now was the time to hear what the three of them hadn’t said since they had all gathered in here. After that, they could decide what to do with Kyle’s information about Dave’s apparent need of anonymity.

Silence filled the room, and when Maria saw Michael trying to decide if he should approach her, clearly seeking for her comfort, she just knew it wasn’t going to be something good.

“He gave us schedules,” Isabel finally said, sitting in the one person sofa. Kyle sat next to her in the sofa arm.

“What kind of schedules?” Maria asked with concerned. If the three of them were with such doomed eyes, it couldn’t be good, at all. Michael sat at her left, not even daring to reach out with his arm like Max had tried with Liz. Space Boy certainly knew better than that.

Isabel unfolded the little white paper square, which had clearly been fold and unfold more times than Max’s sister would like to admit. She handled it to Kyle, who opened his eyes wide as plates as he started reading it.

“You are complaining?!” Kyle said, clearly not liking whatever the schedule was. Maria felt Michael tensed at her side, and by some miracle she actually felt him, as in really felt him inside her, just for a second, only getting a glimmer of fear.

“What the hell does that schedule say,” she said standing up and snatching the sheet out of Kyle’s hand.

It was, indeed, their schedule for mornings and afternoons for the whole week, till next Sunday. Now she understood the pod squad’s apprehension about the damn thing. All mornings, from Monday till Friday, they were scheduled to go to the Lab. She herself felt going cold, no wonder Michael was feeling fear. Liz stood up to see for herself what everybody else in the room already knew.

“Why aren’t we going to the Lab?” Liz asked frowning while returning to her seat. Liz, Maria and Kyle were scheduled to meet Ray at the gym. The afternoons were numbered with distinctive areas all over the complex. Apparently, they were all supposed to meet a lot of people for the next six days.

The only other variant of the schedule was their meetings with Dave. That was what Kyle was complaining about. He was the first one to go one on one with their deal maker. They were all interspersed throughout the week: Kyle, Michael, Liz, Isabel, Maria and finally Max. Gee, what a wonderful way to spend her birthday. The meetings were scheduled to last all morning, though. They would have time to discuss and rearrange anything that needed correction before the other one in turn had to answer to Dave. That was somewhat a relief. Still, Liz’s question hung in the air.

“What?” Max said confused, turning to look at her, “why would you want to go to the Lab?”

“Because you are going there and I’m going wherever you go, that’s why.” She said in a serious voice, as if there were no reasons at all for her to not do exactly as she wanted.

“No, you’re not.” Max firmly answered her.

The two soul mates stared at each other, neither of them wanting to give an inch. No wonder everyone said they both were stubborn, but it was a rare event to see them being stubborn at each other. They usually were in the same frequency or whatever. Silence filled the room while everyone stared at them.

“We are going there because that’s our part of the deal. We have to keep it.” Max said turning to look at Michael and Isabel, who clearly didn’t want to take side on this.

“I didn’t see anywhere saying that we couldn’t be there,” Liz said, now looking for backup from Kyle and Maria, who didn’t want to take sides either. Even if this was one tiny little fight of wills between these two, Maria knew how big and scary a real fight could turn into between Max and Liz, and how the rest of the group could be torn apart by that as well. However, whatever the outcome of this quarrel was going to be, it couldn’t be a bad one. This was about keeping each other safe. If anything, it was going to be interesting to watch.

Kyle must have been thinking the same thing because, once Max and Liz locked into each other’s eyes again, he mimicked as if he were eating popcorns, enjoying the show.

“We have to do this on our own, Liz,” Max finally said in a soothing tone. “We can’t show them… that we are so scared we can’t even go anywhere without everyone. We are going to go there and do whatever they want and then return to you. But I cannot be there with you there too. It would be too much.” Max ended in a whisper. Liz’s eyes melted with Max’s emotion, so she hugged him back. Maria’s anger towards Michael melted as well. Michael must be just as scared as Max is, she thought as she walked over to Michael, taking her former seat, letting him hugged her as well.

“You feel the same way too?” She quietly asked him. Michael simply nodded over her head. God, tomorrow was going to be the worst Monday in history, and they were barely beginning their Sunday.

* * *

And it was going to be a very long Sunday, Max thought as he helped Liz placing the snacks over the living room table. They were expecting Samantha and William and the rest of their group, and Liz had suddenly decided that they needed snacks. She had this sudden… pride about being the perfect hostess, this cheerfulness that was so contagious, Max couldn’t refuse... or really understand.

“You should have heard her, Max,” Liz had said when they were eating their lunch. Pizza left over courtesy of Ray. “She sounded so cheerful. I bet she’s just expecting to see a happy couple or something.”

He had raised one eyebrow. “Aren’t we a happy couple, then?”

Liz had smiled shyly. “Well, I know this isn’t a real home or whatever, and that we are doing this to get more information and all that, but… this is the first time we sort of have guests… it kind of puts things in perspective, you know…”

Max had known, had understood perfectly. Liz had meant they should act like a normal couple, with snacks and sodas and everything for their guests. It was true, too. They were going to meet their first guests outside their group and in a formal living space as a married couple. Still, it hadn’t look like it was a practical thing for Liz, but something more personal.

While he was placing the second plate with the sweet snacks on them, Max paused a second while contemplating his wedding ring. He was really married with Liz Parker, and that made his heart sing with pure joy. No matter how bizarre the circumstances, or whatever was going to happen next Monday, right now he just enjoyed of the knowledge of being in an apartment, getting ready to receive people, to present Liz as his wife, or to be introduced by Liz as her husband.

The thought almost made him glow with pride, literally. For one blissful instant he let go of all his worries. He heard Liz entering the living room to check the last details before heading to the bedroom to change, so he turned around and in a fluent movement he caught her halfway through. Liz never saw him coming, but was fully expecting his kiss. She returned it with passion, making Max wonder how he had been able to live through the whole day without Liz’s sweet lips. She had been mad at him the whole morning, and had somehow let her anger passed by lunch time, finally having a civilized conversation by then, but that hadn’t meant she would allow him even a touch.

Now that they were in their own world, he could feel Liz thinking the same thing he was: How could she have lived without his touch?

“Have I told you how much I love you?” Max asked her, finally taking some air, their foreheads together, his fears threatening to intrude again.

“Not right this moment,” she responded smiling, taking her the initiative to kiss him this time. He didn’t resist either. The only good part about “fighting”, Max thought, was to make peace. He wondered if that was the reason why Michael and Maria fought all the time. Because he had to admit he could get used to this wonderful feeling of togetherness after being not all that close for a whole day. And speaking of being together…

Liz sensed his train of thought immediately, probably in part because her own train wasn’t too far away from Max’s, but she was way too excited about the afternoon’s events to fall for Max’s wonderful kisses. At least not until said event had passed.

“I really have to change,” she said breathlessly, her hands caressing the back of his neck, her eyes closed. Max could stay in this moment forever, contemplating her perfect features, listening to her heart beating at the same rate his own heart was. He didn’t answer her, neither let her go. He just stood there, holding Liz close, not intending in ending this perfect moment at all.

A knock in the door shattered the illusion of them not being part of the mortal world, and still they both hold on to that perfect moment just one more second. Liz finally disentangled herself from Max’s embrace.

“You get that, I’ll change.” Even then Max reluctantly let her hand go, and waited till she had disappeared into their bedroom to go and open the door.

Because it had been a knock and not a doorbell, both Max and Liz thought it was going to be one of their group, since it had almost been like a silent agreement that that was how they were going to identify each other from the other 500 people or so of the complex. So, when Max opened the door with all the confidence in the world, he was taken aback when it was Ray who stood in front of the door, carefully balancing half dozen boxes in both arms. Clearly, he hadn’t been able to reach the doorbell.

“Sorry to interrupt,” the older man said, “but the G.E.S.’s were ready till now.”

Max stood in the door still watching Ray carrying the boxes, trying to figure out by that what exactly a G.E.S. was. After ten seconds had passed by, Ray finally asked, “Is this a bad moment? I can come later…”

Snapping out of it, Max moved aside to let Ray in, the ever present sense of caution coming over him, as it always did in presence of Ray or Dave.

“No, of course not. Come in. We were sort of wondering what a G.E.S. was, actually…” Max said closing the door, trying to start a casual conversation, and when he turned around he found Ray facing him, the boxes still in his hands, and a confused and suspicious look on his face.

“Where did you hear about the G.E.S.’s?”

Liz was coming out into the living room by then, and she too froze in place when instead of one of her friends she met with Ray. Her face changed from surprise to control in two seconds, and squaring her shoulders she walked to stand by Max’s side.

“I thought we were going to meet you tomorrow,” Liz said curtly, and Max knew that the tone was meant more to himself than for Ray. That she was still somehow mad and was taking it on the older man. He would never let her sleep through a meeting in his entire life, Max decided right that moment.

But Ray didn’t seem to notice, or care, about Liz’s tone of voice. He simply carried on.

