|Bait and Switch
Author: Aesop PM
An old enemy holds the key to solving all of their problems. AU.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure - Words: 13,711 - Favs: 3 - Published: 10-20-04 - id: 2102850
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
BAIT AND SWITCH
DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters from Roswell and I don't earn any profit from this.
SUMMARY: AU. An old enemy may hold the key to solving Max's problems.
SPOILERS: I began with Isabel telling the 'truth' at the end of 'After the Music.' After that it goes in a different direction.
The long trip would be worth it. Although it was a huge risk, the rewards would more than make up for it. They'll see it my way. I know they will, and if they don't, I'll still get what I want. A road sign announced that Roswell was only five miles away.
Diane Evans laughed as Jesse finished his story. Although she had been slow to admit it, even to herself, she believed that her daughter had made a good choice. It was still awkward having a son-in-law, but it helped that she genuinely liked the man. Promising herself that she would never be the source of a mother-in-law joke was the first thing she did when she and Philip had decided to support Isabel's marriage.
Jesse was good to her and apparently, good for her. Even Philip agreed. He'd known Jesse longer and had a good opinion of him. Still they might not have seen it in time if not for Max. She doubted that Isabel and Jesse would have been coming over for dinner or that any meeting would have been so pleasant if they had stuck to their original plan and refused to attend the wedding. Max had convinced them that they were making a mistake, and they had arrived just in time.
Now as she sat across from them, watched them smile and laugh together, she allowed herself to believe that the marriage would last. She knew all too well that being in love wasn't enough to make a marriage work, she had seen couples that married too soon fall apart within a year of the wedding. She had hope, now that she knew Jesse that the marriage would last.
Thanks to Max their relationship with their daughter had been salvaged, but Max himself was another matter. She wanted her son back. Max's secrets had come between them before but never like this. Philip didn't know about the fire or the sheriff's claim that Max had healed Liz Parker. He had never seen the video of the pigeon. Having Max move out of the house was bad enough; if his father ever learned about Max's abilities and confronted him about them, as Diane was sure he would, Max might leave town, disappear entirely. That would be more than she could take.
It all fit together somehow. The weird 'powers' if that was the right word, the skulking about, the robbery in Utah, and Max's refusal to tell them the truth. Somehow it all fit together. Diane both wanted to know and didn't want to know. Hated the secrets and feared the answers or at least what the answers would cost them. Philip didn't understand that. He hadn't discussed it with her, but she knew he was prying into Max's life, trying to find out what their son was hiding. It wasn't a good idea, but she couldn't tell him that. All she could do was watch, like a bystander watching some horrible crash on a road, knowing what was happening and powerless to prevent it. Couldn't talk to Max. Couldn't tell Philip what she knew. It would only make matters worse.
As she often did when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable problem, especially this particular problem, she covered her worry with a smile and began to talk of inanities. She told them about a fund-raiser the church was organizing and of the decorations for a party that had been held at a friend's house the week before. It worked as it always did, allowing her to shove the thoughts that so troubled her to the back of her mind. When forced to be honest with herself she knew she was only hiding from the problem, knew that it still existed and must, eventually be dealt with. Unable to solve the problem, however, not seeing a ready solution, she retreated into the illusion of safety and normality that losing herself in inconsequential matters provided.
She was describing the décor, rather tasteless décor she thought, of a new restaurant that she and a friend had eaten at when Isabel said something that caught her attention. She said 'truth'. "What honey?"
"I want to tell you the truth," she said hesitantly, "about Max." Philip was suddenly all ears; his attention immediately captured by the prospect of learning even one of his son's secrets, but Diane quailed inwardly. Truth was not a friend. How much did Isabel know about her brother? She knew more than Diane herself did, that much was certain, but what did she know, and when had she known it?
"Go on Isabel," Philip prompted her when she trailed off. Isabel swallowed visibly and Diane suddenly realized that whatever their daughter was about to tell them wasn't the truth, at least not the whole truth. She had always been able to tell. Isabel had many talents, but dissembling wasn't one of them.
Ever since she'd been little, Diane had always known when Isabel wasn't being truthful. It was the only time that her daughter got nervous. She never stuttered or got giggly otherwise. Her father knew this too, but Isabel never saw it in herself. So Diane found herself wondering how much, if any, truth there was going to be in what they were about to hear.
The phone rang.
Kyle and Jim Valenti moved toward the truck, fetching the last bit of equipment for the band's set. Kyle usually didn't attend his father's performances, finding them embarrassing, but he had agreed to set up the equipment when one of the usual stagehands hadn't shown up for a special performance. The music, he had to admit, was pretty good, but that didn't mean he enjoyed seeing his father up on stage working through his mid-life crisis.
One last amp each and Kyle checked his watch. "Ten minutes till show time."
"Sure you won't stay for the show?" his father asked hopefully. Kyle shook his head, readying himself for his father's disappointment. "It wouldn't hurt to stay for a while," he insisted. "I'm told by unbiased third parties that the music is pretty good."
"It's not that dad. I've got to put in some extra hours at the garage tonight. If Mr. Russell's transmission isn't ready tomorrow he'll take his business elsewhere. I can get on the boss's good side for a change by seeing its done in time."
"Well," his father allowed in a joking tone, "as long as you've got a good excuse. Hey! Isabel!" Kyle looked up, glad of the diversion. Isabel Evans was moving across the lot in a hurry. "Come by to watch the show?" Then he noticed a difference. "You went blonde again?" Her hair was a slightly different shade, as well as being shorter and wilder than they had seen her wear before.
She shrugged. "Just trying on a different look. Sorry I can't make the show. I'm running late."
"Yeah," Kyle remembered. "Aren't you and Jesse having dinner with your parents tonight?"
"Like I said, I'm late. See you around." She waved as she walked across the lot and father and son hurried on into the club. Setting up the equipment only took a moment, and Jim approached the manager while Kyle finished plugging in the amps. Maria was there, talking to the portly, middle-aged man who managed Cow Patty's when he arrived. Jim had heard she was trying to jump-start her musical career, but Cow Patty's seemed like an unlikely venue.
"Oh hi she-, um Mr. Valenti."
"Jim, please. Don't worry, I'm still getting used to it myself. I wouldn't expect to see you performing here." He turned to the manager. "We're ready to go." The man gave a satisfied nod and headed for his office.
Maria shrugged. "Not really my style," she admitted. "I'm just trying a little of everything. He's agreed to give me a chance tomorrow night." She nodded at the retreating manager. "Isabel said she'd help me find the right look."
"Isabel? I didn't think she was a country music fan."
"She's not," Maria smiled as an image popped into her mind's eye of Isabel dressed in a colorfully decorated western shirt and cowboy hat, "but she knows her fashions."
"Is that what she was doin' here then," Valenti glanced toward the entrance. "I wondered." Maria gave a puzzled frown.
"Where? I haven't seen her today."
"Outside, just now. She wasn't here to see you?" Maria shook her head. Valenti shrugged, dismissing the matter. "Show time. I'll swing by tomorrow and watch." He gave an encouraging smile and headed for the stage. He didn't see Maria's puzzled frown deepen. A glance at her watch brought the memory she was reaching for into her grasp. A mention of dinner at her parents' home, at 7:00.
Reaching into her purse she pulled out her cell phone, not sure quite what she suspected. "Maria." She glanced up to see Kyle coming towards her. "Surprised to see you here."
