Can They Hear You Scream (CC / Teen) (Complete)

Finished Canon/Conventional Couple Fics. These stories pick up from events in the show. All complete stories from the main Canon/CC board will eventually be moved here.

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TaffyCat
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Can They Hear You Scream (CC / Teen) (Complete)

Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:13 pm

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Runners-up from Round 3.

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Best Medium-Length Fanfic


Title: Can They Hear You Scream?
Author: Taffy
Email: bstuller@splis.com
Category: CC
Rating: TEEN for subject matter.
Disclaimer: Don’t own them, just borrowing them. Promise to return them only slightly used.

In this story there were no Skins, no End of The World, Alex did not die, there absolutely, positively, sure as hell was no pity sex with Tess, and no SpoT.
However, I am going to borrow one idea from S2 but I am TOTALLY twisting it around.

This is an emotionally intense story that picks up the summer after Destiny.
Are Max’s nightmares just the result of the White Room or are they something more?

~

Part 1

It was time. He craved to be free, to be born. His leg kicked against the wall trying to break through. His arm reached out and felt the wall with his fingertips. His body twisted back and forth as he fought to move closer to the wall. His foot kicked the wall again and again. The wall was weakening. He could feel it. His arm reached out and tore at it. He needed out. He needed to breathe. His foot kicked hard and felt the wall give way. The fluid that had surrounded and nourished him for so long began to drain away. His fingers clawed at the membrane wall, and for the first time they felt the outside air. The wall tore some more and his arm slipped through. He pushed forward and stuck his shoulder and then head through. He opened his eyes to the world. It was the moment of his birth.

He paused and looked at the beings standing there watching him. He tilted his head as he tried to reach out to them with his mind. He didn’t understand when he received no response in return. They didn’t hear him. They didn’t understand him. This was wrong. They weren’t the right ones. They weren’t his family. His eyes grew wide as gloved hands reached for him and pulled him the rest of the way out and laid him on a cold, smooth surface. He looked back at the membrane wall that was now completely ripped open. It was attached to three others but those were empty and brittle. The life they used to contain was long since gone, but where? Where was his family? He had just been born and all he had were his instincts. And he was certain that this was all wrong. He felt something going across his legs and then again across his arms, holding him down to this cold, smooth, hard surface. He saw one of the beings come close to him with something in one of his gloved hands. Another being grabbed his arm and turned it over. Something was wrapped tightly around his upper arm. It pinched. The gloved hand pressed in a few places against his exposed arm before the other gloved hand holding that thing moved closer, until it broke his skin. The sharp pain startled him and tears flowed down his cheeks. Terrified, his mind silently reached out to anyone and screamed.


Max bolted upright as a scream still echoed in his head. His heart was pounding. A sheen of sweat encompassed his body. He stared at his hands as they shook. He looked around trying to reassure himself that it was just a nightmare. It was over. He wasn’t in the White Room. Nesado had it disassembled and Eagle Rock shut down last month. It was just a nightmare. He was home. He was safe. It was just a nightmare. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and waited until his tremors died down. He rose shakily to his feet and moved slowly to his dresser. His stiff muscles protested every step. He pulled out dry boxers and a t-shirt and stumbled to the bathroom.

~

His hands held onto the showerhead, as if for dear life, as the warm water pelted his body and slowly relaxed his muscles. “It was just a nightmare. Just another nightmare,” he mumbled repeatedly to himself. He stood like that until the water had long since run cold. He heard a discreet knock on the door and shut the water off.

“Max? Max, are you okay? You’ve been in there for like an hour.” Isabel knocked again when she heard the water stop. “Max?”

He slowly got out of the shower and dried off. He slipped his boxers and t-shirt on before opening the door. “Hey, Iz.”

A good night’s sleep was a luxury now for her. For the last two months, she had been woken too many times in the middle of the night by her brother’s screams. Their whole house had. Mom and Dad were beyond worried. They were desperate. They wanted Max to get a complete physical and see a therapist. Perhaps go on some medication so he could at least get some decent sleep. Max was fighting them tooth-and-nail on it. He had to, even though it was probably exactly what he needed. She had taken to leaving her bedroom door open at night and sleeping very lightly in an attempt to be the first to hear if Max needed her help before he woke their parents and worried them even further. She was afraid that if he couldn’t get a hold of this soon, her parents might try to have him hospitalized or something. The dark rings under his eyes told her it had been another hard night for him. She watched how slowly he moved as he grabbed a comb out of a drawer and combed his hair. “Max, we’ve got to do something. You can’t go on like this. Maybe…maybe a therapist wouldn’t hurt?”

His shoulders sagged. “I know but how would a therapist help? I can’t tell him anything,” he reminded her as he put the comb back in the drawer. He didn’t look up in the mirror. He knew what he’d see if he did and he was better off not seeing it.

“Maybe you could talk to someone else. Michael?” She sighed as her brother shook his head ‘no’. “What about the sheriff?” Her heart leaped as he seemed to ponder her suggestion. “Max, will you talk to the sheriff?”

“I… I’ll try, Iz. I’ll try,” he promised her quietly.

She nodded. “Good, that’s a good start. And eat Max. You’ve got to eat. Mom’s been going nuts about how thin you’re getting.”

“I’m not hungry,” he told her. He saw the worry that triggered. That’s all he saw lately in his loved ones was worry. He sighed heavily. He knew she was right. Maybe if he could talk to Valenti and he started eating healthy, just maybe he could get through this. “Okay. I’ll do my best.”

~

Diane smiled tentatively as her son ate his breakfast. It was the first time in a long time he sat down and actually ate. She knew he tried to avoid family meals as much as possible lately. He tended to pick at his food and shove it around his plate when he did. This morning he came in, poured himself some juice, and sat down with his plate of eggs and potatoes. He even grabbed a piece of toast. It gave her some hope. He still looked so haggard, and she couldn’t recall the last time he had really smiled or laughed. She glanced over at her husband. He was alternating between reading the sports page and watching Max eat. They wanted to help him but he was fighting against them so hard. She was worried that if they pushed him too hard, he might run off on them, just when he needed their help the most. “So, what are everyone’s plans for today? It’s supposed to be a beautiful Sunday, much cooler. Max, do you have to work today?” she inquired.

His stomach was highly protesting all the food he was forcing down. He hadn’t eaten this much in some time. He was concentrating on not throwing up and wasn’t paying attention. When he took a sip of juice, he looked up and realized that they were waiting for him to say something. “Uh…sorry. What’d you ask?”

Diane’s eyes shifted to her husband’s for a moment. She could tell he was thinking the same thing. This wasn’t good. “I was wondering if you had to work today?” she asked again, being careful to keep as much of her concern out of her voice as possible.

“Um, no. I’m off until tomorrow at 2:00,” he replied and carefully took another bite of potatoes.

Philip folded the paper and put it down. “Well, why don’t we do something as a family today? Maybe a drive, or a picnic or something? It’s been too long since we did anything as a family. What do you all say?”

“That sounds wonderful. Isabel? Max, what do you say?” Diane asked quickly, hoping to catch him before he could make up an excuse.

Max looked up at his parents. They were looking so hopeful. He glanced over at Isabel. She too wanted him to say yes. He wanted to, too. His stomach had other ideas. It churned and started to burn. His face suddenly felt hot. He blanched as he felt the bile rise in his throat. “Oh, God.” He knocked over his chair as he ran from the table and straight into the bathroom.

Diane felt tears form as they all heard the retching. She looked over at his plate. It was almost empty. The first time he’d eaten a whole meal all summer. She wiped at her eyes and went to the cabinet to get a glass down.

The bathroom door was partially open so she walked in. He was sitting on the floor, his head resting against the wall, his eyes closed. She carefully bent down to him. “Here, honey. Ice water. Take a few sips to rinse your mouth out.” He smiled weakly at her as he took the glass. She reached for a washcloth, dampened it with cool water, and gently wiped the sweat from his face.

He closed his eyes as the cloth swiped over his face. He was so hot the cloth felt wonderful. “Thanks Mom,” he said and opened his eyes. “I’m…I’m sorry. I…I tried… I’m sorry.”

Diane sat down on the tile next him and studied him. “Honey, what can we do to help you? Please tell us. We love you so much and… Honey, whatever it is, we’ll still love you. Please let us help you.”

He didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t tell them but he had to do something. He was so tired. It was hard to think. He kept remembering last night’s dream, the nightmare. It hadn’t been anything like any of his other ones. He’d never dreamed of being born in the White Room before. And in that dream the White Room looked different somehow. But that scream. It was so intense, so terrified. It tore at his psyche. He had been born and no one but his tormentors were there to greet him. He was alone. All alone. He felt tears filling his eyes and he lunged forward, wrapping his arms around his mother’s waist and burying his tears in her embrace. “Don’t leave me, Mom. Don’t leave me alone.”

Diane held him close and rocked him in her arms. “I won’t, honey. I won’t leave you. I’m here for you, honey. I’ll always be here for you. I love you.” She rocked and kissed him, and stroked his trembling arms. She had no idea how long they sat there on the bathroom floor but finally his trembling and sobbing quieted. She felt Philip come behind them and helped Max to get up. He was exhausted.

Philip gently eased his son from his wife’s arms and pulled him to his feet. “Come on, son. Let’s get you to bed before you keel over on us.” He had to practically carry Max to bed. Max was asleep before his head even hit the pillow. Diane hovered over him. It was almost an hour before she would leave his room.

Diane took two aspirins and joined her husband in the den. She looked around for her other child. “Where’s Isabel?”

Philip placed his hand over his wife’s. “She left. She said she was going to see Michael. She was pretty upset. She got even more so when she saw these,” he told her as he showed her the brochures.

Diane’s heart broke. “Oh Philip, I just don’t know if this is the right thing to do. I mean, you saw and heard him earlier. He’s afraid we’re going to leave him. If we force him to go to some hospital and then…then leave him, wouldn’t his worst fears be coming true?”

~

Isabel was near tears as she paced around the small, unkempt apartment. “Don’t you get it, Michael? Max is loosing it big time. Mom and Dad are considering having him committed to a mental facility. He’s that bad!” she yelled at him in frustration.

Michael had his arms crossed in his normal defensive pose and shook his head. “Nope. Not going to happen. If Max doesn’t bust himself out of there, I will. No way we’re going to let that happen.”

“AAGGGGH!” Isabel growled at him. “I know we can’t let him be committed but Michael, they aren’t wrong. He needs help.” She suddenly plopped down on the battered sofa as tears flowed. “I thought he was getting better. Last week he only had a couple of nightmares. That’s a huge improvement over two weeks ago when it was every night, or last month when he was waking the house up two and three times a night. And then this morning… God, Michael, at two o’clock in the morning he was in the shower for over an hour. He didn’t turn the water off until I knocked on the door.”

Michael scratched his chin uncomfortably. “Uh, Iz, there are a few reasons a guy might be taking a long shower in the middle of the night.”

Isabel leveled a glare at him. “I know that. God knows I’ve heard more than I’ve ever wanted coming from behind that bathroom door from Max and YOU!” She took a deep breath to compose herself. “You didn’t see him when he opened the door. He looked… He looked like he did when you and the sheriff dragged him out of the White Room, like he’d been through hell and back. And then this morning at breakfast, oh God, that was my fault. I asked him to try to eat more. He’s lost so much weight. He said he would. This morning he ate almost his whole breakfast and then… God, he ran from the table and threw it all up. Mom and Dad saw everything.”

Michael’s scowl deepened more than normal. He and Max had been going rounds recently. Max wanted to crawl under a rock and hide while he thought it’d be better to practice and prepare for the enemy, maybe turn the tables and go after them instead. Even with their differences though, he knew that he’d stand by Max. He wouldn’t allow him to be locked up somewhere. But this… How do you help a guy that’s falling apart at the seams? He ran his hand through his hair and wished Liz was here. She might be able to help him. She was better at this crap then he was. Even Maria might be able to do something. He knew that Max and Maria had started hanging out occasionally. Max had assured him they were just friends, and from what he could see that was about it. He wasn’t worried, not when he made sure Alex was usually close by just in case. Maybe he could ask Maria to…what? Talk to him, maybe? God knows she could talk someone’s ear off, but could she listen? “Maybe he could talk to someone we know? Too bad Liz is still in Florida. Maybe someone else could play stand in?”

Isabel sighed. “I asked him to talk to the sheriff. He said that he’d try. I just hope he gets the chance before Mom and Dad do something drastic.”

~

He was so scared. Everything was so bright, the lights, the walls, the floor, everything. It hurt his eyes. He curled up in a tight ball in the corner of the room. They’d put him here after they had hurt him. The marks on his arms still hurt. They had made this red-colored stuff come out of his arms over and over again. It’d hurt. Then they put stuff in his arms and he’d felt awful. His head kept spinning and his stomach kept turning upside down. Then they put him here and went away. He was tired and confused. This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. He knew it. He felt it. But this was his world and he was terrified of it. He closed his eyes as sleep took over and his mind began to drift, seeking out anyone that might be out there, anyone at all.

Max woke with a start. His heart was once again racing. He was totally disoriented and had to think for a few moments before he realized where he was. He saw the sun peaking through his not quite closed curtains and wondered what time it was. He looked over at his watch and was surprised to find it was still afternoon. He laid there quietly, trying to figure out why his subconscious was doing this to him. He figured he’d have a few nightmares. It stood to reason after what had happened to him. But he hadn’t been prepared for how bad they were going to be though. He thought he’d turned the corner last week. He thought he could see the light at the end of the tunnel. But now…now he honestly didn’t know what was happening to him. He couldn’t figure out why he was having nightmares of being born in the White Room. And why they had to be such vivid dreams. Not just picturing what was happening but feeling it, the sheer terror of what was happening to him. He looked down at the insides of his elbows almost expecting to see needle marks. He didn’t know if he should be relieved or not that they weren’t any there. Was it possible that he really was losing his mind?

When he closed his eyes and tried to relax he heard his parents’ voices. It sounded like his dad was on the phone. Did he say something about availability? He wondered for a moment if his parents were planning a trip. A change of scenery might do him some good. At least it couldn’t hurt. Then he heard his mom sob. His eyes popped open with alarm. His mom wouldn’t be sobbing over a vacation. This had to be bad. He quietly made his way to the kitchen where the main phone was and where he’d heard his parents’ voices.

Philip sat at the table and held his wife’s hand as he talked to the doctor. “So, he would have a semi-private room…twice daily therapy sessions. What about medications? My wife and I don’t really want him to be…doped up, but if there’s something that might help… Oh, a complete medical and psychological exam upon admittance. Still we would be consulted before he was given anything, right? Good, good.” Diane lightly slapped his hand to get his attention and mouthed him a question. “What about visitors? How often could we… Not for the first week and then twice a week for two hours. No more than two at a time and no friends for at least the first 30 days.” He sighed heavily. “How long is the normal stay? Forty-five to 90 days. I see. What about school? He’s always been a good student… Oh, okay, that’s good. And security? What kind of… Patrols, cameras. He’d be watched around the clock for the first week. Okay. Well, thank you doctor. We’ll be in touch.” He punched the button to disconnect and then held his wife’s hands in his. He shook his head sadly. “I just don’t know, Diane. I just don’t know. He’s going to fight us on this. No way is he going to do this voluntarily. I just don’t know.” His wife could only sob in reply.

Max stood in the doorway, partially hidden from his parents’ view. He was stunned at what he’d heard. He hadn’t believed that they’d go through with their threats. He had to do something. He stepped around the doorway. “Please don’t. Don’t send me away like that. Please,” he pleaded, his voice choked with emotion.

Diane’s heart caught in her throat. “Oh, honey.”

Philip had to swallow a few times before he could talk. He held out his hand for his son to come and join them. “Max, come here. Please, sit down and talk to us. Tell us what it is that we can do then to help you. We’ve got to do something.”

Max shakily reached for his father’s hand and took a seat at the table with them. His mom reached over and grabbed his hand as well. “I…I thought I was getting better last week. I really did but…now I don’t know.”

Philip eyed his son carefully and decided to tread very cautiously. This was the closest he’d come to telling them anything. “Can you tell us what’s happening? Maybe if we understood better we could come up with a better solution. Can you tell us about the nightmares?”

Max closed his eyes and tried to think, tried to decide how much to tell them without it blowing up in his face. He felt his mom squeeze his hand to reassure him. He took a slow even breath and opened his eyes. “I… I’m being held in a room and there’s no way to get out. I’m…they… I’m being hurt. But…eventually my loved ones do come and rescue me.” He can feel his mom’s hand shaking but she’s remaining stoically quiet, afraid to interrupt. “During the day I just can’t get it out of my head sometimes. It’s like I have to…fight it down or something. But last week I thought I was getting better. The dreams were…lessoning and I could concentrate more.” He paused to get control of his thoughts and emotions before continuing. “Now I don’t know what to think. It…the dreams, they’re twisting and…I can’t fathom why.”

Philip knew that his son was very reserved and while he had always been sensitive, he always seemed to keep careful control of his emotions. But not now. Emotions were playing very clearly across his face. He had no doubt that his son was telling them the truth, or at least as much of the truth that he could. Something was telling him that there was more to these nightmares. “How are they twisting, Max?” he asked gently.

“Last night I…I dreamed I was born there, in the White Room. It seemed so…real. I could feel how…scared I was. I was this little kid and they…they didn’t care. They still…they still…” He tore his hand away from his parents and turned away from them so they wouldn’t see as he rubbed angrily at his eyes as the tears refused to obey and began falling.

Diane looked helplessly at her husband. She didn’t know what to think. A thousand scenarios ran through her mind, but one kept coming back up. Someone had hurt her son badly. She didn’t know if it was recent or before he’d been adopted. Neither Max nor Isabel had ever talked about their lives before they’d adopted them. When pushed, all they’d talk about was the Children’s Center where they’d been placed for a short time before coming home with them. They always claimed not to remember anything before that. Was it possible that they both had purposely blocked those memories because they were too painful and now…now Max was starting to remember and it’s tearing him apart? Oh God, what could have happened to him? She stood and walked over to her son and wrapped him in her arms and just held him for the second time that day.

Max just let his mom hold him. It helped. It reminded him that he wasn’t alone. He had them. Isabel had told him last fall that she needed them. He didn’t want to admit it, not even to himself, but he still needed them too. “Please don’t send me away.”

Philip watched as Diane held him and wondered what the White Room was. That had been a slip, he was sure of it. He was also sure that it probably would do more harm than good for him to be sent away somewhere. “We won’t, son. But I am going to insist that you get some help. You need some therapy at the very least. And maybe there’s some medication that might help to…deal with this.”

He let go of his mom and sat up straight in the chair. He was once more in control of his emotions, at least in some part. He looked over at his dad and could tell that he wasn’t going to budge. “Okay, I…I’ll see a therapist but no drugs. I just…no drugs.”

Philip nodded. “Okay, let’s start with the therapist. I’ll make some more inquiries tomorrow and see who’d be the best one for you to talk to.”

Who’s going to be qualified to analyze an alien/human hybrid that’s been tortured by the FBI? Well, if one were to be found, it most likely would be in Roswell. Max nodded in agreement. His mom hugged him again. If nothing else it bought him some more time to figure out what was going on in his head. Plus it made his parents somewhat happy that he’d opened up a little to them. He knew they were hurt that he didn’t share much of his life with them. But he was afraid of losing them and hurting them even more if they knew. And he was just starting to realize how much it would really hurt to lose them as well.

~

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TaffyCat
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Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:15 pm

Part 2

Max lay back in bed with his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling. The problem with taking a nap during the day was that it totally screwed up your nighttime sleep. Not that his nighttime, or anytime, sleep wasn’t already totally screwed. This just didn’t help. He heard the jeep pull into the driveway outside and he glanced over at his bedside clock, 1:39 a.m. At least someone had a good time tonight. What a wasted day it had been for him. What really sucked was that it had been his day off, too. He heard his sister’s footsteps as they approached and he turned when they stopped at his doorway. “Hey.”

Isabel checked to make sure that their parents weren’t around before going to sit on her brother’s bed. “What are you doing up? Did you have another nightmare tonight?”

Max shook his head. “No. I would have had to have been asleep in order to have one. I slept too much today and now can’t sleep at all.”

She glanced out the door and into the hall to make sure no one was around. “Max, we need to talk. I saw Dad going over brochures today. They were… Max, they were for mental health facilities. This is getting serious. You’ve got to do something. Talk to someone. You can’t…”

“I know. Dad was doing more than just looking at brochures. I caught him calling them this afternoon,” Max informed her in a defeated tone.

“Oh God, Max.” She paced around for something, anything, to hold onto as her world fell apart, right along with her brother. Remembering her conversation this afternoon, she came to a halt and sat back down at the foot of the bed. “I talked to Michael. I didn’t know what else to do. He won’t let that happen. We’re not going to let them take you away…not again. Besides, I know you wouldn’t allow it. You’d fight them.”

He sat up and looked at his sister. “Isabel, they’re not having me committed, at least not yet. I talked to them a little and agreed to go see a therapist. It’s the only thing I could think of to buy me some time to figure out what’s going on inside my head.”

“Max, what happened? I thought that the stuff you and Alex got off the Internet and at the library a couple of weeks ago was helping you deal, that you were getting better. But last night…”

“You’re right. Last night was different. Doing all the research on posttraumatic stress disorder with Alex did help. Just putting a name to it helped. The problem is that the recommended treatment is therapy, medication, or hospitalization, and I can’t do that. And last night… I just don’t know. Last night was…different, more intense. It’s like my subconscious is taking what happened in the White Room and going places that I just don’t understand.” He suddenly felt tired. He was tired of fighting. Tired of not being able to sleep. Tired of being different. Tired of having to lie and tell half-truths. Tired of keeping track of everything. Tired of worrying everyone and worrying about everyone. Tired of leading. Tired of thinking. Tired of being alone. He closed his eyes and wished for the days when his biggest worry was remembering his lines for the puppet shows he and Iz used to do for their parents when they were little.

Isabel watched him close his eyes and saw how his brow bunched in worry. The dark circles told of his exhaustion. The way his cheeks sunk in made him look gaunt and sickly. He was sickly. “They scare you, these new nightmares, don’t they?”

He opened his eyes. He couldn’t hide his worry from her. “Until now all my symptoms fell in line with what Alex and I found. This… Yeah, it’s scaring me. But the treatment that I know I need I can’t get.”

“What are you going to do if this therapy fails and Mom and Dad feel they have no other choice?” she asked hesitantly, afraid of his answer.

He leaned his head against the wall and hoped against hope that the therapy would help. But he knew better. It was doomed to fail because he couldn’t tell them what had happened. “Whatever I have to do.”

“You’ll run.” She sat quietly for a few minutes, taking in the inevitability of what was likely to happen. Running. Max would run just when he needed his family and friends’ support the most. “You won’t be alone, Max.”

“Let’s not worry about things that haven’t happened yet,” he told her and then changed the subject, “How was the new Star Wars movie that you and Alex saw tonight?”

Diane stood down the hall just out of eyesight of her son’s room but well within earshot. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop on their conversation. She had heard Isabel come in and wanted to wish her goodnight and maybe check on how Max was doing. Her breath caught in her throat at what she heard. Max had threatened to leave earlier in the year after the kitchen fire. She’d always known there was something different about her children. Things just didn’t always add up. And of her two children, Max had always been more secretive, more closed off from her. She thought that if she knew his secret he could open up to her, and then maybe she could be there for him more. Now things were worse, much worse, and if they pushed Max, she’d lose him. She knew without a doubt that Max would run if they gave him no choice, and Isabel would follow. She’d never been more scared for her children in her life. She felt the tears threaten as she silently made her way up the stairs. Oh God, what were they going to do?

~

The next morning Diane paused as Max came in and got a glass of juice. He still looked so tired. “Honey, do you want some breakfast? I’d be happy to make you something real quick.”

Max thought for a moment. From what he had read, he knew that his loss of appetite was most likely due to stress brought on by dealing with the PTSD. He wasn’t really hungry but he should try to eat something. After a moment’s thought, he grabbed a bowl from the cabinet and went for the milk and cereal. “No, that’s okay. I’ll just have some cereal, Mom.”

“Okay, honey.” She held her tongue as he dumped Tabasco on his Coco Puffs. It was beyond her how anyone could eat that, but at least he was eating. It was all she could do to not stare at him while he ate. She jumped when the phone rang, startling her, and quickly answered it. “Oh, Philip. You did? That’s great. When can they… Oh, okay. Just a minute, let me write it down.”

Max watched as his mom wrote ‘Dr. Bennington, 1101 Citrus, 555-2234, 3:00 today’ on the message board, obviously his new therapist. His stomach churned and he lost what little appetite he had.

“Okay, I’ll meet you at your office at 2:30 and we’ll go from there. See you then, Honey.” She hung up the phone and turned to her son who was no longer eating. “That was your dad. He talked to some doctors he knew and a few of them recommended Dr. Bennington. He specializes in working with teens and young adults. Your dad was able to get you in at 3:00 today. Um, actually the first appointment will be more of a family one. Your dad and I first, then you, and then all three of us to discuss the best course of action.”

He had a hard time meeting her eyes. No matter what he’d said yesterday, he didn’t want to do this. It was a waste of time and he hated that his parents were putting out the money when he was certain it wasn’t going to work. “I have to work today from 2:00 ‘til 8:00. I can’t make the appointment today. I’m off Friday morning so that would work. I don’t have my schedule for next week so…”

She cut him off, “Max, you will either tell Milton that you have a doctor’s appointment today and need a few hours off, or I will call and tell him for you right now,” she told him firmly.

He pushed the bowl of cereal away from him. The smell of it was making his stomach churn even more. “Okay.”

“Good. Your dad and I will be by at 2:45 to pick you up from work. If Milton needs you later on, tell him that we can drop you back off around 5:00 or so.” She did her best to hold her firm tone but her heart ached at how dejected and…broken he looked as he nodded in agreement. Her tone softened a little, “Honey, no after-school or summer job is more important than your health. I’m sure Milton won’t be upset.”

He could only nod in agreement.

~

When Max asked for a few hours off for a doctor’s appointment, Milton had nodded sympathetically and told him to go ahead and take the rest of the day off. He hated the pity he saw in Milton’s eyes. Promptly at 2:45 his parents picked him up and they headed over to the therapist’s office. As his mom had told him earlier, she and his dad had gone first to discuss their concerns and then it was his turn. He took a seat in the comfortable looking side chair and ran his sweaty palms up and down his jeans, wanting this over with as soon as possible.

“Your parents are very concerned about you, Max. They care about you a great deal and want to help you. Do you think you could let them do that? Let them help you?” the therapist asked and watched the obviously nervous young man’s reaction. Fear.

“Of course I do,” Max told him once he could find his voice.

Dr. Bennington nodded. From what Mr. and Mrs. Evans told him, Max was a very private person who didn’t open up to many, if any. They told him of his and his sister’s adoptions, of finding them alone in the desert, of them being abandoned, and of them both claiming not to remember anything about their birth family or how they came to be in the desert that night. Mrs. Evans thought the trouble Max was having now might be stemming from that time, from some suppressed trauma that was just now rising to the surface. It certainly was a possibility but that didn’t mean it was the only reason. He was interested in finding out why Max was so nervous and reluctant to go into therapy. He had a feeling that this one was going to take some time. “So Max, why don’t you tell me about these nightmares that I hear you’ve been having? Do you remember what happens in them?”

And so it began, more lies and half-truths, and more having to think and keep track of what he said. One more thing making him tired. He concentrated on remembering what he’d told his parents last night and started there. “I’m being held in a room…”

~

‘Take one a day with breakfast.’ ‘Take one as needed for sleep.’ Max laid his head back on the headrest from his place in the backseat and stared dejectedly at the car roof as they headed home from the pharmacy. “We agreed to no drugs last night,” he reminded his parents. “But these aren’t drugs, they’re medication and if they can help, why not try them,” they’d replied. He wanted to scream, “Because I don’t know what they could do to my alien biology!” but he said nothing and let them fill the prescriptions he had no intention of taking. He turned his head and looked out the window as they pulled into the driveway of the comfortable Spanish style house that had been his home all his life. Once upon a time it had offered him a safe haven from the world. Now he felt like it was going to swallow him up and eat him alive. He had to get away. He couldn’t stand the constant watching his parents were now doing. He needed a breather. The second the car stopped he was out the door. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll pick up the jeep and be back later. Don’t worry, I won’t be out late,” he quickly told them as he jogged down the street before they could react.

He took the long way to the UFO Center, passing through the park, all the way down the main street instead of cutting across Cypress. He came to the alleyway that ran along the Crashdown and stared up at the empty balcony. He longed to climb the fire escape and talk to her, or just sit and look at her. After several minutes of longing, he hung his head as he crossed the street to where his jeep was parked in front of the UFO Center. He climbed in the jeep and just sat. He didn’t want to go home. Going home meant he had to face reality. Face that he was falling apart and he wasn’t ready yet. He saw the Crashdown in his rearview mirror and noticed that Maria was working. She could talk his ear off over anything, the weather, the town, the latest gossip of summer romances, the idiot customers, anything. He wouldn’t have to think. He could just listen, and that’s exactly what he needed at the moment. He climbed back out and headed over. Maria quirked an eyebrow at him as he walked in. “Hey, Maria.”

“Hey yourself, stranger.” She looked him up and down for a moment and poured him a Cherry Coke. “You look like you could use this.”

“Yeah,” he acknowledged and took a sip.

Maria watched and waited for the question. It was always the same question and it was the first thing he asked her.

“So, have you heard from Liz? How…how’s she doing?” he asked automatically.

“Laying on the beach, soaking up some rays, and doing a lot better than you appear to be. How was the doc appointment?” Maria asked.

He kept his eyes on his drink as he sipped it. “So you know about that.”

“I know everything in this town,” she told him and whipped out her order pad. “What’ll it be?”

“Oh…uh, just the Cherry Coke. I’m not really hungry,” he told her and did his best to ignore her glare.

“Max, Liz is going to take one look at you and go ballistic. Have you looked in the mirror recently?” she asked as gently as possible.

“No. I try not to. And Liz would have to look first. Given that she left the state to get away from me…I don’t think that’s likely,” he replied. Suddenly a plate of food was shoved at him. He looked up in surprise. “I didn’t order this.”

Michael had been watching from the order window. He and Max hadn’t really seen too much of each other this summer. He used to practically live in Max’s room, especially during the long, hot New Mexico summers, but now they hadn’t been together in a couple of weeks. And he didn’t like what he saw. Max looked like shit, pure and simple. “Yeah, well, I made it and I’ll be pissed if you don’t eat it,” he gruffly told him before returning to the grill and watching his friend to make sure he ate.