“Yes, we are. Where did you hear about the G.E.S.’s?” he asked again in a very serious voice.

“Kyle told us,” Liz said frowning herself, not really understanding Ray’s urgency about knowing this. “A guy named Jeremy told him this morning. He stopped by Kyle’s apartment to fix the phone… something about connecting it to the virtual network…” Liz finished turning to look at Max, seeking his back up to her words. They both returned their gazes to Ray. This time, he seemed more relaxed, though.

“That boy… he’s been trouble since he’s here,” Ray said in a good nature tone, finally putting the boxes over one of the couches, apparently no longer worried about why they knew about the G.E.S’s. “’Network Keepers’ are always like that, everywhere in the world. I don’t know why Dave finds it so funny, though. Anyway, I was supposed to give these to you yesterday, but they weren’t ready. I too was supposed to tell you about them, but since our little meeting went a little out of the way, I completely forgot. I hope you didn’t get lost today?” Ray asked with a little shame, Max noticed, as if forgetting to bring the G.E.S.’s –whatever those were- before was something to be ashamed of.

“We didn’t go anywhere today,” Liz said, still with a cold voice. If Ray was planning on staying, this was going to be a very long and cold day, indeed.

But she was right. They hadn’t really gone anywhere all morning. They had stayed at Maria’s apartment deciding what story they would tell from now on as their past, thinking through how they could use to their advantage the knowledge of Dave’s real features and whereabouts, -assuming he was the real Dave- and exploring the network through the plasma screens.

“Oh,” Ray said a little disappointed. Then, looking sideways to all the snacks waiting in the living room, realization hit him, his words coming faster than usual, and was he blushing? “You are meeting Samantha today, aren’t you? Well, then, she can explain you how the whole thing works. She’s been here longer than I, and the systems always change from place to place.” It might have been Max’s imagination, but Ray looked like he would really love to be somewhere else. Or maybe to avoid someone else…

“Okay, I’ll leave you to your… reunion. Oh, and make sure you ask her how the whole ‘living at home’ thing works.” Ray moved to exit, Liz moved to stop him.

“What do you mean ‘living at home thing’?”

“You know,” Ray said hastily. He was really in a hurry to get out of there, not caring to pretend otherwise either. “How to keep the fridge full, laundry, get new clothes, that sort of thing… If you still have doubts, call me.” And with that Ray effectively passed beside Liz. His wife just stared at Ray’s back and then at the empty hallway with raised eyebrows.

“Isn’t he supposed to have to be more…” Liz cut her own sentence and turning to Max said, “He wanted out of here, didn’t he?”

Max smiled. Oh, Ray wanted to get out of there, right, and Max had the distinctive hunch that it had everything to do with whoever this Samantha was. For that moment, he really liked this woman. This was going to be a long day, certainly, but so far, it was being an interesting one too.

* * *

Liz had to admit to herself that it was a little bit childish to feel all excited about getting guests… especially under the circumstances and the fact that they were searching for information from said guests… and the fact that the other four guests weren’t really guests… but she couldn’t help herself.

She had suddenly noticed that this was her… space. House, apartment, cell… whatever it was, it was hers. Correction, hers and Max’s whatever, and since settling down had always been this far away illusion, it was something she just… enjoyed. That was the reason why she was so proud and wanted everything to be, well, perfect. She was no longer a girl. She was a woman, a wife, a house keeper… Liz absently shook her head… God, she wasn’t even twenty… This wasn’t exactly how she had imagined her house either… But then, when she had been a little girl, imagining her perfect future, she could have never imagined a more perfect husband… Because Max had had his faults –his big faults- in the past, but he still was perfect. And the only thing that mattered was what they would do with their future.

Glancing at Max who was absorbed with Michael and Kyle exploring the menu at the plasma screen in the living room, she wondered what Max thought of his future. She had had her dreams: Graduate high school –with honors, of course- going straight to Harvard, loving her career, maybe finding love then, or later on at her dream job as a molecular biologist… she had always known that being the head of a molecular research in Harvard was a little bit too much. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that she had had her dreams. She had thought a future and traced a path towards it.

But Max had only wanted to go unnoticed… Two years, one year… the future was always so far away for him. He had told her once that he would cross that bridge once they got to it. He first had to get out of high school alive. He had meant it as a joke, but there was nothing to laugh about that. Still, now they had the opportunity, didn’t they? She already knew –they all already knew, really- that she would go for something biology related… but what about Max?

She knew what his interests were, but they had never really talked about what he would have chosen if he had gone with her to Northwestern. The same as she? Sure, Max was into science, not as much as she, but he liked it. He was especially good with numbers and— Liz’s thoughts abruptly stopped, replaced by cold logic and reality.

What was she thinking? This wasn’t a real house, and they weren’t going to a real college, but the illusion was so perfect, that it tricked her, it comfortably tricked her into believing they were going to have an almost normal existence. Was it wrong? Was it wrong to believe it real? To actually plan some sort of future? Because they had only been a little bit more than a day in here… Shouldn’t they still be paranoid or something?

We are just so tired… Liz said to herself in a whisper. They had been hiding this secret for years, with everything that that secret implied: from FBI agents to alien enemies. Then they had been on the run for so many months now… And they had not really even processed the fact that the FBI had been so close to them just last week. They had barely escaped and then kept going, running for their lives, putting as much space as they could between them and their hunters. They had no real advantage against their hunters anymore. Then this whole offer had happened… And then they had been stressing out about if it was a trap, and why to accept and why not…

Those hours in that blue cell had made time stopped to her. She had truly believed that was going to be the end of it. And now she was planning a future… It felt so wrong but it felt so good, as Michael had once told her on the road. She just couldn’t keep stressing about it, not right now. She would do so the whole week, she could practically see herself having restless nights and being at the edge of having a nervous breakdown all next week, if not for a longer period of time. But something inside her told her that it was okay to feel a little bit safe. That Max was right, this was a shelter, and so far everything indicated that, even if they were prisoners of some sort, they were going to be well cared prisoners.

And this day, these well cared prisoners were having guests. Liz smiled broadly, the childish feeling returning to her. Isabel and Maria had gone to their own apartments to bring in some extra sodas just in case. She suspected they had actually gone to change themselves into something more formal, since she had taken especial care on how she looked this afternoon. Something Max had been really helpful with after Ray had left half an hour before.

“Let me see if I got it straight,” Max had said with a mischievous look in his eyes, “you want your blue jeans to look like a formal black dressing trouser…” Liz had nodded, watching herself on the full size mirror in the bedroom, “Can I make it stretch?” He had asked standing behind her.

“Well, no—” Liz had innocently begun, truly not knowing why Max was thinking she wanted them stretch, until she had seen him through the mirror putting his hands on her waist, the jeans changing color right before her eyes, the fabric seeming more silk-like.

“Because then,” Max had said lowering his head to her right ear, “I will have to—” Max had let his words unfinished, his hands slowing descending to her legs, the fabric easily adjusting under his hands to the curves of her body. “And I have this very interesting idea of what I could do with your blouse…”

“Max…” she had whispered back, “we have guests…”

For the second time that day, a knock on the door had stopped them right then. Michael and Kyle had arrived, Maria and Isabel not far behind.

She knew that whatever was telling her that this was okay, was also telling Max that being in here was okay, or he wouldn’t be… cherishing her like that. Otherwise, neither of them would be in the mood of being playful and mischievous with each other. Wouldn’t be so forgetful of the circumstances they were really in. She just hoped that that little voice wasn’t lying to both of them.

A knock on the door brought her back to the present. Max, Michael and Kyle didn’t even bother to turn around knowing it would be Isabel and Maria. Liz opened the door and, in fact, both girls were standing out there, with new clothes as predicted, but they weren’t alone.

A woman no taller than herself, with long bright black hair and big emerald eyes was smiling from ear to ear to something that Isabel was saying. And beside Isabel was a tall man, as tall as Liz’s sister in law, with the same emerald eyes, his own hair, if not as long as the woman’s, long all the same, neatly tide into a pony tale. The four people standing in front of her stopped talking. Liz immediately let her surprise go and smiled at them.

“Come in,” she said moving to the side, still holding the knob. As Maria was passing her by, Liz turned her head to the inside of the apartment, “Guys, our guests are here.” It had been barely visible, but Liz was able to see how both Michael and Max tensed, their backs still to the door. It was only a moment, but it was enough to tell her that things might just not go as perfect as she wanted them to be.

Michael and Maria reached each other right in the middle of the living room, Max coming to her by the door as she was closing it, Isabel standing by Maria’s side and Kyle in between the couples. Their two guests stood in front of the semi circle.

“So, I’m Samantha,” the young woman started, a slightly British accent on her voice, something Liz hadn’t noticed the day before, “and this is William.” The similarity between the two of them was too obvious to think anything else, but still Liz heard herself asking, “Are you brother and sister?”