"Kyle. You saw Isabel outside just now?"
He frowned, noticing the worry on her face. "Yeah. Why?"
"Are you sure?"
"Huh? Sure, blonde again, but definitely her. She said she was headed to her parents' house for dinner. Something wrong?"
"Maybe. You're sure it was her?" Kyle nodded again; beginning to look worried himself. The phone rang and kept ringing.
Isabel looked at the phone, a slight frown on her face. "Let it ring," her father said, dismissing the sound. People who called during dinner were one of Philip Evans' pet peeves. He never answered the phone while having a meal with his family. Isabel started again and broke off. Her father sighed, knowing that his daughter was stalling, probably because she was about to lie to him. He could always tell. Max doing it was bad enough, but he had apparently gotten Isabel to help cover for him. She clearly wasn't going to answer with the phone ringing though. A weak excuse, but she was willing to take it. It was just another sign of her nervousness at the prospect of lying to him. He rose from the table and picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Mr. Evans, it's Maria. Is Isabel there?"
He frowned at the sound of her voice. Maria was a passing friend of Isabel's, he knew, and she sounded nervous about something. It didn't concern him overmuch though, knowing the overwrought blonde well enough to know that it didn't take much to get her upset or angry. "Yes. We're having dinner. Wou-?" He was about to ask her to call back later, but she didn't let him finish.
"How long has she been there?" His annoyance turned to puzzlement. An odd question wasn't unusual when his son's friends were involved, but of late, he was usually the one asking.
"I know it sounds strange, but I need to know how long she's been there."
"About an hour. Why?"
Maria clasped the phone to her chest and looked at Kyle with genuine alarm. "Oh my God! Lonnie!"
Diane was only half listening to the one-sided conversation. Her attention was focused on her daughter and son-in-law. Jesse had taken her hand in an unconscious show of support. It made her feel better to see small gestures like that between them. He really is a nice man. Isabel was watching her father on the phone and trying to keep the nervous smile on her face. It kept slipping.
"Just a moment. Isabel?" They all glanced over at Philip Evans, surprised. It was almost unheard of for him to let a caller interrupt them at dinner. He turned to Isabel, covering the phone with his hand. Isabel rose to take it, but stopped in her tracks at her father's next words. "Who is Lonnie?"
"Lonnie?" The name came out as a squeak. She had gone pale, something that wasn't lost on any of them.
"Honey? What's wrong?" Jesse began to move towards her, but his wife recovered quickly and held out her hand for the phone. Her father didn't relinquish it.
"Who is Lonnie? And why does Maria sound so panicked?" He put the phone to his ear. "Isabel will call you back after dinner." Hanging up, he turned back to his daughter with a determined look on his face. "You don't look too steady yourself. Who is Lonnie?"
Isabel shook her head. "Don't do this," she almost whispered.
"Don't do what?" her father demanded, growing short-tempered. "Worry about my kids?"
"Don't start prying. Don't play detective." Try as she might to keep her voice level, a pleading note crept in, and she began to speak faster. "Please. Not with this. Lonnie is very dangerous." Isabel didn't bite her tongue, but she wanted to. The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. They had exactly the effect she knew they would have.
"Dangerous? Dangerous how? That's all the more reason for me to get involved. Isabel-."
"Please! This is just something I have to handle myself."
"Gonna handle me yerself, huh?" a familiar voice drew their attention to the archway leading from kitchen to living room. "That could be fun." Isabel didn't turn immediately. She looked at her parents' expressions instead. Both were staring over her shoulder, their eyes, disbelieving, fixed on the person behind her. Turning slowly, trying to look calm, she caught Jesse's eye. He had moved to the edge of his seat in the booth to get a better look at what was going on. Now his eyes moved back and forth between Isabel and the newcomer. Finally, Isabel faced her.
"Isabel. You don't call, you don't write." Her tone made it clear how little she cared, and Isabel's eyes narrowed as her shock at seeing her double wore off. How dare she come here? In front of her family, threatening to ruin everything for her?
"What do you want?" Her tone was steady again, though still frightened by the thought of what Lonnie might say or do; she would not show any weakness to this woman.
"Do I have to want something? Can't I just drop in to see family?" Isabel didn't answer. She only glared. "Oh all right. What do I want?" Her tone became wistful. "I want to go home. I want my birthright restored, and I want all the wealth and power that goes with it."
"You've come to say good-bye?" Isabel mustered a fond smile, but her tone dripped with sarcasm. "Have a nice trip. Write if you get work."
Lonnie chuckled, amused by her dupe's attempt at bravado. "Funny. Wish it was so easy." She moved away from the archway she'd been leaning on and into the kitchen. Isabel didn't give an inch, standing between Lonnie and her family. "I know he came to see you," she stated without preamble. "He contacted you before your wedding and when you were in California. Tried to convince you to go home with him."
"How do you know about that?" Isabel demanded without thinking. She mentally kicked herself and started to move forward, hoping the other would back out of the room so they could have the discussion in private.
Lonnie only shrugged. "I keep a few contacts back home. I hear rumors." She didn't give an inch. "We're staying here Isabel. I'm gonna need them." She nodded toward Isabel's parents and husband.
"This doesn't involve them," Isabel stalled, thinking desperately. She didn't dare look at them herself, not wanting them to realize how afraid she was of having this conversation in front of them.
"Wait a minute," Jesse interrupted. "Are you talking about that Kevin guy who made a pass at Isabel?" He looked to his wife. "You didn't tell me you knew him."
"Kevin, huh?" she snorted in amusement. "Oh yeah," Lonnie nodded. "We go way back." She glanced at Jesse. "Why you'd turn him down for this," she continued with a contemptuous nod at Jesse, "I can't figure."
"Jesse, please," Isabel placed a hand on his shoulder. She glared at Lonnie, her temper overriding her concern for a moment. "You're criticizing my taste in men? Where's the freak you were with the last time I saw you?"
Lonnie refused to be diverted. "What do I want?" she asked again. "I want it all back," her tone grew hard. "I want everything you threw away, when you told 'Kevin' you'd kill him if he ever came back."
Diane gasped. The idea of Isabel threatening anyone unnerved her. She had never seen her daughter like this before. Isabel behaved, for all the world, as if she was facing a dangerous animal, showing no fear, even though the other woman clearly terrified her. That was what confused Diane most of all. A glance at her husband showed he shared her bafflement. The woman could have been, in fact she probably was, Isabel's sister, a twin sister. Why had they never known? "Isabel?" Her daughter turned to glance at her. "What is this about? Who is Kevin and… and aren't you going to introduce us to your sister?"
Isabel and Lonnie glanced at each other, startled. "Sisters?" the newcomer asked, genuinely puzzled. Then she shrugged. "Yeah, I guess that's sorta right." She focused, dismissing the others in the room. "I'll get ta the point. I want you to call him. Tell him you changed your mind, and you wanna go home."
Isabel's mouth opened and closed silently for a moment. Finally she got the words out. "Absolutely not! I'm already home Lonnie. I don't know what you hope to accomplish, but leave me out of it. I don't want any part of it." This had to end fast. Lonnie was going to spill the whole truth about them, in front of her family. The damage might already be irreparable. How could she explain any of this to them without telling the truth? Her only hope, and that was a slim one she realized, was that Maria would come through for her. Michael's on-again off-again girl friend was flighty and high-strung, but she had been there in the past when it counted. Isabel just didn't know if Maria could do anything in time.