Maria caught the surprised look on Max’s face and raised her hands in defense. “I know nothing, but you had better eat. You know how testy cooks get when their creations aren’t thoroughly enjoyed, and Michael’s testy enough already. No need to add to it.” She smiled as he took a bite. She decided to keep talking and maybe if she kept him distracted enough, he might clean his plate before he realized it. “So, did you hear that Tommy Sorrenson is seeing Kelly Saunders? They were spotted going at it hot and heavy during the midnight showing of The Phantom Menace. Oh, and Georgina McNally is starting to show so I guess those pregnancy rumors are true. I heard she’s being home schooled this coming year. No word on who might be the dad but my bet is on Todd Peterson. I mean, like, how many times did they get caught in the eraser room last year? Oh, and Julie Whitney was seen picking up birth control pills at Walgreens.” She snorted, “I guess Jesus Rodriguez isn’t going to be needing all those condoms he got at the Circle K out on 285. Did you know that…”

As Maria prattled on, Max smiled for the first time in a long time. It was just what he needed as he took another bite of his Will Smith burger and dumped more Tabasco on his fries.

Maria glanced over at Michael as she kept up her monologue of the latest gossip and gave him a small smile. He had done a nice thing for his friend. She got a slight grunt in reply before he turned his attention back to the grill and watching his friend eat. Twenty minutes later she shoved a piece of Men in Blackberry pie at him and took his empty plate away. “So, you never answered, how’d it go today?” she asked as she refilled his Cherry Coke while he finished his pie. Now that he was fed, she figured she was free to question him.

“It was okay, I guess. It’s just…it’s such a waste of time. I can’t tell him anything really. So how’s he going to help?” Max lamented.

She slapped her hand down on the counter. “I’ve got it! You need someone to talk to and a professional for advice. Split them in two. See the shrink…”

“He’s a therapist,” Max corrected.

She waved her hand. “Whatever. See what he suggests and you can unload on Alex and me. Between the two of us, maybe you can get some peace. Maybe even a good night’s sleep.”

Max gave her a dubious look. “I don’t know, Maria.”

“Well, you’re not going to know until you try. Tell you what, tomorrow night I’ll have Alex over at my place. I’ll order a pizza and rent a video for later. You can talk all night and then relax, have pizza, and watch a movie. What could be better than that?” When he still looked dubious, “What, like you have a better offer?”

“Okay, okay. I’m already going crazy so I guess I’ve got nothing else to lose,” he joked lightly as he glanced at the clock and frowned. “I better be going. I sort of bolted on my parents earlier. Better get home before they put out an APB on me.” He pulled out his wallet to pay.

“Put it away. It was on the house. See you at 7:00 sharp tomorrow. Mom’s got a date with the sheriff so she’ll be out of the way most of the night,” Maria said with a kind smile.

“Thanks,” he looked over at the pickup window for a moment, “for everything.”

“What are girlfriends for?” she replied and watched as he left, got in the jeep, and drove home. Liz was going to be majorly pissed if she saw him looking like that. She would probably blame herself for walking away from him and taking off for Florida. But she wasn’t responsible for Max. She wasn’t responsible for what Pierce did to him or the nightmares he was suffering because of it. But she would blame herself nonetheless because she loved him. Maria looked back at the grill area. “So Spaceboy, you got plans tomorrow night or you want to play a little doctor?”

Michael looked at her. She was dynamite and he would love nothing more than to light a spark, but it wasn’t safe. “I avoid doctors like the plague. Besides, I’m closing tomorrow night.”

Maria sighed in frustration. It had been worth a shot.

~

Philip was watching TV with Diane and listening for the sound of the jeep. He was considering going out for a walk himself, one that would just happen to take him past the UFO Center and the Crashdown, when he heard the sound he had been hoping for and relaxed a little. Max walked in and just stood in the hall with his hands in his pockets. “How was your walk?”

Max stepped into the den where his parents were. “Okay.” He didn’t know what else to say.

“I can heat you up some chicken and rice if you’re hungry?” Diane asked hopefully.

Max shook his head. “That’s okay. I already ate at the Crashdown. If you don’t mind, I think I’m going to turn in early tonight. I’m kinda tired,” he told them and started for his room. He paused and looked back at his mom. She looked so worried and upset. “Mom, I really did eat. A Will Smith burger, fries, and even a piece of Men in Blackberry pie,” he told her and then gave her a slightly rueful smile. “Michael kinda insisted and I know Maria wouldn’t let me out of there until I finished it. I did too, every bite,” he reassured her and was glad to see her return a smile. He felt a bit better as he headed to his room.

After getting undressed he sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the glass of water and bottle of sleeping pills his parents had left for him. He just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t take the chance. Besides, it wasn’t getting to sleep that was the problem. It was what happened when he was asleep. He hoped for the best as he stretched out on his bed and closed his eyes. After virtually no sleep the night before, he quickly entered REM sleep.

He was strapped down to the table. They were poking his arm with those sharp tube things. Sometimes they left those things in attached to a hanging bag of stuff and then he’d start to feel ill. Sometimes it made him fall asleep. Now it was making him feel like the room was spinning but he couldn’t figure out which way it was spinning. The ceiling, walls, and floor all looked the same. He blinked and sometimes someone was there, sometimes they weren’t. He felt hot and cold at the same time. Someone was pushing on his stomach. Someone had longer tubes and was reaching between his legs. Someone came very close and looked right at him. A light flashed in one eye and then the other. They pushed on his lower stomach again and he felt something flow out. He didn’t understand what they were doing to him. He didn’t understand why they were doing these things to him. This wasn’t right. No one was here for him. He was alone. A tear fell down his cheek. He didn’t want to be alone. His mind called out, wasn’t there somebody out there that could hear him?

Max woke to a dark and quiet house. The only sound was his heart pounding. The room spun in all directions and he had no idea which way was up or down. He had to swallow a few times to keep his dinner down. It was the first good meal he’d eaten in a long time and he was determined not to throw it up. Plus if he threw up, he might wake his parents and that was the last thing he wanted to do. It was almost a half-hour before he was able to sit up. He took shaky steps as he headed to the bathroom to wash the now dried sweat off. He made the mistake of looking in the mirror and wondered who it was looking back. He wished he was six again and could climb into his parents’ bed and be held and reassured that he was loved. That he wasn’t that little boy lying on a table in the White Room being experimented on, and having God knows what else done to him. That he wasn’t alone with no one to hear his cries.

~

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TaffyCat
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Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:17 pm

Part 3

“Max, what time do you get off work today, honey?” Diane asked as he downed a glass of juice for breakfast.

“Six-thirty, but I’ll be home late,” he told her and checked his watch. “I gotta go or I’ll be late. Bye.”

He was out the door before Diane had a chance to ask him what he had planned after work. She looked at the empty glass in the sink and scowled. That wasn’t much of a breakfast for a teenage boy.

~

Max checked the grocery bag as he got out of the jeep: Cherry Coke, regular Coke, and Orange Fanta. He glanced around to make sure the coast was clear before his glowing hand passed over the bag and instantly chilled the drinks. He figured supplying the soda was the least he could do. It was just before 7:00 as he walked up to the little bungalow that Maria shared with her mom. He didn’t hold out too much hope of this working but he figured it couldn’t hurt. He had to admit that it did feel nice to get out and do something for a change besides work. The door swung open before he even had a chance to knock.

“Ah, welcome to the DeLuca Recovery Clinic. We specialize in alien recoveries. Come in, come in,” Alex said in his worst Freudian voice.

Max could only laugh as he entered the cozy alien-themed home.

Maria came in and took the bag of soda from him. “So have a seat, Max. I believe our appointment was at 7:00. The couch is ready and waiting,” she told him only half jokingly on her way to put the sodas in the refrigerator.

Max looked at Alex. “She can’t be serious. Even the therapist my parents sent me to didn’t actually have a couch.”

Alex shrugged. “But she does.”

Maria breezed back into the room. “She does what?” Not waiting for an answer, she patted the couch and turned expectantly to Max. “Come on, make yourself comfortable. We reserved it just for you.”

Max obediently sat on the couch.

Maria made herself comfortable in a side chair while Alex took the beanbag chair that used to be in Maria’s room during junior high. “Okay Max, tell us what’s going on.”

Max looked at them hopelessly. He had no idea where to begin or how to explain everything. How could he when he didn’t understand it all himself?

“How about this? Max, a few weeks ago we did all that research on posttraumatic stress disorder, after which you felt like you were getting a handle on it and were getting better. What’s changed?” asked Alex.

Max gave him a grateful look. “The nightmares themselves. They’ve taken off in a whole new direction,” he started. “Before, they were replaying what Pierce did to me and usually changing things around, like he caught Liz or you or all of the aliens, or someone died, or I never got rescued. But…” he absentmindedly scratched the back of his neck. “But now it’s taken on a whole new life. It’s not me, as I am today, but as a kid, newly hatched. In fact, I dreamed I was hatched in the White Room and they’re doing all these things to me. I don’t understand what they're doing or why, and I’m alone and in my mind I’m screaming for help but no one hears me.” He stood and began to pace around. “And it’s not just what happens in the dreams but what I feel. It’s so intense. Like it’s just happening today. I wake up and check my arms to see if there are needle marks on them. That’s how real it all seems.” He stopped pacing and sat down. “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”

Maria looked compassionately at Max and patted his arm. “You’re not. You just need to work through this.”

“Thanks Maria,” he told her. She was the first one to actually tell him that.

“So, this…hatchling…” Alex smiled at Max’s raised eyebrow response to that. “Tell us about him.”

Max nodded. “We were about six when we hatched, so he must…"

Alex interrupted and shook his head. “No. No Max. Tell us about him in the dreams. What does he look like, how old, hair color, eyes, clothes, what does he say or do, what’s he thinking, that kind of stuff. See if you can separate what you know about your six-year-old self from the dream one. Start with the first time he appeared in your dream. What was happening?”

Comprehension dawned on him. If he could separate the two maybe he could figure out what his psyche was trying to tell him, or hopefully just make the dream one go away. He closed his eyes and tried to picture it. “He was in the pod ready to hatch. He kept kicking and trying to tear the pod wall. He finally broke free and pushed through it. He was still partially in the pod when he opened his eyes and looked around. There were people in environmental suits staring at him, watching. He tried to talk to them but they wouldn’t answer him…”

“Wait. Wait, he tried to talk to them? How? I mean, isn’t he like a newborn? How’d he know English?” Maria asked.

Max looked at her in surprise. “No, like us he didn’t know any words. He…” he paused and thought for a moment. There was something important here but it was just out of reach. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. “He tried to talk to them telepathically. Like Iz and I could when we first hatched.”

“So, like, you and Isabel can talk to each other telepathically? Can you still do it?” asked Maria. This was a new one to her.

Max shook his head. “No, not anymore. Once we started learning to talk, the telepathic abilities sort of disappeared.”

“So go on, Max. What happened next?” Alex encouraged.

Max went on to tell them about being pulled out the rest of the way from the pod and strapped to an exam table. Of how scared and confused he was and how much the needles hurt when they drew his blood. And of the other dreams of him being left in isolation in a different White Room. How alone he felt and how he screamed in his mind for help. And then last night’s dream, of being strapped to the exam table once again, being poked and prodded, and how they drugged him and how sick and dizzy it made him. How when he woke up for real he had to wait almost a half-hour for the dizziness to pass. He described everything he saw and felt in detail. When he was done, he saw that Maria had tears in her eyes and Alex was pale. “Not exactly pleasant dreams,” he commented when he finished.

Alex cleared his throat and took out a pad of paper and pencil from his book bag. He needed to think clinically and analytically, like Liz did. He didn’t want to dwell on the images Max described. “So what did you tell the therapist?”

“That I had nightmares of being held against my will and being hurt, but that I couldn’t remember exactly how. And that lately, the nightmares were of me when I was six.” He gave Alex a sad smile. “He said he’s leaning towards PTSD but wanted to see me some more before making the diagnosis. I think both he and my parents are thinking that something…traumatic happened to me before they found me, that I suppressed it and now it’s coming back to haunt me. At least, that’s what I’m trying to get them to think,” he admitted. He hated that he had to put his family and friends through all of this. But at least his friends knew the truth.

Alex tapped his pencil as he thought. He sat up straighter as he began to write. “Okay, let’s make a list of what bothers you the most about these new nightmares and see what we get. Maybe you can take some of this back to the therapist and get some sort of answers. There’s got to be a clinical name and recommended treatment. We’ll just have to modify it for aliens.” He looked up suddenly at Max. “What’d he recommend for treating PTSD?”

“Therapy, daily anti-depressants, and sleeping pills as needed. If that doesn’t work…possibly hospitalization,” Max told them gloomily.

“Don’t worry. It won’t get that far,” Maria reassured him.

“It can’t Maria. I can’t take any medication and I sure as hell can’t be hospitalized. Therapy’s my only option,” he admitted.

“Then let’s get going on this list. What’s the number one thing that freaks you out about these dreams?” asked Alex.

“How real they feel even after I wake up,” he began.

Over an hour later they were all starving and too brain dead and emotionally wiped out for anymore. Max felt better as he folded Alex’s list and stuck it in his pocket. He had specific questions and feelings that he could talk about with the therapist that hopefully would give him enough information to help. Max had a plan of action and just maybe there would be an ending to this and he could get past the White Room, once and for all. He had hope now.

Maria answered the door for the pizza delivery guy. She waited for her change and eyed the two packets of red pepper sitting on top of the box. “More pepper, please.” He gave her two ones as change and three more packets of pepper. “More pepper than that.” Two more packets of pepper were tossed on top of the box. “Come on, we’re pepper lovin’ people here. Keep ‘em coming.” The guy dumped the rest of his supply of pepper on the box and took off. “Um, THANK YOU!” she called out to the departing delivery guy. “Gee, you’d think he’d never delivered to an alien-occupied house before,” she quipped as she slammed the door. “Dinner!” she announced with a smile. The guys had already procured the napkins and paper plates from the kitchen, as well as the cold sodas that Max had brought over. She smiled as Max dumped four pepper packets on his first slice of pizza and began to devour it. “So Alex, what’s on tonight for our viewing pleasure?”

Alex took a bite of his own slice of pizza before pulling out the DVDs from his book bag. "There’s Something About Mary, Terminator 2, and Notting Hill. Take your pick.”

Notting Hill.”

Terminator 2.”

There’s Something About Mary.”

Maria rolled her eyes. “It never fails. Change the players in the club and it's still a three-way split. Fine. We’ll start with There’s Something About Mary, and then you guys will just have to suffer through Notting Hill to get to Terminator 2,” she told them as she inserted the first DVD and they made themselves comfortable as they finished off the pizza.

Both Max and Alex cringed and Maria laughed out loud at the first part of the movie. “Okay guys, the truth. Ever got yours caught in the zipper? Ever a bleeder?”

“NO!” came the adamant reply from both.

She laughed again. “Sensitive subject matter, eh?”

“Always,” Alex admitted.

“Alex, you really need to quit giving away our secrets. It makes it tough for the rest of the male population,” joked Max as he polished off his fourth piece of pizza. Good thing he was full because they were out of red pepper.

It was good to hear Max laugh. He did it so rarely and almost never this summer. Maria was pleased to see that they were making some headway in getting him to eat. Now they just needed to get him headed towards a nightmare-free sleep. When Liz returned, Maria wanted to be able to give her a complete rundown before she saw Max. If she knew Liz, she wouldn’t stop until she helped Max get to the bottom of what’s happening to him and figured out how to fix it. It felt like they’d made a good start tonight. Maria briefly wondered if she should tell him that Liz was coming home tomorrow. Nah, better to surprise him she decided.

~

“So Jim, do have time for some pie and coffee?” Amy asked as they turned down her street. It had been a wonderful evening. After dinner they’d gone to a little club just outside of town and danced the evening away. She wasn’t in a hurry for the night to end.

Jim would love to come in for dessert, and maybe even some pie. He was about to say yes when he pulled in front of her house and saw all the familiar cars parked in the driveway. “I’d love to Amy, but it looks like you’ve already got company.”

Amy looked surprised for a moment and tried to place whom the owner of the old jeep was. It finally came to her. “Oh, that’s right. Maria was going to have Alex and Max over. I’m surprised they’re still here though.” She glanced at her watch, 1:48 a.m. I guess I should see what they’re up to.”

He wasn’t sure if Max being there meant there was a problem or not but he figured he should check it out in case he needed to run a diversion with Amy. “Maybe I’ll come in and say ‘hi’ real quick since it looks like the lights are still on.”

“Oh, that’ll be nice. And you’re still welcome to pie and coffee,” she offered, although this time she knew that was all it would be, at least for tonight.

Amy and Jim entered through the back kitchen door. She was about to call out that they were here when she realized how quiet the house was. Jim automatically took the lead with her following, making sure everything was all right. She smiled when she came into the living area. The TV and DVD player were showing static, the lights were on, and in amongst a pizza box, used paper plates, napkins, and empty soda cans, were Maria, Max, and Alex sprawled out all sound asleep. She found the remote and clicked the TV and DVD off. She and Jim quietly clicked the living room lamps off and left the teens asleep.

They said their goodnights in the kitchen. It was just as well, Jim had an early shift in a few hours and she had to open her shop at 9:00 a.m.

~

He’s huddled in a corner again, alone. They had left him alone for a while now. He closed his eyes and tried to call out to anyone that might hear. The sound of footsteps broke his concentration and he opened his eyes to find more of them coming in. They were carrying a large container of something. They sat it in the middle of the room and then came towards him. He automatically scooted back, scared of what more they might do to him. Strong hands grabbed his arms and lifted him off the floor. They put him in the container, which was surprisingly filled with a warm liquid. It reminded him of his walled home where he had been warm and safe. Where he had slept peacefully for a long time. Harsh surfaces started rubbing against his skin, even the sore places that had turned dark and painful. They rubbed harder and his skin turned red and warm. Water spilled from his eyes and a cry came from his throat. They kept rubbing anyway. Something was rubbed into his hair and liquid was poured over his head, rinsing the stuff away and some of it into his eyes, making them water even more. They finally stopped and lifted him from the container. They dried the liquid off and wrapped something around him, tying it in the back. He looked down. It almost reached to where his legs bent when he sat. They pulled something through his hair and then left, taking everything with them. He dropped to the floor and curled up in a ball. Everything was sore and raw. His stomach made noises. He was so tired. He closed his eyes and his mind drifted off, trying to find a place where he could be safe and warm. He was so alone and scared and hurt. Eventually his mind returned and he opened his eyes. He was still alone.

He noticed something lying on the floor just in front of him. He slowly sat up and looked at it again. It was a shiny tray with stuff on it, a small container with a liquid in one part, and another smaller tray with something sitting on it. He could smell it. It called to him. His stomach made noise again as he cautiously drew near. He looked around to see if anyone was there. No one. He touched the thing sitting on the tray. It was soft and spongy. He bent closer and sniffed it. His stomach started up again. He carefully picked it up and looked at it. There were two pieces of the spongy stuff with other stuff in the middle. One of the other stuff was sticky when he touched it. The other stuff sort of clung to his finger. He sniffed it again. He tried licking it. That really set off his stomach grumbling. He put part of it in his mouth and bit a piece off. He used his teeth to tear and chew. He was surprised when it started to slip down his throat. He tried to make it stop but it got stuck. He couldn’t get it out. He tried to make it come back up, and then tried forcing it down. It wouldn’t move. His lungs begged for air that they couldn’t get. He made gagging noises and tears flowed as he grabbed his throat. He felt terror and panic start to take over as he couldn’t draw a breath. Blackness started to take him. In the distance he heard footsteps quickly approaching. His mind screamed, ‘HELP!’


Max woke up coughing and gagging as he fought to take a breath. A light was switched on. He felt hands immediately on him, helping him to sit up as worried eyes studied him.

~

Isabel sat up in bed and gasped for breath.

~

Michael reached the sink and gulped a glass of water to soothe his suddenly raw throat.

~

Tess coughed repeatedly as her lungs tried to get more air.

~

“Max, just take it easy man. I’ll get you some water,” Alex told him before running into the kitchen.

“Max, try to slow your breathing or you’re going to hyperventilate. Come on, nice and slow, in and out, in and out,” Maria coached.

Max watched Maria breathe slowly and did his best to match her pace. Alex returned with the water and helped him sip it. His breathing was returning to normal, but he was still a bit shaky. “Thanks.”

“Was it a dream again? Were you choking?” Alex queried.

“Yeah, I was trying to eat a sandwich but didn’t know how so I choked on it. I couldn’t get it dislodged and was about to pass out.” He laid his head back against the edge of the sofa. “God, these dreams are so real,” he lamented.

“You’re telling us? Max, your lips were turning blue when you first woke up,” Maria told him. They just stared at each other for a moment. What was going on?

“Max, what kind of sandwich?” asked Alex.

Max looked at him like he was nuts. “What?”

“What kind of sandwich were you trying to eat?” Alex asked again.

Max thought about it for a moment. He didn’t get why it mattered but answered anyway. “Peanut butter and jelly.”

“Think for a moment. Do you always remember such details? Did you before with the nightmares about Pierce?” asked Alex.

Max was quiet for a bit before he finally shook his head 'no.' He glanced at the clock on the wall, 3:35 a.m. “God, I better get home.” He started to rise on wobbly legs to leave.

Maria pushed him back down. “You’re in no shape to go anywhere. I'll grab some pillows and blankets. Let’s try to get a few more hours of sleep,” she firmly told him.

~

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TaffyCat
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Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:19 pm

Part 4

Diane sat on the sofa and watched the hands on the mantle clock move, 6:55 a.m. She told herself that she’d give it until 7:00 a.m. before calling around to look for him. She wrapped her arms around herself and held tight, just five more minutes.

Philip watched as his wife rocked back and forth as she sat on the sofa staring at the clock. He took a seat next to her and put his arm around her. “Diane, he said was going to be out late last night, he just forgot to call. You’ll see. He’s fine.”

She shook her head. “No, he’s not fine, Philip. He’s not well. And he hasn’t been taking any of the medications the therapist prescribed. How’s he going to get better? What if…what if he’s done something?” She didn’t fight the tears that were starting to flow.

“Diane, Bennington didn’t think Max was suicidal. He has issues that he needs to work out but he’s not going to hurt himself,” Philip reassured her. “Besides, he told us to give Max a little breathing room. Watching every move he makes just puts additional stress on him. I’m sure he just stayed wherever he was with his friends for the night and will be home soon. And I’ll be sure to talk to him about needing to call next time so we won’t worry.” He fervently hoped he was right.

By 7:30 a.m. Diane just couldn’t take it anymore. She picked up the phone and dialed one of the emergency numbers.

“Sheriff’s Office, may I help you?” Deputy Hanson answered the phone. “Oh, Mrs. Evans. What I can do for you?”

Sheriff Valenti was just walking in when he heard Hanson on the phone and paused. He watched the notes Hanson was quickly taking and raised an eyebrow at ‘Max Evans - missing’ and ‘not well.' He held out his hand for the phone.

“Mrs. Evans, hold on please. The sheriff would like to speak to you,” Hanson told Diane.

She gasped at the words. What did the sheriff know about her son? Was he hurt? In some kind of accident? In jail? Her mind was racing with the possibilities. “Sheriff, have you seen my son?” Diane asked hurriedly. Part of her registered that Philip had come to stand next to her and was ready to take the phone from her, wanting to shield her from any bad news.

Sheriff Valenti glared at Hanson until he moved to the other side of the counter before putting the phone to his ear. The sound of a panicked parent assailed his ear. “Mrs. Evans… Diane, calm down. Yes, I have seen Max and he’s fine.”

Diane took a deep breath to calm down. “Where is he? Why didn’t he call?”

The sheriff smiled. He’d dealt with many a frazzled and worried parent of teens and he knew the most likely answer, because they forgot. “He was sacked out on the floor of Amy DeLuca’s living room along with Alex, Maria, a pizza box, and several empty cans of soda. It looked like they’d been watching movies and fell asleep. I’m sure Amy had no idea that Max hadn’t called you. If you’d like, I’d be happy to call Amy and have her send him home.”

Philip had been sharing the phone with Diane, listening in, and shot Diane an ‘I told you so’ look. He could tell that Diane was about to take him up on the offer so he took the phone. “Sheriff, this is Philip Evans. That’s all right. I’m sure he’ll be up and on his way home soon. Thank you for letting us know where he is,” he told the sheriff before hanging up.

~

Amy walked into the living room and pulled the heavy curtains back, revealing the bright New Mexico sun. It didn’t take long for three sleepy-headed teens to begin to stir. She was privately relieved that only shoes had been discarded during the night. She trusted Alex completely but Max was still a new one. “Good morning. I made blueberry pancakes for everyone and I expect them to be eaten hot. Everything’s on the table and I better hear forks scraping the plates while I finish getting ready,” she announced before heading back to her room to finish dressing.

Max rubbed at his eyes and glanced at the clock, 7:48 a.m. “Crap! I need to get home.”

Alex grabbed his arm and shook his head. “Nope, I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Not unless you want Ms. DeLuca chasing you down asking why you didn’t like her blueberry pancakes, which are quite good by the way.”

Maria stretched and got up. “He’s right. She made ‘em, we gotta eat ‘em,” she told them as she headed for the bathroom.

“We’re hosed. Maria got the bathroom first. Hope you can hold it, man.” Alex commented.

Max chuckled. “I live with Isabel, remember? Used to it.”

A short time later Amy came into the kitchen and was pleased to see three teens wolfing down her pancakes, although she wasn’t sure what the Tabasco bottle was doing out on the table.

~

Max tried slipping in the back door only to run smack dap into his parents. He nervously slipped both hands into his pockets and gave them a sheepish apologetic look. “Good morning.”

Diane looked at him for a moment and then just couldn’t take it any more and wrapped her arms around her startled son. She held him tight as he hugged her back.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry,” Max mumbled to her.

“Max,” Philip waited a moment longer for Diane to release him. "We were up most of the night worrying about you. Your mother even called the sheriff’s department this morning. Fortunately Sheriff Valenti told us that he had seen you asleep on the floor over at Maria’s house. Max, we don’t mind you staying over at a friend’s house occasionally but you need to call and let us know.”

He kept one arm around his mom, trying to relay how sorry he was and reassure her that he was okay. “I know. I didn’t plan on falling asleep there, but you’re right. I should have called before it got to late to let you know where I was. I’m sorry.” He glanced at the clock on the microwave. “I need to take a shower and get ready for work or I’m going to be late.”

“Can I fix you something to eat?” Diane asked hopefully.

“No, that’s okay, I already ate. Ms. DeLuca insisted we eat her blueberry pancakes before we left this morning. They were pretty good too,” he told and started down the hall.

“Max, don’t forget your appointment at 3:00 today,” Philip called out to him.

Max sighed before turning back around. “I won’t. Milton is letting me out at 2:30 today.”

“Philip, do you think he looks any better?” Diane quietly asked her husband as he got ready to leave for work.

“I’m not sure, maybe a little. At least he seems to be eating more,” Philip replied.

“Yes, he keeps telling us that, doesn’t he? I hope it’s true,” Diane stated.

~

“LIZ!” Maria yelled and ran into her best friend’s room to hug her tight. “Oh Chica, let me look at you, hum, nice tan. So how was Florida?”

Liz smiled at her. She’d missed Maria so much. “Good, hot, and lots of sand.”

“Perfect! So meet any hot guys on all of that good sand?” she hinted.

“Maria!” She only pretended to be shocked and soon smiled. “Okay, maybe a few but…” Her smile vanished.

“But they weren’t a dark-haired mystery man from an exotic place,” Maria filled in the gaps.

Liz started unpacking and hanging things up, trying to be casual about things. “So…um, how’s he doing? Have he and…and Tess been seeing a lot of each other?” Her stomach lurched at the thought but it was for the best. She had hung up four dresses before she realized that Maria hadn’t answered. She turned around and saw the look on her face. Her alarm grew by the second. “What? What’s happened?”

Maria sighed. “Let’s go outside.” She climbed out the window with Liz following. She paced the balcony as she explained. “He’s miserable. He’s falling apart. Alex and I have been doing everything we can to help him but… Liz, he’s having nightmares about…about the White Room. He’s been having them all summer. And it’s really starting to affect him. He’s lost weight. Liz, his parents have noticed and…he’s in therapy.”

Liz sat down, stunned by the news. She shook her head in confusion. “Therapy? That won’t work. He’ll never tell a therapist what’s wrong.”

“He knows that but he had to agree or… Liz, they were threatening to have him…committed somewhere.” Maria quickened her pacing. “Alex has been trying to help him. They did all this research at the library and on the Internet. He has this posttraumatic stress disorder thing. Max said the therapist was thinking the same thing.”

“Wait, you and Alex… What about Isabel and Michael and…Tess? What are they doing? Why aren’t they trying to help?” asked Liz.

Maria came to an abrupt halt. “Because Michael is too damn pig headed to listen or even use his eyes to see what’s right in front of him.” Her anger grew and she resumed pacing. “He’s too into ‘we got to work on our alien powers’ and ‘let’s go after them instead of waiting around’ crap to notice how bad off Max is.” She paused again and took some breaths before continuing. “Isabel’s trying to help as much as possible. Alex says she’s working double time to steer their parents’ attention away from him. Hell, she even got herself grounded for two weeks. Just so they’d be too busy being pissed at her to notice what was going on with Max. But that could only last for so long.”

“What about Tess?” Liz asked in a small voice as she sat down on the lawn chair before her legs gave out.

“Tess? You mean Miss ‘I’m Your Destiny?' Max won’t go near her. At first she tried to cling to him. She was constantly going to his house, usually in the guise of seeing Isabel but always managing to corner him. Eventually, Max started hanging out with Alex and me more, just to get away from her. She finally settled on helping Michael work on his powers. I heard she started hanging around Kyle once he got back from baseball camp.” Maria spat out angrily. She had no use for the tramp. Anyone that hurt her friends, especially Liz, deserved to be run out of town, or in her case, the galaxy. Oxygen not required. She saw how pale Liz looked now, despite the tan, and forced herself to calm down. She took a seat next to Liz on the lawn chair. “Liz, talk to Alex. He worked with Max more on this. We came up with an idea that might help with the therapist. But after last night, I don’t know.” She shook her head sadly.

“Wait, what happened last night?” asked Liz.

“He and Alex came over for pizza, movies, and a sort of therapy session. We thought that if Max could spill about the nightmares to someone, then maybe it would help and show the therapist that he was improving. He did. He says that his nightmares were getting better for a while but now they’re…I don’t know, twisting around. Liz, he has nightmares about being…hatched in the White Room, and that he’s just this little kid and they’re doing stuff to him. He says that these new dreams feel much more real somehow and after last night I agree.” She took a breath and looked at her friend. “Liz, last night he dreamed he was choking, that he couldn’t breathe. He woke up around 3:30 in the morning, coughing and gasping for air. Liz, his lips were turning blue. Can’t get much more real than that.” She glanced at her watch. “Oh hell, my shift started.” She looked earnestly at her friend. “Liz, please. Talk to Alex.” She hugged her friend again and then climbed in the window to go start her shift.

