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Chapter Fourty-One

Maria watched Liz warily, recognised the familiar glint of obsession in her eyes and directed a questioning look at Kyle. He just shrugged and stared in open surprise at Liz, who was gazing expectantly at them both. Maria carefully folded the newspaper and regretfully abandoned her unfinished apple cinnamon iced tea. Standing up, she stalked outside into the sunshine without looking back and headed for the Chevy, holding out her hand to Liz for the keys before climbing in behind the wheel and waving Kyle to the seat beside her. Liz slid into the rear seats, her expression nervous but determined.

“Do you know where we’re going, Maria? Shouldn’t we get directions to Ben’s place?”

“Oh, I know were I’m going, Liz, don’t worry about that…”

Maria’s voice was level as she swung the 4x4 out of the exit and on to the dirt road, driving with all the skill and expertise she’d gained in the Jetta on alien transport duties. She kept her speed at the upper limit for safety, but it was still too slow. Her patience, as well as every muscle in her entire body, was finally exhausted.

It was several minutes before Liz caught on to what was happening and then her screech of rage made Kyle cover his ears.

“Maria, what the hell do you think you’re doing? This is the wrong way; it’s the turnoff for the camp! You tricked me! How could you? If I don’t find out what my vision was right away, we’ll all be dead. Turn back. Turn back now, Maria, or else…”

Kyle was just in time to catch Liz’s wrist as she raised her hand threateningly towards Maria. He didn’t know if she really would have gone through with attacking her friend, but he wasn’t taking any chances. The girl was losing it fast.

“Liz, calm down. Liz, are you listening to me? Maria’s right, you can’t just decide on the spur of the moment to go find Ben and drag us along with you. It’s far too dangerous. Look, here we are, back at camp. Let’s all take a moment to think peaceful thoughts and calm down. Buddha says…”

Liz snarled at him.

Maria was already out of the Chevy and waiting for Michael, who was heading purposefully toward them, his expression grim. Kyle hastily got out and joined Maria but Liz still sat in the truck, a mulish look on her face.

Michael opened the rear door and waited for Liz to emerge. When she made no move, he leaned down and spoke very quietly but firmly.

“Get out of the car, Liz. We need to talk. Now.”

The expression on his face frightened her and she shrank away from him. Seeing this, Michael stepped back and shook his head in disgust.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Liz. Stay there until you’re ready to come out and talk, but know this. You and I will talk.”

He paused, waiting, but she didn’t respond.

“Later, then.”

He opened the driver’s door, making sure that she saw him wave his hand over the ignition to disable it.

“Not gonna take off on your own in this again, Liz. When you’ve calmed down, come find me.”

He turned away, flanked by a silent Maria and Kyle, and headed over to the grill, where he started to spoon coffee from the container into the pot, concentrating on the task with infinite care.

Suddenly he hurled the pot violently down on to the stone slabs, shattering the glass and scattering coffee grounds everywhere. Bracing his muscular arms on the counter, he closed his eyes in an effort to control his temper. He hadn’t come this close to losing it since he’d faced down Max back at the last motel, but he would master himself this time just as he had then.

Kyle watched him warily, uncertain how to react to the alien’s display of temper. Michael had held himself in check for so long that if he lost control the force released would be explosive. He laid a restraining hand on Maria’s shoulder in case she made any move to go to her dangerous boyfriend. However, she simply continued to watch Michael calmly, although she glanced back once or twice at the Chevy where Liz still sat, invisible in the sun reflecting off the smoked glass.

Finally Maria sighed, hooked her arm in Kyle’s and led him towards their tent.

“It’s getting too hot to wear all these clothes, so I’m going to change into something cooler. You might like to take a break right now, too – give Spaceboy some space… Liz, too, I think…”

She sounded more thoughtful than worried and she smiled reassuringly at the anxious look that passed over his face, patting his arm as she went into her own quarters.

Kyle lay down on his sleeping bag and put his hands behind his head. He feared the inevitable confrontation between Michael and Liz was finally about to happen and he was just real thankful to be out of it. He could hear Maria moving around, so he asked her what she thought had gotten into Liz.

“This ‘vision’ thing – she told me she was scared a couple nights ago, but she hasn’t mentioned it since…why suddenly take it into her head to panic now? She’s always so anal, planning ahead for everything in obsessive detail, yet today she just takes off on impulse? She practically kidnapped me, Maria. At least she had the sense to go find you…”

Maria snorted in irritation.

“She still should have told Michael what her plans were, not just rush off and expect me to go with her. She never gave a thought about the danger to herself or the rest of us.”

Maria paused, and then came out of her ‘room’ to frown at him.

“Kyle, I’m worried about Liz’s state of mind … Have you noticed that she’s been acting a little… freaked… since we left Roswell?”

“Be strange if she didn’t, Maria, she’s lost Max as well as the entire future she had all planned out. She’s gotta be devastated. So I guess it’s natural to freak a little…”

“Yeah, up to a point, Kyle, but this is too much. She’s getting out of control… Like I said, I’m worried…”

“All we can do is be there for her, same as Isobel… Wonder where she is now? Do you think someone should go find her? It’s been hours since she left…”

“No, Kyle, Isobel will come back when she’s ready. There’s nothing you, or any of us, can do right now except wait…”

He sighed sadly and closed his eyes, so Maria returned to her own quarters and carried on changing into her shorts and sun-top. She was a little disappointed but not really surprised that Kyle hadn’t taken her concerns about Liz seriously.

Michael’s rage was still simmering through their connection and she had to exert some self –control not to let the strength of his feelings affect her own. She had some anger towards Liz on her own account, but she understood that one of them had to remain calm to maintain the balance and not fuel the other’s emotion in a situation like this. Michael had enough trouble dealing with his own anger without having to deal with hers, too.

She dug out her cookbooks and lay down on their bed, finding a welcome distraction in choosing her next culinary experiment…

Outside, Michael waved his hand and the shattered coffeepot re-formed, whole and perfect. The spilled coffee grounds were dispersed by a sudden gust of wind and Michael carefully scooped more into the pot, added water from the container and, outwardly calm, made himself a fresh brew. Taking it, a cup, and the sugar container over to the table, he sat down with his back to the Chevy and practiced patience. He knew that Liz would have to give in eventually and he was prepared to wait as long as it took.

Twenty minutes passed and Isobel returned from her walk with only a brief greeting to Michael before she headed straight to her tent. A few moments later, Liz stepped out of the Chevy, serene and smiling as if nothing had happened. As she wandered past the grill, she collected a glass of water and continued on to join Michael, still gazing out over the peaceful lake and waiting for her.

She sat down next to him, ostentatiously changing the water in her glass to cherry coke with her new powers, before she sipped delicately.

Neither spoke, each waiting for the other to make the first move.

Liz broke first.

“Michael, I know what you’re going to say…”

He interrupted her coldly.

“Would that be because you’re psychic or because you’ve come to your senses and realized what a stupid idea it was to go off alone with our only means of transport and endanger the whole group? I told you that the Chevy stays in camp unless we all go. What the hell did you think you were doing?”

Michael’s temper had flared again despite his efforts and Liz bit her lip, eyes suddenly tearing up as she gazed at him reproachfully.

“I-I just wanted to show you -I mean the group- that I could contribute something to help us, without putting us all in danger…”

“You didn’t mind dragging Maria and Kyle into danger with you. What about their safety?”

Liz was silent, biting her lip and flushing red again. She had no answer to that; she had intended to take Maria with her for support, then Kyle too when he gave her no choice. It would have been fine, if Maria hadn’t tricked her into coming back to camp to tell Michael and spoil her plan. It wasn’t BFF behaviour and somewhere inside her a small, confused part of Liz felt the betrayal keenly.

Liz’s head began to ache with the stress of it all and she longed to return to the peace of her tent, but Michael was speaking again, more calmly this time.

“Why did you take the Chevy and run off with Kyle? You could have gone with Maria earlier if you just wanted to get away from camp…”

Michael was well aware from Maria what Liz’s intention had been, but he wouldn’t reveal his knowledge. It infuriated him that Liz had not only gone off on her own without a word to him or Kyle, but had also selfishly taken off in the Chevy, knowing the rules but acting as if they didn’t apply to her. He tried to reign in his anger and look at her calmly as she stared earnestly into his eyes.

“No, you don’t understand, Michael. I was going to see Ben, to try to get another vision. You know, like you said I should when I told you I couldn’t remember what I’d seen…”

Michael’s frown deepened.

“I didn’t say to go off on your own; that was not a smart idea, Liz, and expecting to take Maria along with you into danger was even dumber. What were you thinking?”

He seemed genuinely interested in her answer and a flicker of satisfaction inside herself at having caught his interest grew into a sudden conviction that she had made some progress at last.

She touched his arm lightly and although he instinctively moved away, Liz saw only that his gaze was fixed on her face in apparent fascination. She was unaware that he’d caught the same light of obsession in her eyes that Maria had seen earlier and he was as disturbed by it as she had been.

Her soft voice sounded urgent now, as if she was really scared.

“I thought and thought about it and I knew that I couldn’t wait any longer to find out what my vision was – we could all be in danger at any moment. I just wanted to see Ben as soon as I could and I needed Maria to come with me. If we’d all gone together it might have seemed strange as we’re due to have dinner with the family tonight. It might have drawn attention to us, don’t you see…?”

Michael listened carefully to what she was saying, and tried to keep his response as reasonable as he could. He had to admit there was logic in her argument, even if she’d been thoughtless about putting her plan into action. His voice was more gentle as he responded to her clear anxiety.

“I can see you do have a point, Liz, even if you went the wrong way about it. I guess it’s my fault for not discussing the possibilities with you and the group before this. I’m gonna get the others now so we can talk.”

Liz smiled with relief and satisfaction, but Michael’s final comment as he rose to leave showed he hadn’t forgiven her completely.

“This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook about putting us all in danger, so you’d better think real deep about the consequences before you decide to act on your own and threaten our safety again. Understand, Liz?”

She nodded contritely, although she really didn’t care now that she was getting her own way after all.

Michael called by his tent to rouse the others and deliver the news that Isobel was back, then gratefully accepted Maria’s offer to go fetch her for the group meeting.

A few minutes later, everyone was gathered round the table drinking the beverage of their choice. Maria had another apple cinnamon tea, this time from their supplies and iced up by her alien boyfriend, while Kyle had caught Michael’s coffee habit and Liz was drinking her own cherry coke again. Isobel sipped the heavily sugared coffee without interest or enjoyment.

Michael quickly brought them up to speed with events and Isobel’s eyes showed interest in something that offered respite her from her own thoughts for a while.

“As I said to Liz, it’s partly my fault that it’s come to this, because I let it ride and didn’t discuss it with the group at the time.” He didn’t wait for comments, but looked at Liz and went on talking. “Going by your previous experiences, your vision is directly connected to Ben and he’s likely to have been confined to his home since you zapped him. I thought the longer we delay meeting him, the more time we’d have before this danger, whatever it is, would happen.”

He looked round at the group, only for his gaze to be caught by Maria’s luscious lips sucking thick, delicious iced tea through her metal straw. She saw his eyes narrow then flicker away even as his mental whisper of lust reached her through their connection. Michael set his thoughts firmly back on what he should be concentrating on right now.

“So, ok, I’ve changed my mind. Now I suggest we don’t wait for tonight after all. Liz convinced me that she should visit Ben this morning to find out what she can and I agree - but this time we plan properly and we all go with her. Anyone got any comments?”

Only Maria voiced a doubt, but the others waited intently for his answer.

“What if your original theory is right and the danger comes when we meet him next? Won’t that just be bringing it on earlier?”

“Good point, Maria, but I’m thinking that there are several reasons why going this morning makes sense. Firstly, we can take precautions by splitting up the group so we don’t all go in together if it’s a trap and, secondly, it will be easier to act or react in daylight. Thirdly, if it’s an ambush, they won’t be expecting us until tonight…”

Maria nodded slowly at him, accepting his arguments, as did the others and an air of purpose suddenly pervaded the group sitting round the table.

“Ok, now we need a plan and we need it fast because we’ve gotta go soon if we’re to get there before lunch…”

Isobel immediately spoke up, surprising everyone by taking a close interest.

“You’re right, we can’t all turn up for a visit if we’re all going to be there tonight anyway. It really should just be Liz and me, as we were the ones who were with him when…um…lightning struck. It would look more natural for the two of us to be concerned about his recovery enough to not wait until tonight…”

“You’re not going in alone, Isobel, too dangerous.”

Kyle was horrified at the idea of the girls walking into a trap. She patted his arm soothingly.

“You can escort us, then, Kyle. That would be ok, I think.”

Kyle’s expression was such a comic mixture of relief and dismay that Isobel suddenly smiled, shocking herself and him.

Michael agreed it was a plan and it had the added private advantage that it kept Maria safely away from the main action. He was careful to hide this thought from his girlfriend, who would undoubtedly make him suffer if she caught the implication that she couldn’t look after herself in any situation. He hurried on with another idea.

“Maria, you’ll have to be the getaway driver if we need to run, because we’ll have to hide the Chevy out of sight of the house and pretend the girls and Kyle have hiked over to see Ben. We don’t want to risk having our transport captured, too.”

Liz wanted to know what Michael would be doing.

“I’ll be prowling round the house before you go in to make sure there are no enemies hidden in the woods and then I’ll be as close as I can in case you meet trouble and need back-up, ok?”

Maria chimed in with her own practical suggestions.

“Don’t stay longer than you have to, ok? Make it a very brief visit, ten or fifteen minutes max, and don’t accept any food or drink, not even water. Trust no one. Tell Ben and anyone else who’s around that you only dropped by to say hello in passing and you have to be back to meet the rest of us for lunch and an afternoon hike. Say you can’t stay now but you’ll be back for dinner.”

Liz and Kyle agreed that the less time spent there the better. Then Isobel was struck by another thought.

“What do we say if they ask personal questions? Ben thinks we’re half-sisters on a family road trip, thanks to that stupid story I made up when we first met him… We’ve all got different names on our ID and it’s just too complicated to remember a story.”

Maria was reassuring.

“Then say that, Izzy. Joke about it and say it’s a long, complicated story and you’re saving the gory details for tonight over dinner. You don’t have to tell anyone anything until then…we can work something out later for that if we need to.”

Michael went over the plan once more for everyone and then they all scattered to pack the essentials in the Chevy again in case they needed to run.

Fifteen minutes later Maria swung the big truck out onto the road heading for the Ranger’s house and the long awaited revelation of Liz’s vision...


Chapter Fourty-Two

Following his directions from the previous morning, the Ranger’s house was not hard to find. Passing the visitor’s center, the driveway turnoff was about a quarter mile further along in the opposite direction from their campsite. Michael made Maria drive on past it and pull off the road to wait with the others while he scouted on foot to survey the area leading up to the house.

“No point in announcing ourselves by driving straight up to the house. Gotta see if there’s any place nearer to hide the Chevy. Wait here and try to look as if you’re just checking the map or something…” He leaned over and swiftly kissed Maria’s cheek, then was gone before she could say anything aloud.

There was nothing she could say to him through their connection, either. Words were unnecessary. He knew she would worry until he was back safe in her arms, but their mysterious link was a comfort to them both. Michael let his awareness of her emotions fade to a deeper level of his mind as he concentrated on the task before him.

He ran on as fast as he could until he reached the turnoff and then, with a quick glance around, headed along the private road that lead to the house. He paused frequently to listen for any vehicles or suspicious activity but there was nothing.

The woods lining the road were light and sunny, with sparse clumps of bushy undergrowth offering little cover or protection. Michael realized, with a sinking heart, that there was nowhere to hide the Chevy. He would probably be able to hide himself fairly easily if he needed to step off the road, particularly if he had some protective coloration – and he looked down at himself to see his clothes change from black to dusty grey-green as his heightened abilities instantly responded to his thoughts without conscious direction.

He caught a glimpse of the house through the trees and stopped to crouch behind a bush to decide what to do next. The lack of cover that dismayed him would also restrict the likelihood of a daylight ambush, although a night attack would be less difficult if that was what was planned. He moved cautiously closer to the house, right up to the edge of the woods, needing to get as much information as he could before he had to return to the others.

It was a large, wood and glass, ranch-style structure on a stone base, with a wide grassy clearing around it. Even from his hiding place in the woods, Michael could see that it was set on the hillside overlooking a spectacular view of the lake and mountains. The beauty of the place touched him somewhere deep inside. Envy of the people who lived in a place like this stabbed painfully through him, but he shook it off. No point even going there.

Two cars and a jeep were parked near the garages that linked the house to the driveway, but the place was silent and deserted in the late morning heat. He waited for a few minutes to see if there was any sign of life, then he moved slowly to his left round the edge of the belt of trees, using all the cover he could, intending to circle the house. Then he found he couldn’t go any further because the land suddenly fell away steeply in a long rocky drop to a tangle of denser forest sweeping down to the shore of the lake. However, the trees and bushes grew thicker and closer to the house at this point, giving him the chance to approach within a few yards of the place.

A large, split-level deck overlooked the view, with a big table and a barbeque area on the far side. A blue swimming pool shimmered in the distance. A few feet away from Michael, in the shade of a sun parasol, Ben Yardley appeared to be asleep on a padded chaise longue with an environmental magazine open across his knees.

Michael had only a moment to study the scene before the glass patio door slid back and a pretty, butter-haired woman emerged with a tray holding a tall pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. Michael could hear the ice tinkling from where he hid and his mouth suddenly felt parched. He remembered the sharp, clean taste of the sour lemonade he’d shared with Maria yesterday afternoon and longed for a drink right now.

The woman’s high, Southern voice carried easily as she set the tray on a low table and called to the sleeping guy.

“Ben. Ben, honey, wake up. Your mom sent me out here with some lemonade…”

She sat down on a nearby chair and poured out two tall glasses of the cold lemonade as he slowly woke, stretched and smiled lazily at her.

“What are you doing here, Barbara?”

“Just visitin’ for lunch. Your mom said I should come out and help amuse the patient. How are you feeling now, darlin’?”

“Fine, babe, I’m fine. I guess I’m just feeling a little… hungry. Come here…”

He reached for her and she came over to him eagerly, sitting astride him, lifting her shirt and pressing her generous and unfettered breasts into his hands as she moved in for a kiss. Ben held her off for a moment, which made her pout and grind herself provocatively down on him.

Michael reluctantly prepared to depart. He was interested – hell, he was a guy – but not that interested, since he had the incomparable Maria. Although they had shared a little voyeuristic episode watching some hot action in Garrison’s hardware store when they were staking out Laurie, he suspected she wouldn’t be too happy this time if he didn’t leave right now.

Ben’s voice carried a warning as he questioned the impatient woman wriggling on top of him.

“You sure it’s safe out here? Where’s my mom?”

“It’s ok, she’s busy in the kitchen cooking for tonight’s guests, that’s why she sent me out here to keep you company before lunch. C’mon, honey, I need a little somethin’ – it’s been days since I’ve seen you…oooh, yes, right there, oh, God, don’t stop….”

Her breathless moans followed Michael as he retreated back to the driveway, not as quietly as he should have, but as fast as he could. There was no way he could easily scout round the other side of the house, so he headed back the way he’d come. It took him five minutes, making himself keep to a walking pace when he wanted to run, to reach the Chevy and report back.

He slid into the seat beside Maria, careful not to look at or touch her, all his senses aware of her physical presence despite the impending danger that should override his personal desires.

On his way back to the Chevy, sparked by the scene he’d nearly witnessed, he was distracted by thoughts of Maria writhing beneath him, her soft skin, her incredible lips, her – Oh, God and she didn’t help by catching his urgent need for her through their connection and demanding an explanation.

***Spill, Michael. I can feel there’s something you’re not telling me…***

He’d hedged at first, but then given in almost immediately, knowing it was useless to struggle when Hurricane DeLuca wanted answers.

***Ok - I saw Ben about to go at it with this older woman – they were outside on the deck while his mother was in the kitchen***

***Ewww, gross. The guy is a slimeball; I knew it. That was obvious the way he checked out the three of us when he dropped by the camp. Then he tried to hit on Liz before she zapped him with her forcefield. Now, this thing with an older woman. Ewww, again***

*** He better not even think about even looking in your direction tonight, Maria, that’s all I have to say***

Maria just snorted and went back to the aspect he’d tried to avoid.

***So… it turned you on, huh, Spaceboy? Watching the action? Just exactly how hot was it, hmmm?***

He knew she was teasing him but she also sounded intrigued, which turned him on even more… Maria never ceased to surprise him. God, how he loved her…

He reached the Chevy and shook his thoughts back to their current dilemma.

The others were watching him anxiously as he turned to face them, report on what he'd seen and break the bad news.

“There’s no place to hide the Chevy anywhere near the house.”

Liz was crushed.

“We can’t stay here, Michael, several cars have passed us and probably checked us out. It’s too public. What are we going to do? Does that mean we all go in with the Chevy after all?” She looked at him anxiously.

The others were silent, waiting, frowning unseeingly through the windows. Michael made the obvious decision when nobody came up with any other ideas.

“It’s clear we’ve packed the Chevy to travel, so we can’t show up at the house like this. We’ll just have to hide in plain sight – in the visitors’ center parking lot. Maria, you’ll just have to wait for us there, is all, and hope nobody takes too close an interest. It’s a five minute walk from the house and about another ten to the center from here. If you guys can keep the visit down to ten minutes, then we should rendezvous around 30 from now. Everyone ready?”

Maria pulled a u-turn on the deserted road and a minute later stopped at the turnoff. She watched Michael, waiting for him to give the signal to put the plan into action.

He looked at the three who would be going in and they each stared back - Isobel was nervous but composed; Kyle, serious for once and focused on the task ahead. It was familiar feeling to him, like the times before an important game. Liz bit her lip and gazed at Michael wide-eyed. She suddenly leaned forward to hug and kiss Maria; then did the same, with noticeable warmth, to Michael who froze with embarrassment and horror. Liz didn’t appear to register this reaction as she climbed out of the car and waited for the others to join her.

“Parker is definitely unbalanced.” Kyle and Isobel caught his muttered comment and grinned at each other before they, too, left the Chevy. Maria blew kisses to everyone, winked at Michael, then waved farewell and drove back to the visitors’ center as the others moved off down the long driveway to the Ranger’s house.

Michael kept pace with them until the house came into view, then he moved into the limited cover of the trees and bushes, heading over towards the deck area again, assuming this to be where the fateful meeting would take place.

Isobel led the way up to the house, striding confidently across to the double doors set into the large porch, where snow and rain gear was stowed against inclement weather.

She rang the bell, but heard nothing from inside the house and they waited for a minute or two before the inner door opened and a tall, elegant, blonde woman emerged. She came over and opened the outer doors, looking at them in friendly enquiry.

Isobel took charge. She smiled charmingly at Ben’s mother.

“Hi, Mrs Yardley, we’ve come to see Ben. I’m Elinor Morgan; this is Susan Franklin and David Jameson. We’ve just dropped by for a few minutes to make sure he’s ok, rather than wait until dinner tonight… Is he allowed visitors yet?”

Enlightenment dawned on the woman’s face and she beckoned them inside the house, bubbling with gratitude for ‘saving’ her son and giving each of them a warm hug as they passed by her into the entrance hall.

“Ben’s out on the deck, he’ll be delighted to see you. The doctor has told him to rest and I’ve forbidden visitors until tonight, but he’s so bored when he’s confined to the house.”

Kyle rushed to reassure her.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Yardley, we won’t keep him more than a few minutes. We just want to say hello and make sure he’s ok. Susan, here, has been real anxious to see him again.”

He grinned teasingly at Liz, who looked bashfully down at her shoes. Ben’s mother smiled indulgently and led the way through to the sunny deck where Ben was sitting, talking with the butter-haired woman described by Michael earlier.

No hint of their recent illicit encounter showed as the Ranger’s wife introduced the three to her friend Barbara, wife of the local mayor.

Barbara gushed over them in an excited manner, calling them brave heroes and heroines several times despite their denials, until they were embarrassed and uncomfortable.

Ben and his mother noticed this and exchanged conspiratorial glances before both stepped in to quell her enthusiasm. Ben’s face had lit up at the sight of the girls, although he managed to ignore Kyle, leaving him to the merciless attentions of Barbara while his mother strolled off with Isobel to extract all the details of her son’s ‘ordeal’.

This left him with Liz all to himself and he led her over to the other side of the deck to a seat near the shady spot where she knew Michael had seen him with Barbara earlier. Michael himself must be hidden only a few feet away in the bushes, watching over her. The thought made her shiver with excitement inside.

Liz knew she only had minutes, so she refused Ben’s offer of lemonade and laid her hand tentatively over his, gazing soulfully into his eyes as she asked him how he was feeling. Hardly listening to his admission that he couldn’t remember anything after meeting her in the woods until he woke up in the ambulance on the way to hospital, she waited tensely for the vision flash.

Nothing happened, except that their glances held and she began to feel like she was blushing all over as his hot, blatantly sexual stare bored into hers. When he leaned forward and licked her lips she didn’t pull back, just opened her mouth greedily for his tongue without a moment’s hesitation.

Just as she was getting into it, Ben pulled away and she opened her eyes to see him sitting back in his chair grinning at her with sly satisfaction. There was something else in his expression, too, which she suddenly recognised as smug anticipation. He arrogantly expected to finish what he thought he had started. For a long, breathless moment, she stared at him, blinking in confusion and dawning fear. The plan had failed – there was no vision replay after all and now they would never know what the danger was until it happened…

Liz stood up shakily, scraping her chair noisily across the deck while Ben held out his hand to say goodbye and, with a meaningful stare into her eyes, that he’d see her tonight. As soon as their hands touched, she swayed dizzily, hit by a series of flashes.

Kyle was suddenly there, supporting her with an arm around her waist and glaring at the ranger’s son.

“ I think the heat is beginning to affect Susan a little, and we should be on our way. We don’t want to set back Ben’s recovery by staying too long…”

Kyle sounded unexpectedly smooth in his determination to get them out of there and Liz was grateful. Her head was splitting with pain and bewilderment, but this time she remembered her vision in frightening detail.

As she passed Barbara, she registered a hostile glare. The woman must have seen Ben kiss her and was furiously jealous.

The three from Roswell moved through the house attended solicitously by Ben’s mother, regretful that the visit had lasted such a short time. She offered to drive them back to their camp, but Isobel declined, explaining on the spur of the moment that the rest of their group were at the visitor’s center calling home, since their cells didn’t work in these mountains. Mrs Yardley was disappointed to see them leave and let them go with reluctance, consoling herself with the assurance that they would return for dinner.

Liz listened impatiently to all this without hearing any of it. All she wanted to do was find Michael and tell him what she’d learned…


Chapter Fourty-Three

Michael took cover behind a tree at the side of the driveway, out of sight of the house, as he waited for the others to come into view. He had watched everything that had transpired out on the deck and knew that Liz must have seen her vision again. She’d looked scared, dazed and confused, so he guessed it was bad.

Maria was already moving the Chevy to the turnoff, prepared to run far and fast.

Michael’s blood pounded in apprehension and excitement as his thoughts turned to planning their next move in response to whatever the danger turned out to be. He rapidly reviewed the basic options and was debating their merits when the other three came into sight around the curve.

They reached him a moment later and shied nervously when he emerged from his hiding place. Kyle was supporting a drooping Liz and Isobel looked terrified as she followed close behind.

“What happened, Liz? What did you see?”

Liz woke from her daze and threw herself at Michael, who automatically caught her by the shoulders and held her away from him at arms length. Kyle and Isobel stared at her fearfully, waiting for her answer.

Looking round at them all blankly, Liz shook her head, suddenly unable to speak. Michael saw that it would just be a waste of time standing around while she pulled herself together, so he handed her over to Kyle and Isobel; they each took one of her arms, moving quickly on towards the road, half carrying her between them. Michael jogged ahead of them, senses alert for danger, still ready to dive for cover if necessary, but impatient for them all to reach the relatively safe haven of the Chevy.

It was waiting for them at the end of the driveway, engine running and Maria’s anxious face peering out through the windshield.

“Liz, did you get a vision? Is there danger for us?”

Maria’s voice was sharp with tension and nobody even thought to question why she was there rather than waiting in the parking lot. Liz slid into the truck and buried her face in her best friend’s shoulder, all the earlier anger and resentment forgotten, as she held on tight and shook all over. The other three leaned in from the second row seats.

“It’s ok, Lizzie, we’re all here with you – now take a deep breath and tell us what happened…”

Liz obediently took several deep breaths and tried to collect her confused thoughts. She felt totally drained of energy from the stress and fear of the experience.

“Tonight. It’s tonight. Ben and his family have arranged a big surprise party for us and we’re to be interviewed as heroes by the local press and TV stations tonight... We’re all going to be exposed on TV!”

There was a silence as everyone tried to absorb the news. The expectation of a different kind of danger was hard to shake; they were so psyched up for some kind of violent, deadly confrontation that Liz’s announcement seemed weirdly like some kind of anti-climax for a few moments…

Liz went on talking urgently, a little hurt at the lack of reaction to her vision.

“I saw us being interviewed on camera surrounded by a crowd of people … I saw a newspaper headline, too – ‘Mystery Incident at Roswell Graduation – Missing Teens Found’… They’re going to get curious about us when we try to avoid the interviews and then they’ll find out our ID’s fake. Michael, someone will recognise us and the FBI will know where we are now… Everyone’s going to know where we are…”

Michael raised his head and looked at her thoughtfully, not really seeing her at all. His mind was working on their next move but to Liz, his dark, intense, lingering stare was another sign that he was starting to really notice her. Ben’s blatant, uncomplicated, sexual interest in her had offered balm to feelings deeply wounded by Max but her brief, hungry pleasure in his kiss, even while she was desperate for vision flashes, was now forgotten in the greater satisfaction at making progress with the target of her new ambitions. Even the danger revealed by her visions was momentarily forgotten as her overwrought mind spun a fantasy into the moment.

Then Michael blinked and his gaze quickly moved to find Maria. Liz felt bereft and reached out to touch his arm, reclaim his attention, but he’d moved restlessly away, his own hand going out to grip Maria’s shoulder from where he sat behind her.

Michael’s abstracted gaze returned to Liz and swept on to Kyle and Isobel next to him. He felt almost light-headed in his relief that the danger was avoidable.

“If Liz’s vision is true, then we have plenty of time to get away before tonight and maybe even cover our asses, too. Let’s go, Maria…”

Uncharacteristically silent, his small blonde obediently drove back to the camp and parked the Chevy in its usual place, killing the engine but making no move to leave the vehicle.

They all sat there for several moments before, as if at some silent signal, everyone stirred, left the truck and moved over to gather round the table by the grill.

Maria, in spite of her anxiety, was still concerned for the practicalities.

“Our dinner plans for tonight have obviously changed, so we’d better eat something now while we still have the chance, ‘k?”

“Good point, Maria. Talk while we eat.”

Michael headed back to dig out the coffeepot from the truck, while Maria followed him to search through their supplies in the coolers. There was no time to prepare anything like a meal, so she just set out cheese, peanut butter and sweet grape jelly with bread, salad fixings and Tabasco for everyone to help themselves. In only a few minutes, the group were eating a picnic lunch and discussing what to do about Liz’s prediction.

“It’s 12.30 now. We are invited for 7.30 tonight, so that gives us plenty of time to leave and put some highway behind us. We can take the tents and everything, too.”

“What if they still check out our ID and find out it’s fake? The FBI like to know about that sort of thing, especially since 9/11. They’ll be interested in us for that alone…”

Kyle was remembering police procedure from his dad’s time as Sheriff. Michael gave him an approving look.

“Good point, Valenti. So we gotta destroy the records kept in the park. They got paperwork from when we checked in, and then there’s the accident report with fake addresses. Iz and my fingerprints, too…”

“Just how are we going to do that? We can’t just walk in and demand them, can we?”

“Not exactly, Iz, but we can try. We’ll need to check out and have some excuse for not turning up for dinner tonight, we can’t just take off running if the media are interested in us. It’ll be less suspicious that way and we may get a chance to destroy any computer records, at least. Not too difficult to do that…especially if there’s a big storm that takes out the power for a while...”

Maria came out of her silent mood and backed him up.

“You know it’s a plan, Spaceboy. Let’s work out the details…”

More than an hour passed talking through the possibilities until they had come up with what they hoped was a workable plan and made their preparations. Now they were about to put the first stage into action. Michael finished the last bite of his second peanut butter, cheese and jelly sandwich, with the added Tabasco that made it so satisfying to alien tastes. The others had all made their own various selections and the food had disappeared down to the last crumb. They were all aware that they didn’t know when or where their next meal would be. He would have liked another cup of coffee, but he knew he didn’t have time. Stacking his plate and cup with the rest on the grill counter, he followed his friends over to the Chevy.

Maria drove back up the twisting road agan while Michael peered ahead to spot the tall tower that carried the power lines to the visitors’ center. The first part of the plan was to short them out and for this he needed to leave the vehicle and head out to get as near as possible.

The tower was some distance from the edge of the main area and approached along a short, gated, dirt track through the trees with little danger of being spotted by park employees. His still-green clothes helped him blend into the background again. Michael unchained and pushed the heavy wooden gate open to let the Chevy park just inside. A quick color-change from Isobel blended it in with the background so they wouldn’t be easily seen if anyone passed by.

The power tower soared above the trees at the rear of the buildings and Michael soon found himself close enough to act. His alien power buckled a thick supporting strut: the top of the tower tilted and twisted metal screamed as the power lines to the ranger station pulled taught and snapped, sparking and crackling in a brief, spectacular firework display.

Satisfied that the power outage was sufficiently serious to keep the station dysfunctional for a day or two, he ran back to the others to report that the first stage had been successful and make a quick getaway before anyone arrived to investigate.

“Michael, are you sure won’t they think it’s strange that the tower just broke? There’s no big storm yet…”

“Don’t worry, Liz. They’ll find it’s metal fatigue, not alien powers.”

They drove back to the campsite and began to empty the tents ready to dismantle and pack into the two hard-shell containers while Isobel directed the reorganization of the gear into the Chevy.

After Michael brought the container down from the tree he went to help Maria pack their stuff and move it out near to the truck. Then it was time to re-arrange the local weather system specifically to meet their needs, so he strolled over to the lake to work up a storm. A few minutes later, he turned to find Maria at his side. He wrapped his arm round her and together they took a last, long look at the spectacular sunlit scenery

***I’m going to miss this place, even if we haven’t exactly had a restful time here***

***Yeah, Maria, me, too... Never gonna forget the time we had to ourselves in that little inlet yesterday afternoon…***

They shared a deep, gentle kiss as they recalled the vivid private memories and Liz had to cough loudly several times to attract their attention. She had arrived just ahead of Isobel, who followed more slowly. Michael suppressed the now familiar annoyance and made himself speak civilly, but he didn’t release Maria from his embrace.

“Ok, Liz, you can tell the others the storm is on its way. See, the rain clouds are already on the horizon.”

She smiled but her wide-eyed gaze was focused on her friend, selfishly distracting the leader from his duties. The reproachful note was unmistakeable in her soft voice.

“We’ve got so much packing to do and we really need you to help, too, Maria. We can’t afford to waste time.”

The rebuke stung Maria, and she opened her mouth to snap back a retort, but Michael squeezed her against him, mentally telling her to chill, as he held his own temper in check. Accusing the hard-working Maria was just wrong and he wouldn’t let Liz Parker get away with it. He just needed a moment to calm down and find the right words.

However, it was Isobel, arriving just in time to hear Liz’s complaint, who snapped, giving in to her long-smoldering frustration with the girl who just couldn’t seem to see anything beyond her own self-centered needs.

“Why are you picking on Maria, Liz? You know there’s plenty of time. She’s only taking a moment out. Anyhow, what gives you the right to comment? You haven’t been too involved in our domestic arrangements to date, have you? Everything has been magically provided for you, without you having to think about it or lift a finger…”

Liz’s eyes filled with angry tears. Of course, she knew it was because no one truly understood just how deeply hurt and betrayed she was. She’d reached the pit of despair, lost everything, and the others should be more supportive. She turned expectantly to Michael, sure that he would defend her from the unfairness of the accusations. When she saw that he wasn’t even looking in her direction, she was hurt all over again.

“That’s so unfair! Maria wants to do it – she’s teaching herself how to cook. She knows I’ll be there for her if she has any problems…”

“I’m not just talking about the last few meals. Maria’s doing fine on her own. No, it’s all the other times on our road trip last week even before Maria decided to expand her life skills. She and I did the housekeeping for us all and I should add that it was mostly Maria’s efforts, too. Even Kyle and Michael do their share of chores without bitching about it. What exactly did you do?”

Liz was taken aback at her directness, as were Maria and Michael, who simply gaped at Isobel as she stood there, implacably waiting for an answer.

The alien girl stared at Liz for a long moment then sighed and shook her head.

“You hardly lift a damn finger, Liz, just expect everyone else do the work while you float around in your own little world.”

She turned on her heel and walked back to where Kyle was obliviously unpacking all their dried food supplies from the container to make room for a tent.

Michael was still holding Maria against him and looking after Isobel with a mixture of awed respect and exasperation. She was right about Liz’s attitude to chores, and he was both grateful that she’d saved him from having to confront the little bitch himself and ashamed that he’d not leapt to Maria’s defense quickly enough; he would have done it himself anyway, if she hadn't got there first but still - their timing undeniably sucked. He didn’t need tensions within the group when they were about to take off into the unknown again. Then Maria’s voice in his mind held a mixture of consolation and admiration.

***Hey, don’t feel bad, Spaceboy. I know you wanted to ride to my rescue, but Isobel only just beat you to it... Wow, she certainly didn’t hold anything back. I almost feel sorry for Liz...but - I don’t. She really was out of order***

***Yeah, but now we’ve got a situation to deal with. Iz and Parker are not gonna be real cosy after this and we really do need to be tight as a group to survive...***

***Give it time, Michael. They’re never going to be best friends, anyway, so we’ll all just have to learn to get along somehow***

While they were talking privately, Liz had been staring out across the lake, watching the rain clouds pile up over the mountaintops. When she spoke, her quiet voice was strained and she didn’t look at them.

“I guess I’ll go and pack my things…”

Michael carefully kept his voice neutral.

“Yeah, but there’s no big hurry. We’ve got plenty of time before the second part of the plan kicks in and we want the place as deserted as possible when we get there. It will rain first, to drive people back to their camps before the big storm hits, remember?”

Liz nodded and turned away. She heard Michael’s hopeful voice as she headed back to her tent.

“Think it’s time for another coffee?”

“I’m sure Kyle will back you up on that one, Spaceboy.”

Maria’s amused giggle floated after her and twisted the knife. How could she find anything to laugh about when they were all in such danger? It only strengthened Liz Parker’s conviction that Michael needed a serious, intelligent woman by his side, one who could appreciate the dangers of their situation and share the responsibilities of leadership.

In the event, it wasn’t until the tents were stowed, water containers refilled and the Chevy efficiently loaded ready to travel, that Michael and Kyle got their coffee break and the two were standing by the tailgate drinking appreciatively and exaggerating their fishing exploits as the first heavy raindrops fell through the trees onto the now deserted clearing. Maria sipped apple cinnamon spiced tea, which she suspected was going to be her own new addiction, and had talked Isobel into joining her… Liz refused everything and sat sulkily in the back seat of the truck until the others finally joined her to get out of the rain.

“Gotta hope that the office and the stores close up and everyone goes home soon…”

“You sure we hafta wait for another whole hour, Guerin?”

“Yeah. Give the staff time to work out that the power outage is serious and it’s best to head home early before the big storm hits.”

They waited in silence for a while, after Kyle’s attempt to listen to a country station was shouted down by everyone else, and no one could agree on another one. Soon, Liz became restless and wanted to get out into the air, even though the rain was pouring harder now. Kyle agreed with her and they struggled into their raingear before leaving to walk down to the lake for one last time. Isobel then decided she needed a comfort break and headed over towards the shower block.

Michael and Maria were left alone in the Chevy; their lips crushed together in a heartbeat, passionately grateful for the unexpected chance to be alone. In the foreseeable future, snatched moments might be all they would have so it was a serious frustration to both when only seconds later the door opened again and Liz slid back into the truck.

“Too wet out there, I’d rather wait in here after all.” Liz had suddenly realized that Michael and Maria were alone and hurriedly returned to break it up. Too much togetherness for those two was so not in her plan.

Maria and Michael reluctantly moved apart and settled back into their seats, still holding hands and - unbeknownst to Liz – exchanging silent comments on yet another example of her bad timing. Michael’s language was so colorful that, to his amusement, Maria’s ears turned pink. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and gave her hair a playful tug as Maria wrinkled her nose at him. Liz tried to ignore them and stared out of the rain-drenched window. Her stress headache began to throb painfully again. One day in the not so distant future, she promised herself, it would be her tucked happily within Michael Guerin’s protective arm…

Kyle arrived a few minutes later, genuinely driven back by the weather outside, and Isobel turned up soon after. Once more the truck was full of impatient, but now wet, people. Some time passed while raingear was removed and dried off, with Isobel giving the two newest aliens a lesson this time, then silence reigned once more.

The remaining 45 minutes threatened to drag interminably, giving them all time to think about the plan and worry about all the things that could go wrong. Finally, Kyle could stand it no more and insisted that he needed some music to break the silence or he would just go throw himself into the lake. The others, at Michael’s suggestion, took a vote to decide which option to go with. After some heated debate a 2:2 impasse was reached, the final outcome then decided on the toss of a coin.

Kyle’s country station lasted for two tracks before Isobel found something contemporary she and Maria could both live with; then Liz wanted a nostalgia station. It all tried Michael’s patience so much that when it was his turn he switched it off altogether, swearing that he preferred silence.

After one more track each, Michael finally said it was time and the cups were hastily power-cleaned and stored away. The mood in the Chevy was suddenly tense and when Maria started the engine there was a collective intake of breath as they moved off in the semi-darkness to carry out the next stage of the plan to cover their trail.

The livid purple storm clouds were now low and threatening, giving the previously golden afternoon the eerie appearance of nightfall. Lightning flashed ominously in the darkness and the rain fell just hard enough so that any guests should have long ago been encouraged to return to their tents, rather than be forced to shelter at the rangers’ station.

The visitors’ center was dark and deserted, not even any staff vehicles remained in the lot. The power outage and the thunderstorm had combined to clear the area completely. Maria parked right in front of the office and Michael quickly climbed out, striding over to use his flashlight to read a notice hung on the inside of the glass door. He knocked loudly several times, peering through into the dark interior, and then he popped the locks with his powers before beckoning to the others.

Kyle, Maria and Isobel followed him while Liz nervously waited outside in the Chevy in the growing violence of the storm –on lookout, although visibility was limited.

They all read the hand–written notice on the door as they passed into the building.

Power Outage

Ranger Station/Stores Closed until Morning

Please call numbers below in Emergency

Inside, their flashlights ranged over the desk and waiting area. A quick, uneasy exploration of the darkened building revealed several offices, their doors labelled with various business functions, but only one marked ‘RECORDS’. It was small and tidy with one desk, two filing cabinets and an old computer.

“Here it is. You check the computer records, princess; see what you can find. I’ll provide the power. Iz and Valenti, you’ll check the filing cabinets…”

They all set to work in the now crowded room, as Michael grabbed the computer cable to send a steady charge of electrical energy up the line so that Maria could check the records. A few moments later the screen lit up with an eerie glow.

To her raised eyebrow he returned a dark, sardonic stare, and her heart fluttered. God, he was so damned sexy…

“Saves on the utility bills… So, what’s the verdict, DeLuca? Think you can handle it or shall I just blow it up?”

She frowned in concentration before she replied.

“It’s ok. It’s ancient, but well organised. No net connection, no passwords - in fact, no memory to speak of… They store it all on floppy disks. Yes, here’s the one listing the current guests for this week …must have been working on it when the power failed…”

Maria had removed the disk from the FDD and inspected the label by flashlight, holding it carefully by its edges. She handed it over to Michael who sent a tiny surge of power to corrupt it and then she returned the disk to the drive. A rapid scan through the rest of the disks filed in storage boxes on a nearby shelf revealed nothing relevant to them.

At her nod, Michael cut the power and the screen glowed white for a moment then died, making the room seem even darker than before…

“They’ll only lose a few days' records…” Maria pacified her conscience.

She moved away to stand by the door, shining her flashlight beam wider, and Michael waved his hand over all the places they’d touched, doing the same ‘forensic’ cleanup that he and Isobel had carried out at the last motel. He turned to the others, who’d already finished searching through the two filing cabinets.

“Any luck with the paperwork?”

“Yes, we’ve found the records they’ve got on us, no problem at all. They’re very well-organized here.”

Isobel bestowed gracious approval on an efficient system. She held a small sheaf of papers in her hand, prepared to destroy them, but Kyle stopped her.

“Wait a minute, Isobel. They’re so well organized that if we destroy all our records we create another mystery. Can’t you just make it so they’re unreadable, or something?”

Isobel stared at him thoughtfully in the dim light.

“Hmm, good point. The check-in stuff isn’t a problem, they’re just copies; I can fade them so the vital details are illegible. No, it’s the accident report. This is the original, so there’s no way I can make it look different without it being obvious…”

Michael made the decision.

“Destroy it. Then it’s still a mystery but at least it’s gone and unlikely that anyone will connect that to us.”

He took the report from Isobel’s hand and it flared to ash in a moment then dissipated into thin air. Isobel ‘cleaned’ the fingerprints off the altered check-in sheets and returned them the files, then ran her hands over both the filing cabinets as well.

Then they all took a last look round before leaving. The plan had worked perfectly. In fact, it had been so easy that none of them could quite believe it…

Michael was last out and he carefully locked and ‘wiped’ the door behind him. Then he reached inside his jacket and produced the brief note to Ben’s family that they’d composed over their working lunch, disguising the writing and using a sheet of the paper they’d bought when they’d needed to fake their IDs. (Michael intended to use it for counterfeit bills if necessary. He’d long ago reluctantly accepted that they’d have to go that route so Isobel would be teaching her art to them all, very soon).

Much thought had gone into the note, but in the end it simply said that they were sorry the storm and the power outage meant they’d missed dinner, but it had convinced them to head on south a few days earlier than planned. They wished Ben a speedy recovery and had enjoyed their stay in the park. Jokily signing it ‘The Scooby Gang’ neatly avoided mention of their ‘names’.

Michael wiped it for prints and left it in the mailbox before sliding back into the Chevy. It would probably be late the next morning at least before it was found and, anyhow, the power outage would occupy everyone’s attention for the next few days. When and if anyone gave them another thought, they’d be long gone…


Chapter Fourty-Four: Miles to go…

Once in the driving seat beside Maria, Michael turned round to the others who were all smiling at him in relief. He didn’t smile back.

“Ok, let’s move…”

“The storm is still raging, Michael. Maybe we should stay here until the worst of it passes over…”

Isobel wasn’t happy at the prospect of driving blind through the stormy darkness and in the dim interior light the others looked like they agreed with her. He could see her point, but he thought that their need to move on overrode any other considerations.

“Not gonna pass over anytime soon. I made sure the storm will stay over the park for the rest of the evening, so there’d be no chance that we could make it for dinner. Dangerous to hang around here too long, Iz.”