“Sure,” she said clasping her hands in front of her, a little bit nervously, “I understand that you are also brother and sister?”

Liz turned to look at Max as she heard the others laughing lightly. Well, she and Max did look like they could be… it was kind of hard to picture Isabel and Max as sister and brother just by the looks –because God knew those two had a lot of… likeness on every other aspect of life, a fact of having grown up together, she guessed.

“Oh, come on Sam, you can’t be that oblivious?” William said placing a hand over her shoulder, his accent more audible.

“What? Why?”

“You’ll have to excuse my little sister for her lack of attention. She’s only good with her work.” He extended his hand to Max, with a bewildered Samantha seconds of hitting him hard. Liz knew the expression, Maria used it all the time on Michael.

“I’m Max,” her husband said shaking the other man’s hand, and proceeded to introduce the rest of the group. “This is my wife, Liz,” he said smiling to Samantha, who finally understood her brother’s statement. She smiled a little bit embarrassed, Max continuing.

“This is Kyle, Michael, Maria and my sister Isabel,” Max finished, smiling to his sister. They really didn’t look like brother and sister, Liz thought again, and if Liz had been told five years ago that she was going to end being sister in law’s with the Ice Princess, she would have just shuddered at the possibility. But Isabel was a great sister-in-law, even if sometimes she drove her crazy with the million details that needed to be perfect, and not only for Christmas, but for daily stuff as well…

“Well, at least two of you are siblings, I’m not that bad…” Samantha said as they all moved to the living room. With eight people in the room, there was a feeling of being crowded… The couch accommodated Kyle, Isabel, Maria and Michael, while Samantha seated herself on the sofa in the far extreme, William sitting on its arm, Liz and Max imitating them on the opposite sofa.

“So, are you enjoying your time in here?” Samantha asked, conversation starting, none of the six knowing how it would go. How much should they say? How much should they ask?

“Well, we didn’t know what to expect,” Kyle said, not lying, but not really answering either… something they were really good at, as a matter of fact. If only their parents had known… oh, right, they already did… but she was so not going to go there now.

“You arrived yesterday morning, right?” asked the older woman, her emerald eyes looking bright with curiosity. She was probably around her late twenties, Liz thought while watching her.

“We were here by lunch time,” Isabel said, a little bit tensed.

“I see. You had the grand tour and all? I got lost the first month in this labyrinth…” Samantha said smiling.

“You would have got lost in here for the entire year if it hadn’t been for the G.E.S.” William said, and looking at them, he continued, “Because she’s really bad with her sense of direction too, you know.” Liz tentatively smiled, not sure of what to do, not wanting to hurt Samantha’s feelings. Either way, now was the opportunity to ask other thing.

“Can you tell us what a G.E.S. is? Because they were brought here half an hour ago but we still have no idea what they are…”

“You haven’t seen them? They are very useful. We called them ‘Get Everywhere Soon’, because their main function is to be the map of this place,” William told them, “like a variation of a G.P.S., but they have a lot of other functions, like storing data and receiving e-mails. You can personalize them too,” William stood up and reached for the inner pocket of the jacket he was wearing. Taking a small, gray, metal looking thing out of it, he opened it like a small notebook and gave it to Michael.

“If you have all of them in here, we could show you how to use them.”

So the next hour passed between getting to know the G.E.S.’s –which William had told them they had a proper “technical” name, but since everybody called them Get Everywhere Soon, he couldn’t remember which it was-, devouring the snacks and talking. Although in this talk of theirs, it was more important what wasn’t being said that what actually was.

Neither Samantha nor William had said or asked them about where they were from, or their age, or not even their last names. It had been something that Maria had actually noticed before: no one in here gave you their last name at all. They had actually filled in the pattern pretty much automatically as well, after months and months of avoiding their own real names.

They didn’t bring Dave either, or their respective deals. Liz could practically feel Max’s growing anxiety about them not talking about the labs or the works that were being done there. Samantha had been the one who analyze his diamonds, hadn’t she?

“Before you go, Samantha, one of my analysts, asked me to tell you that you have never made a more perfect diamond than this one. Dave’s words echoed in her head. She must have analyzed more than one diamond by the sound of it, and certainly did know it had been Max’s doing. So she knew about them, or at least something about them. But no one was saying a thing about that.

The only personal thing they had said was that William was the head researcher at the theoretical physics department and Samantha was the director of molecular research, both siblings working closely, often trying to come up with experiments that deal with the other’s field. Which apparently wasn’t that easy, especially since theoretical physics was all about things that couldn’t be done to begin with… Or were highly hard to prove in real life.

Aside that, they were discussing the compound’s layout, studying the map on the plasma screen. It was in itself a sort of a labyrinth. The South Wing, where they were, one could almost believe that one was in a college dorm. The complete wing was divided in eight areas, each with its own Laundry, a small area where all daily non-organic stuff was acquired –like all bathroom and kitchen stuff- and what Samantha had called “The Shop”. There was actually just one Shop for the entire complex, and it was actually a place where one could order stuff by catalogue or the net. Clothes, especial food, even especial gifts could be ordered there. And where all other “stuff” could be acquired, though Samantha hadn’t elaborated on that. William had seemed more focused on how to buy outside this place, though.

“It takes around three to ten days for delivery, so you better plan out what you want and when you want it. Of course, there’s an ‘informal economy’ in here as well.” William explained to them after showing Michael and Kyle how to access both music and movies from the virtual network. Entertainment was definitely not a problem in this place.

“Informal economy?” Liz asked from the kitchen, a Cherry Coke in her hand. Though Max was the official Cherry Coke consumer of the house, she had grown to like the soda as well. “Isn’t that a term to describe the economy that doesn’t pay taxes and stuff like that? Like the one between friends?”

“Sure,” he answered with a smile, “that’s why we use the term. Not everyone in here works researching something. So they do other stuff. You can get pretty cool gifts from Sarah in department 269, or from Sinisa in apartment 374. He’s Czech.” At the mention of Maria’s former code word for alien, all six of them stopped doing whatever it was and turned to look at him, expectant.

“No, he’s Croatian, no Czech.” Samantha cut in, completely oblivious to the silence of the other six, totally absorbed on whatever it was that she had been showing Isabel on the G.E.S. screen. “And you should try Danielle, she’s the best cook in here, and when she’s not in duty she does these great meals with whatever you ask. Of course, she’s pretty booked up, so I would suggest you ask her as soon as possible.”

“But,” Liz reacted, a question wanting to get out of her head since William had brought up the informal economy theory, “wouldn’t any kind of economy need money to actually work? I mean, at least we’re returning to bartering like thousands of years ago… or that we are in some sort of communism regimen…”

“You mean, like in Star Trek?” Kyle asked trying to follow up Liz’s train of thought. Sometimes Kyle’s comments made her feel extra aware of the fact that she knew a lot of these facts that no other High School girl would care to know about. But she couldn’t help herself; she just plain loved knowledge and had the right mind to keep remembering stuff like that.

Except that Star Trek was a little bit out of her league. Living in a town where every single block had something alien related on it, she had never felt herself drawn to science fiction. Wasn’t it just ironic that she was married to someone who would perfectly blend into any science fiction drama?

Kyle seemed to understand that she wasn’t following him, so he elaborated: “You know, no money at all. Everything is for the good of the community… That sort of thing.”

“Well, yes and no.” William answered frowning a little. “Some things are, like Kyle said, just for the good of the community, like the cafeteria or the vending machines. But others you do have to pay. You have your own account at the bank. That is, the Virtual Bank. Every transaction is done through the Network.”

“We actually get paid?” Maria said with excitement.

“Sure, with credits. We don’t use real money while we are here.”

Maria’s enthusiasm evaporated in a second. “Figures…”

“But that’s for the best,” Samantha said picking the last of the salty snacks, “because once you leave your real money is intact in the real bank. Is like saving big time.”

“A bank account?” Maria asked, “As in a real bank?” Liz easily knew what her best friend was thinking: Did they have a bank account somewhere? And how much was the amount of it? One more thing to ask Dave, Liz thought. Was this some game? Had he purposely left so many things unknown to them about how to live down here? “Because Ray didn’t say a thing about that.” Maria was finishing now.

“Ray? Administration Ray? You-don’t-have-enough-clearance Ray? Dave’s Ray?” Samantha asked in a growing angry tone. All her sweetness evaporated in two seconds. Well, at least she does know about Ray and Dave, Liz thought for a moment, amazed at Samantha’s change of mood.

“Yeah,” Liz said with a little uncertainty, the rest of the group slightly nodding as well. Only William remained unaffected, almost as if he had been expecting that reaction from his sister.

“Of course he wouldn’t be able to tell you a thing,” Samantha continued, her emerald eyes suddenly looking like ice, her tone still running high with anger. “There probably would have been some kind of clearance problem…” Liz noticed by the corner of her eye that William was placing one hand over his face, in a slightly annoy gesture. It was almost as if saying “here we go again”.