Liz sat numbly on the lawn chair and tried to piece together the puzzle. There was a puzzle here, she could almost see it, but she didn’t know how all the pieces fit together. She went back inside to grab her cell phone and returned to her lawn chair. She pushed the second number on her phone list option. “Hey Alex, it’s me, Liz. Yeah, I just got back. You wanna come over? Good, I’m on my balcony. Just come on up. Oh, and Alex, could you bring over any of that research stuff you did for Max? Yeah, thanks.”

Liz sat out on her balcony and thought of everything that had happened this past year while she waited for Alex to arrive. She had walked away from the man she loved so that he could fulfill the higher purpose that was meant for him. She couldn’t stand in his way, not when an entire other planet was counting on him. But that didn’t mean that she didn’t care, that she wouldn’t help him. That she didn’t still love him. She was so lost in thought that she jumped when she heard a noise. A book bag was just tossed out her window followed by her other best friend. She jumped up and ran to hug him. “ALEX! God, I’ve missed you!”

“Me too. How you doin’?” he asked as he looked her over. She looked good, nice tan, but worry clouded her features. He wasn’t surprised. “Come on. Tell me about all the hunks that you had to beat off with a stick and how Disney World and Epcot were before we do anything else. We have all day to talk.” And they did talk, all afternoon. She told him all about her two months at her aunt’s house and how much fun she had. Then he could tell that she was starting to feel guilty for having that fun while others hadn’t. So they began going over the material he had on Max. He showed her his notes and the printouts from the Internet. He recreated a copy of the list of things that he and Max had come up with last night. He told her about Max’s nightmares, both the old ones and the new ones, and how they compared. He remarked how much more detailed the new ones were, like him remembering the type of sandwich he choked on, and how he was trying to communicate telepathically in his dreams instead of with speech. Something he claimed he hadn’t done since a hatchling. He got a slight smile out of the ‘hatchling’ bit. He also noted one thing that was absent in these new dreams. Pierce. Not once had Max mentioned Pierce in any of them. He didn’t think Max had even realized that yet. They had a late lunch before he left around 4:00 so she could go over the stuff again on her own. He knew she wasn’t going to let this go. Something was going on. He knew it. He could feel it. He just couldn’t find it, but he knew if anyone could, Liz would.

~

It was a little before 6:00 when she knocked at the front door. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Evans. Is Max home?” She was determined to figure this out but she wasn’t going to let herself get emotionally entangled. She was going to be strictly clinical in analyzing what was happening. She could do this. She knew she could. She just had to keep repeating that to herself over and over again to make it work.

Diane was surprised and actually very pleased to see the petite young girl standing before her. She knew that her son cared a great deal for Liz. In fact, she was the only girl he had shown any interest in at all. That other girl, Isabel’s friend Tess, had tried to get his attention earlier this summer but he had turned a blind eye to it and eventually Tess stopped coming around. “Liz, please come in. I know Max is going to be thrilled to see you. Dinner is almost ready. You’re welcome to stay if you’d like.” She hoped that with Liz there Max might be encouraged to eat more.

Liz thought about it. She wanted to talk to Max alone, but she also knew that his parents were causing problems that Max couldn’t afford. It would be best to appease the parents and buy a little more breathing room she decided. “Actually, I’d love to. Thank you, Mrs. Evans.”

“That’s wonderful. I’ll go set another plate. Max is in his room. It’s the second door on the right,” Diane informed her.

Liz watched him from the doorway for a moment. He was just lying on his bed, hands laced behind his head, and staring at the ceiling. He looked tired. There were dark circles under his eyes, though from what she’d heard not as dark as they had been. The sunken cheeks told of his weight loss and accentuated the dark circles. She didn’t move a muscle or make a sound. She wanted to see how long it took for him to know that she was there.

Something was tickling his mind. Something familiar but that he hadn’t felt in a long time. Something he missed. It hit him like a thunderbolt and he practically leapt out of bed. “LIZ!”

“Hi Max,” she said quietly as she walked into the room.

“When did you get back?” he asked. His heart was pounding so hard that he was sure it would burst right through his chest any moment. God, she was beautiful.

“This morning,” she replied and tucked some errant hair behind her right ear.

“Oh, I didn’t know. No one told me you were coming back today.” He frowned for a moment and wondered why they hadn’t. Surely Alex and Maria had known last night. Yet, they hadn’t said anything.

“I know. I asked them not to,” she admitted and saw his face fall. “I wasn’t sure how things were and I didn’t want to… I didn’t want to give you false hope. I still don’t.”

“Then why are you here?” he asked. His face was a mask of confusion.

“I want to help you,” she told him softly.

He sat down on the bed and sighed. “I don’t want your pity, Liz.”

She took a deep breath and steeled her backbone. “Good, because you’re not getting it. And I’m not going to hang around and watch you wallow in any self pity either.”

“Max, Liz, dinner’s ready!" Diane called out from the kitchen.

“Your mom invited me to dinner, which you ‘will’ eat, and then we’re going for a long walk to talk,” she informed him. Her stance was daring him to dispute her.

He was shocked at her outburst, infuriated at being ordered around, and hopelessly in love with her. “Okay,” He told her with a calm he didn’t feel.

~

Philip watched Diane watch Max eat. Every time Max paused and started to push his half-full plate away, he was sure he heard a kick underneath the table and Max would jump a little. He had no doubt it came from Liz, who was seated next to him. Then Max would scoot his plate back in front of him and pick up his fork. He was both bemused and thankful for this. “So Liz, how was Florida? Did you get a chance to go to Disney World? We took Max and Isabel there when they were about nine. We all had a blast.”

“Oh yeah. My aunt and uncle took my cousins and me. We stayed at a local motel for a couple of nights. We basically got to do our own thing during the day in the park and then met up at night for dinner. It was so great!” Liz said politely and beamed a smile at Max, encouraging him to eat. Max was responding well to positive reinforcement and was polishing off his spaghetti, and his garlic bread had already disappeared.

A little while later Diane wanted to cry with joy as she took her son’s empty dinner and salad plates. “So, who’s up for dessert? We have chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream,” she offered.

“Mom, Liz and I were…” Max began.

“Strawberry. Max and I would love strawberry,” Liz cut in.

“Uh, maybe ice cream cones? We still have some, right? Liz and I were going to take a walk after dinner and I don’t want it to get too late,” Max tried and gave his mom a small smile.

“Oh, of course. Here, let me fix you a couple for you take with you,” she replied. She was delighted that Liz was getting him to eat so well.

~

Max licked around his cone trying to catch the drip before it landed on his hands. “So what are you trying to do, get on my mom’s good side?” he asked as they walked towards the park.

“Yep, and you should be too,” she told him in between licks. “You can’t afford to worry them any more than they already are.” Lick. “Mmm, this is good.”

Max forgot his ice cream as he watched her tongue dart around to catch the meting treat. Her hair fell just so. He would give anything to take her in his arms and call her his. “I’m trying.”

“Try harder,” she shot back. She was going to remain strong. She shot a glance in his direction. “Uh Max, you’re dripping.”

He was dripping. She said he was dripping. Alarmed, he suddenly looked down at himself. No he wasn’t. Then he caught sight of his ice cream melting all over his hand. He quickly licked around the cone to do damage control as they headed towards the park.

She took a seat on the merry-go-round and finished her ice cream. “Perfect. How’s yours?”

He sat next to her as he popped the last of his cone in his mouth and used his powers to get rid of the sticky mess all over his hands. “Fine.”

“See, that wasn’t so hard,” Liz told him.

Several things were hard for him right now but he knew what she meant. “No, I guess it wasn’t.”

“Good. Just keep doing that and you’ll keep your parents happy. So tell me about them?” Liz asked.

“Tell you about what, exactly?” Max countered.

“Your dreams, Max. Alex and Maria gave me the rundown, but I want to hear it from you. Tell me about these new dreams, these nightmares.”

He did. Afterwards, they grew quiet as the sun sank lower on the horizon, almost ready to disappear completely.

Liz’s mind was whirling at a thousand miles per hour as she calmly stared out at the New Mexico sky. Things still weren’t falling into place. She tried to think of the flash she had from him in the van the night they had gotten him out and then ran for their lives. She wanted to recall everything she had seen and felt from him. “Did they cut you?”

Max looked at her, clearly confused. “What?”

“In your new dreams, do you get cut?” she asked again.

“No.”

“Ice baths?”

“No.”

“E-electrodes?”

“No.”

“Threatened?”

“No.”

“What do they say to you?”

“N-nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“No. Nothing.”

“Max, I want you to think about this. In your dreams are you being purposefully hurt at all?” Liz tried.

Max was silent for a while. “I’m hurt but not…not on purpose. It’s more of in the course of being examined, needles, being held down, and last night of being bathed. They weren’t gentle, pretty rough actually, but they weren’t purposefully causing me pain.”

Liz nodded. She still couldn’t tell where the pieces fit exactly but they were getting closer. “Who’s in charge?”

“Pierce.” Max replied automatically.

“Have you seen him? You haven’t mentioned him,” Liz pointed out.

Max opened his mouth to speak but then closed it. He realized that she was right. “I…I just assumed.”

“Max, this is important. You have to separate what really happened to you last May and these newest dreams.”

He stood and paced as he thought. “You’re right, Pierce isn’t there. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen any faces.”

“What about the White Room. Is it the same? The same tiles, the same size?” she asked in an attempt to help him separate the two.

He closed his eyes and pictured it in his mind. “No, no they aren’t. They’re more…smooth.” He opened his eyes and looked at her. She was onto something. He knew it. “And there’s two rooms in my dreams. An exam room and then another one where I’m left alone.” As he talked, other details came into focus. “The pods were originally in the exam room. They were…suspended on a frame. But they must have moved them afterwards.”

“Pods? Max, were there more than one?” asked Liz.

“Yes, but…mine was the only one that looked…fresh. The other ones were dried and old, older than the ones that we were in. They were empty and smaller too. The others must have hatched a long time ago,” he told her.

“Or aborted,” Liz pointed out.

Max looked at her in alarm then nodded and acknowledged the likelihood. He couldn’t shake the incredible sadness that thought caused him. His family had been extinguished before they even lived. Only he remained. He looked up at Liz as a thought dawned on him and he felt a chill run down his spine. “These aren’t dreams, or even nightmares, are they?”

She sighed. “I don’t know. I know that no dream will make you wake up choking to the point of your lips turning blue. And you’re recalling an awful lot of very precise detail. Details that don’t waver no matter how many times you tell it. I think something is causing this.”

He nodded in agreement. “Or someone.” He looked at her, as she remained silent. “Tess?”

“It could be a form of a mindwarp,” she admitted. “I just don’t know, but we need to find out if for no other reason than to rule her out,” explained Liz. He started to pull her up for them to go. “Wait. Wait, Max. I…I don’t think it would help for her to see the two of us together. She might get the wrong idea.”

He stopped and gave her a pained look. “Like we’re back together or something, right? Yeah, can’t have that. Come on, I’ll walk you back to the Crashdown and then head over to her place.”

“Max, I… Max, I just don’t think this is a good idea,” Liz persisted.

“What’s not a good idea? You with me going to see Tess, or just you with me?” Max asked pointedly.

“I… Max, you said a long time ago that this wouldn’t work, that ‘we’ wouldn’t work, and you’re right. I should have listened,” Liz admitted.

Max shook his head. “But I did listen. I listened to you when you told me that it wasn’t just solely my decision to make about us being together. So I listened to my heart and took a chance. And then you did the very thing you accused me of. It was YOU that decided that I had to follow some destiny that I don’t even remember. A destiny that was laid out for me more than 50 years ago in another lifetime by beings that don’t me, on a world that I don’t know, for a mission, or for that matter a world, that might not even exist anymore. You made the decision for me, Liz, even when I told you that it wasn’t what I wanted. Even if you don’t want…or feel you can be with me, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop…loving you and go running into Tess’s arms.” He hadn’t meant to say all of that, not now, not while Liz had just gotten back and despite everything was trying to do was help him. “I’m sorry. Just forget it. I didn’t mean to go on like that. Come on, let’s go.”

“No Max, wait. I…you’re right. I did take the decision away from you, but I thought… Max, she’s your wife,” Liz reminded him.

“Well, then I guess they’ll have to rewrite the ‘till death us do part’ of the wedding vows,” he tried to joke but wasn’t very successful. He took a deep breath. “Like I said. It’s you that I want. It’s you that I love. But if you can’t or don’t want to be a part of all this, of me, then I understand. I really do. In fact I’m more surprised that you stuck around at all for as long as you did. But please don’t think I’m going to go running to Tess because I’m not. I don’t love her and I know that she doesn’t really love me either.” He tugged on her arm again. “It’s getting late. We have enough to deal with right now. Let’s talk about this later. Come on, let me walk you home.”

They walked in silence. Liz had even more things to think about. He was right though. She had been the one to make the decision for both of them. Was that right? She didn’t think so when he did it for them, so how could it be right when she did it? She was so deep in thought that she was startled when he slowed to open a door in front of her. She gave him a weak smile as they entered the Crashdown, but her smile faltered as she saw who was there having dinner. Tess.

~

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TaffyCat
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Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:21 pm

Part 5

Tess was not overly happy to see Liz back and with Max no less. She had hoped that with Liz gone, Max would turn to her. But not only had he not, he had turned tail and run in the opposite direction whenever he saw her coming. They were supposed to a cohesive unit, but how could they be when their leader didn’t even want to be in the same room with her? She plastered a smile in place. “Hi Liz. When did you get back?” she asked in an overly friendly manner.

“Just this morning,” Liz replied and chewed her bottom lip. She shot Max a look and he nodded for her to go in the back.

Max hesitantly took a seat at Tess’s booth. “Tess, I need to ask you something.”

“Okay,” Tess replied cautiously.

“I’ve been having dreams, very vivid dreams, and I was wondering if… Tess, I need to know if you’re responsible in any way for them,” Max asked. He hoped that if he kept it vague enough about the content of the dreams, she might just slip up. He figured that there was about a 50/50 shot of her telling him the truth.

Tess snorted. “God, what’s the matter? You started getting wet dreams about me instead of Liz and you immediately think that it must be because I’m mindwarping you. Thanks a lot, but don’t flatter yourself. I’ve got better things to do with my nights than go into your head.” She snorted again and gave him a dirty look.

Max’s jaw dropped. He didn’t know Tess that well but he knew that she wasn’t that good of an actress, but if it wasn’t her, then who? “No. No Tess, that’s not… sorry.” He got up to leave when he heard Tess’s mumbled comment.

“Not that they’re all that great. I almost choked to death last night and no one was there. Not that anyone around here cares,” she whispered just loud enough.

He stopped and looked at her again. “What did you say?”

Tess looked at him in surprise. What had she said? “I woke up choking early this morning and no one was there,” she replied, clearly confused.

Max spun around and looked towards the kitchen. He saw Michael working the grill and headed towards him. “Michael, last night…did anything happen?”

Michael flipped a burger and then looked over at his friend as if he’d lost his mind, but then figured that wasn’t exactly something to be thinking about Max at the moment. He thought for a second then shrugged ‘no.’ He flipped another burger. “Although, I didn’t get much sleep after waking up coughing. My throat felt like there was something stuck in it that wouldn’t go down. I had to chug about a gallon of water before it went away, and then I was up for hours peeing.”

“What time?” asked Max. The hair on the back of his neck was starting to stand on end. They were on to something here.

“What time was I peeing?” Michael asked.

“What time?” Max asked again.

Maybe Max was losing his mind after all. “Not that it’s any of your business, but around three or four I guess. Not sure. It’s not like checking the clock was the foremost thing on my mind at the time.”

Max reached for his cell phone and dialed Alex’s number. “Hey Alex, is Iz with you? Great, can you put her on? Thanks.”

“Iz, I need to…uh, oh…sorry, I didn’t know you were at the movies. Look I need to ask you something. Last night, did you wake up because you couldn’t breathe? Please, just answer the question. You did? What time? About three-thirty?” He glanced at Michael, who nodded then shrugged, indicating that it sounded about right. “Okay, I need you and Alex to meet me over at Michael’s tonight say around…” he paused as Michael mouthed eight. “Around eight-thirty. Bye.” He hung up the phone.

“Maxwell, what’s going on?” Michael asked. Something was telling him that something was majorly wrong.

“I’m not sure but I think we all need to meet,” Max told him.

“Does that ‘all’ include me?” asked Tess.

He noticed that Kyle Valenti was right behind Tess. “Yes, you and Kyle if he wants.” Max thought again. “And Kyle, maybe see if your dad can make it too, at eight-thirty at Michael’s?”

At first Kyle was surprised to be included, but mentioning that his dad was needed as well made him wish that he hadn’t been. Damn, back less than a week from baseball camp and he was already getting sucked back in. “Okay, I’ll tell him.” He looked at Tess, “You ready?”

“Yeah.” She glanced once more at Max and then left with Kyle. They had a date with some video games.

~

At 8:35 p.m. they were all assembled and waiting. “Okay Maxwell, what’s going on?” Michael asked.

Max looked around the group. He didn’t have the answers but he was hoping if he posed the right questions they might find some. “As most of you know, over the past few months I’ve been having nightmares about the White Room. They were getting better until this week. Then they took on a whole knew dimension.” He took a breath and looked at Liz for a moment. “They started changing and suddenly I wasn’t a 17 year old being taken, but a new…” he glanced at Alex for a moment, “hatchling straight out of the pod. And the pods were in the White Room. The thing about these new dreams is that they are more real, more vivid.”

“Wait a minute. That’s what you were talking about earlier today?” Tess asked, horrified at the idea. “Max, I pulled some crap on you when I first got here, but I swear I would never do something so…so despicable.”

“I know. I do. See, when you mentioned waking up coughing and choking this morning, bells started going off. Michael you woke about the same time with the same problem, and Iz, so did you. But let me ask all of you this, do any of you remember why you were choking?”

They all looked at each other, it was clear that no one remembered a thing. “What about you Max? Did you wake up at the same time and do you remember?”

“Yeah, I do. I remember everything. I was a little kid in the White Room. I had taken a bite of a sandwich, I’m pretty sure it was the first time I had eaten anything, and I choked on it. It got lodged in my throat and I started to panic. The last thing I remember is calling out with my mind for help. I woke up at 3:35 a.m. And according to Maria and Alex, I was coughing and gasping for breath, so much so that my lips were blue,” Max told them.

“So you’re saying you called out to us and we heard you?” asked Tess.

“No, not exactly. The dreams themselves are… They are so vivid, so intense, that they feel real. I think someone is…is tampering with my mind or something,” Max explained.

Tess shook her head. “But I already told you that I’m not.”

“I know, and I believe you,” Max assured her.

“Okay, I’m confused. If Tess isn’t playing with your head, and I know I’m not, then who is?” Isabel asked.

“Another alien,” Liz said. The room suddenly became very quiet.

“Okay, wait a minute. No offense Max, but how do you know that you’re not, like, really just losing it and need Prozac or something?” Kyle asked.

Max took a deep breath. “That’s a valid question. It’s how incredibly real the dreams are, how different they are from the earlier ones, and how they compare to what actually happened. I’m in a White Room, but it’s not that same White Room. In fact these new dreams have two White Rooms. But also… Pierce isn’t in any of these. He had been in every single other one, but none of these this past week. I’m being…studied more than…than hurt. Plus, how many nightmares are so bad that you dream you’re choking and wake up with blue lips?”

Kyle looked to Liz. “You buying this?”

Liz nodded, “Um hum.”

“Okay, good enough for me,” Kyle acknowledged.

“So how do we find this other alien?” asked Michael.

“I don’t know,” Max replied.

“We don’t have to find him. He’s finding us, specifically Max. We just have to figure out how to track him,” Alex suggested.

“You know, there is one option here that we may be overlooking,” Maria felt all eyes on her now. “The dreams could be real.”

“What?!” Michael came out of his chair at that. “You mean a…a new hybrid, a kid, in the hands of the Special Unit?!”

“Well… Look, I don’t like the idea either but what if…what if it was real?” She turned to Max, “You said that you and Isabel didn’t know how to talk at first but you could communicate telepathically. Wouldn’t that be how a…a hatchling would be trying to contact you?”

Max and Liz stared at each other as the ramifications of that possibility sunk in. “Yeah, it would be, but why me? Why not Isabel or Tess? I would think that they would be easier to contact since their mental powers are stronger than mine.”

“It could be that you’re more susceptible because of the problems you’ve been having, or that he sensed a common experience with you. It could be many reasons. We won’t know until we contact him,” advised Liz.

“There’s something we can do. Contact Nesado. If there were more pods out there, he would know,” Michael suggested.

“I’ll put a call into him,” Sheriff Valenti told them. He had been the point person in contacting ‘Pierce.’ After all, the sheriff of Roswell, New Mexico, calling the head of the alien hunting squad wouldn’t be all that suspicious.

“No, Nesado would not leave a hybrid in the hands of the Special Unit. He had been caught once. He knows what would happen to him,” Tess protested.

“Not willingly,” Michael conceded.

“There’s something else we can do,” Max told them and turned to his sister. “Iz, will you dreamwalk me? Maybe if you’re there, maybe you’ll be able to…distinguish what’s really happening and maybe get an idea of who it is. After all, it could be another alien just playing mind games.”

“Okay,” Isabel agreed.

“Then I’m staying with you,” Alex told her.

“We should all stay, or at least as many as possible, safety in numbers,” Liz suggested.

~

He was huddled in a corner. His arms were wrapped tightly around his bent knees. Tears streaked his cheeks. They had come and forced that stuff out of his throat so he could breathe again. His stomach still rumbled and now his throat hurt. He was alone again.

Isabel faced a white wall, white floor, white ceiling, white everything. She heard crying from behind and spun around. There, in a corner, was Max. She blinked. It was a little boy. She blinked again. Max. And blinked again. The boy. She shook her head and took a step closer. Max was huddled in a corner crying. “Max?” No response. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath and opened them to find the little boy again. Another step closer. The images started to blur, Max, the boy, Max, the boy. She got closer, within arms reach and closed her eyes. “God, this had better work,” she told herself. She opened her eyes to…Max. She grabbed him and pulled him to his feet.

“Isabel?” Max looked at her in surprise. He was about to ask her what was happening when he heard it—crying. He looked back to the child in the corner. He was a perfect image of himself. “My God!” he whispered. “He’s real. All this is real.”

“I think so,” Isabel agreed.

Max could only stare at him. “He’s me.”

Isabel looked hard at the small boy. “Almost. His hair is lighter and he has a slightly different...cast to him. But…yeah, he’s almost you.”

Max started picking up on the boy’s feelings of despair, loneliness, and fear. He took a step closer and bent down to eye level with him. “No, no, you’re not alone. I’m here.” He glanced back at his sister for a moment. “We’re here,” he amended. The boy looked at him startled. Max felt the shock and then…joy. Little arms flew around him and feelings flooded him. ‘He wasn’t alone anymore. He wasn’t alone anymore.’ Max had to sit down to absorb it all. It was almost overwhelming. He could actually feel the boy’s tears wetting his shirt. Max hugged him back.

Isabel felt the boy’s relief slam into her and wasn’t surprised when Max sank to the floor with the boy in his arms. Isabel sat facing her brother and delicately ran her hand up and down the boy’s back. She did her best to send him reassurance and love. He was so little. She felt the room begin to waver. “Max, we can’t stay here. I’m losing the dreamwalk.”

Max held the boy close. “You can go ahead, Iz. I’ll be along in a few minutes. I want to try to reassure him some more and let him know that we’ll come get him.” He looked up at his sister, “I need to do this.”

“I know. But don’t stay too long or you’ll exhaust yourself, and we need you to help find him,” Isabel reminded him.


Isabel opened her eyes slowly and found she was still lying in Alex’s arms. She could feel the tears that streaked her face and turned to look at her brother. He too had tears running down his cheeks even though he had not yet woken. Liz sat next to him, holding his hand.

“Isabel, what happened?” Alex gently asked.

Isabel looked at Alex, then around the room. All eyes were looking back at her. Her eyes settled on Maria and she started to tear up again. “Oh God Maria, you were right. You were right. It’s real. Everything that Max was dreaming this past week, it’s all real.” She started to get choked up. “He’s so little. He doesn’t understand anything. Oh God, when Max told him that he wasn’t alone, the feeling of joy that came from him…it…it just rolled off of him in waves. We’ve got to help him,” she sobbed.

~

Michael paced back and forth. It was just after 5:00 a.m. and they were exhausted but still too keyed up to even think of sleeping. “So Maxwell, what else? What else did he tell you?” Michael asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

Max rubbed his swollen bloodshot eyes. He was too tired to heal them. “Michael, I already told you, he doesn’t know how to talk. He couldn’t tell me anything.”

“Right, right, just mental pictures and feelings. So, tell me again what you saw!” he demanded. He was going crazy over this. It was their lifelong worst nightmare playing out and it was happening to a kid, a helpless little kid. He wanted to punch someone over this. He would too, once he found the guilty party.

“There are two White Rooms. One he’s kept alone in and another one that is the…exam room,” Max told him again.

The sheriff had been the recipient of a phone call just after 3:00 a.m. from an excited Kyle, telling him to come back over right away. Since he had yet another early shift, he had been the only one to go home the night before. He had immediately placed another call to Pierce who promptly returned his call and would be in Roswell around one that afternoon. Now they were trying to find out anything they could from the dreams and dreamwalk. “Max, concentrate on the things he showed you. Picture everything you saw in there. Go through each item piece by piece. Look for any labels, stenciling, anything at all that might be a name or location.”

Max dropped his head in his hands as he closed his eyes. It had been so hard to let go of the little boy. The look he’d gotten from him when he realized that Max too was leaving ripped his heart out. There had to be something there that will give them a clue. He could do this. He had to because he never wanted to see that look again. His mind went back into the first dream: white, stainless steel table, surgical tray with instruments, restraints, men in environmental suits, the pods hanging on a frame with wheels, bright lights, sharp needles, nothing. Max rubbed his already irritated eyes and tried the next dream: white…nothing, nothing but the white room. He took a deep breath and went onto the next: bright lights, stainless steel table, environmental suits, a gloved hand, restraints, IV bottle on a stand, a sharp needle, a light in his eye and then his other eye, everything spinning. Max shuddered and had to stop remembering that one. It still made him dizzy. He went onto the next: white, environmental suits, metal tub, brushes and washcloths, water, strong soap, towels, hospital gown, comb… then just white again, hospital gown, metal tray, metal plate, metal cup, sandwich… He paused for a moment. There was something there, something not white or metallic, just for an instant. He mentally backed up the scene, there a flash of dark, but it was tiny. He couldn’t see it clearly. He opened his eyes and looked at his sister. “Isabel, the hospital gown. There was something black like ink along the edge, but I couldn’t make it out. It was in the back and I didn’t see his back this last time. Did you notice it?”

Isabel closed her eyes and replayed the dreamwalk in her mind, desperate to make out what her brother saw: white, then her brother, the boy crying, getting closer, separating Max from the boy, Max holding him, sitting down, rubbing her hand along his back over the hospital gown, up and down, up and down, there, a black smudge…B.A. Supply, Gallup, NM. Isabel let out the breath that she didn’t even know she was holding. “B.A. Supply, Gallup, NM.”

“That would probably be the supply company for the gown. That tells us a couple of things,” the sheriff said and caught the hopeful looks all around. “If it was part of a regular hospital or care facility, it would have the name and possibly county printed on it, which it doesn’t. So most likely we’re looking at a private facility. Someplace that wouldn’t often have a need for hospital gowns, which they most likely would get from a local supplier.”

“He’s in Gallup,” Michael stated.

“That’d be the place I’d start looking,” the sheriff agreed, but grabbed Michael’s arm when it became obvious that Michael was ready to light out of there right that second. “Now hold on, son. What exactly do you plan on doing? Go walking around Gallup asking about a secret government facility that’s holding an alien hybrid child? We need more to go on so we can narrow the search. And in order to get that, we need some help.”

“Nesado,” Max concluded.

“Yes. He can do some digging without raising suspicion a lot easier than we can. We need to find out where this place is as well as a way in and out,” the Sheriff calmly told them all, but he looked straight at Michael.

“Fine, but it can’t take too long. The longer he’s in there…” Michael couldn’t finish. He hadn’t even met this kid, yet he felt an overriding need to protect him. He was one of them and he was alone. Michael could relate. He didn’t want to imagine what else the little guy had to deal with.

~

“You really need to find another line of work,” Nesado commented as he looked around the alien-themed tourist trap called the UFO Center.

Max looked over at the image of Ed Harding standing there. “You’re late. It’s after three.”

“Yeah, well, if you want me to continue as Pierce, I needed to establish a cover story for my temporary disappearance, which took more time than I had planned.”

“Fine. Meet us at the pod chamber at four-thirty,” Max told him.

“I’ll be there.” He smirked and casually strolled out.

~

He was not a happy pod protector as his rented 4Runner pulled in next to the little red Jetta that was by Max’s army surplus jeep. Even the sheriff’s SUV was there. “Damn these upstart kids! They’re always dragging these humans into things they shouldn’t!” he growled as he put the car in park and got out. His mood soured even more as he spotted yet another new face in addition to the good sheriff of Roswell, a dark-haired boy hovering around Tess. He was about to make a comment on limiting admittance to the ever-increasing ‘I know an alien club’ when he picked up on the overriding mood of the group—anger. “I get the impression that this is not a social call.”

“You can say that again,” grumbled Michael.

“Michael,” Max warned, before turning his attention back to Nesado. He decided not to beat around the bush. “How many pods were there?”

Nesado glanced to the pods hanging on the wall. “There are four right there.”

“No others?” asked Max.

“None that survived,” Nesado admitted after some consideration.

“So there were others?” Max questioned.

“Yes,” Nesado replied.

“What happened to them?” Max continued.

Nesado glanced around at all the humans. He wasn’t happy about being questioned like this in front of all of them. It wasn’t any of their business. “They don’t need to be here.”

“I want them here,” Max countered as he began to circle around the room. “You didn’t answer my question. What happened to the other pods?”

“They were destroyed,” Nesado finally conceded.

“You’re sure?” Max persisted.

“Yes, I’m sure,” replied Nesado.

“How?” Max demanded.

“Because I was the one that destroyed them!” Nesado shot back. He’d had enough of this. “What’s this all about?”

“What were these other pods?” Max continued while ignoring the question. When Nesado didn’t answer Max stopped circling and stopped in front of him. “They were our duplicates. Another set of clones.”

“Yes, but not exact duplicates. Their DNA was adjusted slightly so we could tell the difference,” Nesado finally answered.

“What were they, our back-up? Or were we the back-up team?” Max wanted to know.

“You four were the alpha set. The other set was to be held in suspension until it was clear that your set failed to reach pod maturity,” Nesado explained.