She wasn’t convinced, so he ran his hand through his dark, spiky hair, trying first for patience, and then to allay some of her fears.

“Look, we’ve talked about this already. There’ll be no traffic on the road, I’ll drive slow and we’ll outrun the worst of it in about ten or fifteen minutes, ok? We got a lot of ground to cover tonight, so we gotta move on.”

Kyle saw that Isobel was working herself up to a panic and Michael was edgy and impatient to take off, so he stepped in with a suggestion to calm the rising tension.

“Why don’t you quiet the storm for a time, Guerin? Can you do that? Ease the rain off just so we can get out of here safely, then rack it back up again in about ten minutes?”

Isobel jumped at the idea, flashing him a grateful glance as she hurried to convince Michael.

“Sure he can do that, Kyle. That way, we won’t be driving blind but it won’t give anyone a chance to find out we’ve gone too soon…”

Everyone looked at Michael hopefully and he rolled his eyes, letting out a long, exasperated sigh before getting out of the Chevy again. He disappeared into the darkness and only Maria could feel his secret exhilaration as he closed his eyes and felt the tingle of power dancing beneath his skin…

A few minutes later he rejoined the others, saying nothing, just starting the engine. The wide arc of the headlights revealed that the rain had slowed to a steady drizzle, although thunder still growled in the distance. The big truck slowly moved away from the building and nosed through the murky darkness only to find the park exit closed and barred. It presented no difficulties for alien powers and the group were through and heading south again so fast that Liz, already lost in her own thoughts, didn’t even notice.

Their powerful headlights lit up the darkness and the public road stretched pale before them, empty of other traffic as Michael had predicted. In the rear view mirror he could see the storm still flashing away over the mountains in the distance behind them and smiled to himself. They’d been travelling for nearly 20 minutes and would soon be coming out from under the dark clouds into the clear early evening sky. The danger of media exposure had, hopefully, been averted by the Crystal Ball. He frowned to himself. Something in the back of his mind didn’t feel right and that, together with the other disturbing behavior she was exhibiting too, made him uneasy. He hoped to God she got over it soon; he didn’t think he could handle it if Parker was going to go seriously cuckoo on them, especially in the middle of nowhere… Then his mind turned to thinking over the plans they’d made now they were back on the road again…

In the rush to leave the ranger station, Kyle had found himself sitting in the second row seats between Liz and Isobel. The rear bench had been folded up to make more cargo space. Liz had eventually woken from her trance when they’d emerged into the bright evening light and made an effort to be friendly to him, but Isobel was silent behind her shades. As the long hours passed, he finally noticed that the atmosphere between the two was so cold he was surprised not to see frost forming on the windows. He shivered. Maybe the air conditioning was too high. Or… ok, maybe not. Neither had spoken to the other, but it was disturbingly clear that hostilities had broken out at some time when he hadn’t been looking. All women were a total mystery to Kyle and those two were so scary that eventually he just closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep until they reached their next stop. Buddha didn’t seem to have an answer for this kind of stuff. Probably Maria would explain it all to him, instead, later...

In the seat next to Michael, Maria had been faintly uneasy since…well, she couldn’t recall just when it started, but, more importantly, she didn’t know exactly what was causing it. She wasn’t worried about their next moves – Michael had that planned out like a military campaign and she didn’t have to think about anything until they reached the interstate sometime after midnight. She tried to clear her mind so that the source of her unease might emerge from the tangle of her thoughts, but nothing happened. Finally, she gave up worrying about it. Whatever it was that was bothering her would make itself known when it was ready, so she settled back into the soft leather seat and dreamily watched the sun sink and the stars appear one by one in the cloudless summer night.

Around 8.30 they made a quick comfort stop at a small roadside gas station, while Kyle filled the Chevy’s tank in the fading light and Michael brewed much-needed hot coffee and chocolate to fill their travel mugs. Then Maria took over the wheel with Isobel riding next to her. Michael joined the other two in the second row seats as Liz moved to the middle between the two guys. Soon after, Michael hungrily raided a cooler for the sandwiches and fruit that Maria had thoughtfully packed for them at lunchtime, twisting round to reach it where Kyle had carefully placed it for easy access and handing them round to the others. Sharing another picnic meal on the road, an air of satisfaction descended on the occupants, made all the more intense for the rest of the group as they united in their refusal to allow Kyle to find another country music station.

The loaded Chevy cruised back towards I-70 as the night closed in, but of its passengers, only Liz slipped into sleep. Still high on the adrenaline rush of leaving River Falls Lake, the others were all beginning to take an interest in what lay ahead of them.

Isobel questioned Maria, remembering that she had been studying the map back at the gas station.

“So, do you think we’ll make it to Denver for breakfast?”

“No, but we should make it to Glenwood Springs as we’re gonna drive all night. Denver’s a three-hour drive after that. There’ll be time for some rest and relaxation in a real city.”

Both girls sighed pleasurably at the prospect of some retail therapy, even if they had to be careful about spending money.

“I can’t wait to hit the stores, even if I can’t afford to buy anything. At least we don’t need any more camping equipment, thank God. I’m all shopped out for the next century on that.”

Isobel was in total, whole-hearted agreement.

Michael spoke to Kyle over the head of the sleeping Liz, careful not to wake her.

“Still need to buy two more camp chairs, not gonna freeze my balls off on the cold ground any more…”

Kyle grinned at him in agreement, then came up with another suggestion that had first occurred to him earlier in the afternoon.

“Thinking I need to buy a personal radio too, so I can avoid smackdown by all you self-appointed music critics…”

Michael’s expression lightened up until he was almost smiling.

“I say go for it, Valenti. Let’s all have one, damn the expense. It nearly drove me nuts this afternoon trapped in the car with all that crap spewing out of the speakers.”

He rolled his eyes at an indignant protest from Maria in the driving seat. Then she grinned as she, too, recognised the benefits of the idea. He moved to see her beautiful green eyes in the rearview mirror and winked at her, even as they understood each other through their connection. God, she was so damned sexy and it could be days before - he stopped that thought in its tracks and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Better not go there right now…

Liz’s head suddenly dropped onto his shoulder and she tried to snuggle against him in her sleep. Michael reacted quicker than thought and shoved her back upright again so hard that she swung right over and landed on Kyle’s shoulder instead. Her reception there was much more friendly; Kyle only turned his face from the window in surprise and smiled affectionately down at her before looking back to the moonlit scenery outside.

The night wore on and Kyle took his turn at the wheel followed by Isobel and around 3 am they pulled over for the last time before joining Interstate-70. Appearances were changed again before Michael and Kyle took the opportunity to disguise the Chevy once more. The truck became deep blue and acquired Arizona plates while the big containers on its roof rack turned from green to dark gray. Liz was about to take over the wheel when Isobel remembered, with a shock of guilt, that she hadn’t yet contacted Max. When she reminded the others, they agreed that she should try to dreamwalk now before they moved on, while they were still in a deserted area.

Relaxing back into the comfortably tilted passenger seat, underneath a warm blanket, she closed her eyes against the interior light and tried to summon her brother’s face as she sank into sleep. Meanwhile, the others had piled on their warmest clothes to hang around outside the Chevy, trying not to disturb her concentration.

Liz, unprompted, quietly started to make hot coffee at the open tailgate for everyone while Kyle paced nervously up and down in the bright, cold moonlight, worried about the dreams again and determined to stay awake.

Michael and Maria stood wrapped together at the other side of the Chevy, her head against his chest and his chin resting on her hair. Neither felt much like talking, aloud or privately, so they waited, half-asleep, for Max’s news.

Liz called softly that coffee was ready and they all gathered round to drink it, glad of the warmth in the freezing night. Isobel seemed to be sleeping for far longer than necessary and as time stretched out with numbing slowness, anxiety warred with the need for patience and Maria broke first.

“God, WHAT is keeping her all this time? Michael, go check on her, make sure she’s not just fallen asleep…”

Her voice sounded loud as a shout in the infinite silence of the mountains under the starry night sky and the others all turned on her, furious in case she carelessly woke Isobel before the dreamwalk was complete. Maria shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes in token apology, but was still clearly impatient to find out what was happening. She gestured at the Chevy and frowned at Michael in the moonlight. This time she made sure to lean close and whisper.

“Something’s wrong. Isobel’s been asleep much too long. Wake her up, Michael. It’s time she woke up…”

Michael hesitated. Waking Isobel up before she was ready might not be such a great idea, but if she had really fallen asleep then they were just wasting time hanging around in the freezing darkness when they should be on their way. He looked round at the others, deciding that he would risk it and wake her anyway, when Liz spoke doubtfully.

“Maybe Max won’t tell Isobel anything because he’s too worried about Tess listening in…”

Michael swung round to look at her in surprise.


When she frowned and hesitated, Kyle straightened up from where he was leaning against the Chevy and spoke sharply.

“Liz, is this about the dreamwalk last night? Is there something you haven’t told us…?”

Liz shrugged and defended herself, still whispering like everyone else.

“Well, I guess when Isobel found out about the bug and Jesse, nothing else mattered. Then there was my vision and everything, so we both forgot. I only just remembered now.”

“Look, Liz, just tell us what you know, ok?”

Even Kyle’s patience was wearing a little thin when it was Isobel who might be in danger. Liz sighed and told them what she knew.

“Isobel spoke to Max twice last night. The first time she went into his dream she said that he was acting weird and he secretly told her that they weren’t alone – I guess he meant Tess - and not to tell him anything. I don’t know if that’s got anything to do with why Isobel is taking so long…”

Her voice trailed off as Isobel suddenly sat up. They all hung back a little as Michael cautiously approached to open the door, but at his beckoning gesture everyone thankfully returned to their seats inside the truck. The alien girl turned a worried and angry face to them all.

“I finally reached Max, but only briefly - now there’s like some kind of barrier there…. He said not to worry, he’d switched the bug without being caught, but then he pushed me out of the dream. I tried so hard to talk to him again, but it’s no good. He won’t let me back in…”

Isobel seemed torn between anger, hurt and worry but when the others wanted to talk about it she brusquely cut them off and closed her eyes, falling asleep again almost instantly. Liz looked round at Michael who shrugged and said they might as well head on out again. Just as she was about to start the engine Kyle stopped her.

“I’ll drive, Liz. You go get some sleep with the others. I’ll catch up later.”

So Liz changed places with him, settling in beside Maria who was already asleep on Michael’s shoulder as the Chevy headed down the highway once more, and soon only Kyle was awake and thinking about the day to come.

A couple of hours past dawn found them driving east on Interstate 70 among sparse traffic, headed towards breakfast at a fast food interchange somewhere near Glenwood Springs. Kyle finally pulled into the parking lot of a family diner and turned to look back at Michael, now roused to sleepy wakefulness. The prospect of breakfast was enough to lift their spirits and they exchanged a brief anticipatory grin as the girls slowly stirred.

The food was good and the two guys ate their now regular breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage links and tomatoes, with toast, juice and plenty of coffee. The girls took advantage of the opportunity for variety - Maria enjoying strawberry-topped buttermilk pancakes, Isobel choosing French toast with butter, syrup and Tabasco while Liz ordered oatmeal with honey and cream, adding a little Tabasco, too. They all took their time, not talking much, feeling sleepy and lethargic after their cramped, interrupted night in the Chevy. Isobel seemed withdrawn, although she ate her toast with enjoyment, and the others left her alone.

The waitress refilled their coffee cups again and moved on to other tables as the place filled up with early morning travellers. Michael stole a bite of Maria’s pancakes and she made a token protest, but as the group woke up the need to make plans for the new day ahead energised all of them.

“So, what do we want to do to pass the time until tonight? See what Glenwood Springs has to offer or push on into Denver…” Michael was more than happy for someone else to make a decision this morning. A break from responsibility had strong appeal to someone who had only recently taken on the heavy burden of leadership.

Maria and Isobel voted for the big city and Liz stalled indecisively, waiting to hear what Michael wanted before she committed herself. Kyle and Michael really didn’t care, as they knew that both options would inevitably involve major mall time.

Isobel and Maria carried the day against token opposition and the breakfast party soon left the diner and moved on towards Denver.

Four hours later they were viewing the downtown area of the city from a 16th Street Mall shuttle bus, the Chevy left behind in a parking lot near Market Street station.

Maria gazed out of the window at the cafés, boutiques and galleries, a big smile breaking out at the prospect of an afternoon in a major retail area.

“We all gonna eat together again or shall we split up and go find our own lunch today?”

All heads turned sharply to look at Maria, uncertainty warring with longing on every face. She smiled at her friends sitting around the back seats of the bus and continued in an undertone.

“Listen, I love you guys, but don’t pretend that you don’t long for a break from all the togetherness…”

“Yes, but is it safe to split up, Maria? I thought the whole point was to stay together?” Liz turned to look at Michael. “Is it really a good idea?”

He hesitated, thinking about it while he looked warily round at their fellow passengers. Luckily, the bus wasn’t full and nobody was close enough to overhear their conversation, but he still kept his voice low.

“The park was too isolated for us to risk being split up, but here I think it’s different. It’s much more public, we can get lost in the crowd and there’s more chances to hide or escape if we suspect anything’s wrong. Also, we aren’t going to be so easily identified if we’re not hanging around in a group today. So, yeah, let’s take some time out.”

There was an undeniable air of relief from everyone except Liz when he looked round at them all. She still looked uncertain and he had a sinking feeling that once again he wasn’t going to have Maria entirely to himself. However, he reckoned without his girlfriend.

***We’ll meet up later, Michael, and have some time for just us, ok? First we need a little space, Spaceboy…***

She could feel his profound relief at finally getting some alone time, even from her, and she knew he could feel her acceptance of that need. Their new connection was beginning to give them both a deeper understanding and tolerance of the other’s complexities, now that they finally knew for certain their love was secure and unconditional.

***Yeah, princess, sounds good to me, but I think Parker could be planning to tag along with you…she’s got that look in her eye again***

***I’ll spend some time with you both, ‘k? Lunch with Liz first, then shopping and then I’ll come find you, Spaceboy***

Maria was already sweeping the others along with her.

“I’ve still got most of my $50 personal stash left, and I think you all must have, too, but we’ll need some more if we’re all going to buy a personal radio each, like you said, Michael.” She didn’t wait for his agreement, but carried on bubbling away with her plans while he sighed and reached for his billfold. “This is our last chance to spend a little while we still can. Let’s split up and all go our separate ways until we meet up for dinner.”

The enthusiastic response revealed, as if they didn’t know already, just how stressful it was living so close together in isolation for so long. Each of them involuntarily pictured the long, empty months ahead and then hurriedly blanked the thought, concentrating on the here and now which offered unexpected respite. The group arranged to meet up later and left the shuttle bus at the far end of the long street, heading off in different directions with the first real sense of freedom since before they’d left Roswell.

Michael immediately disappeared among the lunchtime crowd of workers and tourists.

Kyle welcomed the chance to just spend some time away from the others, idly catching up with the sports news in the papers and watching the world go by over coffee and doughnuts at a shady table outside an espresso bar in the tree-lined street.

Isobel was delighted to be back in a civilised, sophisticated city where she could forget her troubles and be an anonymous tourist for a while. She, too, found a shady café table where she could eat a healthy salad and relax a little, although she still kept a wary eye out for anything suspicious.

Maria loved the array of quirky shops and galleries to explore on her way to meet up with Michael later. She remembered her promise to lunch with Liz and invited her to discuss their shopping plans over iced tea and warm cinnamon rolls at a small bakery nearby. She was surprised when Liz refused, preferring to spend the afternoon on her own like the others, but Maria bought a fashion magazine and enjoyed her solitary lunch all the same.

Liz didn’t need food. She just needed time alone to cool her fevered thoughts before she began to stalk Michael…


Chapter Fourty-Five: Shop ‘til you drop…

The long afternoon hours stretched ahead promising a freedom all the more precious because they didn’t know when the chance would be offered again. After more than a week of living too close together in the Chevy and then in the isolation of the park, the noise and bustle of the busy city seemed almost overwhelming by contrast.

Isobel, looking wearily around at the people strolling past going about their normal, human lives in a way that was no longer a possibility for her, felt the familiar shadow of envy and loneliness she’d lived with all her life until first Alex and then Jesse had promised to rescue her from the dragon. Cruel fate had snatched her dreams away each time she’d allowed herself to believe they might come true. Every plan she made to build a quiet, happy life for herself was brutally demolished. Now all she had was her grief at leaving her parents behind, her raw, cold-burning hate for Jesse who betrayed her to her enemies, and now a gnawing fear for Max, out there alone and unreachable.

The thought brought back all the pain she’d tried to suppress since Max had blocked their dreamwalk connection. She didn’t know what to do about that, except keep trying to get through to him. Frustration and despair threatened to overwhelm her and she fought to regain control of herself. Isobel Evans – not Ramirez, no, never again would she think of herself by that name – Isobel Evans would never display her private emotions in public. A few moments later she was her cool, calm self once more, but the loneliness stayed with her like a physical pain.

She moved her chair to get another view of the street as she sipped her coffee, making it last, and her bleak gaze found a small espresso bar across the way. At once a tide of warmth rose in her ice-bound heart at the sight of Kyle at one of the small tables outside, relaxed and reading the papers as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He was always there for her, and she felt bad for him now that Tess had apparently come back from the dead to cause havoc again with her wayward brother and, for some reason, with Kyle, too.

As she watched, a blonde girl sat down across from him and he looked up to smile at her…

Kyle was instinctively wary of strangers now, but when a pretty girl asked to share his table he still found it easy to respond when she tried to start a friendly conversation with him. Contact with anyone other than the group was a welcome novelty and soon they were laughing together and she was telling him about the free summer concert to be held later that evening a few blocks along the street. He was genuinely sorry to have to tell her he wasn’t free to meet her there later. She was a pretty hot chick and he would have liked to see her again, but it was just impossible. Still, she was friendly and accepted his refusal with equanimity, continuing to give him a local’s insight to the other attractions of her city, apparently happy to flirt and enjoy his company until her lunch hour was over.

Across the way, Isobel bristled with sudden possessive jealousy. Kyle was her friend, only she was allowed to laugh with him like that, it was her special bond with him. No one else had the right, certainly not some pretty, summer blonde bitch who leaned in too close and touched his arm as she pointed out something further along the street. Before she realised what she was doing Isobel was hurrying over to the charming little scene outside the café all set to break it up.

It was only when she was almost on top of them that she suddenly came to her senses.

Abruptly changing course, Isobel walked on along the street, averting her eyes from the sight of Kyle so absorbed in conversation with the girl that he never even noticed her pass close by. Cheeks burning with embarrassment, Isobel hurried into a shop at random, almost in shock at how near she’d come to making a total fool of herself in public. Damn, what the hell was she thinking? Kyle had a perfect right to talk to anyone he wanted to. Isobel told herself that, but she didn’t really believe it. He was her friend. Kyle had been - she finally realized - her best friend for a long time now, since Alex died and even after her marriage. He made her laugh as no one else ever had and he was always there for her. How could he be making some other girl laugh when it should be her sitting with him in the sunshine at the little table outside the bar?

All her life Isobel had no real friends, other than Max and Michael who were her brothers which wasn’t at all the same, until Alex had patiently wooed and won her trust and finally - too late - her love. Only Maria, of the female humans in the ‘I know an alien’ club, had offered tentative friendship after Alex had died and was now becoming the close girlfriend that Isobel always secretly longed for. Liz could never be a real friend, however much time they would be forced to spend together in the future. They’d always been too territorial over Max to even try.

It was Kyle Valenti, Buddhist ex-jock and reluctant alien conspirator, who, incredibly, had somehow become the best friend she’d never had; closer even than Alex had been because there was no pressure for more than she could give and so she could let herself be totally relaxed and amused in his company.

Now, here she was, childishly jealous because her best friend was playing with somebody else. Isobel sternly told herself to grow up, as she left the shop without registering anything about its contents. Just because Kyle was her best friend didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy another girl’s company. She didn’t own him.

And she certainly didn’t have any deeper feelings for him.

Wandering along in the mid-day sunshine, she focused her thoughts firmly on window-shopping until her agitation gradually subsided. Retail therapy was such a cliché, but sometimes it really worked. Isobel strolled on, the Ice Queen in command once more.

Further along the street, Michael had bought himself a peach Snapple and a chilli dog, as well as a paper for news and the sports section, and sat on a bench under some trees near a splashy fountain to eat his lunch and catch up with the world. He was relieved to be alone at last, although the faint stream of Maria’s feelings somewhere in his mind was a necessary comfort he couldn’t live without now.

There was no reference in the paper to Roswell and he guessed that all the recent events so vivid in his memory were old news now, for which he was grateful. He turned to the sports pages and lost himself for a while.

Liz had found Michael quite easily after a determined search of the area and watched him intently from a bench further back along the street, out of his line of sight. She’d no intention of making contact with him yet, she just needed to be near him for now and allow herself the pleasure of gazing freely at him unobserved. Later on she planned to corner him while they were away from the others, and maybe further her plan to get close to him by asking for help with her powers. She knew that he was already becoming more aware of her and she had no doubt that he would soon recognise that they were meant to be together. It just needed persistence on her part to make him see reason. Avidly watching Michael’s sensual face and tall, muscular body from a short distance away, Liz’s over-heated mind began to weave fantasies and time passed happily for her as she made plans for their future together.

Thirty minutes later, she had ignored two attempts at conversation by strangers sharing her bench – one young guy and an elderly woman - who just wanted to pass the time of day and she was beginning to get bored and irritated as Michael continued to just sit reading in the shade. It was far too soon to make her move – only 12.30 – and she wanted to wait until later so that she could choose the right moment, when he was tired and thirsty with the heat, to pounce.

Meanwhile, she was uncomfortably hot and thirsty herself, so she took a risk and went to get herself a cold cherry coke while he was still engrossed in his paper. On her return, only a few minutes later, he was gone and she panicked. Then she spotted him climbing on board a shuttle bus and rushed to follow him, arriving just too late as the door closed in her face.

Fretting angrily at losing him, she caught the next one that came along, luckily close behind, and set off on his trail until she saw him alight from the bus ahead and quickly jumped off to follow him again.

Michael normally hated shopping and now he had a whole afternoon to kill, so after he’d returned to the Radio Shack he’d noticed on their first shuttle journey and bought a pocket radio he found himself at a loss for what to do next. Lacking any other ideas, he picked up a free retail map and took another shuttle ride back to Lower Downtown to find the only store that caught his interest – a place that stocked classic motorcycles. Moving on from there he was amazed to find how much enjoyment he got from browsing through the many art galleries around the area and the long afternoon passed in unaccustomed pleasure, with the added prospect of private time with Maria at the end of it.

He had glimpsed one or two of the others in his wanderings, but they were far enough away to ignore and they made no attempt to catch his attention either. They all needed the luxury of time out from the group as much as he did.

The clouds had gathered over the city during the afternoon and the sudden warning mutter of a thunderstorm around 4.30 made him seek shelter inside a gallery that shared space with a coffee shop. He ordered a doubleshot espresso, loaded extra sugar and prepared to wait out the storm, meanwhile examining the paintings and artefacts with interest. The rain had begun to fall heavily when the door opened and Liz Parker walked in. Her tired face lit up when she saw him and she made her way directly over to join him.

The revelatory pleasures of his afternoon in the LoDo galleries had mellowed Michael to the extent that he didn’t even glower at Liz in his usual manner; instead he mentally shrugged in resignation and even offered to buy her a coffee while she dried herself off from the rain with tissues from her pack. The storm would keep everyone inside for a while, and it was just his luck that she’d found the same place as him to shelter. He just wished Maria had found him instead.

Liz was ecstatic that her plan had finally worked, if only through luck. No need to find an excuse to be with him – Michael didn’t even seem curious as to why she was there, just accepted her presence and, she thought with a thrill of excitement, was pleased to see her. The long, tiring hours spent walking round all the shopping areas trying to find him were instantly forgotten now he was close beside her.

Michael felt no obligation to talk to her – he felt he’d done more than enough just by getting her coffee – but she obviously didn’t feel the same way because she began to talk softly, shifting her chair closer to him and leaning in as she asked what he’d done with his time. Her innocent question automatically made his hackles rise. He didn’t want to tell her anything. His newfound interest was his own secret, to be shared only with Maria when he was ready. Telling Liz Parker would spoil it and he had no intention of doing that so he ignored her question and instead made the effort to deflect her curiosity by asking about her own afternoon in the city.

Liz couldn’t admit that she had spent the time searching for him; had, in fact, lost him for most of the afternoon when he’d taken the second bus, only finding him again by chance when she’d come in out of the rain. So she gave vague answers and displayed the radio she’d managed to quickly buy as soon as he’d picked up his own purchase at Radio Shack earlier.

A silence fell between them, uncomfortable on Michael’s part. He had nothing to say to her that didn’t relate to Max or Tess and he really didn’t want to discuss the dreams in public for practical security reasons quite apart from his sympathy for her pain, which he genuinely felt despite his personal dislike of the girl. Max the ass*hole had treated her with selfish cruelty and Liz was obviously still suffering deeply, but it seemed to have brought out the worst in her, all her most selfish, insensitive traits coming to the fore so that she’d lashed out to inflict pain on her best friend and then gone on to antagonise and isolate herself from the rest of the group…

Thinking about this, Michael found he actually had a reluctant sympathy for her in that respect: all his life his spiky, arrogant attitude had masked the deep pain and vulnerability inside and it was only the stubborn strength of Maria’s love that had finally rescued him. He now thought he understood what was fuelling Liz Parker’s attitude and would maybe cut her a little slack in future…

It dawned on him then that, despite his reluctance, he would have to talk to Liz about her… feelings. He couldn’t go on ignoring it any more, though he desperately wanted to. Their last encounter had been a confrontation he hadn't forgotten, but this would be even worse. Discussing any kind of emotional stuff with anyone other than Maria was anathema to Michael and he would give a lot to just run far away right now, but this might be the only chance he got to get through to Liz as the rain that had trapped them alone together showed no sign of stopping.

He sighed and looked up from his coffee to catch her eyes briefly, only to look away. He found he couldn’t bring himself to hold her gaze for very long; something in the dark depths disturbed him in an unpleasant way he couldn’t define. He had a sudden memory of Maria confessing that she thought Liz was a little unbalanced and he suddenly knew exactly what she meant.

He gathered his courage and embarked on the ordeal before he lost his nerve.

“So, looks like it’s just you and me until the rain stops…”

There was a long pause while she just smiled more brightly at him but didn’t speak. He tried again.

“I…er…I wanted to ask you how you’re doin’. Like, how are you feeling about… you know, er…things?” He hesitated, already lost for words. He stared down into his coffee again. This wasn’t going so good…

Then Liz’s small hand clasped his in reassurance and, with a supreme effort, he stopped himself from instinctively recoiling and sat there mute as his skin crawled at her touch. Then he gently retracted his hand to scratch an eyebrow in his own characteristic nervous gesture...

Liz didn’t even notice his reaction. She was lost in her fantasies again, triggered by the act of being alone with him in a public place, and he was asking about her feelings just as if they were already a couple.

“I’m fine, Michael, really. You’re so sweet to be concerned about me, but I’m ok…”

She looked dreamily into his eyes as she said this, and reached out to squeeze his forearm, which so disconcerted him that he was forced into hurried speech on the forbidden topics just to move past the shock.

“But… well, there’s Max – he's been an ass*hole... I know it must be hard to deal...the Tess thing, too…” he trailed off, uncertain how to continue.

“Oh, Max…” Liz dismissed her former soul mate with an airy wave of her hand. “Max is history, as far as I’m concerned. Tess is welcome to him, if she wants him. I don’t care any more, Michael. I’ve moved on from that and I have a far more…satisfying…future planned.”

Her voice dropped to a breathy whisper and she gave him a sudden hot, meaningful stare from beneath her lashes that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up in fright. Oh, God, was she...? Surely she couldn’t be… hitting on him? But Liz’s expression was now blandly innocent again. No, he must be hallucinating from lack of sleep. Yeah, that would be it. Liz had looked exhausted, too, when she first came in. The sooner they all got some real rest – no more weird Max n’ Tess dreams would help - the sooner they’d all get back to some kind of normal.

He cast around for a safer topic of conversation but could think of nothing that didn’t have the potential for emotional landmines. Luckily, Liz carried on talking as if she hadn’t noticed his odd reaction.

“I know my old dreams have been crushed by everything that’s happened…”

Her voice and expression faltered for a moment and Michael saw a flash of real agony cross her face, but it was gone so fast he almost missed it. She recovered her composure and carried on.

“ That means I just have to build new and even better dreams, right?”

Michael nodded encouragingly. She was only saying what he’d been thinking himself lately and he couldn’t agree more. A plan to make a better life for Maria and himself was slowly forming in the back of his mind, still nebulous and uncertain, but a dream he was determined to make come true one day. Now Liz was fighting through her pain and he dropped his guard a little to offer some support and reassurance.

“Yeah, dreams and plans are what’s gonna get us through this and into a real good future. We just have to make sure they’re attainable and that we fight hard for what we really want…”

Her face lit up again at what she took as a deliberate declaration to her that he understood her message, that soon he would dump Maria and then he would be hers forever... She hugged herself in delight. Soon…

Michael was a little stunned to hear himself reveal a private and personal philosophy to Liz Parker, of all people, and his first reaction was to leave the scene of the crime, but there was no escape. She was speaking again, staring at him earnestly and leaning in too close, so he edged away from her.

“It won’t be so very long before we can make real plans for the future. Our dreams will come true this time; I just know it and I know you do, too, Michael… Oh, I can't wait, can you?”

Her sickeningly sweet optimism suddenly irritated him, although he had agreed with her a moment ago. He knew that running was no longer an option but then he grinned to himself, as he realized not every escape route was closed to him. He asked if she wanted anything else, was spooked by the weird little insane giggle she gave before she responded, and then he rose to step over to the counter and fetch more coffee for them both.

There were other customers waiting out the rain, too, and a lively group of ladies discussing their purchases at a nearby table had drowned out their low-toned conversation. Then, as he moved away, he thought he heard a quiet voice behind him.

“Hurry back, Michael… honey...”

Trying to convince himself he’d misheard in the general hubbub of conversation, he nevertheless cringed with horrified embarrassment. Maybe a tripleshot this time would give his tired brain the jolt it needed.
He turned involuntarily to look back at Liz and found her huge, brown eyes fixed unblinkingly on him from across the room. Michael panicked and sent a querulous demand to Maria to quit whatever insane shopping frenzy was keeping her away from him and come find him fast. He needed her real bad… Her answering thought was startled, but reassuring – she was already on her way. He gave her hurried directions and was thankful that the place was busy and the line was slow. Whether through his own exhaustion or not, Liz was making him uncomfortable and inside himself he knew there was something off about the whole business.

Only a few minutes later his order was ready and he had no choice but to return to Liz waiting for him at the table.

Her expression was so calm and relaxed that he almost convinced himself he’d misread her earlier attitude and that his mind was playing tricks through the exhaustion that was catching up with him fast. That issue in itself was cause for concern as he needed to be alert for the safety of the group. After tonight, he’d have to make sure he got enough undisturbed sleep somehow or he’d be no good for anything.

Liz immediately started to make suggestions for dinner, in the light of their - carefully unspecified in public - plans for later. He stayed silent, savoring his coffee and waiting for the caffeine hit, while she carefully listed the pros and cons of the many varieties of food available in the city, her meticulous reduction of the choices down to a shortlist of one – Chinese – only serving to reinforce his long-held opinion that she was a world-class bore. His teasing contribution that they should live a little on their one night in the city and go for pizza was greeted with a disapproving frown, quickly followed by a reasoned argument against it. He really didn’t care, just wanted to keep her talking about nothing until Maria found him.

Liz was just happy and thrilled to be alone with him; able to help him with the decision on the most suitable food to eat that night as a prelude to the more important plans she would be consulted on when they were leading the group together.

Just then, Michael looked up and an expression of fierce love and relief swept over his face. Liz closed her eyes in a moment of true ecstasy as a burning flush rose up over her throat and face, her heart thumped loudly in her chest and she knew that her plan had worked sooner even than she had expected. He had finally woken up and recognised that she was the logical choice for him. Light-headed with delirious joy she leaned shyly towards him in trembling anticipation of their first kiss, only to look up and find he was gone. Turning in confusion she saw, with a burst of bewilderment and rage, that Maria was in Michael’s arms and he was smiling down at her like nobody else existed.

Liz stood up, grabbed her pack and pushed blindly past them out into the rain-washed street…


Chapter Fourty-Six

Maria dragged Michael back to the table Liz had just vacated and demanded first a kiss, then a coffee and finally an explanation.

The place had rapidly emptied after the storm passed over and only a few customers remained. The kiss was necessarily restrained in public, to the frustration of both, and so Michael went over to the counter, where the barista now greeted him like a brother, and brought a caramel latte back to her before she’d even run out of questions for him.

***One at a time, princess, slow down. I couldn’t tell you before because Liz was here watching me and she was part of the problem, ok?***

***You felt like you were having such a good time without me, Spaceboy, that I didn’t rush to find you until I could feel you getting…uncomfortable, I guess, but it didn’t feel urgent until you told me to hurry. What’s wrong?***

Maria’s hand reached for his and her touch was at once thrilling and comforting, so different from Liz’s earlier that he lifted it briefly to his lips in an uncharacteristic gesture of relief at her presence, and kept hold of it as he told her what had happened.

“I guess I must be so tired that I’m losin’ it, Maria. Liz was here, sheltering from the storm, and I could have sworn she was… hitting on me. It was like a waking nightmare. Gotta get some real rest soon, princess. All these broken nights have finally caught up with me. My mind is playing tricks from lack of sleep…”

Maria frowned thoughtfully back at him.

“Don’t be so sure, Michael. I mean, ok, we’re all short of sleep and you’re right that it’s starting to catch up with us, but I’m not so certain you’re just imagining what Liz was up to…”

Michael laughed uneasily.

“Liz Parker hittin’ on me? No way, Maria, get real. She’s never even liked me, always tried to ignore my existence, and God knows it’s mutual. Anyway, she had this weird look in her eyes, too – I can’t explain it, but it spooked me…”

“I guess I find it hard to believe she’d hit on you, too, except that she’s changed so much since Max left and I just don’t trust her any more. You know I’ve - I’ve had this weird feeling about Liz for a while. She’s angry and hostile, not just about Max and the Tess dreams, but with me, too, when she isn’t avoiding me. ”

She looked anxiously at him, biting her lip, half wanting him to tell her she was imagining it, too. He didn’t. He just nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, I know…you thought she was losin’ it and I guess you’re right, if she’s hittin’ on me.”

Looking back over the last week, Maria remembered her own disquiet about the almost hostile attitude Liz had taken towards her, ignoring her existence except for moments of extreme stress when she reverted to desperate affection. There was at least an obvious reason for that, one she couldn’t avoid any more. She hesitated, trying to sort out her thoughts.

“The thing is, looking back at her behavior since Max hurt her again, I think that she’s jealous of us, Michael. Well, of me, really…”

Michael shrugged.

“We’re a given, she’ll just have to suck it up. Anyway, we’ve been low-key about it, kept things private between us, like we always did. Ok, well, maybe except when we fight.” He grinned at the memories. " But the lovin' - that's just for us."

“Well, she has been turning up at the wrong moments, remember, and we didn’t exactly act pleased to see her… I know that obsessive look she gets, too. I think that’s what worries me most, I guess.”

“Even if she’s really moved on from Max this time – and I hafta say I don’t completely buy it; she’s said that before and taken him back, you know that, Maria - it still doesn’t explain why she would hit on me. Parker must know you’re the only one I want – God, could it be more obvious? – and there’s no way I would even look at her. Doesn’t make sense.”

“Maybe she doesn’t really believe that we’re together forever now… After all, she’s seen how hard we’ve had to struggle to make it work.” Maria’s green eyes darkened as a thought occurred to her. “Besides, you’re the leader now and she’s always set her sights on the best... I should know that, I’ve been the ‘wacky best friend’ to her ‘famous Harvard scientist’ ambitions all our lives. Maybe she thinks we’re not going to last and she’ll have a chance with you…”

Michael snorted in derision and Maria pursued her argument, trying to convince herself as much as him.

“Liz said herself she’s trying to move on from Max now and she always said to be in control of your life, you had to have a plan. I think maybe she’s making a new plan to replace the one she lost…”

“Yeah, she said something like that to me when we were talking. Anyway, leaving aside the fact that she knows I can’t stand her, never have - God, just thinking about it makes me nauseous…”

His lips twisted in disgust at the thought and Maria couldn’t help herself – she just had to kiss him again…

Getting reluctantly back to the subject of Liz a little later, Michael continued to voice his disbelief.

“Still don’t think she’d go for me. It must be clear to anyone I’m not interested. If she really needs another guy so soon after Max, Kyle would make more sense. He likes her a lot, he’s been very supportive and he’s available. Liz has been friendly with him all along, apart from his Tess episode, so surely she’d go for him if she was going for either of us….”

Maria just shook her head at him.

“You’re thinking from a guy’s point of view, Michael.”

Michael looked confused. What was so wrong with that?

“Any girl would know that because Kyle also has a history with Tess plus now a direct link to her and Max through the dreams, Liz wouldn’t touch him in a million years… No, I think it’s you she’s after, Spaceboy...”

Michael looked at her in horror while she grinned wickedly back at him, enjoying the reaction. Then she became serious again.

Although she could feel that Michael was getting near to exhaustion from the stress of new responsibilities and lack of sleep, she also knew that he hadn’t just imagined Liz’s approach to him. The idea so repulsed him that he would rather think his own mind was playing tricks than admit that she had hit on him, but Maria was becoming convinced that was the truth of it.

She felt angry, hurt and sad all at the same time. Maria knew that Liz was no threat but she wasn’t going to forgive her this time. Betrayal didn’t take any worse form than trying to steal your best friend’s boyfriend. All trust in their childhood friendship was gone, now that – hard as it was to believe - Liz had tried to hit on Michael.

Michael still couldn’t seriously believe that Liz wanted him, but Maria was convinced and he accepted that she knew her former best friend better than he did. And, on the plus side, at least that meant his mind was still functioning - for the moment, anyway - although he didn’t know how long that would last.

“So, what are we gonna do about her?” He really hadn’t a clue and looked helplessly at Maria, whom he could feel simmering with shock, anger and lingering disbelief.

“We can’t do anything at the moment. She’d just deny it and she’d be believed. It could cause problems for you as leader because it won’t make sense to Isobel and Kyle that she would do that to me or to you, especially when you’ve never bothered to hide your opinion of her.”

“Then what are we supposed to do, Maria? Ignore each other because she has jealousy issues? Like that’s gonna happen. We’re together and we’re not going to hide it from anyone. She can deal or she can take a hike, as far as I’m concerned, but she’s not gonna take it out on you…”

His cold anger was beginning to burn in the pit of his stomach and Maria sent him a soothing assurance that Liz's game wasn't worth his time.

***She can't hurt me any more than she already has by destroying our friendship... We know what she's up to now and I guess all we can do is watch and wait to see what she does next, Michael***

***Yeah, you’ll just have to stay close 24/7, princess, for protection…***

He felt her mood lighten a little, saw her faint grin, and was relieved to see a brief flash of mischief come back into her eyes.

***Your protection or mine, Spaceboy?***

***Mine, of course - gonna make damn sure I’m never left alone with her*** He turned serious again. “God, she’s such a pain in the ass…just what we need with all the Tess stuff goin’ on.”

“Kyle’s stressed, too, and he’s stopped trying to hide it. He just tries to avoid sleeping at night. He must be exhausted, too.”

“Yeah, and Iz is barely holding it together now Max has blocked her on top of everything else. Don’t know how any of us get any sleep at all with that hangin’ over us every night.”

Maria sighed heavily, resting her chin on her free hand as Michael still held the other one. Leaving the families behind in Roswell was hard enough, but now they all had this extra stuff to deal with on top of everything else. Michael’s anxiety levels were rising even as they spoke and she cursed herself for reminding him of his responsibilities. She’d never known him so relaxed and untroubled as he had been that afternoon, unless it was with her. Something had interested him in a way entirely different to anything she’d felt from him before. Maria didn’t yet know what it was but anything that made her Spaceboy feel like that was to be encouraged and now Liz, selfishly adding to his troubles, had deprived him of it.

Michael leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, his near exhaustion suddenly apparent both on his face and in his mind.

Maria stared anxiously at her boyfriend, more worried about him than this new Liz problem on their hands.

***Are you going to be ok for tonight, Spaceboy? We could delay the plan until tomorrow night and you could get some rest…***

Tiredness made him suddenly irritable and he snapped angrily back at her, annoyed that she thought he wasn’t up to it.

***I’m fine, Maria, just leave it, ok. We gotta do it tonight, can’t hang around here any longer than we need to, you know that***

Maria wasn’t going to back down, even though she could feel his temper smoldering under a suddenly fragile control. She admired the strength that had kept his hot temper under tight reign for so long despite the many provocations he’d had in his new role as leader of the group, but he needn’t think she would let him brush her concern aside without a fight.

*** I will not leave it, Michael. I can feel you’re nearly exhausted and if a good night’s sleep is what it takes to recharge your energies, then we take a break tonight, no question. We all need it anyway, but you are the one who needs it most because you bear all the worry and responsibility for our safety***

There was no pity or blame in her concern for him and he really knew he had no need to be defensive, although he’d been dangerously close to exploding at her. He could feel her love and anxiety through their connection and he bit back his sharp retort because she didn’t deserve it.

***Even if I agreed to it, there’s no guarantee that Tess and Max making trouble won’t interrupt it. No, princess, I can go through with the plan tonight and then, ok, we find a motel and crash all day tomorrow. Deal?***

***Deal, Spaceboy***

Maria leaned over towards him to claim his lips softly and seal their bargain, but as her tongue slid teasingly into his mouth she felt his hand slide down the back of her shorts to find and trace his mark still on her ass. She gave a tiny, surprised gasp as she recognized the familiar signal of his intent… She drew back and looked deep into his eyes, the glow in her own reflecting the rush of excitement she could feel flood through his mind, driving away his exhaustion. There was no need for words, aloud or silent, as she kissed him again with a demure outward restraint that couldn’t hide her inner passion for him, open as she was to him in every way.

They were still lost in each other when the friendly barista came over and warned them that the place was closing in ten. All the other customers had gone and Maria told the guy they needed to use the facilities before they left. He shrugged ok, and went to bus the tables as Michael unhooked the rope barrier and followed her up the stairs to the main gallery, his jeans already feeling too tight as his mounting excitement soared with hers.

There were two doors on the far side, gender-specific, and Maria automatically chose the ladies’ room. Michael was close behind her, pressing her back against the closed door, his hands reaching under her top to roughly pinch and massage the breasts already freed from her bra on the way across the wide, deserted gallery.

He kissed her hungrily, and Maria pushed at her shorts so they slid down her legs to pool at her feet, along with her panties. They both looked to find the reflection of his initial, his mark of possession, faint but still visible on her asscheek in the mirror on the opposite wall, and a hot, electric thrill shot though her pussy as she stared at the mark, knowing beyond certainty that she belonged to Michael forever and he belonged to her.

She quickly kicked both feet free as he tugged frantically on the zipper of his jeans, desperate to release his cock so she could fasten her lips around it’s thick length as he leaned back against the cool, tiled wall and moaned, twisting his fingers in her hair. Slowly sliding her hot mouth up and down as far as she could reach, then varying the speed and pressure - teasing him lightly with her teeth so that he shivered and sucked in his breath sharply - using her soft hands to caress the rest of his shaft, she licked and swirled her tongue round the sensitive tip as his world narrowed to the feel of her delicious heat engulfing him. He fought to retain enough control to hold on until he just couldn’t wait any longer to enter the tight, wet, molten heaven between her thighs and watch her face and share the sensation as she screamed his name in the heat of her own ecstasy. He pulled back from her to help her to stand shakily up again, then he lifted her up with his hands on her smooth, satiny ass so she could wrap her arms round his neck, her slim legs round his hips, ready to impale herself on his slick, eager cock. Moving his mouth to her breasts, he licked and sucked and bit at them greedily as she threw back her head and her body arched in uncontrollable pleasure. The intensity of sensation combined with the need to be quick were sending them both to new heights of lust and the animalistic noises coming from Maria’s red, swollen lips made Michael frantic to drive himself even deeper inside her, digging his fingers into the yielding softness of her ass and provoking an even wilder response from her, making her push and twist herself down on to him harder to meet his powerful thrusts as she moaned and growled and panted her passionate need for him. He had her pressed back against the wall now, plunging deep inside her, responding to his own desperate desire and her very vocal encouragement.

Their climax was fast and explosive, the alien special effects leaving them both dazed with bliss to slide breathlessly entwined to the cool, hard floor.

It was Maria who struggled away from him to the vanity unit to hurriedly freshen herself up and pull her panties and shorts on again, scolding him when he playfully tried to delay their leaving, ignoring her agitation that the place was closing up and they’d already been more than the ten minutes allotted.

Downstairs again, the barista had turned the sign to ‘closed’ and was sitting at a table with a book and a coffee of his own as he waited for them. He looked up with a wide, knowing grin and waved them towards the door with a flourish.

Michael displayed his usual air of detachment, just nodding coolly at the guy in thanks, while Maria blushed in belated realization that he’d undoubtedly heard them in the empty, airy silence of the place.

Outside, the sun had returned and the evening was warm as they wandered towards the main street, in no rush as they still had nearly two hours before they were due to meet up with their friends. Hands - and minds - linked, they strolled contentedly along together oblivious to the after-work crowds. Michael’s blood still sang with the mind-spinning electricity of their brief, almost brutal encounter but his need for some sleep was now doubly acute, while Maria was languid and dreamy with the afterglow.

Ten minutes later, stretched out on a tree-shaded bench with his head in Maria’s lap, Michael gratefully closed his eyes and was instantly asleep, recovering from their recent exertions while she watched lovingly over him, stroking his hair and letting the sparkle of alien-induced sexual satisfaction drift slowly through her mind and body…

Further back along the street, Isobel emerged from a designer boutique with a dress she’d instantly coveted so much that she’d used her counterfeiting talents to an extent that she knew would, at some hopefully much later date, drive Michael into a fury when he discovered it.

She had no qualms herself about her activities in that area. There was so much counterfeit money floating around the country that hers would be a drop in the ocean and untraceable to them by the time it was discovered, most likely not for months or even years to come. She’d also taken their now automatic precaution of temporarily pausing the nearest security cameras before she entered the shop, so that she wouldn’t be caught on film. She and Michael had the technique down to an art now, so that just the few relevent frames which could identify them were missed from the tape which quietly resumed filming after they'd passed by. Their presence in Denver would be hard to trace. Kyle and the girls were not so invisible, but their disguises were good enough to protect them and they weren't carrying counterfeit.

Her purchase, on impulse, had been a dress that she knew at once was meant for Maria, a tiny lace and satin confection of sparkly green sea-foam that would match her eyes and give Michael heart-failure. Isobel was planning to be there to see his reaction when the occasion for her friend to wear the gift presented itself some day. Meanwhile, the act of spending money – several hundred dollars – had soothed her as nothing else could.