“I bet he just started and then he just shut up.” Max turned to look at Liz, with a mix feeling of curiosity and a little fear. What was Samantha talking about? Or actually, why was she talking about like that? Liz just shrugged in an almost imperceptible way, while their guest continued. “And I also bet it was he who was supposed to tell you about the G.E.S., right?”

“Well…” Max started, clearly not sure if he should say anything or not. “He did leave them right before you came. I think he was going to explain them but he preferred to leave us to our… reunion…”

“Oh, I see. The coward preferred to not be in here because he knew—”

A cell phone rang, abruptly cutting whatever it was that Samantha was going to say. She stood up, and right after the second ring, she picked it up, walking towards the kitchen in an attempt of getting some privacy.

The other seven persons in the living room remained silent. William looked at his sister –or more likely at his sister’s back- and slightly shook his head in a disapproval way.

“Where can I get one of those?” Kyle asked out of the blue, efficiently breaking the silence and turning William’s attention as well.

“You mean the cell phones?”

“Yeah. A guy named Jeremy came here in the morning and he had one too.” Kyle answered. Liz was paying attention to whatever William was going to say, but part of her was also trying to eavesdrop whatever Samantha was saying in the kitchen. Had it only been a coincidence that she had been called right before she was about to say something about Ray? Were they actually being watched after all? But Liz couldn’t make a word of whatever was being said on a cell phone in her kitchen.

“Oh, you’ve met Jeremy? Has he filled you up with conspiracy theories already?” William asked with a huge smile.

“He was about to, that much I know,” Kyle answered thinking it through, “but he also got called before he could even start.” Obviously Kyle was thinking the same as Liz was. Well, at least I’m not the only paranoid in the group, she thought to herself.

“You’ll have more time than you wish to hear all about it, trust me,” William said standing up and walking to the screen. He called the map for the South Wing. “Not everyone likes cell phones, so that’s why you don’t have one already. They have to be asked for at the Virtual Network Base.” Signaling it on the screen, William shook his head again, laughing a little bit. “Can you believe it? Base. The Network Keepers have all these names for everything they do. They are in a 24 hour quest, trying to get Dave. It’s like the Holy Grail for those guys.”

“You aren’t curious about Dave, then?” Michael asked, leaning forward to grab his Snapple, desperately trying to not sound like he was dying to know that.

“Not really. I didn’t know there was this whole mystery about who Dave was till two months ago, when I actually got to meet him. Now, the cell phones have to be cleared by the Network Keepers, so you’ll get signal in this underground place.”

Samantha finished her call and got out of the kitchen. “Sorry, there was a problem at the Lab, so I’ll have to leave.” Liz tried to not tense at the lab word, just as she had felt Max done, so instead she got up from her seat.

“Are you sure?” She asked with a concern voice. The hostess worrying for her guest’s well being.

“Yeah, I tried to solve it over the phone, but they couldn’t understand me. Anyway, I’m sure Will be able to tell you whatever else you need to know.” How many times have we heard that? Liz absently thought as she watched Samantha saying good bye to each of them. It was as if every hour someone else appeared with some new information that someone else was supposed to have told them already. Uh-uh, ‘Will’ is not going to leave this place till he finishes up telling us everything there is to know, Liz vowed that moment.

She and Max accompanied Samantha to the door –not that it was such a long trip, anyway- and saying “see you soon”, the black haired woman disappeared in the corner of the hall.

“I am so sorry about the Ray thing,” William said as soon as Max closed the door.

“So you also know Ray,” Michael asked, clearly not wanting to let the subject go. And he shouldn’t worry, because William didn’t look like he was uncomfortably talking about it either.

“Of course I do. When Dave came to me two months ago, he told me he was assembling this… team I think he called it, to work with you.” So he knew. But how much did he actually know? “There are only three people in this whole complex who know the truth about you: Ray, Jake and me.” Dave had been clear about that, so whatever William knew, he didn’t know all that much.

“And then, about a month after that,” William kept saying, “he finally asked Samantha. She was furious when I told her I have already been cleared to participate. She’s a very competitive woman, my sister. Anyway, I told her it had been both Dave and Ray’s decision. After all, he’s the one who advises Dave about who to trust and how much, for what is worth to advice Dave, of course. Dave goes with whatever he wants to go no matter who says what. But she had already set her mind into thinking that Ray had something against her. There are a lot of things that she has asked him but Ray just won’t answer her because her clearance is not high enough or something. That’s what she was referring to before.”

“So you don’t have high clearance either?” Isabel asked, intrigued by this rivalry between Ray and Samantha.

“I have enough clearance, that’s what I think. I don’t need more. Sam just wants to know too much too soon. That’s not the way to go about these things. Obviously, Dave thinks very highly of you, because he’s taken a lot of precautions and selecting the best on their fields that he has available. So Samantha was terrible wounded by the fact that she hadn’t been considered the best of her field from the beginning. Even if she knows it was ultimately Dave’s decision, she still blames it all in Ray.”

“Why?” Max’s sister asked again.

“I guess it’s easier. After all, Dave was who gave both of us the opportunity to work on our own projects when we were just graduating college. No one out there would have done so. We would still be working for others, with no chance of being heads of departments in at least a decade or so. Our own ideas would be still waiting in a dark corner.”

‘A decade in a dark corner’ wasn’t exactly a set of words Liz wanted to hear right then. She had to focus on what was being discussed here. Some very interesting information was finally coming into light.

“Frankly,” William was saying now, “I think Ray is scared of my little sister. I’ve seen him disappear faster than the Road Runner when he knows she’s coming.”

A tough guy like Ray disappearing like that? That was some image, Liz thought. Oh, she had seen Isabel in action, especially scaring the hell out of Michael, and just like her sister-in-law, Samantha seemed to be so sweet, so innocent. Still, if they were going to spend a lot of time in here, it was nice to know that not everyone was going to follow orders without complaining. Samantha could very well be a great ally.


(and yay! next week you'll get to meet Jake! )
"There's addiction, and there's Roswell!"

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Post by Misha » Fri Jan 06, 2006 8:44 pm

Hey guys! Thanks for coming back :)

Thank you all for all your feedback! That feels soooo cool!

Timelord31, at this point, I think Samantha could turn out to be a good friend or not... She's an ambitious woman... but you'll see in time ;)

BETHANN, aawwwnnn thanks for the comment! I'm addicted to write this fic too :D I'm posting every Friday or Saturday, and that will continue to be so as far as I have complete chapters. I'm barely 11 chapters ahead of you guys... Then the long waits will start... :oops:

Majandria, I'll PM you with info about those books (it's a trilogy) :) Oh, I've already said this like a million times already, but still, I'm not a Candy girl, but I hope I get those two straight as the story develops :)

tequathisy, on Maria's birthday... well... all you know right now is that her interview with Dave is that day... So, I won't spoil you about that :P

Grace52373, thank you! I try to be consistent with my updates :)

xmag, aaaawwwwnnnnn you are making me blush! I love Roswell, some characters more than others, but when I decided to write this fic, I wanted to get to see all of them. So, it's been really though, and it's taken me a lot of time and insight, but I hope the outcome works for more people than just me. Reading you makes me feel like it's all worth it, though ;)

And thank you for comparing my work to another one that you love! It's tough to find fics that you like as much as the ones you have read before, so that definitely gave me warm, fuzzy feelings :D

nibbles2, the conspiracy theories... oh, you are going to love Jeremy, hehehe He definitely won't disappoint you ;)

behrinthecity, how much Max, Isabel and Michael are dreading the lab... you are just about to see ;) Oh, and just in case you haven't noticed, I'm a Dreamer, and sometimes I can't help to get a little carried away with those two :) Now, Ray and Samantha... well... it's going to be fun :D

(*side note* update your story soon!!! and get Max out of there, for crying out loud! *end of side note*)

Roswelllostcause, well, if not a "wild ride", at least I hope it'll be an interesting one ;)

So, okay... here it goes, chapter 9. This is actually one of my favorites 8)

The Lab

Max fixed his eyes on the white ceiling, almost as if he were trying to count the white squares that were perfectly aligned above him and all around him. His wrists were red and they hurt because of the desperate efforts he had made trying to get himself free, and the back of his hands hurt too, in a stinging way, because of the endless times they had stuck needles into them. But this he barely noticed, lying face up on the metal table. He had been expecting this.

His muscles began to relax as he began to relax his breathing. He had been expecting this dream, just as he had been expecting Isabel’s dream visit yesterday afternoon. The good thing was that because he was so used to this nightmare, he could stop it before it got worse. Before he remembered and relived one of the worst days of his life.

There was silence in the room. He remembered that when chaos had somehow faded a little over two days after he had been rescued, Michael and Isabel had told him in detail how they had been able to do so. He had been shocked for a brief moment to learn that he had been held for less than 24 hours. It had seemed like an eternity for him. He had been lying on that cold table, lying on that cold floor for years. He had been hearing Pierce’s threatening and cynical voice for ages. He had lived through it for so long that he couldn’t even remember how long. It was almost insane that the world outside those walls had continued living, spinning around for only hours.