“And then you carried out your orders and destroyed them,” Michael said, filling in the blanks.

“No,” Nesado stated angrily.

“Max, perhaps he should start at the beginning with what happened and why they were destroyed,” the sheriff calmly suggested.

Max nodded in agreement. “Go ahead.”

“Everything was a mess after the crash. Only the pilot and myself survived along with both sets of pods. But the back-up set, the beta set, was damaged. I patched it the best I could with what we had left, and then the pilot and I had to scramble to find a spot to keep all of you safe. We had no choice but to leave all of you unattended for a few hours. Unfortunately, the U.S. government was more efficient then we’d have liked and were swarming all over the place when we returned. Of course the two sets of pods made quite an interesting prize for them and were quickly moved to Eagle Rock for examination. The pilot and I followed and when we had a chance we broke in and grabbed you four. The pilot was injured in the process and died not long after he helped get you four in place here. I then went back for the other set,” he paused for a moment as the memories flooded back to him.

“That’s when you were captured, wasn’t it?” Tess concluded.

“Yes, and I spent the next three years in the White Room. When I saw an opportunity to escape, I took it. But not before I made sure that the other set would never mature. The last thing I wanted was for any of them to go through what I went through.” He shook his head at the memory. “It’s not like they ever would have developed anyway.”

“Why?” Liz wanted to know.

Despite Liz’s human status, Nesado was starting to see why Max was interested in her. He nodded to the now vacant pods on the wall. “They were being laid flat. That creates too much pressure on the pod’s lining. They must be hung vertically so that the pressure rests on the reinforced seams. Unless the pressure is relieved, the pods won’t release the nutrients the fetuses need to grow and will hold them in suspension until the pods themselves eventually die.”

“Is that what happened?” asked Max.

“No. They were already damaged from the crash so even in the best of conditions it was unlikely that all would have made it. After so long in captivity, I was becoming immune to the drugs they used to block my powers. They still weren’t up to full speed but I had enough to blast the pods. I doubt any survived that, and if they did, they wouldn’t for long, not with that much damage.” He looked incredibly sad for a moment. “I figured it was better for them that way.”

The assembled group looked at each other. They had all gotten more and more angry at the thought that Nesado had just walked away and abandoned the little boy. That anger quickly bled off as they realized what had truly happened.

Max remembered the rack that the pods had hung from. Someone had figured it out. “One survived,” he said softly.

Nesado’s head shot up at that. “That’s not possible.”

“But it is. He hatched a little less than a week ago. He’s been calling out to me in my dreams, trying to find anyone that can hear him,” Max carefully explained.

“It’s true. Max asked me to dreamwalk him to help him figure out what was happening,” Isabel’s voice caught in her throat as she recalled the image. “He’s so little. He looks younger than six. And he’s so frightened.”

Nesado was reeling from this information. He could clearly see in his mind the pods laying on that table, taking aim and firing twice. The first shot hit the upper portion of what would have been Tess’s pod, and blew a hole in the bottom of Michael’s. The second one had hit more towards the center and up a little, ripping into Isabel’s, and…he opened his eyes and looked at Max. Max had heard the boy’s cry. Max’s ‘B’ version must have been the one to survive. He recalled seeing the fluids in Max’s pod swirling with the disruption the blasts had caused, but he couldn’t recall seeing it tear. The questions starting tumbling out, “What did he say? How young? Any idea where he is? What they are doing to him?”

Max looked at his sister to see if she concurred. “He’s five, maybe?”

“More like four and a half or a very young five maybe,” Isabel corrected.

Max nodded in agreement. “That seems about right. He’s being held in a White Room, and as far as I can tell they aren’t purposely hurting him. It’s more like they’re studying him. Lots of medical tests and procedures, but all he understands is that it hurts and he’s alone. Oh, and I did see the pods. They were hanging on a frame with wheels so apparently someone figured that part of it out. But from the shape of the other three pods, I agree that it’s doubtful any of the others survived. I think that’s also something that he’s coming to terms with. I think he was looking for the others when he found me.”

Nesado nodded. “That would make sense. It was supposed to be instinct for each of you to call out telepathically to each other at hatching, a way for all of you to bond at birth. Obviously that wasn’t an exact science.”

“And if one of us was alone?” asked Isabel who couldn’t help but glance at Tess.

Nesado smiled slightly at his young charge. “Then you would call out for the nearest person that could receive the message. If there was no one close, then I suppose that you’d keep calling until someone heard you,” he hypothesized.

“But why did I hear it first? Why didn’t Isabel or Tess? I mean, their abilities are closer,” Max asked, wanting to know.

“They probably would have eventually. But his brain pattern would be very close to yours. It would have sought the familiar. I’m not at all surprised you were the first to hear his cry,” Nesado reasoned.

“Would him being…born early, as in before apparent age six, impact his abilities or anything?” asked Liz.

“At approximately age six, most of the basic powers are present and thusly was determined to be the optimum age for birth. The first power that was to develop while still in the pod was telepathy at around age four or so. Obviously his pod was at least highly disturbed, if not damaged, and held him until he reached the earliest viable age,” explained Nesado. “From here on out he will grow and develop at a normal human rate. His powers will continue to develop rapidly for the next two years, just as if he was still in the pod, before leveling off to match his growth rate, such it has for the four of you.”

“So basically, he’s a five-year-old preemie but healthy,” Maria summed up.

“Yes. Now we just have to find him,” Nesado told the group, and for the first time realized that he was glad to have their help.

“Gallup,” Michael said.

“Gallup?” Nesado asked.

“They put a hospital gown on him and I saw some writing on it. Isabel was able to make out B.A. Supply, Gallup, NM,” explained Max.

“And I did some checking on B.A. Supply. They are located in Gallup and hold the contracts for various area hospitals, which I confirmed that they have imprinted with the hospital name. All others carry the B.A. Supply name. I gave them a call, told them that we had one of their gowns turn up on a John Doe and asked if they had any way to track it. They didn’t, other than to say that they are a small supplier and usually only sold locally, and nothing out of state. They suggested checking the local rest homes and private institutions,” the sheriff told them.

Nesado was impressed. Not bad at all for humans. “Let me see what I can find on my end. See if there are any research facilities or government institutions around the Gallup area. If there are, I have the perfect cover for nosing around anything that is even slightly alien related.”

“Just don’t take too much time. That little guy isn’t spending one extra minute in that place than he has to,” Michael stated pointedly.

“I agree,” Nesado told them. He made plans to contact the sheriff every twelve hours with any progress, and also to stay apprised of anything that Max might find out tonight in his sleep.

~

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TaffyCat
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Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:23 pm

Part 6

Saturday afternoon rolled around warm and sunny. The perfect weather for an afternoon barbecue, Diane decided. She had told Max and Isabel to invite their friends over for hamburgers and hot dogs. She watched her children and their friends. They were such serious kids. But they seemed to be good for Max. He had gotten more sleep these past few nights. In fact, she had had to wake him yesterday when he slept through his alarm so he wouldn’t be late for work. He was also eating again. Not as much as she’d like but more than he had been. And eating even more if Liz was around. She liked Liz. She was a sweet girl who made her son just light up.

“So how’d it go last night, Maxwell?” Michael asked while polishing off his third hot dog.

Max sighed. In some ways these last few nights had been even harder than when he was having his worst nightmares. It was so hard to leave him and wake up. Yesterday he woke to his mom shaking him and telling him that he was going to be late for work. He’d spent that night mostly just holding the little boy and rocking him in his arms. It was emotionally exhausting. Last night had been a bit better though. At Liz’s suggestion, he started trying to show him things, like how to eat and drink without choking. It gave the both of them something to focus and work on. “Okay, I think. They haven’t done anything more to him recently, at least not that I can tell. I taught him how to chew his food and swallow. It’s hard for him though.”

“Why’s that, Max?” asked Maria.

“No taste,” explained Michael.

“Believe it or not, our taste buds are much more developed now than when we first hatched. At first we couldn’t taste anything, then it was just strong flavors, lemon, hot sauce, salt, sugar.” Isabel smiled at a memory. “I remember Mom totally freaked when she caught Max drinking straight vinegar. She thought for sure he was going to be sick.”

Max smiled at that too. “Yeah, she was ready to rush me to the hospital, and I was like, ‘What? That was good, Mom!’ I was so excited because I could actually taste something.” He took another bite of his Tabasco-topped hamburger. It was perfection.

“Nothing from Nesado yet?” Liz asked after wiping mustard off her lip.

“Nothing concrete. There are a couple of places, labs that do government contract work around Gallup that he was going to check out further. If one of them looks good then Pierce plans on making a personal inspection tour, hopefully on Monday, or Tuesday at the latest,” Max told her.

“We’ll find him, Maxwell,” Michael stated flatly. There was simply no other option.

~

Of the two possibilities, this one seemed the most likely because of the name, ‘Neila Bio Research Laboratory.’ Pierce noted the security cameras and security guards at the front gate. He had no problem getting past them since Agent Pierce had an appointment and was expected. He was surprised by the simple glass double doors at the entrance. He’d been expecting something much more sturdy. There were cameras in every hall watching every move that was made in the building. The young assistant rambled on about the new discovery and valuable research that Dr. Coldsworth was doing as he escorted Special Agent Pierce to the observation room, a room which the assistant wasn’t allowed to enter.

Brian Coldsworth was close to 70 now. He had come aboard the project right out of medical school in the early sixties. It had taken more than 40 years but he was finally able to get some answers to his life’s work. He gave the younger man a smile in greeting. It had been a few years since he last met with the head of the Special Unit. “Agent Pierce, I’m glad you finally made it out here. I knew you couldn’t stay away from this. Come look. Isn’t it incredible?” he asked him as they shook hands and then peered out the one-way window.

Nesado felt like someone had kicked him in the stomach. There, on the other side of the window, was the boy lying unconscious on an exam table with just a sheet over his lower half. He was struck by how young he was. Too young. It took him a minute to find his voice. “What procedure are you doing?”

“Skin samples. We’re actually done. We’re just letting it rest for a bit while we monitor it. We’ll wait until probably Friday before performing the additional sampling. Give it time to recover a little since those will be more intrusive. We don’t want it to go into shock or anything,” Coldsworth explained as he checked the remote monitor that displayed all of the subject’s stats.

“No, we don’t. We want to keep him healthy. What are the additional samples going to consist of?” Agent Pierce inquired. He needed to know how quickly he had to act and for that he needed to know what they had planned for the boy.

“Organ sampling. We’ll start with the pancreas and liver. Then, depending on the subject’s recovery abilities, we plan on additional samplings of the other organs on what we’re hoping to be a weekly basis,” the doctor advised.

If Nesado had been human, a chill would have gone up his spine. “And after that?”

“We’re looking for a qualified instructor that will start working with it in a couple of months. We want to measure its learning abilities next. So far we’ve been very careful not to speak in front of it. It’s heard no language of any kind, that way we can judge its ability to learn speech from a beginning point.” Coldsworth moved closer to the window, right next to Agent Pierce. “I’m sorry that you lost the subject that you captured earlier this year. I never got the chance to thank you for immediately forwarding the preliminary exam results from it. They’ve been quite interesting to compare to this one’s.”

Nesado had to curb his desire to kill the doctor and instead told him, “Good. I’m glad something useful came from it. What were the results of the comparison?”

“Almost identical. They’re both hybrids. Their bodies are human from all appearances. You have to get down to the cellular level to see the differences. We performed one MRI of this subject’s brain already. There are significant similarities to your subject but some differences as well. It doesn’t surprise me at all given their apparent age difference. It’ll be interesting to see how this one develops. It finally figured out how to eat recently. The first time it tried it nearly choked to death. We had been considering putting in a feeding tube this week if it didn’t improve.” He watched as the subject continued its drugged sleep. “It looks so innocent. I’m afraid that some of the technicians working here had to be replaced. They kept seeing it as a little boy and not the danger it represented. They couldn’t grasp the significance of it being a hybrid, the results of alien and human crossbreeding. Imagine an army of them running around and penetrating our government and industry? We’ve got to learn all we can about them, biology and capabilities, and most importantly how to control them before we’re overrun by them. I have to admit that I’m concerned about the one that got away, but at least this one is secured.”

Nesado decided right then that this man could not live. No matter what, he would make damn sure his days were numbered and soon. But now he needed more information. “Yes, I thought mine was too, but as you know, he was more resourceful than I’d imagined. What type of security are we looking at here?”

Coldsworth nodded, conceding the point. “We have six security cameras outside, plus each hall is covered, and a pair of security guards patrol constantly. And if a breach is detected, all exits are sealed shut with safety doors made of reinforced steel that contain trace elements of heavy metals, which I understand these aliens and hybrids can’t manipulate,” he proudly told him.

“What about power? All these electronics require power to run. What happens if the power is cut?” Pierce inquired.

“Ah, we have a backup generator, and if that is knocked out too, then the safety doors are activated as a fail safe,” Coldsworth elaborated, wanting to put the agent’s fears to rest. “If you’d like, I could give you a tour, including the security monitoring station so you can see that we are well covered.”

“Yes, please.” Nesado gave the small child a last look before following the doctor on the tour.

~

A half-hour later Nesado had the complete layout of the facility and a detailed description of the security system. They were finishing the tour in the storage area.

“And this is something that I know you’ll want to see,” Coldsworth told him excitedly as he opened the door that was labeled ‘Cold Storage.’

The first thing Nesado saw when he walked in were the pods hanging from a metal frame on wheels, just as Max had described. “Amazing.”

“Yes,” Coldsworth agreed. “It took us some time before we figured out that they had to be hung in order to develop.” He walked closer to the pods and shook his head sadly at the three damaged ones. “If only that bastard hadn’t done this when it escaped, we would have four viable subjects to work with instead of just one. We tried to keep them going. All the holes were immediately patched but we only had marginal success.” He pointed to the bottom left one, “This one, Subject A, was already damaged from the crash. It looked like the alien had tried to repair it. After the escape, it didn’t have a chance and almost immediately aborted.” He pointed to the one above it, “This one, Subject B, a male, developed to about the size of a full-term fetus, but it started developing problems back in ’68. The chamber started leaking and changing to a dark, almost black color. We decided to try and take it.” He shook his head at the memory. He’d just started here a few months before and was hoping for a chance to study it as it grew. “It never took a single breath. And this one,” he pointed to the chamber next to it, “this one, Subject C, we were so close with. In ’79 this chamber started to change to that dark color and we immediately removed the female. It was about the size and development of an eighteen to twenty month old. It lived only a few hours before it too died.” He smiled suddenly at the recent memory of the last pod. “This one, Subject D’s chamber had never been breached, just scorched a bit, so we held out the most hope for it. It sure didn’t disappoint either. Damn, that was amazing to watch it emerge from it.” He looked over at the refrigerator unit. “Would you like to see them?”

Pierce made a show of being eager, but inside Nesado was furious. Intellectually he knew that the fetuses would be dissected and studied but he had hoped at some point they would be allowed to rest. He kept himself in check by the thinnest of margins as the door opened and three trays were slid out. They bore the rough stitches of several autopsies.

“They were hybrids as well. It gives us some hope that it took so long for all of them to develop. Hopefully it’ll give us time to understand how they are conceived, or at the very least, a way for us to prevent any more of them from being created. Unless, of course, we can control them,” Coldsworth concluded.

“Absolutely,” Pierce agreed as Coldsworth shoved the trays back into the refrigerator and shut the door. “Fascinating work. Whom do you collaborate with on it?” he asked as they made their way back to the exit.

“Other than the Special Unit, no one really. As you know, to the outside world we are working on genome mapping,” he told him with a wink and stuck out his hand to say goodbye.

It would be so easy to shake his hand and send a jolt of current through his body. Maybe make it look like a heart attack or stroke. Nesado was tempted but instead he gave him a smile and shook his hand. “Thank you doctor. I’ll be most interested in staying on top of your findings,” he said as he recalled that a known enemy is better than a dead one.

~

Max received the message from Sheriff Valenti that Ed Harding would be stopping by his house around 10 p.m. for a few drinks and wanted to meet all of Tess’s friends. Max wasn’t sure what to think about Nesado actually wanting their human friends there. He usually bitched about them being included. But the fact that he was coming to Roswell and wanted to meet must mean he had news.

~

They all arrived promptly at 10 that night and crowded around the dining table. Nesado laid out blueprints of the facility. “It’s called Neila Bio Research Laboratory. It’s outside of Gallup.”

“Are you sure? Did you see him?” Michael quickly asked.

“Yes, I’m sure. And yes, I saw him,” Nesado countered.

“How was he?” Isabel asked and the room fell silent waiting for the answer.

Nesado looked around the room at all the concerned faces. They weren’t going to take this any better than he had, and they didn’t even see him lying there like that. “He was asleep…in the exam room.”

Max had seen him last night and he wasn’t in the exam room then. He felt like his stomach just dropped to the floor. “What’d they do to him?”

“Just collecting skin tissue samples for now,” he then looked at them pointedly and added, “but Friday they plan to collect organ tissue samples from his pancreas and liver.”

“Wait. How are they gonna do that?” asked Michael, who was starting to feel sick at the possibilities.

“Surgery. And then different organ samples next week, and then again the following, and so on until they’ve got them all,” Nesado bitterly replied. “And I want him out before they get started cutting him open,” he stated firmly and received angry nods in agreement all around. “So we need to get him out no later than Thursday night. I’d prefer Wednesday though. They’ll probably be prepping him and possibly drugging him Thursday in preparation. Plus it gives us a day leeway.” He looked over at Max. “And I would suggest that you do not teach him to talk. They are purposely not exposing him to any type of speech. No point in them getting more curious than they need to be.”

Max nodded his reluctant agreement.

“With luck it’ll only be a few more days. Now let’s get to work on getting him out of there.” He laid out the blueprints that he had been able to get from the security company that installed the system. Working for a branch of the FBI had many perks and garnered a great deal of cooperation from contractors. “We have outside cameras at each corner plus two more in the middle, here and here. There are two doors, here and here. All corridors have cameras which feed into the control room here. Additionally, they have two two-man patrols at all times. One patrol is replaced every four hours around the clock.”

“So blow the power and go in unnoticed,” Michael thought aloud.

“Well, that would do two things. It would let them know that ‘something’ is happening and the backup generator, located in the maintenance room, would kick on. And if we blow that then failsafe steel doors that have been reinforced with heavy metals will drop into place at both exit doors,” explained Nesado.

“That’s no fun,” Kyle quipped.

“Indeed,” agreed Nesado.

“So how do we get in?” the sheriff asked.

“They’re going to let us in.” He looked straight at Max. “Dr. Coldsworth was very interested in the hybrid that escaped in May. If he were caught, this would be the best place to keep him. Plus Coldsworth was dying to be able to compare you to the child.”

“NO!” Michael practically yelled.

“Michael. Let’s hear him out. Go on,” Max told Nesado, even though his stomach was churning at the prospect.

“We’ll make it appear that you were recaptured and since I was in the area, I assumed custody, but the good sheriff that had caught you for say trespassing was insisting on joint jurisdiction and comes along, at least inside the facility. And I of course, had my new junior agent to do all the dirty work,” he stated as he looked straight at Michael. “I will then demand that my computer expert and his team come in to view the computer systems and their security since they are taking custody of a federal prisoner. All of it is a little odd procedurally but it only has to hold for less than an hour or so and if we go in at night, well, the night crew is usually the second string and won’t know to ask too many questions.”

“Who would the computer expert and team be?” asked the sheriff.

“Who here is the best with computers?” Nesado asked.

They all looked around for a moment before their eyes landed on Alex. “I guess that would be me,” he admitted.

Nesado smiled for a moment. “A computer genius fresh from college. He even looks the part. Fine, him, Isabel, and Tess, and that will put everyone with firepower inside.” He turned back to the blueprint. “Now here in the control room. The security designer said that the only vulnerable point is here, in the main computer control. They have a backdoor so that the manufacturer can periodically test and download software updates. And I happen to have the IP address and password. If we can hack into the system we can deactivate the failsafe metal doors, blow the power, and get the hell out of there. Now Max, there are only the two White Rooms, located right next to each other, here,” he pointed. “And that is where I’ll insist you be kept for security reasons at first. That should put you either in the same room with him or right next door. I will make a show of injecting you with the drugs that block your powers, of course it’ll only be saline. How’s your telepathy, Max?” he asked abruptly.

“Uh, better, I think,” Max replied.

“Can you hear me now?” Nesado asked silently.

Max smirked. “Yes, I can hear you now.”

“Good. Good. At my signal, you grab the babe and make a beeline out of there. Michael and I will make as much noise as possible,” Nesado said.

“Really, how?” Michael asked, intrigued.

“I find a bit of high explosives go a long way in shutting off the power,” Nesado remarked with a grin. “But not the backup generator. The generator isn’t strong enough to produce all the power required to run the entire facility. The corridors and secure areas will have power but everything else will be dark. Alex, if you can hack into the computer, I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problems with misdirecting the cameras for a few minutes while Max makes good with his escape. We will have two cars ready with their engines running and drivers raring to go just outside the perimeter.”

“How will the rest of us get out?” asked Michael.

“Well, the good sheriff will see his prisoner running and take off after him. Tessy here can do a bit of mindwarping so these three can make their escape,” he said and nodded to the three teens. “And Michael and I will finish making sure nothing alien-related remains for them to study before heading out the door to our car and it’s waiting driver.”

Max’s eyes narrowed. “How are you going to make sure nothing alien-related is left?”

“Max, you had only one day in the White Room. That’s nothing more than a little taste of what they can and will do to you.” He made a point of looking in Liz’s direction. “Including finding out what kind of effect you had on your girlfriend. Maybe even see if a hybrid and human are capable of reproducing.” He thought for a moment, “Which you are, so I would strongly suggest birth control.” He held up his hand to stop Max from yelling his indignation. “No offense, just something I thought you should know. But I think you get my point. This place is dangerous and any doctor that has no qualms about experimenting on a small child is capable of anything. And take my word on it, the one that is in charge here had no problems with it whatsoever. In fact, he never even referred to the boy as ‘he.’ He was always an ‘it.’”

They were quiet for a time as they digested what Nesado was saying. They weren’t just rescuing a helpless child, there would be people not going home ever again afterwards. Hopefully that included none of them.

“He’s right Max. You have to protect yourselves and your loved ones,” the sheriff said quietly.

“So when exactly do we do it?” asked Isabel.

“Wednesday. It’s a seven to eight hour drive from here. We leave Wednesday morning, get it done, and lay low for Thursday to recoup and if there are no complications, return on Friday,” Nesado explained.

“Okay, I hate to bring this up, but my Mom gets rather cranky when I disappear for more than 24 hours at a time,” Maria pointed out.

“She’s right, Max. Mom and Dad have been keeping a close eye on you,” Isabel reminded him.

“So we need a cover story,” Alex threw in.

“Dad, didn’t you use to take me camping someplace over near Gallup?” Kyle queried.

“McGaffey Lake. It’s about 10 or so miles outside of Ft. Wingate, in the Zuni Mountains,” the sheriff recalled. “And Ft. Wingate is just a few miles east of Gallup off of I-40.”

“So a camping trip,” Max stated and then thought about how to get this past his parents. His mom seemed a bit mellower about things recently but he doubted that she would be thrilled about him taking off anywhere. However, his dad would probably be okay with it if he presented it right. He’d have to get his father to agree in front of his mother, so that she would be forced to go along with it in order to present a united front to him. Yeah, it could work, he thought. “Okay, so we pitch a two night, three day group camping trip with Sheriff Valenti as the chaperone.” He looked around to make sure they all agreed, which they did.

“I’ll call tomorrow morning to reserve a campground. There’s one that’s pretty isolated that should work. Just in case any of your folks call to check,” the sheriff offered.

“Actually, we might as well use that as a place to regroup, both before and after,” Nesado suggested.

“I hate to ask this but how many cars do we need to take? My mom’s not going to be too thrilled to be carless for three days,” Maria asked.

“We’ll need a total of three, preferably fast ones. I’ll bring one, and…” Nesado looked at the others.

“I’ll bring my personal SUV. It’s a V8,” the sheriff volunteered.

“I can bring mine but I don’t know if it’s a V8 or not,” Tess offered.

“It’s a V6,” Kyle clarified and they all shot him a look. “What? I changed her oil once.”

“Fine. Let’s go over everything again and make the final arrangements,” Nasedo concluded.

~

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TaffyCat
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Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:25 pm

Part 7

“So how’d you sleep last night, Max?” Isabel asked the next morning as she walked into her brother’s room.

Max rubbed his hand over his face in frustration. “I couldn’t reach him or he wouldn’t answer.”

“Maybe it was because of pain medication that he might have been given?” Isabel tried to justify.

“Yeah, maybe,” Max admitted dejectedly. “You all ready for Mom and Dad this morning?” he asked.

“Yeah. Max, are you really okay with Nesado’s plan? I mean, you’ll be in a White Room again, and… Max, no one would blame you if you weren’t up for this,” she told him compassionately.

Max sighed heavily. “But I would. I’d blame myself. I’d be sacrificing a small child to a fate that I, myself, couldn’t even face.” He looked up at her and shook his head. “I couldn’t live with that, Iz.” He sighed again. “Come on, let’s go see about a camping trip.”

~

Isabel kept eyeing Max as he made a concerted effort to eat his eggs and toast. He waited until his dad put the morning paper down, signaling that he was about ready to leave for work, to start in. “Um, Dad, um, a bunch of us have the next few days off and we were thinking of going camping.”

“That sounds like fun. Who’s ‘we’?” Philip asked and caught the raised brow from his wife.

“Me and Iz, and Michael, Maria, Alex, Liz, Kyle, and Tess. Oh, and Kyle’s dad, you know, Sheriff Valenti, he would be there as well. He, uh, sort of insisted on it,” Max let on.

“I bet. When were you kids thinking of doing this?” Philip queried.

“Tomorrow and be back Friday. It’s the only time we could all swing getting off work, and summer’s almost over.” Max frowned. This was a low blow, he knew it, but this was too important not to play it. “It hasn’t been much of a summer for me, and I’d like to have some fun before school starts up in a few weeks,” he added.

“Oh, honey,” Diane sighed. “I just don’t know if this is a good idea. What about your appointment on Thursday?”

“But I’m doing much better and I can reschedule my therapy appointment. I’ll even go three times next week instead of two,” Max offered.

Philip scratched the back of his neck while he considered. He had been a young man once and could remember needing to put some space between himself and his parents. He looked at his wife. He knew that her intentions were good, but he didn’t doubt all this over-mothering was probably driving Max up the wall. “Diane, it might not be a bad idea for him to get away with friends for a few days. In fact, I bet it does him some good. What do you think, honey?”

Diane hated to admit it but Philip was probably right. Max had pretty much been cooped up all summer and probably could use a break. “Alright, but I want you to reschedule that appointment this morning before you leave for work.”

Max beamed. “Okay and thanks, Mom. Dad.”

“Max, I’ll want to talk to Sheriff Valenti and find out where you’ll be and such. And I also want you both to keep your cell phones with you and turned on at all times.” He glanced at his wife for a moment and smiled before adding, “and we promise not to bug either of you so long as we hear from both of you at least once a day. Deal?”

“Deal,” brother and sister agreed in unison.

~

That evening Diane kept glancing over at her son as he loaded the ice chest with drinks. She had gone grocery shopping that afternoon for their trip and loaded up on what she knew teens liked—junk food. She was currently packing a box with the latest in potato chips and Chex Mix. She still had reservations about this but he did seem better the last couple of weeks. As she reached to pack some paper plates, she felt a twinge in her shoulder. “Umph,” she moaned and rubbed the back of her neck and shoulder.

Max stopped what he was doing when he heard his mom and watched as she opened the medicine cabinet for some Advil. “Mom, you okay?”

“Yes, honey, just a little stiff. I guess old age is creeping up on me no matter how much I fight it,” she joked as she grabbed the bottle. She noticed the prescription bottle with her son’s name on it that was still full. He hadn’t touched them. She felt warm hands on her back and shoulders and closed her eyes as they began to massage away her aches and pains. An incredible warmth swept down her back releasing any remaining tension and discomfort. She sighed and then patted his hand. “Thank you, honey. You always did know just how to do that.”

Max’s hands stopped their slight glow. “You’re welcome.” He gave her a slight smile before returning to his task.

Diane also returned to packing up the food and watching her son. “So Liz is going on this as well?” she commented casually but kept a close eye on his response.

Max paused and shyly glanced at his mom for a moment. “Um, yeah,” he mumbled.

“Well, good. I’m glad. I like Liz and I hope you two can work things out,” Diane assured her son. “I like the way she makes you smile,” she added with a knowing look.

“Mo-om!” Max lamented.

“Well, I do. Are you two going to start to go out again?” she asked, taking advantage of a mother’s right to embarrass her teenage son.

Max had finished loading the cooler and all that was left was to add the ice in the morning. He grabbed another box and started loading more supplies in it and hoped his mom would stop looking at him like that and waiting for his answer.

“Ma-ax?” she emphasized with a raised eyebrow.

“I don’t know yet. We’re…we’re friends,” he finally mumbled.

“Hmm, friends. Well, I suppose it’s a start,” she joked and looked at him hard for a few moments. He was a fine looking young man and a good man, one both she and her husband were proud to call their son. But he wasn’t a little boy anymore. The old saying ‘a son’s a son until he takes a wife’ came to mind. He and Liz weren’t married but now it was Liz Parker that made him light up and smile, like the way he used to when he was little and would make a special drawing for her or pick flowers from the garden to give to her.

Max hated it when his mom stared at him like that. It usually meant she was getting all nostalgic on him. Sure enough, her eyes were getting all weepy. “Mo-om, it’s only for a couple of nights.”

“I know. I know. It’s just…you’re almost all grown. In two years both you and your sister will be going off to college and starting lives of your own and… It’s just not fair. I only got to have you for such a short time.” She did her best to stifle the sob but was only partially successful.

“Mom…” Max started to say.

Diane held up her hand to stop him. “No, it’s okay. I guess I’m just going to have to get used to the idea of having an empty nest in a few years.” She then gave him a small grin. “Besides, then I can look forward to some grandchildren to spoil. Maybe a petite little granddaughter with her mother’s big brown eyes,” she teased.

His cheeks burned but at the same time he kind of liked the idea. “Maybe,” he shrugged. They were quiet for a while as they finished packing, but he had been harboring an idea and thought now might be the time to try it out. “Mom, have you and Dad ever thought of…adopting again?”

Diane was startled by the idea and could only stare at him as she collected her wits. “I… Max, where in the world did that come from?”

“I don’t know. I mean, you’re talking about an empty nest and I just thought… Sorry, bad idea,” Max backpedaled. He’d have to think of something else.

“No, honey. It’s a sweet thought but…it’s not that easy, and… Well, your father and I aren’t that young anymore. Besides, where would we find a child as special as you or your sister? Honey, no one could take your place,” Diane assured him.