They had all committed the others’ new disguises to memory for safety and so, a few minutes later, she had no difficulty recognising a mouse-brown, curly-headed Liz walking ahead of her and automatically slowed down a little to avoid catching her up. Isobel wasn't yet ready to speak to anyone else in the group; her afternoon of solitude was too precious to end just yet. Time out had given her a respite from her troubles and she was reluctant to return to reality.

Liz crossed the street and went to sit at a secluded sidewalk table within the shadow of a large café sunshade. Something in her manner – the stiffness of her posture or the angle of her head as she stared fixedly along the street – caught Isobel’s attention and she paused to follow the other girl’s gaze.

She saw that Michael and Maria were relaxing on a bench several yards further ahead under the meridian avenue of trees that shaded the street. Michael's head was in her lap and he appeared to be asleep as Maria stroked his hair with a soft, dreamy look on her face. Isobel smiled affectionately through her own suddenly-revived pain and would have walked on by if she hadn’t happened to glance back at Liz and surprised a nakedly ugly, unpleasant expression on her face. Curiosity piqued, the alien girl boldly moved over to take a table at the same café, but on the other side of the enclosure and more discreetly at the back. Liz didn’t notice her arrival; the romantic little scene with the lovers claimed her whole attention, except when the busy waitress brought a glass of water so she could swallow a couple of painkillers. Isobel wasn't surprised that she had a headache from the intensity of her stare.

She had been truly sympathetic to Liz’s plight when Max had abandoned her to run after Tess and had made an effort to be supportive to the heartbroken girl. Her own pain gave her a special insight that might even have forged a future friendship that in the past had been difficult for them both. Her patience with Liz had gradually been eroded as the days passed and the girl made no attempt to join in with the rest of them; instead her attitude and behavior were becoming increasingly erratic and bizarre.

This latest example increased her growing suspicion that Liz had become interested in Michael and, after discreetly changing the designer bag to something more everyday and less noticeable, she settled back to order an iced tea and study the situation unseen.

Outrage at Liz’s treatment of Maria the day before had driven Isobel to point out the error of her ways and destroy any hopes of bonding in the near future, but she didn’t yet know if it had done any good. Only time would tell on that one. Now, here Liz was apparently spying on her best friend. Isobel tried to ignore the uncomfortable fact that she herself was doing something not too dissimilar and told herself firmly that her own motives were pure.

Over the next hour none of the protagonists moved from their positions, except that both the watchers in the café ordered snacks and refills, to support their cover stories.

Isobel was terminally bored, but couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that Liz was up to something and had to be watched, so when a shadow blocked her view she moved her head impatiently to see round the irritating interruption without registering who was standing there, until the figure moved and sat down, uninvited, next to her.

Turning with icy hauteur to see who had the temerity to invade her privacy when there were several empty tables available, she saw with relief it was Kyle.

“Is this a private surveillance party or is anyone invited?”

Kyle’s question was jokey but his tone held a faint note of disapproval. Something was amiss, but he didn’t know what. He’d spotted his all friends gathered in the same area as he approached the café and at first had grinned at the picture of them all so close together but still keeping their distance. Then he had noticed that Isobel seemed to be watching Liz, who was watching Michael and Maria who were apparently oblivious to everything...

Isobel hurriedly waved him to silence before Liz became aware of their presence. He quickly caught the waitress’s attention to quietly order his usual strong, sweet coffee and waited until she returned with it before he looked over at Isobel, still watching Liz, and lifted an eyebrow.

“I guess we’re not going to invite Liz to join us?”

Isobel looked at him with a troubled expression, leaning forward to speak quietly, but frequently turning her gaze back to the other girl.

“There’s something going on with Liz – I’ve been watching her for nearly an hour now, but she hasn’t once moved from staring at Michael and Maria in all that time.”

“Hate to mention it, Isobel, but you’ve just told me that you’ve been doing the same to her…what’s going on?”

Isobel frowned.

“That’s the point, Kyle. I don’t know what’s going on, except that Liz is behaving strangely again and I think she’s jealous of Maria.”

“That’s understandable, I guess. She’s lost both Max and her high-flying future while Maria is unexpectedly, and very obviously, happy with Michael after all the hard times they went through. Not surprising Liz doesn’t feel so good about things sometimes.”

“I’m worried that she’ll take it out on Maria – she’s already told me that she thinks Maria made the wrong decision to come with us, which is so obviously untrue, and then Liz is ignoring her most of the time, which isn’t a good sign. Maria doesn’t deserve to be hurt by her best friend just because she’s jealous of her happiness. It’s not like they’re flaunting it in our faces. They’re trying hard to keep it to themselves.”

Kyle grinned at the memory of the early morning concert in the last motel, when Michael and Maria, unknowingly, hadn’t been too successful in that endeavor.

He'd shopped for his radio, following the directions of his lunchtime girlfriend, then spent a couple of hours in a sports bar, dozing quietly in front of a giant screen until his watch had woken him in time to leave before the happy hour crowd had descended. Now he tried to comfort Isobel, who was clearly feeling almost as tired and strained as he was now that sleep deprivation was catching up fast.

“Liz’ll get through it. Already she seems better, more relaxed, since we left the park last night in time to avoid the danger and now that she’s no longer afraid of that vision, I’m sure she just needs time to deal.”

Isobel could have screamed at him in exasperation. How could he be so blind to Liz’s self-involvement and jealousy? For God’s sake, she knew he was a guy, but surely he couldn’t be that dense when it came to girls? Apparently he could, because he was smiling fondly over at Liz and she just knew he was about to suggest that they invite her over to cheer her up…

Isobel heard herself actually growling under her breath and Kyle suddenly looked round in faint puzzlement, as if he’d heard but couldn’t figure where it was coming from.

“That’s not all, Kyle. Not only is she jealous of Maria, but…I think Liz is interested in Michael for herself…”

Kyle couldn’t stop himself and laughed out loud. Even Isobel’s cold glare wasn’t enough to sober him up and he went on giggling to himself afterwards while he tried to school his expression.

“Liz and Michael? Isobel, you always kill me, but you’ve got to work harder on your material than that…” he finally registered her narrow-eyed, glacial expression, “…wait, you are joking, right?”

“No. Hard to believe, isn’t it? I’ve had suspicions for a few days now, but if you’d seen the scary expression on her face as she watched those two, you’d know I’m not joking, Kyle. She’s up to something.”

Kyle flatly refused to believe her and they argued back and forth quietly - Liz all the while obsessively watching the lovers - until Isobel reported her confrontation of Liz over her accusation about Maria avoiding the packing up of their camp. Now that Isobel pointed it out to him, he realized it was true. Liz had been acting like a selfish, spoilt child expecting everyone else to take care of her. Much as he instinctively wanted to defend Liz, who had somehow become increasingly isolated from the rest of the group, Kyle couldn’t think of a counter argument to this. It was Isobel’s crazy accusation that Liz wanted Michael that he couldn’t accept.

Isobel was all for warning Michael and Maria, so that they could be on their guard and put a stop to anything Liz might have planned, but Kyle disagreed. All Isobel had was speculation, not evidence. He insisted Liz was innocent until proved guilty.

Isobel reluctantly agreed to this, but she wasn’t happy and privately resolved to keep a closer eye on Liz.

Michael was considerably calmer and more controlled since they had been forced to run from Roswell, and Kyle admired that in his friend, recalling the hot-headed, impulsive Michael from the early days. However, warning him of possible trouble was one thing, expecting him to do nothing about it was a completely different game.

Michael took the opposite tack to Max’s weak ‘do nothing and it will go away’ leadership style. His instinct was to deal with trouble by acting as soon as he saw it on the horizon. Lately, he’d added thinking and planning ahead into his strategy and this was looking to be a major part of his successful defence of the group so far. However, when it came to defending Maria from Liz, Kyle wasn’t sure the alien guy wouldn’t just act first, and not bother to think later.

Kyle wasn’t psychic (not yet, anyhow, he told himself cautiously) but he clearly foresaw that a confrontation in this case would only end in disaster with Michael losing his temper and Liz – well, he wouldn’t like to predict what Liz would do...

It was this thought that suddenly made him aware that Isobel might not be letting her imagination run away with her after all. If Liz was unpredictable, then it followed that anything was possible…

Kyle sighed heavily and heated up his forgotten coffee. Nothing else for it, but to drop a strong hint to Liz that she needed to change her attitude fast before Michael really got on her case…otherwise things would get volcanic. Think peaceful thoughts, he instructed himself firmly, no need to panic until much, much later…


Chapter Fourty-Seven

As Kyle finished his coffee he watched Isobel watch Liz watch Michael and Maria and he was suddenly struck by what the group was doing to itself. It just couldn’t be healthy to be so insular and it was time they all had some fun to really take their minds off their problems.

“Isobel, there’s a free concert here tonight. They’re closing off a street and a couple of local bands are playing. I think we should all do some normal - enjoy ourselves whenever we can, like Michael said we should when we spent the afternoon on the lake, remember?”

Isobel turned from her contemplation of Liz and smiled at him, her tired face lighting up.

“Great idea, Kyle. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a live band, not since Alex …” Her voice faltered a little for a moment, but she recovered. “Well, it’s been a while and tonight is perfect; lucky it’s going to be a fine summer evening with lots of people about – easy to get lost in the crowd. We can relax before we have to carry out the plan.”

“I think now is a good time to break Liz’s trance, don’t you? If she’s jealous, like you say, it’s not healthy for her to obsess like this. Gotta distract her for her own good.”

“Then you go do that, Kyle. She’s not happy with me right now, after I called her on her attitude to sharing chores. I’ll go check out the stage area and see what time it all starts. We’re all due to meet up in about half an hour, anyway, so tell the others to stay here instead and wait for me.”

Imperious Isobel gave her orders and expected them to be carried out.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Kyle sat up straight and saluted her with mock solemnity, but then his wicked, contagious grin broke out, forcing a reluctant smile from the alien girl. No danger of taking herself too seriously with him around. He never let her get away with attitude for too long.

Kyle found himself watching intently until she disappeared into the passing crowd. Isobel turned to give him a little wave before she vanished. He smiled wryly to himself. He was a little disappointed that she hadn’t stayed, but he was philosophical. At least it would give him a chance to talk to Liz and find out for himself what was apparently wrong with her.

Signalling to the waitress that he was moving to another table, he moved to join Liz and couldn’t help noticing she looked surprised and not too pleased to see him.

She covered her irritation with a show of welcome and friendly questions about his afternoon, but her eyes kept sliding away from him to watch Michael and Maria and she didn’t really listen to his answers.

This irritated him so that eventually he leaned in and waved his hand in front of her face. Liz blinked at him, puzzled and annoyed, but he finally had her attention. He decided to approach things cautiously.

“Hey, Earth calling Liz. You’re miles away. I was just saying Isobel’s gone to check out the entertainment for tonight. There’s a free concert – it’s just a block away from here in the Denver Pavilions, so we thought it might be a good idea to hang around and relax until later. Distract ourselves and observe what the humans do to have fun…”

He knew instantly that his joke had misfired.

Liz’s eyebrows drew together and she hissed at him.

“Not funny, Kyle. You don’t know who’s listening.” She glanced round suspiciously.

Kyle was momentarily abashed - he knew she was right to be wary - but then recovered as he noticed that the other tables were rapidly filling up. Looked like it was the wrong time to talk to Liz about her jealousy of Maria. He wasn’t too sorry to delay it for a while.

“Relax, Liz, it’s just a joke. Looks like the whole city is coming out to play. It’ll be hard to get a table anywhere closer to the action tonight. We may have to stay and eat here. In fact, Michael and Maria really should join us now, if we want to keep this one…”

He looked speculatively over at the other two, still peaceful on their bench and looking in no hurry to move.

“Liz, stand guard here while I go and fetch the others. Won’t be long, ok?”

Without waiting for her answer, he swung himself over the low barrier rather than negotiate his way through the other tables. Liz had no choice but to fend off the waitress and save enough chairs for the group.

Maria was now idly reading her magazine or watching the passing crowd while Michael still slept on. She saw Kyle hurrying towards them and immediately tensed as Michael lifted his head from her lap and sat up, instantly alert to her anxiety, but slower to respond as he struggled to fight his exhaustion.

“What’s wrong, Kyle?”

Maria was all set to grab Michael and run, but she calmed down when Kyle shook his head and grinned at her apologetically. He’d seen her reaction and was sorry to have scared her unthinkingly.

“Nothing’s wrong, Maria. Sorry to disturb your beauty sleep, Guerin, but if we’re gonna eat tonight you should come join us at the café over there, right now. Liz is saving the table, but I don’t know how long she can keep all the seats…”

Maria was already lifting her pack and Michael slowly rose to join them, still yawning and groggy from sleep. Kyle eyed him, a little concerned that he might be too tired for the activities scheduled for later, but the big alien caught his look and guessed his thoughts. He straightened up and shook his head.

“I’ll be fine tonight, Valenti; gonna sleep all day tomorrow. Reminds me. Didja find us somewhere for tonight?”

Kyle nodded, reached into his pack and handed him a scrawled list of hotel price deals on the back of a street map…

“Soon as I’d eaten lunch, I went to find free maps and stuff at a tourist kiosk this local chick told me about. Man, she was hot... ” He grinned reminiscently and Michael raised an eyebrow. “Anyway, this is for you. I’ve got another map for when we split up later. Didn’t make reservations – they wanted credit card details. We’ll just have to turn up and see what we can get. These are the ones in our price range which have rooms available, 24 hour front desks and special rates.”

Michael was impressed and said so. Valenti had done his usual great scouting job for the group once again.

All three headed over to the café where Liz had successfully held the table and five chairs against all comers, but there was no easy way to get through the now crowded enclosure to reach it, so Michael simply scooped Maria up in his arms and lifted her over the barrier, then swung over it himself, with Kyle following right behind.

Settled round the table, with Kyle next to Liz and the empty chair for Isobel on her other side, Maria enthusiastically approved Kyle’s suggestion to stay for the concert. Michael would have agreed anyway, he knew the group needed all the distraction they could get, but for the pleasure bubbling inside her and the light in Maria’s eyes he felt he owed Kyle big.

After they’d ordered cold drinks from a waitress they sat back to watch the passing crowd while they waited for Isobel. Kyle tried small talk with Liz, but she was unresponsive, just quietly sitting in her own world, avoiding the other two as studiously as she’d watched them earlier. The alien girl arrived before the appointed time and had no difficulty making her way through to their table where she commented that looking to eat anywhere else would be pointless.

“There are so many people here tonight, we’d never find anything close now. Here we can at least eat and go listen to the music later.”

So they ordered hot, spicy dips, nachos and wedges from the menu and shared the meal with enjoyment, listening to the loud conversations around them and the distant sounds of the music echoing off the tall buildings.

Isobel and Maria reported on their afternoon of window-shopping and commented on the local fashions passing by, before comparing the motel amenities listed in the flyers Kyle produced from his pack. Michael and Kyle discussed the sports results they’d read about or seen earlier while Liz, still in her trance, nibbled at a nacho or two and apparently missed the wary, fleeting glances occasionally cast at her by the others.

After the group had finished eating and coffee had arrived, a comfortable silence fell among them, although Liz continued in her own world, as they basked in the feeling of being part of the carefree crowd out to enjoy itself on a summer evening in the city.

Michael leaned back in his chair and reached casually behind Maria to rest his large hand on the back of her neck and stroke small circles with his thumb on the sensitive spot below her ear.

***Been thinking we could maybe change the plan for tonight, princess. Now we have this big crowd here, it might be easier to just grab a pick-up from one of the public parking garages and disappear. What do you think?***

***Mmmmm, ooooh, Michael…gotta stop doing that if you want me to think, Spaceboy…***

He obeyed, slyly amused when her mental purr became a disappointed growl. Then Maria registered what he’d said and became instantly alert.

*** Hmm…I can see it might be easier than taking one from a dealer, but stealing from an individual - it’s too personal for me, Michael***

He sighed in annoyance. It was a good plan, he knew, quick and relatively safe with the added advantage of leaving no trace of themselves behind.

***You prefer the Robin Hood approach, then, Maria?***

***Well, we’re not exactly poor, thanks to your Czechoslovakian talents, although we haven’t got all that much real money yet, but – yeah, I guess I’d feel more comfortable taking from a business that has insurance cover, than risk a person or family who may be hurt by us… Do you see what I mean, Spaceboy***

Michael, left to himself, was indifferent to the mass of humanity out there, although a few individuals had his loyalty and friendship. He didn’t really care where or how he acquired the vehicle, security and ease of the operation being the main considerations for him. However, Maria did care and because he cared about her feelings, he listened to her argument and tried to find a compromise that suited them both.

***Hmmm…then how about if we look out for a pick-up with a business logo? There are plenty of those around here and it would fit the profile. A business would have cover and we’d only inconvenience them for a day or two at most… Insurance will provide a courtesy replacement for them, anyway, so they won’t lose out, okay?***

He could feel her considering the suggestion and was relieved when he registered her agreement. It wasn’t wholehearted, she still had some reservations, but at least it gave him the chance to act quickly while he still had enough energy left to function efficiently.

***We’ve gotta find a way of talking to the others, it’s too public here. See if they want to risk it, too***

***You’ll be the one taking the risk, Michael, but you won’t be alone. I’m coming with you***

He made a token protest and felt her mentally rolling her eyes in response. They both knew she’d refuse to be left behind if he was in danger, but he thought the risk was slight this time and he privately welcomed her company. Maria was quick thinking and resourceful, as he’d had cause to find out more than once; they were good together and he saw no reason to deny her. She’d never let him hear the end of it if he even tried. He resumed stroking her neck and was rewarded by the return of her gentle, contented mental purr. He moved his chair closer and began to whisper in her ear, nuzzling her neck so that she giggled and kissed him lightly.

The other three tried not to watch this unusually public display of affection, though each had very different reasons. Kyle suddenly felt lonely and envious because he had nobody who loved him; Isobel found it very hard to suppress her painful memories and wistful thoughts of what might have been and Liz simply turned from the spectacle in disgust.

Then her shrill, determined voice intruded…

“Hey, it’s time to go, people. Let’s go find the concert and have fun.”

Her red face displayed her temper, but nobody said anything although Michael and Maria exchanged a quick, private glance and pulled reluctantly apart.

They left the café and split up to wander off for a while to listen to the bands. Michael arranged to meet up with the others at 9.45 on the corner of 16th Street and Glenarm, so after making it clear that he and Maria wanted to be alone, they melted into the passing throng. Isobel looked at Liz and Kyle questioningly. Kyle bowed formally and offered an arm to each of the girls. Isobel smiled serenely and graciously accepted, while Liz goggled at him vacantly for a moment before waking out of her preoccupied state and falling into step on his other side as he swept them off to mingle with the masses.

Maria, lost in a crowd with the guy she loved, her friends somewhere nearby, listening to music on a soft, summer evening as darkness fell and lights came on at the cafes and bars all along the street, found it invoked a kind of natural high that possessed her senses. This profound emotional response communicated itself to Michael, who smiled and laughed freely with her as they wandered towards the closed off area where a 70’s soft rock tribute band was on stage.

As they teased and argued amicably over their widely differing musical tastes, Michael suddenly realized he’d never felt like this in Roswell in his whole life. Even at the dirtbike races, where he’d found…maybe a new sense of belonging to humanity, feeling less of an outsider, anyway…even there, he thought, he’d never been as relaxed and happy in a crowd as he was tonight. Even the music didn’t irritate him all that much, whatever he’d maintained when he argued with Maria. He looked down at his angel, whose smile lit up the night as she tightened her arm around his waist and lifted her beautiful face up to his.

***Having fun, Spaceboy?***

His answering smile, unexpectedly open and carefree, was for her alone and it made her heart glow with happiness.

***Yeah, princess, I think maybe I really am…***

Kyle, Isobel and a silent Liz had made their way close to the small stage and were caught up in the crush. There was no conversation - the music was too loud – but it didn’t matter. The noise and the lights made it hard to think, and Liz’s headache returned, pounding in time to the beat. The songs were the familiar classics their parents had subjected them to throughout childhood so that soon they all, including Liz, relaxed and sang along with the rest of the audience, grinning at each other occasionally in faintly embarrassed complicity at the shared enjoyment, while the time passed all too quickly.

Then Isobel pointed to her watch and shepherded them back to the corner of the street where Michael and Maria were waiting. The crowd was sparse around here and any onlooker would see an ordinary group of teens hanging out together, listening to the music and drinking from water bottles. Nobody would ever guess that they were alien fugitives; their presence unrecorded on the nearby security cameras because Michael had disabled them earlier, their eyes watchful as they listened to the big alien quietly set out his revised plan to acquire another vehicle.

“It’s quicker and safer than our original idea to a target a car dealer in the middle of the night. The main change is that we don’t all have to be there. Kyle and I have already agreed on what we need to look for; Maria and I can grab the pick-up by ourselves. We won’t have to risk the Chevy being seen in the area and connected with the new truck.”

No one came up with an immediate objection - although Kyle was privately disappointed to miss out on the excitement - and so Michael went into more detail, covering the points Maria had already raised privately. He finished with a suggestion he thought would meet with their approval, as he’d noticed all three were relaxed and laughing when they’d arrived at the rendezvous.

“You three can stay on here and chill as long as you want and we’ll all meet up tomorrow morning for breakfast at the motel.”

“It’s too dangerous, Michael.” Liz turned big, concerned eyes on her former best friend. “I’m really sorry to say it, Maria, but if something goes wrong, you would be a liability. You could endanger yourself and Michael, too… No, the logical thing is for me to go instead. I’ve got powers and I can look after myself if anything happens. Kyle and Isobel can look out for you, so at least you’ll be safe.”

Michael felt Maria’s immediate surge of guilt and fear at the possibility of endangering his life and a wash of hot anger swept through him even as he sent her a private reassurance that it wasn’t true.

***We’re a team, Maria, and you know we’re in it together whatever happens. You’re not a liability and you never will be. It’s Parker makin’ trouble again. Listen to me, not to her***

***She’s got a point, Michael. I would be a danger to you if something went wrong and you had to rescue me. I can’t risk your life over this. You should take her with you instead…***

***No, Maria, it’s you I want with me and that’s final. End of story***

Michael had turned a thoughtful look on Liz, the pause before he answered giving her hope that he would take the opportunity she had offered him to shake off the clingy Maria so that she could get him to herself and show him what a great partner she would be. So his next words cut her to the quick, delivered in a soft, cold, reasonable voice in contrast to the anger burning in his eyes.

“Maria could never be a liability, Liz. You, of all people, must know she’s intelligent, resourceful and perfectly capable of looking out for all of us. Anyway, if you’re talking about liability, your own powers aren’t exactly under your control yet, are they? You caused the recent danger to the group all by yourself when you had a vision and knocked that ranger guy out with your force-field, remember?”

Maria, in shock after listening to Michael’s publicly expressed opinion of her character, shook her head to clear it and looked at Liz, her voice and expression revealing sudden enlightenment.

“Of course - that’s it. Something’ s been puzzling me since we left the park, but it’s only now I realize what it was. A self-fulfilling prophesy, Liz - your vision was a self-fulfilling prophesy…”

Their scientist manqué looked taken aback, then she swayed dizzily... Kyle caught her as she fell and lowered her down to sit on the ground and lean against the wall of the building, then knelt to gently support her back as she rested her head on his shoulder.

The others gathered round protectively, shielding her from the curiosity of nearby onlookers. Isobel, who had not commented until now, looked surprised and then thoughtful. She nodded at Michael, who was frowning, and Maria, who was patting Liz’s hand comfortingly, then knelt beside Kyle, speaking as quietly as the others.

“Michael’s right, Liz.” Isobel had been suspicious at first, but when she looked closely at the half-fainting girl, her sympathy was aroused. Clearly, she was in shock and needed to be taken somewhere quiet to recover, but it need not affect their immediate plans. It would be stupid to let the opportunity pass.

“Until we can be sure that your powers are fully under your control, then it’s safer if you stay with Kyle and me. We’ll take you back to the Chevy and on to the motel so you can rest, ok?”

Liz wanted to protest, but her head was still swimming, she felt sick and the headache was back with a vengeance. She could only watch as Michael pulled Maria away from her and the two left after a brief conversation with Isobel and a word to Kyle, who nodded and waved them off. She slumped against his shoulder and closed her eyes, waiting for the nausea to pass. Maybe she should have eaten more than that chocolate chip cookie since breakfast, it was probably more hunger than shock that made her feel so bad… In a minute, she’d ask Kyle to go fetch her something to eat from one of the nearby cafés opening late because of the concert.

Meanwhile, Michael and Maria had wandered purposefully along looking for a large public parking garage on a side street not too close to the center of the evening’s entertainment. They found what they were looking for a few blocks further north, and Michael’s alien senses checked for the tell-tale pattern of electrical emissions and made sure that no security cameras were recording their presence as they entered the area. Heading inside they walked around then down a level, scanning the vehicles for what they needed. Pickups were everywhere, but Michael had a particular set of requirements for their second set of wheels and soon found several possibilities.

Although only 10.00pm, there were more people around than they’d expected, but luckily none came too near to the vehicle Michael chose for a closer inspection.

It was a 4x4 doublecab Toyota Tundra pick-up: a well-appointed workhorse, big and rugged enough for rough country, with a hardshell top enclosing the truck bed. The crew bench seats, unusually, looked comfortable enough for passengers, and in an emergency it would hold the five until they found another vehicle.

Maria inspected the interior for signs of family occupancy, which would have ruled it out of contention. However, there were none, just a sea of fast food debris lying around causing her to roll her eyes and wrinkle her nose in disgust. They wouldn’t be depriving an innocent family of their livelihood, although the unlucky driver would be deprived of an expensive, top of the range truck. To placate her conscience, she told Michael to break the glass on the driver’s window and leave it scattered on the ground, an obvious - but hopefully misleading - ‘clue’ about how the theft was carried out. He immediately understood her aim, and although he rolled his eyes and teased her a little for her soft heart, he agreed to carry out her wishes while she stood guard.

After disabling the security alarms and releasing the locks, Michael concentrated on the driver’s side window. Before he could raise his hand, Maria sent a mental warning and seeing a man heading their way, Michael complained audibly to her about carrying so much stuff in her purse that she could never find the keys. They kept their heads bent over her pack as the guy passed by towards his own vehicle a few bays down and the incident passed without apparently causing suspicion, leaving them to carry on preparing their prize with nervous speed.

Subject to alien powers, the window glass shattered silently and floated gently to the ground without any suspicious noises to attract attention. He opened the door and swept out the shards that had fallen inside the vehicle, dissipating the rest into nothing; then he passed his hand over the few jagged, broken edges left in the rim so that they merged together in a new, perfect, replacement pane.

Maria knew that Michael was going to knock out the lights in the garage as soon as they had climbed in, so she quickly moved to the other side of the truck and scrambled on board. He looked round to make sure that nobody was nearby, then he changed the color to dark red, gave it California plates, darkened the windows and finally joined her in their new vehicle.

A moment after he closed the door, the garage was plunged into stygian darkness. Maria briefly switched on her flashlight so that he could see the layout of the controls and he rolled down the window to hear shouts and screams echoing round the cavernous building.

Already, other cars were switching on their headlights, so the darkness was no longer absolute. It was a vital part of Michael’s plan that they should make a quick getaway before the owner returned to catch them but he took a moment to use his powers to create a key in the ignition, and a spare so that they wouldn’t be restricted to his alien talents to start it. Maria could fire up the engine herself if necessary, but this time he did it himself. There was more than enough power throbbing under the hood and he grinned. Kyle would be pleased with this one.

He added their headlights to the growing shafts of light: some static, others moving around to find the exit and leave before they got stuck in the inevitable chaos. The truck moved slowly out into the aisles, following the few vehicles already ahead of the rush to escape.

Once through the barriers, which had risen automatically when the outage struck, they found that the whole street was in darkness. Michael realized he must have sent a bigger surge of power than was needed to overload the system. Recalling details memorised from the street map Kyle had annotated earlier, he headed slowly along with the traffic flow to find his way out of the city center. It wasn’t completely dark, as the moon shone brightly down, but clouds often obscured it so that the pick-up moved through patches of thick darkness where vehicle headlights, occasional flashlight beams and candlelit windows gave the only illumination. However, they shortly emerged into well-lit areas, heading out to find a motel for the night. Michael didn’t care where he slept by then – just as long as it was straight through until morning, with Maria in his arms.

He could see and feel his small, blonde, partner in crime quivering with excitement beside him, her exultant mood matching his own. His plan had worked - they now had a new truck and a little more freedom. He clamped down on a dizzy feeling of elation. There would be time for celebration later; now they had to find somewhere safe for the night.

The motel Maria and Isobel had chosen from Kyle’s selection of flyers was on the outskirts of the city; clean, comfortable and relatively cheap with a pool and all the amenities including a complimentary breakfast. Both girls had agreed that a little time out from camping would be good for them all, even though Maria was amazed to find she had actually enjoyed the experience, when she wasn’t worried about the Max/Tess mystery. Still, an unexpected spell of comparative luxury would be an oasis of pleasure before facing the months of backcountry living ahead of them.

Fifteen minutes later, the pick-up was in the motel parking lot, with the security alarm set and the junk food detritus turned to dust and blown away on the evening breeze. There was no sign of the others and Maria wondered how they were faring after Liz’s fainting fit. She was relieved that her ex-best friend seemed to be recovering fast and was thankful that Kyle and Isobel would take care of her and get her to safety. Maria was still angry and incredulous at the attempt to steal her boyfriend, but that had been temporarily forgotten in her concern for the girl when she’d collapsed. It was apparent that Liz herself hadn’t realised that she was the cause of their previous danger, but for her to faint could be an ominous sign that she was growing weaker, not stronger, as the days passed. Watching her more closely, as she had begun to do after the coffeeshop incident, Maria had noticed that Liz had eaten nothing at dinner and suspected that was a contributing factor to the dramatic fainting attack, but she still thought the shocked reaction had been genuine. That didn’t mean that Maria would be dropping her guard again anytime soon and she knew that Michael had never dropped his at all.

After checking in at the front desk, they made their way to the comfortably appointed room, where Michael locked the door, dropped their bags and immediately fell backwards, spread-eagled on the wide bed. He held Maria’s gaze with his own as he allowed himself to crow with truimph at last.

***We did it, Maria, we really did it…we have a second set of wheels. More freedom to move around and split up when we need to... Are we a great team or what? C’mere, princess, gotta kiss you right now…***

Maria flung herself enthusiastically down on top of him, making him laugh, and he wrapped his arms around her to pull her tight against him and claim her lips with his own. Several minutes later when they came up for air, she was too breathless to speak aloud, but happy to comment anyway.

***Yes, Spaceboy, you came up with the plan and we made it work. It’ll be great to have two cars again; this gives us room to move and more chance to get away from our enemies and each other if we need to. I’m so proud of you, Michael. You’re the one who saved us and protected us all the way. Without you we’d all be dead...***

She moved in for another kiss and he felt warmth glow deep inside his heart at her praise. For so long Maria had been the only person who’d ever had any faith in him and although the newfound respect of the others in the group was novel and gratifying, it was only her heartfelt belief that invoked the intoxicating feeling that he was brave, clever and strong enough to do anything he wanted to do.

His kisses became more demanding and she responded joyfully until things began to progress a little further, when she stopped him and sat up with a reluctant sigh, kissing her finger and sliding it over his lips to prevent him capturing hers again. He pouted anyway, although he knew what she was going to do as she wriggled away from him and stood up to go and grab her pack on her way to the bathroom.

“Give me a few minutes, Spaceboy, and then come find me and we can continue where we left off, ‘k?”

She sent him a mental kiss and a meaningful stare from her sultry green eyes, before disappearing through the door, leaving him aroused and frustrated.

Maria emerged from the bathroom after a long, relaxing shower, unsurprised to find Michael still lying where she had left him on the king-sized bed. He had fallen asleep before she’d even stepped under the spray, and she thought with loving amusement that showering together would have just about finished him off.

She woke him gently so that she could help him remove his clothes and climb in between the sheets, before sliding in to join him. Twining her arms around his neck, she snuggled up to him, as they each breathed a deep sigh of relief at being alone together in real privacy at long last. She rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes, feeling deliciously safe and protected.

***It’s been quite a day, Spaceboy, but you know how much I’ve longed for a whole, undisturbed, night to ourselves***

***God, Maria, I’ve only been counting the minutes… That wild coffeeshop sex thing was incredible, but making love in bed is always gonna be the best because I get to hold you all night long and then wake up with you in the morning…***

She reached up to kiss him in fervent agreement, only for him to yawn hugely and uncontrollably in her face, making her giggle, then suddenly yawn herself.

Their grins widened into slightly hysterical laughter as they relaxed back onto the pillows, minds sharing a single, delicious, overwhelming desire...

Michael and Maria curled around each other and fell fast asleep.

Two hours earlier, Liz had just eaten a sweet roll obtained by Kyle to keep her going until she felt well enough to eat something more substantial, when she had another shock. An official paramedic emerged from the crowd and insisted on checking her over after her fainting fit. Some kind, concerned citizen had reported the victim to the organisers and, to their private horror, all three teens realized that the group must have been observed while they discussed and argued over their plans. Liz felt herself grow faint again.

The paramedic eventually accepted everyone’s assurance that it was just hunger and they would take her straight home, but then she insisted on staying to watch over her patient until she was sufficiently satisfied that Liz had fully recovered.

The other two went along with this, figuring natural behavior would draw least suspicion, and it was nearly an hour before they managed to help Liz aboard a shuttle bus and head back to find the parking lot where they’d left the Chevy.

They travelled in silence, both Liz and Isobel gripping Kyle’s hands in terror, nearly paralysed by fear that their conversation about powers might have been overheard.

Finally they reached the Chevy and fled north out of the city, Kyle driving and constantly checking for pursuit, the two girls huddled together in the back seat, all enmity forgotten in their shared need for comfort. Eventually, after about half an hour, Kyle was as sure as he could be that there was no one on their tail and he set about reassuring his girls.

“C’mon, help me out here, ladies, I haven't seen anything suspicious but we need to make sure that we’re not being followed, okay? Look out of the window and tell me what you see. Anyone there?”

Isobel relinquished her hold on Liz, who clutched convulsively at her but turned back to look for herself, as well. Then the alien girl finally got a grip again and made herself think clearly. It just wasn't fair to make Kyle responsible for their safety while they let themselves weakly give in to fears that might not be real.

“Nothing too close, Kyle. Not much traffic and everything’s a long way back… What can we do?”

“This is a state highway and we’re coming up to a rest station area. Gonna swing into the parking lot and wait to see what goes by and what stops. Then, when it’s safe, we wait some more and then we’re gonna turn back on ourselves and go meet the others.”

“What if it’s not safe, Kyle?”

Liz voiced the fear that held them all.

“You know what we do, Liz. Michael planned for this before we left the park yesterday. If trouble comes we ditch the Chevy, take what we can, destroy anything incriminating, steal another car and run for it. We’ll have to change cars several times before we can be sure we’ve shaken off any tail, but when we’re far enough away Isobel can dreamwalk Michael and Maria to see how they’re doing and meet up as soon as we can, ok?”

As he spoke, they saw the lights of the roadside rest station. Kyle pulled in, parked at the rear, and killed the lights, facing the entrance ready to scan all incoming vehicles.

Then they all sat in silence, waiting…


Chapter Fourty-Eight

Nothing disturbed the serenity of Maria’s gradual return to awareness as she drifted lazily up through the misty veils of sleep to open her eyes on sunlight filtering through the drapes of a far from sleazy motel room.

Reluctant to move and dispel this rare peaceful moment to herself, she watched the glittering dust motes swirl in a stray sunbeam and let the world develop slowly like a snapshot in her conscious mind.

Turning her head a little, she found Michael’s face a few inches away from hers, his eyes closed and his mind still too deeply asleep for her to even be aware of his dreams. The usually turbulent stream of his emotions flowed peacefully somewhere in her mind; she had already become so used to being a part of him that it felt like they’d always shared this connection.

The bright morning advanced as Maria lay safe and happy in his arms, carefully avoiding any of the anxious thoughts lying in wait beneath the surface of her mind, and amused herself by idly considering why this strange link had come to be; neither had given any thought to it before in the rush of events. Finally she reached a conclusion so blinding in its simplicity, that she knew it must be the truth…

She made a note to share her theory with him later. First, it was getting late and she didn’t want to miss breakfast, though her usually ravenous Spaceboy looked like he would be sleeping round the clock. Torn between wanting to be there when he awoke and the increasing hunger pangs, Maria decided to leave him in peace for as long as he needed. She would know when he stirred and, meanwhile, she might also discover whether any of the others were up and about yet.

Just as she put one foot on the floor, intending to slide quietly out of bed so he wouldn’t be disturbed, Michael woke and pulled her back in again, kissing her shoulder sleepily, and snuggling against her.

***Going somewhere, Blondie?***

***Breakfast…then maybe find the others… I thought you were going to sleep all day…***

***Mmmm, yeah, maybe I will. Later, princess…***

He nuzzled her neck and slid back into the depths again before Maria even had a chance to reply.

She showered and dressed before finding her way to the breakfast buffet in an alcove in the lobby where she filled a tray with donuts, juice and coffee for Michael and took it back to their room ready for when he finally woke up, starving. Then she returned to the buffet to collect a small bowl of sliced fresh fruit, a bagel, cream cheese and raspberry jelly, together with juice and coffee, for herself.

There were a few other late risers sitting out on the terrace, including Isobel, who gave her a tired smile when Maria joined her at the shady table where she was drinking coffee overlooking the calm, blue water of the pool.

The small blonde was so pleased to see the alien girl that she gave her friend a hug, warmly reciprocated, before she sat down ready to eat.

“Everything ok last night, Izzy? Is Liz feeling better now? I suppose Kyle is still asleep, like Spaceboy? I guess they need to recharge after the last few nights… I slept like a log last night, but I can’t sleep all day like the guys. Got to be up and doing something. Are you going to join me for a lazy swim in the pool after breakfast?”

Isobel waited patiently until Maria paused in her stream of questions to take a bite of melon and a reviving sip of coffee, before breaking in to answer while she had the chance.

“We’re all fine, but we only arrived about an hour ago. Kyle sweet-talked the front desk into giving us a deal on an extra breakfast and early occupancy, as they’re not busy and we’re staying here tonight anyway. Yes, I’d love to swim later, but first I need to get some sleep as we had a scare last night.”

Maria stopped with her coffee cup halfway to her lips and eyed her friend sharply.

“Why, what happened?”

“False alarm, thank God. After you two left, a paramedic arrived to check on Liz. I guess we were over-tired by then, because we all suddenly got spooked that we might have been overheard discussing…you know what…and maybe ‘they’ had found us - so we just ran for it in the Chevy.”

Maria’s eyes were wide with alarm and she glanced round to make sure that none of the other guests on the terrace were within earshot, before urging Isobel to continue.

“We played cat and mouse in various rest stations on the highways north of the city, to check it was safe before we came here. Kyle was ready to abandon the Chevy and steal other cars over the next few days to shake any pursuit, like Michael told us, but we waited for hours and saw nothing suspicious after all. So we finally calmed down, came here and got a room for the three of us."

She noticed Maria's raised eyebrow.

"I guess we felt safer staying all together after last night. We ate first, then Kyle and Liz went back to the room to sleep but I - I can’t seem to let it go. God, I was so scared, Maria…”

Isobel stopped speaking and closed her eyes, the strain showing clearly on her face in the morning light. After a few moments she took a deep breath, opened her eyes and smiled shakily, clearly having had to fight hard to keep her emotions under control.

Seeing that she needed a moment to recover, Maria related her own felonious adventure of the previous evening while Isobel listened, glad of the distraction from her ordeal.

“Michael and I stole the pick-up truck last night; it was a real smooth operation, thank God, and we made sure not to cause too much trouble for the driver. So, we’ve got two vehicles again and we surely must be free of any pursuit by now. I don’t think we have to worry too much about being followed any more, Isobel. We can decide where we want to go next when we leave here, but there’s no rush now the heat’s off.”

“That’s what Kyle said this morning and I want to believe it, but it’ll take a while before I stop looking over my shoulder…”

“I guess we’ll always do that no matter where we go, but it’s something we’ll just have to learn to live with.”

Taking a deep breath, Maria tentatively asked a question she had been anxious about for days.

“How are you dealing with…everything else, Izzy?”

She had been concerned that Isobel was brooding about Jesse’s betrayal as the alien girl had kept her private thoughts closely guarded since her initial emotional reaction to the shock. However, Maria wanted Isobel to understand that she didn’t have to suffer alone and she had friends who wanted to help her through it.

Isobel hesitated, checked that they were now alone on the terrace, and looked at the small human who was the first and only girlfriend she’d ever known whom she trusted enough to share her feelings.

“Sometimes it feels like it all happened so long ago it’s unreal, but then when I’m alone at night it all comes flooding back and I just don’t know how to bear the pain - I miss my family so much, Maria, and I’m probably never going to see them again. I know you must feel the same way, too. Then there’s Max. I hate that I don’t know what’s happening with him – is he ok? How is Tess mixed up in it all? Why has he blocked me from dreamwalking him? I’m so scared for him but, you know what? The worst thing is Jesse - I don’t want to think that he was the one who betrayed us, but there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation. I hate him now, but I still need to know why he did it, when he risked his life to keep my secret safe after he knew the truth. I know things were difficult between us after he found out, but I hoped we were beginning to get past it and move on.”

A stray tear escaped and trickled down her cheek and she sniffed desperately as she hunted in her pack for a handkerchief, producing a delicate square of lace-trimmed linen. Even with the exigencies of flight and life on the road, Isobel Evans kept her standards high. Paper tissues were so not an option, when the rain forests were still threatened.

“The new job offer in Boston – it seemed to be a fresh start away from everything and everyone in Roswell. Then, when he let me leave so easily without him, I - I guess I knew somewhere in my heart he just didn’t care enough.”

Isobel’s voice dropped to an anguished whisper.

“Oh, God, Maria, it hurts so much I just don’t know how to bear it sometimes… Jesse said he loved me, and even gave me back my wedding ring as a promise for the future, but he still let me go.”

Isobel suddenly broke down and sobbed into her handkerchief and Maria pulled her chair close so she could wrap her in a hug until the storm of grief subsided. Risking a rebuff from the emotionally fragile alien girl she nevertheless felt that only a direct response with what she saw as the truth would be any help to her friend.

“If he could do that, then Jesse wasn’t the right man for you, Izzy. No man who truly loved you could let you go off into danger alone.”

Maria, green eyes now misty with tears, too, looked sympathetically at the red-eyed alien girl.

“It’s hard, Isobel, and you don’t want to hear this right now, but you’ve loved before and been truly loved in return and you will find that love again, someday.”

The small girl suddenly smiled a little wryly as a thought occurred to her.

“If my Mom was here with us, she’d make you repeat her favorite mantra - ‘The best is yet to come’. She’s always been right about that. You and I both know you will get through this, somehow. I even know that we will find a way to see our families again, if it does take a while. Mom always says the DeLuca women never give up on what they believe in, so right here and now I’m formally making you an honorary DeLuca. My mom will approve; she admires strong women and you and she are the strongest women I know, Isobel.”

She leaned over and hugged the speechless alien girl until she squeaked and hugged her back, the tears flowing freely again but less despairingly than before.

“Thanks, Maria.” Isobel was surprised at how much better she felt after sharing her feelings with the small human girl. It didn’t lessen the pain, but somehow made it a little easier to bear.

Restoring her damp, crumpled handkerchief to it’s formerly pristine self and tucking it away in her pack, Isobel abandoned her now cold coffee, but reheated Maria’s neglected one. Then she smiled at her friend and prepared to return to the room shared with Kyle and Liz after the long night of fearful suspense. The relief of talking to Maria had relaxed her enough so that she would have no problems sleeping now.

“I’ll probably sleep through until about 4.30, so if you want to meet up for a swim, I’ll see you in the pool then, ok?”

“Ok, sleep well, Izzy. We’ll all have to meet up sometime to discuss the plans for tonight, so tell the others to join us then, too, if they want to.”

Isobel leaned down and hugged Maria, before leaving the small human girl alone with her breakfast and her thoughts.

The mention of her mom had revived the feelings of loss and anxiety at having left her alone in Roswell. Guilt at leaving with no explanation made Maria impatient for Michael’s next attempt to dreamwalk and reassure Amy that her daughter was safe. She knew she wouldn’t have to remind him to try again in the nights to come – he was just as concerned as she was to allay her mom’s fears. She would just have to learn patience and wait until the time was right, although it was hard.

Kyle, too, must be suffering as much anxiety about his parent as she was about hers, but he was hiding it well. She understood his reluctance to dream when he risked the weird intrusions into his mind by Tess and Max, but if Isobel wasn’t yet ready to dreamwalk the ex-Sheriff on his behalf, then Michael would just have to practice his own emerging talent; Kyle was missing his family just as much as anyone, and with the added worry of the imminent development of his dad’s alien powers. It was about time someone thought of his feelings.

Having decided that, Maria finished her last bite of bagel and drained her coffee cup. Making her way back to their room, she changed into her swimsuit, grabbed a towel, book and shades, dropped a soft kiss on Michael’s cheek and left the room again, heading for the pool.

Two hours later she was back, cool and still damp from her swim. Sliding in beside Michael, she briefly noted that he was in dire need of a shower, but she was just too tired to care, immediately falling as deeply asleep as he was.

The day drowsed past for all of them, freely catching up on their rest, deliberately unguarded for almost the first time since their enemies had openly attacked them.

Hunger woke Liz in the early afternoon and she set off to find some food, recalling that there were no more fresh supplies remaining in the coolers out in the Chevy.

She found a vending machine near the front desk and from the limited choice available, bought a cheese and berry Danish and some spicy potato chips, with a can of coke to drink; taking them to the terrace she used her powers to change the coke to vanilla flavor as a change from her usual cherry.

After her snack Liz felt much better and, wide awake and bored, decided that an afternoon in and around the pool was an inviting prospect. The area was almost deserted in the heat as she went to find her swimsuit.

When the group had planned their escape from the state park, they had each packed an overnight bag ready for stopovers, leaving the bulk of their clothes stored in the Chevy. Opening the lock on a rear passenger door provided a useful challenge to explore her powers and it took Liz some time to master the technique that the true aliens used without conscious thought.

When, at last, she’d opened the door and slid in to the rear seats to search among the bags in the cargo space for her things, she felt a glow of satisfaction that lasted all the way back to the room to change before spending the rest of the afternoon by the pool.

At the same time, in the cool dimness of another motel room, Maria slowly woke to the delicious surprise of gentle, feathery kisses scattered across her face and throat, proceeding slowly downwards to meet another delightful sensation where a hand cupped her right breast and the soft bud tipping it quickly blossomed into a hard peak as Michael’s thumb lightly rubbed circles with the same delicate touch as his lips.

Bewitched by the spell of this magical awakening, Maria lay breathless and still as his slow, gentle exploration of her body continued and his mind was lost in wonder and desire for the woman he loved. Her skin glowed and tingled where his lips, tongue and hands traced a trail of fire across every inch of her body, turning her over and moving her around at his pleasure while he teased her by deliberately avoiding the especially sensitive areas that he knew were increasingly tormenting her with frustrated desire so that she moved impatiently, moaning softly and thrusting her breasts and hips against him with growing urgency, begging with both her mind and body for him to fill her with his hard, powerful cock and satisfy her now desperate need.