"Isabel isn't going anywhere against her will," her father affirmed. "I won't allow you to f-."
"Shut up," Lonnie interrupted, her tone mild. "Remember, I do have a hostage or two to spare." Philip Evans' stared incredulously. He hadn't understood much of anything that had happened so far. Isabel deliberately deceiving them on Max's behalf, her sorta, and what does that mean? sister popping up, the conversation they were carrying on, and Lonnie's claim that they were hostages; none of it made any sense to him.
Shaking off his surprise, he turned toward the phone. "That's more than enough. How exactly you think you're holding us hostage I-"
Lonnie's arm snapped up with hand open, fingers spread wide. Isabel gasped and made a lunge for her that Lonnie neatly sidestepped. The telephone exploded. "You really should listen to your daughter," Lonnie said, her tone grown sharp. "Didn't she tell you not five minutes ago?" Philip had jumped back with a startled cry and shielded his face. Now he turned to stare at Lonnie, expecting to see a gun. Her hand was empty. Lonnie finished what she had started to say slowly, carefully articulating each syllable as if speaking to a rather slow-witted child. "I'm. Dangerous."
He glanced from Lonnie to the shattered phone and then back to Lonnie several times, looking for some explanation of what had just happened. "How did you do that?" he demanded.
Lonnie ignored him and focused on Isabel instead as she lowered her arm. "Don't even think about it 'sis.' You haven't developed yer gifts the way I have. Bet you don't have the slightest idea of how ta really enjoy 'em."
Isabel pulled herself together. There it was, out in the open. Jesse and her parents were staring at her as if she'd sprouted antennae or something. There was no hiding the truth now, but she could at the very least protect them, even if it was the last thing she did for them before leaving Roswell forever. In a voice that surprised her by not shaking she replied. "I haven't used them to rob and murder people, but that doesn't mean I'm helpless."
"There's no need ta fight," Lonnie said in what passed for a mollifying tone. "I didn't come ta fight. I came ta make a deal."
"Save your threats," Isabel said flatly. "I'm not going back."
"No. I am." Isabel blinked, not sure she'd heard correctly. What was going through her ersatz sister's mind now?
"Try'n keep up," Lonnie said condescendingly. She spoke clearly and deliberately, her accent barely noticeable. "Why would I want to send you back? All you have to do is call him and get him to come. I'll be there to meet him in your place."
Isabel didn't answer for a moment, she simply stared, shocked. Finally she found her voice. "You're out of your mind!"
"Don't you see how it works for both of us?"
"You want me to help you con him? Him of all people? Do you have any idea what he'll do to you?"
"You're assuming he'll figure it out," Lonnie smirked, mimicking Isabel's voice and tones perfectly. "We are identical after all."
"Then why hasn't he come to see you? Why didn't he offer to take you back?" Lonnie's face flushed and she felt her temper start to rise at the questions she couldn't answer. "It won't work."
"It will!" she practically hissed. "It has to." Taken aback by the venom in her voice Isabel decided to change tactics, still buying herself time.
"Why do you want to go back anyway? Think abou-"
"How can you ask that?" the other demanded, her anger mixed with honest confusion. "Have you forgotten everything about your life? Forgotten what it was like to be Velondra?"
A series of carefully gathered facts and actual memories rose unbidden to Isabel's mind. She remembered the discovery she had made the night of her 18th birthday, and the hints Nicholas had dropped about her past. She remembered the time before as well, not all, but a few critical, emotion charged moments. There was a moment in the palace garden with Kivar that caused her heart to ache only because she knew what had come of it. There were memories of secret meetings that grew increasingly tense. There was a memory of feeling blind panic, running through the palace corridors, her mind shocked numb by the reality of Kivar's betrayal.
"No I haven't!" The anger flared in her as unexpected as the memories and the realization of all that they implied. "But believe me I've tried, and every day I go without a reminder is a day I give thanks!" Lonnie actually looked taken aback by the outburst. "Maybe you do remember more than I do, but you've forgotten how it ended." Isabel knew she should stop talking, but the words kept coming despite her effort to stem the tide. "You've forgotten that he betrayed her. He murdered Velondra and her family. Our family!" Isabel clamped her mouth shut before she could say anymore and simply glared at her dupe, shaking with the force of the mixed emotions running through her.
"Oh I remember," Lonnie smiled. "I never said I wanted him did I?" She almost laughed as Isabel's expression. "Do you really think I'd trust him? I just want to be Velondra again. Kivar? Don't worry 'sis,' he'll pay!" She raised a hand to forestall Isabel's reaction. "Why don't you wait to hear what you get out of the deal?" Still shocked by her own outburst Isabel nodded dumbly, not trusting herself to speak. "Good, you might want to call Max first, though. Ask him if he wants his son."
"Crap. Nothing on, but crap," Michael waved the TV off and glanced over at Max who was reading a book. "Any ideas?"
"Try reading something," Max suggested without looking up. Michael shot him an impatient look. Max was not paying attention, having returned his full attention to his book. Michael began to pace the room, causing Max to frown. He didn't comment, though. It had almost become a competition to them. Michael would start pacing or doing something equally annoying. Max would try to ignore him. Michael won when Max finally acknowledged him and asked him to stop or did something with him to distract from the annoying behavior. If Michael gave up and went out or settled in to some quiet, less irritating activity, Max would win.
The game didn't play out this time. A knock at the door interrupted them. Breathing a silent sigh of relief Max rose to answer the urgent rapping on the door. Maria and Kyle waited outside the door, matching worried looks on their faces. "Max," Kyle began without preamble, "we may have a problem."
Max invited them in, and he and Michael listened with growing concern to Kyle's description of his encounter with 'Isabel' and Maria's deduction. "I called your parents, and they told me that Isabel had been there for nearly an hour."
"We'd best get over there." They were out the door and piling into Kyle's car when the phone in Michael's kitchen rang.
"Son?!" Philip Evans stared at them. "What are you talking about?" Isabel shot her father an incredulous look. Out of all the revelations the evening had held he latched on to that?
"I was trying to tell you earlier…. Um,… Max." she shot a venomous look at Lonnie. "He got Tess pregnant, but she left town before the baby was born." Lonnie snorted.
"Was that all you planned to tell us?" her father demanded. "You weren't going to mention Lonnie or these 'gifts' she's talking about?" Isabel couldn't meet his eyes. "I didn't think so."
"I don't like to think about Lonnie, let alone talk about her." Isabel glared at her duplicate. "And… The rest, I… I just want a normal life and happy marriage, without all this… family business interfering." She had stopped herself from saying 'alien' just in time. "Is that too much to ask? I just wanted to ignore all of that."
"Wow sis," Lonnie drawled. "I never took you for the type to stick your head in the sand."
"You don't know anything about me," Isabel gritted. "However we may look, we are not the same. I'm not a sociopath!"
"Sticks 'n stones 'sis.' Call your brother." Isabel reached for her purse and pulled out her cell. She didn't really see any option at this point, and having Max there meant that Lonnie was outnumbered, especially as he'd be sure to bring Michael.
There was no answer at the apartment. She let it ring six times before giving up. "No one's there." She tried Maria's cell phone. "Maria?"
"Isabel? Thank God! Are you… Wait a minute, um tell me um,-"
"Maria it's me. Lonnie is here, at the house. Is Max with you?" She could here the phone hastily changing hands. "Max? You need to come right away."