In a white room just outside of Gallup, NM, he wanted to say, but instead he replied, “Oh, you never know, Mom. Maybe one will turn up unexpected one night. It wouldn’t be the first time,” he reminded her.

Diane could vividly recall the night she and Philip had found their two lost children wandering in the desert alone. There was such an innocence and look of wonder to them. It was if they were seeing everything for the very first time. They both had fallen completely in love with them. They were their special children. She fondly patted his arm. “Well, your dad and I will keep an eye out for them then.”

Isabel walked in with bags in hand. “Hey.”

“Isabel, you were supposed to be home an hour ago to help get things organized,” Diane admonished.

“Sorry. Tess and I were getting a few things for the trip and lost all track of time,” explained Isabel.

Diane eyed the Mervyns and Target store bags in her daughter’s hand. “Yes, that’s easy to do at the mall.”

“It’s okay, Mom. We got it done,” Max jumped in, anxious to steer their mom away from questioning Isabel’s shopping excursion. He made a show of yawning and stretching. “I think I’m going to turn in early. Iz, you might want to do the same since we need to be up and ready at six when the sheriff gets here,” he suggested.

“Yeah, you’re right. Alex said he’d be here tomorrow no later than 6:30 with his stuff.” She turned apologetically to her mom. “I’m sorry. Thanks for doing all of this for us, and I didn’t mean to stick you and Max with everything.”

“It’s okay Isabel, and Max is right. You both should get to bed with such an early morning. Goodnight dear.”

Isabel gave her a quick kiss, “G’night Mom.”

~

After he heard his parents turn in for the night, Max got up and stuffed the bags Isabel had brought in into his duffle bag. He paused for a moment and smiled at the tan teddy bear they had picked up along with the clothes they thought would fit him. With luck, tomorrow night a little boy would have a whole new lease on life. He shoved all the new purchases to the bottom, careful to cover them with his stuff just in case his mom got a strange idea of checking to make sure he remembered to pack socks or some such lame thing. He climbed into bed hoping his mind would quiet enough to allow him to fall asleep. He had a little boy that he was desperate to check on.

Max turned around and there, curled up on the floor, was a very pale and frightened little one. His fear and pain were coming off of him in waves. Max went to him and gently took him in his arms, holding him close. The boy pointed to the bandages on his arms, legs, and back, and flashed him a picture of waking up to find the painfully raw patches. Max watched as eyes that were just a shade lighter than his own filled with tears. Max held him closer and began to rock him. “Shh, I know. I wish I could take the pain away from you now, but I will soon, real soon,” he assured him as they rocked until eventually the sobs quieted as eyes closed, and then finally another pair closed as needed rest enveloped them both.

~

Diane quietly crept downstairs. She had forgotten to add the plastic eating utensils in with the box of paper plates for tomorrow. It was one of those stupid little things that nagged at you and prevented sleep until it was taken care of. Once done, she decided to check to make sure the kids were asleep. Max’s door was ajar so she silently pushed it open a little more. She already knew he was asleep from the steady light snoring, but decided to peak in just the same. He was laying on his back in peaceful slumber. Her eyes caught sight of something coming from his hand that was lying across his chest, a soft glow. She looked around the room for the source. A light must be reflecting something, but she didn’t see anything and the curtains were drawn tight so it wasn’t the moon. She took a couple of steps into the room and looked harder to see if there was something in his hand, a glow stick perhaps. But his palm was almost flat against his chest and the glow seemed to be coming from both on top of and under his hand. Max’s hand was glowing. She glanced around the room again still hoping to find some other source or explanation but not finding one. She took a couple of shaking steps and bumped into the door. She watched her son to see if he’d awaken or if the glowing would stop. Neither did. She made it out of his room and carefully closed the door. Her mind was spinning as she tried to understand what she had just seen.

“Mom, are you okay?” Isabel asked from the doorway of her room.

Diane almost jumped out of her skin at the sound of her daughter’s voice. She hadn’t seen Isabel there. “Yes, yes. I’m fine. I’m fine. Goodnight, honey,” she stammered as she climbed the stairs to the master bedroom. She wouldn’t be sleeping at all that night as she tried to figure what exactly it was that she had seen.

Isabel was worried as she watched her mother climb the stairs. She waited until she heard the bedroom door close before opening her brother’s door to see what had rattled her mom so much. Her breath caught as she saw Max’s hand glowing. She tried to think of the best way to handle this. If their mom woke their father, they might come down to see if it was really true. But if Max’s hand was glowing he must be using his powers for something and the only thing she could think of would be to help the boy. The last thing she wanted to do was yank him awake and away from whatever he was doing. But she had to warn him. She carefully closed his door and ran back to her room and locked her door. She grabbed a picture of Max and laid down. Her eyes closed and she began to dreamwalk.

She was in the white room again. Max was sitting against a wall with his eyes closed and in his arms the boy appeared to be asleep. She looked carefully and sure enough, Max’s hand was glowing softly against the gauze bandage on the boy’s back. She very gently touched Max’s shoulder. She didn’t want to startle him so that he woke up completely, but just enough so she could talk to him here in the dream plane. “Max, Max wake up. You have to stop what you’re doing.”

Max’s eyes popped open. He was startled to find himself in a white room, and even more startled to find Isabel with him as well. It took him a moment to realize that he had someone in his arms. “Iz?”

“You were trying to heal him, Max,” Isabel explained.

“Can I do that here?” Max asked in confusion. He hadn’t been aware of it. He remembered wanting desperately to take away the pain so the boy could sleep, but he didn’t recall actually doing anything.

“I don’t know, Max. This isn’t a normal dreamwalk so I don’t know what you can and can’t do here but you have to stop. Max…” She was about to tell him what their mom saw but he had enough to deal with already and needed his rest. Besides, if she told him, he’d be even more rattled than their mom had been and would wake right up. “Max, whatever you were doing here was making your hand glow for real back home. You need to stop in case someone opens your door and sees it. Besides, as much as I want you to help him, if you do, it will just raise more questions about him and if we… If he ends up staying here longer then… Just stop, please.”

Max nodded in agreement and instinctively hugged the boy even closer to him. He half wanted to check underneath those bandages to see if he was still hurt but he didn’t want to disturb his sleep. He just held him close instead. “Okay. Thanks Iz.”

Isabel sat down and gently ran her fingertips along a little arm. “How’s he doing?”

“He’s scared and in pain and doesn’t understand why. All he knows is that he woke up hurting,” he told her. Isabel scooted closer and he shifted the boy over so they both could hold him and hoped he could feel how much they cared for him.


~

Diane sat in the chair and gazed out the window, watching the moon and stars pass overhead. Her mind ran through the last 11 years and tried to pinpoint all the little odd things that never added up. Max healing that bird when he was six, the fire last winter, the sheriff’s unusual interest in her son, the report he showed her about the shooting last year and the accusation that her son had somehow healed a bullet wound, and something finally dawned on her. She closed her eyes and could still picture that day in the park when she had confronted him and everything he had said…

MAX: I thought you might be here.

DIANE: Max. Honey, sit down. I'm glad you're here. I've been wanting to talk to you about...something we've never discussed before. Have you ever thought about trying to find your...your real parents? I mean, because...I've been thinking, I mean, maybe there's a reason why you can't talk to me. Maybe you need real parents for that. Maybe your father and I just...aren't enough for you.

MAX: Mom, I don't think we'll ever find our real parents. And...maybe it would, you know...give us some answers, but...please don't ever think that you're not enough. I mean...without you, I...I don't know where I would even be.

DIANE: Max...nothing you are could ever turn me away from you. I mean...I love you. And you're my son. Do you understand that?

MAX: Yeah.

DIANE: Then why...why can't you just tell me your secret?

(Max unfolded his jacket and gives her the item in it.)
MAX: This is for you. Sorry...for the wrapping.

DIANE: Oh...your house.

MAX: I remember my first few nights in our house so well. I hated it so much. For Isabel it was different. She saw you and Dad, and from the very first moment, she knew she was home. But I would lie in my bed all night and cry.

DIANE: Because you wanted to go home.

MAX: Yeah. And you gave me this. And you said that it was a magic house...that if I held onto it, it would take me home. But the thing is, it would never bring me home, because I don't know where home is. I don't remember. That's the truth. And if you can't accept that, then I understand. I could leave.

DIANE: Leave? Max, please...

MAX: Mom, please don't ask me about this anymore. It's nothing bad. It's nothing dangerous. I beg you to trust me. I mean...you're my mother. Please, Mom.


Max had never denied he had a secret, just begged her not to pursue it. She had always suspected something about him was different, and last winter the sheriff had basically said the same thing. Now he was taking both her children on a camping trip. She had no doubt that whatever the secret, the sheriff was now privy to it and Max was comfortable enough about it to go camping with him. Did all the other kids know too, she wondered? As the sun started to rise she heard her children, at least her son, moving around downstairs. She rose and began to dress as if on autopilot. She spotted the sheriff’s cruiser pulling into their driveway and passed Max pounding on Isabel’s door as she descended the stairs and started brewing coffee. “Good morning, Sheriff.”

“Morning, Diane. Looks like a beautiful day today. Not supposed to get too hot. Perfect camping weather,” the sheriff said with a reassuring smile as he helped Max tote their camping gear out and into his SUV. His own camping gear, along with Kyle, was in Tess’s SUV which was currently heading over to Michael’s and then Maria’s. They would be meeting Nesado, who was currently in the guise of Ed Harding, at a Denny’s outside of Carrizozo right off of US-380 West at ten. They needed to get a move on.

Philip came downstairs in search of coffee and to see how he could help. He knew the sheriff wanted to get an early start so they could get there by mid-afternoon. “Here, let me give you a hand with that,” he said and grabbed a cooler. “Gotta long drive ahead of you,” he commented as he hefted the cooler into the back of the SUV.

“Yep, but it’ll be worth it.” The sheriff gave him a friendly smile in return. He had gotten a very long phone call from Philip Evans yesterday wanting details of where the campsite was, what was the route they’d be taking, what they planned to do while there, and what time did they think they’d be home on Friday. He also was told that if there were any problems to call immediately. Exactly what he had expected.

“Yeah, beautiful area if I remember correctly. It’s been years since I was there and I don’t think I’ve ever taken the kids there. Isabel never was much on camping. In fact, I was surprised that she was going this time,” Philip mentioned as Max brought out a bag and a couple of sleeping bags. He turned as another car pulled into the driveway.

The sheriff smiled as Alex got out of the car with a duffle bag, computer bag, and sleeping bag in tow. He’d told Alex that’s all he’d need, that everything else was covered. “Teens certainly are a mystery,” he commented.

“Tell me about it,” Philip concurred and eyed the laptop skeptically. “Alex, you do know you’re camping…as in a tent…and no electricity, right?” he asked.

“No problem, Mr. Evans. Extra batteries!” Alex replied with a grin and looked around for Isabel.

Max came out and threw a couple of extra pillows and a blanket in the backseat. “Hey Alex, Isabel’s up and ready but be warned. She is majorly not a morning person.“

“Hey, I’m used to it. Ever seen Maria first thing in the morning? Downright dangerous, and I’m willing to bet Tess doesn’t do too well either. Sort of feel sorry for Michael and Kyle right now,” Alex remarked, making them all chuckle.

Max was about to follow the rest of the guys in when he spotted a station wagon pulling up out front. He smiled as he went to go meet it. “Morning Liz.” He looked up and added, “Morning, Mr. Parker.”

“Morning, Max,” Jeff Parker replied as he popped open the back of the wagon to pull out his daughter’s camping stuff. He noticed how his daughter smiled at the young man and slipped her hand into his. Damn. Why couldn’t she stay ten or something, he wished and then cleared his throat. “Wanna give me a hand here, Max?”

Max’s head shot up again at the sound of Liz’s father addressing him. “Sure. Sorry about that,” he told him as he took the sleeping bag and duffle bag from Mr. Parker. Liz followed him as he transferred them to the sheriff’s SUV.

“Yeah, you were just a bit distracted…with my daughter,” Jeff grumbled to himself from the curb as he watched them. Damn. Damn. Damn. He forced a smile as Liz ran back to him and for a moment, he foolishly thought she had changed her mind, but she was only coming back to give him a hug and kiss and tell him goodbye. “Have fun, honey. And call us when you get there. Your mom and I love you very much.”

“I will, Dad. Thanks for bringing me over so early. And I love you guys too. Bye.” She gave him another quick hug and ran back.

Jeff gave a departing glare to the young man that was standing there with his hands stuffed in his pockets looking very uncomfortable. He waved to the sheriff when he came out of the house with a few more things to add to the SUV. He felt a little better knowing that the sheriff was going along. Hopefully he could keep the horny young teenaged boys in check.

“I’ll take good care of her, Jeff,“ the sheriff called out as Jeff Parker waved and climbed into his car. They were all set, just needed to round everyone up and get ’em into the car.

“It’s too early!” Isabel lamented in the kitchen as she sipped her morning caffeine.

“I’m sure you can take a nap in the car, Isabel,” Diane told her.

“Well, I think that’s it. Come on people, let’s get a move on,” the sheriff instructed as he followed Max and Liz into the kitchen.

“Wait, what about breakfast?” Diane questioned as she cast a glance at her son.

“I’ll stop at McDonalds on the way out of town. And you’ve packed enough to feed an army in case they want a snack or two on the way. Don’t worry. They’ll be fine,” the sheriff assured her.

Diane waited as everyone started to file out and grabbed Max for a moment. “Wait. Honey, I…” She ran her hand down his arm and then grasped his hand, the one that had been glowing last night, and held it firmly. It was the same warm, gentle hand as it had always been. “Honey, I want you to have a good time, and I love you. No matter what,” she told him and tried her best not to get choked up.

Max looked at his mom confused as to why she was getting all teary-eyed and emotional on him. “I know, and I love you and Dad too,” he replied before giving her a hug and escaping before she lost it and started balling or something.

Isabel watched her mom hug her brother and breathed a sigh of relief. She was going to have to talk to Max about what their mom had seen last night, but she’d wait until tomorrow, after all of this was over.

Philip slipped his arm around his wife as they waved goodbye from the doorstep and then escorted her into the kitchen. He watched as she poured another cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table and just stared at the cup. “Diane, would you mind letting me in on what’s going on?” he finally asked as he joined her at the table with his own cup of coffee.

Diane closed her eyes and composed herself as she tried to figure out how to explain it to her husband. She wasn’t even sure what it was she was thinking herself but she had to try. “Philip, last night I came downstairs to finish something and on the way back to bed I stopped to check on the kids. Honey, Max was…he was asleep but…his hand was…glowing.”

“Glowing? Diane, what are you talking about?” Philip asked completely confused.

“The curtains were completely drawn, all the lights were out, and there was a…glow coming from his right hand. I got closer, thinking I would spot…oh, I don’t know, maybe one of those glow sticks or a small flashlight he’d left on, but it wasn’t. It was his hand. It glowed from the palm clear through to the back of his hand.” She stopped when she saw the dubious look on her husband. “You don’t believe me.”

Philip shook his head. It was too early for anything like this. “Diane, I don’t know what to tell you. Why would his hand glow? I mean what would cause that?”

Diane sighed and decided to voice her suspicions. “Philip, we’ve both known since day one that there was something…different about both our kids. The way we found them, all alone, naked in the desert, how they had to be taught…well, everything, and all the little things that never added up. Max healed that bird when he was six, and the fire last winter. And then there was the sheriff. I told you he seemed overly interested in our kids, especially Max after that break in last year, and then again with the kitchen fire, and now he’s taking our kids camping.”

“Are you saying you’re not comfortable with letting the kids go with him?” Philip asked in surprise.

“No, but that’s the point. Max had always seemed a bit uncomfortable with the sheriff, especially since last year… You saw them this morning. It was like it was the most natural thing in the world.” She took a deep breath to help keep calm. “Philip, whatever secret Max has, I’m almost certain that the sheriff now knows.”

He shook his head again. He was totally lost as to where she was going with this. “Diane, what do you think is this big secret that Max has?”

“I think… Philip, I know this sounds crazy but I think Max has some sort of special gifts like…healing, and maybe others too.” She chanced a glance at her husband and was surprised to see such a serious look. “Philip, think about it. Other than accidents, the car accident and the sprained ankle when we went to Florida, he’s never been sick, neither has Isabel. And just last night I strained a muscle in my shoulder and he massaged it and it was gone almost instantly. Then there was that report the sheriff showed me where those two tourists swore Liz Parker was shot and that Max went over and did something to her and voila, she was fine.” She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “And I just realized last night that when I did try to get him to talk about it after the kitchen fire, he didn’t deny anything but just begged me to stop asking. He did say that it was nothing bad or dangerous, but he never said that it didn’t exist.”

“Absence of denial doesn’t prove guilt,” Philip stated.

“Philip, this isn’t a court of law, this is our son we’re talking about,” Diane reminded him.

Philip sighed. “Okay, so where do you see this going because I have to say that I’m completely lost here,” he admitted.

“I’m not sure but it could play into this…White Room he mentioned. Philip, if… What if his family knew about his gifts and was frightened by them, so much so that they…locked him away and denied him…their love and care? It could explain why he didn’t know anything when we found him or why he’s always been so…secretive. It would be natural for him to be afraid of it happening again.”

“But what about Isabel? You think she has these…‘gifts’ as well?” asked Philip.

“I don’t know, maybe. There have been a couple of things that I couldn’t place but nothing I could pinpoint like the fire or that bird with Max,” Diane admitted.

“Diane, I really don’t know what to think here. I’ll give you that Max may have some kind of ‘gift’ and possibly Isabel as well. But what do you propose we do about it?” he asked.

“I haven’t figured that out yet, other than to make sure they both know how much we love them no matter what.” Diane paled as a thought suddenly occurred to her. “Oh God, Philip! We threatened to have Max committed, to have him locked up for his own good. He may be thinking that history might repeat itself.”

Philip pulled her into a hug. “We didn’t know, and we still don’t. Max knows that he’s loved, and he does seem to be getting better. Let’s see how he is when he gets back from this trip. Who knows, maybe he’ll be relaxed enough that he’ll be ready to talk to us,” he told her in a hopeful tone, though they both had their doubts about it actually happening.

“Philip, if any of this is true, what kind of…monster would lock an innocent child up like that?” Diane asked and felt sick at the thought.

“You said it already, only a monster,” Philip pointed out.

~

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TaffyCat
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Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:28 pm

Part 8

It was a long quiet drive. Isabel dozed off and on in the backseat while Alex fired up his laptop in the front seat. He already had the program, IP address, and password that Nesado had forwarded to him in order to access the computer system loaded, ready, and waiting. But he just couldn’t help playing with it a little more. There was always something that needed tweaking and he wanted everything perfect. It had to be, nothing he had ever done was as important as this.

Max stared out the window in total silence. He didn’t see the passing New Mexico landscape. His mind was in a room where everything was white and a little boy lay hurting and scared. He felt a gentle, comforting touch as a hand slipped into his and gave it a slight squeeze. He turned and flashed a small smile of gratitude.

“You can do this. We’re all here, Max. We’re not going to leave you behind,” Liz gently reassured him.

“Thank you,” Max told her gratefully. He closed his eyes and reveled in her touch as she leaned against his arm and side. He needed this, needed the feel of her touch. It was a memory that he could cling to…just in case.

When they met up with the others at the Denny’s near Carrizozo, Alex found that he had been right. Tess was no more a morning person than Maria or Isabel. One look at Michael and Kyle’s suffering and he was glad that he was in the sheriff’s car instead. They ran through a McDonalds drive-thru, although no one really had much of an appetite, before settling in for the remaining six-hour car ride to Gallup. By the time they reached I-40 four hours later, the only sound in either SUV were radios and snoring. They had a long night ahead of them.

~

Dr. Coldsworth was astounded by the medical report from his assistant this morning and insisted on examining Subject D personally. The subject was brought into the examination room and secured to the table. The doctor just stared in amazement. The skin sample areas were almost completely healed. He ordered more blood work and new samples to be taken from the healed areas. He was anxious to find out how this had happened. Since the new samples would be insignificant in size compared to the original ones, and given the incredible healing time the subject exhibited, he decided to move up the other procedures. He paused in writing his notes and watched from the observation room as the technician started an IV drip and prepared another blood draw. The subject was crying again. It obviously felt pain. The doctor had to be careful on who attended the subject. Already two technicians had had to be reassigned to other research facilities. They had shown too much sympathy to the subject’s cries and moans. The remaining technicians were dispassionate and clinical. They understood that while the subject may take the form of a helpless human child, it was actually a dangerous offspring of an unholy union between human and alien. If anything, the subject was even more dangerous than it’s alien parent because it could garner sympathy from the weak-minded. He nodded in approval as the subject cried harder as the needle pierced its skin and the blood flowed into the tube. The technician didn’t so much as flinch at the increased cries. Good. He pulled the subject’s chart and wrote out the instructions to run the pre-surgical panels as well this morning. This afternoon he would assemble the surgical team, and the first of many surgeries that he had planned would begin promptly at five today. No reason to wait.

~

Nesado pulled into the campground behind the other two SUVs and was impressed. The spot was a half-mile from the lake and consisted of just the three campgrounds that they had reserved. The closest campground was over two miles away. There were low hills blocking the view from the road and the site was surrounded by grove trees with a path leading to the lake. It was about as isolated as you could get and perfect for their needs. “Good spot, Sheriff,” he commented as he climbed out of the Explorer.

“Thanks,” the sheriff replied.

“So what do we do now?” asked Michael.

“Set up camp. This will be our base, and if we do this right, tonight we’ll be heading back and actually camping,” Nesado told them.

“You’re kidding. I mean just…camping? Won’t they come after us?” Isabel asked.

“Nope. There won’t be anyone left to do the looking. This is an isolated lab. We’ll have four hours before the next shift change reports in for work before discovery,” Nesado explained.

“But shouldn’t we put those four hours to good use and put as much distance between us and the lab as possible?” Kyle asked.

“And do what, exactly? Check into a motel? Too obvious. This group needs to stay as inconspicuous as possible and a bunch of kids on a camping trip is the perfect reason for all of us to be here. The rangers would be more suspicious if we all upped and left in the middle of the night,” Nesado pointed out.

“Plus it would give us a chance to monitor the fallout locally,” the sheriff added.

“Okay, let’s set up camp,” Max told them and started unloading the tents and sleeping bags. The others followed suit. By five that night they were sitting around grilling hot dogs and drinking sodas while reviewing their plans. They would go in at 10:15 p.m., right after the ten o’clock guard shift change tonight.

~

At 7 p.m., Dr. Coldsworth was monitoring the subject’s vital signs and seeing to the initial post-op care. The liver and pancreas samples were already at the lab down the hall being tested and analyzed. With luck, the subject would again display its remarkable healing abilities and be ready for the next procedure by Friday or Saturday at the latest. It was a shame that Agent Pierce’s subject had escaped, he would have dearly loved to compare them. He looked over as the subject moaned a little and finally opened two very groggy eyes. It moaned again and then licked its lips to little effect. Dr. Coldsworth wasn’t particularly concerned with its comfort, but he did want to keep it healthy. He made a note to the technician to bring some ice chips, which he returned with in a few minutes. He put a small sliver in its mouth and watched its reaction to being given ice for the first time. It seemed a little surprised at first and then began to move it around its mouth as the ice chip melted. Two drug-glazed light brown eyes tried to focus back on him, obviously wanting more ice. He put another ice chip in its mouth. There was no surprise look this time, only the swishing around as the chip melted. He fed it a few more pieces before the eyes succumbed to the medication and closed in sleep. He watched it sleep for a few moments and then checked the monitors again. It was running a slight fever but that wasn’t unusual. He’d noticed that its body temperature averaged two-tenths a degree higher than a normal human so he wasn’t worried. When the night nurse started his shift, he handed over the instructions for its post-op care and returned to the observation room so he could continue to monitor the boy while he reviewed and cleaned up his notes. If everything went well, Subject D would be returned to its main room in a few hours. The doctor wanted to limit the amount of human contact it had and he didn’t want it left alone in the exam/surgical room.

~

Max’s heart was pounding as he sat in the backseat of Nesado’s, now Pierce, Explorer between the sheriff and Michael. Michael was wearing a suit and tie and had his hair smartly combed. Michael had growled at how much the girls had teased him about the new look before they left. Alex, Tess, and Isabel sat in the last row. They all looked like college nerds, complete with thick-framed glasses. Kyle was Agent Pierce’s driver and looked the part. Liz and Maria had taken the sheriff’s and Tess’s SUVs to a spot just off the road a little over a half-mile away and out of view of the cameras. Max glanced over in that direction. He’d be making a run in that direction in less than an hour. Hopefully in his arms would be a little one, with the sheriff not far behind covering them.

“Max, it’s time, man,” Michael said as the installation came into view. Max turned away from him and put his hands behind his back. Michael put the cuffs on as loosely as possible.

“Tighter. This has to look real,” Max reminded him.

Michael clamped them a bit tighter and then shot Max a look. Max was currently sporting one hell of shiner and him, the matching bruised knuckles. Both ‘injuries’ were done to make it look real, that Max had not gone down without a fight. “Yeah. Sorry about that.”

Max gave him a slight grin but then winced. He may have gotten the shiner as a cover story but it was very much real and damn tender too. “No problem. At least I can heal it later. Not like last time I got beat up,” he said and cast a glance in the driver’s direction.

“Hey, I had nothing to do with that. Jesus, your friends do some bonehead thing and you’re forever blamed for it,” Kyle complained just as they were about to pull up to the perimeter gate.

The two guards watched the large Ford Explorer pull up and stop. They had just come on duty and would be working the gate for four hours then switching with the other two-man patrol to walk the perimeter and hallways for four hours. One guard walked up to the driver and the other to the front passenger side and shined a flashlight in. “Can I help you?” the guard next to the driver asked.

“Agent Pierce to see Dr. Coldsworth. Tell him I have a hell of a surprise for him,” Nesado/Agent Pierce said. He glanced back to see how Max was doing. The boy looked terrified and furious at the same time. Good. He glanced at Michael and was glad to see no emotion at all, just seriousness. He also saw that Michael had a firm grip on Max’s arm. Exactly right. The sheriff looked a bit more pissed than he’d like but then it would play right into the ‘dispute they had over jurisdiction’ cover. Both Isabel and Tess were the picture of composure and Alex actually looked excited. No doubt anxious to get in there and ‘play’ with the computer system. They were all set and Kyle nodded to the guard as they were waved in. An excited Dr. Coldsworth was at the entrance door to greet them. “Show time, people,” Nesado said as he popped open the car door.

“Agent Pierce, what a surprise!” Dr. Coldsworth was dying to tell someone about the healing ability the subject had shown. It took him a minute to realize that there was a car full of people with him. Suddenly he forgot all about what he was going to say as a youth in handcuffs was dragged out by some law officer and another young man, obviously another agent. But the youth! “Oh my God!” he exclaimed as soon as they were inside the building and in good lighting.

“Indeed. Look what I finally tracked down.” Agent Pierce grinned at the doctor. “We caught up with him just over the Arizona border. Your facility was the closest secure one available. I thought you might want to see him.”

“Of course, of course.” He couldn’t stop looking at him as he hurriedly escorted them down the hall towards the exam room. The doctor quickly opened the door to the exam room and stopped dead in his tracks. Damn. In his excitement he had completely forgotten that they had just moved Subject D out and were still scrubbing down and sterilizing everything. That only left the main room and it was already occupied.

“What’s the matter doctor?” Agent Pierce asked as they paused in the hallway.

“We’re still sanitizing this one. We’re using it as an operation room and want to keep it as germ-free as possible,” he explained.

“Operation? Is something wrong with the other subject?” Agent Pierce inquired.

“No. In fact, he healed so quickly that we moved Friday’s surgery to today. The subject has already been returned to its room. Perhaps we could keep this one in restraint while we prep another room,” the doctor suggested.

“Max, start struggling,” Nesado mentally instructed.

Max tried wrenching free from the hold that Michael and the sheriff had on him and almost made it when Agent Pierce stepped around and struck a blow to his back and knocked the wind out of him, almost bringing him to his knees.

“I told you to keep him under control!” Pierce yelled at Michael. “It seems it’s fortunate that the good sheriff here insisted on seeing this one safely locked away after all!” Pierce abruptly turned back to the doctor. “As you can see, this one is not quite so easy to manage. Even after being injected with an inhibitor agent, he’s still quite a handful. If your facility isn’t able to hold him, I’ll have to send for a plane and take him to one that will. I believe it’s in Virginia.”

Horrified at the prospect of losing such an opportunity, the doctor quickly decided it would probably be okay to put the new subject in with Subject D. After all, Subject D was still pretty much sleeping off the anesthesia and wouldn’t even be aware of what was happening. “No, no, of course we can accommodate him. Here, we’ll put him in here with the other for now.” He opened the door and watched as the officer and agent dragged the struggling youth into the room.

“If you don’t quit struggling, we’ll leave you handcuffed!” the sheriff gruffly told him. He tried not to look around the room and at the small unconscious form laid out on the floor. Max stopped struggling and was now deathly pale, no doubt as horrified as they all were. Once they had Max uncuffed, the sheriff and Michael backed out of the room and the doctor closed the door and secured it.

“Michael, calm that temper of yours. It’s showing through on your face,” Nesado mentally told him.

“We can monitor their interaction from the observation room,” the doctor told them and led the way.

Max’s heart was pounding. The pain from the blow Nesado had landed on his back was long forgotten as he stared at the little one laying quietly on the cold floor. They’d operated on him today and they couldn’t give him a bed or even a blanket for his recovery. His feet seemed to weigh a ton as he dragged them over to the boy. He sat down next to him and carefully scooped him up in his arms. God, he was so little. He ran his fingers down his little cheek, down an arm, his side, his legs, and then back up and gently touched the bandage on his abdomen, which elicited a slight moan. A shot of pure fury ran threw him at that sound. He looked up and shouted at the walls, “YOU BASTARDS! WHAT’D YOU DO TO HIM?! HE’S JUST A BABY!” The boy started to stir at the noise and Max quickly refocused his attention onto him and held him close and gently rocked him as he had done so often in his sleep. “Shh, it’s okay. You’re going to be okay,” he told him as his angry tears dampened the boy’s hair.

Nesado watched the outburst and didn’t blame him but he couldn’t let Max’s emotions get the better of him. He had to be ready to react at a second’s notice. “Max, keep it together. And I had better not see a hand starting to glow. You can heal him later, right now we have to stay focused on the mission. Save your energy and strength for that. Do you understand?”

Max took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, bleeding off his rage as Nesado’s words registered. “I understand. I’ll be ready. I’m going to just sit and hold him while I await your signal.”


The doctor was just inches from the observation window. What he was seeing was absolutely incredible. “Clones,” he mumbled.

“What was that, Doctor?” Agent Pierce asked.