Of course Liz had told him the Special Unit had gotten him for only a day when they were in the car, but he hadn’t registered it then. Hearing it from Isabel and Michael in a much calmer atmosphere had made it really hit him. The shock had passed in a second, but the memory still echoed in his head.

He was dreaming now, his subconscious never free of this place, but at least now he could do something about it. He could keep things quiet, unmoving. He could keep Pierce’s ghost and white-masked men outside the room. The place that had been meant as his hell could now be turned into his sanctuary. It had taken him months to be able to do so, but now he had control. Control to stop his nightmares and go through the night without wakening up screaming or something worse.

The problem with controlling his dreams was that he couldn’t get much rest. He would awake tired and feeling he had not slept at all through the entire night. That he had learned too. So the real trick was to know when to stop his dreams from turning into nightmares and when to let his imagination go. To actually lose control.

He closed his eyes but made a very conscious effort to keep the silence. As long as nothing made a sound, then no one would come. Hopefully, soon he would go deeper into his sleep, passing the REM state and going into the non-REM state where he wouldn’t dream at all. Just rest. He had learned a lot about dreams when Isabel had started to dreamwalk years ago, but he had really learned about the mechanics of sleeping and dreaming when Isabel had suggested he start controlling his dreams after his experience in the real version of this white room.

He had thought it was impossible. But truth was that, even if very rare, there were people out there, normal human people, that did realize they were dreaming and could act and change things in their minds. According to what he had read, a person had said he only needed some kind of trigger to notice he was dreaming. Like if he had a recurring dream, one element of it would tell him it wasn’t real, that he was indeed dreaming.

So Isabel had been the trigger. Dreamwalking him, when he wouldn’t believe he was trapped in his mind and not in the real world, Isabel would appear. “Think Max! If this were real, I wouldn’t be here! You know you are already out!” Slowly, he had been able to make his own triggers. Rooms with large white squares meant dreams. Pierce’s voice also meant dreams. And as depressing as it was, during that summer, having Liz at his side also meant he was dreaming. Liz was far away in Florida. End of the story. So, in order to stop having nightmares, for a little while, it seemed he would have to stop having sweet dreams too.

The next part about this whole controlling dream stuff was to actually change your dreams. This was infinitely more difficult than to just realize you were dreaming. He guessed that part of his mind didn’t really believe he wasn’t awake and, therefore, couldn’t believe he could change the entire scenery around him. Of course, he had the advantage that in the waking world he could change things with his mind, it was just the idea of changing everything that his mind wouldn’t process. Someone over the net had told him that when she was having nightmares she didn’t change what was happening in the dream, that she altogether stopped dreaming it.

“Stop dreaming it? What do you mean?” he had typed the words, eagerly wanting to learn how to get rid of his nightmares, happy to finally find someone who claimed she could become aware of the dreaming state.

“Well, yeah. I mean, for instance: Your typical monster running behind you. All I do is just stop running and tell myself: ‘This is crazy. I’m just dreaming. This is not real.’ So, the dream stops, and suddenly, I’m dreaming something else. By that point, I forget I’m dreaming, and I just go along with it.”

“Don’t nightmares return?” he had asked then, thinking that his problem wasn’t that he was running from someone, but that he couldn’t run at all.

“Sure, they might. It’s not an exact science, you know? You’ll just have to keep stopping them as long as you are aware you are dreaming them.”

But he had made it an exact science. It had taken him the entire summer and several visits from his sister into his dreams every night, but finally, he had managed it. And ever since he had been able to sleep through nights without fearing the worst of his memories would come to haunt him, he had been relieved. He had actually been able to rest.

His memories didn’t haunt him all that much in the waking world as anyone would think. He just had too much in his mind to get lost in things that were already in the long distant past. Oh, he knew and he always had it present that if he wasn’t careful they all could end up just in the same white room he had been able to escape, but it wasn’t the same. He didn’t dwell in his memories, he didn’t relive every second of it every time he thought about it. Not often and not entirely, anyway.

It was only at night that his subconscious could have a chance to come out and play freely if he let it. Max took a deep breath and let it go. He had been so sure he was going to have this dream tonight because of what was awaiting for him in the morning. The Lab. God, he couldn’t even say the entire word, just its abbreviation. And it was just insane that he was scared of it. He had agreed to go there, and Dave had agreed that nothing bad would happen to them. No metal straps, no nauseous drugs, no white walls. So, why was he so scared? Why were Michael and Isabel so scared too?

Well, it was hard to altogether stop being afraid of a word that had always meant that horrible things would happen to you. Ever since he had understood what he was he had been scared of labs, of hospitals, of people wearing white lab coats. It was almost as if people could see through him and see how different he was. What would they do to him then? To them all?

His childhood fears never really diminished, they just changed a little. People couldn’t tell he was different only by looking at him. And still, that need of being invisible, even if he didn’t want to be so invisible, was there. Maybe if people looked too closely they would actually see the difference. Maybe if he wasn’t invisible enough people would pay way too much attention to him… enough attention to see, to really see.

Isabel was the total opposite to that. She thought that if she played the role to perfection, if she was the perfect little angel and the most brilliant star, then no one would notice that she was different. For her, invisibility was not an option. If she lost her radiant light, then they would all know.

And then there was Michael… who didn’t care if people noticed him or not. He had always known there was no way they could tell he was different if he didn’t let them see. So he had made a point in his life of not letting anyone see. Yet, as different as the three of them had decided how to live their lives and keep their secret, the Lab were two words that sent cold waves through their spines. Because no matter how or why, if they were discovered, they all knew where they were going to end up. They had known it just too damned well to not be scared of it.

The last thing he had learned about controlling his dreams was that, if he tried too hard to control them, or started to act and think too vividly in them, he would wake up. So he wasn’t anymore trapped in an imaginary white room, but lying face up over his own bed, with Liz sleeping right beside him. He was sleepy, for which he really thanked his lucky stars, because there was no way he would spend the entire night thinking about what was going to happen in the Lab in a few hours and still manage to go there and act coherently. He was just too tired. Experience had taught him long ago that his powers would be a little bit off if he wasn’t rested. He would kind of lose aim or something.

He yawned, and in the middle of it, another thought crossed his mind. Would this Jake know that they were holding themselves up? That they weren’t really trying with all their strength? And what kind of person was Jake? What kind of person was Dave’s long time friend? He had already thought about this last night, when they had first learned about their schedule, so going about it was just like going in circles. Max closed his eyes, already falling asleep again, just that this time, he held Liz a little bit closer. With Liz by his side, it was not going to be a problem for his mind to settle on exactly the kind of dream he wanted. The Lab could wait till tomorrow. After all, it was time for him to have a sweet dream.

* * *

Michael woke up two minutes before the alarm rang. He hated when that happened. Somehow, even if it was only two minutes, he felt sleep deprived. It didn’t help any that he was already tensed either. He could feel a tiny little spark trying to escape his fingertips. Nervous energy. He hated that, too. It happened rarely as well, and he just didn’t want to admit he was paying a great deal of attention to this whole Lab business - A fact that was being so terribly betrayed by his nervous energy outburst.

The other fact that didn’t help him either was that Maria was sleeping next to him. She had been tossing around and kicking the sheets –and him- the whole damned night. Not that he thought he would have gotten too much sleep if he had been in his own apartment, really, but it meant that he had to hide this “nervous energy” from her, or she would just get nervous with him.

Maria had taken it so… normally? Naturally? Lightly? Resignedly? He wasn’t sure what, but Maria wasn’t scared in the least about the whole Lab thing, at all. But was she right? Of course she is, Michael told himself while turning the alarm off before it went beeping, there’s nothing to be nervous about. Maybe if he kept telling himself that he might actually believe it.

He had seen Max’s anguished look at Liz’s request to go with them. Max was far more scared than Michael, it had seemed, and it probably had a lot to do with the fact that Michael only had ideas of what could happen in a Lab. Max already knew.

“We should have never split up. I mean I never should have left him alone.” Michael’s own voice of that night years ago echoed in his head. He would have traded places with Max in a heart beat. It was Michael who was the strongest one, the one who could deal with anything life decided to throw at him. It was he who had always been so sure there was a “them”, and that everyone was the enemy. It was Michael who had to protect Max. And he had failed.

Michael passed a light hand over Maria’s arm in order to wake her up. Maria barely stirred in her sleep. Months of practice had shown him the exact way to wake up Maria in a non-emergency way. Not too sudden, not too quick, and definitely not forceful at all. Waking her up was an art, and Michael had learned his lessons too damned well, so not even his nervous energy was going to interrupt the delicate process of bringing Maria back to the world of the living.