"What's going on? Is everyone okay?"
"Yes. Lonnie says she wants to make a deal."
"What kind of deal?"
"I'll let her explain, but Max, she knows about the baby." Isabel was silent for a moment and then disconnected. "He's coming."
"Good." She hopped up on the counter. "Make yaself comfy," she advised. "This shouldn't take long."
Philip Evans took his seat next to his wife. He was bursting with questions but honestly didn't know where to begin. He stared at his daughter, but she raised a hand, looking very tired. "Just wait till Max gets here, okay?" Reluctantly, he nodded, using the time instead to organize his thoughts. What questions should he ask first? He didn't know where to begin or how.
It was a short wait. Barely five minutes had passed before the sound of a car pulling into the driveway got everyone's attention. A moment later Max came into the room alone. He took in the situation coolly, and focused on Lonnie who was giving him an exasperated look. "Get Michael and his girl in here too. I want all of you where I can see you." She raised a hand threateningly towards his family and he nodded. He stepped back out, and a moment later Michael and Maria came in, neither looking happy. Kyle had gone by foot to get his father, although what the elder Valenti could do wasn't clear. "That's more like it." She hopped down from the counter. "Now we can deal."
"That remains to be seen," Max's tone was neutral, giving away nothing. "What do you want Lonnie?"
"I want to help you get your son back. Interested?" Max hadn't been expecting that. A threat perhaps but not an offer of help.
"Because you can do something for me. Not much into charity, y'know?" Max didn't answer; he simply looked at her expectantly. She sighed. "Just like our 'brother.' Never met anyone who could say so much with silence."
"Is that regret I hear?" Isabel asked, her voice bitter. "Or just nostalgia? Sorry you killed him?" There was a shocked gasp from the table, her mother, Isabel realized, and silently begged her to stay quiet, not to draw attention to herself. From the corner of her eye, she saw Maria move over to the table and settle beside her parents, trying her hand at being a calming influence. It wasn't really her strong suit, but Isabel couldn't worry about that now. Lonnie held her attention.
"Not really," Lonnie shrugged indifferently. "He was in my way." The silence from the table was almost palpable. Max didn't look at them, his focus not shifting from Lonnie. "Not why I'm here, really. Like I said, I'm here to make a deal. You want your kid. I want to go home. We can make both happen."
"How?" Max could feel his parents staring at him. Lonnie had just casually confessed to killing their brother and Max was not even fazed by it. Instead, he was asking what she could do for him. He couldn't pause to worry about what they thought of him, though. He couldn't even look at them at the moment, not daring to take his eyes off Lonnie. It was just another shock and disappointment for them, just another step away from them that he could never take back. If they get through this alive, he decided, I can live with that.
"Simple," Lonnie smirked. "Kivar wants legitimacy. He's got the throne, but he's also got problems. Lotsa people who won't bow. He wanted Tess and her brat to give him that, but she disappointed him when she didn't bring you, Michael, and Isabel back. He didn't really want to share power anyway, so he killed her." She was watching closely for a reaction to this news. There was none. Max didn't even flinch. She was vaguely disappointed but pressed on.
"He's set himself up as regent or some garbage like that. He runs things till the kid is old enough. It's not what he wants though, it's just the best he can do. But if he could marry into the family he'd have what he wants." Max nodded for her to continue. What she was saying was logical, so far, but he still didn't know where she was going. He didn't look at his parents, not wanting to see the confusion on their faces. "You know he wants Isabel." Again Max nodded. "So all she's gotta do is send him a message. Tell him that she's willing. She'll come home and give him the status he needs if he'll return your kid."
"Isn't going anywhere. I'll meet Kivar in her place." She forestalled his objection with a raised hand. "You're gonna say he'll figure it out pretty quick, but that's my problem, not yours. I'll deal with Kivar for what he did to our family, and I'll be home, the only one of the blood, and the only one who can take over and not cause a war."
"It might work," he allowed noncommittally. He realized that it could work, and if it did it would solve a lot of their problems, but the unknowns stopped him. The factors he could not control caused him to hesitate. Lonnie was the biggest of those factors. The plan hinged on her, but she was at the same time, the greatest obstacle. "If I trusted you," he added finally. "Even then it would be dangerous. Kivar isn't stupid. I have to believe there's a reason he hasn't brought you home already."
"Is safe for now. You said it yourself. Kivar needs him."
"For how long?" Lonnie had always been the planner, and she prided herself on thinking one step ahead of everyone. It had been her plan that had eliminated Zan, and brought Max to New York. Now she found herself up against him again, and she would have her own way. "I remember Kivar. You don't. He won't want to play second string to a rug rat for long. He'll use the time to get his people into position and ferret out the resistance. Then he won't need the kid anymore. He'll have enough support to wipe out anybody who tries to kick him off the throne."
Max let out a long, steadying breath. "I see." He glanced at Isabel and caught his parents' eyes. They were bewildered, lost amidst the revelations about their children. He couldn't deal with them right now. Isabel was frowning uncertainly. "It might work Is."
"We can't trust her Max. You know that."
Max nodded and looked back at Lonnie before answering his sister. "She gains nothing by betraying us. In fact she can't, not without exposing herself to Kivar before she's ready. Kivar will bring my son and leave with Lonnie. If she gives herself away too soon, Kivar will kill her." He watched her expression carefully, and then spoke to her directly. "The performance will have to be perfect or Kivar won't believe it. If he even suspects a trap you'll be dead before you know he's attacking you. You do realize that, don't you?"
"He don't need this," Lonnie acknowledged. "'Fact he'll probably think it's a trap, but he still carries a torch for Velondra. I can use that. It's the whole reason I think he'll go for it."
"What about Kivar's supporters? There'll be people who want to step in and take over if he dies."
Lonnie shook her head. "He encourages 'competition' between his followers. No one strong enough to just 'step in.' He made sure of that. It's how he kept anyone from gettin' ideas about turning on him. There'd be a war if he was suddenly gone."
"So they would hold their peace for a while. Make plans to gather their own resources for a takeover."
She nodded. "It would give me time, and it would be my look out, regardless. Not your problem."
"You would be the only one 'of the blood' who could take the throne without causing a war." Max nodded thoughtfully as he repeated her earlier words. She nodded, but he cut her off before she could respond. "You would also be the only one of the blood who wants the job." Lonnie blinked; surprised by the emphasis he put on this point. "I need you to understand that. Not only would turning on us be stupid, it would be pointless. If you want the throne it's yours. All I'm willing to do is wish you luck and get you a one-way ticket. Are we clear on that?"
"Absolutely. I wouldn't be coming to you if I thought you wanted to go back and take the throne for yourself. Just one less thing I have to worry about."
Both glanced at Isabel as she coughed to get their attention. "So, we're going to do this?" She, like Max, still looked doubtful. "Because there's one question you still haven't answered. Why hasn't he contacted you? If we're the same, it shouldn't matter, so why is he focused on me?"
"A reasonable question," Max allowed. "Why aren't you already home living the high life if you two really are identical?"
"He did approach us. We set up the meeting on our turf, remember? What he really wanted though was the Granalith. Now that it's gone…" Lonnie shrugged. "As to why he didn't ask me, its just circumstances."
"What does that mean?" Isabel asked.