“Huh?” the doctor turned and asked. He hadn’t realized that he had said it out loud. He turned back to the window and nodded. “Clones. They’re hybrid clones. They have to be. Look how close they look. They’re almost twins, they’re just…what, about 12 to 13 years apart? Incredible. God, why didn’t I see this before? It would make sense, the need for the artificial incubation chambers, but why such a long gestation period? And why such an age difference between these two? Perhaps it could have something to do with the damage done to Subject D’s chamber.” He was startled as a thought came to him. “God, if there are two of these, does that mean there are two of the other three? Did they survive? And all of breedable age too.” He pushed a button on a nearby console. “Adams and Perez, come to the observation room. Adams and Perez, to the observation room,” he announced over the intercom system.

Agent Pierce very calmly looked at Michael. “Agent, go get my case from the car and bring it here.” He waited until Michael nodded and left before turning back to the doctor. “I was in the process of bringing my personal notes and paperwork to you when the sheriff here called and told me he had a lead on someone I might be interested in. The sheriff and I go way back.” He then turned to the other three. “Doctor, this is my electronic security expert. Since I know first hand how…slippery these aliens can be, I had requested him and his associates to come down here to assess your system. If you wouldn’t mind?”

Doctor Coldsworth thought they looked awfully young, but then many did these days as he grew older. They certainly looked like computer people. And after what happened the last time this subject was caught, it certainly couldn’t hurt to double check the security system. “Of course,” he said as Adams and Perez walked in. “Ah, good. Adams, please escort these three to the security room and allow them complete access. And Perez, we have a new specimen to study. As soon as Adams returns, you need to relieve…” He paused to open a drawer and pulled out a new medical file folder and note sheet, labeling it Subject E. “You’ll need to remove all of Subject E’s clothing and give it a hospital gown. I understand that it’s already been injected with an inhibitor agent but it’s still quite a handful. And don’t allow Subject D to be injured in any scuffle. Subject E seems quite attached to it. It might be difficult to separate the two. Oh, and take a sedative with you. It should get some rest. It has a long day tomorrow. But if it’s too combative, back off. We’ll flood the room with a sleeping gas and then do it. But I’d prefer not to with Subject D still in the room if it can be avoided,” he told them and returned to viewing the two subjects. Fascinating, just fascinating.

~

Michael’s fury was being held back by the thinnest of margins. He wanted to blast that asshole doctor the second he saw him. And how in the hell could anyone hurt a little guy like that and then just dump him in a room? He was still fuming as he stomped back to the SUV and walked up to the driver window. He noticed that Kyle had turned the car around and was now facing the entrance. “Pop the damn back,” he bit out between clenched teeth.

Kyle pushed the button and then followed him. “What’s goin’ on in there? Max okay? The kid?” he quietly asked. Liz had called on the cell phone wanting an update. Hell, he wanted one too.

“Max is okay. The kid is too, sort of,” Michael said as he made a show of rummaging around the back looking for something even though the bag of explosives was already in his hand.

“Sort of? What’s that mean?” Kyle asked as he pretended to help search.

“Sort of means those bastards already cut him open and then left him laying on the goddamn floor. F*cking bastards! God, Max almost lost it, but he’s got it under control. We all do. Make sure Liz and Maria are ready. Expect some action…mmm, say fifteen minutes or so,” he told him as he finally hefted the bag out and Kyle closed up the back. He noted that Kyle was already on the phone as he opened the door to re-enter the enemy camp.

~

“Okay, got it. We’ll be ready,” Liz said and hung up. She rolled the front passenger window down and Maria did the same. “Fifteen minutes,” she told her through the open windows.

“Everyone okay?” Maria asked in reply.

“Yeah, but they had already operated on the little boy this afternoon so he’ll probably be unconscious for most of this,” she replied back.

“Bastards!” Maria fumed. Their part of the mission was really straightforward—be ready to light out of there at a moment’s notice. If everything went like it was supposed to, then Max, carrying the boy, would be running to them with the sheriff following. They would head towards Liz’s vehicle. Alex, Isabel, and Tess following to Maria’s. They’d meet up on the other side of Gallup and wait for Kyle, Nesado, and Michael, who would be pretending to be after Max. That‘s if everything went according to plan. What could go wrong? They’re only penetrating a top-secret government research facility to break a couple of aliens out and blow the facility to hell. They’ve done similar stuff before, right? Okay, maybe not blown up a building but this was their second alien breakout, which counted, right? RIGHT? “Oh God, this had better work cuz there’s just no way to explain any of this to my mom.”

~

“Tess, Isabel, stall that Adams guy as long as possible. Give Alex time to work,” Nesado instructed them telepathically.

“Got it,” Tess replied and Isabel nodded in concurrence. “Isabel, while Alex is setting up…make nice to our escort. Just start it, I’ll take it from there,” Tess told her.

“No problem,” she ground out in her mind as suppressed anger peeked through. The memory of her brother, holding that little boy in that white room…it’s not something she would ever be able to forget.


~

Nesado acknowledged Michael’s return with a slight nod and then turned his attention back to observing Dr. Coldsworth observing Max and the boy. So far Max was just sitting there holding the little guy, but the anger he was broadcasting was palatable. “Max, no healing. Not now. Save your powers, you may need it later. Just a little longer.”

Max kissed the top of the boy’s head and pulled him to his chest, carefully moving him so that Max could balance the weight when he stood. He paused as he heard another small moan and saw two eyes flutter open. He gave him a smile and stroked his hair. “It’s okay little guy, everything will be all right, just get some rest,” he told him softly. He felt him shift and little arms slowly move upwards until they wrapped around his neck and he snuggled closer.

“Nesado?” Max silently called out wanting an update.

“Alex, Tess, and Isabel are being escorted to the security station. Once the guard returns from escorting them, he and another will be paying you a visit to swap your clothing. They also are going to try to sedate you. They have instructions not to allow any harm to the boy, so make sure he stays in your arms. Under no circumstances should you put him down. But don’t struggle to the point that they give up. They’ll fill the room with an airborne sleeping agent. Argue, plead, beg, posture, do what you have to do until everything is set. Michael’s here with the case. We just need word from Alex. Just hold on a little longer, Max. Everything is going fine,” Nesado answered his call. He knew that it was important that they all stay calm and not act rashly. Of them all, Max was the one he was most worried about. This was obviously drudging up recent memories for him, compounded by being the one holding the boy and not being allowed to heal him. It was Nesado’s job to help all of them keep it together.


“This is just amazing. Look at them. God, they’re so much alike. Look how Subject D is responding to Subject E. It’s like they know each other. Look how protective Subject E is to the other,” Dr. Coldsworth observed and then started making feverish notes. “We’ll need to do a complete work up on Subject E in the morning. Blood, urine, stool, sperm, saliva, hair, fingernails, maybe even the start the skin samples. I want to see how much exposure to living in our environment has altered its biology from Subject D.” He continued to write notes for tomorrow and only paused intermittently to observe the two subjects. He was totally oblivious to anything else. “Crossbreeding is always difficult, and usually the offspring is sterile. Maybe we can do some reverse engineering on those incubation pods, and if Subject E’s sperm is healthy, use it to fertilize some donor eggs. The possibilities are astounding,” the doctor prattled on, caught up in his own narrow little world.

Michael fought the urge to throw the doctor through the window and stomp on his face. It would be so easy. But it would doom the whole mission. He bit down hard on his tongue until he tasted blood and held it there. Just a little while longer and this whole place would be just a bad memory.

~

Alex sat down and got to work, doing his damndest to ignore the fact that Isabel was flirting with the guard that had escorted them. While he didn’t have any telepathic powers, he didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that she was trying to buy time. And he refused to look at Tess who was openly encouraging the security guard that was stationed here. He did the only thing he could. He worked as fast as possible. He popped his laptop on and then connected it to the system computer. He typed in the backdoor password and IP address and he was in, simple as that. Now the hard work began. He started with the standard user page and started digging deeper until he was into the tech pages. He pulled up the cameras and a diagram of all their locations and coverage range. He had figured out last night that he couldn’t override the camera control without writing new program code, which he didn’t have the time or the training to do. But what he could do was to relabel the cameras. Camera #1 became camera #3, camera #2 became #5, and so on. All while he blocked out what was happening behind him.

“I’ve been cooped up forever behind computers. I so need to get out and let my hair down,” Isabel said as she released the clip that held her hair up and shook it loose. She turned her smile to the guard, Adams. “So is there any thing you can think of that might be tempting to do?” she purred at him as she loosened her jacket and fanned herself. “It’s such a hot desert night.”

Adams was mesmerized as the leggy blond continued to unbutton her blouse. Jesus, these computer types certainly had their quirky sides. And this side had some incredible curves.

Isabel stepped away from the guard and wondered exactly what he was seeing. The leering look he was sporting was downright disgusting. She glanced over at Tess, whose eyes were closed as she concentrated on the mindwarp. She looked over at the security guard sitting at the console station and thought she might be sick as his hand reached down and tugged at his crotch. She silently walked over to Alex, whose fingers were flying across the keyboard.

Alex felt Isabel’s hand on his shoulder and was grateful for her quiet support. His laptop showed both the correct camera locations and the remixed views, and at the bottom was the layout showing the exit route. He glanced over at the security console and the bank of monitors. The guard was obviously distracted with whatever Tess was showing, which he was quite certain he didn’t want to know about. With a click of the mouse, he uploaded the files to the actual security system. He looked over as the bank of monitors blinked, went blank for a moment, and then winked back to life. He looked up at Isabel and nodded. They were ready.

“We’re a GO!” Isabel sent out mentally.

~

“Where the hell is Adams?” Dr. Coldsworth growled. It’d been more than 20 minutes. How long could it take to escort some computer people down the hall? He punched the intercom button. “Adams to the observation room. Adams come to the observation room,” was heard throughout the building, except in the two white rooms, which were muted.

~

‘Adams to the observation room’ tore his attention away from the nearly nude blond bombshell and he shook his head as he tried to figure out where she had disappeared to.

Isabel heard the page, saw it break Tess’s concentration, and then the confused looks on the faces of the two guards. “Is there something wrong?” she asked Adams.

He looked at the blond and wondered how she got her clothes back on so fast. “I…if you’re all set, I better go. They’re paging me,” he mumbled. He gave all three one more confused look and left. He went by the supply room and picked up a hospital gown, then to the drug cage where he prepared a syringe with a sedative, and then headed to the observation room.

Nesado saw him walk in with the gown and no doubt a hypodermic needle in his pocket. He collected his burly partner and they left.

“Max, two guards are on their way. Do your best to get as close to the door before taking action. And whatever you do, don’t put that boy down. Do whatever you have to get out,” Nesado warned.

Max held on tight to the boy as the door opened and the two guards walked in. He slowly rose and faced them. He started to circle around in an attempt to get closer to the door.

“Just take it easy. We aren’t going to hurt you. We just brought you a change of clothes. Put the boy down. No one is going to get hurt,” Adams calmly told him.

“No. He’s hurt. How could you hurt him? He’s just a baby,” Max countered.

“We didn’t hurt him. Just ran a couple of tests. He’ll be alright,” Adams replied. “And we won’t hurt you either,” he added.

He took a few more steps closer to the door. “Bullshit! I’ve been through this before. I know what to expect.” He glared at the gown the guard was holding out to him. “A gown, a goddamn gown. Last time I at least had scrub pants,” he told them and stepped closer to the door. His heart was pounding so hard he was sure it was going to burst through his chest.

Dr. Coldsworth watched the exchange with interest. He realized that he would have to rethink a few things. Obviously this one was going to require some give and take. He punched the intercom. “Get it the scrubs if it puts the subject down,” he announced to the room.

“Well?” Adams asked.

Max moved a little closer to the door. He wanted them to open the door in case there were heavy metals in it. “Fine. Get the scrubs and then I’ll put him down.”

“Okay,” Adams agreed and he and Perez opened the door and…they never knew what hit them.

Max’s hand glowed brightly and sent them flying against the open door and wall so hard that bone could be heard snapping. He flew out of the room and turned to the right.

“Where do I go?” Max shouted out mentally.

“Take the first corridor to the right. When it dead ends, turn right again,” Isabel told him after consulting the diagram.


Max’s lungs were begging for more air as he ran down the first hall on his right. He felt the boy shift in his arms and moan again as his eyes opened. Max didn’t have time to comfort him as he ran.

“NO!” Dr. Coldsworth stood in panic.

“GOD DAMNIT!” the sheriff said and ran out of the observation room. He drew his gun as he took off in apparent pursuit of the escaping subjects.

The security guard at the security console watched the subjects running down the corridor and sounded the alarm. “They’re heading towards the generator rooms. I think he’s lost,” he announced over the pager system.

”After turning right, take the third hall on the left. You should see an exit sign on the right,” Isabel mentally instructed.

A guard just stepped out of the restroom when someone running practically knocked him down. He heard the alarm and realized that the person running was kidnapping the doctor’s subject. He pulled his side arm and took off in pursuit. He rounded the right corner and saw the escaping target. “STOP OR I’LL SHOOT!” he yelled at the back of the form. He was determined not to let the target reach the exit. His order to stop was ignored and the guard took a stance, aimed, and fired.

Max jerked and stumbled as a white-hot pain shot through his right arm. He panted and kept going. The neon ‘EXIT’ beckoned him onward.

The guard took better aim and prepared to fire.

The sheriff followed the sound of gunfire and came around the corner to find a guard ready to shoot. He pulled his own gun and fired. The guard spun around with a surprised look and collapsed on the floor. The sheriff didn’t stop to check his status. He took off after Max. He noted the blood drops on the floor and ran harder.

~

“Come on. You heard the guard, towards the generators. Let’s go!” Nesado shouted at Michael, who picked up the case. And they were off.

With the security guard closely watching the relabeled monitors, Alex pulled out a CD and silently slipped it into the system computer. With a click of the mouse, he instructed the computer to download it. And with it, the computer was committing it’s own suicide. The irony was that the virus was developed by the federal government in an attempt to duplicate what a hacker might create and learn how to combat it. So far they were still working on the cure. The final command his laptop issued the doomed computer system was to lock the failsafe doors in the up position. He was shutting down his laptop when an excited Agent Pierce and his assistant came in.

“Is he still heading towards the generator room?” Pierce demanded.

Alex looked over at the monitors. “It would seem so, sir.”

“Good, we’ve got him trapped, but there’s no telling what damage he may do down there. You three get out of here. Get away from the building to a safe distance. Got it?” Pierce asked them.

“Got it, sir,” Isabel said as Alex was zipping up his laptop case, and Agent Pierce and Michael took off towards the generator room

Alex took one last look at the system computer and saw that the virus was already working its magic, before turning back to his group. “You heard the man. Let’s get out of here ladies.” They took off down the hall at a fast jog.

~

The sheriff caught up with Max about a hundred yards outside of the building. He was pale and panting for breath but still running with the boy in his arms. He heard some whimpering coming from the boy and saw little hands clutching Max’s shirt. “Come on. We’re almost there, just a little more,” he encouraged and grabbed Max’s good arm to help pull him along.

~

Alex had his laptop bag bouncing painfully on his hip as he ran along with Isabel and Tess towards their escape vehicles. They’d done their job, and from the sounds of it Max and the sheriff had done theirs. Now there was just one more thing to be done.

~

“Oh God, here they come!” Maria said excitedly as she peered through the binoculars.

“Are they okay? Does Max have him?” Liz shouted through the open windows.

“I…yeah, yeah, Max has something in his arms, the sheriff is with him. I’m not sure, he looks to be running a little funny but he’s running.” Her view shifted and she spotted the other group. “Alex, Isabel, and Tess are coming too. Maybe a hundred yards behind them.”

~

Michael didn’t say a word as Nesado set the charges at the generator and then moved onward to the janitor closet to set another charge, and one more in a storage room. They then came to the cold storage room and morgue. His stomach lurched as he recognized the empty pods hanging from a metal frame. Only one pod was the right size. The other three were much smaller and…dead looking. He calmly watched as Nesado set a charge directly under the pods. He watched as Nesado came back to the case and pulled out three small blankets. All color left him when Nesado opened the large metal door and pulled out a tray. He carefully wrapped one in a blanket and gently laid it in his case. Michael handed him another blanket to wrap what he knew was Isabel’s duplicate, and then the last one for the tiniest one.

Nesado carefully laid them in the case and zipped it close. He gave Michael a level gaze. “I’m not leaving anyone behind this time. We have three minutes to get the hell out of here. Let’s move!” He slipped the bag’s strap on his shoulder and they took off at a dead run.

~

“MAX!” Liz yelled when she saw how pale he was and the blood soaking through his sleeve.

“Get in, get in!” The sheriff practically shoved Max into the backseat and climbed in behind him. They paused and waited for Alex’s group to make it to the other car. “Okay, let’s get the hell out of here!” Both SUVs took off and floored it.

“God Max, you’re shot!” Liz said as she peered in the rearview mirror.

“I’ll be okay,” he panted. He tried to lay the boy on the seat between him and the sheriff but he wouldn’t let go of his shirt. “It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s over. You’re not going to be hurt anymore. It’s okay.”

The sheriff kept looking at the other SUV. Isabel and Tess were in there, so if anyone was following, they could take care of them. He looked over at Max who was not looking too good. The little boy was beyond terrified and was sobbing and wouldn’t let go of Max. “Son, you’ve got to take care of that wound or you’re going to go into shock.”

“I know but he won’t let go,” Max panted. He was losing too much blood and could feel his energy dropping by the minute.

The sheriff gently started pulling the boy away from Max. It tore his heart out to hear the cries increase. “Shhh, it’s okay little guy. It’s just for a couple of minutes, just long enough for Max to heal himself. It’s okay. See, he’s right there. I’m going to take you away from him. It’s okay. It’s okay. Shhh.” The cries continued.

Max raised his left hand, put it over his injury, closed his eyes, and concentrated. A glow emanated from his hand. The strain was evident on his face. He took a deep breath and slowly opened his eyes. The vehicle was filled with the sound of anxious cries. Max was still weak from the blood loss and his arms felt like they weighed a ton of bricks, but he couldn’t not respond to the cries. “Come here. It’s okay. You’re safe. It’s okay. Shhh,” he told him as he wrapped him in his arms. The cries became sobs and eventually turned to hiccups before finally quieting. By the time they reached the rendezvous point to wait for Michael, Pierce, and Kyle, the boy was almost asleep.

“Liz, why don’t we switch?” the sheriff suggested as they came to a stop at the abandoned strip mall at the north end of Gallup.

Liz climbed back and scooted over towards Max. He looked exhausted and she saw the slight tremors in his arm muscles, particularly the healed one. She held out her arms and he gently laid the sleeping boy in them. He carefully lifted the small hospital gown until it exposed the nasty incision and stitching done to him. A glowing hand lightly touched it and spread healing warmth throughout the small sleeping boy. Liz saw Max gasp as he removed his hand. She pulled him closer to her and he slipped his arm around her and rested his head on hers. She could feel his exhaustion.

“Okay, update. Do either of you have an update from Nesado?” Maria asked anxiously.

Tess closed her eyes for a moment and concentrated. “Not exactly. I know they’re setting the charges. I guess they’re a little busy but they seem okay at the moment,” she said and looked over at Isabel who was in Alex’s arms and staring out the window at the SUV parked next door to them. She saw Liz climb in the back with Max and was now holding the sleeping boy, and how Max held both of them in his arms. She had tried so hard to do what Nesado had always told her was her destiny, her birthright. But this summer had been so…lonely. She had tried to be there for Max but he had made it clear that he didn’t welcome her attempts at comfort. Isabel had stood by her as a friend. She knew that Isabel and Michael had talked about their destiny together and both decided it wasn’t for them. If they weren’t, then Tess saw no reason on insisting that she do so if Max didn’t want to either. And it was clear that he didn’t want to. She had been further hurt when Max had turned to Alex and Maria and again rebuffed her offers of help. But he didn’t want any of it. The only time she hadn’t felt lonely was when Kyle had come back from baseball camp. They had gone out a few times and had a wonderful time. Kyle was the only one that could make her forget that she was different. She could relax and not worry about him finding out her secret. She could laugh with him. She closed her eyes and hoped that Kyle was okay.

~

“Come on, come on,” Kyle mumbled under his breath. He’d watched as alarms sounded and guards came running. He’d caught sight of Max running in the distance and his dad catching up to him and dragging him along, and then as the others came out. He had sat still in the car as all hell broke loose. He wanted to be in the action, but at the same time he knew what his job was. With luck, Nesado and Michael would be running out and he’d have to hightail it out of there before the building blew. “Come on, damn it! Where the hell are you?” he growled at the rearview mirror. He’d already turned the SUV around and was ready and waiting to speed them all away.

~

“AGENT PIERCE!” Dr. Coldsworth called out. “Did you find them?” he asked in desperation.

“Yes, we cornered them in the morgue. He found the others and became uncontrollable. There are a couple of guards keeping them there. We came back to find you. Do you have something strong that we can sedate him with? And more guards? He’s not going down without a fight,” Agent Pierce asked.

“Thank God you located it! I’ll send the rest of the guards to help, and I’ll get the sedative prepared. Once we have it under control, I’ll call in additional staff. Thank you for your help,” he said and ran to make the arrangements.

Nesado and Michael waited until the doctor was out of sight. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” They ran like mad towards the exit.

~

Kyle watched as the perimeter guards came running towards the building. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Had they been discovered? As the guards ran in one entrance, Nesado and Michael ran out another. He double-checked to make sure the doors were unlocked as he put it in gear with his foot resting on the brake. “Jesus, finally!” he shouted as they opened the doors and dove in. Kyle switched to the accelerator and took off before the doors were even closed. They were just past the perimeter gate when they heard and then felt the explosion. It was just a big boom followed by flames shooting out the doors for a moment and then nothing. They wouldn’t find out until later that the explosion overwrote Alex’s final instructions and when the generator blew, the doors fulfilled their original programming and slammed shut, sealing all those inside to their fiery and smoke-filled fate.

“Jesus,” Michael exclaimed as he looked back. The whole area suddenly became pitch black and eerily quiet.

“Kyle, once you get to the main road, slow down and obey the speed limit. We don’t want to attract any undo attention,” Nesado suggested.

“No kidding,” Kyle breathed out in agreement.

They pulled into the strip mall parking lot for only a moment, just long enough to make sure they were all present and accounted for. All remained quiet as they drove through Gallup and headed east on I-40 to their campsite, careful not to speed or attract any unwanted attention.

~

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TaffyCat
Addicted Roswellian
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Joined: Tue Oct 09, 2001 4:58 pm

Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:32 pm

Part 9

“So what do we do now?” Tess asked as they piled out of their SUVs.

“Sleep,” Liz replied as she held the boy and helped Max out of the backseat. They were both well beyond exhausted. They headed towards the tents and their comfortable looking sleeping bags.

Max practically fell into his sleeping bag and Liz placed the boy next to him. As she was about to leave, he grabbed her arm. “Stay with me. I…I need you, please?”

There was no way she could refuse, and if she was honest, she needed him as much as he needed her. She nodded, slipped off her shoes, and crawled next to the boy and Max.

“Thank you,” he said softly and kissed her forehead.

The touch of his lips was soft and gentle. It reminded her of times past and the incredible feelings that his touch could invoke in her, of how much he loved her, and of how much she loved him in return. She stretched to meet his lips with hers. Their kisses were sweet and nurturing. She ran her fingertips along his cheek. “Get some rest, Max. I’ll be here for you when you wake.”

“It looks like Liz is staying with Max and the boy,” Alex commented.

Isabel looked at the tent and remembered the look on her brother’s face when he was in that awful place. “Good. He’s going to need her.” She turned back to look at Alex. “And I think I should be nearby in case the boy wakes up during the night. I mean, Max and I are the only ones he knows and I…”

Alex put his hands on her shoulders so she had to look at him. “It’s okay, Isabel. I know you’re worried about both of them. I can find a spot in the sheriff’s tent,” he offered.

“NO! Alex, I… Alex, just stay with me, please?” Isabel pleaded. She wasn’t the only one that needed someone to cling to that night.

The sheriff didn’t say anything when Max retired to a tent with the boy and Liz stayed with them. His eyebrow went up a little when Alex followed Isabel and disappeared into the same tent. He wasn’t at all surprised when Michael and Maria stayed together in the other tent, but he was going to have to think about things when Kyle joined Tess in a tent as well. He turned to their protector. “I was thinking of calling it a night.”

“Yes, of course. I do not require as much rest. I think I’ll keep an eye on things, in case things didn’t go as well as we had hoped,” Nesado said. “Goodnight, Sheriff.”

“Goodnight.”

~

Nesado waited until all was quiet before he retrieved the case from his car. He felt the presence of someone watching him and turned, ready to strike, but fortunately he held his response. “Michael.”

“Nesado. I thought you might have a little side mission planned this evening. I’d like to accompany you,” Michael told him.

“Yes, thank you. Let’s go. Just over there I think. A bit off the trail,” he told him and took off through a grove of trees and up a small hill. And there, on the hill at the edge of the tree line and overlooking the lake, Nesado used his powers to dig a hole, and together he and Michael placed the three small blanket-wrapped bundles inside. Nesado used his powers to age and decompose the bundles before covering them and restoring the area to its original condition. “Rest well little ones. Rest well.” He and Michael solemnly returned to camp as the first rays of the morning sun were rising.

The sheriff was up and had coffee going when the two returned to camp. He didn’t say anything as Michael simply climbed back into the tent for a few more hours of sleep. He poured Nesado a cup of coffee as he sat down next to him. “I was thinking of heading into town and picking up some breakfast and maybe a couple of newspapers.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Nesado concurred and sipped his coffee. “Thank you for your assistance with all of this…with them.” He nodded towards the quiet tents.

“They’re citizens of Roswell and I’m their sheriff. It’s my job to protect them,” he said simply. “Besides, they’re good kids.”

Nesado shook his head. “Protecting them is one thing. Last night was much more. And it’s not the first time. I admit that all four of them…five now, are a bit much for only one to handle. They’re all so…headstrong. I have no doubt the little one will be as well. In any regard, I thank you.”

The sheriff nodded and took a sip of coffee. “They’re teens. Human, alien, or any mix thereof, they’re bound to be a handful,” he said with a small chuckle. “Well, I better get going. I’ll pick up a bunch of breakfast sandwiches and a few newspapers. I should be back in about an hour or so.”

~

The first thing he felt was warmth. Strange smells assaulted his senses. He felt something move next to him. He tried to remember what had happened. He had come again, he was certain, but it had been different. He remembered waking earlier and feeling all strange and unable to move. Then later they had taken him back to the other room. It had hurt to move so he had laid as still as possible and slept. He had tried to call out to Him again but He didn’t answer at first. But suddenly He was there. He was there holding him, but it felt all different. There were loud noises and things moving. He remembered His chest rising and falling underneath him and being held so tight it had hurt. Then there was more loud noises, a flash of pain but not his, fear, more noises, closer and more urgent now, crying, being pulled away from Him, red, a glow, going back into His arms, everything moving, being held gently, sleep, warmth, comfort, companionship, and others. He finally opened his eyes. He had no idea what he was looking at but he knew one thing for certain, he wasn’t alone anymore. He had come for him, just like He’d promised and He had brought others too. He could feel them all around him. He looked up and saw a face. It was a new face. He reached up to touch the face and her eyes opened. He quickly pulled his hand away, not sure if he’d done something wrong. Her eyes were large and dark, and he instinctively knew that he could trust her, that He already trusted her. He blinked a few times as her mouth curled up.

“Good morning, little guy. Did you sleep okay?” Liz asked softly. His eyes, like Max’s, were simply stunning. They were perhaps a shade lighter, a bit more blue and green than Max’s, but held the same intensity. She smiled and gently ran her hand along his soft cheek. “I bet you’re totally confused, but that’s okay. Just know that you’re okay now, you’re with friends and family.” She nodded towards a just waking Max. “See. Look who’s here?”

He looked up and found a familiar face, though he wasn’t sure what that stuff was on His face. He’d never seen that before. He reached up and touched the scratchy part of His cheek.

“Good morning,” Max said as he felt a little finger tentatively reach out and touch his cheek. “I’m betting you don’t have a clue what that is. It’s morning stubble. And in a little less than ten years, you’ll be excited when you get to shave it off in the morning, and then later hate it because you have to shave it off every morning. But I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with, welcome to the world. I’m Max,” he pointed to himself. “Max,” he repeated.

He thought about it for a moment then cocked his head to one side. “Mmm, Maaaksss,” he tried.

“Hey that’s it, Max.” He smiled at him and then pointed to Liz. “Liz. Liz.”

He looked at her and tried it, “Weeeesz.” He didn’t think that was quite right and looked at Max again.

“L-L-Lizzz,” Max repeated very slowly.

“Wu-wh-whiz,” he tried.

Max grinned. “Well, Liz is a whiz, that’s for sure. So what do ya say, Whiz?”

“Okay Macks!” Liz replied and chuckled.

He grinned at the sound. He liked the sound and decided to try it. He liked laughing even more than hearing it. He suddenly felt something warm and wet flow down his leg and side and frowned. He didn’t like that feeling.

“What’s wrong?” Max asked and moved a little closer, ready to check him over for some injury that he had missed the night before. His leg brushed against something wet and froze. “Oh.”

“What?” Liz asked and wasn’t sure what to make of the funny look Max was sporting.

“Um, I…uh, he’s not potty trained and he…I think he might need to get washed up and I’ll need to um, clean the sleeping bag,” Max explained.

“Oh, well, maybe you should go show him what he’s supposed to do and I’ll get him some clean clothes. We brought a box of Wet Ones and Pull-ups,” Liz suggested.

God she was beautiful to wake up to, he thought. “Okay, come on little guy. Let’s go take care of business and get you cleaned up. You’re going to have quite a day today,” he said and carefully moved the sleeping bag and blankets aside, so as not to touch the wet spot. “Come on, let’s go do a guy thing.”

“Oh, Max. Go ahead and take a couple of Wet Ones with you so you can, you know, wipe him up afterwards in case he’s not…done,” Liz suggested and bit her lip to keep from laughing at Max’s expression at the thought of the prospect. With a box of Wet Ones in one hand and a little hand in the other, Max stoically walked out of the tent.

Bright. And he felt the air move against his face. He could smell stuff in the air too. All kinds of odd noises assailed him, and the floor was all…different, some soft that he could curl in his toes, some had…chunks of all different sizes. “Oww,” he said when he stepped on a particularly sharp chunk.