Finally, ignoring her groan of protest, Michael sat up and moved to kneel between her legs, spreading her thighs apart and leaning down to gaze hungrily into her depths; then he looked up to stare into her pleading eyes, his thoughts so drenched with lust for her that she almost came right there and then, before he lowered his mouth to her burning, liquid core and proceeded to lick, suck and gently bite her clit with fervent enjoyment. He was deeply sensitive to her responses and she came so hard and so often she thought she was never going to stop...

Then, at last, when Maria was just a grateful puddle of sensual overload, Michael loomed over her, locked his eyes on hers and buried his huge, hard cock deep inside her, thrusting until they both fell into a shattering, star-filled, galaxy-burning climax that left them both floating on the verge of unconsciousness.

Some time later, Maria heard Michael’s voice in her mind and could feel that he was too lazy to even speak aloud.

***Thanks for breakfast, princess. I was starving when I woke up, but that and a shower made me feel almost human again…***

They both grinned at his joke and, languid after their exertions, with skins still sticky with heat and sweat, peeled themselves lazily away from each other, stretching out on the big bed to savor the cool flow of the air conditioning over their naked bodies.

***We’re both going to need another shower real soon, Michael, especially as we have to meet the others by the pool at 4.30. I met Isobel at breakfast and she told me the others had a scare last night, thinking they’d been found***

Michael sat up abruptly, alarmed and annoyed that she hadn't told him about this sooner, but Maria pulled him back down and hurried to reassure him.

***It was just a false alarm, Michael, don’t you think I would have told you before if it had been anything serious? Anyway, they drove round all night before coming here for breakfast and some sleep. We’ve still got half an hour before we have to meet up…***

Michael’s nerves slowly subsided from his instant switch into full alert mode and he lay back down on the bed, this time reaching for Maria in an instinctively protective reaction and holding her close against him.

There was a silence between them and Maria cast around for a topic of conversation to distract him from the tension that still gripped him. Then she remembered her speculative theory from earlier that morning when she first woke.

As she began to relate her idea, a large, warm, hand enclosed one of her breasts in a possessive grip as the hard, male body it belonged to spooned her from behind and a soft, gentle mouth nibbled and kissed its way lazily along her neck and shoulder.

***So that’s the answer, hmmm?***

***Yes, that’s part of it, I’m sure, Michael. It’s the only explanation I’ve come up with that really fits…***

***So your theory is that Tess (who may or may not have been a virgin) slept with Kyle, who undoubtedly wasn’t - ***

***That’s true; I know for a fact he lost his innocence to Janey Carlton when he first made it onto the football team. She bragged about it one night at a sleepover – eew, too much information there***

***Yeah, I know. It was a hot topic in the guys’ bathroom – only there she lost it to him***

*** That’s our Kyle - sweet and deluded…***

***Never mind that, who’s next? Oh, yeah, the Great Alien Seduction or Max’s Point of Culmination…***

***Don’t laugh like that, Michael, its unkind. Though I’ve got no sympathy at all for Max, he let that murdering bitch take advantage of him without any resistance at all.***

***C’mon, Maria, Liz had dumped him again and he was in Alien King mode after Alex died. Tess playing her Antarian Queen role was more than available for getting down and dirty…***

***I guess. Isobel said she’d been practically living in Max’s room for weeks after the Prom***

***Anyway, Max was the virgin that time, but Tess wasn’t, so they didn’t connect…***

***…and I bet Jesse was a player in his time, before he met Isobel, so no connection there either***

***That leaves Liz as the innocent accepting Max’s tainted love… I think their flashes had stopped by then, except for the vision thing, which isn’t the same thing…***

***Ok, so you agree that my theory fits the facts, Spaceboy?***

***Yeah…so that just leaves you and me, Maria …we’re the ones who worked the magic…there’s never been anyone else for either of us, even though we both had a hard time getting it right***

***That’s true, Spaceboy, you’ve always been the one for me, since that time in the Sultan’s Hideaway motel when something happened between us…***

***Wait, but then how come we didn’t connect until after we left Roswell, Maria? That’s months after we first made love…***

***Ok, that’s the other part of my theory, Michael. I don’t think we were able to make the complete connection until we both finally committed to each other and we didn’t really do that until we ran from Roswell together on Graduation night***

*** Hmm, yeah, I think you’re right. Then the first time we really needed to talk privately – when King Max was being his patronising self - that’s when the link kicked in…***

***Yes, I was trying to send you soothing vibes so you didn’t lose your cool over it***

Maria moaned blissfully and arched in delight as his lips closed round a sensitive nipple and another sensational sizzle shot through her.

***Oooh, I think we’re real soul mates, Michael, don’t you?***

She suddenly turned to look up at him, laughing with pure happiness as Michael smiled down into her eyes.

***Yeah, Maria, I guess we are…***

In this temporary haven for their lovemaking, Michael suddenly felt the need to ask questions he had hesitated to broach even after they’d made their complete connection of mind and body.

***You know, you’ve never really said why you left me… or why you came back from New York…***

Maria stirred against him, slightly surprised at his curiosity over the past now shed like an outgrown skin, but perfectly willing to explain.

***Well, I guess I was scared for a while, there. Billy meant nothing to me except as a childhood friend – he was just a reminder of the music dreams I’d given up on when Alex died. I was suddenly trapped in the ‘alien abyss’ – with no other friends or choices ahead of me, and my future all mapped out at seventeen. I got scared. Then the New York thing came along and I couldn’t say no until I lived the dream and realised that it wasn’t what I wanted after all. I found I missed you too much to be happy without you, so I came back.***

***Liz told me it was because you didn’t want to compromise your music…***

***I guess because that’s what I told her - and everyone else. I could have stayed and found a way if I'd wanted to, but really my feelings were too private to share with anyone. I wasn’t even sure that you still felt the same, by then. We certainly didn’t rush to get back together that time. I was still so unsure of your feelings and if you still wanted a future together… Then you told me you loved me and left when Liz had her warning vision and I thought I’d missed my chance to tell you why I really came back…***

***I came back for you, though. I couldn’t forget what that fortune teller said about ‘believing in the love’ and I knew I couldn’t leave you in danger, Maria, so I came back…***

***Madame Vivien said that was about something much bigger than our relationship… You said the tarot card was ‘The Lovers’ - I thought it was all about Liz and Max***

***Well, for me, it wasn’t about them at all. Obviously, the life-or-death scenario was the point she wanted to get across, but the real hook was the tarot card. That was meant to be significant for me, right?***

***Yeah, I suppose…***

***Damn right, Maria. How could ‘The Lovers’ card ever mean anything to me but us? “Believe in the love?” Why should that be Max and Liz? Hell, I’ve never seen that twisted relationship as sacred, but you and me – we’re the only ones I’m interested in. Ok, sure, I came back to help the others escape, even though I’d said it was everyone for themselves, but my first fear was for you***

If Maria had needed any more reassurance, she could feel that his assertion was true as he relived the moment when he saw the big, black cars driving past into Roswell and his heart stopped at the thought of Maria in the hands of their enemies. Later, when the aliens been about to leave, he’d still expected her to stay behind where she had a chance of a normal life, but she also felt his secret joy and relief when she announced her decision to come with him.

***That’s my point, Michael. You came back again, and this time I knew for sure I wanted to be with you whatever happens to us in the future. I know at last that we are meant to be… This deeper connection only confirms what we already knew…***

They both sighed and snuggled even closer together, exchanging a light, butterfly kiss and lapsing into contented silence for a few minutes.

***Guess Max ‘n Liz might not be so ‘special’ after all – who’d have thought it, huh?***

Michael’s comment still carried a trace of bitterness from his days in Roswell when he’d been labelled as the volatile, trailer-trash loser patronised by Max Evans while Maria had a wacky walk-on part in the Life of Saint Elizabeth Parker…

Maria was all too human enough to echo his thoughts on her own account for a brief moment before she laughed aloud in pure elation.

***No point in being bitter about the past when we’ve got so much more than we ever dreamed of, Spaceboy***

***God, yes, Maria, and it’s gonna get even better, I swear…***

Those were the last coherent words she heard for some time as he rose to kneel above her, bending to take one hardened nipple in his mouth again, rolling it between his teeth. He massaged one hand over her other breast as the other snaked down across her stomach, pausing to circle her belly button before sliding lower to the damp curls between her thighs as her soft hands reached for his growing hardness to caress him into readiness for their mutual delight.

There were no more words needed as their feelings again found expression in a physical and emotional rapture that left them shaken and awed when they lay together afterwards.

Then Maria suddenly sat up in bed in a panic, fighting off Michael’s playful hands to reach over for her watch on the nightstand.

“Spaceboy, it’s 4.45 and we’re late to meet the others by the pool and we haven’t even showered yet. Get up, Michael, don’t just lie there laughing at me…”

She hurried to the bathroom, still talking as she went, and he called out to her a few minutes later.

“That invitation still on, princess? You said to give you a few minutes and then join you to carry on where we left off. I’m on my way, babe…”

Her outraged gasp of protest was the only answer he got so Michael stood up to stalk over to the shower and tease his small, wet, naked, blonde mercilessly until she surrendered to him once more.

The others could wait…


Chapter Fourty-Nine

Isobel and Liz, attitudes thawed a little after the shared terrors of the previous night, were lying under umbrella-shaded recliners on the otherwise deserted terrace and Kyle was in the pool when Maria arrived nearly an hour late.

She left her things on a nearby table, waved a brief greeting, then jumped in and swam a few leisurely lengths in the cool, blue water before Michael joined the group. He appeared carrying two cans of lemonade from the vending machine and left them with his towel and pack by his girlfriend’s stuff in the shade, before jumping in and deliberately swamping Kyle. Immediate retaliation and macho horseplay ensued, making Maria hurriedly retreat in self-defence.

The guys eventually pulled themselves out of the pool, still laughing and joking, to pad, dripping, over to the girls who were applying sunscreen and sipping cold drinks.

Michael stretched out on a recliner, too, unavoidably forced to take the only one left, next to Liz. He gestured for Maria to throw him the other can of lemonade, caught it easily, iced it and spiced the sweetness up with his powers before taking a long, thirsty swig. Liz watched him hungrily from behind her shades, a tiny, secret smile on her lips.

Isobel was still a little edgy from the previous night’s scare but controlled her impatience. She let twenty minutes pass, then sat up and looked restlessly round at them all, resenting the air of relaxation pervading the scene when she felt that they were in danger of becoming too complacent. Her voice was low, but the scathing note was audible.

“Now we’re all here and there’s no one else around, Michael, we need to talk about what we’re going to do next, don’t you think? We ARE on the run, although everyone else seems to think we’re on vacation…”

Michael didn’t need Maria’s private warning to understand the feelings behind the waspishness of this remark, so he let it pass without his temper flaring up but moved to sit beside his girlfriend in the shade. Liz immediately followed him and took the chair on his other side, Isobel joined them then everyone stared at Kyle, who was listening to his new radio with his eyes closed and had missed Isobel’s wake-up call. Michael threw his now empty can at the ex-jock to get his attention, and finally the little group round the table was complete.

“Isobel, you’re right - we should make plans, although I think we need to make the most of this ‘vacation’ time – won’t get it so easy for a while when we’re stuck out in the wilderness...”

Isobel and Maria shared a speaking look, which made Kyle grin.

“Ok, so now we talk.”

They all looked at Michael, his familiar frown in place but somewhere behind it a new lightness of spirit surprising to them all except Maria. He looked back and calmly set out their options.

“We stay here in Denver another couple of nights, before we head back into the mountains again for a while. Find other parks and move around for the next few weeks before we settle somewhere.”

Michael paused for a moment and looked round the group.

“I think we shook off our tail when Max sent our enemies tracking a southbound truck, and now that we’ve got 2 ‘unmarked’ vehicles between us again, I’m not so worried about being followed.”

Isobel wasn’t the only one who smiled at that. If the ever-paranoid Michael felt it was safe to relax a little, then everyone else could breathe a huge sigh of relief.

“However, we should still disappear into the backwoods at least for the summer as a basic precaution.”

They all nodded in agreement. The prospect of a long, cold winter camping out in the mountains was still too far away to be taken seriously.

“As for cash, we have about fifteen hundred bucks in real money, although we spent a fortune in the fake stuff. We can’t go on doing that, gotta give it a rest for a while. So. We need to get a bigger stash of real money while we can and I’ve got an idea.”

He reached into his pack which, like the others, he carried with him at all times and brought out some flyers he’d found in the lobby, passing them out around the table. A faint grin appeared on his lips.

“Remember Vegas?”

Kyle’s eyes lit up as he saw what the flyers advertised and he exchanged a knowing glance with Michael.

“There are casinos nearby? It could be our answer, man…”

Maria was excited, too, but at the prospect of some entertainment before she had to bury herself for months in the country.

“Ooh, yes, Spaceboy, nightlife! We can go check it out, maybe have a little fun tonight…”

“It’s nothing like Vegas, Maria. It’s not ritzy, glitzy fantasy, just casual, low stakes stuff. Mostly slots, blackjack and poker, it says here… It’ll just be Kyle and me, anyway-”

There was immediate outrage from the girls.

“Hey, what!”

“No way!”

“Michael, you can’t just leave us behind – wherever we go, we go together…remember?”

“Of course I remember, Maria – but tonight’s an exception. We want to keep a low profile. Can’t do that with all 5 of us turnin’ up everywhere. It’s safer if it’s just Kyle and me…”

Maria was furious.

“No way. Why should you guys get to have all the fun while we’re just stuck here, bored beyond belief. What happened to never letting me leave your side, Michael?”

“We gotta be practical, Maria. We need the money and Isobel can protect you while I’m gone. It’ll only be for a few hours, you know that.”

“You guys want to have a good time, too, admit it. It’s not exactly a painful sacrifice for the safety of the group. Why can’t we come along, too?”

“How much do you know about gambling, Maria? Isobel? Liz?” He barely waited a beat for their shrugs. “Thought so. Listen, it’s down to us guys to get us some hard cash quick as we can, and safer if you girls stay here.”

The others were silent as the argument between the two threatened to flare into the battle of wills familiar from their old life. Kyle and Isobel exchanged a quick, humorous glance while Liz saw with speculative interest that Maria’s cheeks were pink with irritation while Michael’s scowl threatened storms to come. There was a sour note in the prevailing harmony at last…

Isobel intervened to keep the peace but the two protagonists glared frostily at each other before Maria was persuaded into sulky acceptance of the plan and Michael prepared to drag Kyle off to split their camping gear and supplies between the Chevy and the new pick-up, before getting ready for an early evening visit to Blackhawk, 35 miles away.

Studiously ignoring, and ignored by, his girlfriend, Michael assured the others before they left that all they needed was to win a few thousand dollars – nothing spectacular that might draw unwanted attention, just enough to see them through the next few months in case of emergencies. The two guys made their plans, aiming to be back at the motel around ten thirty at the latest, and left the bulk of their cash with the girls, taking $500 in real notes as stake money to split between himself and Kyle.

Left alone, the girls stayed on for a while, swimming and relaxing again; then, when other guests began to gather round the pool, they returned to their rooms to change and meet up later.

Both Liz and Isobel noticed that Maria was still subdued when she arrived in their room a half hour later to decide where to go for dinner.

Isobel expressed sympathy for Maria over the row with Michael, but she just grinned and confidently asserted that they would make up before bedtime. The alien girl was pleased to recognise the new, relaxed closeness between those two as a sign that they had finally reached the next stage of trust in their relationship after all the uncertain struggles that marked their Roswell phase.

Liz, however, was irritated at what she saw as Maria’s stupidity when the row was obviously just an excuse for Michael to dump her, and so she mused aloud while the alien girl finished dressing.

“Michael’s changed since he became the leader – he’s showing himself to be much more intelligent and thoughtful than anyone realized. I think he’s growing away from all the old, stupid ties that held him back in Roswell, don’t you?”

She looked directly at Maria, who gave her a suspicious stare and bit back a sharp retort. This wasn’t the time to confront Liz on her troublemaking – she would only claim that her sly, implied insult was an innocent remark and it would make Maria look foolish in front of Isobel. Best to wait for more evidence before bringing it all out in the open, just like she’d advised Michael after the incident in the coffeeshop.

It was too early for dinner and, anyway, nobody was really hungry. The prospect of eating at another cheap diner was unappealing when they all pictured the guys living it up at a fancy casino. The girls all had glittering memories of Vegas that made it hard to believe that the casino town was just a prosaic local industry and so they all secretly suspected that Michael and Kyle were having a great time without them.

Maria moved restlessly about the room, occasionally muttering imprecations under her breath, as her link to Michael’s emotions told her that he was enjoying himself, even though they still weren’t speaking to each other. She finally joined Isobel watching a homemaking channel on the tv, and became absorbed in a cooking program while Liz stood in front of the bathroom mirror trying to change the colors of her hair and clothes, having finally decided to invest more time on developing her powers.

The evening dragged slowly on for another hour and other two jumped in surprise when Maria suddenly sat up with a rebellious declaration that made Isobel smile.

“Why the hell shouldn’t we have some fun, too? What’s to stop us? We don’t have to go anywhere near the guys - it’s not too late for us to find a nicer restaurant downtown instead of another diner. It’s only 8 o’clock now. We can eat and easily be back here again by ten.”

Isobel, previously bored, grinned in anticipation but Liz objected with a frown.

“Michael told us to stay here, Maria. He’s the leader and you should do what he says.”

“I’m sure Michael didn’t mention starving to death while we sat around in jail. We have to eat somewhere and I can’t see that it matters too much where we go as long as we’re discreet and don’t draw attention to ourselves.”

Isobel backed her friend up. Diners were all very well, but she needed more of a social buzz tonight; if the guys could have a night off, then so could the girls.

“What’s so wrong with someplace a little more upmarket for a change? Doesn’t have to be anything too fancy…”

Despite all their arguments and persuasion, Liz still mulishly set her face against it, arguing that they couldn’t leave her on her own either, forcing the other two to finally give in and reluctantly accompany her to the nearest diner a few blocks down the street.

Food and drink mellowed Isobel and Maria, although they were both cool towards the third member of the party, who didn’t appear to care or even notice, her eyes dreamy and faraway as she messily devoured spicy nachos followed by the chocolate crème donuts she’d ordered for dessert, adding Tabasco sauce with relish. The other two looked on in surprise at the display of naked greed. This was shockingly uncharacteristic behavior in the normally fastidious Liz Parker, but they didn’t comment.

Liz was privately overjoyed at the developments earlier in the evening. When Michael had refused to take Maria with him, she had been convinced her plan was working, seeing in their argument evidence that he meant to cast off the clingy human so that he could finally be with the woman who really was meant to be his destiny.

Planning the details of her future made her so happy that she’d indulged in very sweet and spicy food, enjoying the taste in a sensual, uninhibited way she had never known before. The alien ‘dietary quirk’ was something she had resisted until now, but it gave her so much pleasure she wished she’d given in before. Vanilla was instantly consigned to the past, along with so many other aspects of her old life.

As they walked back to their motel rooms afterwards, they noticed the pool was attractively lit by a blue, underwater glow and there were strings of lights in the surrounding bushes, so Maria suggested that as it was still only 9.15 they get some drinks from the vending machine in the lobby and sit outside until the guys arrived back. Isobel agreed, as did a suddenly friendly Liz who woke from her reverie and offered to go get the drinks herself.

Sitting round a table by the glowing pool, the atmosphere between the three gradually warmed to include Liz as they relaxed again in the fading light. Isobel remembered their bonding from the previous night and Maria, while still mindful of her distrust of the girl who had designs on her boyfriend, let herself pretend that things were normal between them just for this evening.

Over at the town of Blackhawk, Michael was waiting for Kyle to join him in the pick-up, a grin threatening to spread all over his face as he thought of the wad of cash stuffed in his billfold. Blackjack had proved very profitable in a series of discreet wins and losses over the evening in a couple of the many casinos that populated the main street of the town. He’d learned his lesson in Vegas and used his powers so subtly that nobody watching the tables or the surveillance cameras could have doubted that the $250 had been parleyed into $3500 by nothing more than luck and judgement. The group now had $5000 in the pot, enough to keep them going for a while if they were careful. Now that he knew this place existed, they could come back in a different disguise and discreetly replenish the coffers with real money anytime, which was a huge relief for him.

Eating pizza he’d had boxed for take out from the casino snack bar, he approvingly checked out the unexpectedly comfortable interior of the new pick-up, punching the air with joy when he discovered the owner had been a fellow heavy metal fan – the Metallica CDs would replace much of his own lost collection. After a while he began to wonder a little anxiously what had kept Kyle – it shouldn’t have taken this long to lose his share of the stake. They’d each followed their own devices when they’d arrived, arranging a time to meet up but heading for different casinos, and that was the last time they’d made contact throughout the whole evening.

Michael had considered it only fair that his friend should have a chance at the gaming tables, although he had warned Kyle about using his fledgling powers in public under close camera surveillance which would be too chancy to disable. The newest alien had airily promised not to risk it, claiming that the betting system he’d applied in Vegas had been working well until Maria had interfered to stop him before he’d barely got started, just to raise bail money for Michael and Max. The alien had lifted an eyebrow at that, but said nothing more. He’d privately decided that Kyle didn’t really need to win any cash tonight - Michael himself had that covered. He just wanted his friend to have some fun and forget his troubles for a few hours.

While he waited for Kyle, he checked his private link to Maria’s emotions, swirling somewhere on the distant edges of his mind. His successful evening had softened his own stubborn attitude and he could feel that she, too, had lost the sharp edge from their fight earlier. However, Michael cautiously decided not to test Maria’s mood by talking to her right then, as he wasn’t entirely certain that she wouldn’t still bite his head off just for the hell of it. Hurricane DeLuca was a force of nature and thus unpredictable, as he very well knew.

Just as he was picturing some of the more interesting positions in which they could negotiate a peaceful settlement, the door opened and Kyle swung breathlessly into the passenger’s seat next to him, turning to wave at a group of guys who were laughing and calling to him as they headed towards the pick-up. Michael instantly threw the remains of his meal over his shoulder, started the engine and quickly pulled out of the lot. Once on the road, he headed out of town at a normal speed, not wanting any undue attention.

Meanwhile, Kyle was on a high.

“Managed to avoid jail this time, then, Guerin? I was all set to bail you out, too.”

Michael grinned, but cautiously. Kyle seemed to have enjoyed himself, judging by his jubilant demeanor.

“Oh, yeah, Valenti? Win big with that fool-proof system of yours, didya?”

Kyle lay back expansively in the leather seat of the pick-up, smiling smugly, and drew his own wad of cash from his pocket to wave triumphantly under the big alien’s nose.

“You could say that… Go on, guess how much?”

Michael turned his head for a second and stared hard at the ex-Sheriff’s son, then turned his eyes back to the road, deliberately feigning indifference.

“Nah, I can wait, since you’re gonna tell me anyway…”

There was friendly stand-off for a few minutes, each expecting the other to cave, but it was Kyle who finally capitulated, suddenly crowing and mock-punching Michael on the shoulder in his pleasure at winning.

“Five. Thousand. Bucks…”


“You heard me. Five thousand U.S.dollars…”

“You…you didn’t…?”

“What? Oh, use the mojo? ‘Course not. Didn’t need it. Told you I had a system. Hey, I won. Five. Thousand. Dollars. Did I already say that?”

“Yeah, you did. That’s great. Of course, you grabbed the cash and left before anyone noticed, right?”

“Er, well…kinda…”

Kyle looked a little worried for a moment, but then brightened.

“They were all real friendly; tried to get me to keep playing, win some more – wanted to party later, too – but I said no. Said I had to get back to my people, hehe…hic!”

Michael’s suspicions were confirmed.

“Oh, hell, you’re drunk, Valenti. Didn’t you know that aliens and alcohol don’t mix?” He grimly corrected himself. “Ok, guess not; why should you? So, how much of a load did you get on?”

Kyle frowned uncertainly.

“Not much… Coupla beers, I think…”

Michael was no longer relaxed and amused. His voice was sharp with anger and dismay at what might have happened back there in the casino, with heavy camera surveillance everywhere.

“Just what did you do and say while you were drinking with your new best buddies?”

Kyle struggled against his growing urge to sleep and tried to reassure his alien friend.

“Hey, chill, man. Don’t worry. I was fine until I hit the fresh air, then I shook off my fans and came to find you. No need to get upset, nobody knows anything about the you-know-what. S’our l’il ssh-shecret…never gonna tell…”

He yawned and fell back into his seat with his head tilted against the window, fast asleep before he finished his slurred sentence, leaving Michael exasperated and worried.

Despite Kyle’s assurances, his winnings undoubtedly had drawn some unwanted attention to them tonight and the alien stared nervously in the rearview mirror, trying to see if they had been followed by any of the men who had ‘befriended’ a young guy on his own who’d won a pile of cash. There probably was no cause to worry, but Michael wasn’t about to take that chance.

However, nothing suspicious showed and after a few sudden detours to double check, he headed back to the motel. They would just have to move on somewhere else in the morning after all, to keep ahead of anyone who might be interested for whatever reason.

Michael slid a Metallica CD into the player and Kyle began to snore loudly in competition. The big alien suddenly relaxed and grinned to himself. For all its dangers, this life on the road was already a lot better than Roswell…

Back on the terrace, the evening had faded into night as Liz seemed to make a real effort to be friendly to Maria, recalling episodes from their childhood that made them both giggle. However Isobel, listening with interest, noticed that these stories all subtly showed Maria in a lesser light compared to clever Liz and her temper rose as the conversation progressed. Finally she just couldn’t stomach another insidious attempt to make Maria feel inferior and she abruptly interrupted.

“Isn’t your birthday sometime soon, Maria?”

The small blonde looked surprised and had to mentally count off the days since Graduation to work out the current date before confirming that the big day would be in another two weeks.

Isobel enthusiastically pursued the point she wanted to make.

“Liz, don’t you think it’s a shame that we’ll be in the wilderness by then and Maria will miss out on her birthday celebrations?”

Liz was forced to agree, but was suspicious of something in Isobel’s tone of voice. It held a purring note of satisfaction that made her suspect the alien girl was up to something. Sure enough, Isobel’s next words made her stomach churn with anger and jealousy.

“I vote Michael should take her out for a special meal tomorrow night to celebrate while we’re still in a sophisticated city. How about it, Maria? Would you like that?”

Maria smiled mistily, touched that Isobel of all people had remembered her birthday when even she herself had forgotten.

“I’d love it! Depends if Spaceboy and Kyle agree, though. We shouldn’t really waste money on a fancy restaurant just for me when we have to be careful with our budget…”

“Maria, it’s not a waste. I know Kyle will want you to have a great time, too. You’ve been so good to us – well, I don’t know where we’d all be without you. Anyway,” she grinned at her friend, “ we’ll have a good excuse to party when it comes time for the rest of us to celebrate our own birthdays…”

Liz listened to this sickening sweetness with mounting revulsion. How dare Maria steal the limelight and Michael’s attention yet again? She was re-called to the conversation by Isobel impatiently telling her that they were going back to their room with Maria to wait for the guys, as the night was getting uncomfortably chilly.

Isobel told them to go ahead and she would join them in a few minutes, so Liz and Maria walked back to the room in now-strained silence where Liz ostentatiously opened the room’s lock without resorting to the key. Maria was impressed at the improvement in the control of her powers and generously said so, making Liz squirm a little for a moment as she felt an uncomfortable spark of the warmth of their old relationship. She ruthlessly suppressed it and went directly over to her bed, pointedly ignoring Maria, who rolled her eyes at this behavior.

Before she could comment, Isobel arrived at the door and closed it behind her. Delving into a shopping bag, she produced a flat, designer-labelled box and held it out towards her friend.

“I know it’s early, but - Happy Birthday, Maria. I saw this and couldn’t resist – it’ll be perfect for tomorrow night. Michael will think it’s his birthday, too!”

Liz’s gaze narrowed and sharpened as Maria squealed in delighted surprise, rushing over to the bed and forcing herself to open the box with care despite her excitement.

She held her breath and was silent as she lifted an expensive wisp of seafoam green satin and lace from its bed of tissue. Holding it up before her, and beginning to express her incredulous thanks, Maria’s voice faltered as she looked more closely.

Isobel gave a gasp of horror and reached out to gingerly touch the torn and slashed ruins of what had been a stunning designer dress.

Simultaneously, both girls exchanged a glance and turned to stare incredulously at Liz who looked boldly back at them, her expression wide-eyed and innocent.

Maria knew that expression of old, when Liz had used the ‘alien photo’ scam on the Crashdown customers to get bigger tips. She hadn’t believed it then and she didn’t believe it now.

Isobel didn’t believe it either. She had left the shopping bag discreetly hidden among her things in the Chevy until the right moment came to surprise Maria. Only Liz had the motive to destroy something obviously meant for the smaller blonde. Who else would Isobel buy such a gift for, if not for her only real girlfriend in the group? All Isobel’s growing suspicions about Liz’s jealousy crystallised into reality at that moment.

As their shock began to give way to anger Liz shrugged, stood up and walked towards the door only to find her way blocked by Maria, white as a sheet and shaking with the effort to control her temper.

“Oh no, you’re not going to walk away from this one… This stops right now. Elizabeth Parker, how could you…? What the HELL is wrong with you?”

Isobel held her temper reigned in, waiting for an explanation, too.

Liz simply stared at her former friend blankly for a few moments as the silence lengthened…

Then her eyes narrowed and her manner suddenly changed to open hostility as the bitter words spilled out of a thin-lipped, twisted mouth.

“You’re not worthy of a dress like that, Maria. I couldn’t let you wear it for Michael – that would be…wrong.”

Liz moved closer to the stricken Maria, pushing her face close to the other girl’s and speaking persuasively as if to a recalcitrant child.

“It’s time that things were arranged the way they really should be. Since Michael isn’t here to tell you the truth himself, then it’s up to me.”

Maria looked helplessly into the burning eyes of her former best friend and saw only triumph and hatred. Before she could summon words to try to reason with her, Liz spoke again, fighting against the clawing pain of her now almost constant headache, to make Maria face the truth.

“Can’t you see that everyone else has powers except you and always having to protect you is a waste of Michael’s time and energy? He’s going to leave you, anyway. He didn’t want to take you with him tonight, did he? He’s lost interest in you, now he’s found his true place as leader.”

Maria just gaped at her for a moment, then shook her head. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“What? Michael and I are fine. Will you listen to yourself? I know you’ve been hurt real bad by Max again, Lizzie, but this jealousy thing is stupid; it’s insane…just stop it, right now.”

She stepped forward, reaching out to grasp Liz by the shoulders and force her to listen to reason, but the other girl brushed her off with distain.

“Why don’t you just leave us alone and go back to Roswell, Maria? You’re just a needy, small town nobody, when Michael is destined for greater things in life. From the beginning I never was really comfortable with the two of you together, and now I know why… Michael is destined for ME, not you. It should be obvious that I’m his true mate, his Queen, and you – you’re just nothing!”

Maria was still bemused by this sudden vicious, delusional attack from the person she had been closest to all her life. Here was her former best friend confronting her with open spite, the cruel taunts deliberately aimed to hurt her. Then the shock and pain suddenly hit and as her emotions swirled in confusion, her reaction surprised herself as much as it infuriated Liz.

Maria laughed.

She went on laughing as she moved round Liz and went to collapse onto the bed, trying desperately to control the helpless gasps before real hysteria set in. Liz had recoiled in incredulous fury and now, enraged by the unexpected response to her serious ultimatum, took a few steps towards the bed as Maria tried to regain some control.

Until now, Isobel had stayed carefully outside the drama until it was time to intervene. She had considered it a good thing that Liz’s jealousy of Maria, which had been slowly poisoning the atmosphere since Max left, had come to a head tonight in this confrontation between the two, with only herself as witness. No need to involve the guys, who always found it hard to deal with female emotions and, anyway, she wouldn’t trust Michael not to lose his temper in defence of his girlfriend, making things worse. The sooner it was all resolved, the sooner they could all move on, in every sense.

However, the next moment, and too fast for her to intervene, Liz moved threateningly towards Maria who stood up to confront her, the laughter cut off abruptly. A look of mingled anger and pity crossed her face as she held up her hand to ward off the attack, but Liz’s hand rose to mirror the action and a green flash enveloped the small blonde, knocking her over as she gave a small cry of pain. It seemed to Isobel that she fell in slow motion, crumpling sideways and hitting her head on the sharp edge of the nightstand on her way down to the floor, where she lay still.

For a long moment the other two were motionless, horrified, then Isobel reacted and rushed over to Maria, ignoring Liz, who stood frozen, staring blankly at them.

“Maria, for god’s sake, Maria, wake up… Liz. LIZ! Help me lift her onto the bed…”

She shouted impatiently at the immobile figure standing over them, but there was no response except for a continuous shudder running through her slight frame.

Realizing that there would be no help from that direction, Isobel carefully lifted the smaller girl into a more comfortable position, raising her friend to rest against her own shoulder. Her fingers delicately explored the fast-swelling bump on Maria’s temple then, placing her hand gently over the spot to focus more carefully, she closed her eyes to summon the healing energy within her.

The door suddenly burst open and Michael was there, huge and terrifying in his anger as he took in the scene with a single glance before brushing Liz aside and falling to his knees beside the still unconscious Maria. Taking her carefully from Isobel, without any acknowledgement of the alien girl’s presence, he cradled his love in his arms, his big hand gently cupping her face as he frantically focused on amplifying their link to reach the light he could feel behind the dark curtain veiling her unconscious mind.

"***Maria. Maria, wake up… come back to me***"

Although he could feel that she was in no real danger, he was still worried and, when she didn’t respond, he tried to provoke the fighting spirit that always responded so passionately to his own.

***Fight, damn it, fight. I know you can do that – you never had any problem with that before. C’mon, Maria, just do it. Wake up.***

He linked his energy to hers and tried desperately to infuse all his strength into fuelling her tiny, flickering flame. When his pleas and commands were ignored, he began to get seriously worried, and guilt kicked in.

***Hell, it’s my fault – I should have been there to protect you from that demented bitch. Maria, I love you… Come back, princess, and I swear I’ll never let you out of my sight ever again…***

Then he ‘saw’ a fiery plume of energy explode in the darkness veiling her mind, dissipating it along with the sudden terror of loss that had threatened to overwhelm him. To his infinite relief and gratitude he felt a familiar wave of love wash over him as her unique mental voice sounded in his mind, puzzled and a little scared.

***Hey, Spaceboy, what’s the panic for? I guess I was out of it for a moment… What – what happened?***

Now he realized she wasn’t seriously hurt after all, Michael was embarrassed at his emotional reaction, although he could feel that Maria was delighted and moved by it. He leaned in to kiss her gently in profound relief; there was no further need for speech, their feelings conveyed everything the other needed to hear.

Isobel, watching anxiously, saw Maria’s eyelids flicker open to reveal dazed, green eyes that instantly searched for Michael’s face in reassurance. His brown eyes, startlingly wet with unshed tears that he blinked away as he locked gazes with her, had never left his girlfriend’s face since he’d arrived so dramatically to complete the healing process.

Knowing that her friend had suffered a knock-out blow, rather than a fatal one, nevertheless had shaken Isobel to the core and her emotions were still running high with the shock of the confrontation and it’s near-tragic outcome. Isobel sank bonelessly onto the nearest chair and waited until the sudden dizziness passed. Recovering, she vaguely felt something vital was missing from the scene, but for a few minutes she puzzled over what this was until it hit her – Kyle. Where was he? She needed Kyle right now; he had always been there for her when she needed someone strong to lean on. Why wasn’t he here? She began to panic now, when she had been calm throughout the recent crisis.

Leaning forward to prod Michael’s shoulder and rouse him from the trance he appeared to be sharing with Maria, she demanded to know what he had done with her other best friend.

“Kyle?” Michael found it an effort to think about anything other than making sure Maria was really ok. “Oh, he’s sleeping it off in the pick-up. Didn’t know how we react to alcohol and had a couple of celebratory beers…”

He saw Isobel’s amused, indulgent grin flicker for a second, but was too distracted to spare any more time on his inebriated friend right now. It had been a lucky chance that Kyle had been asleep throughout Michael’s recklessly fast drive back over the last couple of miles from Black Hawk, spurred on by Maria’s increasingly troubled emotions and his inability to claim her attention and get her to ‘talk’ to him. At the time he hadn’t cared if their private connection had been revealed, but now he was pleased that it still remained their own secret after all. Now, however, it was time to turn his attention to the dramatic scene he'd found when he’d burst in, only minutes before.

“Never mind him now – what the hell happened here, Isobel? Where’s Liz?”

As he spoke they both looked round and saw that the girl had gone. Neither had given her a thought until now, because Maria had held all their attention. Michael frowned, but said nothing more as he carefully lifted his girlfriend onto the bed farthest away from the door, then he and Isobel spent a few minutes making her comfortable despite her protests that she was fine.

When the three were settled in the lamp-lit room, with Maria resting comfortably against Michael’s chest and Isobel in the easy chair by the window, the alien girl told him about Liz’s outburst.

As Isobel talked, with Maria interjecting comments that revealed she was still in emotional shock over the events, Michael’s rage quickly grew incandescent. It wasn’t until a light bulb exploded in the lamp on the dresser that the girls realized just how angry he was.

Maria, recalled from her own preoccupation with Liz’s bizarre announcement by the violence of Michael’s feelings, tried to defuse the looming crisis.

“Don’t go after her now, Michael. Not here. Too public. We don’t need the attention, ok? At least wait ‘til morning...”

Isobel backed her up, seeing the force of the argument even as she knew that nothing could deflect Michael’s single-minded determination when he was roused. Liz, if she had any sense, would be running as far and fast as she could from retribution.

“Stay here with Iz until I come back, Maria.”

“No, please - stay here with me, Michael. You promised…”

He looked seriously into her eyes and her gaze fell.

“Unfair, Maria. You know I will if you mean it, but are you really going to hold me to it…?”

She sighed and slowly shook her head. He had to take action, because he was the leader and he had to find Liz; it was too dangerous to let her roam around in that jealous, angry mood when she was so unpredictable. Other guests were about and she could so easily cause trouble for herself or the group, intentionally or not. Maria knew that her fears for Liz had not been imaginary. The traumatic experiences of the last few years had finally taken their toll; something was badly wrong.

Michael kissed Maria lightly and unwound her clinging arms from his neck, gently setting her away from him before heading for the door, grim-faced and intent on his mission. He vanished into the night, leaving the two girls staring after him in silent apprehension.

Maria grinned weakly at Isobel.

“I told you we’d be making up again before bedtime… It’s just not quite how I’d pictured it …”

Hunting his quarry through the darkness of the parking lot, Michael felt all his unearthly powers gathering within him; his skin crackled and burned as never before with the effort of containing the raw energy.

He knew Liz must be somewhere nearby. The force of his anger, pounding through his mind and blood as he silently prowled the shadows, grew stronger as he searched with increasing frustration. This time there were no exploding lights or shattered car windows. Michael had his destructive energy under tight control. It occurred to him to check the trucks (Kyle was still out for the count and Michael made a mental note to collect him later) and then the other room, but drew blanks everywhere. Wherever she was, Liz was well hidden. A further ten minutes were spent in a fruitless search of the area, until finally the cold night air penetrated his by now blind fury and the cool, rational part of his brain began to assert itself over the hot, instinctive violence of his alien programming.

It was Liz Parker’s luck that she hadn’t killed Maria, because if that had been the case she would have been dead instantly. Michael, pausing for a moment to breathe deeply as he calmed down, recognised that while he had found the strength to fight against his programming and control the inbred urge to kill his enemies, he also had the wit to know when to deploy it. Liz, whatever demons now rode her, wasn’t a true enemy and violence wasn’t the answer.

That wouldn’t stop him from giving himself the satisfaction of telling the little bitch just exactly what he thought of her – and it wouldn’t be polite or pretty. Revenge was a dish best served cold – and it could wait until morning.

Finally accepting the futility of skulking around the perimeter of the motel in the chilly darkness, Michael made his way back to Maria and Isobel.

Maria’s enormous relief at his return was obvious through their connection and both she and Isobel made it clear they thought he had made the right decision to postpone the confrontation. He returned to his place with Maria on the bed and, by tacit agreement, they all avoided the subject of Liz.

Isobel made coffee for them all and a few minutes later there was a loud knock at the door. When Michael opened it, he found an unsteady Kyle on the other side. Despite his still-smoldering anger, the sight brought a grin to the alien’s face.

Kyle was a picture to behold, his expression blissed way out as he pushed past Michael into the room and flung himself down on the nearest bed. He waved genially over at Maria, a goofy grin appearing as he produced his bundle of cash and threw a shower of twenty dollar bills in the air to flutter down over the beds and surrounding floor.

“Tol’ ya I had a system…y’all gotta believe me now. No alien mojo involved – all my own work… Five thousand bucks. It was real cool. Met some new buddies, too. Invited me to a party but then Guerin took off like a bat out of hell, dunno why, so we never got to go. Damn shame, if you ask me… Oh, hi, Isobel. Great night, shoulda been there. Wanna party?”

He leered at her playfully, and Maria noted with interest that the alien girl actually blushed, although she laughed and briskly told the ‘idiot boy’ to go sleep it off.

Michael was glad to be diverted by this entertainment, but when Isobel returned to the subject of Liz, her conscience pricking her to go check to see if she could find her and at least make sure she was ok, Kyle spoke up sleepily.

“You looking for Liz? Saw her heading into the other room as I came past, she’s pro’lly in need of some space. She’ll be fine. Leave her alone until tomorrow. It’s late, we can all stay here.”

He yawned again and subsided into sleep, while Michael considered the options. Returning to their own room, although giving them privacy, would mean confronting Liz and more drama to keep them all awake. Maria looked longingly at him from the bed. There was no contest. Even though Kyle didn’t yet know about the drama he’d missed, he was right about Liz; it was late, she would keep until morning and so would his anger.

He joined his girlfriend on the bed, needing the comfort of her arms after the eventful evening as much as she needed him. Both were still fully clothed, except for Maria’s shoes, so he shed his own before he lay down under the coverlet and wrapped his arms around her. Her heart beat faster against his and they both knew that if they were alone then the natural thing would be to make love. However, after having tidily collected the scattered money littering the room, Isobel was now stretching out on the next bed, careful to leave plenty of space between herself and a snoring Kyle, so the chances of a passionate encounter tonight were zero. They both added it to the list of grudges against Liz, and made do with cuddling close after Isobel waved the lights out for everyone.

Maria passed the long night with unhappy, restless dreams of her mother or Alex or even Liz, so that Michael had several times to soothe her back to sleep with soft kisses, careful not to wake the other two. He couldn’t sleep, his brain conjuring disturbing memories of the past, threatening the old nightmares that he hadn’t suffered since he’d left Roswell with Maria. To distract himself, he tried dreamwalking again, but got nowhere so he guessed regretfully that Mrs. DeLuca was still sitting up nights worrying about her daughter and making alien souvenirs for her store to keep the nightmares at bay.

He even tried to reach Jim Valenti, but found the same frustrating blank. This wasn’t a surprise either, as he couldn’t picture the older man’s face clearly enough to make a dream connection. Kyle would have to prompt him somehow next time. Maybe he had a photo or something… Resigned to a wakeful night, he let his thoughts drift slowly into making cautious plans for the immediate future and so fell fast asleep at last.

Kyle woke around 6 am with a mild hangover but still feeling good. This was only dimmed when he found Isobel asleep on the bed beside him, her head snuggled on his shoulder and her body pressed against his.

He felt deeply uncomfortable; happy that she was so trusting of him but resentful that she could, knowingly or not, torment him like this when he would never be anything more than her friend.

The emotional conflict soon became too much and he gave in to the raging thirst that had woken him up. Careful not to disturb the sleeping beauty, he made his way first to the bathroom and then, quietly, outside into the morning air to clear his head.

Michael, protective instincts on guard even in sleep, woke up and watched him go, but remembering the coming confrontation with Liz, couldn’t spare much interest or sympathy for the beer-induced sufferings of his friend. He cuddled closer to Maria, who was peacefully asleep at last, but then he reluctantly had second thoughts and decided to join Kyle outside and warn him of the coming fall-out from the events of the previous night.

The morning was clear, but cool, although promising another warm, sunny day and Michael found Kyle already staking out a table in the lobby, exchanging polite remarks with the woman who was setting out the breakfast buffet. Loading plates with danish and donuts, as well as juice and fresh coffee, they sat looking out at a view of the pool through the glass walls keeping the chill at bay. Kyle’s hangover seemed not to have diminished his appetite and both guys ate in silence until they were ready for their coffee cups to be refilled again.

This coincided with the arrival of Isobel and Maria, who collected their own breakfasts, so while they ate Michael told Kyle what had happened with Liz the night before.

Kyle was worried first for Maria, and relieved that she had recovered with no lasting effects, but once reassured of this, he showed deep concern for Liz herself. He insisted that he should go and wake her up - talk to her before Michael rushed in with all guns blazing, however much she might deserve it.

“This is not normal Liz-type behavior – something is wrong, you told me that days ago, Maria, and so did you, Isobel. Guess I didn’t take you seriously. She’s always been your friend, Maria, as long as I can remember. Don’t just shoot her down in flames before we find out what’s really wrong.”

Maria nodded, accepting that she was in danger of letting the others fight her battles for her, feeling guilty that Kyle was the first to offer Liz a chance to explain. She was the one who had seen her friend change before her eyes and knew that there was some kind of a mental torment clouding her judgement. She sighed and put her finger on Michael’s lips to stop his protests before she stood up to go find the girl who had once been her friend, but who now saw and hated her as a rival.

Despite her protest that she would be fine talking to Liz alone, Kyle insisted going with her as Liz still seemed to regard him, at least, as a friend. Michael argued, but was over-ruled by Maria and reluctantly let them head off together on condition that he should be close by so he could intervene if things got ugly again.

When they reached the room, Michael stood back and Kyle was the one who knocked and waited for an answer. When there was no response he exchanged a glance with Maria and then used his new power to unlock the door.

Moving cautiously inside, he called Liz’s name softly in case she was still sleep. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the dimness but when he focused on the small figure lying on the bed, he cried out in shock and heard it echoed by Maria at his elbow.

A minute later, Michael and Isobel had crowded into the room and they all gazed in stunned horror at the body of Liz Parker, almost hidden in a thick veil of silver-grey webbing, the lacy filaments growing and weaving themselves into a cocoon even as they watched…


Chapter Fifty

Frozen to the spot, the others could only stare in stunned shock as the last cobwebby strands contracted to seal Liz’s body into a silver-grey shroud that glinted in the bright sunshine spilling through the wide open door.

As it slowly closed behind them, leaving the room in semi-darkness, Michael finally shook off the paralysing horror that gripped them all and approached the bed, tentatively reaching out to touch the surface of the mummified figure. It felt cool to the touch and almost metallic, alien but faintly familiar, too, in an unsettling way.

The others gathered round him, staring in disbelief until Kyle spoke from the depths of denial.

“She’s not dead. She can’t be. This is some stupid alien crap. It’s a joke, right? Michael? Isobel? What the fuck is going on?”

His voice was loud in the silent room, his protest instinctive and fearful. Maria, stunned into silence, barely heard him as she, too, moved closer to the bed, disbelief giving way to a dawning recognition in her eyes.