"Look around you, sis. You and yours got hidden safely away in Roswell with the Granalith, while me and mine got flushed down the sewer." A deep bitterness colored her speech and Isabel gave her a confused look. "What? Max didn't tell you we lived in the tunnels?" Isabel glanced at Max, questioningly. "Didn't think so."
"You tried to kill me Lonnie. Had things worked out differently we would have willingly helped you, but you made it clear-"
"You threw it away!" She broke in. "We could have-"
"-already been dead," Max cut her off, his tone quiet and even but commanding her attention nonetheless. "You said as much yourself Lonnie. You know better."
She shrugged. "It's the past Max. Things are different now. Different for you, me, and Kivar."
She nodded. "Right. He'll be looking for Isabel here in Roswell. He may be able to tell the difference in time, but I'm not going to give him time. Circumstances are different for you too. I killed Zan 'cause he didn't have the will to take power. You don't have the will either, but that's why I need you. Why this'll work for both of us."
"Max?" Isabel glanced at her brother. Max frowned. He didn't like it, but he saw little choice in the matter, assuming of course that Lonnie was telling the truth. Isabel had the same thought and addressed her dupe. "How do we know that you're telling the truth about any of this?"
"We have only your word," Max agreed. "I don't know that my son is in danger, and you're not really trustworthy."
"So contact Kivar yourself. Find out. Or contact someone else back home. Someone you do trust." Lonnie watched Max's face closely, and she saw his expression flicker for a moment before the emotionless mask slammed back into place. "Thought so," she smirked.
"Max," Isabel kept her tone level. "We should discuss this privately."
"What's to discuss?" Michael's interruption caught them by surprise only because he had been uncharacteristically silent up to that point. "She can't be trusted. Everyone in this room knows that by now, so why are we even talking about this?"
"We have to find out Michael," Max said reasonably. "She might be telling the truth."
"And I might join the Air Force," he snorted. "What's your point?"
"We have to know. If even some of what she's saying is true we have to know." Michael had no answer to that, but he didn't look any happier.
"How do we do this?" Isabel asked. "It's too good to pass up. I hate to say it, but she's right." She glared at Lonnie, clearly not happy about admitting that.
"You know how to use these?" She reached into the pockets of her jacket and drew out two orbs, identical to their own. Max nodded. "Then use them. Contact whoever you need to and find out." The three Roswell teens exchanged blank looks. "For God's sake," Lonnie rolled her eyes. "Activate them and dreamwalk your contact. No one here or there will pick up on it."
"I'll do it," Isabel offered. She took the orbs from Lonnie and left the room without another word. It was too good to pass up. If Lonnie was telling the truth, and if her plan worked, it could solve a lot of problems for them. Those weren't the only 'ifs' though. There was a lot to take in and a lot to consider.
Retrieving their own orbs from their hiding place wouldn't have taken long, but as far as Lonnie knew, they didn't even have orbs. That, Isabel reflected, might work to their advantage.
Making contact and verifying her claims could take a little time, Lonnie suspected as she watched Isabel leave. In the meantime there was fun to be had right there in the kitchen. She could see all of the questions in the humans' eyes and knew who would have to answer them. A glance at Max showed that he knew it too. Three, two, one…
"I think its time you told us what this is about Max," his father's tone brooked no defiance. "What precisely is going on here?"
A good start, Lonnie noted. Leave him room to interpret the question. Let him determine how much he gives away. She was disappointed, although not terribly surprised, when Max didn't answer at all.
"You will answer me Max," his father assured him. "It's bad enough when you keep secrets from us, but when those secrets endanger your family…"
"It's not that simple!" Max broke in.
"Maxwell." Michael's tone carried a note of warning. Max rounded on him, and Michael could see the conflict in his eyes. "If he answers your question," he addressed Max's father without taking his eyes off of his friend, "you'll be in a lot more danger. Kivar and the rest aren't interested in you because you don't know anything. If the Unit even thinks you know something you'll wind up in a place like the white room. You really don't want that."
"What's the white room?" Diane jumped on this one small revelation before her husband could ask. Judging by the look on Max's face she wasn't sure she wanted to know, but she had to know.
"It's a place the government puts people they want answers from," Michael told her.
"Stop it Michael." Max's fists were clenched and he was glaring at Michael, both furious and terrified at the very prospect of his parents knowing about that, but Michael didn't stop.
"They ask you questions. If you don't answer them they pump you full of drugs and ask again."
Michael ignored him, but his gaze never wavered from Max's eyes. "If they still don't hear what they want, even if you're tellin' the truth, they try something else, like knives or needles or…"
"Shut up Michael!" Max snapped, stepping toward him. "That's enough." Finally Michael stopped. "I can't put you at risk," he told his parents after a few deep breaths. "We'll have to leave when this is done." He glared at Lonnie who was clearly entertained by the family drama playing out before her. "All I can say is we better have something to show for it."
"You'll get your kid back Max," she assured him. "No worries."
"He'd better," Michael practically growled. Lonnie looked unimpressed.
"What do you mean, you'll have to leave?" his mother demanded. "Why?"
"It won't be safe here anymore. Not for us, not for you if we stay." He saw his parents exchange a look that Max could easily read. They weren't satisfied with his answer, and they wouldn't take no for an answer. He glanced at Jesse who just looked confused. Confused and afraid that Isabel would leave as well. An unexpected twinge of pity struck him. They hadn't really expected to like Jesse, and Michael still distrusted him, but even he was admitting that the young lawyer was hard to dislike.
"We need more than that Max." His father's voice returned him to the present crisis. "If you're going to leave, then you'll at least give us a reason." Max and Michael traded glances of their own.
"Wait till Isabel is back," Max stalled, hoping he sounded reasonable. "She should have a say." His parents seemed to accept this and Max repressed a sigh of relief even as he noticed Lonnie's smirk. It wasn't in Max's nature to actually hate anyone, but Isabel's dupe was fast becoming an exception. She was enjoying his predicament entirely too much.
Isabel settled in her old room, as far from the distractions of the others as she could get without leaving the house. Slipping into the meditative state she generally used for dreamwalking, she began to concentrate on the orbs and on Larek. A moment passed before she felt something begin to happen. Her surroundings seemed to alter as if she had entered someone's dream, but the only thing in sight was a high stone wall that looked quite impregnable.
Mental defenses? "Someone is literal minded today." Brushing aside the strangeness of it she moved along the wall looking for a gate. When she found one, she called out to him. "Larek! I need to speak to you!"
She was a bit startled, although she wasn't sure why, when Brody approached the other side of the gate. "Isabel? What are you doing?"
"I need to speak to you. It's urgent."
"Of course. I…" he looked about the mental landscape in confusion. There wasn't any beyond the wall and a small area where she 'stood.' "This is rather an odd setting."
"Oh." I guess it's me that's literal minded. "Decorating isn't my priority right now. We have a problem. Is it safe to talk? I mean no one can eavesdrop?"
"No," he assured her. "You're using the signaling devices you were given to boost your ability to project yourself, correct?" She nodded. "Then this conversation is perfectly private. What's wrong?"
"I suppose some background is in order first." Isabel quickly summarized their lives since Larek's last visit, being sure to emphasize the dupes' treachery and Tess' betrayal. Larek waited without interrupting until she finished. Even then he said nothing.
"You can save any lecture you might be thinking up," Isabel said impatiently. "Max knows he screwed up. We all did," she added heavily.