Maria and Liz were scheduled to the Gym. Why had Dave thought that was a good idea? Maria hated waking up early almost as much as having to do exercise. And it was too damned early too, the red numbers on the alarm clock reading 6:01 a.m. He passed another tentative hand over Maria’s arm, trying to decide if it was time to start with the it’s-time-to-wake-up speeches or to still be in the I’m-lightly-touching-you stage. Since Maria didn’t really move at all, Michael knew it was the latter and not the former the course of action.

Isabel, Max and Michael had been talking last night about how to act at the Lab. Since they didn’t know Jake, it had been kind of hard. They knew they had to start talking about their individual powers and their fake limits at some point, and they also knew that they had to be careful. Because once the story was out there, there was no turning back. They really couldn’t be caught in a lie. Especially in a lie involving their part of the deal.

It wasn’t till ten minutes later that Michael could actually start with the second part of waking Maria up. They had to be at the Lab by 7:00 a.m. and Maria not really waking and getting up was not a good sign that that was going to happen at all. So he got up and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

“Maria, I’m going to my place, okay?”

“Hm? Why? What time is it?” his Sleeping Beauty asked with her eyes still closed.

“Almost 6:15. But we both have to be ready and one bathroom is not going to make that happen, so I’ll see you later, okay?”

Maria actually opened her eyes this time, trying really hard to wake up and understand Michael’s words.

“Aren’t we supposed to all go? And what time did you say?”

They had agreed that they would all go together till the South Wing limit, where they would all split. God, how much he hated to have to follow stranger’s orders.

“Yeah, I’ll pass by when I get ready. But you should get up now, is almost 6:15. I’ll see you in twenty minutes.”

Michael left Maria’s apartment already knowing that Maria wasn’t really getting up as she should. But the girl was an expert at getting ready on a ten minute mark, having perfected the act during four years of being a waitress on the earliest shift. He had seen her in action, and it was something remarkable.

He wasn’t bad at all himself. After all, he had been a cook for the earliest shifts as well. But today he needed to take his time, especially if there was some nervous energy trying to slip through his fingers. He needed to calm down. They had agreed to go to the Lab. They had agreed to do tests and to let others prove their powers. And they had been promised that nothing that happened there was going to be a bad thing.

Well, not exactly. As Michael was putting on his T-shirt after his quick shower, he was recalling what exactly they had been promised.

“You are not obliged to do everything that you are asked to, but I do expect that you’ll be reasonable as to why you won’t do whatever Jake wants. You’ll work with him on the details of this, of course, but you can say ‘no’ or ‘enough’. I don’t expect you to kill yourselves to prove something, or to think that the deal is over if you don’t want to do some things for whatever reason.”

Nope, Dave hadn’t exactly said nothing bad was going to happen. He had only said they could say “no” or “enough”. Well, that was a thought. That could very possibly mean that something “bad” could really happen, or at least the lab people could suggest something bad enough for them to refuse to do it. Tiny little green sparks jumped between his fingertips, almost as if they were static electricity. Almost. If only he could fool himself…

* * *

If she had had it her way, they would have been gone 45 minutes before and not only 25. Isabel hated to be late, and she certainly would hate even more if she were late to this particular… appointment. They had gathered in the hall and had started to walk north. The Gym was right before the Cafeteria, which was in the center of the complex. The Lab, or actually the specific Lab they were heading toward since this place was full of them, was about two “blocks” after the Cafeteria in the North Wing. Two blocks and two floors down.

The complex was not only divided in four wings, but there were places where you could actually go down five floors. They actually were some good 100 feet underground right now, according to what William had said. When they had ended their first meeting with Dave two days before, they had been guided to an elevator at the other side of the room. She had never felt more claustrophobic in a space before, except maybe for now.

Thinking about all the distance that separated her from the sun and the sky and freedom was making her feel like the walls were closing in on her. And yet, she didn’t miss a step. One thing she had learned in her early years in high school was that everyone can smell fear, especially teenage popular girls, if you don’t perfectly hide it. Fortunately for her, hiding and pretending was a given in her genes. And if some of her Antarian heritage was still in her, she’d bet an Antarian princess didn’t show fear either. So Isabel walked with a confidence she was far from feeling, but that she portrayed without any effort.

Max and Michael had said good bye to Liz and Maria feigning that it was no big deal. The six of them hadn’t really talked too much on the short walk –their apartments were about three or four blocks from the Cafeteria area- but it had been clear that Liz had made Max promise that he wouldn’t block her, no matter what.

“They are going to be fine,” Maria had told Liz with a sincere smile, “I mean, if they want the pod squad to stay and return, they’ll have to treat them right, won’t they?”

The three members of the pod squad –and Isabel didn’t really approve of the term- looked at her with uncertainty. She was right about the fact that they indeed had to return day after day, but somehow the idea didn’t ease her nervousness. Turning to face Michael, Maria had poked him in the elbow.

“You show them how you completely obliterate things and they’ll leave you alone,” she had said with a mischievous smile, making Michael smile back at her, clearly having some thoughts of his own as to how to make those people, well, leave him alone.

Michael could always find very creative ways of using his powers to his advantage, especially in the revenge area. That thing that gave people rashes, how had he come up with it? Michael could be really mean, and even if his powers weren’t involved, he would still find ways of getting even with whoever had chosen to cross his path. And the scary thing was that Kyle was just the same way.

Gosh, she wasn’t even going to start thinking about how Kyle was going to use his powers once he got them under control –assuming he would actually develop them- and dealing with Kyle and Michael at the same time… Let’s just hope it never came to that.

Kyle had been uncharacteristically quiet when they had left the Gym. He was supposed to meet with Dave in the same living room above ground, so Kyle had barely said “I’ll see you guys later” before turning left to his destination. And now the three of them were walking alone with their thoughts.

Even if they had seen people both at the Gym and at the Cafeteria, the corridors they were walking now were pretty much deserted. Isabel checked her watch. They still had eleven minutes to get there on time. Eleven minutes to darken their already dark thoughts too.

It was crazy. They were going to make this trip every day for only God knew how long. Maybe someday they’d even laugh about this too. Although right now, that day seemed to be very far away. The three of them stood in front of the elevator’s door, which had no buttons at all. William had told them to wear their white cards at all times, because Ray hadn’t been kidding about the cards meaning “free pass”. Every single door opened by scanning the cards people were wearing. Besides that, if one of the group didn’t have his or her card, the doors wouldn’t open either.

The elevator opened, and they entered the very large space. She wondered why the elevators were so big since apparently there were never too many people using them. Since the four walls had mirrors, the three of them stared at their own reflections. Dave had been very clear in saying that, except for their apartments, every single inch of the complex was being watched. Staring right at herself, she also wondered who else was watching her every move. By her right, she saw Michael’s reflection moving his right hand as if something were itching it and he was trying not to show it. For only an instant, Isabel saw a tiny green spark playing around Michael’s fingers.

“Michael!” Isabel exclaimed in a hushed tone, turning to see the real Michael with a fearful stare. Max followed Isabel’s gaze, clearly not understanding why his sister was acting like that.

“I know,” Michael said in an almost annoyed tone, hiding his hands in his jacket pockets. “I’m managing, okay? It’s just a little nervous energy, that’s all,” Michael defended himself, changing his gaze from hers to Max’s, almost as if daring him to say something too. Isabel turned in time to see Max frowning, still trying to understand what they were talking about. He seemed to get it two seconds later when, turning to see the doors opening, quietly said: “I have a little nervous energy myself.”

Isabel instantly lowered her eyes to Max’s hands, which she then noticed were hiding in his pockets as well. Max went out of the elevator without any other word, so she followed him and in turn Michael followed her. Once out, the three of them resumed their original position walking side by side: Max, Isabel and Michael. It was always like that. Wherever they went, she was always in the middle, as if her two brothers –biologically or not- were actually her two bodyguards. Granted, she scarcely needed bodyguards at all, but this was something she felt really comfortable with. It comforted her to know they were always at her sides. It made her feel… protected.

Of course, being in the middle wasn’t always all that great. That was, as she silently observed, the figurative middle that she didn’t like at all. Ever since Michael had re-appeared in their lives when they were kids, Isabel had always been stuck in the middle of those two. She wasn’t sure if it was because she had been the only girl, or if it had been because she had –as far as she knew- a more balanced view of things, while Michael and Max were always at the extremes. Whatever the reason, the fact remained: She was always in the middle.

The three of them paused for two seconds in front of the glass doors that divided this section of the complex. This was their third door so far: One that divided the apartments from the common area, right before they reached the Gym, and another one that separated the North Wing from said common area that also included the Cafeteria. Just as before, the doors slid open, each one to its own side. They kept going. The corridors were about 12 feet wide and maybe 15 feet high, and most of their walls were bare. They weren’t white, as their apartments’ walls were, but a bluish-gray, the floor being a dark blue itself. Their steps didn’t make a single sound, but it wasn’t because they didn’t want to, she thought, it was as if the floor itself absorbed the sound. She wondered if high heels would actually make any sort of noise at all.