Kyle repeated his question, more forcefully, grabbing Michael’s shoulder to shake a response from him. The alien turned questioningly to Isobel, who paused before she answered.

“I- I think it’s like…what happened to Michael when he lost his ‘balance’ that time…”

“What? Lost his balance? What the hell does that mean? Are you putting me on, Isobel? If this is some kind of alien joke, stop it now. It’s not funny…”

“No, I mean Riverdog told us Michael’s Antarian ‘energy balance’ was off, triggered when he went into the sweat lodge and we had to use an alien ritual to heal him…”

Kyle just continued to look poleaxed, so Maria took over the explanation.

She caught Isobel’s eye, both recalling memories of the terrifying time when Michael had began to retreat into a similar protective cocoon.

“Michael’s body went into shutdown and this cobwebby stuff began to form some kind of a protective shell around him…just like Liz, now. We thought he was dying… Riverdog said the first alien told him he would die if the balance wasn’t restored…”

Maria hesitated, casting her mind back to the time when they’d first discovered the incredible secret and Michael’s ‘stonewall’ began to crack…

“There was some kind of ritual that Riverdog showed us… We sort of connected to Michael in the spirit world and healed him…”

Michael nodded at Kyle. His own memories of that time were hazy.

“I don’t remember anything except Maria, Isobel, Max and Alex coming to find me in the desert, then waking up in the cave. I only know the rest from what they told me afterwards.”

Kyle closed his eyes and shook his head to clear it, focusing on the first question that came to mind.

“Who the hell is ‘Riverdog’?”

When the whole story had been related for his benefit, Kyle still looked dazed and confused.

“So where are these ‘healing stones’ now?”

“Max and Michael buried them somewhere out in the desert.”

Maria took a deep breath before she spoke into the silence.

“If they are the only thing that can help Liz, then we have to go back to Roswell and find them.”

Recent enmity was forgotten in the need to save Liz from whatever this new threat was that had suddenly overwhelmed her. Isobel reacted with horror.

“We can’t go back, Maria. That’s suicide for the rest of us. No, there must be some other way to help Liz…”

Michael was already heading towards the door as she spoke. He paused to reassure Maria privately and Isobel aloud.

“Don’t panic, Iz. I took the stones with me when I left. They’re in my saddlebags.”

His laconic words caused a rush of hope in both the girls, though Kyle still stood with a sceptical frown on his face. The whole situation still had an air of unreality for him, and he stared anxiously at the now hardened carapace containing the body of Liz Parker.

Isobel walked over and sat down in the easy chair by the window, after drawing back the drapes a little to let more light in. Maria sat on the edge of the other bed, as close to the – ‘pod’ was now the only word for it - as she could without actually touching it, feeling the need to somehow give comfort, even though it was unlikely that Liz could be aware of anything right now.

Kyle continued to stand at the foot of the bed staring at the thing in horrified fascination.

“I still can’t take it in…its unreal…”

Isobel tried to be optimistic.

“It’s lucky for Liz that Michael decided to take the healing stones with him when he left Roswell. They’ll be a focus to help us reach her and – “

She broke off as Maria’s attention suddenly turned towards the door. Michael came back into the room, his expression grim.

“They’re gone. Max must have taken them when he ran out on us. He must have searched through my stuff, ‘cause I never told anyone I had them…”

“Why would he do that? Is it the Tess thing again?”

“Who knows or cares right now, Isobel? The stones are gone, so what are we gonna do about Liz without them?”

He jerked his head towards the alien object on the bed, now just an oval devoid of human shape, reflecting sunlight from its smooth surface, as Maria and Kyle exchanged despairing looks. Isobel and Michael were more detached, neither harboring particularly friendly feelings towards Liz, although they were just as concerned to find a way to rescue her.

Although she had no clue as to why Max had taken the stones, Isobel was sure her brother would return with them if he knew Liz was in danger, but she had doubts about reaching him in time, as she warned the others.

“I’ll try to dreamwalk Max again tonight but even if we have time for that, he may still be blocking me, so we can’t rely on him…”

“Can we try without the stones?”

Maria’s desperation was painfully obvious, but she could feel that Michael didn’t hold out much hope. He moved to her side, sat down and put an arm round her shoulders. She turned within this shelter and rested her head on his chest, her own arms sliding round him and holding on for all she was worth, drawing comfort from his physical strength and nearness.

Isobel’s voice was calm, but not reassuring.

“Of course we can try, Maria, but Riverdog said that the stones contain energy from our home planet that ‘balances’ the energy within our own bodies. I think he meant they not only acted as a link to that energy, but also combined and amplified our own energy so we could reach Michael…wherever he was. We all had strong feelings, anyhow – we each cared deeply about him in our own way and we couldn’t bear to lose him. I hate to say it…” She hesitated, not wanting to hurt Maria or Kyle, but then reluctantly said it anyway. It was the truth. “…but – I don’t think that it’s quite the same with Liz.”

Kyle looked up sharply. He had been leaning against the wall opposite the window, but he straightened up to face Isobel with an incredulous look on his face.

“What the hell do you mean by that, Isobel? Liz is our friend, one of us, are you saying you don’t care that she’s - like this?”

Isobel sighed and met his accusing eyes, flinching a little at the anger and disappointment she saw there.

“No, I’m not saying that. Of course I care. It’s just that I don’t have such a close bond with her, not like you and Maria do. I barely know her, even after all this time, and we haven’t really got much friendlier since we left Roswell…

Maria interrupted eagerly.

“But it was the same with Alex and Michael, don’t you see? Alex offered his friendship, his human energy, even though he didn’t really know or like Michael then, but he still joined us and helped in the ritual…”

Isobel closed her eyes briefly at the memory of her lost love but then looked steadily back at Kyle again.

“Alex was a really special guy, warm and sweet, kind to everyone…I’m not a good person like he was, but I’m not saying I won’t help. Of course I will. I just want you to know that – that things aren’t going to be quite the same for Liz, especially without the Antarian energy in the stones. I want her to be well again; I just don’t have any warm feelings for her and I’m afraid – I’m really afraid - it’s not going to be enough to reach her and bring her back…”

Kyle turned away and left the room without comment, Maria looked as if she was about to cry and Isobel, feeling guilty and defensive, turned to Michael.

“What do you say? You never had any time for Liz either. You can’t tell me that you feel any different about this than I do…”

Michael agreed, without any hesitation.

“No – she’s a pain in the ass, alright, but we have to try anything we can. Can’t leave her like this. I don’t like her but she’s my responsibility; I have to protect her just as much as the rest of you. Can you remember anything else about the - ritual thing that might help us now?”

Maria and Isobel locked gazes, each trying to recall the details of what went on in Riverdog’s cave.

Isobel tried to set the scene.

“It was dark but lit by a few flaming torches…eerie.”

Maria took over describing the events, as the picture in her mind became more vivid, to Michael’s fascination. This was all new to him; he hadn’t realized until now just how dramatic and terrifying the whole thing had been for the others while he was out of it.

“Riverdog marked out a circle - and we each took our place on the edge with Michael in the center, almost hidden by the webbing…”

“…Except Liz didn’t join us; she wouldn’t help even though Riverdog had told us that Michael might die…”

It hadn’t endeared the girl to Isobel at the time and she wasn’t going to let that fact pass without acknowledgement. Maria recalled her own shock at that other, earlier, time when Liz had also been willing to risk Michael’s life… but she couldn’t let that influence her even though the same danger apparently threatened Liz herself now. Still, she didn’t miss the irony and knew that Michael was conscious of it, too.

“Then, suddenly, we seemed to be in the desert, under blue sky, near rocks…all of us dressed in black…”

“Still in the same ‘wheel’ pattern…”

Michael unexpectedly joined in.

“I remember that part – I was dreaming. You each came over and hugged me. Alex was more formal – he shook hands. You kissed me, Maria…”

***…and you kissed me back, Spaceboy…***

The two paused, looking into each other’s eyes, sharing the memory, so that Isobel impatiently recalled them to their surroundings.

“No time for that now, you two, we need to remember if there was anything other than the alien stones that Riverdog used to send us to that other plane…”

Maria shook her head.

“I don’t think so. Oh, wait. Riverdog made us drink water from a shared bowl - to connect us, he said – I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it could have had some kind of drug in it, I guess…”

It was Michael’s turn to be impatient.

“Yeah, well, that’s no use to us now - we don’t know what it was, even if there was something.”

“Hey, I’m just trying to think of anything at all that might help – it was your idea…”

“Whatever – but, hell, there’s gotta be something we can do.”

“Like what?”

A long, painful silence fell as they all stared at the ‘pod’ on the bed.

Kyle came back into the room and headed over to take the wooden chair beside the dresser. He turned it round and straddled it, crossing his arms on the high back and leaning his chin on them as he surveyed the others. He avoided Isobel’s eyes, but he asked a question that nobody had thought of yet.

“What do you think really caused it? Liz hasn’t been in a sweat lodge, like Michael, so it can’t be the same thing. Maybe if we could figure that out, it might give us a clue…”

Maria sighed, her low voice soft and sad.

“Tess came back and Max rushed off to answer her call without a second thought. I think Liz just couldn’t take any more. She thought leaving Roswell would be a fresh start with Max all to herself at last. I guess another betrayal just sent her over the edge. I know she changed – she got so hostile towards me…but I didn’t call her on it until tonight… maybe if I had…”

Isobel interrupted.

“No, don’t try to blame yourself for this, Maria. It’s not your fault that Liz let her jealousy of you take her over. I noticed how she’s been watching Michael for days, maybe I should have said something, but I let it ride until I had proof of my suspicions. I think she needed someone to replace Max – and when Michael became the leader she found her new obsession…”

Michael reluctantly agreed.

“Yeah, you could be right, Iz; she even tried to hit on me yesterday. I think maybe there’s more to it than that, though…”

He’d watched Tess go after Max and he’d seen how that had developed. Now that he thought about it, the events in the days since Max left were kind of a twisted version of that scenario. Whether consciously or not, it seemed that Liz might have been trying to re-play the defining drama of her own life, this time with herself in her old rival’s role.

When he’d explained his theory, the others agreed there were echoes of the ‘destiny’ power struggle between Liz and Tess over Max. Isobel felt that this explained much of Liz’s breakdown.

“I think Liz convinced herself that she was the one meant to be with the leader, and if not Max, then with Michael – and she’s become insanely jealous of Maria, her ‘rival’ for his love, seeing her as human and ‘inferior’, just like Tess always did when Max was with Liz. She even called Maria a ‘liability’ just like Tess called her that time when Max was…captured and we had to rescue him.” She turned to her friend. “Maybe Liz was trying to re-write the ‘destiny’ scenario so that she won this time, but went too far and hurt you. Maybe it’s guilt that’s caused this…”

Kyle put his head in his hands and ran his fingers through his currently light brown hair, before looking up and catching Maria’s sad glance.

“Well, looking back, all I can say is I never noticed anything really wrong – I just put all that emotional stuff down to leaving Roswell and then Evans running off to Tess – I assumed that she’d get over it eventually, given time. I remember you said that you thought she was a little unbalanced, Maria. I guess you were closer to the truth than you knew…”

“What can we do to help her, then? We can’t just let her die like this, it’s – it’s wrong…”

Michael had been lost in thought while Maria had been distracted by the conversation and now he looked round at them all.

“We try the ritual; we got nothing to lose and it might even work…”

He was doing it more for Maria than because he believed it had a chance of working without the stones and she knew it. Nevertheless, she sent him a grateful mental kiss and hugged him tighter for a moment before she jumped up to pace back and forth along the few feet of space at the foot of the beds.

“What do we do first? Shall I get some water? Can we draw a circle round the bed? Is there enough room in here?”

Maria was almost manic in her eagerness to start the ritual that might save her friend and since her warm, generous heart was one of the many things he loved about her, Michael suppressed a private grin and set about calming her down enough to make a practical plan of action.

“I don’t really think that we can do it here, Maria. It’s too public – people are walking past all the time and the maids will be round to clean the rooms soon - even if we put up the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, we could still draw attention to ourselves if there are any, well, loud noises or something…we just don’t know. So I think we’d better take this out to somewhere more private…”

“Have we got that much time? What if Liz is really dying, like Riverdog said the alien told him?”

Michael stared unseeingly at the pod on the bed as he slowly put his thoughts into words.

“I don't think that the alien told Riverdog the full story, just enough to get him to help... To me, this thing looks too much like a cocoon to be anything other than protective. Our human bodies are organic, they decay after death and our creators knew this. They were advanced genetic engineers. Why would they build this kind of elaborate… shell into our design if not to protect against serious threats to our survival and buy us time for the danger to pass or rescue to arrive? After all, we were in the original 'pods' from the spaceship for 40 years before we were ready to, er…”


“Whatever, Maria. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is – I don’t think Liz is actually dying, although I admit I don’t know what’s happening inside the pod. The process didn’t get as far as this before you all healed me.”

Isobel was fascinated.

“You think it’s some form of healing hibernation, then, Michael?”

“Yeah, I guess I do. It’s just much too dramatic when the most practical way for us to die would be to conform with Earth biology as closely as possible...but if we were...damaged and there was a chance to save and heal us, then maybe this would be it…”

Maria was eager to accept his reasoning and came up with another argument in support of it.

“What about Nasedo? He was from your planet and must have been engineered to survive on Earth, like you. He was too badly hurt and his body simply disintegrated at the moment of death, didn’t Max say?”

Isobel reluctantly thought she saw a flaw in the argument.

“Nasedo was a shapeshifter, he was different from us. He wouldn’t necessarily die in the same way…”

“He wasn’t so different, Iz. I think we’ll be able to learn to shapeshift, too, eventually, if we try hard enough. Nasedo more or less told me, when he made me change my fingerprints to pass through FBI security that time we rescued Max. We’re doing it already at a very basic level when we change our physical disguises, didn’t you realize?”

Maria wasn’t the only one who gasped in surprise at Michael’s matter-of-fact announcement, but they would have to consider the implications some other time.

“So what you’re saying, Guerin, is that it’s not so urgent that we have to try the ritual right now. Liz isn’t dying and we have time to help her when we’ve found some place safer than this motel?”

Michael nodded. Kyle and Maria exchanged a long, thoughtful look then the ex-human stood up and grinned round at the others in relief.

“Ok, so what are we waiting for? Let’s go…”


Chapter Fifty-One

Nobody moved.

Kyle looked round at his friends and then slowly took his place again on the high-backed chair, belatedly realising that there was no point in rushing off with nowhere to go. Maria returned to Michael’s side, where he still sat on the edge of the bed, and his arm automatically slid back round her shoulders to pull her close again.

“So what do we do next?”

At Isobel’s question, all eyes turned to Michael who frowned in thought.

“We’ll have to stay here until tonight. Liz’s ‘pod’ will have to be moved to the pick-up after dark so we don’t draw attention to ourselves during daylight. Stay low-key today then move on as soon as we can.”

“Move on to where? Where do we go from here?”

“I guess we go back into the mountains, find somewhere remote and try the ritual to heal Liz, though I’m not so sure it’ll work without the stones…”

Isobel was getting restless, impatient for the night to come but loathe to go back to the isolation of the mountains so soon after the buzz of the city.

“If we stay here for another night I can try to dreamwalk Max again. He’ll come back with the stones when he knows that Liz is so sick…”

Nobody answered, because none of the others had any faith left in her brother. In the short time since they’d left Roswell, Michael had grown into more of a strong, decisive leader than Max had ever been and it was to him they looked now. Out of the silence he spoke slowly, still thinking about the dangers that lay ahead.

“Ok, Iz, we’ll stay so you can try it. I guess there’s a chance Max might come to his senses.”

Kyle was still distracted by his worry for Liz. He wished he could take some time-out to meditate in private, but although Buddha’s philosophy was a comfort, even that was not much help in an alien-induced crisis like this… He pointed out another aspect that hadn’t yet occurred to the rest.

“It’s going to be days before Max finds us and we can use the stones. Can Liz last that long?”

Maria, still in shock at the fate that had suddenly overtaken Liz, now tried to be calm and practical.

“If Michael’s theory is right about the ‘pod’ being a healing thing, should we even be trying to rescue her so soon? It looks so…solid and…and sort of …um…” She couldn’t put her fear into words. “Maybe we should wait for a while – give it time to work…?”

Isobel nodded her approval.

“Good point… how long do you think we should wait to see if it works by itself?”

“40 years?”

Maria let out an involuntary giggle at Michael’s deadpan comment and then blushed with guilt, while Kyle, clearly unamused, shot an angry glare at them both.

The alien shrugged, unrepentant.

“Worked for us... Ok, then, days, at a guess, or maybe even weeks. We really have no idea, but I think Maria’s right – the pod looks too solid to be a quick fix solution.”

“We can’t take the risk – Liz needs the healing ritual as soon as we can try it – with or without the stones.” Kyle wasn’t going to let anything delay the chance of Liz’s recovery. He was fond of her and although long over the warmer feelings he once had for her, he was grieving for the lost girl he had known before all the alien complications had changed her forever.

Maria suddenly wanted badly to go outside into sunlight and air.

“Liz should come to no harm while she’s protected by …um…her pod. We haven’t got much choice until we know if Isobel can reach Max tonight. Let’s hang out the ‘do not disturb’ sign and then make it look like there’s someone asleep in the bed, just in case…”

They carried out this plan at once, hurriedly and a little guiltily, Kyle hanging the notice outside the door while Michael and the girls pulled the coverlet over the pod, arranging it carefully to resemble a sleeping figure. Then Maria collected their overnight bags and stuff to transfer to the other room, while Isobel closed the drapes. In the semi-darkness the scene was realistically set and, when they left, the room was locked against intruders until they were ready to return.

Once back in the other room again, ranged over the beds and chairs, it was somehow easier to breathe away from the disturbing presence of the alien pod. They lapsed into deep silence for a long time, adjusting to the shock of this new development.

Maria’s horror and concern warred with a guilty sense of satisfaction that Liz had been punished for betraying their friendship. She tried not to think about what would happen if the ritual didn’t work and Liz was trapped inside the pod forever…

Kyle’s fear and anger had abated somewhat as the others seemed to be taking things so calmly. Sinking into a mood of gloomy resignation, he simply waited, chanting silently to himself until he gradually accepted that there would be endless time to pass until nightfall and there was nothing anyone could do to hurry it along.

Isobel was less concerned at Liz’s fate. She was confident that Max would rush back with the stones as soon as she made contact with him. The boredom of waiting got to her sooner than the rest of them and she was irritated by the lack of action.

The others became increasingly restless and bored, too, as the morning dragged slowly by. They had showered earlier (Michael and Maria separately at her insistence and to his disappointment) and then did their laundry the alien way, after Maria had confided despairingly to an interested Michael about her desperate shortage of clean underwear and the need to find a Laundromat or go commando again.

He nobly offered to help, recognising the danger to his future safety if he didn’t and she found out; then her justifiable annoyance that he had kept this useful domestic skill from her for so long had resulted in a major fight (“Clean sheets, Michael Guerin!”) that only Isobel’s by now routine intervention had defused.

The two were then united again in amusement as Isobel patiently taught Kyle the same application of power on his least dirty sweatshirt that she had once taught a newly emancipated Michael. Several holes and burn marks had to be repaired before the lesson was finallly learned to her satisfaction. She refused with fastidious horror to even think about the rest of his laundry.

Then they all settled down once again to wait for nightfall.

Michael had, at first, been grimly prepared to sit it out all day because, no matter what he personally thought of Liz, she was still one of the group and under his protection. Then his patience rapidly wore out and he began to pace moodily around the room until Maria snapped at him. He snapped right back, but then switched on the TV for distraction, to the undisguised relief of Isobel.

There was nothing interesting on the news or anything else, but arguing over the channels filled the silence and gave them something else to focus on for a while.

By late morning, they all had been driven to distraction with nothing to do except drink endless cups of coffee or, in the case of Maria, apple cinnamon tea, and flick apathetically through the old newspapers and magazines from yesterday. They had taken it in turns to go check on Liz, but nothing in that dim, silent room changed.

Standing up abruptly, Isobel announced that she had to get away from the place right then or go mad.

“I’ve got to do something - let’s go back into the city center for lunch. I’ll go nuts if I have to spend all the rest of the day in here…”

Maria wasn’t at all averse to this idea, but her conscience made her reluctantly protest.

“We can’t all go together – someone has to stay to check on Liz…”

She fluttered her lashes dramatically at Michael while Isobel looked hopefully at Kyle. Both guys made a token protest, but after Kyle made Isobel promise to be back by 2.30, so that he and Michael could have some time out themselves, the girls quickly made their escape to freedom.

However, the shops and galleries didn’t hold the same attraction this morning, although they both added more books, CDs and board games for entertainment now they had experience of the mountains’ isolation. They agreed that these were an essential expense they could justify since their budget was no longer quite so tight. The coffeeshop snack was eaten without much interest, as neither Maria nor Isobel could shake off their restlessness after all. Time still passed slowly and although the two girls were comfortable with each other conversation was sparse, their thoughts dwelling on the night to come…

The lunchtime rush was over and they had the place to themselves. Maria hesitated before she spoke, stirring the last dregs of her apple cinnamon iced tea with the straw as she quietly admitted her feelings.

“I think that I’ll never really feel ok again until Liz is back with us. She was my closest friend for so long – and if I lose her as well as Alex… I can’t stop thinking what if she doesn’t make it- ”

Her voice cracked, but she carried on in a painful whisper.

“I know she came to hate me, and I – I wasn’t feeling so friendly towards her either lately, especially since she hit on my boyfriend, but this pod thing is just too weird. It brings back the memories of when we nearly lost Michael that time and I’m so frightened we’ll lose Liz without the stones…”

Isobel tried her best to instil in her friend the same confidence she felt about the outcome.

“Look, Maria, it’ll be ok, really it will. I know it. Just as soon as I can tell Max what’s happened, he’ll be on his way back to us with the stones. He loves Liz and nothing Tess can do will stop him from saving her.”

It seemed to work as the small blonde smiled shakily and Isobel smiled back. Then she reached down for her pack and stood up.

“Let’s go back to the guys – they must be climbing the walls by now.”

Maria said nothing, but she knew that was true – she could already feel Michael’s frustration building at the enforced inactivity, so she sent him wordless reassurance they were on their way, although it didn’t have much of an effect, and followed her alien friend outside, heading back to the parking lot where they’d left the Chevy.

Back at the motel, the guys continued to watch tv and check the pod every hour, getting increasingly bored and frustrated. At noon, without even bothering to try to cheat, they had tossed a coin for who should go get lunch and Michael went to fetch a couple of sandwiches from the nearby diner. Afterwards, they got out the map to discuss where the group should head for this time and Kyle remembered that they still needed two more chairs for their camp, so he went to the front desk to get directions to the nearest store. The expedition to Camping World commenced as soon as the girls came back.

On their return a few hours later with two sturdy recliners and, on the advice of the girls, their own extra supplies of books and music, the guys divided their purchases between the trucks and made space ready for the pod in the back of the pick-up. Michael regarded protecting it as his responsibility and he knew, too, that Maria would want Liz to travel with them.

Around 7.30 Isobel talked Kyle into going out with her to find take-out Thai food for dinner. As the door closed behind the other two, Maria moved straight into Michael’s open arms, holding on tight as they closed around her.

They stayed like that for a long time, not talking, just needing to be together.

Then Michael began to kiss Maria with gentle urgency, sliding his hands beneath her top to lift it over her head before hurriedly stripping off his own sweatshirt and guiding her over to the nearest bed. Lying down beside her, their kisses quickly became more heated and then his greedy mouth left her lips to find her lace-cupped breasts while her hands roved down across his muscular back and around to unzip his jeans and release his straining cock. Soon, their naked bodies moved against each other in a faster rhythm, skin sliding on skin while lips and hands traced teasing trails, fanning the familiar fires afresh as they made love with all their senses, burning their way into the shared white heat of exploding suns to find the place where their souls were joined in eternal bliss. It was necessarily quick and intense, but no less satisfying for that. For a short space of time, Maria had forgotten her troubles and lost herself completely with Michael.

All too soon afterwards, as they lay recovering their breath, Maria’s happy mood evaporated leaving a sadness Michael hadn’t felt from her since Alex’s death. It hurt him that she was hurt so much by the selfish little bitch who had so cruelly destroyed their childhood friendship and it made him so furious that he found himself unreasonably angry with Maria, too, for feeling guilty when she was innocent of any wrongdoing.

***She’s still doing it, isn’t she?***


***Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. Liz is still hurting you even though she’s out of it for now - and you - you’re blaming yourself when it’s not even your fault...***

He felt her mental sigh and the rush of guilt as she pictured Liz being swallowed up into the cocoon.

***No, I’m hurt because - how could she do this to me? I’m sad because I’m scared I’ll lose her like Alex, but I feel guilty because I don’t feel sad enough, Michael. She isn’t really as bad as she’s been behaving lately – otherwise we couldn’t have been best friends for so long - but there’s a part of me thinks she deserves this and she’s being punished at last for the times she made me feel stupid and cheap. I feel guilty about it - most of the time we had fun together and she was great - but I don’t feel as bad for her as I should…***

Michael’s annoyance faded away as her feelings became clearer, but he still couldn’t see why she was beating herself up over Liz.

***Hell, no, Maria – don’t you feel guilty. She may be ‘unbalanced’ for whatever reason, but she had no right to take her issues out on you – she deliberately attacked you with her powers and hurt you. She could have killed you. It’s lucky she got cocooned before I found her. If she ever comes out of her pod, the bitch is dead meat...***

Maria laughed and kissed him again, comforted but not entirely convinced, then reluctantly sat up, looking around for her clothes scattered on the floor.

“Hurry and get dressed, Spaceboy. Isobel and Kyle will be back soon, and then it’ll be time for Isobel’s dreamwalk…”

“Yeah, but I don’t know if it will work – Max somehow managed to block her out last time. I just hope Kyle isn’t dragged into it all again…”

“What am I not being dragged into?”

The door had opened while he was still pulling on his sweatshirt and Kyle entered, grinning knowingly at them, with Isobel close behind. He’d only caught the last comment, but his question was light hearted and forgotten instantly as Maria managed to cover the awkward moment by babbling about the meal and sending Michael to check on Liz again while they shared out the food.

The mix of sweet and spicy Thai suited them all, including Maria who literally shared Michael’s intense pleasure in the tastes. The meal was stretched out as long as possible while they watched some forgettable film on tv and when they were done, darkness had fallen at last.

Closing the drapes as Michael waved the bedside lamps into soft illumination, Maria turned expectantly to Isobel.

“Are you ready to sleep, Izzy? Do you want us to stay or would you rather be alone?”

Kyle watched an uncertain expression flit over the alien girl’s face and knew he couldn’t let her do this alone. He silently called on the strength of his Buddhist beliefs, gathered his courage and prepared to risk his worst nightmare - that Tess might invade his sleep and take control of his mind again...

He smiled reassuringly over at Isobel as she rose from the chair to go over to the bed they had both used last night.

“I’ll try to go with you, maybe I can even help out if Max is stubborn about letting you in again…”

Isobel knew how much he had hated the dreams he’d shared during their nights in the camp and tried to refuse his offer, but he insisted and finally she gave in.

At first they lay side by side in stiff, self-conscious positions, each suddenly acutely aware of the close proximity of the other, until Maria finally realized what the problem was and, with a saucy private comment to Michael that made him grin, suggested the two hold hands and move closer together.

“You probably need to be relaxed and in contact with each other for this to work, so take a few moments to get comfortable. Kyle, why don’t you let Izzy rest her head against your shoulder – that’s better. Michael will lower the lamps a little more,” she watched him as he lazily rose to head for the other bed, the lights fading to a dim glow as he passed, “and we’ll just be close by if you need us, ok?”

She went to cuddle next to her boyfriend, spooning up against him, but remaining wide awake in anticipation.

The room was quiet and Isobel’s eyelids grew heavy; they soon closed and she slipped into the thick, white mists of dreamwalking…


Chapter Fifty-Two

The familiar white dreamwalking mist had a green tint this time and Isobel knew that Kyle, or at least his energy field, was there with her. Summoning her brother’s face in her mind, she tried to enter Max’s dream – but nothing happened. Some barrier stopped her and she was powerless to break through it. Repeated, more desperate, tries got the same result and she finally gave in and let herself wake up.

Kyle’s face was only inches away from hers and his eyes were closed, his breathing soft and deep. He was fast asleep and she had an idea. She didn’t want to take advantage but then again, he had offered – she ignored the little stab of guilt that warned her he hadn’t agreed to be dreamwalked by her, only that he would help her get though to Max…

Changing her focus, this time picturing Kyle’s face, Isobel sank back into the swirling mists, which parted as she entered his dream and looked around. The same shadowy, starlit, desert landscape where she’d found herself in the previous shared dreams met her gaze.

This time it wasn’t the familiar figure of Max who came to meet her, but Kyle – frowning and tense as he emerged from the shadows of the tall rocks, wearing grey sweat pants and his old football jersey. It occurred to her that he really wasn’t comfortable with her presence in his own dream. The only previous time they had been together like this voluntarily was the time she had taken him with her into the dream of his favorite Playboy ‘Playmate of the Year’.

Kyle stopped a few feet away, staring nervously up at the black night sky glittering coldly with stars but thankfully moonless.

“This is my dream, isn’t it? I tried to visualize the same place that Max does… What do you want me to do, Isobel?”

“You know what I need you to do, Kyle - think of Max. Summon the dreamwalking mists and picture his face…maybe you can reach him where I can’t, you’ve got that weird connection.”

He dreaded another encounter with Tess invading his dreams and controlling his mind…and, despite his wish to help, somewhere inside himself he was disturbed at Isobel using him, too. He’d seen her drawn face shadowed with guilt as she rushed through her request – she knew what she was really asking of him. Still, he was unable to resist the sadness of loss behind the desperation in her eyes and he would do as she asked, no matter what it cost him, since he knew that pain himself.

All the hairs on the back of Kyle’s neck stood up as the conviction slowly grew that Tess was back controlling his mind, for as they stood there on the dreamplane, the desert scenery became indistinct and was overlaid by his moonlit room back home in Roswell. The two scenes continued to fade in and out of each other so that, at times, another Kyle seemed to be asleep in his bed outside in the black and silver desert night.

He struggled to retain a grip on his emotions and turned on Isobel.

“What the hell’s happening? Is she here?”

Guiltily aware of his fears, Isobel hastened to reassure him.

“No! No, she’s not, Kyle. Your sleeping mind keeps trying to impose it’s own dream and over-ride the one you’re trying to create, that’s all…”

He calmed down, although his eyes kept darting suspiciously around, alert for any sign of an unwelcome visitor.

“So how do I keep the one I want or can you do it for me? ”

“I can’t control dreams, I can only observe and influence them a little. Just try to concentrate on the dreamplane mists right now, don’t worry about what else is going on…”

He tried hard, and soon the dark dreamscapes eerily mingling in his mind’s eye vanished in soft, white clouds swirling before him. Max’s face wavered into view on this background, but the image was grotesquely distorted as if in a fairground hall of mirrors, and Kyle couldn’t maintain his focus for long.

Isobel, enveloped by the mist herself and seeing her brother’s image appear, brightened with hope and tried hard to connect her own power with Kyle’s. Her idea had been to punch through the barrier from behind the shield of his energy signature, but it seemed that their powers couldn’t link or else Max was blocking Kyle, too, because all her efforts were ineffectual.

She was pacing up and down in tigerish frustration, racking her brain for another idea, when a green flash of Kyle’s power gently pushed her out of his dream all together and she woke up beside him just as his eyes opened, too.

“It’s no good, it isn’t working. We can’t reach Max because he doesn’t want to be reached. It’s down to us to help Liz now...”

Isobel didn’t want admit failure.

“I’m not going to give up so easily. Max can’t hold out forever; anyhow, it may be just that he’s still awake… Let’s try again after midnight, Kyle. Kyle?”

He sat up, angry and sad, to stare over at Michael and Maria curled up on the other bed, watching them in silence. Then he looked back at her and finally nodded, reluctantly, before turning away and sliding down to hunch up and pretend to sleep for a while. He had not found it easy to let Isobel into his mind, even though he almost completely trusted her not to mess with his head.

Just before midnight, Michael and Kyle slipped out to quietly transfer the surprisingly heavy pod to the back of the big pick-up, wrapping and padding it in blankets, wedging it firmly between the hardshell container and the cab then roping it down so that it couldn’t move around. The darkened windows on the hard top covering the truckbed provided privacy as well as protection from the elements.

The night passed slowly for Kyle, his patience sorely tested as Isobel made frequent, futile, attempts to contact Max, with or without his help. Michael and Maria soon gave up any pretence of expecting a result and slept soundly until dawn.

Sometime in the small hours, Kyle held Isobel as she cried silently into his shoulder when she finally admitted that her brother really had found a way to block her out of his dreams and her last hope of contact with him had been severed.

They left the motel early the next morning after a substantial breakfast, Michael and Kyle smuggling out extra Danish and donuts from the buffet, after devouring muffins, toast and preserves along with coffee and juice. A yawning Isobel needed coffee to wake her up, but had little appetite.

They had a long drive ahead of them today, their destination a remote private campground the guys had found during a search conducted from an internet café the previous afternoon after they had shopped for the recliners. The pink and apricot colors of dawn still lingered in the sky as they pulled out of the parking lot and left Denver behind them.

Michael was driving the Tundra with Maria beside him, the Chevy visible in the rear view mirror and the almost empty highway stretching ahead. Alone together at last in their own vehicle on a long day’s journey into the mountains, the new euphoric sense of freedom rose in him once more and his lips curved in a faint smile as he felt his emotions mirrored by the small blonde beside him.

Maria was excitedly exploring the unexpectedly luxurious interior of the big pick-up, exclaiming at the spaciousness, the pale leather upholstery, the 8-speaker stereo system as well as all the other refinements that she hadn’t really registered in her cursory glance when they’d hastily acquired it in the downtown parking garage after the concert three nights ago.

“This is a high-end customised model, princess; got some extras that will come in useful…”

By this time Maria had found the Metallica CDs and grinned over at him.

“I see what you mean, Spaceboy. All the comforts of home,” her voice faltered as she realised what she had said, but she blinked and carried on cheerfully. “We could even live in this if we had to, I guess.”

She was joking, but his reply was serious and he turned his head to look at her, making sure that she understood his intentions.

“Not if I have anything to do with it, Maria. We’re gonna have a real home together as soon as we get through this. Nothing, not the FBI, not Tess or Khivar or anyone else, is gonna stop me…”

Settling back down beside him, she rested her hand lightly on his thigh and smiled lovingly at his profile. His emotions were coming through with startling clarity and she saw his need for them to make a real home and, someday, a family of their own.

“Sounds like the perfect plan to me, Spaceboy...”

Her voice was quiet, but he felt the deep emotions behind it just as easily as she had read his mind.

Maria smiled again, this time to herself. A few days on the road and her whole outlook on life had already changed. This new security in her relationship with Michael seemed to have grounded them both. Just as he had been forced to change and grow up almost overnight, she had also discovered new strengths and possibilities within herself since she left Roswell. Her practical side had emerged to take charge and she looked back without regret at her old, insecure self who’d needed to look for answers in the occult when reality provided only fear and doubt. She knew now that they really did have more than just the chance of a bright future together.

They were both content to be silent with their own thoughts for a while after that, as they left the city behind and headed northeast back into the mountains. It was some time before the argument started over who got to choose the music first…

Kyle was driving the Chevy and Isobel was watching the scenery as she had done since they had started, both of them silent, forgetting even to spell each other at the wheel. Only a mid-morning suggestion that coffee would help him concentrate woke Isobel from her reverie and she roused herself to make them each a cup from the supplies placed within easy reach on the rear seats. Directed to the contraband Danish wrapped in paper napkins, she refused Kyle’s offer to share as she wasn’t hungry and sank back into her silence.

She was startled a little later when Kyle’s voice broke into her thoughts.

“Do you mind if I ask you something, Isobel?” At her enquiring look he carried on, speaking gently. “Why haven’t you tried to dreamwalk your parents? They love you and you can still have that link with them, probably you can even find a way to meet up somewhere when the heat dies down.”

Isobel’s spirits sank further as she ran a tired hand through her now short, black hair and paused before she answered.

Only yesterday she had been yearning for a busy city life, as a distraction from the fear and boredom - now all she craved was a peaceful, safe haven with enough time to get her head around everything that had happened. She hated this mood of self-pity she’d woken up with, but didn’t seem able to snap herself out of it.

“I - really don’t know…maybe because I love them and it will hurt too much… and - and because I’m still angry with them for spying on me, I guess. I feel betrayed by the all people I loved and trusted most – Mom and Dad, Jesse. I’m even angry with Alex for dying, how stupid am I? Now Max has deserted me, too. I’m so mixed up, I just need time…”

Kyle’s silence was sympathetic, but he didn’t know how to comfort her. It wasn’t the right time or even his place to point out that maybe she’d brought some of her troubles on herself.

He sighed unhappily and thought about his dad again, worrying about what was happening to him back in Roswell. Kyle had considered trying to make dream contact himself, but his fear that Tess might somehow reach his dad through him stopped him trying that option. Michael had mentioned yesterday that he’d already tried to dreamwalk the ex-sheriff and he was touched that the gruff alien had thought of him and grateful for his promise to keep trying to make contact.

Recalling that prospect put him in a more optimistic frame of mind and he tuned the radio to a loud country rock station, ignoring Isobel’s protests and promising her turn would come soon, unless she’d prefer to use her personal radio. Muttering that she’d left it in her pack, she subsided and sat back to endure the wait.

At noon, keeping to the plan they’d made over their early breakfast, both vehicles turned off the highway into a small mountain town to find a store and stock up with fresh supplies for the next few days. Following signs to a local picnic area, they parked near a spectacular view and climbed out to take a break for an hour in the clear air, the mountain breeze cooling the heat as the sun blazed down from a deep blue sky.

They all went over to use the restrooms and when they came back the girls set out salad, cheese, bread and fresh fruit on one of the wooden tables scattered round the large grassy area. It was a weekend and the place was rapidly filling up with families out for Sunday picnics, so Michael discreetly used purified water from the big containers in the Chevy to make iced, spiced tea for Maria, Tabasco-laced cherry coke for Isobel and hot coffee for himself and Kyle in their travel mugs. The two guys carried them across from the tailgate and they all shared a leisurely lunch, checking the map, planning where to stop and meet up en route and idly watching the tumble of small children playing games while their parents laughed and chatted all around them.

Once all the food had gone there was nothing to keep them, so they headed back out onto the highway and continued their journey throughout the long, bright afternoon until they came to the edge of the remote area Michael and Kyle had chosen in their discussions the previous afternoon.

A couple of hours later, turning off a dirt road a few miles outside another anonymous small town, the trucks bounced slowly up a rough track leading through the trees toward their chosen campground. At $10 a tent per night, they had booked in for three nights with the agent back in town and when they arrived they saw that it did indeed have everything they were looking for: isolation, with plenty of room to park the trucks and pitch their tents on almost any of the 15 tent pads scattered widely among the rocks and trees. The agent had told them that it was a new business, and at over 8,000 feet above sea level, it wasn’t likely to be overrun with campers in the summer.

Careful to avoid using their powers as they couldn’t yet be sure that there really was no one else around to see them, Kyle and Michael lost no time in pitching the tents some distance apart on a wide, grassy plateau, one on either side of a waterfall tumbling down the hillside through rock pools into a lake hidden in the small valley below. It was a beautiful, private place with a view over the treetops to the mountains.

Meanwhile, the girls explored the amenities before they started to unpack the trucks. This time there was no purpose-built grill area, but there was a fire pit and picnic table for each tent and, further back along the track, a 'rustic' building that housed the modern restrooms for that part of the campsite, with a drinking water supply there, too.

The girls had taken the first opportunity to freshen up from the long journey in the new, clean restrooms, Isobel heating up the cold water showers for them both, while the guys were erecting the tents. Then the guys took theirs, Kyle now just as competent as Michael at controlling the water temperature himself.

Now that they’d gained experience in the state park, the sleeping quarters were soon comfortably arranged with Michael and Maria gaining privacy at last while Isobel and Kyle claimed separate compartments in the other tent.

As the evening shadows slowly lengthened and the temperature dropped, they found a need for their warm trail jackets. Dry twigs and old fallen branches were collected from beneath the trees edging the clearing; then Michael filled their firepit with wood, stacking the rest close by, and Maria unfolded a large, split-level, metal grid above it so that she could position her cooking pots and pans over the flames. Then she sent the others to walk down to the lake for an hour while she made dinner.

She had announced – ambitiously - that tonight’s menu would consist of steak burritos and salad. To everyone’s surprise, she eventually produced warmed tortillas folded around fried steak strips and melted cheese, topped with hand-made, hot, green chilli sauce and avocado – and they all devoured the salty, greasy parcels with hungry pleasure, the chilli taking the edge off the richness and the salad making a perfect, crunchy contrast.

Maria sparkled with delight at the compliments from Isobel and Kyle, then confessed that she had seen a tv chef demonstrate the dish at some time during the previous days when they had been forced to watch from sheer boredom. This didn’t diminish her friends’ appreciation of her efforts in any way. Michael said nothing aloud but she could feel his enjoyment of her food.

Isobel, swallowing the last delicious, spicy bite, remarked that they all seemed to eat a lot and take no exercise since they’d left Roswell, but nobody looked like they’d gained an ounce.

“We’re comfort eating, I guess - but nervous energy burns up calories, Izzy. I’m sure it’s living in constant fear and worry that’s keeping me from being the size of a house…”

“Yeah, just think how skinny and weak we’d be if we didn’t eat this much - I’m gonna enjoy it while I can…”


“What can I say, Isobel? I love the food we’re packing away and I know Guerin agrees with me, don’t you, man?”

“Yeah, I guess I do. Don’t think I’ve ever eaten so good in my life as we do now…”

“Is that an actual compliment, Spaceboy?”

“Yeah, that was a great meal, Maria, have to admit you’re surprising me here…”

He couldn’t see her face clearly in the dusk as she’d pulled the fur-edged hood of her trail jacket up to protect her from the cold wind rising, but he knew she was wrinkling her nose at him.

The guys quickly cleaned the dishes with their alien powers this time, then set the chairs round the firepit for after-dinner warmth while the girls lit the lanterns inside each tent. They discovered there was nowhere to hang the other lanterns high up near the fire, so for tonight they set them on the ground by the chairs, before making the usual coffee and hot chocolate. This ritual had already become a comforting habit in only the few days spent at the last campsite.

A little later, gazing dreamily into the crackling firelight, Maria suddenly remembered the pod. It had already become an increasingly alien and remote object, feeling less and less as if it hid the body of Liz, but it didn’t seem right that it should just be left in the pickup all night. She said as much to the others. Everyone shuffled their feet and looked embarrassed as it became obvious that no one really wanted the alien pod in their tent…

Finally, Michael spoke up.

“It…er…I mean, she will be safer hidden there than if we hauled the pod out into a tent. As long as we check on it – her – regularly, I don’t think it matters where we keep it – Liz won’t know anything about it and it’s not like we’re ready to try the ritual tonight.”

Isobel agreed and even Kyle admitted, guiltily, that he could see the logic, but Maria still felt uncomfortable about it.

So when they all decided to say goodnight and go to bed, tired by the long day’s drive, she flicked on her flashlight, headed over to the pick-up parked next to their tent and climbed into the back of the cab, kneeling on the rear seats and pushing back the sliding window to peer down into the cargo space.

The pod was invisible under its protective blankets, but Maria still spoke softly as if Liz could hear her.

“Hey, Lizzie, it’s me. Don’t worry, petunia, we’re going to get you out of there somehow, no matter how long it takes. We’ve come back into the mountains tonight so we can try that healing ritual like we did for Michael, even though we don’t actually have the stones right now. We’re not going to give up on you, you hear? So you just…um…sleep well, and I’ll talk to you again tomorrow, ‘k?” She bit back a sob. “…’Night, Lizzie…”

Closing and locking the truck with the set of keys she now carried everywhere, she was unsurprised to find a tall, dark figure waiting for her when she turned round. Michael wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, despite the thickness of their outdoor clothes.

***Still feeling bad about her, princess***

It wasn’t a question, but she answered anyway.

***Yes. Before you tell me, I know it’s stupid and she most probably can’t hear me, but I don’t want her to feel lonely, abandoned out here in the cold darkness like a piece of junk or something…***

***We're not treating her like she's a piece of junk. We've got to be practical, that's all. She’s safe where she is and damn lucky to have you to guard her back, Maria. Don’t think about her anymore tonight. Come to bed…***

He kissed her softly, moving along her jawline from her ear to her mouth where he took her lips with a sudden fierce possessiveness, leaving her in no doubt that his hunger for her wouldn’t wait much longer.

Forcing himself away from her, Michael hurried Maria to their tent, sealing the entrance as soon as they were inside the lamp-lit vestibule then taking his time to kiss her slowly and deeply, before quickly shrugging off his own trail jacket as she shed hers, prolonging his torment by pausing to tidily hang them up on the hooks fixed to the bars of the tent frame, instead of dropping them heedlessly on the ground.

The rest of her outer clothes were soon discarded too, leaving her revealed to his torrid gaze in delicate, lacy, blue underwear. His own jeans and sweatshirt had been stripped off in record time and, looking flirtatiously over her shoulder with a provocative pout that always drove him wild, she saw that he had gone commando himself that day, or at least since his recent shower. His big, naked, muscular body made her green eyes suddenly flare with desire…

Stopping in her tracks, she waited for him to come up behind her and mould himself against her back, kissing and sucking her neck as his hands deftly released her bra and tossed it away, coming round to cup and roughly fondle her bare breasts, making her sigh with pleasure. Then it was his turn to gasp when she deliberately ground her lace-covered ass against his rapidly hardening co*ck as she pressed back up against him.

***It’ll all be over too soon if you keep doing that… Hey, I didn’t say to stop…***

***I’d much rather you were all over me soon, too, Spaceboy, so bring that …mmmm, oh, yeah…to the party and let’s think up some ideas on…ooooh…what to do with it…***

***I’ve already got a few ideas to amuse us before we get to play with this, princess, so pay attention…***

Maria laughed aloud in delighted anticipation and he smiled, pleased with her response.

He toyed with her breasts for a few more minutes, loving the way her nipples hardened into two burning berries against his palms; he pinched them between his thumb and forefingers and she gasped in response. Her hands reached back to pull him closer against her, loving the feel of his hardness jutting against her ass as she continued to rub herself against him; he groaned and laughed, then pushed her down onto the bed.

“Whoa, slow down, Maria – we’ve got all night…”

They spent a long time indulging in the sensual pleasures of kissing, a favorite pastime they never seemed to get enough time for either back in Roswell or now on the road. When they were both dizzy with desire, he moved his mouth to her breasts as she ran her fingers through his hair and down over his back, kneading the smooth muscles beneath his skin as he trailed one hand across her stomach to the soft, damp, curls between her thighs. He slid beneath their lacy covering to massage his palm over them before using his power of molecular manipulation to make the panties disappear.