“Oh, here,” Max said and picked him up when he heard the cry. He did his best not to cringe when his arm came in contact with the wet bottom. “Sorry about that. I forgot you’re barefoot.” He could feel the boy’s wonder as he looked around. It made him look around too. He’d forgotten how incredible it all was. He came to a somewhat secluded spot behind some shrubs. “Okay, this looks okay,” he said and put the boy down. He got down on his knees so he was eye level. “Now here’s the deal. This is camping and there are no restrooms around so things are a bit different than normal. Well, I mean it all works the same but it’s just…um, okay, look, I’m new at this…well, no, I mean, I’ve been going to the bathroom since I was hatched. What I mean is that I’ve never had to take someone else to the bathroom before and, you know, tell him how to…”

“MAX!” Liz called out in the direction she had seen them heading and smiled when a head popped out of the bushes. “Just show him. He’ll get the idea.”

Max looked down at the boy. Somehow he thought there should be something illegal about showing a kid…he looked back up at Liz and called back, “What if he has to do the other?”

“Show him,” she replied.

He automatically replied with, “But what if I don’t have to go?”

“Just show him!” Liz told him firmly and walked away so they could have some privacy.

Maria was sitting at the picnic table with a cup of coffee and watched her friend approach. “Chica, that was just plain mean,” she said as her friend poured a cup of coffee for herself.

“Yeah I know, but Max has the cutest expression when he’s clueless. Besides, he already has a sleeping bag to clean up when they get done. And I have a five year old that I promised to bathe,” Liz commented.

“So, how’d it go last night after we went to bed? Any nightmares from either?” Maria asked. She heard someone approaching and spotted Nesado walking towards the table. She had known immediately when Michael had slipped out of the tent in the wee hours of the morning and it was near dawn when he returned. She didn’t ask what he had been doing but she felt the tears that had dampened her hair. It had been a hard night all around.

“Surprisingly not too bad. There were a couple of whimpers from both but they settled right back down and slept the night. Had a bit of an accident this morning…from the smaller one,” she clarified.

“I would certainly hope so. I’d hate to be giving you rubber sheets for a wedding gift,” Maria quipped with a grin.

“Maria!” Liz exclaimed but then smiled as Nesado, in the guise of Ed Harding, took a seat. “Good morning,” she greeted him.

“Good morning, Liz, Maria.” He saw Max and the boy coming back from the bushes. “Looks like Max needed to go over some basics already this morning.”

“Um, yeah. He had a bit of an accident when he woke up,” Liz told him and just had to smile at the perturbed look Max had. She’d bet that the little guy did have to do the other. “So, everything all right?” she asked as Max came over to them.

“Yeah, he…those Wet Ones are awfully small. It took seven just to…never mind,” he said as he sat down with the boy. Maria poured him a cup of coffee. “Thanks, Maria.” He glanced around and realized a car was missing. “Nesado, did the sheriff take off somewhere?”

“Yes, to town for breakfast and newspapers. He should be back any minute now,” Nesado told them.

“Well, I think there’s a young man that I need to be introduced to,” Maria said, looking at the boy sitting on Max’s knee who was looking around with the biggest and most beautiful eyes she had ever seen.

“Oh, um…” He pointed across the table. “Ma-ree-ah. Ma-ree-ah,” he said slowly.

He listened very intently and watched Max’s mouth closely. “Mu-ee-uh.”

“Not bad,” Maria said and smiled at him. She then pointed to him and looked at Max.

“Oh, um, we haven’t…we haven’t given him a name yet,” Max stammered.

The boy looked at Maria for a moment and repeated, “Mu-ee-uh.” He then pointed to Liz, “Whiz,” who nodded ‘yes’ and smiled at him, before he turned to Max, “Macks,” he said, who also nodded. He pointed to himself and waited expectantly.

“Joshua,” Isabel called out as she exited the tent with Alex and came over to her brother. “His name should be Joshua,” she stated firmly and then gave him a smile. “Hi sweetheart.” She pointed at him. “Jaw-shu-a,” she said slowly.

He blinked and pointed at himself again, wanting her to repeat it, which she did. “Juh-too-wa,” he tried.

“You know, for his fourth word, that’s pretty good,” Maria remarked and gave him a smile.

“Well, Joshua is due for a bath and some clean clothes,” Liz said and held out her hands to him. “Come on Joshua, let’s get you cleaned up and in some new clothes.” She paused and looked at the hospital gown he was still wearing. “And maybe we can burn this today,” she mentioned.

“Oh, here, let me help,” Isabel offered. He was after all sort of her baby brother, and she should at least help set his clothes and stuff out.

“Hey Chica, let me give you a hand.” She and Liz were veteran babysitters and she was willing to bet that Isabel was even more clueless about little ones than Max had been.

“Any particular reason Isabel picked Joshua?” Nesado asked Max as the girls carried a wide-eyed boy back to the tent.

“Joshua Evans was our great-grandfather’s name,” Max explained.

“But his name isn’t Joshua Evans,” Nesado reminded him.

“Not yet. We’ll need to talk about that,” Max told him and sipped his coffee.

“Max, what exactly are you thinking?” Nesado asked.

“That he…that Joshua deserves a good home with loving parents,” Max said and looked Nesado in the eye. The unspoken ‘and not one like Tess had’ accusation hung in the air.

“He’s going to need to know things, things human parents can’t teach him,” Nesado pointed out.

“And millions of things human parents can teach him. Besides, he’d have us around to teach him, and I’m not saying that you couldn’t…you know, come and teach him things…just that he deserves the best life we can possibly give him,” Max told him.

“I agree. But I’m surprised that your parents agreed. I thought they hadn’t…joined the ‘I know an alien’ club,” Nesado stated.

“They haven’t, not yet anyway,” Max admitted and sipped his coffee as the table grew silent. They looked over as the sheriff’s SUV pulled in.

The sheriff held up several McDonalds bags as he approached. “Max, your mom already packed a gallon of orange juice so I just picked up a bunch of sandwiches. Is everyone up?” he asked as he sat the bags down on the table along with three newspapers. The headlines read, ‘Tragedy at Local Research Lab.’ “From what I gather, they’re calling it a terrible tragedy. Seems the generator exploded and caused a fire and also triggered automatic security measures. Significant damage was done to the building and no one made it out alive. Terrible tragedy.”

“Indeed,” Nesado commented dryly and grabbed a paper along with a sandwich.

The sheriff roused Michael, Tess, and Kyle out of bed for breakfast and the girls came out with the boy, now called Joshua, who was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and who wasn’t at all too sure about walking in these sandal things. He sat on Maria’s lap at the picnic table and studied one of the sandals on his foot. There was a chunk of something in between it and his foot and it was bugging him.

“Come on sweetie, you should eat something,” Maria tried to coax but she wasn’t having much luck. He was too distracted with his sandal. “Joshua, you need to…” She stopped as a little hand glowed and the sandal strap simply disappeared. She wasn’t sure who was more shocked, her or Joshua.

Joshua was startled as the sandal fell away. He knew he’d caused it but had no idea how. He looked over at Max trying to figure out if he’d done something wrong or not, but Max seemed just as surprised as he was.

“Oh shit!” Michael exclaimed as Max bent down to pick the sandal up.

“MICHAEL! Watch your language,” Maria admonished.

Max could tell that Joshua was unsure about what happened and if it was okay or not. He took Joshua’s foot in his hand and saw what the problem had been. He made sure that Joshua was looking at him. “You had a pebble between your toes. I bet that’s what you were trying to get out, huh?” he asked as he brushed the pebble away. “Joshua, watch me,” he told him and made sure Joshua watched as he fixed the sandal strap with a glowing hand. “See, I can do that too,” he told him as he put the sandal back on. “All better now?” he asked.

Joshua wiggled his toes and gave Max a smile.

“Well, now that that’s all taken care of, let’s try breakfast again. Joshua, take a bite, see if you like it,” Maria coaxed again.

Joshua frowned at it. He had bad memories of something like that getting stuck and not able to breath. He started to get upset and tried to pull away from Maria.

“Joshua, what’s wrong?” Maria asked as she tried to keep him from falling.

“Maria, tear a small piece off and give it to him. He choked once on a sandwich and he might be afraid,” Max informed her as soon as he noticed Joshua’s reaction. “Joshua, remember, little bites,” Max said and then lightly touched his temple and sent him the image of them sitting together and him showing him how to take small bites and chewing.

Joshua stilled and looked at Max and then the piece of sandwich, and slowly took it and put it in his mouth. He slowly chewed it thoroughly and then swallowed. He waited for a moment to make sure it went down before taking another piece. It didn’t really taste like anything but he knew he needed to eat it. And besides, everyone else was eating.

“So how’d you like it, good?” asked Maria.

Joshua wasn’t sure what she said but he thought it was something about the food. He hadn’t quite figured food out yet other than you had to be careful not to choke on it and that it stopped his tummy from being mad. Other than that, it didn’t hold much interest. He just tilted his head and looked at her, as if asking ‘huh?’

“I bet it’s kinda bland, let’s see if some Tabasco will make it better,” Maria told him and grabbed the bottle before Michael dumped it all on his third McMuffin. She tore another piece off for him and then sprinkled a generous amount of the hot condiment on it before handing it over.

Joshua carefully put it in his mouth and the minute his tongue hit the stuff Maria had added, it was like an explosion of flavor went off in his mouth. He eagerly chewed then swallowed, and opened his mouth wanting more.

“Okay, I think we’ve confirmed your alien status,” Maria joked and fixed the rest of the sandwich for him while everyone at the table chuckled at her comment and Joshua’s reaction.

After breakfast, Kyle, Alex, Liz, and Maria took Joshua for a walk. The kid wanted to know everything and would point at every plant, tree, bird, and insect, wanting to know the name. The kid needed to work on pronunciation some but he was learning fast. Michael had forgotten how quickly they had all learned things when they first hatched. Now they had to make some decisions on the newest and most helpless member. “Okay Maxwell, I know you’ve thought about this, so let’s hear it. What are you thinking about for Joshua’s future?”

Max glanced over at Nesado for a moment. It was just the four of them plus Nesado, and the sheriff. Max had thought it was a good idea to have another adult, a human adult, in on this. “I was thinking that he deserves the best home possible, but that he needs to be around us so he can learn and also so we can protect him,” he began.

“Max, the second he shows up in Roswell people are going to know that he’s related to you. I mean, he might have a slightly different ‘cast’ to him, but he’s a dead ringer and Roswell is a small town. People are going to talk,” the sheriff pointed out.

“I know. That’s why I’ve been thinking that it’d be best if mine and Isabel’s parents took him in,” Max suggested and held his breath for the argument he knew was about to start.

“Maxwell, granted your folks are great, but you saw him. He’s even worse with his powers than we were when we first hatched. No way is he going to be hiding them,” Michael pointed out. “As much as I hate to lose the inside help we’re getting with the Special Unit, I think it’d be best if Nesado takes him. If you’re willing?” he added and looked at their protector.

“I have already offered, Michael. However, I got the impression that Max wasn’t too happy with my parenting track record,” Nesado explained.

“Could be worse,” Michael stated with firsthand knowledge in the matter. “Maxwell, so what are you saying? That you just show up with Joshua and say ‘Mom, Dad, look what followed us home?’”

“Michael, don’t be a jerk about this. I mean, why not tell Mom and Dad the truth?” Isabel asked and looked at her brother. “Max, Mom knows ‘something’ already and you know she’s going to tell Dad. And look at what not knowing almost cost you. I mean they were thinking of putting you in a hospital earlier this summer, and the therapist? Max, if they knew, they would know that it’s not possible. We need to tell them,” she pleaded.

Max ran his hand through his hair in frustration. He’d been thinking along those same lines these past few days but he was having a hard time letting go of his instinctive resistance to it. If only there was some way they could do this without telling them. “I know but I’m not real happy with dragging anyone else into this if we don’t have to. What if…what if we tell them that…our biological parents tracked us down because they wanted Joshua to be with us? Mom and Dad might buy that.”

“Be careful with something like that. You wouldn’t want to attract too much attention from Child Protective Services, and the authorities would be interested in tracking them down for abandoning you two in the first place,” the sheriff reminded them. “However, it might work. It would depend on how watertight the story is and how much your parents are willing to fight to keep Joshua.” He hesitated for a moment. “Max, Isabel, your parents are terrific people and I know they’d give Joshua a great home, but have you thought about how drastically this would affect their lives and futures? They’re not that young anymore and I would bet that they were looking forward to retirement. And maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but you’re asking an awful lot from them and I think they deserve to know what exactly they’re signing up for.” The sound of a ‘discussion’ echoed over to them. The walkers were back and little Joshua currently was holding what looked like a softball with obviously no clue what to do with it.

“You’re going to teach him how to throw like a girl. Why damage a guy that way?” Kyle accused Maria.

“And what’s wrong with how a girl throws?” Maria demanded to know.

“Well…they…they just do it all wrong!” Kyle shot back. It was lame, he knew, but there just was no other way to describe it. Ask any guy.

Joshua looked at the ball in his hand and then over at Kyle and Maria, who were talking loud at each other. He didn’t like that. He looked around for someplace to get away and spotted Liz. He ran over to her arms and she picked him up. The loud words upset him and as he got more and more upset, his hands began to glow.

“Uh-oh. Max?” Isabel mentioned as she watched Joshua’s hands.

“Liz, could you bring him over here?” Max called out and gave her a warm smile as she complied.

“I don’t think he’s used to people arguing,” Liz said as she took a seat next to Max, whom she noticed was giving her a funny look. “What?”

“You…um, you have little silver handprints all over your neck and shoulders where Joshua touched you,” Max explained.

“Well, so much for trying to hide it from Mom and Dad,” Isabel commented and wasn’t overly sorry for it either.

“I don’t think he even realizes what he did,” Max said and waved his hand over the silver handprints making them vanish.

“Thank you,” Liz said and gave Joshua a squeeze.

Tess rose and walked over and grabbed Kyle by the t-shirt and stopped to give Maria a look. “Would you two please come over and show Joshua that you aren’t mad. He’s upset about your shouting,” she explained as calmly as possible. She felt like she was starting to sort of fit in and wanted to work on that. And she hadn’t been immune to the protectiveness and love that everyone, including herself, was feeling towards Joshua.

Kyle crouched down next to Liz. “Hey, Joshua. I’m sorry you got upset. I’m not mad at Maria. We were just…playing sort of.” He pointed at the softball that was now covered in silver handprints. “You want me to show you how to throw that?” he asked gently.

“It’s okay Joshua. He was just playing. Let him show you how to play with the ball and then we’ll all play together in a little bit,” Max told him and gave him a little bit of a push towards Kyle. He was surprised to see the silver on the ball. He’d changed it back when he’d done Liz but obviously Joshua was still upset, and they still had things to talk about. Eventually Joshua took Kyle’s hand and Alex joined them as just the three guys threw the ball around.

“Max, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t even think and I didn’t mean to upset him,” Maria said contritely.

“Naw, it’s okay. He’s just going to have to get used to some things, like we all did,” Max beamed a smirking smile at her.

“Ha-ha, very funny,” Maria retorted but curbed her desire to smack him on the arm. She didn’t think Joshua seeing her hit Max would help any.

“So getting back on track, Maxwell, I still think the best option is Nesado. Keep parental involvement to a minimum and no explanation required to the authorities,” Michael stated.

“I don’t agree,” Tess said very softly. “I think Max should tell the Evans and see if they’d be willing to take him. He deserves to have a family.”

Nesado didn’t want to admit how much those words hurt, but he couldn’t blame her. He had always gone out of his way to make her understand that he was her protector, not her father. He had made sure she stayed focused on their mission and steered her away from too many human entanglements.

“Max, I need to tell you something. The other night when I dreamwalked you because your hand was glowing in your sleep, Mom saw it too. And she didn’t say anything,” Isabel confessed.

“She saw…?” Max was stunned.

“Yeah, and remember yesterday morning, how she hugged you? I’m sure she was trying to tell you that it was okay. I know she was. Max, I think it really will be okay,” Isabel stressed.

Max knew that even if they let Nesado take Joshua, he was going to have some explaining to do. And how he was going to do that without spilling the beans was beyond him at the moment. He looked over at his best friend. “Michael?”

“You’re going to do it, aren’t you? You’re going to tell them. Go ahead, you don’t need my permission,” he bit out.

“Michael. This affects all of us and our lives here in Roswell. If you don’t agree, we’ll think of something else, but I am going to have to tell them something,” Max told him.

Michael sighed and looked over at Tess. She had a hard time this last summer and was just now starting to fit in and, hopefully, letting go of that Destiny crap. Did he really want someone who was bound to be as sensitive as Max growing up like Tess did? Is that something he’d want for Joshua, who’d already been through so much? And he really didn’t want to lose the inside advantage they had with the Special Unit. Damn. There really wasn’t another option. He sure as hell couldn’t go into foster care. All he’d have to do is get upset once and it’d be silver handprint city. Christ, this sucked. “Okay Maxwell, but if they say ‘no’ then Nesado is going to have to be Plan B. We don’t really have a choice until one of us is older and can take him.”

Max shook his head. “I agree. Isabel?”

“Agreed.”

“Tess?”

“Agreed.”

“Nesado?”

“Agreed.”

“So we’re all agreed. We’ll tell our parents and ask if they would be willing to raise Joshua,” Max restated.

“Not asking for much, Max,” the sheriff quipped, but it was true. They were asking a hell of a lot from their parents.

“So how do we handle this?” asked Michael.

“Nesado, you need to be close by in case…in case the answer is no,” Max said and then grew quiet. He hadn’t really thought out exactly how to do this.

“I’ll be there for you,” Liz gently assured him.

“We all will,” Maria stated a little more loudly.

“It might not be a bad idea to have us all there for support, and to show your parents that we’re all in this together,” the sheriff told them and glanced over at Tess. If Kyle was getting sweet on Tess, then they’d be in it even more than they had imagined.

“Thanks, Sheriff. That means a lot. We should do it someplace out of the way and private,” Max said.

“What about the pod chamber or just outside of it? That way if they have any questions or don’t understand, we could show them,” Isabel suggested.

Max looked at the group to see if anyone had a better idea. No one did. “Tomorrow at the pod chamber. I’ll give them a call when we’re about an hour away and ask them to meet us there,” Max finalized. Now he just needed to figure out how to explain all of this tomorrow.

“So what do we do for the rest of today?” asked Tess.

Liz nodded towards where Kyle was currently swinging Joshua around and around. “How about we relax and have some fun? I think we could all use a break.”

“Ah Chica, a girl with a plan. Love it. I don’t know about you guys but that lake looked awesome. Who’s up for a swim?” Maria asked.

~

Joshua loved this! He could float on his back a little, and Max and Liz showed him how to move around without sinking, swimming they’d called it. He still wasn’t very good at it, and someone was always close by, usually holding on to him, but he loved it! It was great to sneak up behind someone and splash them. He was worried when he first did it to Isabel and she shrieked, but everyone else laughed and then she splashed him back! And then she got Michael too. He’d been the one to show him what great fun splashing was in the first place. He was currently getting a ride on Alex’s shoulders and they were sneaking up on Maria. He moved just a little closer and then Alex gave him the sign. He raked his hands across the water and nailed Maria in the back. She screamed and turned around and he splashed her again, getting her in the front. Then her hands hit the water and Alex started backing up.

“Okay Joshua, this is where we run!” Alex told him and turned around to run as fast as he could in the water with a kid on his shoulders. He could hear Maria hot on their trail.

“He did it again,” Liz commented as Max helped her put suntan lotion on her back.

Max looked over at the water. Maria was soaked and had Alex cornered against some rocks and was paying Alex and Joshua back for the soaking. Alex was laughing his head off and Joshua was giggling and laughing. It was a beautiful sound to hear. “I’m glad he can smile.”

“Max, kids are resilient. We’ll make sure that he has a good life with people who love him,” Liz soothed as she lay out on her stomach. “Max, could you undo my bathing suit top in the back. I don’t want a tan line,” she mumbled as she closed her eyes and relaxed.

Max was frozen in place. He’d taken several abrupt swims already, ever since Liz first put on her bikini, but those swims were getting longer and longer. At this rate, he’d be in the lake for the next several hours. He swallowed and carefully undid the hook. The top sprung free, revealing a beautiful naked back. His hands were just itching to caress that back and follow the curves around to the currently unguarded front. Damn, this just wasn’t fair. He got up suddenly and stomped towards the lake.

“Max, where’re ya going?” Liz called out as she watched him hurriedly stomp away.

“For a swim. A nice long swim,” he called back and grumbled under his breath about the unfairness of it all.

“But I thought you were tired of swimming?” she called out.

“Not tired enough!” he barked back in reply. It didn’t help when he heard her giggle.

“You know, I’ve never seen this devious side of you before, Liz,” Isabel told her as she slathered lotion on her arms and legs.

“Yeah, well, there’s another side that Max would love to see too,” she replied with a giggle.

“Apparently,” Isabel agreed and then looked out at the peaceful lake. Liz was right. They needed this. She watched her brother’s strong strokes as he swam out a ways, obviously trying to burn off excess energy. And then watched as Alex and Maria basically tossed Joshua back and forth between them and Joshua loving every minute as he laughed and splashed. “He’s incredible.”

Liz turned, careful to grab the sides of her top, and watched Max swim. His strong arms making clean forceful strokes in the water, his legs kicking along the water’s surface, his swim trunks clinging to him, and his strong back muscles rippling with each stroke. A child’s laughter broke her musing and she turned to where Maria and Alex were still splashing with Joshua at the water’s edge. “He certainly loves the water,” Liz commented.

“Yeah, Nesado thought it might subconsciously remind him of being in the pod and sort of make him feel more comfortable and relaxed,” Isabel replied.

“Yeah, that makes sense,” she said then smiled as Joshua fell on his butt and created a bid splash. “Or maybe he just loves to splash around in the water.”

“Yeah. Mom and Dad have always talked about putting in a pool. Maybe they’ll do it now,” Isabel thought aloud.

“That would be nice. Isabel, that would mean you get stuck with a real baby brother. Are you ready for that?” Liz teased.

“Ugh, they are so difficult to train!” Isabel teased back, then admitted, “But yeah, I’d love it.”

Hunger finally drove Joshua from the water. He was starving but didn’t know what to make of these hot dogs that they were cooking over a fire. Although with gobs of spicy mustard, they weren’t too bad. And Cherry Coke with Tabasco was great. And s’mores with Tabasco, alien style as Maria called it, were incredible. In fact, anything with Tabasco was great! He looked up from his spot on Michael’s lap to stare at the ceiling. They called it the sky and told him when it became dark it was nighttime, and when it was bright and sunny out it was daytime, and that you were up during the daytime and supposed to sleep at nighttime. But they hadn’t told him what those dots of light in the nighttime sky were called. He pointed up and looked at Michael. He had to jab him in the chest a few times to get his attention. He was ogling Maria again. Ogling was a new word that Tess had taught him. “My-k-whel, My-k-whel, dat, dat?” he demanded to know.

“What?” He looked up on the last ‘dat.’ “Oh, the sky?”

“No.” The sheriff had taught him that word. “No, DAT?” he clarified. He could tell that Michael still didn’t get it so he did what Max would do to him when he didn’t understand. He reached up and touched the side of Michael’s face and concentrated on sending Michael a mental picture of what he was talking about.

A perfect image of the night sky appeared inside Michael’s brain and thoroughly freaked him out. His telepathic abilities were not his strong suit and he wasn’t prepared for it. “OH SHIT!” he blurted out.

Joshua watched Michael carefully when he said the word and gave it a try, “oshit.” He grinned proudly. He was certain he said it right. He pointed up and repeated, “oshit.”

“MICHAEL!” eight people yelled at him in unison.

“Uh…um, Joshua, ‘stars,’ they are called stars,” he tried to explain.

“Huh?” That was a word he picked up from Kyle. He was confused by everyone talking at Michael at once, and so loudly too.

Michael pointed up. “Stars, those are stars,” he tried again and fought the panic that threatened. He was one dead alien if he couldn’t get Joshua quickly onto a new word. “Stars,” he almost pleaded.

“S-sdars,” Joshua tried and pointed up like Michael did.

“YES!” Michael exclaimed, relieved that they had moved on. “Yes, ‘stars.’ Those are stars,” he emphasized.

“Sdars,” Joshua repeated and then yawned. It had been a busy day, his first day of freedom. He looked around and found Liz sitting close by and climbed over to her and curled up in her arms. He yawned again and snuggled in.

“I think someone is ready for bed,” Liz said and looked over at Max to take him.

“Come on, little guy. Bedtime,” Max said as he slipped him into his arms. He carefully carried him into the tent with Liz walking in front of him. She opened the tent flap and then straightened out the freshly alien cleaned sleeping bags and blankets. Max carefully sat him down while Liz went to his bag and pulled out some clean sweatpants, a t-shirt, some Wet Ones, and one teddy bear, which Max distracted him with while Liz wiped a Wet One over his dirty feet and hands and another one over his face.

“Max, maybe you should take him potty before bedtime,” Liz suggested as she slipped the clean clothes on him.

“Mmm, Joshua do you have to go potty?” Max asked and when Joshua gave him a blank look, he touched his temple and gave him the image from this morning.

“No,” Joshua said and shook his head.

“Okay,” Max said as he and Liz got him all situated with blankets, pillow, and one teddy bear. When Joshua yawned, Max couldn’t help but follow suit.

“I think someone else is ready for bed, too,” Liz teased and tried not to repeat the yawn herself.

“It’s been a long day. Maybe I’ll lay down for a bit,” he admitted. When Liz was about to leave he grabbed her arm gently. “Stay. Just stay, please?”

Liz nodded and snuggled down in the open sleeping bag and got comfortable. Max’s fingers interlaced with hers and a half-asleep little alien lay between them. The tent was quiet as the occupants started to doze off.

Joshua’s eyes flew open. “MACKS!” he shouted and then, unable to think of the words, touched Max’s temple and fed him back the image from this morning that Max had given him just a bit ago.

“Now? You have to go now? But I just asked…”

“Max, take him potty,” Liz ordered and bit her lip to keep from giggling. “You don’t want to have to clean the sleeping bags again, do you?” she pointed out reasonably. Max moved quickly after that.

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TaffyCat
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Post by TaffyCat » Wed Oct 29, 2003 1:37 pm

Part 10

They were going home. Joshua didn’t know where home was or what it was exactly but everyone was going home. He watched everyone running around carrying things and putting them in the cars. He didn’t exactly know what cars did either, but he thought they moved around and took things places. He just didn’t know what these places were. He only knew one other place, and it was a bad place where he was hurt and scared. He was afraid that might be home and he didn’t want to go back there. He sat on the ground by the picnic table and hugged his teddy bear tight. They were going home and taking him back to his home. He scooted underneath the table, hid behind some stuff, and hoped that they would forget about taking him home.

Max was busy rolling up the tent with Alex and making sure the tent stakes and poles stayed inside the bundle when he felt something tugging at his psyche. He paused and looked around for the source but didn’t see anything. There was definitely something wrong though. He looked around again and realized that he didn’t see someone. He dropped what he was doing and stood up. “Joshua! Joshua, where are you? Joshua?” he called out. No response. By that time everyone had stopped what they were doing and were looking for him.

“Max?” Isabel asked when she came over to him.

“He’s here. I can feel him. I can tell that he’s upset but I don’t know why,” he told her and the rest as they wandered over.

“Something must have scared him. Maybe an animal came too close?” Isabel pondered.

“It could be anything,” Michael threw in.

“Concentrate Max. See if you can pick up on where the feeling is coming from,” Nesado encouraged.

Max closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind of everything but Joshua. He was immediately flooded by feelings of fear, confusion, and betrayal. It dawned on him that Joshua was indeed close by, he could probably hear them and maybe even see them, but was purposely not answering because he didn’t trust them. Max took a deep breath and concentrated on sending out his own feelings, starting with love. He flooded the area with the feeling of how much they all loved and cared about Joshua and how they wanted him with them.

Tess gasped. “Wow! Max, that was…intense,” she said as his message hit her.

“Max, look,” Isabel said and pointed towards the picnic table and a little sandaled-foot poking out from behind some sleeping bags and ice chests.

Max took a few deep breaths to bleed off any remaining anxiety he’d been feeling before going over to the table. The last thing he wanted to do was have Joshua pick up on how upset he’d been earlier. He went over and sat on the ground near one end of the picnic table and reached out and tapped the sandal with his finger. “Hey Joshua. We’ve been looking for you.” He waited but the only response was Joshua drawing his foot back and out of sight. Max sighed and climbed underneath the table. What he found broke his heart. Joshua’s face was streaked with tears and more were falling. “Hey there little guy, what’s all this? Can you tell me?”

Joshua squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head ‘no.’

“Okay… Can you show me then? Please?” Max asked and saw that Joshua was thinking about it. “If you show me then maybe I can do something about it so it’d be all better. Please, Joshua?” He reached out and touched Joshua’s fingers with his, trying to establish some sort of contact. “Joshua?”

Joshua didn’t want to go back there. But Max had taken him away from there. He didn’t want to be alone again. It was all too much for him and he broke down and flew into Max’s arms and cried.

Max wrapped his arms around him and held him tight. “Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay. I’ve got ya. I won’t let anything happen to you. None of us will,” he assured him and waited for the sobs to subside. When they finally quieted down, he pulled back a little and brushed away Joshua’s tears with his thumb. “Can you show me what’s wrong? It’s okay. Whatever it is I promise I won’t be mad. Just show me, okay?” he gently asked.

Joshua took a big breath and let it out before reaching up to touch Max. He sent him the images of his memories of the White Room and let out a sob. “No ’ome, no ’ome,” he pleaded in a scared little voice.

Max was stunned. If he hadn’t been sitting down already he would have fallen over. “Oh God! Joshua…no, no, that’s not your home. Oh God, I’m so sorry. I guess we didn’t explain it to you. But that’s not your home. That’s…that’s a bad place and…and it’s not there anymore,” he paused as he tried to put it in simple terms that Joshua could understand. “When we came and got you, we made the bad place go away so you don’t ever have to worry about going back there again. Okay?”

Joshua’s head hurt from all the crying and stress of thinking he was being sent back there. He sighed and clung to Max. He still didn’t understand where ‘home’ was nor was he even sure what it was. “’ome?” he asked.

“Home,” Max repeated and tried to think of how to explain it. This was a difficult one because he wasn’t certain of where Joshua’s home was going to be. He was pretty sure his mom and dad would take him, especially his mom, but it wasn’t 100 percent guaranteed and he didn’t want to lie to him.

“Max, what is it?” Isabel asked as she knelt down next to the picnic table.

“He thought the…lab was home and that we were taking him back there. I assured him that we aren’t, but I don’t know how to explain ‘home’ to him. I don’t want to promise him anything that I’m not totally sure about,” he explained.

“Then just show him what ‘home’ means to you,” Isabel suggested.

“Hmm.” He pondered how to do this and after a few minutes finally came to an answer. He gently touched Joshua’s temple. “Joshua, this is home to me,” he said and showed him images of his parents and sister as they sat and laughed around the kitchen table playing a board game, of Alex and Maria playing and singing at a local hangout, of him and Liz smiling at each other at the Crashdown, of him and Michael joking around in the hallway at school, and of him and Joshua splashing around in the lake yesterday, of family. Family was home for him. It didn’t matter where he lived as long as he had his loved ones. “Joshua, do you understand? Wherever you are, we are all your family and we love you. We’re not going to let anyone hurt you. Okay?”