“I hate this silence,” Michael said out of the blue.

“We are almost there,” came Max’s calm response, almost tricking her into believing that Max had no problem at all with the place they were going to.

Max had always had that calm thing about him. That reassurance that made it just impossible that they, the whole group, didn’t consider him the leader. Max had the answers. He knew how to keep a cold and clear mind in desperate times. You just didn’t look at Max and think “this guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.” That had been the reason why she had been so terribly scared on the few occasions she had seen Max losing his temper, or his control and he had crumbled down. He just was not supposed to do it. Thank goodness it had happened on really few occasions, or she didn’t believe they would be walking this corridor right now.

Max hadn’t really changed much since they were kids. No wonder their mother thought that Max was so secretive and why Isabel took that for granted. He's Max. It's who he is. He's always been that way, she had once told her mother without a second thought. But now that she was thinking it, she didn’t envy Max for the heavy burden he had always placed upon himself. Though sometimes she wondered why Max had turned into such a shy guy and she into such a popular girl. It wasn’t their secret, she reflected, it was just who they really were, because Michael hadn’t been neither shy nor popular…

It had taken some time to get used to Michael’s… personality, for putting it in some way, when they had finally met again. Michael was wild in everyone’s eyes, but he was just so different when it was just the three of them. He had always been protective, he had always cared that they were all right, even if he didn’t exactly show it all the time. Michael had understood way before them that the three of them belonged together, that they were a unit, a family. And it wasn’t just because they were the same; it was because they shared things, sensations, feelings, secrets… They viewed things in ways that no other being did, and they understood that from each other. As long as they were together nothing bad could happen…

Except that the together part hadn’t been exactly easy. While Max tried to be as low key as you could get, Michael hadn’t cared at all that everybody avoided him like the plague. And of course, Isabel had to be seen, she had to be radiant. They were quite a strange trio, now that she was reflecting on it while walking with short but firm steps through a corridor that was way below ground, but in that the three of them had agreed back then: They didn’t give a damn how strange they seemed. They had to stick together; it was the only way they would survive.

The funny thing, though, was even if they had believed they were together just because of what they were, Tess would have pretty much trashed the idea. She had been like them, and yet Tess had never really belonged with them. Maybe Tess had always known it, and on some level, they had known it too. They all had tried, the four of them, but there had never been that… click. That feeling of being complete.

Maybe it had started because they were the same, but they had remained together because with time they had really understood each other. Well, maybe understood was a little bit of a stretch… They had known each other as siblings do. But they had never understood or known Tess, and Tess had never understood them back either. They wanted completely different things and viewed everything from such distant points of view that it was just impossible. And though Isabel had been relieved that there was another girl like her, she had missed the days when it was only the three of them.

Well, her wish had been granted. Now they were again just three. Isabel unconsciously reached with her left hand for Max’s right hand and, in a gesture that they hadn’t shared in years, Isabel felt Max’s hand reaching for hers too. Neither of them turned to see the other, even if Isabel had been surprised to feel Max’s hand so cold. They had always shared that movement, ever since they had emerged from their pods. Even if she didn’t want to leave Michael out, this was a true sibling thing between her and her brother. Every single time that they had been scared of the unknown they had reached for each other: From entering their home for the first time, to getting off the bus the first day at their new school. And boy, did they feel scared right now.

The three of them stopped in front of the Lab door. An ordinary bluish, heavy-looking, metal door, not different from the dozens they had passed on their way from their apartments. It didn’t have any kind of electronic key, or numbers to enter codes or anything at all that they were expecting. It didn’t even have a key hole under the handle. It was just a simple door with white numbers that read 2 – 00 – 22, the only way they had been able to identify this was, indeed, the place where they should be.

Letting go of her brother’s hand, Isabel finally turned for a moment to look at him and then at Michael. Nodding briefly, she took a quick breath and reached for the handle. For a brief moment before opening the door she was really glad she didn’t have to do this alone. Because as long as they were together nothing bad could happen, right?

* * *

Jake R. Holt was a very patient man. In fact, he was so patient, that he could count how many times in his life he hadn’t been patient. Of course, he reflected as he awaited in his office, that wasn’t exactly remarkable for him. He could know how many times of anything he had done in his life in a matter of seconds, since his memory had the little game of not only memorizing stuff, but actually counting it, cataloguing it, organizing it and calling upon it every single time he needed to. It had started as a game when he was three, and now he couldn’t stop himself.

Actually, it was because he had been doing that that his mom had found out he wasn’t like all the other kids. At three he had been “diagnosed” with the terrible “disease” of being a genius. He hadn’t liked how that had sounded back then, and forty years later, he still didn’t like it at all. Being a genius wasn’t all that it was supposed to be.

Ever since his neighbors had found out they would stop him and ask him a million questions just to see if he would make a mistake in answering. Seriously, at the age of 4, the last thing he wanted to do was to answer stupid questions about how big the state of New York was or how many moons Saturn had. But even then, he had been a little patient boy, answering while counting how many red spots Mrs. Barnett’s shirt had or how many cars were passing by just behind her.

He had invented a million ways of making his mind wander without anyone noticing, games to just kill the boredom that was always there when he was doing something he didn’t like. And boy, there had been a million things he had had to do and hadn’t liked at all.

By the age of five, little Jake had started to get really intrigued about why, oh why, he was a genius. He had then started to read everything he could put his little hands on –and Ms. Julian had been really helpful at the local library- about the subject. Of course, in 1964, there wasn’t much he could put his little hands on about the mechanics of the brain, much less about genetics. But that hadn’t stopped him. Once he started on the brain, he was caught up in the intrinsic mechanics of how one works. From the brain, he passed to the spine, and from the spine, to the entire nervous system, and then, to the entire human body.

When Jake was six, he was a walking, talking biology encyclopedia, and it was right then, on his sixth birthday, when the little genius boy had found out about one other thing that he wouldn’t like, not then, not now, not ever: He was allergic to almonds. It had been the worst experience of his young life.

Anaphylactic shock had been two words that he had learned that day. He had nearly died because of a very serious allergy to almonds and all kinds of nuts in general. It was scary, even at the age of six, to know that something so small and that everyone could eat, could potentially kill him. And that had been how little Jake R. Holt had started to investigate about allergies.

That same month his mom had gotten in trouble with the law. It hadn’t been her fault, it had been her boyfriend’s fault, who had thought she would make a nice punching bag. Being that this was the eighth boyfriend who had thought that, Jake had finally had it. He had called the police. The judge had told her that her taste in man was so damned poor that he didn’t know how her son –that was him- could put up with her with his Einstein’s IQ. He had then threatened to take away Jake’s custody if she didn’t pull herself together. He had said too that she and her son needed counseling.

So his mom had decided to send him to this really renowned psychologist who specialized in genius kids. Big mistake, mom, really big mistake… If only they had known…

Back in 2003, Jake let the memory go. He had loved his mom for all the six years and a half he had known her, and he still called her “mom” in his mind, since he had never been able to grow up by her side to the point of calling her “mother”. He smiled. He bet that his Mom would have been proud of him if she could see him now. Maybe, just maybe, if it hadn’t been for the terrible mistake of choosing that particular psychologist, the events that had led him into this life and into meeting Dave would have never happened. And not meeting Dave would have also meant that he would have never met life from another place.

This time, Jake smiled broadly. It was a really good thing that his main interest wasn’t in knowing what little green men knew about how to travel through space or about their home planet, but instead, what he could find out about how they worked. More specific, how their biology worked. Because there was nothing more fascinating than to try to decipher the simplest cell structures and how billions of simple cells made one alive.

That was what he was waiting for in his office: Billions of cells that made three very unique beings, walking into this room. Well, that was the scientific part of him. The human part of him was equally excited on knowing the conscious part of those billions of cells, because Jake knew, -oh, did he know-, what it felt like to be unique in the world. And because, after all, they weren’t really aliens in all the sense of the word: They didn’t know about space travel or much of their home planet for all Jake had heard Dave talking about. They were three teenage kids with extraordinary abilities who were willing to let him explore how they worked.

Ever since Dave had told him about them, he had been theorizing about how the human brain could be able to work by breaking the rules of physics and chemistry and God knew what else. He had a million ideas about how that was possible, and another million ideas of how to prove it, to test it. He knew that some of those ideas where a little bit out of the ordinary, but sure the four of them could get to an agreement. He had it all planned out in his head. This was going to be great.

Jake checked his watch: 6:54. They still had time. Jake liked to be punctual, but half of the time he forgot what time it was, so he wouldn’t blame them if they were late themselves. In fact, he had been so worried about losing track of time that he had entered this office and sat in his chair behind his desk since 6:30 a.m. He was not going to be late.

It was a good thing that he really didn’t sleep all that much, or else, being awake at 6:30 a.m., after the six past days he had had, would have been downright impossible. When the kids had arrived last Wednesday early morning, he had been ready for them. And nothing had been unusual about all the medical tests they had scheduled to make sure the six of them were healthy.