***You better be able to bring them back tomorrow morning, Spaceboy, or you’re in serious trouble. I really like those and I don’t have too many pairs to choose from…***

***Told you before, you might have to go commando for the good of the group…***

His fingers traced tiny circles among the curls, avoiding her secret places for the moment, but making her giggle and wriggle her hips at the tickling sensation.

***Hmmm… Just how is me not wearing panties good for the group?***

***Keeps the leader sweet – when he knows you’re always ready for him, he’s not gonna be takin’ his frustrations out on the rest of the group…***

***In your dreams, Spaceboy. I’m not going to risk pneumonia by going bare-assed just to keep you ‘sweet’ for the others. They’ll have to take their chances or you’ll just have to control yourself when I’m around... Anyhow, they don’t see you as ‘sweet’ - not like I do…***

She grinned up at him teasingly and he leaned down to take one of her pebbled nipples between his teeth to tug and bite gently on it.

***God, I should damn well hope not… In no way, shape or form am I ‘sweet’. Ok? Got that?***

She groaned and he grinned as he moved to pay the same attention to her other nipple.

***Whatever you say, sweetie…***

He lightly smacked her ass in teasing punishment, at the same time as he dipped a blunt finger from his other hand into her already wet cun*t, to hear her gasp sharply at the sensation.

***God, Spaceboy, that feels soooo good…***

***Oh, yeah. Yeah, it does…***

Michael suddenly inserted another finger to join the first one, pumping them roughly inside her, and she nearly levitated off the bed.

He was in heaven, having all Maria’s wondrous naked beauty freely given to him alone to play with for his pleasure - and all the long night to do it at last.

***Don’t stop…oh, please….oh! What are you going to do now, Michael?***

He rolled her over onto her stomach, ignoring her question and her soft, provocative laughter that made him light-headed with love and lust, pushing a pillow under her hips to raise her lovely ass, spreading her thighs apart so that he could see her fully open to him in the soft golden light.

***Ooooh, Michael – I know what you’re going to do…***

He allowed himself the leisure to enjoy caressing the rounded curves of her ass, soft and ripe as an apricot, stroking, kissing and gently biting as she purred with pleasure at his attentions. Leaning forward from his kneeling position behind her, he suddenly grasped her cheeks and drove his tongue deep inside her wet, pink folds to hear her uninhibited cries muffled by the pile of pillows in which her face was now buried. Lapping her juices, he tasted the uniquely addictive tang of spicy sweetness that he loved.

His tongue found and circled her clit, teasing and exploring around it, making her wriggle and moan in her need for him to send her into ecstatic climax, and he listened unmoved to her increasingly imperious demands for him to make her cum right now.

When she really thought she was about to lose her mind, he cruelly withdrew from her, to her shriek of outrage, then suddenly leaned forward and simply blew on her clit. That was enough to make her cum, shuddering in an intense release although she made hardly any noise this time, just a faint sigh as if the sensations were just too private to vocalise. He found it unexpectedly affecting…and arousing.

He gave her no time to recover before he licked again, swirling his tongue round and over the nub like an ice-cream cone, scraping his teeth roughly over it and kneading her ass cheeks with his hands at the same time until she climaxed again and again, so hard that she thought it was going to last forever, hearing a high pitched keening somewhere that she distantly recognised as coming from herself. He felt her mind reach for his, needing him to share in this with her, and the knowledge of the depths of her love for him almost overcame his senses…

Long ages passed, but it was only a few minutes later he watched wonder shining in her green eyes as she lay back against the pillows, breathing heavily. His own sense of wonder and triumph lay in the fact that he was the one privileged to make her feel that way, reach those breathless heights of rapture. And she was the only one who could ever make him feel that way, too.

At that thought they both found he could wait no longer and he roughly positioned himself between her thighs to thrust hard into her welcoming, wet heat, her tight cunt gripping him along his length like a glove. His deep strokes slowly built towards a sensational climax of his own as her sighs and cries became louder and more urgent, his name a breathless command on her lips and an eloquent plea in his mind.

*** "Michael…oh, oooh, Miiiiiiiiiiiichael…" ***

*** "Maria…Maria…Maria…" ***

He chanted her name with each long stroke, thrusting into her with exquisite slowness, exerting his considerable powers of control to prolong her pleasure along with his own. Her legs had already wrapped round his hips, urging him faster when he knew it was still too soon…

Sweat dripped from them both, the salt taste of each other mingling as he leaned down to take her lips with his own, thrusting his tongue deep into her hot, sweet mouth as she sucked greedily on it in matching rhythm as his powerful cock plunged in and out of her searing cunt until the volcanic fires in his blood finally exploded from him at last to be quenched in her liquid core.

Michael’s exultant shout of release echoed in her mind, her own name ringing in her ears as he collapsed on top of her; his weight, pinning her down, another sensory satisfaction added to the uncountable number she’d been gifted with tonight.

Even in the throes of her own electric climax, as it continued to ripple through her mind and body, Maria licked swollen lips in sensual anticipation as her own blood sang in tune with his. Soon it would be her turn to pleasure him…

Kyle and Isobel were oblivious, both too deeply asleep in their lonely beds in the other tent to hear the wild masculine howl echo through the deep silence of the mountains.

Preparing for bed had been a more strained affair than either had wanted to admit. Any dreams they might have would be private tonight; neither had mentioned attempting contact with Max again because the subject was just too emotionally stressful for different reasons.

Sharing the tent had been the only game in town, because there was just no way either was going to spend the night listening to Michael and Maria get hot and heavy. As it was, Kyle knew that the few times he’d been unable to avoid hearing them when he’d shared their tent in the state park were branded on his mind forever. Isobel would have died rather than risk showing pain and jealousy of her friends who had found each other while she was alone.

They’d retired to their respective sleeping compartments, unable to avoid hearing the sounds of the other undressing and sliding into bed. Conversation was stilted, almost shy, until Isobel was surprised and amused to find Kyle intended to stay up a little longer to read.

“You - reading, Kyle? Don’t tell me, let me guess… Sports Illustrated, swimsuit issue.”

Kyle was hurt that she appeared to assume he was a hopeless illiterate, but he joked about it to cover his feelings.

“Hey, I was only in remedial science, you know. Not everyone can be Einstein, but I can read, I don’t just look at the pictures. Well, ok, maybe if it’s Playboy…”

“So what are you reading, Kyle?”

“If you must know, I’ve just started on ‘The Lord of the Rings’… I’ve only seen the first movie, never read the books. Now I’ll have plenty of time to catch up on my reading…”

“What else is on your reading list?”

Isobel couldn’t hide her curiosity. He'd graduated, of course (or would have if they hadn't been so rudely interrupted) but she’d just never considered he might read for pleasure about anything other than sport or, possibly, Buddhism. It was a slight shock to find out that he had other interests of which she was unaware.

“I’ve got a pile of Terry Pratchett paperbacks, apart from the early ones that I’ve already read, of course.”

“Of course. They’re…what? Science fiction, aren’t they? I shouldn’t have thought that would be a subject you’d be interested in…”

He laughed, but there was a hint of bitterness behind it.

“I’m a real live alien myself, now, so why not? Although Pratchett writes humorous fantasy – Alex was really into him and he got me reading them, too. They’re great.”

The mention of Alex brought a return of her own sadness and she quickly said goodnight to Kyle and snuffed the lantern above her own bed, although she could still see the soft glow of his lamp through the dividing wall.

She lay for some time waiting for sleep to come but it seemed that Kyle didn’t have the same problem, as the glow only shone for a short time after hers had been extinguished. In the thick darkness she suddenly felt bereft, as if with the loss of the golden light some frail protection had been withdrawn from her.

Soon, however, a gentle rasping snore reassured her that she was not alone after all and she relaxed, comforted by his presence close by. Her last thought before she sank into her own restless nightmares was a wish that Kyle should have a peaceful night, but she didn’t dare check on his dreams to make sure.

Kyle had been dreaming of elves and wizards, beautiful alien princesses trapped in lonely towers on faraway shores and himself as a heroic knight riding to the rescue.

However, his dream self wasn’t finding it easy.

His exercise bike had long ago ploughed into the sand and a naked, but heavily armed, Playmate of the Month insisted on feeding him so much chocolate cake that he could no longer see past his inflated girth to his feet, which were sinking deeper into the sand with every step he took along the beach. To make matters worse, when he finally arrived, the princess refused to be rescued, bitching that his armour wasn’t a designer brand and he didn’t even have enough cash on him for the ransom, never mind enough to keep her in the style appropriate to her royal status. Her evil wizard captor wouldn’t take a personal check because it was drawn on an out of state bank and the Playmate was now demanding artistic control over the dream images. The beach was rapidly filling up with FBI agents attending the annual Aliens R Us convention and a sparkly pink UFO was rising from the sea to universal applause. Maria was leaning through the serving hatch of the lonely tower, angrily waving a plate of Men-in-Blackberry Pie with a side order of Chilli Orbit Rings at Michael, who was rushing around taking lunch orders in a very short Crashdown uniform while screaming profanities at the customers and taking out enemy Skins with a light sabre. Maria looked over at Kyle, caught his eye and winked. An Alien Blast appeared in his hand and he wandered over to some nearby bleachers to drink it in peace.

In the tent, his unconscious body shifted restlessly in the sleeping bag, tangling the cotton liner around his legs so that he was trapped and couldn’t move. This was reflected in his dream, the mood of comic hysteria suddenly undergoing an ominous change...

The white mists moved almost imperceptibly across Kyle’s dream, thickening so that the noise and color gradually receded and disappeared. He began to panic, sensing another presence in his mind. Fighting desperately to drive it out, he found that he was frozen to the spot, unable to move as an image formed before his horrified gaze.

Max’s face appeared, pleading eyes frantic and mouth silently working to convey a message that Kyle was unable to read.

Taking a chance, he mouthed his own message back, hoping that the other guy would somehow understand that Liz needed him to bring back the healing stones…

The image of Max froze then shattered to reveal the face of Tess, blue eyes alive with a spark of amusement as she looked directly at Kyle with the familiar flirtatious challenge in her voice.

“You need them - I have them, but they won’t work without the rest of you, so I’ll do a deal….”

Kyle's instinctive reaction to the tiny blonde alien’s offer was a blunt refusal, but at the same time, he was cautious and curious.

“Why the hell should we help you, Tess? What do you need them for?”

“That’s my business. If you want the stones to help Liz Parker, then you’ll just have to come get them yourselves…”

She smiled at him with all her old, knowing intimacy, blew him a kiss and faded back into the mists of his dreaming mind.


Chapter Fifty-Three

Michael emerged half-asleep into the already warm morning sunshine, wearing just his jeans, carrying his wash bag, intent on answering an urgent call of nature and then downing at least a pot of the hot, strong coffee that he could smell floating on the thin, crisp mountain air. A fire was burning in the pit outside his tent and Kyle was hunched over the picnic table, clutching a mug and staring out over the treetops.

On the big alien’s return from the restroom he poured himself a java and joined his silent friend. Looking out over the view towards the white-capped mountains, Michael was halfway through his second shot before he spoke.

“Iz still asleep?”


“So’s Maria.”

A reminiscent smile lingered on his lips. A night of some of the hottest lovemaking they’d shared so far had left all his senses hyper-alert and the buzz of total sexual satiation was still with him. He could feel Maria’s sleeping mind blissfully drugged with the same fulfilment and he had the urge to go back and wake her up, carry on where they’d left off only a couple of hours before. The prospect of a whole morning in bed with her was irresistible. Some of the things she’d done to him last night…

Before that, though, he wanted some breakfast so he jumped the rocky little waterfall and went over to find some of the supplies stored in the Chevy’s cooler. He didn’t want to go rooting around in the back of the pick-up, where Liz’s pod was stashed, unless he had no choice.

Soon, he had a pan sizzling away over the firepit. He made more coffee with fresh water from the container; he checked the skillet with the eggs, bacon and tomatoes; then passed his hand over the loaf of sourdough bread on the picnic table, carving off a few neat, thick slices to toast and butter.

“Nothing like the smell of fried bacon and coffee for breakfast in the wilderness, eh?”


“Maybe Maria’s right about the comfort eating thing, but I’m gonna need to take some exercise real soon… Want to go for a hike round the lake after lunch?”

Kyle just grunted in response.

His terse replies didn’t ring any warning bells with Michael, to whom monosyllabic morning conversation was the expected masculine norm. He’d surprised himself by being so talkative this morning, but put it down to the unaccustomed happiness he felt out here in the wilderness with Maria and his friends.

When breakfast was ready, he shared it out between their plates and dug in, savoring every last bite. The mountain air and a night of incredible sex had given him a ravenous appetite this morning. It was only when he reached across for the last slice of toast that he noticed Kyle hadn’t touched his food.

“What’s up, man? This is good…”

Even as he spoke he realized that something must have happened in the night and he stopped eating to look at the ex-jock in wary interrogation. When no answer was forthcoming, he supplied it himself.

“Oh, fuckin’ hell – don’t tell me… Tess came back, didn’t she?”

Kyle just nodded, looking sick.

“What did she want?”

“She wants to make a deal…”

“What the hell for? Max? No way are we going to risk our lives for him now – I hate to say it, but it was his choice to run after her, he must take the consequences.”

“It’s not exactly Max, although he might have been trying to send me a message… No – it seems she’s got the stones and she needs us to make them work for her own schemes. If we want to help Liz, we have to go help her out. That’s the deal.”

“F*uck, that’s all we need. Ok, details…”

Michael pulled Kyle’s untouched plate over and continued eating while he listened. All the enjoyment was gone and a new crisis was upon them, but he couldn’t bring himself to waste good food. Some aspects of his painful, insecure childhood still had their effect, especially as his stress levels were heading off the scale right about now.

Meanwhile, Kyle was giving him an obsessively full and confusing recap of the dream, including references to a naked Playmate, Maria and a short Crashdown uniform that Michael let pass without comment, although he made a mental note to ask about that at some other, less fraught, time. He didn’t approve of his girlfriend making guest appearances, however innocent, in other guys’ dreams.

When Kyle had finished, Michael dropped his head into his hands for a long moment, and then raised it to look over at his tent. Maria had woken up and knew something was wrong. He couldn’t find the actual words to tell her, so it would only be a few minutes before she came rushing over to find out what was going on.

Kyle saw the gesture and half-guessed at his thoughts.

“Isobel will insist on going after Max - and I bet Maria will want to rush to Liz’s rescue…”

“What – and you don’t?”

Kyle looked haggard.

“Of course I do – but I can’t help thinking it’s a trap for the rest of us. We go after the stones and then we’re all in the shit…"

Michael was silent, knowing he was right, and unable to think of anything else to say. He suddenly slammed his fist onto the table, stood up without looking at Kyle and stormed off down beside the waterfall to the lake, needing to be alone to contain the rage building inside him.

A few moments later Maria arrived, raising an eyebrow at Kyle for answers as she could feel that Michael’s mind was just too clouded with anger to be articulate even through their link. As Kyle repeated the dream, again with obsessive attention to detail, Maria bit her lip hard. Michael’s rage and frustration was so strong that she could actually feel it almost as a physical force in her mind through their connection. She knew there was no way that she could even reach him right now. It took some effort on her part to block him out enough to maintain her own self-control.

Kyle saw her glazed look and guessed that she was in shock at the news, so he patted her awkwardly on the shoulder and reached for the coffeepot. Making a fresh supply at least gave him something to do as a distraction from the thoughts circling endlessly through his numbed brain.

He poured Maria a cup and she sipped gratefully, her frowning gaze on the horizon where black clouds were roiling into view and thunder growled around the mountain peaks…

“Think Michael’s taking it out on the weather?”

“Hmmm? Oh, probably…”

From her absent-minded reply, it was clear to Kyle that Maria was as thrown by the news as he had been at first.

There was a long, tense silence, until Maria finally spoke.

“Does Isobel know about this?”

“No, she’s still asleep. I don’t want to wake her until we have to. There’s no rush, there’s nothing we can do right now, so let her get her rest before we talk about plans.”

Maria nodded her agreement. Michael was her main concern, and his anger showed no signs of abating. He would just have to deal with it himself and the approaching storm was the outward sign that he was at least discharging some energy harmlessly.

“What are we gonna do about Liz…we can’t leave her like that?”

“Oh, God, I know - but what can we do? It's just got to be a trap... What do you think?”

“I think we try the healing ritual without the stones – it could work if we all tried hard enough, I know it could…”

Maria shrugged and sighed heavily. If that was what Kyle wanted then she would go along with it, but her enthusiasm from the previous day had dissipated as soon as she heard that Tess had the stones. Some instinct told her that nothing less than the full alien ritual would work for Liz.

By this time the black storm clouds had reached them, blocking out the sun, and they ran for shelter in the nearest tent when forked lightning flashed bright as day, while thunder exploded overhead with crash so loud that it almost hurt their ears.

Kyle had grabbed the still-hot coffeepot, milk and mugs, while Maria rescued the bread, butter, knife and a plate for herself. She wasn’t going to miss breakfast whatever the current alien crisis was doing to the weather.

A squall of rain lashed the tent just as they made it into the vestibule. Maria shivered, grabbed a spare blanket for herself and threw one to Kyle, the temperature having dropped like a stone. The storm raged overhead as they huddled on the ground in silence for the next twenty minutes, sharing more hot coffee and eating the toast Kyle made.

Maria was still lost in her own thoughts but now Kyle was coming out of his own shock, he needed to talk to her about what was bothering him the most. He’d always found her the easiest person in the group to relate to; she’d always listened and her wry, witty manner in dealing with alien life forms struck a responsive chord with his own. These days on the run had brought them closer as friends and he could only be glad of it.

He couldn’t yet bring himself to share his deepest fears with the two aliens, however much he liked them; Isobel and Michael were prone to think their problems were more serious than anyone else’s – which, okay, maybe they were – but at this moment in time Kyle felt that his maybe just had the edge…

He waved his hand in front of Maria’s pre-occupied face and her green eyes suddenly focused on him with complete attention.

“What am I gonna do about Tess? Seems like she can take over my mind any time she wants. God, Maria, I’m so scared she’ll kill me like she did Alex…”

She looked at him with eyes full of sadness and fear and he felt bad about burdening her with his problems after all. However, she reached out and gave him a comforting, friendly hug, which he returned.

“I really wish I knew, but you won’t have to face her alone – we’re all in this together. We’ll just have to figure out something between us.”

It wasn’t the answer he was looking for, but he was grateful that she’d at least offered him the comfort of hope and sympathy.

Isobel splashed into view, dressed for the rain but otherwise ignoring the storm, and joined them in the tent. She focused on the remains of the coffee first, waving her hand over Kyle’s empty mug to clean it ready for her own use. After the first few appreciative sips, she looked round and grinned at the other two cheerfully. The night’s uninterrupted sleep had refreshed her and improved her mood.

“This is cosy. Mmmm, is that toast I smell? If you’re making some, Kyle…” she batted her eyelashes teasingly at him and he automatically reached for the bread.

“Where’s Michael? Still in bed at this time of the morning? Only he could sleep through this noise…”

“No, he’s wide awake, Isobel. In fact, this storm is probably his work…”

“Oh, why? Don’t tell me you two have had another fight, Maria?”

The other two exchanged uncertain glances. It did seem a shame to spoil the first really carefree mood Isobel had woken up in for days.

Kyle offered her a slice of hot, buttered toast and the alien girl ate it quickly with less than her characteristic decorum, licking her fingers and smiling her thanks before turning her gaze on Maria again.

“Okay, what’s wrong? I guess it’s not a fight, from the way you’re holding out on me…”

Kyle sighed and opened his mouth to tell all, but Maria got there first. He found he was grateful – he really didn’t want to be the one to destroy her relaxed mood.

“It’s Tess – she dreamwalked Kyle, told him she has the stones and offered a deal…”

All the color drained out of Isobel’s face and she swayed like she was about to faint.

Kyle moved quickly to catch her before she keeled over, wrapping his arm round her shoulders, holding her upright and supporting her while she fought for control.

Maria patted Isobel’s hand and berated herself for having broken the news so bluntly.

“Maybe I should have prepared her for it first, it’s the shock…”

Isobel made an effort and sat up, but didn’t move away from Kyle.

“No, it’s okay. It’s just that – if she’s got the stones she’s got Max…”

She burst into tears and buried her face in Kyle’s shoulder. He felt angry and – worse – powerless to help her or himself.

Maria moved closer and tried to soothe her friend, too, feeling bad for what she was going through. After a while, Isobel pulled herself together and sat up again, unapologetic about her emotional reaction, but giving them both a grateful, watery smile. Maria found time to be a little jealous of how beautiful the alien girl was, even ravaged by tears. Her own eyes always swelled into pink, puffy slits for hours afterwards.

Kyle took a deep breath and asked the terrifying question that was in all their minds.

“What are we going to do? We can’t just abandon Liz to that…thing.”

“There’s Max, too, don’t forget. God knows what harm Tess has done to his mind – remember what she did to Alex…”

Isobel closed her eyes and fought to remain in control as a wave of nausea, grief and fear swept over her again. She succeeded after a moment and her features assumed their familiar mask of icy calm.

Privately, Kyle was less concerned about the ex-king’s fate than he was about his ex-girlfriend, but the reminder of Alex’s fate and his own part in it made him feel sick, too.

“You don’t have to tell me – I know…but what real choice do we have? Tess’s mind-control powers have obviously increased since she left Earth and we don’t know what she wants us to do when we get there – or even if she’ll keep her side of the bargain. It’s almost certainly suicide if we do go… Michael will say that there’s no point walking into a trap, so we should stay out of it for our own safety. I have to say part of me can see that he’s talking major sense.”

The look the alien girl turned on him burned into his bones, but he stood his ground and waited for her tirade to end.

“Sense? How can you just calmly sit there and talk about ‘sense’ when my brother and Liz are in mortal danger? I don’t care what Michael says; we have to help them. If not, I’ll just go by myself. Max and I will fight that - that creature together.”

Isobel’s anger and frustration was obviously building to a head and Maria was afraid of what would happen between the alien siblings when their opposing views clashed. Both of them would be deeply wounded whatever the result, maybe even beyond repair…

Faced with the first real choice between Michael’s safety or Liz’s uncertain future, there was no contest. Her own loyalties were totally with Michael and she would back his decision, no matter what it was, whatever guilt and sorrow she might have to bear for the rest of her life for deserting her childhood friend… Max’s fate didn’t even cross her mind.

Kyle tried to cool things down a little.

“We still have to try the alien healing ritual…”

Both Maria and Isobel turned pitying looks on him, but he wasn’t about to give in on that one without a fight.

“We do nothing else until we’ve tried that, okay? It still could have a chance if we all try hard enough.”

Just at that moment Michael blew in out of the storm, soaking wet and shivering in just his jeans and mocs. He ignored the tense atmosphere and Isobel’s hostile glare while Maria scolded him as he shook the rain off like a wet dog, showering the others in the process. At the same time, she wrapped him in the blanket still warm from her own body heat and gave him a quick kiss and a hug as she sat back down beside him, rubbing his back comfortingly as he scowled out at the weather he’d created.

Michael’s black mood lightened a little when he spotted the coffeepot and he reached across for it, frowning when he saw that only the cold dregs were left in it while the coffee and water containers were still outside on the table.

Looking out into the storm again, he made a face and looked speculatively back at the pot in his hand. He really needed coffee, but he didn’t want to leave the warmth of the tent and Maria’s loving attentions to go back out into the cold rain again. He had already released his control over the weather, but it would take some time yet to pass on over.

Michael concentrated and waved his hand over the coffeepot. The next moment, the pot was full of steaming hot, strong coffee just the way he liked it. He grinned with satisfaction and looked round for a spare mug. He could only see two so, on a roll of power now, he picked up Maria’s, which was lying discarded nearby, and set it down in front of him. Holding his hand out again, but a few inches over to the left this time, he concentrated until an identical mug appeared.

Two simultaneous gasps of amazement brought his head round to his audience, all gazing wide-eyed between him and his creation.

“Oh, my God, Michael – you found a new power…”

Isobel was the first one to react, shaken for a moment into forgetting her rage. Kyle was still speechless in surprise.

Maria just grinned, having watched first hand the creative processes of his mind. She was proud of her man and already telling him so through their private connection. He grinned smugly back at everyone, revelling in their awe at his new accomplishment.

“Can you do it again?”

That was Isobel, narrow-eyed and sceptical until she had more proof of what she had seen.

Michael’s pride was affronted.

“Of course I can do it again, Iz. Watch.”

He reached out his hand and another mug appeared, then another and another until there were more than two dozen lined up and Maria was begging him to stop while giggling helplessly along with Kyle.

“That’s so cool, Spaceboy.”

Michael thought so, too, and laughed along with them.

A red-eyed Isobel looked on disapprovingly at their levity. Trust Michael to over-react when one simple copy would have been sufficient proof – but Maria and Kyle egging him on was just annoying. They should both know better, especially as there were far more important things to discuss.

Michael finally poured himself a much-needed coffee, looked over at his almost-sister and spoke in a calm, reasonable voice which incensed her even more until she registered what he had to say.

“It’s called 'practice', Iz. We'll all need to do as much of it as we can, if we’re going up against Tess and her devious ways…”


Chapter Fifty-Four

Michael looked round at the shocked faces of the others.

“What? I’m just being a realist, is all. I still think it’s a stupid idea and we should keep out of it. It’s just that I don’t need vision flashes to see that you all really want to agree to the bitch's deal, don’t you?”

Isobel snapped out an eager retort, desperate to persuade the usually stubborn alien that it was the right choice to make.

“Of course we do, Michael. It’s to save Max and Liz – can’t you see we have no choice but to deal with Tess?”

He returned her direct gaze with one of his own as he answered her question.

“Yes, we do have a choice – you have to be clear on that, Isobel. Max made his own choices without concern for the rest of us and Liz is currently safe in a protective pod. For all we know, she could break out of it naturally at any time. A deal with Tess will risk all our lives. So I’m not gonna make the decision for us. I’m not a dictator. It’s a group decision and we vote on it. I’m against it, but I don’t need a crystal ball to know what the outcome will be.”

There was a long silence.

Maria sighed as Michael’s arm came round her shoulders and he pulled her against him, sharing the blanket’s warmth with her as he shared his thoughts, both of them staring out into the dying storm.

***Maria, it’s just too dangerous - I don’t even want to think about you taking that risk…***

***I feel the same about you, Michael, but life’s always going to be risky for us. I guess you know I really, really don’t want to go. I’d so rather stay free out here – but I think there’s no choice…***

***You’re telling me you’d be stupid enough to risk your life for someone who betrayed your friendship – who hasn’t even been a real friend to you for a long time?***

***No, this isn’t about Liz.***

***Then what, for God’s sake? Tell me it’s not for Max…***

“The only good reason for doing it is because wherever we go we won’t be safe until Kyle is rid of Tess’s dream control.”

Maria saw Kyle’s shocked face and realized she must have spoken aloud, so she hurried on before he could recover from his surprise.

“I vote we go. We can’t just let Tess control our lives without fighting back – and at least she’s an enemy we know…”

Even as she spoke, Maria realized her mind was already made up on the matter for a variety of other reasons, too.

Whatever hurtful things she had done, Liz’s recovery was important. Their childhood bond was too strong for Maria to be comfortable with letting her stay in that weird pod thing when there was a chance of rescue.

Alex’s murder was also a factor in her decision – the wish for revenge on his killer flared through her mind and she had to dig her nails into her palms to stop the flood of painful memories that washed over her.

However, the overwhelming argument, as she had reluctantly pointed out to Michael, was Kyle. No one could be safe until Tess’s control over him was no longer a threat. Nobody knew the extent of her Antar-enhanced powers. What if she dreamwalked the group using the Sheriff’s son? Maria herself had no defense against her; even Isobel had been mind-warped by the little bitch way back when they were rescuing Max from the White Room.

She saw nothing for it, but to fight their enemy with whatever weapons they could muster, or live in fear as they had in Roswell. Giving up the precious new freedom she had found with Michael wasn’t an option and Maria knew she would fight with her last breath for their future together.

Although, after the first startled moment, he nodded in understanding, Michael swore to himself as he realized that he would have to re-think his objections. It seemed as if they really didn’t have a choice after all; Kyle was an innocent victim of Tess, and Maria’s silent arguments were convincing. The group really was vulnerable if they didn’t free his friend from the tiny, blonde alien’s mind control.

“Yeah, good point, Maria. Okay, then, I guess the group has made its decision...”

He unconsciously hugged the small human girl closer against him in a protective gesture not lost on either of the others.

Kyle didn’t know if Michael really understood his fear of Tess’s mind control or if it was because, as leader, he was acutely aware of the danger that posed to the group’s safety. Either way he couldn’t let that be the reason for putting everyone else in danger, so he swallowed hard and came up with the obvious solution. His voice was a croak and he had to clear his throat before he could speak.

“Hey, guys, no need to get dramatic – there’s a simple answer to all this. There’s nothing Tess can do to the rest of you without me, or she’d have done it already…so I’ll leave and go find her myself, then you’ll all be safe.”

Isobel’s heart lurched and her protest was loud and instant.

“NO!” She controlled herself and spoke more calmly. “That’s not going to happen. I don’t want to hear any more crazy suggestions like that, Kyle. We all go together.”

Michael and Maria backed her up and Isobel relapsed into silence. All her life, she’d had to argue with Michael over his stubborn refusal to see reason on almost any issue whether alien-related or not. To her secret surprise, he’d grown and changed almost overnight into a leader she respected and listened to, but there were still some things, like her brother’s fate, she couldn’t just let go. Now, to her immense relief, he had finally seen sense and there was a chance to save Max after all. Part of the burden of grief and despair she carried was lightened at the prospect. She didn’t dare let herself think too clearly about the risk to her friends, but she silently vowed to protect them with all her powers, and even her life, if it came to that.

Kyle was torn between relief and guilt. He was ashamed that Tess could invade his mind and control him like she had Alex and even more guilty that through his weakness he might be a threat to the others. It was a real shock that Michael was apparently ready to accept the dangers of confrontation and go to war when it would be safer to let him just take off somewhere alone. He was deeply relieved and grateful that his friends were prepared to risk their lives for him, but soon he’d have to find some privacy to meditate and center himself before he could accept the burden of guilt that knowledge laid upon him.

He roused himself and broke the lengthy silence.

“The weather’s clearing now – let’s at least try that healing ritual thing first…”

Michael agreed, although he didn’t pretend to have any faith in it without the healing stones.

It was decided that they could wait until dusk, because somehow bright sunlight didn’t seem to set the right mood for a mystic healing connection. Maria added the clincher that it was unlikely Tess would be prowling around before nightfall because it would be too early for sleep and dreams.

Only Kyle had any real hope that the healing ritual might work and he intended to prepare himself by meditation before hand. Meanwhile, he felt the need to stretch his long under-used muscles by taking up Michael’s earlier suggestion of a hike around the lake but before, instead of after, lunch.

Michael, although disappointed to lose the chance of a morning in bed with Maria, agreed to join him and then later practice their powers.

The girls wanted a more relaxed take on things and waved the guys off twenty minutes later, although not before Isobel made Michael dissipate all the extra mugs he’d duplicated.

Isobel and Maria set out on their own hike mid-morning, at first setting a gentle pace that suited Maria, who wasn’t a fan of exercise unless it involved a shopping mall. After a time, Isobel became impatient to work off all the excess energy that was building inside her at the prospect of rescuing her brother. She was apologetic, but soon left her friend trailing behind as she strode out ahead over the green landscape edging that part of the lake.

The morning passed quickly for them all in exploring the woods, grassy meadows and rocky outcrops surrounding the still, blue waters reflecting the breathtaking sky and mountain scenery.

After the long hike had re-energised them both, Michael and Kyle had made sure that there was no one around to observe their activities as they found a sheltered place among the rocks and got down to the serious business of practising their powers.

They started with ‘molecular manipulation’, the ability common to all the original aliens, and soon Kyle was changing the shapes and colors of the rocks and then the plant-life within reach until Michael was satisfied that he understood how to control this basic power.

Moving on with a burst of Michael’s original specialty – explosive force – Kyle’s competitive instincts were aroused and soon he was pulverising small rocks and hurling others around with such confident abandon that Michael left him alone so he could go off and work on developing his own skills.

In a patch of shade at the foot of a steep, aspen-wooded slope he checked that Maria was ok and, reassured that she was safely back in camp enjoying some peaceful time to herself, he sat back to enjoy the isolation and explore his newest power – creative ‘duplication’.

He had thought about it on his hike round the lake and worked out that it was a logical extension of their alien ability to ‘manipulate molecular structure’. He found by trial and error that he had swift success in copying small things he could see and touch, using the basic supplies in his pack and sub-consciously reading their patterns.

After a while, he got more ambitious and tried to create something from the free molecules in the atmosphere by simply imagining it, but he couldn’t make any headway. It wasn’t like his normal, instinctive, almost wave-a-hand-and-wish powers. This was taking a lot out of him. Hot and frustrated, he swore at himself so angrily that Maria heard and protested, intervening to calm him down and encourage him to try again.

She reminded him of something they had both forgotten until now - it wasn't the first time he'd created something from nothing. He'd actually created a set of keys to the pick-up, when he was concentrating on the getaway. He'd done it easily, without even thinking about it, so he knew he had the power. Why was it so difficult now?

After a couple of hours of sweat and profanity, he had managed to create something useful. A weapon – a small knife. He’d concentrated on the picture in his mind and the remembered feel of the thing and eventually a metal blade with a plain wooden hilt appeared in a tiny, explosive, rush of wind as the dense patterns of its internal structure were formed from thin air.

Michael’s confidence grew and he experimented with creating other small items – among them a delicate and lovely silver necklace for Maria, inspired by some of the designs he remembered from his afternoon in the art galleries of Denver. Then he summoned vivid, tactile memories of many sensual encounters spent removing her lingerie, to conjure a tiny blue silk bag to hold it safe, ready for when a suitably special, private, moment - maybe on her upcoming birthday - presented itself.

Congratulating himself on his progress, even though he was tired from the unusual effort he’d expended, he noticed that it was way past noon so he stood up to stretch his muscles before retracing his path to find Kyle and see what progress his friend had made with his new powers.

Walking along the trail, he thought about the powers he himself had either mastered or was in the process of developing.

As well as his original specialty of explosive force, together with the defensive shield and the ‘weather magic’ all the aliens shared, he now – thanks to Maria – had the fledgling ability to heal himself as well as others. He had developed the ability to dreamwalk; had even discovered the rudiments of shape-shifting in his assumption of different disguises for himself and now he was going to explore and manipulate molecular structure in new, more creative and imaginative ways, instead of just changing the form of what was already there.

Michael was enormously pleased with himself but also very cautious. There was still a long way to go before he could use his newer abilities without conscious effort.

The soldier in him was stirring in anticipation of the approaching battle to protect his family and he had to be as strong and proficient in his powers as he could in as short a time as possible. He thought they could stall Tess for a while longer as they had what she apparently wanted, but he didn’t trust the little bitch not to make life unpleasant for Kyle if she was baulked of her prey for too long.

Michael’s deepest fear was for Maria – she was human and powerless, although brave and resourceful – and she was his first concern way above everything and everyone else. He hated that she was involved in all this and if it weren’t for the danger to her and the others through the hapless Kyle, would have taken her away to the secret safety of Watercress Creek without a second thought for Liz and Max.

As it was, he would make it clear to the others that any serious threat to Maria and the deal was off. He would have to make sure that she never found out about it, though…the consequences of implying that a DeLuca woman could not wipe the floor with Tess if she chose were just too scary to think about.

When he found the original practice ground Kyle had moved on, but it was easy to follow the trail of destruction and Michael spent some time in damage control as he passed by, re-assembling shattered, rainbow-colored rocks to repair the most obviously unnatural damage to the landscape and generally conceal any clues to their alien presence. He’d had some earlier practice when Maria had insisted on the return of her favorite panties, dissolved the night before in the heat of the moment. The steamy memory sent a sudden bolt of desire flaming through him and he felt the instant response in Maria’s sensitive emotions. He quickened his pace, eager to get on with the power practice and then go find her for some lazy afternoon loving.

A sudden, explosive crack and a Tarzan yell heralded Kyle’s appearance at the top of a stream trickling down the steep rocky slope through the trees at the side of the trail and a small avalanche of gravel showered painfully down on an abruptly pissed-off Michael.

Casually indifferent, his laughing friend jumped down to join him, ignoring his irritation and slapping him on the back in a manner the alien considered way uncool and over-excited. Brushing him off in a huff, Michael stalked on through the trees, complaining bitterly that the drama was degenerating into farce and Kyle had better just get a grip before he attracted attention.

The ex-jock just guffawed and overtook him to jog backwards, capering happily, still rapturously in awe at his new powers.

“Who’s attention are we talking about here, man? Hey, look, there’s a rabbit – but it hasn’t brought its camera, so we’re probably safe this time…Yeah, gotta watch out for those military marmots round here, too, y’know.”

Michael almost cracked a smile at his antics; it was good to see that, this time, the guy hadn’t retreated into the morose, withdrawn mood he had shown before when Tess had appeared in his dreams.

“Have you done exploding rocks, Valenti? Let’s see if you learned anything useful…”

Without warning, he shot a bolt of energy at the shorter guy, bowling him over into the springy green undergrowth were he lay for a moment in winded surprise, before scrambling up and firing an indignant blast right back at the big alien, who laughed and glowed faintly green in the sunlight as his shield absorbed the attack harmlessly.

“Gotta do better than that, man, if we’re gonna kick Tess’s bony ass… We don’t know what surprises she’s got waiting for us.”

He shot another bolt of power, but Kyle was ready this time and his shield was in place to protect himself.

A furious running battle raged through the woods as the two friends hid out and tried to ambush each other, until they became too breathless in the thin mountain air and too helpless with laughter to continue.

A short time later both re-appeared in camp, bickering about who had got the most hits in, and more than ready for lunch.

The two girls were relaxing companionably together on the recliners in the shade of Maria’s tent, reading and listening to music played on CDs the alien way – no player required. Their morning had been spent apart, giving each other breathing space in the empty landscape and a break from the enforced group togetherness.

Maria’s gentle pace had allowed her to approach quite near to some marmots sunning themselves on the rocks and she had spent a little time watching them, fascinated by the novelty of discovering exotic wildlife in their own habitat. A long hike round the lake all by herself hadn’t really appealed to her, so she soon returned to the camp to spend an indulgently indolent morning on some intense personal pampering to restore her travel-neglected hair, skin and nails. Feeling just as refreshed by this as the others would by their more energetic efforts, she was nonetheless pleased to see Isobel return from her hike glowing from the fresh air and exercise, more relaxed than she had been for a while.

The two girls had agreed that lunch could wait until the guys came back but Isobel was feeling more than a little hungry herself by the time they turned up demanding food.

Maria gave Michael the cold stare treatment when he asked if the girls had left them anything to eat, but as she started off to fetch the supplies from the Chevy, Isobel surprised them all by offering to make lunch for everyone. Seeing their hurriedly concealed surprise, she grinned but then became serious for a moment.

“I know I’m invading your territory, Maria, but you just take it easy for once and let me take care of you for a change, okay? I had some space to think this morning and it’s time I started to move on and take my life back…”

The smaller blonde smiled, touched that the alien girl had thought of her and happy to hear that she felt strong enough to begin to emerge from her pain at last.

A short time later, they all shared Isobel’s sandwiches and drinks in the shade by the tent as the guys reported on a successful morning practicing their new powers.

Michael had the satisfaction of eliciting a gasp of amazement from his audience as he displayed the knife and some of the other small objects. There was a babble of excited speculation from Isobel and Kyle, not just Maria, but he had to admit that it wasn’t so easy to create something from nothing as it took so much of his energy. It was easier to ‘clone’ something that already existed.

“I don’t know the limits yet, but I’d guess I’m probably never gonna be able to copy the Chevy, so just deal, okay?”

Isobel was intrigued and made a note to practice with her own powers, as soon as she found the opportunity. Kyle was pleased with himself for mastering the basic stuff and he got a wicked glint in his eye as he speculated on the possibilities of this new power. He’d get working on that himself as soon as possible. Maria was excited for them all, although she suppressed the tiny, secret, twinge of envy.

They finished eating and drifted off to spend a few lazy hours spread out around the camp, reading or listening to music.

Kyle silently disappeared into the woods at four o’clock, seeking peace and solitude for his meditation.

His departure distracted Michael’s attention from his books and the big alien hadn’t needed to use much persuasion to get Maria to go with him for a stroll. Hand-in-hand, they followed the stream down the wooded hillside to the lake, where she wanted to show him the marmots she’d watched that morning. There were still a few of the cute, brown, furry creatures lying around on the rocks, catching the last heat of the sun, but they didn’t hold Michael’s attention for very long. He was much more interested in his Maria, pressing her back against the smooth, slender white trunk of an aspen tree and kissing her until her senses reeled from the soft assault of his lips and tongue.

His big hands roved beneath her tee, exploring the soft curves and the warm satin of her skin as the heady scent of the flowery perfumes she’d used made his own senses swim. He gave himself up to the pleasures of her sweetness, her unconditional love for him that still sometimes caught him by surprise, sending a shaft of wonder and gratitude for the fate that had created them for each other. He felt the echo in her own thoughts and it only increased the fever of his desire, so that he impatiently lifted the tee over her head then unfastened her shorts and pushed them down so that they fell around her ankles, leaving her only in her underwear, which soon followed.

Maria had hurriedly worked at tearing off his clothes, too, so that they soon were both naked in the warm, dappled sunlight of the aspen grove.

Making love in the open air for only the second time gave them a sense of timeless, primal freedom that neither had felt before. Even the lightest touch of lips or hands on warm, responsive skin brought an intensity that neither wanted to end, so they prolonged their sensual pleasures for as long as they could, until he finally lifted her up so that she could wrap her thighs around his waist and impale herself on his cock before he thrust slowly and deeply into her juicy, dripping, pussy. Her cries and moans were loud in the empty silence, but neither of them cared, lost in the sensation of belonging wholly to each other, body and soul.

Michael refused to let Maria get dressed afterwards, preferring to admire her naked loveliness as she wandered beside him through the golden light among the trees. The sight was soon too much for his control and he had to have her again so he chased her, laughing, down to the lake once more, then ignored the discomfort of the hot, unyielding rock against his bare back while she rode wildly above him, snatching the opportunity to make love while they had the chance. The shadow of what lay ahead suddenly touched them both, adding a sense of impending danger to their urgent need for each other.

It was with mutual reluctance that they climbed into their clothes and returned, hand in hand and silently happy, to the camp where Isobel greeted them with a smile and a sharp glance over the top of her shades, before returning to her book. In fact, she’d taken advantage of their absence to practice the new ‘cloning’ power herself, anxious to avoid an audience if she screwed up – which she had. It had been a great relief to her when she finally managed a perfect coffee cup, instead of the freaky shapes she’d produced at first.

Kyle still hadn’t returned at six, when Maria began to think about making dinner – early tonight and light so that they wouldn’t be too sleepy when they needed to be as alert as possible for the ritual at dusk. Chicken salad was the answer, using the ready-cooked meat bought on their journey yesterday. The coolers, temperature maintained by regular energy recharges from the aliens, were getting low on all the fresh stuff, but Maria was no longer so concerned about that. Michael’s new powers should ensure that they could replenish at least the basic stuff like bread, butter, milk, coffee, juice and water whenever they needed to.

Duplicating other foods safely was more of an unknown as yet, and he would need to experiment, but it seemed to her that they were starting out on the road to self-sufficiency – except in the matter of larger items like trucks and houses, she thought with a grin.

She said this to the others when they were all sitting around the table, Kyle having arrived back just as she was about to send Michael or Isobel to look for him. He did look noticeably calmer, more relaxed, and although he hadn’t said anything about it to the others, she guessed it must have been Buddhist meditation that had given him the new aura of peaceful purpose.

Self-sufficiency was a prospect that gave them all a sense of profound relief. Talking as they ate, they realized that it would affect their future lives in the most radical ways, now that they would not be forced to find jobs just to survive, but could settle or move on as they found necessary or as they pleased.

Michael had another pleasing thought as he watched Isobel casually refill the empty coffeepot with a wave of her hand, ostentatiously displaying her mastery of the new power without having to confess to actual practice.

“If we can refill the coffeepot, then that means we can save us a fortune on gas too… we need never stop at a gas station again, so that’s another safeguard to hide our trail from our enemies.”

Optimism spread through the group at the thought of a safer, more secure future and lifted their spirits so that the immediate problem of dealing with Tess didn’t seem so daunting after all.

Eventually, the sun began to sink spectacularly behind the mountains in the west and the time came to prepare for the healing ritual insisted on by Kyle.

The guys brought out the pod from the pick-up and placed it carefully on the grass beyond the firepit near Kyle and Isobel’s tent, well away from the other area back across the stream that they’d been using to cook, eat and hang out in all day. Kyle, who had taken charge of the preparations, instinctively felt that an area of untrammelled nature was a more suitable place to perform a ritual and the others didn’t comment.

Using his new powers in earnest for the first time, he made the grass shine softly in the dusk to mark out a wheel-shaped patch, with Liz’s pod as the hub and glowing lines leading to a place equidistant round the rim for each of the rest of the group.

Isobel lit a blaze in the firepit, flames leaping up high into the evening sky, where a few stars were beginning to appear as the sun finally set.

Maria brought fresh water from the stream and Michael purified it with solemn formality, feeling weirdly like an Ancient Egyptian high priest in some timeless pagan ritual. He watched her move gracefully round the circle to offer each of them a drink from the crystal goblet he’d created from one of their everyday plastic juice glasses, moved to enter the into the spirit of the drama more because of Kyle’s belief and hope than because he had any faith in the outcome.

When Maria reached her own place at the western edge of the circle, between Michael at the south and Isobel at the north, she sipped water herself and then placed the goblet carefully at her feet.

They all sat down in the comfortable cross-legged positions that Kyle had advised and waited in silence, growing uncomfortable and self-conscious, except for Kyle who nodded at each of them in turn, the glow of the firelight playing faintly gold on their faces.

“You all know better than me what to do, but I guess we should all close our eyes and concentrate - think of Liz as we remember her best and – and, well, call her back to us…”

Obediently, everyone closed their eyes and tried to picture Liz…

Maria summoned her friend’s face clearly, seeing a stream of images from the years of their shared childhood when both of them were happy and carefree, best friends forever. Then, before she could stop herself, the bright memories were tarnished, overlaid by the pain of recent jealousies and betrayal so that Maria had to fight desperately hard to banish the shadow and continue to call her estranged friend back to them.

Isobel made a real effort, too, finding pity and sympathy for the girl who had abandoned her ambitions, alienated her friends, and, ultimately, lost the balance of her mind – destroyed by the long obsession with Max. She thought about the Liz who had laughed and had fun that afternoon in the rowboat at River Falls Lake and wished for that girl to come back to them.

Michael concentrated on trying to picture Liz in his mind, not an easy task as he actively disliked the girl and couldn’t pretend otherwise. He decided to work around this negative attitude by telling himself he was doing it for Maria and Kyle, whom he knew really were deeply affected by the loss of the annoying little bi…er… Damn. He tried again.

Kyle drew on the strength he’d gained from his long meditation alone in the woods earlier and waited for his mind to quieten down; even the sounds of the fire snapping and crackling in the silence of the mountain night were a distraction from the concentration he needed. He believed there was a real chance that it could work, if the group harnessed enough positive energy to contact Liz on whatever plane of existence she was on.