"I had no intention of lecturing you," he started, honestly surprised. Did she think that he would actually reprove one of the royal family, as if she was a foolish child? "I… I just need a moment to take this all in. It wasn't supposed to be this way, you know? The plan was straightforward enough." He shook his head in consternation. "How could it have gone so wrong? The queen betraying you? Both protectors turning against you? It shouldn't be possible."
"Possible or not, it happened. One protector abandoned us and another made a deal with Kivar." She spat out the name, "Tess, killed one of our friends and tried to sell us out."
"You'd be in a better position to ask Tess than I am, if she were still alive."
Larek nodded, a troubled frown furrowing his brow. "I had heard of that. Kivar had her executed as a traitor to Antar. The child is in the palace and has been confirmed as the rightful heir. Kivar has named himself Regent until the child is of age."
"That's why I'm here." Isabel took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts and plunged into the story of Lonnie's arrival and her offer. Larek was unsure how to react, by turns astonished and outraged. Finally, a thoughtful expression settled across his face.
"It could work," he mused. "He still pines for Velondra, in his own way."
"He didn't try to ruin Lonnie's wedding," Isabel pointed out. "What makes us different? Besides the obvious."
"I'm not a vicious sociopath."
"Ah." He considered. "There are differences, but nothing that would be immediately obvious to human eyes, or to Antaran. The deception could work for a time, and before you ask, I believe it is necessary if you wish the boy returned safely. Kivar is using him to buy time for himself, and he won't need the baby for long."
Isabel gave a slight shudder, but quickly focused on her task again. "Will she be able to fool him long enough for us to make the exchange? Lonnie for the baby?"
"Yes. Possibly long enough for Kivar to let his guard down. She might be able to kill him." He saw Isabel's expression. "Don't judge when you don't know the facts. Kivar… I believe the human expression is 'rules with an iron fist?'"
Isabel figuratively bit her tongue and thought about what Larek had said. "It's bad?" she asked finally, "I mean bad enough to justify assassinating the man?"
"I find it odd that you would speak in his defense. You know what he did to Velondra and the rest of your family."
"There's another human expression Larek. The ends don't justify the means. You're right. I don't know what its like on Antar. I just know what my parents taught me, my human parents." Larek was silent for a moment as he considered this. It was good to know that she had such scruples. Velondra certainly hadn't had them. Isabel sighed, realizing she was in no position to judge and was running out of time. "We don't have a lot of time. I have to get back with an answer for her."
"The exchange can work," Larek nodded, pulling his mind back to the matter at hand. "If she is a skilled actress she should be able to pull it off."
"Until he looks into her mind," Isabel remembered suddenly. "If Nicholas can do it, I don't see why Kivar wouldn't."
"That is a rare gift," Larek assured her. "Kivar tolerates the one you call Nicholas because he is useful, and because he can shield himself from such intrusions. He cannot, himself, enter another's mind in that way."
"There are other ways?"
"Oh yes. Her window of opportunity will be limited, but her plan can work."
"She'll be thrilled," Isabel answered dryly.
"You are not?"
"If we get the baby back safe and sound, then I'll live with it, but I don't like setting anyone up to get killed." She took a moment to shove her doubts aside. "Tell me how. How do I approach him without giving the whole thing away?"
The decision made, Isabel was able to focus on Larek's instructions. They were fairly simple and she foresaw no problem acting on them. When she was sure she understood what she had to do, she nodded. "Okay. I can do this." She stopped to consider a moment. Timing was an issue and Isabel realized that she had made certain assumptions.
"How long will this take? I know Kivar has this new technology, that he doesn't need a ship to get here, but nothing else about it. How…? Will he…?"
Larek nodded. "He will wish to retrieve you as quickly as possible, so it is likely the he will use the new technology." He saw the look on her face. "What's wrong?"
"This… technology has us worried. If he can pop in on us whenever he wants, what's to keep him or Lonnie or whoever winds up in charge from sending people after us? From sending an army to Earth for that matter?"
Larek shook his head. "The technology requires tremendous energy to operate. It is not a casual matter. Sending an army would be literally impossible without leaving the home world without power for days or even weeks. He will have to divert resources from other areas to make even this exchange possible. It will, in effect, leave him vulnerable for a time, both strategically and politically."
"He must justify the expenditure of resources no matter how strong his position is. Returning Antar's princess will be sufficient, but there will still be shortages in other areas that will cause him… difficulty."
"He'll be able to do it today though won't he? The situation here is… I don't like having her here… near my family."
"It should be possible," Larek allowed.
That was a relief, and it only left one problem. "Larek. What happens if she succeeds? I mean if she kills Kivar and takes over? How will people react? If she's… how did she put it? The only one of the blood who…"
"But she isn't," Larek looked surprised. "Each of the ruling families of the five planets is descended from the same ancestor. The king who originally united the worlds under his rule gave one to each of his offspring, leaving the home world for his eldest son."
"So you're all related?"
"Except for Kivar. He is not of the lineage. That is what made many people flock to him initially when he began to move against Zan. People were unhappy and ready for a change. He capitalized on that."
"Would Lonnie be accepted?"
"A hybrid clone with a disturbed mind?" Larek looked dubious, but considered his answer carefully for a moment.
"We've had worse running empires on earth," Isabel noted, thinking of the old snippet of a story she had heard about Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Larek merely shrugged.
"Who can say?"
Isabel sighed. "And on that encouraging note, I think I'll be going." She withdrew from the dreamwalk and looked around her old room, feeling a touch of nostalgia. It would, she knew, probably be the last time she would see it.
Despite the long conversation with Larek, it seemed that only a few minutes had passed. She didn't try to work it out, but instead went downstairs to speak to the others. "I've confirmed it," she said as she entered the kitchen. Max and Michael broke off glaring at Lonnie.
"You spoke to our contact?" Max asked, silently urging her not to use Larek's name.
"Yes. I confirmed that Tess is dead and Kivar has set himself up as Regent till your son is old enough." She sighed and leaned against the counter. "Our friend thinks Lonnie is right, that Kivar won't let it stand that way. We need to do this Max. It's the best chance we have if we're going to get him back."
Max sighed. "Okay. Let's get on with it." He turned to Lonnie. "What preparations do you need to make?"
"Now hold on!" his father interrupted. "You said we'd get an explanation."
Isabel glanced at Max, a worried look on her face. "Max it's dangerous for them."
"Why is it dangerous?" Jesse demanded. "Isabel? Are you going to leave? Do I get to know why?"
"Take it easy Jesse," Maria tried to intervene. "I know it's hard, but they've got good reasons for what they do." Jesse ignored her.
"Do I get an answer?"
Max could see the conflict in his sister's eyes when she gave him a pleading glance. "Not knowing won't protect them Max. You didn't know anything useful when Pierce hauled you off to the white room. It didn't keep him from torturing you."
There was a stunned silence for a moment. Philip and Diane Evans stared at their children in shock. They had shied away from what Michael had hinted at earlier, not wanting to draw the obvious conclusions, but they couldn't ignore this. It had been said out loud, and couldn't be ignored now. Someone had tortured their son, hurt him for the secrets he kept.
"Why?" Philip Evans demanded. "Why would they do that? What secret is worth all that?" No one answered him. "You said the government did this? Our government engaging in torture? I find it hard to believe any agency would violate basic human rights."
"Human rights are for humans," Max answered shortly. "Something we're not."
"What do you mean? You're saying you're aliens or something?" Diane had meant it as a joke, however poor, but was disappointed when Max nodded.