Dave had pretty much asked every five minutes if they were okay, a fact that, if not for Jake’s huge patience limit, would have driven him nuts. Jake had shortened his six hour period of sleep to four hours, so he could keep assuring Dave that things were going according to plan. Besides, he was way too excited about this to sleep more than that.

And everything had gone okay until the third day, when Max’s heart hadn’t liked the idea of Max’s entire body being inactive for such a long time. As far as Jake could theorize, they were like batteries over charging themselves with the lack of use. Being forced to be asleep for such a long period of time was unhealthy for them.

Well, that was what he thought. And that was exactly what he had told Dave before he had asked for the millionth time -57th, according to his memory- if they were okay.

“They are not going to be okay if we don’t wake them up now.” Jake had said seriously, studying Max’s EKG.

“You mean right now?” Dave had asked with the same seriousness, clearly going to agree on that if there was no other path. Jake knew that Dave had planned out every single stage of whatever his plan was, and that this would disrupt said plan terribly. Still, Dave was no fool.

“Right now it’s just a small abnormality, the first sign of something that could go wrong. But I would advise you to wake them up within the hour. Let the sedative wear off.”

“Okay,” Dave had said, his mind processing a million changes to his plan. “I’ll tell Samantha to hurry with the diamond, and you, my friend, hurry too with them. They’ll have to be placed in their rooms before they awake, even if they’ll have to stay there longer than I wanted…”

He would have to ask Max if he had felt anything unusual with his heart, but Jake seriously doubted that it had been anything at all. Especially with Max’s own healing ability, that would have probably taken care of the problem without Max’s awareness. Boy, that was an extremely handy ability.

Jake’s office was a very large space, about 12 feet by 16 feet, with his huge wood desk at one end of the room, -that, by the way, had taken him ages to clear out of towers and towers of paper sheets- and a small fridge just reachable by his left hand at the back. He was always grabbing food at all times, so it made perfect sense to have it there. Beside the fridge, he had a small cupboard to keep the non-fridge food –just reachable by his right hand. In the other end of the office he had a small living room, where, if he actually did it, he would take naps just like Ray did from time to time when Dave was using his own living room above ground. According to Ray, these were the next best things to take naps on.

There were two doors in Jake’s office, each at one side in the middle of the walls. The one at his right was for the corridor outside, and the one to his left was the one that led to his labs. He hadn’t complained at all when Dave had asked him if he needed more space to do whatever he was planning to do in order to test their abilities and, two months later, Jake’s only lab had tripled it’s size. So now he had so much space to himself that he couldn’t call it a lab, but instead, the labs. Oh, he had so many ideas of how to prove and analyze and measure everything and anything they could do, that Jake couldn’t wait to start. Checking his watch again, he saw the door handle slowly going down. They were just in time.

The door started to open slowly, bringing Jake back from his cloud, making his heart beat a little bit faster, his eyes eager with anticipation. Isabel entered first, followed by Max and then Michael. The three of them just stood there, right in the middle of the room, practically staring at him, barely breathing, not saying a thing. The only sound in the office was the door closing itself.

At that moment, Jake forgot all about hearts, abilities, tests or how great this was supposed to be and, for an instant there, he was also glad he wasn’t wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope and that his office didn’t look like a chemist’s lab. The only thing that Jake could think of when he looked at them was exactly the only thing he could say: “For Pete’s sake, you are going to faint!”

The three staring kids looked at him with surprise for a second and, as if on cue, looked to the floor, blushing a little and looking so small in front of him, almost as if this was some scene out of a teenage movie, where the three of them had just been busted by the principal.

“Please, please, sit down,” Jake finally said, showing them with a gesture of his hand to where to sit in the living room behind them, trying to let go of the shock of knowing that these kids weren’t exactly eager to be here. What was going through those heads? Well, by the looks of it, nothing good…

He stood up and opened the small fridge to get a six pack of Cokes, and turning around he caught them sitting down, giving each other nervous glances and definitely avoiding looking at him. What the hell did you tell them, Dave? Jake wondered for a second while going to the small living room himself. Since the three of them sat on the middle couch, -Max, Isabel and Michael, and he would notice with time that the two boys always tried to leave Isabel in the middle- Jake went to the one on their left.

“You look exactly as I did when I was going to visit my neighbor, Mrs Barnett. If you did as much as breathe, something would break, and boy, you really didn’t want to break a thing in Mrs. Barnett’s house.” He finished his analogy, not receiving even a hint of a smile for his attempt at humor. So he started passing out the Cokes one by one, leaving the remaining two sodas on the small table in the middle.

“We are not… really… hungry…” Isabel said, passing the Coke to her brother.

“I know,” Jake said opening his soda, the sound of it echoing in the office, “I can tell neither of you ate a thing this morning. You probably have a knot in the middle of your stomachs right now.” Jake took a sip of his Coke and, seeing that neither of them as much as attempted to open the cans, he gave up.

“Listen, I know you are nervous. I would have to be blind to not notice it, but I don’t know why you are so damned nervous. So, please, drink the Coke. You really look like you need the sugar.” And you sure look like you want to be anywhere but here, he silently added as Isabel reluctantly opened her can, Max following her example.

Michael eyed him with suspiciousness in his eyes. For a fraction of a second Jake was tempted to tell Michael want to change Cokes? so he wouldn’t believe the sodas had something in them. Because Jake didn’t need to be a genius to know that that was exactly what Michael was thinking. But finally, Michael also opened his Coke, if only to place it in front of him on the table.

Thirty seconds passed in which no one said a thing. It was obvious that his early question as to why they were so nervous was not going to be answered, and that an invisible ice wall was beginning to form between them. Gee, talk about thick…

“Okay,” he began, finally deciding on a course of action to break the iceberg that was passing between them right now. “I had this whole introductory speech prepared, so I better start with it… before you burn me,” Jake finished his sentence watching Michael’s hand. For just a second he had seen a tiny green spark. Wow. Half of his brain was on remembering the speech and the other half was amazed at the possibilities of such a spark. What could trigger it, and how it was triggered and why—Jake stopped staring when Michael folded his arms in front of him in a clearly defensive way.

“Okay… yeah… sorry…” Jake cleared his throat, placing his Coke on the table as well. “I’m Jake, as… you know. You just call me Jake as well… everybody else does…” Why was he so suddenly nervous? He hadn’t anticipated being nervous at all. What strange effect a green spark had, he reflected for an instant. Taking a short breath, Jake recollected all his thoughts –including the ones that had been stuck still marveling with green sparks- and swept away his nervousness.

“We’ll be working for a long time, hopefully, so there are some things that we should establish from the beginning.” Thankfully, the three of them nodded a little. It hadn’t passed unnoticed to Jake that, except for Isabel’s comment about not being hungry, none of them had said a single word yet. Captain, this iceberg is not moving anywhere.

“It’ll be only the four of us working in here—”

“Just the four of us?” Michael asked out of the blue, totally cutting him off. Well, maybe the iceberg wasn’t all that big…

“Yeah… at least that you want… the other three to come—“

“No!” Max said, almost dropping his soda, “I mean, that’s not necessary… Aren’t there going to be more… people working with you?”

“No. It’ll be you three and I alone.”

“Why?” Michael asked, the suspiciousness returning to his eyes.

“Well, actually, there are two reasons as to why: First, you already know that no one besides Dave, Ray, and myself knows the truth about you, so bringing anyone else would also mean telling them the truth as well. And that’s the last thing you or Dave want, so… And secondly, this will teach you a lot of stuff that you should know about yourselves.”

Question marks greeted his words.

You are going to… let’s say ‘assist’ me during our projects. You need to know what happens to you, physically, when you are manipulating your environment. How it affects you and why it affects you, and so you’ll see how to take advantage of it.” Jake had stood up and had started pacing, but he hadn’t really noticed it while he kept talking about what he had been thinking about for at least six months now. “And besides, you’ll also need to know what can happen to you in the event of, let’s say, an accident. Once you’ll leave this place, you should be able to know how drugs affect your system, what to do in an emergency, especially if Max isn’t around.” Jake paused in the middle of his rant to look at them. Gosh, I shouldn’t have said that, Jake thought regretting not having the tact to explain himself without hinting one of them was going to have an accident… Because if anything, Michael now not only looked even more suspicious, he also looked to be on the edge of anger, while Max and Isabel looked paler than when they had entered. He wondered if the iceberg that had sunk the Titanic had been as big as this one.

“I’ve messed up,” he finally said, laughing a little at himself. “You know what? I know what you need right now… before you really burn me,” he said, this time Max’s hands being the ones that retreated into a protective self embrace. “How do you feel about racing?”

“You want us to run?” Isabel asked, the only one whose hands were still in sight. Yet, the three of them frowned at him.

“Sure, but I don’t think what you have in mind is what I have in mind…”

"There's addiction, and there's Roswell!"