The human – or alien – mind, as he now knew from unique personal experience as well as his previous meditation studies, had powers that were as unknown and mysterious as the infinite reaches of the universe and he alone of the group had deliberately acquired some philosophical insight to help him through the shock and confusion of the alien revelations. None of his family or friends had really noticed or given him the credit he deserved for this but he had quietly pursued his interest in the face of ridicule and had learned to deal with strong emotions because of it.

Now Kyle’s Buddhist beliefs and meditation classes had allowed him to step inside his worst fears and rouse his courage, so that he was now ready to fight Tess whatever the outcome of this ritual to free Liz… he remembered the beautiful girl who had enchanted him for a long, hot summer before she'd been dragged into all the alien fear and pain and he knew she didn't really deserve what had happened to her now. He cleared his mind and called on all the strength he had to focus on calling her back.

A long hour passed and the night got darker as the fire died, but nobody stirred from the circle, although concentration broke and it became a test of endurance for all but Kyle, who was used to it and didn’t notice.

After all their doubts they'd all tried their best and were genuinely disappointed to realize the attempt was futile, but nobody wanted to let Kyle down and be the first to break the circle, although Michael and Maria were talking privately to each other through their connection, which helped them both to control their impatience.

Finally, when Isobel was sure she was about to scream, Kyle looked up, shook his head sadly in defeat and slowly stretched his arms above his head, the movement releasing the others from their spell so that they all fell back in attitudes of relief and gratitude that the ordeal was over.

Huddled round the picnic table with a fresh fire glowing in the pit and mugs of hot chocolate and coffee for comfort, the four faced the inevitable together and made plans…

Tonight Kyle, in his dreams or nightmares, would make the deal with Tess and, on the morrow, they would all summon their courage and ride into battle…


Chapter Fifty-Five

Kyle, huddled wide awake in his bed at 2am, found it a bitter irony that the first time he actually wanted to fall asleep so Tess could dreamwalk him, he was too wired for it to happen.

Now he was worried that she wouldn’t be able to reach him.

After their plans had been made, the others had all sat round in his tent until past midnight, keeping him company, playing a board game to try to distract him and themselves until they were ready for sleep. He had insisted that they could leave him alone to dream tonight, arguing that Tess wouldn’t be a threat right now as she needed them and wanted to deal.

Although it was ‘Trivial Pursuit’ that Isobel had dug out of the back of the Chevy – ignoring Michael and Kyle’s loud demands for their own chosen game ‘Chez Geek’ – Michael still had a flash-back to the night he’d been caught cheating at Monopoly at the Evans’ house and felt a pang of deep embarrassment at his old, bitter, resentful self. He hurriedly wiped the painful memory - his prickly defensive attitude and arrogant ‘pride’ was gone; it no longer mattered to him if he won or lost any more. Tonight was so different – his attitude, his whole life, was so different now; he played for the enjoyment of the game and just hanging with the others. Looking round at them all, engrossed by the game in the lamp-lit tent, he felt again what he’d only truly known once before with the Metachem guys - the warmth of inclusion and acceptance among friends who liked him just for being himself.

Maria looked up and smiled at him from across the way, catching his emotion and sending him a wink and a mental kiss, which he returned.

Kyle and Isobel were laughing over some remembered episode from The Simpsons and he was pleased to see it. He wanted them all to forget the dangers ahead and just enjoy the few hours remaining before they had to get serious.

At last they’d finished the game and after Michael and Maria had left to head back to their own tent, Isobel sat yawning and leaning companionably against Kyle, sleepy and relaxed as she finished the last of her hot chocolate before finding her own bed. It seemed to her a natural gesture to turn her head and kiss him softly on his mouth, but she wasn’t prepared for the rush of feeling as their lips touched. It appeared that Kyle was taken by surprise too, because they both sprang apart instantly, their gazes locked for a long, breathless moment before Isobel pulled away and went shakily into her sleeping compartment, sealing herself inside without another word.

Kyle was left staring thoughtfully after her and that was the reason he was still lying wide-awake at 2 am.

Sleep finally arrived around 3 o’clock and, almost at once, Tess was there in his dream again.

It was the familiar domestic setting of the Valenti kitchen once more and his heart skipped a beat in recognition. The small blonde was leaning casually against the counter, blue eyes smiling at him with the characteristic knowing sweetness that had been one of her most appealing charms for him.

He fought against the attraction that still existed somewhere in his heart, even her horrific betrayals unable to extinguish the spark that had always burned between them as friendship, family and maybe something more.

Her voice in his dream was as soft and beguiling as he remembered, and it provoked his anger at last, so that it was a few seconds before he registered what she was saying.

“…explain when I see you again. We haven’t got much time, so I’ll make it quick. Max knew Maria would talk Michael into agreeing to come. It took him nearly a week to reach me, but it shouldn’t take you so long to find us, then we can all get what we need from the stones, okay? Hurry, Kyle, the sooner you get here, the sooner Liz will be free. Do we have a deal?”

She gazed earnestly at him with that deceptive air of innocent pleading – but he knew that in reality she was in cold control of his mind. He nodded at her, not trusting himself to speak. He didn’t miss her reference to Max but whether he was with her willingly or not, she had him at her mercy and although Kyle had no time for the guy, he did have a bond of sympathy for someone who was as much her prisoner as he was.

Tess’s eyes shifted to focus on something behind him and, turning swiftly, he saw Max Evans himself, standing in the corner by the refrigerator, looking back at him with brown eyes as clear and intelligent as ever they were, with an air of confident expectation that made Kyle want to kick him. Max must have read it in his expression because his stance subtly shifted to a defensive pose before he smiled and spoke casually as if they were good friends catching up on news.

“You and I were sharing dreams while we shared the transfer of alien power. I don’t know why. I do know you were draining my energy and Tess had to intervene to break the link...”

“That’s enough, Max.” Tess's tone was suddenly sharp and impatient as she exchanged an unreadable glance with the former alien king. “All he needs to know is that I have the stones and time is running out if they want to free Liz.”

Kyle’s simmering anger with the alien girl was suddenly matched by his loathing of Evans, who seemed to have gone over to the dark side with no hesitation at all.

Max stared fixedly at him and Kyle again saw that unexpected pleading look in his eyes.

“Yeah, Tess is right – you have to come help us with the stones. Tell Michael he must…”

Tess again interrupted him briskly, her expression now smiling again but her voice urgent.

“Just head towards New York; I’ll dreamwalk you again in a couple of nights when you should be close enough to need directions. Remember, Kyle, hurry!”

The next thing Kyle knew was that the tent was full of sunlight and female voices were whispering somewhere close by.

He grunted as he sat up, and Maria called out to him eagerly.

“Kyle! Are you ok? Did Tess come back again? What happened?”

Before he had a chance to respond Michael’s voice growled in his defence, telling his excitable girlfriend to calm down and leave the guy alone to wake up in his own time.

“Coffee, that’s what the guy needs, not girls yapping in his ear before he has a chance to think… I’ll go brew some fresh java, Valenti, then we can talk.”

There was an ominous silence and Kyle winced in sympathy as Maria gave a low growl of her own and chased an unrepentant Michael from the tent. He rubbed his eyes, kicked the covers off and stood up in just his shorts to go find the promised coffee and a shower, in no rush to share his dream encounter until after he woke up properly. Tess’s demands could wait that long, at least.

Isobel was still sitting on the end of her bed, fully dressed and lacing up her hiking boots, when he emerged. She felt shy and self-conscious, but he didn’t seem to notice and she was both relieved and disappointed when he greeted her with his usual friendly grin as he headed out of the tent with his towel and washbag.

Pausing to look out over the distant mountain ranges, misty against the blue morning sky, he slowly stretched and flexed his athletic body, working the kinks out of the muscles in his broad shoulders. Isobel felt a sudden tingle in the pit of her stomach and told herself firmly that it was hunger and time for breakfast. Still, she found that she couldn’t drag her gaze away and continued to watch, mesmerised, until he moved on out of sight.

Breakfast was a leisurely affair, stretched out as long as possible to delay their inevitable departure. Kyle reported his encounter with Tess and Max; Michael didn’t comment, other than to suggest that they all got in as much power practice as they could while they were still in camp and then on the journey ahead.

“Doesn’t have to be anything dramatic – we just have to get used to using them naturally, like breathing, without having to think how to do it.”

Kyle grinned without humor and reached out to concentrate and refill his cup with hot, sweet coffee, as Michael grinned back approvingly and held out his own cup for more.

Maria had been quiet until then, wondering about what lay ahead. As Kyle leaned across to refill her cup, too, she spoke her thoughts aloud.

“I know I've, like, said this before, but it's worth repeating... Tess seems to have developed her powers on Antar, but we don’t know how much or if she has any new ones we don’t know about. We have to be so careful not to rush into anything, right? It could even be that Khivar is involved in all this.”

All eyes turned involuntarily to Isobel, who shook her head angrily at hearing the hated name. Michael was slightly reassured at this response. At least she didn’t look like she was afraid of the man who had almost ruined her wedding trying to reclaim the woman she had been in a previous life.

“When we get there – wherever it is – we stay together and we stay on guard at all times, and Maria stays with me 24/7. If it looks bad, then we leave, no question. But we’ve got some bargaining chips, too – Tess needs us and she’s got time issues or she wouldn’t be so anxious for us to hurry.”

He looked round at all their wary faces, his own expression hard and serious.

“That’s not to say we should do what she wants too easily – if we can get the jump on her then good, but we’ll take as much time as we need and we’ll get as much rest in motels as we can so we go into it with all the advantages we can get, okay? We’ve got to be prepared for anything. Just remember, it was only 2 weeks ago tonight that we were attacked and we still don’t know who our enemies are...”

This threw them all into a depressed mood, so Maria sent the others away into the woods to spend the morning practicing their new powers while she cleaned the dishes, and then began to pack their stuff back into the trucks, leaving the tents to be struck as the last thing to do before leaving after lunch. She made it clear that taking on this chore single-handed was a one-time only deal because of the special circumstances, and it was her contribution to the group effort.

After a lunch of pasta in cheese sauce carefully cooked the human way by Maria, with a loaf of fresh bread and a stick of butter ‘cloned’ by Michael, a green salad produced by Kyle, followed by coffee, or apple cinnamon iced tea courtesy of Isobel, they all went for a last hike round the cold, clear green waters of the lake, each lost in his or her own sad thoughts of the people they had left behind. Michael’s reminder at breakfast that it was only two weeks ago that their lives had abruptly changed forever was heavy in their thoughts.

Late afternoon found them on the road, heading north through the mountains, the girls sharing the Chevy and the guys in the Tundra. All their gear was packed up and divided between the newly disguised trucks as usual and Liz’s pod was back in the padded protection of the pick-up.

Their own appearances had been radically altered for the journey, but the plan was to change back to normal just before they met Tess, so that they might keep the secret of their new abilities from her, if Max hadn’t already spilled everything he knew. Isobel had then surprised them by remarking that it was a piece of luck he had left before they had discovered the other new talents.

Maria had been a little surprised when Isobel asked to ride with her, but she’d agreed without any questions. If Isobel wanted girl-time, then Maria was there for her. Reminded by Michael, as if they’d needed it, of the horrors of that fateful night, it had seemed at once so vivid in their minds and yet a lifetime ago… She was missing her mom so much, and although Spaceboy was being really great and supportive, it was a comfort to be with another girl who totally understood the loss of family.

She had no way of knowing that Isobel had actually been uncomfortable with the prospect of sharing a long drive alone with Kyle so soon after that kiss the previous might. The alien girl was still fighting the shock of finding that she had…feelings for him when she had hardly even begun to deal with all the pain and anger she was holding inside. Avoidance was the only solution; she really didn’t have the strength to cope with any new, fragile emotions right now and bubbly Maria was the perfect companion to lift her spirits and distract her.

In the event, there was silence at first as they drove, but it was a friendly, comfortable silence that soothed both Isobel and Maria as the long journey began.

Mid-evening they stopped at a roadside diner to eat, before they joined Interstate-25 and eventually I-80 in Cheyenne, Wyoming after a long journey through the mountain back-roads.

Making plans at breakfast, Michael had estimated from the maps that it would take more than 3 days to get to New York with overnight motels and rest stops. He had suggested that they should drive on through the first night and take turns to sleep in the trucks. That way they’d arrive ahead of time and have the advantage of surprise; maybe even get a chance to check out enemy territory before they met up with Tess.

The others had agreed and so it was that after their leisurely meal, he joined Maria in the Chevy to follow Isobel and Kyle, who took the pick-up and hit the highway heading east.

Once comfortably cruising along in the fading light, Kyle listened to a soft country music radio station as he drove and Isobel curled her long legs up on the rear bench seat, making herself as comfortable as she could with a pillow and a blanket. Kyle had not given any sign that he even remembered their previous night’s encounter so Isobel, trying her best to ignore the new, disturbing awareness of his very male presence, had gratefully fallen back into their old relaxed, friendly routine. She was startled to find that some of the country rock stuff didn’t even annoy her so much now, which was just scary…

Maria and Michael in the Chevy had arranged things pretty much the same way, although she was driving with a favorite CD playing softly on the surround-sound speakers and it was Michael trying to fold his large body into a comfortable position to sleep on the back seat.

He’d let his girlfriend take the early shift because she was still too nervous and wide awake to sleep; she admitted that driving kept her soothed and occupied, but his own mind was just as busy. He was picturing various scenarios and making contingency plans for each possibility; although he suspected that the most likely one was that Khivar was taking a hand in the game once more, with Tess as his pawn again. He found it hard to believe that she had just been able to steal a spaceship and take off from Antar without encountering any opposition or pursuit, so he suspected that there was more danger ahead than anyone knew.

His thoughts began to circle endlessly around his brain, but then somehow he drifted into sleep, lulled by the sound of Maria’s sultry voice singing softly in the air around him.

The two trucks ate up the endless highway and their occupants spelled each other driving through the night, so that daylight found them cramped and cranky, pulling into the lot of some roadside pancake-house near the Nebraska border to get breakfast and freshen up.

The buttermilk pancakes were good and so was the coffee, but the prevailing mood was not.

Somewhere along the way, the realization that they were going into unknown, maybe deadly, danger again had really hit home to them all. The few half-hearted remarks fell into the gloomy silence and were ignored. Maria’s hand found Michael’s beneath the table and held on tight, his thumb rubbing gentle circles the only touch she could bear right then; their mind-linked emotions were just too spiky for comfort.

Waiting for the morning rush of local traffic to calm, they took turns using the restrooms to freshen up and then exchanged vehicles to vary the routine a little as they continued the journey east.

Michael was driving the pick-up following the Chevy, when, an hour over the border into Iowa at the next rest station, he suddenly swore and pulled off the highway to park. Then he turned to Maria and pulled her into his arms, holding her tight as she wrapped her own arms around him and buried her face into his neck.

They’d been trying to hide their feelings from each other the whole night and finally it just got too much.

***We will make it through this, Maria. I swear I’ll protect you, no matter what***

His voice in her mind was as hard and strong as she had ever heard it and the emotion behind it as fierce, matching her own.

***I know you will, Michael, and as long as we’re together we’ll be fine. It’s Isobel and Kyle I worry about… They have the most to lose in this…***

He sighed, closing his eyes and rubbing his cheek against her now toffee-brown hair, stroking his hand down it’s satin length.

***Yeah, they do, but you know it’s really only for Kyle that I’m here. If we can do anything for Liz and Max, then that’s a bonus, but I’m telling you now, Maria, if it’s you in danger at any time, we are out of there without a second’s thought, understand?***

Maria raised her head and smiled into his eyes, then kissed him with a passion that didn’t quite manage to distract him from her failure to agree with his announcement. He smothered a private grin against her mouth. His princess knew she wouldn’t get a choice in the matter if he decided to whisk her out of harm’s way, but at least she couldn’t say he hadn’t warned her.

Michael let himself forget everything, lost in her kiss until eventually they had to stop before things got out of control. Then they reluctantly pulled away from each other and set out on the road again to catch up with the Chevy.

Every mile they passed brought them closer to danger and Michael’s fear for Maria and the others mixed with a rising excitement as he prepared himself for the coming showdown. He had one other vital question nagging at the back of his mind, too.

Was Max a real enemy now?

They spent the rest of the day on the road, travelling at a steady speed across the monotonous, flat, agricultural landscape of Iowa and into Illinois, not rushing, but only stopping briefly for rest breaks and to get out of the trucks into the warm, dusty summer wind for a few minutes. Isobel, Michael and Kyle continued to practice their new powers when and where they could, keeping it low-key and discreet but becoming more adept and confident in their use.

Their supplies of gas, basic foods and various beverages were now freely and easily replenished, saving them money and time as well as offering optimism for the future, although nobody dared think that far ahead; all they could focus on was whatever waited for them at journey’s end.

They spent the next night at a motel in Illinois and in the morning, after successful ‘home-made’ breakfasts of hot buttered toast, juice and coffee in their rooms, they drove on through Indiana and Ohio with the same lack of interest in the dull roadside scenery as yesterday, taking turns to drive, reading or listening to music on CD or their radios to pass the time. Stopping occasionally to stretch their legs and take a break from the confinement of the trucks, they speculated on where Tess could be. The general opinion was that she would have found shelter with the Dupes in the New York sewers and a thread of apprehension wove through the group. Nobody had good feelings about that and efforts to practice with their powers were re-doubled, Kyle, in particular, making surprisingly fast progress with his skill and control. He knew it was down to his ability to focus on attaining his goal, which had helped make him such a good athlete, and also from the Buddhist training in meditation techniques. Use of the powers was almost instinctive by now and he was not so far away from matching Michael and Isobel in most things, except for the weather ‘magic’ where he still needed more time to practice.

The last night on the road was spent in a motel in Pennsylvania, where Kyle had the promised visit from Tess in his dreams. It was the same scenario as before, with Max this time silent in the background, and the tiny blonde alien girl briskly giving him the directions they needed. She didn’t ask where they were or when they would arrive, just urged them to hurry and, after Max’s image had vanished from the dream, remarked wistfully that she’d missed Kyle a lot.

The image of her sad blue eyes was the first thing he remembered when he awoke, but he quickly blanked it out and wrote down the directions on the pad he’d left ready on the nightstand.

After a restless night they pushed on again through Pennsylvania until they were surprised to find themselves at dusk in the outer suburbs of New York on the edge of a town where big old clapboard houses were set back on wooded lots along a quiet country road.

As night fell and golden lights began to shine warmly through the trees, the two trucks sped on past, heading for someplace they could stop and decide what to do next now they were actually on the brink of confrontation with their enemy at last…


Chapter Fifty-Six

Michael, after signalling to the Chevy to pull off the road some way past the house they were looking for, stepped out of the pick-up with Maria and walked back towards it, climbing into the back seat to consult with the others.

Maria, nervous and anxious, said what they were all thinking.

“This isn’t what I expected at all. I thought we’d find her in the city, hiding out in the sewers with the Dupes. I mean, don’t get me wrong, but what’s with this place? It’s a…nice neighborhood.”

It was a prosperous area; clearly the inhabitants were wealthy enough to afford some measure of seclusion yet still be within easy reach of all the shops and restaurants available in the main street.

“Yeah, what’s with?” Michael wasn’t any more reassured by the classy real estate. “Isobel, you and Maria take the pick-up and head back to main street. Get a coffee or something while Kyle and I go check out the area. We’ll meet you in the parking lot of that burger place within an hour, okay?”

“Why can’t we come too, and why do you get the Chevy?”

Isobel was possessive of the truck she’d acquired from her own first foray into car crime.

“Maybe because four people crashing through the trees might draw some attention if anyone is on watch? The Chevy says ‘money’ and is less suspicious if people notice it parked in this neighborhood. Two young guys, dressed in black, in a pick-up – even an expensive customized baby like ours – says ‘shady business’ in this area at this time of night, okay?”

It made sense so Isobel, with only a token protest, reluctantly gave in. Maria wasn’t so easily persuaded. Creeping through the woods in the dark wasn’t her idea of fun, but she was made of sterner – DeLuca – stuff and so she bit the bullet.

Kyle was already sliding out of the door as Maria pulled Michael into a long, tight hug.

***What happened to 24/7, Michael? I want to go with you. I’ll be so quiet you won’t know I’m there…***

***Can’t be too careful, princess. It’s safer for both of us, right now – I can’t watch out for the enemy in the dark if I’m worried about you. I didn’t think I’d have to leave you again, but at least Isobel will be with you and it’s not gonna be for long***

***I’m still scared for you, Spaceboy***

***Don’t be. I’ll be fine. Kyle and I will just circle the house and try to see whatever we can. Not gonna go lookin’ for trouble***

He kissed her nose and quickly left the truck, following Kyle’s lead in pulling on a dark sweatshirt and knit cap from his own bags in the pick-up, before watching the girls drive off in the direction of main street.

The night was not cold, although there was a light wind that made the trees rustle overhead. Clouds hid the moon as they walked quietly along the sidewalk, the contrast to the immense, glittering starfields of the mountain skies they had left behind them making it seem like a different planet.

The silence allowed them to hear an engine approaching in the distance, so they hid behind a bush until the car passed, then carried on until they came to the house that Tess had directed them to.

It was set well back from the road just like the other large, grassy lots bordered by trees and bushes. The guys moved carefully to peer through the first gap they came to that was big enough to give them a good view of the house.

Crouched in the shelter of the bushes, they saw that lights were on in the first floor windows and the flicker of a TV screen showed, but they couldn’t see any of the occupants from that distance. Two vehicles were parked on the drive at the side of the house; one was the old Volkswagon van and the other an SUV similar to the one Tess drove back in Roswell.

Michael and Kyle split up to prowl the area, but fifteen minutes later they were back in the same spot with nothing to report. There were no signs of life or any security precautions and the house and yard seemed as normal as any other they’d passed.

“Hey, man, did you see there’s a hot tub on the back porch and the yard has a barbeque area…?”

Kyle was intrigued with the set-up, but Michael was only interested in any potential traps and defences that might be hidden around the place.

“There’s nothin’ around here that seems suspicious, and that makes me nervous. C’mon, let’s get back to the Chevy and go find the girls…”

Sitting outside a fast food outlet in the Chevy half an hour later, with burgers (in Kyle’s case, a veggie burger – he tried to keep to his Buddhist philosophy of respecting all forms of sentient life whenever he could), fries and shakes they decided that their only option was to go meet Tess and Max that night.

“Hanging around delaying things isn’t going to give us any advantage – it’s getting late, this is a small town and everything’s closed now so there’s nowhere else to go. We should just go for it. Okay, maybe I’m paranoid, but remember, we keep all our secrets and don’t give any information about us and what we’ve learned since Max split. Right or wrong, we have to assume that he's sung like a bird and Tess now knows everything he knows.”

Kyle interrupted to add his own warning.

“Don’t eat or drink anything we haven’t checked out with our powers. We should use our own supplies or get take-out when we’re hungry.”

Maria stifled a private grin. Kyle was getting as paranoid as Michael, who had nodded seriously in agreement and carried on with the list of precautions.

“Anytime we need to talk privately we come out here to the Chevy or the pick-up. Park away from the house so we can make sure there are no eavesdroppers listening in.”

Michael gave his orders with an impressively calm authority none of them had heard from him before. His true warrior instincts were coming into play, tempered in the fires of recent adversity that had changed him almost overnight from a volatile, moody teenage boy into a watchful, protective, dangerous man.

He looked round at them all and pulled Maria closer against him, trying to send soothing vibes. He could feel her fear and excitement coming strongly through their link, as well as the tremors coursing through her body. He knew she must also be reacting to his own extreme physical and mental tension – he was taut as a coiled spring, wound up ready for some action at last.

“Everyone up for this? It’s not too late to change your mind, you know…maybe we can find some other way to help Kyle.”

Kyle remained silent. The decision was theirs and he wouldn’t blame them if they chose to retreat from the unknown dangers ahead. They’d already been through so much pain. How much more could they take? Then Maria and Isobel shook their heads and smiled at him. They had come this far; there was no backing off now.

By some unspoken agreement, they all got out of the car to throw their trash away and change their appearance, reverting to their familiar selves with unconcealed relief.

They lingered for a moment afterwards, not quite ready to take the next step.

Michael, in an uncharacteristic move, suddenly enveloped Isobel in a hug while Maria followed his example and grabbed Kyle. Then she hugged Isobel as Michael and Kyle exchanged that wary, back-slapping, almost-hug guys use with each other on dangerously emotional, non-sports-related occasions.

The group split up and retreated to their vehicles; then the Tundra rolled out of the lot followed by the Chevy and headed for their appointment with the small girl who had seemingly returned from the dead to play havoc with their lives once again…

They pulled into the drive and parked the cars facing the road ready for a quick getaway before slowly approaching the house. Just as they reached the porch, the door opened and warm, golden light spilled out around the small figure silhouetted in the entrance hall.

Nobody spoke.

Then Tess stepped back and beckoned them inside. Michael entered first, Maria clutching his left arm in a painful grip even as she covered her nervousness with a show of casual indifference, staring critically round at the clean, sparsely furnished hall with the polished wooden staircase leading up to the first floor.

Kyle and Isobel were close behind and the group stood there staring coldly at Tess, who smiled tentatively at each of them but on getting no response, nodded towards an archway leading off the hall.

“Um, we weren’t expecting you so soon but thanks for coming. Max is in here…”

Tess’s soft voice was breathless and uncertain for a moment, but she quickly regained control of herself and led the way into the large, formal living room.

Max had been sitting on one of the two long couches facing each other across a low coffee table, but he stood up and came forward eagerly as they filed in. He looked as relaxed as ever he had, giving no hint of the stressed Max that Isobel and Kyle had encountered on the dream plane.


“Oh, Max!”

Her brother’s greeting was warm, while Isobel‘s voice held a note of sisterly reproach. The siblings hugged, both clearly relieved to be together again at last, as the others looked on.

Then Max turned to Michael with a smile, clearly expecting to hug him too, but the wary, almost hostile, vibe coming off the big guy caused him to stop in his tracks and look solemn instead.

“Michael, good to see you. Glad you’ve been taking good care of everyone for me while I’ve – “

He broke off as Michael raised a sardonic eyebrow at that greeting. Maybe the ex-king realized the implications of his thoughtless comment or maybe a sense of self-preservation had simply kicked in as he took in the changes already apparent in the short time Michael had been leader of the group.

This was no second-in-command answering the summons from his king. This was a powerful, self-confident, watchful leader in his own right, prepared to listen to an argument and then act on his own judgement.

Max had immediately noticed the way Maria, Kyle and even Isobel were all looking at Michael, waiting for his response to the situation, and he could hardly believe this new attitude. A bubble of envy and resentment rose in him at how quickly and easily his life-long subordinate had gained the respect and loyalty that should have been his.

He sighed to himself. This situation couldn’t be allowed to continue for much longer, but for the moment he had other concerns that came first in his priorities. When the time was right, he would take back his rightful place as he had done before.

Meanwhile, there were explanations to be given and plans to be made.

There was a long, silent pause as Max and Michael stared each other down and the other four looked on. It was Max who looked away first.

Then Tess’s soft, sugary voice broke the silence.

“Why don’t we all sit down? There’s no need to be so confrontational; I don’t want to fight… Can’t we just talk like civilised people?”

This artless comment got a reaction from everyone except Max and the already icy atmosphere froze even further.

Michael stared coldly at Tess, making no pretence of hiding his distrust and suspicion of her. Tall and menacing, he made no move to sit down on the couch but just stood there effortlessly dominating the room by his size and commanding presence.

“We aren’t here on vacation or to play games – just tell us what you want and we’ll get down to business.”

Tess ignored him and looked over at Maria and Isobel, transparently hoping for help in dealing with the stubborn guy.

"It’s late and you must be hungry and tired – we can talk in the morning. There are enough beds for us girls upstairs, although the guys will have to use sleeping bags or the couches down here.”

Maria spoke up at this, having been silent for too long. She hadn’t missed the lack of greetings from Max for Kyle or herself, but it wasn’t that which had her simmering with anger at the selfish arrogance of the former alien king. If Michael hadn’t sent her a strong private warning to keep her mouth shut for now, she would have reduced Max to a puddle of piss on the expensive rug covering the polished wooden floor.

So now she bit her lip and restrained herself, replying to Tess’s invitation as calmly as she could. Maria just couldn’t bring herself to look directly at the devious little bitch because memories of Alex were spinning through her mind and the ache of loss was still strong, but she knew she had to play it cool right now.

“If I sleep in a bed tonight, Michael will be sharing it with me. As for food and drink, thanks, but we’ve just eaten.”

Even as Michael nodded in agreement at his girlfriend's comment, Tess’s eyes flickered to look over his shoulder as a rough voice spoke from the archway behind him.

“Yo, bro, I's sees yah did kept that fine little piece of ass for youse own personal use. Hey, sweet bitch, 'member me?”

Isobel turned to see herself grinning mockingly back at her, while Michael’s identical DNA clone ogled a disgusted Maria and licked his ring-pierced lips in lewd appreciation…


Chapter Fifty-Seven

Rath found himself gasping for air as Michael’s fingers wrapped round his throat, gripping so hard that he could already feel bruises.

“…apologise to Maria. Then shut your filthy mouth and stay the hell away from her…”

Surprised by the attack, Rath tried to break the stranglehold while choking out a protest. The feral alien was pissed at the unexpected reaction to his friendly greeting, but the cold fury in the eyes of his ‘twin’ as he made the threat, coupled with the Queen’s sharp command to curb his powers, warned him to back off for the moment.

Michael finally released him and Rath stepped back, frustrated and angry until Tess touched his shoulder; then he instantly calmed down, smiled genially at Maria and winked at her.

“Yo, babe. The Rathman don’ mean nut’n – the jealous dude just got some kinda fu*ckin’ sweet luck to find you first…”

Tess quickly interrupted him before Michael attacked again.

“Rath, why don’t you go join Lonnie in the hot tub…?”

His eyes suddenly glazed over for a moment then he turned away as Lonnie came forward and slid her arm amorously around his neck to lead him out of the room without another word or glance at the others. Kyle, from his position by the archway, looked sickened.

Tess let out a long breath and sat down on the couch next to Max, waving the other four to sit down on the various chairs and couches arranged in a loose circle around the stone fireplace. She shrugged indifferently when they didn’t move.

Michael, still angry and outraged, forcefully demanded answers.

“What the hell is going on? Why are they here? Max?”

Again, it was Tess who spoke, sitting calm and still, hands folded in her lap. Her demure appearance was an eerie reminder of the times back in Roswell when they had finally begun to accept her as one of the group.

“Relax, Michael, I promise I’m not going to hurt anyone here – I need your help and you’re here because you want to help Liz, so you might as well sit down and listen to me…”

Michael ignored her and stared over at Max who had so far been silent, watching the brief drama with an air of detachment, although a look of eager expectation now appeared on his face and he leapt up.

“Liz! How could I forget my Liz? Where is she?”

Maria’s barely controlled anger burst out at this and she shrugged off Michael’s restraining arm to storm over and stand glaring up at their former leader, her hands clenched into fists as if she could barely restrain herself from physically attacking him.

“Yeah, just how could you forget your ‘soulmate’, Max? Oh, wait! You forgot her name the second time you slept with her, so maybe, I don't know, let me take a guess, could it be that’s another big clue to your true feelings, right?” She turned her green glare on Tess. “Or maybe the murdering bitch mind-warped you, just like she did Alex and Kyle…? ”

Max frowned and she saw his eyes flicker with uncertainty for a moment as he shifted uneasily beneath her fierce gaze.

“Maria…God, Maria, of course I care about Liz. More than anything – she’s my life…” His prominent ears flushed a dull red and he closed his eyes. “Only…well…”

His voice trailed off in a whisper and a look of anguish appeared on his face for a moment before it was replaced with a look of stony determination.

He reached out to grip a still angry Maria by the shoulders, staring commandingly into her eyes even as she flinched away from him with a sudden terrified flash of the time he had tried to strangle her.

Michael lunged across the room to intervene, pulling his girlfriend back out of reach into his protective arms and glaring threateningly at the ex-king. Oblivious, Max continued to focus his intense gaze on her.

“Maria, you have to help me – we have to rescue Liz – but first…we have to find my son…”

There was a collective intake of breath from the group and Michael groaned in angry disbelief, shaking his head and sinking down onto the nearest sofa, pulling Maria down with him. Isobel followed his lead, lowering herself gracefully onto an upright chair, while Kyle stayed watchfully on his feet near the door, never taking his eyes off Tess.

“Shit, I should have known it would come back to that. Still obsessed to the point of insanity with your son. Her son.”

He jerked his head at Tess without looking at her and continued talking in a controlled, reasonable a voice.

“Max, you sent the kid away to be safe from the FBI and all our other enemies, remember?” This time he flashed a dirty look at Tess. “Why drag him back into danger if you really care about him? Has she mind-warped you, too, like I see she’s done to the dupes?”

Max didn’t answer – instead he turned to Tess, who reached over and took his hand in a comforting gesture. Michael felt a burst of nausea from Maria, but she controlled it and waited for the explanation along with her three friends.

The tiny blonde looked round at all of them, lingering on Kyle who refused to catch her eye, before she began to speak quietly, without a trace of arrogance, shame or defiance.

“My son – our son – Zan, he’s in danger and we must find him before it’s…too late.”

Maria’s impatience to know what was going on boiled over and she demanded they start the explanations from the beginning. She looked over at Max and pointed at Tess, still resting her head against his shoulder.

“We all hoped she was finally dead after killing Alex and trying to take you all back to Antar to be murdered by Khivar – so why the hell is she still alive and sitting there playing sweet and innocent, expecting us to help her?”

Tess replied for herself, her voice sounding serious and tired.

“I really didn’t mean to cause Alex’s death. You won’t believe me but I liked him and I’ll always be sorry.”

Maria and Isobel exchanged a ‘yeah, right’ glance at this, but said nothing.

“Still, it happened and, well, there were reasons why I thought that I had no other choice but to follow Nasedo’s plan. It was a hard decision and it was only when I reached Antar that I realised I was wrong. Khivar was generous to me at first. I lived in unimaginable luxury; he gave me anything I asked for and even had tutors start work on developing my powers closer to Antarian levels. The ordinary people don’t have strong powers like we do: the powers of the aristocracy are the result of a breeding programme over centuries of arranged marriages.”

Tess looked up at Max who held her gaze for a brief moment, but neither Isobel nor Michael reacted to the comment. For them that issue was long past dead and forgotten. After a moment the soft, tired voice continued.

“Then, once Zan was born, things changed. There was no more future for me as Queen Mother because he was tested and found to be completely human. Khivar had no use for him or me then, so he lost interest in us and concentrated on other political matters. He didn’t bother to have us killed because we were no threat to him, but I knew we had to escape somehow. I was scared that some day he would surely remember us and find a use for my human baby, my Zan…”

Tess closed her eyes and her audience, unwillingly enthralled by her story, waited with bated breath while she composed herself.

“There’s a war going on and the palace was heavily guarded, but there was a secret space port for Khivar and his advisors to escape. I saw it when the Granolith landed and was shown round it for security and re-assurance when I was still revered as the mother of the Heir. When I fell out of favor I made my way to a ship, mind-warped the guards and took off for Earth with baby Zan to save him. I should think that Khivar is pretty pissed with me now. It was his state-of-the-art ship I stole. I’m no space pilot so I took one with me, but she crashed it and the Airforce captured us. She died and I was unconscious – I don’t know how long I was out, but the alarms woke me when Zan was discovered. I had to kill all the personnel to escape, but I must have been caught on camera and, well, the rest you know…”

“We don’t know what happened after you blew up the ship and the base…”

Maria still wanted the whole story right then and there, no matter that Tess was now yawning and increasingly sleepy, clinging to Max’s arm as she told the next part of her tale.

“I made my way into the base to destroy my ship and all the evidence of your existence that would surely be there. I had given up Zan for his own safety and I intended to die as the last sacrifice of a now pointless existence. When I left Liz to find my way into the base, I had time to think about what I’d done and I found I couldn’t let my son go. I was his mother and he should be with me. I dreaded the thought of him having a childhood like Michael suffered. Max didn’t know where he was and nor did his father, so there was nobody to keep him safe… I set the explosive charges my ship carried and left enough time for me to escape before the base went up, destroying everything...”

She saw Michael about to interrupt and hurried on, words tumbling out breathlessly in her haste to convince them.

“Now I have to find my baby. He’s calling for me and I don’t know where he is and if the FBI find out about his alien powers – and they will, his foster parents will know soon – then the government will… they’ll…”

She burst into racking sobs and Max wrapped his arms round her, soothing her while his own eyes filled with tears. When she calmed down a little, he carried on with the explanation himself.

“Tess can feel a mind-link to our son and so can I. It isn’t a mind-warp, although I thought it was for a while when I fought against her dream-connection. It must have been when I impressed the Royal Seal in him before he was sent away. We think it must have awakened his alien side, as it didn’t show up on Antar.” He looked over at Kyle, leaning against the wall, still staring at Tess. “You were mixed up in it all and I thought you were draining my powers, but I know now it was little Zan…”

Nobody spoke until Isobel broke the tension with a question, since the ex-jock didn’t seem about to ask it for himself.

“Just why was Kyle ‘mixed up’ in all the dream stuff?”

Tess lifted her head and looked back at Kyle, an apology in her tearful blue eyes.

“That was me. I – I had a – a connection with you as well as Max and when I set out to summon him to me and started to try to communicate through his dreams, I found I’d pulled you in too…”

“Just what was this ‘connection’? A mind-warp, like you did to Alex?” Isobel continued her interrogation.

Tess took a deep breath and for the first time there was a streak of defiance in her attitude.

“No. It was because I –I loved him… I made love with Kyle first and then I slept with Max and had his baby and when I returned from Antar, I found that had created something I’d never known before – an emotional link between us so that I could reach into their dreams and really speak to them if I wanted, not just observe like Isobel does.”

She turned to Isobel with something like relief, seeming to need to explain her theory to the other alien female as a distraction from her uncharacteristic emotional revelation.

“It’s more than just your ‘dream-walking’ power – it’s some combination of that and my mind-warping abilities, I think…but it doesn’t work both ways. Only I can make the connection, they can’t find me, and I can’t do it to anyone else but them. It’s not the same thing as the deep mind-links I saw between some lovers and a few siblings on Antar, they’re rare, but something along those lines I guess. Have you had anything like that develop between you and Jesse?”

Isobel’s eyes turned blank and cold, but before she could think of a suitable put-down, Max jumped in with a comment directed at his sister.

“You did that to me when you rescued me from the Special Unit that time, remember? You talked to me when I wasn’t dreaming – made a connection so we could communicate. That must be what Tess did to Kyle and me, only our emotional bond combined with her special mind-warping powers to trigger the dream connection when she slept with me…us.”

He shot a sudden jealous look over at Kyle; Maria caught it and raged inwardly for Liz.

Kyle spoke for the first time since he had entered the house.

“That explains why Max could feel your ‘summons’ when he was awake, not just in his dreams… and how you know what happened to Liz without being told – you ‘read’ my dreams without me knowing. I guess that means you can go into my head and control me whenever you like.”

He made no attempt to disguise his bitterness and Tess looked upset, unconsciously moving away from Max as she gave a soft cry of protest.

“No, it’s not like that! Well, ok, yes, I guess I could ‘summon’ you if I need to…but I wouldn’t and, anyway, it’s not so easy. Look at all the trouble I had to convince Max I wasn’t any threat to him - and he's still suspicious of me. I can only talk to you in your dreams. Not when you’re awake. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

Kyle snarled at her in disgust.

“Sure, like you didn't mind-warp me to forget that you made me carry Alex’s body like it was a piece of baggage… You used me, Tess, just like you use everyone else for your own selfish schemes.”

“No, I promise I never wanted to hurt you, Kyle. I only did it this time because I had no choice – so you would help me save my baby…”

“Your promises? What are they worth? Why should anyone believe you this time?”

Tess just stared at him and allowed her red lips to droop into a sad pout that had Maria snorting with disdainful amusement.

“Not going to catch him that way again. We’ve all found out the hard way what you’re really like, so don’t bother to put on that act for us, it’s soooo old.”

The alien turned a blue laser glare on her that should have cooked her on the spot, but Maria only grinned mockingly back.

Michael considered it was time to get back to the baby business. They’d need more time to work out a way to free Kyle from Tess’s mind control so, meanwhile, they might as well find out what else was going on in these unexpected surroundings with the unexpected occupants, clearly also under the control of the tiny blonde alien. He changed the subject abruptly.

“What’s with the house, Tess? We expected to find you in the sewer – that’s where all the shit goes, doesn’t it?”

“There’s no call to be crude, Michael. We all have something we need from each other and we might as well try to get along while we work together.”

At this mockingly demure rebuke from the girl who had no morals, Michael scowled and would have hit back with a meaner retort if Maria hadn’t sent him a warning to let it go. They were there for business, so they didn’t need to waste time on a war of words. They could save that for their parting shot…

Tess watched his effort at restraint and smiled before she carried on to answer his question.

“This house is where I was raised for a lot of my childhood before we came to Roswell. Nasedo was a security advisor to the Army as Ed Harding, but when we weren’t travelling we would come here. It’s mine now – under a different identity – all paid for and with a big trust fund for maintenance and security. Nasedo had it all planned. It was our safe house if anything went wrong.”

“It’s not far from the city. I guess that’s how the dupes knew to find us in Roswell – from you.”

“Not really, Isobel. Nacedo knew about them and I suppose he must have had a hand in raising them, too, but he never said much except to tell me where to look if I ever needed them. He warned me that they were flawed copies and only useful as back-up, that was all. I went to find them when I ran away after the base was destroyed and persuaded them into coming here as my bodyguards. Max is the real King and the four of us are the ones with the most genuine royal pedigree.”

Michael shrugged indifferently.

“That’s all over now, we’ve grown up and moved on. Well, some of us have…” He raised an eyebrow at Max, who made no attempt to hide an air of faint boredom, merely staring at whoever was speaking at the time or else watching Tess, now clamped firmly back to his arm again; obviously nothing in the conversation was news to him.

“What about you, Max? What part do you play in all this?”

The dark-haired, big-eared alien suddenly shook Tess off, stood up and began to pace the room, adopting an air of regal command.

“Do you really need to ask? I’m still the rightful King of Antar and my son, the Heir, must be brought back under my protection – and Liz, of course. I’ll do anything to get them back and you, as my second-in-command, are going to help me.”

***That’s definitely the old, arrogant Max I know, Maria – and yet, in a crazy way, it sort of does seem kinda OTT this time***

*** I’m here to remind you that you recognise it from your own personal experience, Spaceboy. It’s that ‘hear and obey, you worthless peasants, I’m a Royal pain-in-the-ass’ attitude, re-visited. Are you going to have the pleasure of smackdown or shall I?***

***Not yet, Blondie. Let’s save payback for later… We need to see what goes down with the Alien Queen Mother and the dupes before we show our hand. I’m not sayin’ it’s a trick – in fact it sounds like she’s telling the truth for once, but we gotta be careful. No sense in givin’ it all away before we start. Just play along for now and find out everything we can***

***Right there with you, Spaceboy***

Michael looked over at Kyle, then at Isobel; both of them nodded almost imperceptibly while Tess was gazing admiringly up at a grimly self-satisfied Max.

“Ok, Your Majesty, so what is your Royal plan to find the kid?”

Max turned to look at him in pained surprise.

“That’s your job, Michael, you’re the soldier. First of all, though, Tess and I must get some sleep, we need to be ready for the action. We’ll talk again tomorrow morning when you tell us your plan.”

He offered his arm solicitously to Tess and they swept regally out of the room together, leaving the others to give in to silent amusement.

A moment later the laughter died on their lips as two familiar figures appeared lounging arrogantly in the archway, grinning.

“Yo, dudes and dudettes, fix up, there's need to have a royal summit of our own ‘cos we's for sure gonna get ass-fucked by some major alien badness real soon, if we’s not damn careful…”


Chapter Fifty-Eight

Isobel sighed in her best world-weary manner and complained to her duplicate facing her across the room.

“Can’t you get him to speak in plain English when it’s just us? It’s exhausting just listening to the effort he puts into it…”

Lonnie grinned and shoved her lover before her into the room, sprawling beside him on the couch that the Antarian King and Queen had just vacated.

The Rath who stared mockingly at Isobel from beneath half-closed eyelids was no longer so distinctively styled as he had been when they’d first met – in fact, except for the many piercings and his brash attitude, he resembled the black-clad, understated Michael a little too closely for the comfort of any of the Roswell four. When he spoke, though, the contrast was startling.

“As your Royal Highness commands, so be it, bitch. Wanna play in the hot tub wid me an’ Lonnie later, Vilandra? Be cool to check out nature an’ nurture…”

Isobel was outraged on so many fronts that she was momentarily speechless, and it didn’t help that the rough New Yorker was staring hungrily at her breasts as they heaved in anger under her tight, light sweater. Kyle frowned, wanting to intervene although he knew Isobel would be pissed if he did; she could handle the situation herself without any help from him. After a dangerous pause, the Roswell girl controlled herself and turned away, pointedly dismissing the horny alien without another look.

Michael simply ignored the by-play and got right down to business. He knew who was the boss of that outfit and didn’t waste any more time. He spoke to the spike-haired, pierced and tattooed uber-slut version of Isobel, who was staring back at him with some interest.

“Just cut through all the ‘royalty’ crap and tell us what’s been going on.”

Lonnie continued to stare at him without blinking for a few more beats, then she nodded to herself and jabbed her lover sharply in the side to attract his attention away from her ‘twin’ before she replied, in a mocking English accent with no trace of the New York street patois.

“The Queen has commanded us to protect her while she searches for the Royal Heir…”

“Yeah, Tess told us that already…”

Kyle earned a flinty stare for that bold interruption and shut up immediately. There was no soft center in this version of the legendary Vilandra. This was one totally terrifying chick, who looked like she ate humans for breakfast and crunched the bones with relish. He sighed to himself – another nightmare for his growing collection.

Lonnie returned her attention to Michael and carried on in an angry tone this time.

“She’s mind-warped us into helpin’ her. Not all the time, just enough to keep us confused so that we don’t leave. Yo, took more’n a f*uckin’ week to work out what she was doin’ to us and now we know the signs we can tell when it happens but shit – this is a smooth gaff for a little vacation, with the hot tub an’ all, but it ain’t the city and soon as this is over we gonna go back, ya get me?”

Michael nodded in complete understanding but before he could go on, Kyle jumped in again, this time with a husky note of desperation in his voice.

“What ARE the signs? How do you know when she’s – controlling your mind?”

It was Rath who stared hard at him this time, but the alien answered amiably enough.

“There’s a faint, rhythmic pulse in the base of yer skull – don’t notice it until ya stop and listen to yer body. Try real hard, ya can kinda see through into reality.” He bared his teeth with no trace of humor. “After that, it’s easy to tell. Ya start to groove wid da beat in yer own head…”

He drummed his fingers briefly on the polished end table beside the couch to demonstrate. Kyle and Maria exchanged an involuntary look of horror at the memories invoked, while the dupe brooded angrily for a moment.