"It's a long story."
"One you can tell later," Lonnie broke in, impatient to get on with it now that they had agreed. There was a time and place for play, but that had passed. Too much was riding on the plan. "Let's do this already!"
The Roswell group glared at her for a moment. Finally Isabel sighed. "She's right. Let's do this before I lose my nerve."
"We'll set up a meet at the ruins of the chamber," Max agreed. "We want to be well away from any innocent bystanders." He glanced at his parents. "We'll give you the full story when this is over, and I can introduce you to your grandson."
"I can tell them Max," Isabel spoke up. "After all, I'm staying here. Isabel," she nodded to her dupe, "will be going to the meeting." Lonnie nodded and ran her fingers through her hair, changing its color and style to match Isabel's own. Two more passes altered her garish make-up to match Isabel's more subdued tastes. The clothing was next.
Jesse watched the transformation with a dazed expression. An alien. His wife was an alien? That couldn't be right. He must have misunderstood, but that didn't explain how his newly discovered sister-in-law was magically changing herself before their eyes. Could Isabel really do those things? It would explain a lot, he realized, remembering the icemaker. He also remembered how Max had healed his broken nose.
"Isabel?" Both women looked over at him with identical expressions. One, his Isabel, turned on the other and glared. A self-satisfied smirk twisted Lonnie's features.
"Just practicing, sis."
"This is too weird," Michael muttered as he headed for the door. He paused. "Come on Maria."
"I'll stay," she offered. "Isabel…" she glanced at the girl she had once looked on as a princess and snob. Isabel was her friend now and would need her support. "I'll help with the explanations."
Michael considered a moment, then nodded and headed out. "Come on Max, we should get ready."
Max nodded and glanced at his parents. "We'd best be prepared in case Kivar gets any ideas." He nodded after Michael and then followed him out.
"Jesse?" Isabel put a hand on his shoulder and paled slightly when he pulled away. "Jesse, please! Give me a chance to explain?"
"We'll talk when you finish Isabel," Jesse nodded, his voice distant. Numb. He just felt numb. He knew that wouldn't last though and wondered, as he looked away from his wife, what he should be feeling. Betrayed? Angry? He couldn't muster either at the moment.
Isabel repressed a sigh and turned away from him. She had work to do. "Okay, Jesse, when I'm done." She hated walking away from him, but she had to focus to pull off what she was going to do next. Kivar was no dummy, and she knew this wouldn't be simple.
Returning to her bedroom, she held the orbs in her hands and stared at them for a moment before working up the nerve to bring them together. Concentrate on Kivar. Distasteful though it was, she had to convince him that she wanted to go home, home to him.
The scene was different this time. When she had approached Larek, she had provided the setting for the meeting. When she reached out to Kivar, however, she found herself in a completely alien and unfamiliar setting. It was a garden; at least she thought it was a garden. The plants, if that was what they were, though, were completely unfamiliar to her. There were sculptures here and there, but it was unclear what they were sculptures of. She had meant to call out to Kivar immediately, to get on with it, but the surroundings gave her pause.
Stopping in front of one particular statue, it could have been abstract or, for all she knew, his favorite pet, and stared at it. "I may not know art, but I know what I like."
A soft chuckle caused her to spin suddenly. "Kivar!"
"Who were you expecting?" The tall, gray-skinned alien moved around her, looking over her appraisingly. "I didn't expect to see you again Velondra, not after the way we parted. Why are you contacting me?"
"I-I…" She allowed her emotions, the uncertainty over Jesse's reaction and the despair she knew she would feel over leaving, to show. Her parents had yet to react, but she allowed herself to imagine the worst. After a few seconds she visibly pulled herself together. "Things are falling apart at home. My parents… Jesse…."
"They found out." It was a statement, not a question. "Did you think you could hide your true self from them forever?"
"Please don't…. I… I didn't come umpteen thousand light years so you could say 'I told you so.'" She looked down, as if ashamed to meet his eyes. "You were right. Is that what you want to hear? You were right. I've got nowhere to go."
"I didn't mean it like that," Isabel hastened to assure. "It wasn't just Jesse. Things were strained before he found out. I've been remembering." He didn't have eyebrows to raise, but he gave the impression of interest, perhaps even hope. "Things were good between us once. I think if we had both… If we had given each other more of a chance, I think we'd still be together."
"…" Kivar seemed genuinely surprised by the statement. "I did love you Velondra," he ventured after a moment, "but I couldn't…"
"It's done," she interrupted. "I understand the position you were in. I don't approve, don't get me wrong. I never will, but I understand. Too often on Earth, Max has had to do unpleasant things because they needed to be done."
"What do you want Velondra?" Despite the hope he was feeling, Kivar wasn't ready to welcome her with open arms. Not yet, certainly not until he knew why she was there. He knew her well enough to know she wasn't after sympathy. Not from him.
She didn't answer directly. "He hasn't changed in that respect. He still makes unilateral decisions for us without talking to us or considering all the consequences. That's what started his problems here in the first place. I remember that too." She broke off and looked him square in the eye. "You have that in common, but you're not like Max… Zan...whoever." She paused for a breath and then pushed on. "I want to come home. I won't spend the rest of my life running scared from the Humans. They'll never accept me either. Max and Michael are determined to make a go of it, no matter how bad things get, but I don't have a reason to stay. I… was hoping you would tell me I have a reason to come home?"
The alien's face was hard to read. He stared at her silently for a time, taking in her cautiously hopeful expression. "You do," he answered finally, "but that is not the only reason you are here."
"No," Isabel answered reluctantly. "Max could stop me if he really wanted to do it." She saw Kivar stiffen in anger. That was one emotion that came through clearly, but before he could respond, she hastened on. "I can convince him though, if you're willing to help."
"What do you mean?"
"Keeping me against my will won't be easy for him, and he knows it, even if he thinks it is the best thing for me." A touch of resentment she didn't have to fake crept into her voice. All she had to do was remember Max's threat to keep her in Roswell by any means necessary. That had been the worst argument they had ever had, and though she had forgiven him, she was still angry over his tactics. "If I'm going to convince him to let me go, he's going to need something in exchange. Something he wants badly."
"His son," Kivar nodded. "He will," again the anger he felt was clear, "will trade you for his son?" Isabel nodded mutely.
"He'll go for it," Isabel nodded, her face twisted in a grimace. "I don't like the idea of being traded, but it would solve the problem."
"It would solve many problems," Kivar acknowledged thoughtfully. "He is willing to keep you against your will, but he will agree to this?" Isabel nodded. "I see he has changed little. He never realized why the people turned against him so readily."
"No, but it doesn't matter. He wants to stay on Earth. He's happy there. It doesn't matter to him that I'm not."
Kivar was silent for a time. The situation with the human, Jesse, had turned out as he'd expected, and the offer and their respective reactions were consistent with what he knew of Velondra and Zan. The Velondra he remembered would not have tolerated being regarded as trade goods, but Zan had a pragmatic streak in him that would make the deal acceptable to him, despite his sister's feelings in the matter.
Velondra had been right on another point. He and Zan did share that trait, pragmatism, but Zan had lost because he was not as ruthless or as cunning. Zan did not have what it took to deal with potential enemies as they should be dealt with, as he might have to deal with Velondra if she was not being truthful. Kivar didn't trust the deal at face value. It would solve a great many problems for him, and that automatically made him suspicious.