Joshua wasn’t entirely sure what Max meant but the feelings he got with the images told him that home was a good place. He nodded and said, “u’kay.”

“Good, now let’s get back to work. You want to give us a hand?” he asked and gave him a smile. He laughed as Joshua was suddenly eager to climb out from underneath the table and start helping. He wanted to go home now too.

Max was acutely aware of Liz watching him as he brushed the dust and dirt off. “What?” he finally asked.

She walked over with a knowing smile and gave him a quick kiss. “You’re going to make an excellent father some day,” she proclaimed.

“Yeah?” Max beamed as he smiled at her. He kind of liked the thought of kids, especially if they looked like Liz. “You volunteering to test that idea out?” he teased.

“Um, not at the moment, but…well, maybe destiny isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, so we’ll see,” she shot back and pinched his butt as she walked away. He’s so cute when he’s startled. Cute butt too, or what’s left of it. She was going to have to make sure he ate more.

“Look at that. You’ve turned Liz Parker into a tease, Evans. Never thought I’d see the day.” Kyle slapped Max on the back. “But then I never thought I’d see a green-blooded alien either,” he proclaimed and went back to work.

“IT’S NOT GREEN!” Max shouted out at him in reply, only to get a dismissive hand wave in response. He chose to ignore the purposely raised middle finger Kyle gave him for emphasis. He looked down at light brown eyes that were waiting eagerly to help. He looked around and spotted a few pillows lying on top of some rolled up sleeping bags. “Here ya go. Can you take these pillows over there so the sheriff can load them in the back?” he asked and pointed to the SUV.

“U’kay” he replied happily and tried to take the pillows but wasn’t sure what to do with his teddy bear. He didn’t want that to get left behind. He finally traded it for the pillows and excitedly ran to the sheriff. He was helping!

Max stood and looked at the teddy bear in his hand and wondered what to do with it. He finally scrunched it up and stuffed it into his pocket so he could finish helping Alex with the tent. It took another good hour before everything was loaded and they were ready to roll. Max and Liz decided to ride with Nesado and Joshua. He was glad that Nesado had the forethought to pick up a child’s booster car seat. Joshua had some reservations about being strapped into anything, but was finally convinced that it was okay when Liz sat right next to him and buckled in as well. Max had to smile every time he turned around from the front seat to watch Liz with Joshua. She was going to make an awesome mom some day, he knew.

Joshua didn’t know which way to look. Everything was going by so fast and he wanted to see it all. He became quite familiar with rest stops along the way. But he still didn’t quite get why he could only go potty in a restroom and not outside like Max had showed him. He looked over at Maria and Michael getting into the other SUV with the sheriff. Maria was still doing that playing thing where she talks loudly to someone. He didn’t think Michael thought it was that much fun but everyone else laughed.

“I cannot believe you told him that he could pee outside just not to do it in front of girls! What is wrong with you? He’s a very impressionable little boy!” Maria continued on as they climbed in and shut the doors.

Kyle cringed inwardly and wished he could catch a ride with his dad, where guy things wouldn’t get him in trouble, like admitting that Michael was telling the truth. But he wisely kept his mouth shut. Better Michael than him. He put the SUV in drive and followed his dad and Nesado back onto I-25 South. They would stop in Socorro for lunch before cutting over to 380 West for home.

“Dat! Ah, dat! Dat, ah dat!” Joshua excitedly exclaimed and pointed out the window at everything he saw.

“I think he’s on overload,” Liz observed as they came into Socorro. She saw the playground in front and did a little pointing herself. “Nesado, try the Burger King. Maybe if he got out and ran around he’d calm down a little.” It was worth a shot anyhow.

Okay, what was that, Joshua wondered and stared with big eyes at all the colors and the different things to touch. He watched as others, little like him, climbed, bounced, crawled, and laughed. He wanted to do that too! “DAT! DAT!” he demanded as Max lifted him out of the car seat.

Max looked over at the playground and knew there was absolutely no way out of this. “Okay, but not for too long,” he told him and grabbed Joshua’s hand before he could take off on him. He looked back at Liz as Joshua led him away and realized that she had no intention of following them. “Um, Whopper, onion rings, and a Coke, and I guess whatever for Joshua.” He felt a hard tug on his hand and was dragged forward by a five year old intent on experiencing his first time at a Burger King Land, or whatever they called it now.

Joshua came to a standstill at the edge of the netted area that was filled with colorful balls. There were others like him jumping and bouncing, and over there was something they were climbing on and then going inside and then the thing spit them out into the balls. It was big. It was noisy. It was confusing. He suddenly wasn’t so sure about all of this.

Max silently watched Joshua look the play area over and noted how he studied the jungle gym and slide. Joshua took a step backwards and held his hand a little tighter. It wasn’t difficult to figure out that it was all a bit overwhelming. He crouched down to eye level with Joshua. “Pretty big, huh? Kind of looks like fun though. You want to try it? Maybe just a little bit? How about the balls? You want to see what its like to stand in them?” he gently coaxed and pointed to the plastic balls that the other kids were playing in. Joshua thought about it before reluctantly nodding ‘yes.’ “Okay, let’s get your shoes off first and then I’ll help you climb in.”

“Oh, that’s so cute!” Maria exclaimed as she observed Max helping Joshua off with his sandals and then lifting him in with the plastic balls, and how Joshua refused to let go of Max’s hand. “They are just too darling together!”

“Yeah, they are,” Isabel agreed and watched them together. She knew that their mom always had an extra soft spot for Max. While she and her mom were as close as possible, their mom had always fussed and worried over Max more. And Joshua was almost the spitting image of Max. How could their mom say no?

Joshua held on tight to Max’s hand as he looked down at his feet. They were covered with these balls. They didn’t hurt though, and they felt funny when he moved his toes. He giggled as the balls moved around as he moved his foot and then he kicked the balls a little, sending them flying. He beamed a smile at Max and decided to take a closer look at that thing everyone was climbing on. He didn’t even realize that he had let go of Max’s hand when he ran over for a better look.

“He let go,” Tess observed. They were all watching Joshua make his first foray into the world of playgrounds. Joshua kept glancing back at Max to make sure he hadn’t moved and then at the plastic ladder. He ever so slowly inched his way closer to the ladder.

Joshua wanted to see what all the others were doing but he had serious doubts about this. He glanced back again at Max who had stayed sitting next to the entrance with his shoes and was urging him on. Before he realized it, he was standing in front of the ladder and there were other kids urging him onward. He studied for a moment how the boy that was already halfway up the ladder did it, took a deep breath, glanced once more back at Max, and put his foot on the first rung. Before he knew it he was at the top and the kid below him was waiting for him to climb in. He glanced back at Max for a moment then reluctantly climbed into the maze of different shaped sections.

Max waited patiently for Joshua to appear down the slide. But when a little boy that he knew was behind Joshua in line appeared at the bottom of the slide, he became concerned and started slipping his own shoes off. He kept waiting and hoping that Joshua would turn up on his own. He wasn’t really worried about Joshua disappearing or anything but that he might get scared, and when scared or upset, silver handprints happened. He stood and paused for a moment to see if he could pick up on Joshua’s emotional state. Confusion. Fear. It wasn’t overbearing or all consuming but no doubt Joshua was getting there.

Michael had been watching like the rest and when Max went into the play area after Joshua failed to appear, he couldn’t stop himself from going over there. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do though, pick a fight with a five year old? Maria would love that one. So he took Max’s place guarding the entrance while Max tried to spot Joshua and get him to come out.

Max peered through a clear bubble window and saw Joshua sitting off in a corner with his legs drawn up. He was scared. “Joshua, come here. It’s okay.” He was relieved when Joshua immediately complied but sighed when he saw the silver handprints Joshua made when he touched the clear plastic. Oh boy. “Joshua, go that way. You understand? Go over there and I’ll help you go down the slide.” He took a breath when Joshua hurried over to the line waiting to go down the slide. Max wanted to wave his hand over the handprints but there were too many parents watching him in there with their children. He knew from experience that they’d fade in any where from a few minutes to a few hours and there was nothing he could do about it now. He caught glimpses of Joshua through the yellow and red plastic slats as he waited for his turn. When he finally got to the slide he was glad to see Joshua mimicking what the other kids did and sat down, but that’s where it ended. Joshua made no move to push himself down the slide. Max got real close to the slats and coached him. “Joshua, put your hands on the bottom of the slide. Good, that’s good. And then you need to give yourself a good shove, just like when we went swimming. Remember?”

“Uh-huh,” came the small voice in reply.

Max saw the kid behind him growing impatient and about to give him a little help. “Kid, don’t. He’s never done this before and he’s a little scared,” he warned the larger kid. He was glad to see the kid back off but then he looked at Joshua. His hands had a slight glow to them. Damn. “Okay, you ready? I’ll tell you what. I’ll go around to the bottom where you come out and catch you, okay? See, nothing to worry about,” he assured him. “Okay, ready when you are.” A minute later a startled Joshua finally came down and right into his arms. “There ya go! I knew you could do it! Now, let’s go get some lunch, okay?”

“U’kay!” Joshua beamed. He was very proud of himself and looked back at the slide. It didn’t seem so scary anymore. “Macks, dat, dat!” He pointed as Michael helped him with his sandals while Max put his own back on.

“Again?” Max asked incredulously. They ended up spending almost an entire hour there and by the time they left, Joshua was a proficient slider and could make the biggest splash when jumping into a sea of plastic balls. With a full belly and the warm afternoon sun, Joshua wasn’t the only one that dozed off as they finally headed back down the road.

“Max, Max, wake up,” Nesado roused him as he drove.

“Hmm, what?” Max opened his eyes and looked around.

“We’re about an hour outside of Roswell. I thought it would be a good time to call your parents,” Nesado informed him.

“Yeah,” he said and grabbed his cell phone. He dialed his dad’s office number. “Hi, this is Max, is my dad in? Thanks.” He waited while the call was transferred. “Dad, hi.”

“Max, where are you kids? About home? An hour away, that’s good. What? Pullman Ranch Road by the old radio tower? Yeah, I know where it is. Out by the crash site, but Max, why do we need to… Okay, your mom and I will meet you out there in one hour. Son, is everything all right?” Philip asked with more than a little concern.

“Yeah Dad, we’re fine…but we need to talk about some things,” Max said. His stomach was already working its way into a knot. “We’ll see you there.” Max closed his cell phone. This was it, what he had hoped for and dreaded all his life. Would his parents love him enough to accept who he really was? Would they be willing to take in another hybrid? He knew it was asking a hell of a lot of them but there was no going back now.

Philip quickly dialed his wife’s work number to let her know that he’d pick her up in fifteen minutes. Like him, she was a bundle of questions. At least now maybe they’d get some answers. He sat for a moment and stared at his laptop screen. White Room. He’d been reading anything he could find that referenced White Room. He had to sort through a ton of pornographic sites until he finally got to some even more disturbing references. Torture. A White Room was used as a form of intimidation and torture. Max was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. That had been the therapist’s diagnosis. It certainly fit the symptoms that Max had been exhibiting all summer. There was no doubt in his mind that someone at sometime had hurt his son, but tortured? White Room? What the hell had his son gone through? And when? Unlike his wife, he was thinking that whatever it was, it had happened more recently, but when and how? He closed the program, shut down his computer, and prepared to go get his wife. And hopefully by the end of the day, they’d finally have some answers.

~

Max’s hand glowed and a handprint appeared. He swiped his glowing hand over it and a portion of the rock wall fell away. He’d only been here once since that day in May. He’d come here seeking answers, any answers to what he was supposed to do. He’d found only cobwebs. He really had no desire to be here today but the only non-alien that had seen this place was Liz and the others were curious. He entered and moved off to the side to allow the others room to enter. He was incredibly grateful when Liz came over and slipped her arm around his waist. He drew her close and held her as everyone looked around. This place did not hold good memories for him. It was where Liz had walked away from him. It felt good to feel her in his arms again. It gave him hope that maybe they’d make some better memories today.

“Wow, not exactly the maternity ward at Roswell General,” Kyle quipped as he entered with the rest.

Joshua was drawn to the four pods. They were different than the ones he remembered. They were all large and even though they were empty, he could still feel the life that had come out of them. He instinctively knew that this is how they were supposed to be.

“Michael,” Maria said and pointed to the boy standing in front of the four pods who was just staring.

Michael went over and bent down to his level. “Hey little guy, pretty neat, huh?”

Joshua looked at him and then to the pods and pointed.

“No, not that one, this one over here. This one was mine,” Michael explained.

“Oh,” Joshua commented and then pointed to the one next to Michael’s.

“That would be mine,” Isabel volunteered as she walked over and crouched down next to him.

Joshua pointed to the one below Michael’s.

“And that’s mine,” Tess told him and stood next to Michael.

Joshua thought for a moment and then pointed to the remaining one. “Mine.”

Max had been watching and was about to confirm the last one was his but was startled when Joshua claimed it. He came over and sat on the ground in front of it and looked Joshua in the eyes. “No, mine,” he clarified and pointed to the pod that had sustained his life for so many years.

“No, mine,” Joshua reiterated.

Max was at a loss as to how to explain. Joshua obviously felt the connection to them and instinctively knew that there should have been others with him. But he didn’t want to upset him or make him feel that he didn’t belong with them. “Okay, how about it’s both of ours, yours and mine, ours.” He pointed to himself and then Joshua and then to the pod. “Ours.”

Joshua tilted his head as he thought about it and smiled. “Rs,” he proclaimed and sat down with Max and looked at their pod. He had found his family. He’d never been happier.

“Max, I see a car coming. I think it’s your dad’s Dodge,” the sheriff announced from his lookout spot in front of the cave entrance.

“So how’re we doing this?” Michael asked.

“Okay, I don’t know about the rest of you guys, but the general freak factor of standing around in an alien cave and…” he glanced over at the four pods hanging on the wall, “hatching chamber is a little too weird for me at the moment. I think I’ll go wait buy the car,” he announced and headed out. By unspoken consensus the others agreed and filed out, except for the littlest one of the group. He wasn’t ready to leave the pods.

“Max, I could stay with him in here while you and Isabel talk to your parents,” Liz offered.

Max smiled at her. “Thank you.” He couldn’t help giving her a quick kiss as he rose to go meet his parents with his sister. “Joshua, Isabel and I are going to be right outside talking to some people, but Liz is going to stay here with you for as long as you’d like. That okay?” he asked and got a nodded ‘yes’ in return.

“You ready, Max?” Isabel asked her brother as they walked back out into the afternoon sun.

“I guess. I still don’t know what to say,” he admitted as they watched the dust trail come to a stop at the base of the rocks.

“Just tell them the truth, Max. That’s all they’ve ever wanted,” she told him as they watched their parents get out of the car and stop to talk to the sheriff for a few minutes.

“Sheriff, what’s going on?” Philip asked as he looked around the group. He wondered who the other guy was, the stranger, but he was more interested in his children’s welfare at the moment.

The sheriff pondered what to say in reply and decided it really wasn’t his place to say anything. He nodded towards the rock outcropping. “They’re up there waiting.” He paused for a moment and added, “They need you now more than ever.”

Philip looked up at the outcropping and wondered why they picked this place, why they couldn’t just come home to talk. ‘Neutral ground’ came to mind. He took a deep breath and his wife’s hand in his as they began to ascend the rocks. His son was sitting along the edge of the rocks with Isabel sitting back a little further. He caught the worried but slightly hopeful look Isabel gave them as they neared. “Kids?”

Diane couldn’t take it anymore. “Max, are you okay? What’s happened?” she blurted out. She was well past worried and would be heading into panic mode if all this melodrama didn’t stop soon.

“We’re fine, Mom, Dad. Honestly,” he quickly told her. “But we need to tell you both something and…and hopefully you’ll be willing to help us.”

“Max, you know that we’d do anything to help you and your sister. There’s no question about it. But we would want the truth, son,” Philip told him.

“The truth, yeah. I just…it’s not going to be easy. I’m not even sure where to begin,” he lamented.

Philip motioned for Diane to take a seat along the rock’s edge and then joined her. Whatever it was, it was obviously going to take some time to tell. “Well, the beginning is usually a good place to start.”

Max sighed and glanced at his sister who nodded in agreement. “Okay, from the beginning. That would be the night you found us eleven years ago. That was the night we were born.”

“Max, what are you talking about? You were both six years old,” Diane said in confusion.

“Mom, let Max finish and then we’ll answer any questions that you still have,” Isabel suggested.

“Okay, go on son,” Philip told him.

“The reason we’ve never been able to tell you about anything before you found us is because there’s nothing to remember. See we were never dumped in the desert. That night we emerged from our incubation pods and were wandering around lost. We’d been in these pods since the crash of ’47…” Max explained.

“WHAT?!” both Diane and Philip exclaimed.

Max sighed again. “I know. You think it’s nuts, that maybe I really am nuts, but it’s the truth. We’re…hybrids, half human, half…alien. There was a war on our planet and we were sent here in incubation pods for our own safety but then our shipped crashed. Our protectors managed to get our four pods safely away from the government and created a cave just up there in these rocks where we would be safe. We emerged from them the night you found us.”

“Four? Who are the other two?” Diane asked. She still had major doubts about all of this, but at the same time it had a ring of truth to it, too.

“Michael and Tess,” Max replied. “Michael was with Iz and I at first but…wandered off. I called out to him but he wouldn’t come near the car. He was too afraid. Our protector was there when Tess hatched a little later so he took care of her.”

“Wait, you didn’t know how to talk then, so how…” Diane couldn’t help cutting in. Philip slipped his arm around her and silently asked her to let him finish.

“Telepathy. We were able to communicate with each other telepathically. Not words or anything but more like feelings and images. Anyhow, I’ll come back to that part later. Um…” he studied his parents for a moment. They both were floating somewhere between disbelief and wishing they’d brought his medication. His mom seemed to be a bit closer to the disbelief side, he decided, and sighed. He still had a ways to go. “We know that both of you always knew ‘something’ was…well, not normal about us. That’s because we aren’t normal. We can do things, like put out a kitchen fire and heal a bird’s broken wing,” he paused and looked right at his mom to see how much was sinking in.

Diane gasped. His secret, this was his secret, the one he couldn’t tell her after the fire, she suddenly realized. She hadn’t connected the dots before. If what he was telling her was true, then… She looked back down the rocky decline at the sheriff standing around talking to Michael and that stranger, then at her son. “Did you heal Liz Parker last year?”

“Yeah, I did. She was shot and I…I couldn’t let her die, so I used my powers and healed her. I knew at the time that I was taking a huge risk in exposing my secret…I just never dreamed how it would snowball,” Max admitted.

“What happened?” Philip asked. He could tell that Diane was starting to believe all of this but he still had some serious doubts. But he also wanted to hear his son out.

“The FBI is what happened. They got tipped off about the possibility of…well, I guess a sort of X-File thing or something and they came to investigate what happened, and me in particular. Remember that new guidance counselor in school that disappeared suddenly last year, Ms. Tolpolsky? She was an agent, part of their Special Unit that’s devoted to…alien hunting.” He took a deep breath to still his thoughts as he prepared to tell them the difficult part. “We blew her cover so she left but…they didn’t go away. If anything it got more intense. The head of the unit, an Agent Pierce, showed up posing as a sheriff’s deputy. To make matters more crazy, Tess and our protector showed up in town looking for us, but…well, they weren’t exactly straightforward with us at first. I can’t totally blame them for that. It still wasn’t right but seeing how they had been hunted for the last ten years, I can understand why they’d be cautious about approaching us. Unfortunately it added to the general confusion of things. We had no idea who they really were or even what they were, if they were friend or foe, and things quickly got out of hand and last May…I got caught,” he finally spit out.

Philip could feel Diane’s hand shaking as she slipped it into his. “The White Room,” he stated more than asked.

Max’s head shot up and he studied his dad. “How’d you know?” he asked.

“You mentioned it when you told us a little about your nightmares. What happened, son?” Philip asked gently. He didn’t realize that he no longer doubted the story. It just fit with what he had seen over the years and especially the drastic changes in both his kids, particularly Max, that started right before school let out.

Max nodded. He hadn’t realized he’d mentioned the White Room specifically. He felt Isabel squeeze his arm in support. He gave her a quick grateful smile in return. “They put me in a White Room at Eagle Rock. They wanted me to tell them about where I came from, what my mission was.” He snorted and shook his head at the thought. “I didn’t answer. I couldn’t, I didn’t know anything, but they wouldn’t believe that so they…” He felt his dad put his hand on his shoulder and heard his mom gasp. He swallowed a couple of times. “They wouldn’t take ‘I don’t know’ for an answer,” he finally said. He had no desire to go into detail at the moment. It was still too fresh and the last few days had only reinforced what his fate could have been. He cleared his throat. “Isabel, Michael, Tess, and our protector, Nesado, worked to get me out but things didn’t go quite right and…”

Isabel decided Max had struggled enough with getting this out and took over. “We needed the sheriff’s help. Nesado and Michael were posing as agents and got in. I dreamwalked Max to tell him the plan.” She noticed the confused looks from her parents. “I can go into a person’s subconscious and see what they’re dreaming. It’s one of my powers, like Max’s healing,” she explained. “And that he needed to get Pierce alone with him so Tess could mindwarp Pierce into seeing Max still sitting there. That’s her specialty, making people see things that aren’t there. Nesado and Michael busted Max out but Nesado stayed to…take care of Pierce, but things didn’t go right. Michael and Max wouldn’t have gotten away if the sheriff hadn’t shown up when he did and shot Pierce in the shoulder. We were all supposed to meet up at an old mine but we got separated. Max and Liz got chased and hid out along the river.”

Max picked the story back up from there. “The Special Unit found us the next day and we were on the run again when Michael and the sheriff came looking for us. Michael used his powers to disable their car and we got away.”

“But how did you stop them from coming after you again?” Philip wanted to know.

“We killed Pierce, and Nesado, he…he can change shape, took his place posing as Agent Pierce. He’s been working on shutting down most of the operation, starting with closing Eagle Rock,” Max explained.

There were a million questions Philip was dying to ask. All this explained so much but introduced so many other questions, like the ramifications of their participation in murdering a federal agent. But he had even more pressing concerns. “That would certainly explain your emotional problems this past summer but what’s happening now? While I’m beyond relieved that you’re finally telling us, what’s prompting this, and why here?”

“Starting two weeks ago, my nightmares started changing. I started dreaming that I was being…hatched in the White Room. They scared me more than reliving last May did because I couldn’t understand where they were coming from or why they were so…intensely vivid. Like I dreamed I was choking and woke up choking to the point where my lips were turning blue. They were that real,” he told them.

“Oh honey…” Diane didn’t know what to say. She wanted nothing more than to take him home and hold him.

“It’s okay Mom. We finally figured it out. That choking one was actually the key. See not only did I wake up choking, but so did Isabel, Michael, and Tess, though they had no idea why. That’s when we started putting it together that these weren’t dreams, but more likely someone trying to contact us, someone crying out for help,” Max told them.

“Did you find out who it was?” Diane asked, sick at the thought of someone holding and harming anyone that way.

“Yeah, we did.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “There were two sets of pods, ours and a back up. When Nesado went back alone to get the second set from the government after the crash, he got caught. He spent three years in a White Room before escaping but before he did, he destroyed the second set figuring it was better for them that way, and he’s right. But he missed one. As Nesado explained it, when we hatch it’s instinctive for us to call out to each other telepathically, but he was the only one. The little guy was all alone, so he called out to anyone he could and…and because we’re almost identical, he found me.” He looked at his parents and realized that they weren’t recoiling from them, that his father was looking distressed but had put his hand on his back to show his support, and his mom looked like she was about to burst into tears any minute. Maybe this would work after all, he hoped. “We found him. Isabel was able to dreamwalk one of my ‘nightmares’ and spotted a label on his hospital gown. From that the sheriff tracked it down to the Gallup area and from there Nesado was able to locate the most likely…research lab.”

“Gallup? That’s what this camping trip was about?” Philip turned and looked at the group standing around the cars, the sheriff, the stranger who must be this Nesado, and a bunch of kids. They were going to get this child out of a government research facility? Research. Lab. His stomach lurched at that thought. This child was identical to his son and was being held like some…lab rat?

Diane’s hand was trembling as she reached for her son’s hand. “Is he alright? What happened to him?” She was surprised to see both Max and Isabel grin.

“You want to meet him?” asked Max.

“Meet? You mean you’ve got him? Here?” Philip asked incredulously.

“Oh Mom, he’s adorable! He looks so much like Max but he’s younger, about five, with lighter hair and eyes, and…cuter!” Isabel couldn’t resist teasing her brother just a little. She could already tell that her mom was going to fall in love with Joshua the second she laid eyes on him. And there was no time like the present. She jumped up and ran up the hill calling out, “Joshua!”

“Joshua?” Diane asked.

“Yeah, Isabel named him that. Um, Mom, Dad, you remember how we didn’t know anything at first, even the basics?” They both nodded that they did. “Well, he’s the same. He looks about five, but he’s only been conscious for a little less than two weeks. And, uh, um, he has some powers but he’s not too sure what to do with them and can’t control them, yet,” Max tried to explain but he could tell that he had lost their attention as they stared at someone behind him. He turned and smiled at Liz holding Joshua’s hand on one side, Iz on the other. He heard his mom sob and he turned to look. Her hand flew to her face and tears were starting to make her makeup smear. “Mom?”

“Oh God, he’s…he’s beautiful,” she sobbed, then dabbed at her eyes and tried to control herself. She didn’t want to frighten him but how could she not get emotional? She felt like she was meeting her son all over again, only this time… he was barely more than a baby.

Joshua wasn’t too sure about this. He could feel…stuff. He knew that Isabel was happy that they were here but nervous too. He looked at her, “E-a-bel?”

“It’s okay sweetie. They’re just surprised that you’re here but they want to meet you, especially Mom,” Isabel explained and noticed how tight Joshua was holding her hand as they carefully walked down the rocky crag to her parents. “Mom, Dad, this is Joshua,” she introduced them. “Joshua, can you say hi?”

Joshua was staring at them, trying to figure them out. “Hi,” he said tentatively and when they both smiled at him, he softly added, “Mom.”

It was almost too much for Diane and it took heroic efforts on her part to keep from falling apart. “Hi, sweetheart,” she greeted him and reached out her hand and gently touched his. Eventually he let go of Isabel’s hand, and even Liz’s, and came over to her. She was just itching to hold him but she could tell that he still wasn’t too certain about them yet.

Joshua studied them. They seemed nice and he thought he remembered them somewhere but couldn’t recall where. The lady kept rubbing his arms and it felt kinda nice. The guy he wasn’t at all certain about but he had warm eyes.

“Hello Joshua. It’s nice to meet you. Max has been telling us about you. We’re very happy that you’re here with us,” Philip told him. The way the boy looked at him reminded him of another night and another certain little boy. He looked over at him. That little boy was practically a man now. A thought occurred to him and he looked back down at the assembled group hanging around the cars. A single sheriff, who no doubt was not prepared to take in a small child, teenagers…don’t even go there, that protector, who he was none to sure about but was supposedly working undercover at the FBI, not a good place to place a child. He looked back at Joshua and then Max. Joshua would be spotted and linked to Max in a heartbeat. He looked back at his son. “Max, who’s taking this child home?” he asked but he had a feeling that he already knew the answer.

“’ome,” Joshua repeated innocently.

Diane caught on and looked at her son. “Max?”

“That’s sort of the problem. I know this sounds odd, but he was sort of born prematurely. Like I said earlier, he has no control over any of his powers. When he gets upset, he…uh, he leaves silver handprints all over until he calms down. They don’t last long, but um, it’s pretty noticeable. And as he gets older his powers will develop even more. He…um, he needs to be with someone that knows his secret and you’re looking at everyone that knows,” he stammered out.

It was Diane’s turn to look at the assembled group down by the cars. Children mostly, and not at all prepared to raise any child, let alone a special one. And two single men. She supposed that they could do it but…this baby had been through so much already, he needed a family, a complete family. She looked at her husband. He too knew exactly what the kids were hoping for. She sagged a little at the prospect. They’d be starting over from the beginning, adoption lawyer, children services, kindergarten, school clothes and supplies, bicycles, skateboards, room mom, cupcakes, PTA meetings, basketball practice, and throw in silver handprints, could they do this? Could she do this? She had no doubt that Philip would help, he had always been a hands-on father, but he was the main breadwinner and if they were going to do this then they were looking at another thirteen to fourteen years with a child in the house, and they’d need every dime they could get, especially with another college fund to start. She knew that she’d be the one that would once again put her career on hold, at least for a few years, like she did eleven years ago. Was she ready to do this all over again? God, did she have the energy?

Joshua was watching the lady, trying to figure out how he knew her. It finally came to him and he beamed a smile at her. Both of them had been in the images Max had given him for home. They were home. “Mom, ’ome!” he pronounced proudly, very pleased with himself.

Her breath caught at that pronouncement. So assured it was and so innocent. She looked at her husband. She saw similar emotions playing out in him. Neither of them were that young anymore. They had been thinking grandchildren were next, not another one of their own. He finally nodded. He couldn’t deny it either. Joshua needed them. She smiled and turned back to Joshua. “That’s right, sweetheart. It’s time we got you home,” she told him and gave in to her desire to hug him. She finally let the tears of joy fall as little hands eventually hugged her back. She continued to hug Joshua as she put him on her lap. She looked over at her other two children and leveled them with a stern look. They had expected a lot from her and Philip in asking this, and she was going to make sure they paid the piper. “Okay, you two. You have just gotten yourselves a baby brother. Do you have any idea what that means?” She could tell by their looks that they didn’t. “Babysitting. That’s right, I have two official babysitters that will bend over backwards to be ready at a moments notice. That will include Friday and Saturday nights, even New Years. You both only have two more years at home and I fully plan on taking advantage of it. Is that understood?” she told them sternly.

“Friday and Saturday nights, but…”

“New Years? Mom, you can’t possible expect…”

“No buts, and yes I do expect it. I wasn’t expecting a…change of life child but I seem to have gotten one anyway. That’s life. Deal with it. And I had better not hear one single complaint. Is that clear?” She wagged her finger at both of them.

“Yes, Ma’am,” they both replied.

Philip was busy distracting Joshua by seeing how ticklish he was and was rewarded with squirming and giggles. “Ah-ha, knew it. Just under the arms. Just like Max.” He looked up at his now two oldest and chuckled. No doubt their mom was firmly in control again. “Now that that is settled, you mentioned something about a cave or chamber up there. I’m sort of curious about what it looks like.” It was his first official foray into the world of aliens, but it was far from his last.

~

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