“Gonna get her ass somehow, fo’ sure, ya get me?” He looked up and stared Kyle coldly and directly in the eye. “Yo, human dude, if’n she’s got ya by the balls, too, way to fight da little bitch.”

Kyle nodded his thanks, clearly relieved to have something to work with in his own defence at last. He retreated back into the shadow of the archway again, pushing the surge of hope to the back of his mind until later, trying to make himself concentrate on the conversation, but now also nervously listening out for a pulse at the base of his skull…

Michael continued with his own questioning, pleased that they now had a clue on setting up a defence against Tess, but needing to find out as much as they could about what had been going on.

“How long have you been with her?”

“Guess ‘bout 3 weeks, maybe. She was waitin’ for us one day when we got back to our crib an’ the next thing we know we’s here to ‘protect’ the Queen. She ain’t been no trouble, mostly. Seems to want us t’ have a good time in the hot tub an’ all,” he winked at Maria again, ignoring Michael’s scowl. “She’s been makin’ plans to find the kid and tryin’ to contact His Majesty.”

Lonnie spoke, her fascinated gaze still assessing the contrast between the quiet, controlled, hard-to-read Roswell ‘clone’ of her own volatile, arrogant, selfish lover.

“Now the King has joined her and brought the ‘spirit stones’ with him, they only need you for the preparations to be complete.”

“Spirit stones’?”

Rath answered this, his eyes suddenly sharper and more intelligent than they’d been before.

“Yo, they’re some kind of sacred Antarian crystal which connects spirits through the life-force energy. I guess she’d figured that any combination of us could be the ‘Royal Four’. Turns out they’re tuned to your vibrations and won’t work for anyone else, ‘cos she tried it with us first but no luck. Bro, she was spittin’ fire… That’s when King Asshole convinced her to summon you to help.”

“Max? What’s he been doing?”

“Either mooning over her like a lovesick puppy or struttin’ around bein’ King and orderin’ everyone to show respect.”

Rath snickered, but Lonnie sat quiet, still watching Michael like a cat at a mousehole.

“So Tess is mind-warping him as well.”

“Nah, she ain’t – don’t have to. She’s just tryin’ to protect the King and keep him sweet, like a good Queen should…ya get me?”

He winked knowingly at Maria, close against Michael’s side. She frowned back at him as she asked the obvious question.

“Why does she have to…keep him sweet, if she’s got all the power here?”

“Seems the kid wants its mommy but not only that, it’s slowly drainin’ poppa’s powers for itself until they can physically connect through the Seal and correct the balance… Problem is – nobody knows where to find the brat. That’s why you’re here. The ‘King Zan’ Antarian genes have taken over to fight the power drain but are also programmed to protect his royal heir. He’s fightin’ himself and it’s tearin’ him apart.”

“How do you know all this?”

“The Queen learned about it on Antar, when they were fillin’ her in on the protocol of royal births. See, the Kings and their true Heirs have to display their bond in a public ceremony through the Royal Seal connection before the people will confirm the succession to the Throne. If it doesn’t happen, something goes bad and they fight for power. Winner takes all, loser dies.”

“Liz told me that Max, um, branded the baby with the Royal Seal before he was sent away. Wouldn’t that…bonding thingy have happened then?”

“Guess the brat bein’ born human on Antar musta complicated things. Maybe the Seal just triggered the dormant Antarian genes at that point.”

“You still haven’t explained why she needs to keep Max sweet...”

Determined Maria still wanted answers and Rath smiled at her, the uncanny similarity to Michael’s, until recently rare, grin making her feel faintly uncomfortable.

“She is shit-scared that the emotional conflict in Max might kill the kid in the process and the King is already startin’ to read the script and fight his son…sooooo, she’s been fu*ckin’ his royal brains out to try to distract him and keep him sane. It ain’t worked yet.” He snickered.

There was a long, thoughtful silence. Rath began to grope Lonnie, although he watched Maria out of the corner of his eye to see her reaction. He was disappointed both ways – Lonnie irritably slapped him away and the juicy little blonde snatch didn’t even look in his direction. He pouted.

“So what’s the major alien badness you mentioned earlier?”

The sudden question came from the human leaning against the wall and Rath flicked him a glance.

“ Word is some Government goon been sniffin’ around the ‘hood ‘fore we left on this little vacation, human dude. Maybe sump’n or nuttin’, but Lonnie and me, we got a bad feelin’ ‘bout it. Somethin’ heavy goin’ down real soon, could be…dat’s why we’s stickin around here…lyin’ low and hangin’ wid all da Royal powers.”

“You think it’s got anything to do with the kid?”

Rath shrugged.

“Maybe, maybe not. How would I know? Just don’ like Feds sniffin’ round my ass. We gotta take some precautionary measures, yeah? We ain’t been followed here, made sure o’ that, but what about youse? They’s after yer asses fo’ sure.” Rath frowned, his genial mood changing to sudden suspicion. “Prolly led them right to us…”

Michael decided that a little information traded at this point might be a good move.

“Can’t say for 100% certain, but I think we shook ‘em off. The getaway van we used was bugged but we finally found it and Max sent it off to the South on a false trail while he was on the road to find Tess. No sign of any other watchers. Nothing suspicious. We kept to remote areas, mostly, except for a couple nights in Denver.”

“That don’t mean shit. Still could be tracked.”

He saw the wary, uncertain looks exchanged between the newcomers and grinned smugly.

“No sweat, da Queen’s on to it.” He suddenly shook with laughter. “Gotta give da little bitch her due – she’s got the ‘hood tied up nice an’ tight round here. Ain’t a cat jumps but the phone’s red hot.”

Michael’s eyes narrowed.

“What’s she up to?”

“She’s got da Neighborhood Watch on red alert for strangers. We knew youse were here before ya knew it yerselves. Saw ya check out the place before ya came callin’.” He nodded at Michael in approval. “Can’t be too careful.”

He stood up from his sprawled attitude on the sofa and stretched sleepily.

“Word. Youse ok to stay here for now, she’ll play nice ‘cos she needs ya and she won’t risk anythin’ goin’ wrong wid her plans. Just watch yer backs, ya get me? ”


Kyle tried a little street jive and Rath grinned at him, amused.

“A’ight. Watch yer ass, human dude. Look sharp and if ya goin’, leave now while she’s…busy. Yo.”

He flipped his hand, blew a kiss to Maria and grabbed Lonnie’s arm to lift her to her feet and tow her out of the room but, although she went docilely enough, she turned back to send an unmistakably seductive glance at Michael before vanishing down the hallway.

Left alone, Kyle and Isobel came closer to sit on the couch vacated by the Dupes and everyone exchanged silent, questioning looks before turning to Michael, who leaned forward and spoke quietly, even though they were now alone.

“We gotta decide whether to trust Rath and stay here or go find somewhere else to sleep tonight. It isn’t even midnight yet, so we still got time to find a motel.”

“Then I vote motel – I don’t trust ANYONE round here.”

Maria’s anger was clear in her low-voiced response. Max’s display of high-handed, ‘kingly’ behaviour and, more importantly, his obvious closeness with Tess at the same time as he was claiming Liz as his ‘everything’ had astounded her, killing any lingering trace of sympathy she might have felt for him. Whether it was Tess or testosterone that was controlling him, there was no excuse in her eyes.

Now Lonnie’s blatant interest in Michael had charged up her temper almost beyond control and since she had nothing to explode at, she just marched out of the room and down the hall towards the door, intent on getting away from the place as fast as she could before her anger went nuclear.

The others simply followed her without exchanging a word or a glance, their own feelings too chaotic to argue, even if they’d wanted to.

Outside, Maria was already in the pick-up, head back and eyes shut tight as she breathed heavily from her tiny flask of cedar oil. Visualizing herself back in the vast serenity of the mountains helped, but not nearly enough. When Michael climbed silently in beside her and started the engine to pull out into the road, she barely registered his presence, mentally or physically, she was so overcome with rage and frustration.

As he drove, he could feel her thoughts in angry turmoil and he readily gave her the space she had always given him during the times since their new connection when he had to fight for control himself.

Michael headed for the next big town back along the highway and the first decent motor inn he saw, pulling into the parking lot and waiting for the Chevy to roll up beside them. While they each grabbed their overnight bags, he noticed that Maria leaned into the back of the pick up to pat Liz’s pod reassuringly, before she followed him silently into the lobby and waited while he paid for three rooms for two nights. Their budget was not going to be a consideration in the circumstances and he booked the best.

King-size beds, spacious bathrooms with big, soft towels and spa tubs were ready for them but first they gathered in Kyle’s room to talk over their encounter.

Maria, usually so vocal and free with her opinions, was tonight silent as Isobel spilled her shock and distress at the changes in her brother in such a short time.

“If Tess isn’t mind-controlling him again – or even if she is, I guess – I don’t know what to do. I understand his conflict over his son but the ‘Antarian King’ characteristics taking over again – that’s so scary. It was bad enough the first time round, when he behaved like a tyrant and stopped me going to college in San Francisco but what if he stays like that forever now? What if little Zan does drain his power – will it really kill him?”

“Yeah, and what about Tess?” Kyle was just as shaken as the alien girl. “Is she on the level? Can we believe her on this one or is it another trick? ”

“Doesn’t matter if we believe her or not. Won’t know if anyone’s telling the truth until we wade in and find out for ourselves – then it will be too late to change our minds. Seems like we have some hard choices here…”

Michael’s comment stopped them both cold. He leaned on the edge of the bureau and continued calmly as a speechless Isobel just gaped at him.

“Do we risk ourselves and link through the stones, remembering that Riverdog warned you girls it was dangerous. What did you tell me he said? That it's a force that can change both your body and your mind unless you navigate it properly? Again, why should we risk it? We should just leave them to it and find a way to live our lives as best we can.”

“We have to help Max. He could die. DIE. Our safety doesn’t matter any more, now we’re here. We have to help him – he’s our brother. Why can’t you see that, Michael?”

Isobel’s voice was shaky with anger and she gripped her hands together to stop herself physically attacking Michael.

“Our safety DOES matter, Isobel. Our lives are just as important as Max and Liz – they made their own choices, remember? Did they stop to think about us or our safety? Did they?”

He waited implacably for Isobel’s answer, the other two silent, watching the battle of wills.


The single word was barely audible, dragged out of the alien girl as if by torture. Michael showed no mercy. His tone was soft, almost conversational, except for the underlying emotion held in check as never before.

“So what right do you have to offer Kyle’s life or – Maria’s as a sacrifice for theirs?”


“Neither do I. My only concern is to protect you all. I don’t know whether it was programmed into me by my Antarian genes or by my human feelings – I don’t care. This is what I was born to do. Protect the ones I care about. Max and Liz have forfeited the right to my protection. You three are almost the only people on this planet that I care about.”

He looked round at Isobel, Kyle and then, fleetingly, at Maria, his voice rising a little as the emotion cracked his shell of control.

“Like I said before, Kyle is the only reason I’m here. If you two want to risk your lives for Max and Liz, then you will decide that of your own free will – not because I forbid it or Princess Isobel commands it. You choose.”

He strode over to the door and opened it, turning just before he left to deliver a parting shot.

“Remember, if it’s an even score, as leader of this group I have the casting vote…”

As the door closed behind him, Kyle and Maria looked apprehensively at each other, while Isobel watched them and bit a perfect nail down to the quick…


Chapter Fifty-Nine

After Maria left to follow Michael back to their room, Isobel stayed where she was, sitting in one of the two armchairs either side of the coffee table by the window.

Kyle was on the bed, staring at the blank TV screen, his expression giving nothing away. He and Maria had exchanged no more than a long, wry look and a nod of shared understanding, before the small blonde had hugged him fiercely and quietly exited the room, leaving them alone.

Isobel had stayed on, reluctant to leave, needing company – no, she admitted to herself, needing Kyle – to talk it all over with. After a while, she couldn’t take the silence any more.

“I – I want to thank you for, you know, deciding to stay… You and Maria – Michael was right, I WAS being selfish and arrogant. I didn’t think about it, really think about what I was saying. I – I just demanded everyone risk their lives for Max. I’m sorry. I know he – he doesn’t deserve it, but I can’t just abandon him when he’s in so much trouble…”

Her soft voice trailed away in a whisper when there was no response from Kyle and the heavy silence returned.

Isobel felt like she’d been slapped. How could she have been so stupid? This was all her own fault – her thoughtless lack of concern for his safety, when he’d been nothing but there for her whenever she’d needed him. Her abused heart cracked a little more at the memory. He had come to mean so much to her in such a short time; it was only now she could admit it to herself. Maybe she’d selfishly gone too far and he no longer wanted to even be her friend… A slow tear trickled silently down her cheek.

Kyle suddenly came out of his trance and looked over at her, saw the tear sparkling in the light from a nearby lamp and was immediately concerned.

“Hey, Isobel, don’t cry… It’ll be fine.”

He went over and knelt beside her, taking her hand and giving her an encouraging grin while she delved in her purse for a lacy handkerchief to dab her eyes.

“We’ve got all these cool secret powers, remember? So we’ll just kick some evil alien ass and then go visit Disneyland or someplace, have fun, yeah? Whaddaya say?”

Isobel gave him a watery smile, then choked on a giggle and leaned over to hug him. She rested her head on his shoulder as he stroked her hair, closing his eyes in order to bear the too-familiar pleasure and pain of holding her in his arms knowing that this was all he could have.

When he couldn’t take any more, he gently let her go and moved away, returning to the bed to put some distance between them, while she pushed shaky fingers through her hair and tried to compose herself, feeling the loss of his hard body against hers as a physical ache and deliriously happy that she hadn’t lost him after all.

Guessing he hadn’t heard her the first time, she began to thank him all over again, but he abruptly stopped her.

“You don’t have anything to thank me for, Isobel. You know that I’m not doing it for Max. It’s for Liz and for me that I’m doing this. We’ve been through it all before, so there’s nothing more to say. Let’s change the subject, okay?”

Isobel nodded. She did know how tense things always were between her brother and Kyle and that was unlikely to change, but she also knew that, no matter what he said to her, Kyle would fight to save him just as hard as he would for Liz. The knowledge gave her the strength and comfort she badly needed right then.

She changed the subject to the first question that sprang to mind.

“Can we trust what Rath or Lonnie say? Tess IS mind-warping them, too, don’t forget.”

He frowned. Mention of the tiny alien girl disturbed and unsettled him, even more so now he knew for certain she could read his dreams without his knowledge. Still, he had to be honest with Isobel and admit that he thought she might be telling the truth for once.

“Well, her story makes a screwy kinda sense and the dupes obviously hate her, so they don’t need to lie for her I wouldn’t believe anything SHE said, but when Rath said she isn’t mind-warping Max – I believed him. I think they really have broken her mind-warp and that’s the best news I’ve heard since this nightmare dream thing began.”

Isobel saw the relief in his eyes and her heart went out to him.

“You might be right. Max is behaving just like he did during the time he was on that Antarian King ego trip and being a ruthless tyrant about everything. Anyway, Tess wouldn’t need to do much to convince him to join her in finding his son, if this Royal Seal thing is true.”

Kyle stretched, yawned and then looked at his watch.

“Hey, it’s one o’clock – got to get some rest. We can talk more over breakfast with the others in the morning.”

In the process of swinging himself to his feet, he missed Isobel’s longing look at the big bed, didn’t know that the image of sharing it naked with him and cuddling close was heating her cheeks and sending a sudden fiery tingle down between her legs.

Blushing, she stood up, collected her small purse and headed for the door.

Just as she reached for the handle Isobel turned back and, swiftly crossing the space between them, slipped her arms around Kyle’s neck and kissed him softly and passionately on the mouth. Before he had a chance to respond she had gone, leaving him staring after her for a long time.

In her lonely room, a restless Isobel channel surfed while she drank hot chocolate, couldn’t settle on anything for long, and went to bed after her bath hoping that the bone-deep weariness she felt from the endless miles of interstate boredom and then the highly-charged meeting with Tess and the dupes would quickly send her into peaceful oblivion for a while. She didn’t want to think any more about the state of mind she’d found her brother in until she could find enough strength to deal. It struck her that this excuse was old and wearing thin now – tomorrow she’d have no choice but to find the strength she needed from somewhere. Meanwhile, with the delicious memory of Kyle and his stunned expression when she’d kissed him, Isobel surrendered to sleep.

Next door, Kyle had made himself coffee, drank it as he soaked for a while in the spa tub thinking over the events of the evening and then meditated for fifteen minutes before sliding into bed and sleep.

Twenty minutes earlier, in a room on the floor below, Michael had arrived back from the group meeting, immediately stripped down to his black boxers and tank, and was about to make himself a much-needed coffee with his powers, avoiding the stuff provided by the management, when the door opened and Maria came in heading straight for the bathroom without a word. He could feel that she was still angry, although she had calmed down and seemed more in control of it now.

***Wanna coffee?***

As he sent the thought, he immediately felt the taste of hot apple cinnamon tea flood his mind and knew that she really wanted the small comfort of her favorite drink right then, so he fixed her a cup and she emerged a few minutes later, jeans and shirt discarded for comfort, but still wearing her dark green strappy tank over her black underwear. She detoured to collect the tea from the dresser, taking it over to join him on the bed where she sipped the steaming, spicy sweetness and sighed at the simple pleasure it brought.

***Kyle and I – we decided…***

***That was quick***

***Yeah, we didn’t really have to talk about it, you know…***

***I know. Guess I don’t get to use my casting vote this time, huh?***

***No, not this time, Michael. We can’t just abandon Liz, even if we left Max to fight his own battles. Anyway, there’s still Kyle’s link with Tess to worry about, even if he has got a clue now. I think we have to resolve this somehow or it’ll be on all our consciences for the rest of our lives – even yours, so don’t even try to pretend you don’t care at all, Spaceboy***

Michael shifted uncomfortably on the bed, reluctant to admit she had a point, and Maria put her cup down on the nightstand to snuggle under his arm and rest her head on his shoulder, soothingly stroking circles on his chest over his heart as he struggled to admit even to her his complicated feelings towards the only ‘family’ he’d had when he was growing up.

He had always known that Max had been mostly indifferent to the pain and hardship of his childhood. The bond they shared – though deep – wasn’t true friendship and he wouldn’t pretend any different now when it came down to the wire.

Despite this, he’d always been there for Max’s troubles, even if he’d given him a hard time about them. Hell, he’d even supported the bastard financially when he’d moved into Michael’s apartment and didn’t contribute to the rent or utilities because he only had the money from his job at the UFO center and had to study, too. It was Michael, already working a second job to pay the bills and fit in school as well, who lost out again. Graduation had turned out to be another hopeless dream for him, sacrificed on the altar of Max Evans’s quietly ruthless ambition.

Biting back the old resentment once again, Michael tried hard to get past it and remember of the good times they’d shared in spite of the dangers. It wasn’t so easy now. Whatever bonds of friendship or brotherhood had been forged during their past lives and their re-engineered childhood on planet Earth had been stretched too far and now only a fraying thread of that in-bred fraternal love and loyalty remained.

Still, it was enough to reluctantly pull him in one more time.

He sighed and turned his face into Maria’s soft, blonde hair, closing his eyes and letting himself get distracted for a moment by the faint, flowery scent of her shampoo before he answered, knowing his token protest would be swept away by Maria’s stubborn loyalty to her own self-obsessed childhood friend.

***I guess I still do think of Max as my brother but I don’t care as much as I used to… It’s just – I don’t see risking our lives for his anymore when he’s never really given a shit about ours when it came down to it. It’s you that matters, only you. I don’t want you in any more danger…***

Maria nuzzled closer, letting him know she loved his care for her safety, but she couldn’t see any way out that wouldn’t leave a burden of guilt to be carried with them the rest of their lives.

***I’m in danger anyway – we all are. We’ll just have to take Rath’s advice and watch our backs. None of us really has a choice, because I don’t think we can make any real plans for a new life until we get past this and move on. So we’re stuck with it, Spaceboy***

***No, we’re not. First sign they’re screwing with us, we are outa there, whether Kyle and Iz agree or not. No question. No democratic vote. I will not risk YOU. Am I getting through to you here, DeLuca?***

She looked up at him, biting her lower lip, green eyes more anxious than she realized.

***Yeah, okay, I guess you are. If I’m honest, that makes me feel a little better about things. I hate all this – I really don’t want us to be here, even though I know it’s the right thing to do. First of all, though, we get Liz out of that pod before we do anything else to help out those…those Royal Monstrosities…***

***Yeah, that’s the only way to make sure they keep their side of the bargain. Get what we want first – somehow get Kyle permanently free of Tess and Parker back in circulation again, God help us all***

Maria sipped thoughtfully on her cooling tea and asked the question that had been troubling them all long before they’d walked into the big, old clapboard house.

***Do you think Tess is mind-warping Max? Rath said not, but I don’t trust him***

***Neither do I, but I think he’s been straight with us so far – he and Lonnie seemed really pissed that she’s been keeping them prisoner and nothing they’ve told us is unreasonable given what we already know. We just don’t know if there’s any more they’re maybe holding back. I haven’t figured out why they want to stay when they could just leave now they’ve broken her hold***

Maria frowned as another target for the DeLuca temper rose up in her sights.

***That Lonnie slut came on to you. She’ll so wish she’d never been hatched if she tries anything... By the way, thanks for defending my honor, Spaceboy ***

***You’re welcome and you can thank me later, Blondie***

He raised a wickedly suggestive eyebrow at her before continuing.

*** Rath didn’t learn his lesson either, so I’ll be sure to make it stick next time if he doesn’t leave you alone. Not that it’s anything more than a minor pain in the butt when we’ve got more important issues to deal with. Still, keep an eye out for their tricks. At least with our secret connection, we won’t be fooled by any shape-shifting like they tried back in Roswell. Talking of that, shoulda thought of it before – it’s more proof that shape-shifting is one of our natural talents. When this is over, gotta keep up with the practice***

Michael wanted some more coffee, so he leaned over to the nightstand for a re-fill, only remembering to do the same for Maria when she held her cup towards him and nudged his ribs with her elbow, giving him a pointed look. When they settled back down again Maria continued her speculation.

***What do you think is really going on with Max? I can’t believe the incredible nerve of him – ORDERING you to come up with a plan…and by tomorrow morning, no less! Not to mention him screwing Tess and still saying Liz is ‘everything’ to him. The guy is beyond himself…***

Her indignation on his behalf made him laugh and catch her lips in a kiss that quickly turned passionate. Reluctantly, knowing their conversation wasn’t over, they pulled back although they were still entwined, propped against the pile of pillows that was now a given in whatever bed they shared.

***That’s why I believe Rath when he said Tess isn’t mind-warping him – I think it’s genuinely the Antarian King taking over again. All the signs are there from when it happened before and I guess I remember how it was with me, too. I think he’s got the ‘humans are worthless’ attitude that I had, remember?***

***Oh, I remember, all right…***

The tone of her response was uncomfortably brooding and Michael hurriedly carried on with his thoughts, hoping to distract her before she went into that touchy subject in more detail.

***I think he’s losing the battle to keep his humanity and the alien genes are winning out***

***Maybe that does sort of explain the – eewww – sick fascination with that murdering Tess as Queen and mother of his son and heir. Not that I think that excuses him from anything he’s done, but at least the human part of him still sees Liz as important to him. It will be a help when we try the stones to free her. Are you going to make a plan to get little Zan back if we do somehow find where he is through the stones?***

***It’s coming into focus. Hey, I just thought – now that the kid is the heir, that lets me off the hook – I never need to be afraid of being forced to become the Antarian King again…***

He hugged Maria tight in an uncharacteristic display of relief and happiness, revealing the depths of the fear he’d still carried with him and kept hidden even from her until now.

A moment later, he was sobered by another thought.

***Unless both Max and the kid die in this power struggle…***

He paused for a moment, frowning, then shrugged.

***I guess now I really do have a personal interest in making sure the King and his heir are re-united after all…***

***So you’re going to come up with a plan for Max?***

***First of all we try the stones to free Liz, although that will be just you, Isobel, Max and me, now Alex is no longer with us. Then I guess we try it again for the Heir. I don’t have a clue how the stone thing’s gonna work on that one. I don’t know anything about kids, but isn’t it too young to tell us where it is?***

Maria grinned, but was then overcome by a yawn before she replied.

***You’re right, Spaceboy – far too young, unless the Antarian Heir has powers we know nothing about***

***Maybe he does. Anyway, Tess and Max will have to explain that one. If it works, then they’ll just have to go steal the kid back, I guess***

Maria’s agreement was lost in a wave of sleep that suddenly engulfed her, so Michael stopped talking and flipped his hand to switch on the TV sports channel hoping to find a hockey game to annoy his blonde into wakefulness. He was still wide awake himself, partly through nervous tension but also in profound relief at having one of his darkest fears removed, and now he wanted to play but he knew that if he woke her for that express purpose she might easily choose to tease him by holding out until morning.

He was lucky - the hockey game did its work. Maria woke up and complained until he lapsed into a fake coma with the remote trapped underneath his body. Instead of trying to get possession and start a tussle leading on to other distractions, as he’d hoped, a cranky Maria refused to play the game and locked herself in the bathroom in a huff.

Michael shrugged and carried on watching the sports reports until he figured she’d had enough time to get naked and wet – then he stripped off his own clothes and clicked open the lock on the door to join her under the steamy, flower-scented shower in the spa tub.

It was no surprise to a miffed Maria when the plastic curtain was pulled roughly aside and his big, muscular body crowded in under the hot water, standing close up behind her, tugging the foamy sponge out of her hand and tossing it away, using his hands to soap her breasts, instead.

She struggled, protesting, indignantly pushing his hands away while trying to wipe the shampoo out of her eyes but this only excited him more and he wrapped one arm round her waist to pull her firmly back against him so that he could press his growing erection between the cheeks of her wriggling ass and at the same time lick and suck her throat, exposed as she threw her head back to complain at his nerve in invading her privacy.

Her arguments faltered as his attentions became more distracting and she finally sighed and leaned back against him, her nipples jutting stiff into his hands as he pinched and caressed them, murmuring her name and telling her how beautiful she was, how hot and sexy and how much he wanted her.

It was unusual for Michael to be so vocal when they made love – he mostly confined his sweet talk to moaning her name or expressed his pleasure in sighs and groans. Lately they didn’t really talk at all since they both knew, without having to be told, what the other was feeling.

The things he was saying now thrilled and excited Maria just as much as the feel of his hands and body, unaccustomed as she was to hearing them spoken aloud in that husky, sexy voice he only used with her.

When he slid a slick, soapy hand down across her belly to bury his fingers in the warm, soft crevice beneath her wet curls she shivered with delicious anticipation, pressing herself against the gentle probe that found and teased her tiny, hidden bud until tremors of electric heat rippled through her body, the pressure swiftly building towards the familiar pyrotechnic display of her explosive climax, making her knees go weak.

The glorious starry rush of sensation was upon her before she had time to take in the meaning of the words he was whispering into her ear, but this time sound of his voice was part of the perfect pleasure she always found when he made love to her.

He held her while she moaned and twisted against him, the speed and intensity of her climax taking him by surprise so that he had to quickly cover her mouth to muffle her cries as she came. The silence of a public motel at night was a very different place from the empty freedom of the mountains and he couldn’t risk drawing any kind of attention to them.

His own rising excitement was enhanced by giving and sharing in her pleasure and he concentrated on filling the spa tub, turning off the shower with just a thought, then lowering her down to lay back against his chest, the water rising up to bubble and swirl around them as the massage jets kicked in. It was a small tub and his big frame took up most of the space so there wasn’t much room to manoeuvre, but neither of them cared.

The hot water soothed and relaxed him and he found that, after all, he was in no hurry to take things to another level just yet. They rested together as Maria let the electric effects of alien sex drift through her mind and body while Michael benefited from the continuing afterglow.

She lifted a wet hand and stroked a finger lazily down the edge of his jaw to his mouth where he kissed it lightly. The small gesture sent another deep throb of sensation to her core, and the tingling ripples surged again, making her smile and reviving some energy ready for another round.

“We’re going to be sleeping in the bath if we’re not careful, Spaceboy…”


Michael was all but asleep himself by now, despite his wakefulness of only a few minutes ago. An evil little grin appeared on Maria’s lips – revenge for his waking her up earlier was too sweet a temptation to resist...

She let him sink deeper into sleep and pondered on what to do next.

Slowly and carefully she lifted herself up and turned round so that she was facing him, her knees squeezed either side of his hips, her bottom resting on his thighs. He looked so cute, that she almost changed her mind about waking him up suddenly – but no, he’d had no compunction about waking her and the opportunity for payback shouldn’t be wasted.

Turning off the massage jets she quietly reached for her shampoo, squeezed a flower-scented blob onto her hands and leaned forward, sliding her fingers roughly through his wet hair and rubbing vigorously to work up a lather.

Michael woke with a start, confused and annoyed, to find his head being held in a firm grip and Maria on top of him scrubbing away, apparently trying to tear his hair out by the roots.

“Ouch! Maria, what the hell are you doing? Stop it, right now!”

He grabbed her wrists and held them away from him while he glared at her. She batted her eyelashes at him innocently.

“Oh, so sorry, Michael, I didn’t mean to wake you – I had nothing else to do, so I thought I’d save time and help you get cleaned up…”

Her voice was already shaking with laughter and she couldn’t keep up the solemn pretence of helpfulness, which he would never believe, anyway. Never mind, he was awake now, if pissed, and at her mercy and that was really all she cared about right then.

Taking his face in her hands, she leaned in and kissed him, feeling his annoyance dissipate as she ravished his lips with a slow passion.

The sensuous feeling of their skins sliding against each other in the warm water was a different experience from the shower – but the feel of his silky cock throbbing and surging as it rose between them was not…

Maria wanted to make him feel as good as he’d just made her. She loved and admired his cock for the pleasure it gave them both, and she wanted to give it the special attention it deserved, but the confined space they were in restricted her to basically riding his cock when she really wanted to use her hands and mouth, this time.

So, promising herself that treat for later, she crossed her arms behind his head and lazily kissed his face all over, tiny butterfly kisses at first, before she gently bit and sucked his neck just under his ear, making him shiver involuntarily. He lay there watching her from under half-closed lids as she sat up, breathing deeply, then leaned in to kiss him again, moving against him, rubbing her breasts against his chest, feeling the friction harden her nipples to hot, swollen buds and feeling sensation tingling in the secret center of her own pleasure, too. This time it was all about him, though, not her so she ignored it.

His cock, satin and steel, was pressing insistently against her stomach and she reached into the water with one hand to grasp it firmly, sliding it down to caress his balls and play delicately with the twin spheres enclosed within the soft sac. Michael drew in a sharp breath and let out a long, soft moan of pleasure.
She sat back, resting on his thighs, and her other hand joined the first, this time pumping up and down his thick length before enclosing the head in her hand while her thumb slid lightly round the tip.

“God, Maria…please…”

His voice was a low, passionate groan and she smiled at him, knowing from their connection just how close to the edge he was but repressing the urge to tease him some more. Tonight they needed sleep, too, and much as they both wanted to prolong their lovemaking, she knew they couldn’t risk it.

Rising on her knees, she held onto his shoulder for balance and guided the tip of his cock to her entrance, teasing them both a little as she hesitated, rubbing herself lightly against it, holding him off as long as possible as his hips tried to begin his first upward thrust.

Then she relented and sank onto the swollen tip, still holding the shaft in her hand, stopping for a long moment then rotating her hips as she let go and plunged slowly down further.

Now he filled her completely and she stopped again, clenching her inner muscles strongly around his cock, riding with his thrusts so that he stayed inside her as they moved under the water.

“Maria…Maria…God, yeah…”

She released him and met his next thrusts with her own, the water splashing and gurgling as their speed built up, her hips rotating and twisting with increasing urgency as she watched him race headlong towards his climax, feeling every surge of sensation as if it were her own.

She leaned down suddenly and took his left nipple into her mouth, biting and sucking as he moaned louder and the frantic movement of his hips drove his shaft harder and faster into her tight, fiery core.

Then she moved back, holding on to his shoulders for balance again, still riding with him, wanting to look at his expression as he came inside her. She felt him suddenly wake up to the realization that she wasn’t cumming too, and his hand immediately probed for her clit to bring her with him. She held him back, not needing anything for herself this time, happy to focus on his pleasure as he always did for her.

“No, Michael, this one’s for you – please let me see you cum for me, Spaceboy…”

She saw his eyes close for a moment and his soft lips part to groan her name; then felt his spectacular climax just as he did, and looked with loving wonder into his deep brown eyes as they gazed into hers, opening himself completely to her as he found his release at last.

Back in the big bed, dried off from their water sports by alien powers this time rather than soft towels, they snuggled close, Michael wrapping his arms round Maria to spoon her close and quickly fall asleep, the earlier tension vanished in the heat of their lovemaking, leaving them both to share the rest of the night in peaceful oblivion.

In their rooms on the floor above Kyle and Isobel slept peacefully on, no dreams or nightmares disturbing their rest as their energies, too, recharged ready for the morning.

Some time in the darkest hours Kyle stirred from his sleep, woken by some sound or instinct, to find the bright moon shining through a gap in the drapes, turning golden curls to cold silver gilt, lighting up the small figure sitting on the edge of his bed, staring at him with the sad blue eyes he’d loved and hated and feared.


Chapter Sixty: A little less conversation, a little more action...

Kyle sat up hurriedly, hoping this was another dream but knowing it really was Tess sitting on the edge of his bed, just like she so often had when they lived under the same roof back in Roswell and he’d slept on the couch.

He forced himself not to back away from the girl, instead reaching over to switch on the bedside lamp, taking a vital moment to collect his thoughts and speak calmly. He had to clear his throat before he found his voice.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“I had to come. This is the only way I could get to see you alone so we could talk. I need you to know the truth… Please, Kyle, don’t say anything yet – just listen. Please?”

He stared at her, just as pretty and soft as he remembered her in the warm lamplight, and for a few moments he was back in the time when she was part of his family and also something more – the images of hot sex with her were suddenly vivid in his memory along with the feelings of love that had stirred between them. Then the reality of her betrayal hit him. Anger and guilt washed through him; he wanted to tell her to go to hell but uncertain of what she might do to his mind if he crossed her right then, he reluctantly nodded and waited for her to carry on.

“I – I need to say I’m sorry – truly sorry – about Alex. I know nothing can put that right and I don’t expect forgiveness, but it was an accident. I really didn’t mean to hurt him and afterwards I panicked – I didn’t know what to do. I’d needed him to translate the book if I was to carry out my destiny as Nasedo taught me, but part of me had begun to think there could be another future for me instead, with you and your dad.”

Tess paused and sighed. Her blue eyes were misty with unshed tears and her lips trembled as she gazed at her hands clasped tightly together where she sat cross-legged on the bed in front of him.

“I loved my time with you. I’ll never forget it. It was the…the realest feeling I ever had. I’d found a family. One I could take care of and who actually wanted to take care of me… Then there was you… I know we had something sweet and special going on between us and in Las Vegas when we danced to Maria’s song I’ve never been so happy in my whole life. It was so easy to forget the destiny I had been raised to believe in and just let myself follow my heart.

“Then I found that Alex was fighting the mind-warp I’d used on him. His real memories were beginning to break through and I got scared. Things were sliding out of control and I had to push you away for a while so I could focus on him and decide what to do about destiny. That’s why I had to convince you to see me as a sister. You were just too distracting…”

Kyle still said nothing and she looked up at him for a fleeting moment before she carried on. His eyes were fixed on her but she couldn’t read his expression.

“It – it wasn’t such an easy choice after all, you know. I loved you of my own free will, but I still loved Max like I’d been taught to do all my life and I had some Antarian memories, too, as well as the book finally translated. I’d put so much time and effort into making sure that Max would turn away from Liz to me. When he came to me at the Prom right after I convinced you to think of me as a sister, it seemed like a – a sign that I couldn’t escape my destiny.

“Then Alex…died…and I knew I’d destroyed any chance of happiness with you…and – and I know I used you to help cover it up and I’m so, so sorry but there was no other way out by then except to follow Nasedo’s plan after all. Make a new life on Antar and try to forget about you and everything else.”

Kyle’s harsh voice broke in on her soft monologue.

“I don’t buy it. You say you loved Max – yet you were going to lure him back to Antar to his death…”

“No! I didn’t want Max – or anyone else – to die. I never even thought he would. That’s just what he assumed – Nasedo had always told me that they were more valuable to Khivar alive on Antar than dead, otherwise I could just have mind-warped Max into getting me pregnant and then taken the Granolith myself, leaving them stranded on Earth. When I got there I found what he’d said was true. Khivar is only interested in interplanetary political power, not all the glittering ceremonies and trappings of State that please the people. That was why the Royal Seal validation between the King and his Heir was so vital. Setting up a puppet monarchy would pacify the masses and free him for his wider ambitions. Besides, he was privately obsessed with Vilandra, too, and he knew she wouldn’t be happy if he killed her family all over again.”

Kyle was silent for a long moment, straining to listen for a pulse at the base of his skull. Nothing. To his mingled relief, shame and horror, he realized that she wasn’t mind-warping him into feeling a little sorry for her – his own treacherous feelings were doing it for her. He fought it, struggling to maintain the harsh attitude that he hoped would convince her that he wasn’t going to be a helpless pawn in her devious plans any more.

“Dammit, the real issue here is that you’re controlling me through my dreams. How can you say you love me and still do that?”

Tess shook her head violently in denial; her shiny blonde curls dancing in the soft lamplight still mesmerised him in the same way as they always had, a way that had nothing to do with her alien powers and everything to do with her soft, blonde, sexually charged allure… Not going there, he told himself, this is wrong. Her slow, honeyed voice continued and he made himself concentrate on the words.

“My powers grew stronger on Antar but I didn’t deliberately set out to make this link – I think that happened accidentally – you were drawn in when I formed the connection between me and Max. Because I love you and you still love me too, at least a little bit – don’t you…?”

Kyle heard the hopeful note in her voice and knew honesty was the only thing he could give her.

“Maybe I did care once but you killed it when you killed Alex. Maybe I still have feelings for the Tess I thought I knew, but I don’t think she exists any more, if she ever really did…”
Tess looked back at him with sadness and regret in her eyes.
“She was very real and she still is – she’s just lost…”

They stared at each other for a few moments, regret for what might have been hanging between them. Then Tess broke the silence.

“I have my son to think about now. He’s the only reason I’m still alive. He’s the reason I called you and the others here. The stones are my only hope to find him and save him from the Government. And his father. Anyhow, I promise I’ll stay out of your mind from now on. Michael and the others are going to help me find my baby, aren’t they?”

“Yeah, but first we use the stones to rescue Liz… I don’t trust you any more, Tess, and whatever reasons you had for doing what you did, you still made those choices…”

Tess laughed bitterly.

"Oh, I’m not claiming to be an angel – God knows I messed with Liz Parker’s mind more than once and I’m not a bit sorry. Max was always meant to be mine and would have been if she hadn’t stolen him from me…”

Tess looked coldly furious for an instant as she remembered all the trouble Liz had caused. Kyle noticed and a trickle of ice slid slowly down his spine, quietly bringing him to his senses.

“You’d better go now. Do Max and your other…house guests know you’re here?”

“No. They think I’m asleep in my room.”

The small girl uncurled herself and stood by his bed. He made no move to get up, just waited for her to leave.

Tess looked down at him, affection and regret plain in her blue eyes and before he knew it, she had leaned down and quickly brushed his lips with a warm, soft kiss.

“I really wish things had been different for us… I’m truly sorry, Kyle.”

She left the room without looking back.

In the morning, Kyle met up with the others in the coffee shop for a late breakfast.

He quietly told them what had transpired, carefully leaving out his feelings on the matter and her declaration of love for him, merely reporting that he believed her remorse over Alex was genuine and that she had promised to stay out of his dreams.

Maria snorted in angry disbelief but didn’t push the matter, not wanting to draw the attention of the other customers. Michael and Isobel kept their opinions to themselves, but their expressions said it all. Kyle saw they weren’t certain that Tess hadn’t been using her mind tricks on him again, but he let it go. He wasn’t so sure himself in daylight. Only time would tell if she kept her word.

The morning was cloudy and threatening rain as they headed over to Tess’s house, intent on rescuing Liz and locating the baby as soon as possible so they could leave. Nobody was comfortable with the Max situation and trusting Tess wasn’t going to happen, despite her nocturnal visit to Kyle.

Pulling up in the driveway, they saw that the SUV was gone, only the VW van was still there. Max himself opened the door to them, not bothering to hide his anger and impatience.

“Where the hell have you been? Don’t you understand that every moment Liz is trapped in that pod is torture for me? My son is draining my powers, too. There’s no time to waste. Michael, you have come up with a plan, right?”

Michael held the outraged Maria back while the oblivious Max led the way through the archway into the living room, then threw himself into an armchair and gestured to the others to sit down on the couches either side of the coffee table. He frowned as the group made no move to obey, instead standing together and frowning right back at him.

Michael ignored the overt attempt to downgrade him to second-in-command again. He’d finally thrown off the shackles of his distant past on another planet and chosen his own destiny on Earth. Max was no longer his leader and never would be again. The thought brought him immense private satisfaction. He was his own man, now, and would never give up the freedom to make his own life choices.

“Yeah, I’ve got a plan, Maxwell.” He deliberately used the old nickname, long used to lightly show his disapproval of something the other had said or done. This time, he had some faint hope that it might reach past the fog of anxiety and panic that was now pouring off the ex-king in waves, despite his arrogant façade. “It’s the obvious thing and it’s what you already planned to do. Why make such a drama about it? We use the stones, like you all did when I was sick. Let’s get started, then.”

He walked across to the coffee table where the familiar cloth bag that had always held them now lay ready on open display. Everyone tensed up and Max hurriedly stood and began heading towards the door.

“We can use the dining room, okay?”

Michael stopped him before he got there.

“Wait. Before we bring Liz into the house, where are Tess and the others? I only saw the van outside. If they’re away for a while, that’s good. I don’t want them around to disturb us in the ritual. We don’t need them for Liz and it might not be such a good idea for Tess to be around for that anyway.”

“Tess is asleep in her room, I don’t want her disturbed. If the car’s gone, I guess Rath and Lonnie are out getting supplies or something. I don’t know what they do with themselves, they keep out of my way. Let’s go get Liz.”

Michael and Kyle, not without interference from Maria directing operations and Max hovering anxiously, unloaded the truck to reach the blanket-draped pod from the pick-up, then ignored Max’s frustrated rage as they carefully repacked the contents ready for a fast getaway, and finally carried it into the dining room, where Isobel had made space on the polished wooden floor by pushing and piling all the furniture into the corners with her powers. She had also cloned more candles from the few decorative ones on the mantel over the old-fashioned fireplace.

Isobel lit the candles and closed the drapes against the dull morning outside, while Kyle once again conjured the glowing lines connecting everyone to each other and to Liz at the center of the circle.

Suddenly, the door flew open and Rath and Lonnie swaggered in, grinning, with unconcealed curiosity on their faces.

“Yo, what g’wan, dudes? We’s come ta see if the ‘sacred stones’ work for youse, when they wouldn’t cut it for us…”

Michael, Isobel and Kyle instantly raised their hands and the intruders were unceremoniously pushed outside where the door slammed shut behind them. A loud stream of invective ensued and several heavy thumps shook the door on its hinges, but the defences held and after a few tense moments, mocking laughter quickly faded as the two dupes retreated down the hall towards the kitchen.

In the dining room, the others continued their preparations: Maria held the crystal goblet Michael had created for their first try at the ritual and he discreetly used his powers to fill it with purified water when Max’s back was turned.

Isobel spread out the ‘sacred’ stones on the dining table and selected her own. Now Michael, Maria and Max each picked out their own stone from the others, too.

There were two left over – both were dull, without the tiny spark of blue fire that flared deep in each of the others, but one had a smoky darkness at the center that spoke of a light snuffed out. The small group stared at it sadly, each remembering the first time they had used them in the ‘balance’ ritual to save Michael.

Maria picked out the unused ‘healing’ stone and placed it carefully on Liz’s pod over her heart, before she, Isobel and Max each stepped to their places on the rim. Then there was a pause, and Kyle found that Michael was staring thoughtfully at him.

“Someone has to stand guard in case those two get any bright ideas and I think it’s gotta be me…”

Kyle swallowed his resentment at Michael’s implication that he wasn’t up for the job because he knew that his own powers, while greatly improved, were no match for Rath and Lonnie combined. Then as Michael continued with his comment Kyle realized he had jumped to the wrong conclusion and, instead, a spark of hope blossomed in his heart.

“You should be the one to help Liz in the ritual – you’re her true friend and I’m not gonna be able to pretend that I even like her, so I guess it’s probably best that I'm the one to sit this one out…”

“Um, yeah, I guess that makes sense, but there isn’t another stone…”

There was a blank pause, then Maria stepped forward, smiled blindingly at Michael and spoke softly to Kyle.

“Why don’t you try holding Alex’s stone and see what happens? You and Alex were friends with each other as well as Liz, and he would want you to help her, I know he would.”

Isobel was nodding and smiling mistily in the background, urging him to join them, so he released a deep, cleansing breath, focused his mind as he’d learned to do through meditation and reached for the remaining stone.

Images flashed in the darkness behind his eyelids, mostly too blurred to identify, images from Alex’s life, the feelings and emotions strong and shot through with the humor, generosity and kindness that were his friend’s ruling characteristics. The flashes were over in a moment, but Kyle was left with a strong impression that Alex was grinning approvingly at him from somewhere close by but at the same time infinitely far away…

He looked down at the stone in his hand and saw a fugitive sparkle, like a shooting star through the heart of darkness, and knew it was alright. Alex’s spirit had given him a sign that he, Kyle Valenti – once reluctant witness to alien existence – was truly and completely part of the group now. He sent a mental grin right back at Alex, wherever he was, and stepped over to take the remaining place in the circle.

“Let the ritual commence!”

The abrupt royal command from Max jolted the peaceful atmosphere pervading the room and everyone glared at him so hard that he looked abashed, but after a moment they all settled down and let themselves relax into the shared mood again.

Maria took the crystal goblet the Michael handed to her and processed solemnly round to each of the others in turn, offering the purified water as she had done before in the mountains. Then she drank her own share and placed the goblet on the floor at her feet, before focusing her gaze and attention on the stone in her hand, ready to face whatever was necessary to free Liz from her alien carapace.

Michael stood apart from the rest, where he could watch both the window and the door, his mind and body on full alert, his attention on protecting his family while they were vulnerable, but still sneaking glances at Maria as she closed her eyes and swayed a little in concentration. He could feel her emotions – trepidation, excitement, and determination but mostly love for the Liz she had grown up with, who was lost and must be found if her world was to regain the missing part of its heart.
Michael’s own heart went out to his Maria and, if he couldn’t honestly give his energy directly to save Liz, he could at least give his strength to support his true love’s wish to have her friend back. The flash of warmth that came from Maria told him she understood and was grateful for his gift.

Time passed slowly in the stuffy, candlelit room and he began to wonder how long it would be before the others found themselves on the dream plane and he tried not to think about Riverdog’s warning that it was dangerous, that the balance pulled people in and could change their mind and body if they didn’t navigate it carefully.

He nervously listened with his enhanced senses for anything that might warn of an outside threat, but part of him listened inwardly through their link to Maria’s emotions and gradually he began to share what she was seeing in her mind’s eye…