Still, it might be genuine. There was just the right feel of bitterness and desperation in Velondra's words and voice. It could be genuine. He made his decision.
"Very well, Velondra. We shall make the exchange, and you will take your rightful place by my side." The child was inconsequential and a nuisance. Once he had Velondra he would not need the brat. He was pleased to see the beginnings of a smile on the alien, but still beautiful face.
"I can tell him right away. He won't be happy I've contacted you without consulting him, but he will listen when I tell him about his son. I think its best we do this quickly. Give him less time to think about it."
"Agreed. It will take a few hours at least to make the arrangements. Dawn at your location?"
"That's about eight hours." She nodded. "It'll work, and it'll allow time for Michael's ranting." Kivar chuckled at this. "Was he always such a hothead?"
"Oh, yes. Very well then, dawn."
"I'll go to the ruins of the pod chamber. Do you know...?"
"Yes. I'll meet you and Max there."
Isabel broke the contact and returned to her own body. She went to speak to Lonnie. Max and Michael hadn't returned yet. "We're all set. He said he'll make the exchange at dawn at the ruins of the pod chamber."
"Good," Lonnie nodded. "Give me the details."
The conversation was short, and when Lonnie turned and left the kitchen and then the house, Isabel sighed with relief. The dupe was on her way to the pod chamber and would look the place over long before the meeting or before Max and Michael arrived. Lonnie always did hedge her bets, Isabel remembered, watching her clone leave and hoping it would be the last time they saw each other.
Her part of it was over. It was all up to Max and Lonnie now, and she had to believe they each wanted this bad enough to pull it off.
She didn't discount the possibility of treachery on the dupe's part. Just because it wouldn't make sense for Lonnie to double-cross them didn't mean she wouldn't do it. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about Lonnie now. It was all up to Max and Michael. In the meantime…
"Jesse? Mom, Dad?" She walked back from the front door after seeing Lonnie off.
"In here honey," her mother called from the living room. Isabel took a deep breath to calm herself and went in to face the music.
It took the better part of three hours to make the preparations that Max deemed necessary for the meeting and another half-hour to reach the ruins of the pod chamber. They spent the remainder of the time scoping out the area and waiting tensely for Kivar to arrive.
All of the precautions that were possible were in place. Nothing was left to be done. Valenti was in place and armed with a rifle if the worst came to pass. They weren't comfortable with it, none of them, but the ex-sheriff himself had pointed out that they might need him, and they might need to take that drastic step. Max had tried to think of an argument against it, but, in the end, had to settle for hoping that Kivar honored their deal.
At Max's urging, Kyle had returned to the Evans' house to check on Isabel and Maria. He felt guilty about leaving his sister to face their parents alone, but there hadn't really been an option. Speaking of sisters… Lonnie's car was parked nearby, but there was no sign of her. She showed herself a few minutes later, saying only that she'd been looking around.
Max managed to restrain himself from pacing nervously. Michael had climbed as high as he could and was watching the surrounding desert for any sign of Kivar or unexpected visitors. Lonnie, finally satisfied with the both the place and whatever preparations she had made, sat calmly on a ledge and waited. She didn't know if Kivar could watch them ahead of time or not, but she did her best to get into character while she waited.
It didn't help that she didn't understand Isabel in the least. Why her dupe would want to stay on Earth and play house when she could be a queen was beyond Lonnie's comprehension.
She did understand Kivar, though. She understood the way he thought and what he hoped to gain. Using that against him would be simple; at least it would get him within reach. Getting him to drop his guard would be another matter.
She knew she could do it though. The question was how long could she keep him from getting suspicious? Like so many in his position, Kivar was somewhat paranoid. There wouldn't need to be any suspicious actions on her part to make him suspect a trap. He would assume one, and he would be a fool not to.
If she could manage to get him to relax his guard around her long enough, then she could finish him.
Light had just begun to spill across the desert when the sound of an engine drew their attention to the road and the nondescript red car turning off it and heading in their direction. The three aliens stared as the man that Max and Michael recognized as Kivar's favored host stepped out.
"Not quite the entrance we were expecting," Michael commented. Max frowned when he saw that the man was alone.
The superior smirk on the stranger's face convinced them it was Kivar as much as his first words. "Your Majesty," the alien greeted him mockingly.
"Kivar. Did you forget something?"
Kivar gave his a pitying look. "What works for me won't work for the brat on the home world. He strode a few feet to the south of the formation that had once housed the granolith. There he gazed upwards and a look of intense concentration crossed his face.
In response, a column of light identical to the one they had seen during their visit to California appeared and engulfed him. When Kivar, Max couldn't remember the host's name, stepped from the light he was holding a small bundle.
Max stepped forward, Michael, a comfortingly solid presence beside him. "Kivar."
"Not so fast 'your Majesty,'" Kivar sneered. "We came to make an exchange."
"Stop calling me that," Max answered levelly. "Job's yours if you want it. All I want is my son."
"In trade for your sister?"
Max kept a carefully neutral expression. "It's her choice." He turned to her, and his expression softened a bit. "If you're sure…"
Lonnie looked down for a second, as if gathering her strength and patience for one last confrontation. "I am. I hope things work out for you Max," she met his eyes, managing to look nearly heartbroken at the prospect, "but I can't stay." She hugged him impulsively and then moved to face Michael. "Michael?"
Not trusting his acting ability, Michael maintained his usual stoic façade, and merely nodded. "Stay safe Isabel." She hugged him and then turned toward Kivar.
"I'm ready to go. How is the baby?"
"He's fine," Kivar assured them, unmoved by the histrionics. He shifted the bundle as Lonnie approached and took her first and last look at her ticket home. She gave the small child a genuine smile as he looked up at her.
"He's beautiful Max. Come get your son." She placed a hand on Kivar's shoulder. "Then we can be on our way."
The dictator nodded and watched warily as Max approached. He handed over the baby as Isabel looked on with an expression that he found difficult to read. "Second thoughts my dear?"
"No," she answered firmly. Then she addressed her brother and Michael. "I'm going to miss you guys. Say goodbye to the others for me? I-I hope they understand. I just couldn't-"
Max nodded. "They know you hate goodbyes, especially long ones." He paused for a moment to look from his son to his 'sister' and then nodded. "Take care of yourself Is."
"Watch your back Isabel," Michael advised, eyeing Kivar with open hostility.
"I'll be fine," Lonnie assured him. Then, grateful Max had given her an opening; she took Kivar's hand. "Come on. I really do hate goodbyes." Kivar nodded and led the way toward the column of light. They stepped into it and one of the figures vanished while the other crumpled to the ground as the light winked out. Max went over to the man, shifting his dozing son to one arm.
"Wha happen?" the man asked groggily.
"Not sure," Max answered, "but it looks like you had a long night with the wrong bottle." The man groaned, either in protest or abject misery, Max wasn't sure which, and allowed himself to be helped to his feet. "Let me help you get home," Max offered.
It had gone off without a hitch. Baby for a trip home, and everyone had gotten what they wanted, at least everyone on this planet. She didn't care much about the other. What mattered to her was that she had what she wanted.
It had been a hard sell, convincing those who knew the whole truth to accept the situation and not do anything reckless. Most people, those who didn't know the details, accepted the cover story without question. There were details to sort out of course, but it was nothing that couldn't be handled.
Despite their initial objections and worries, all everyone really wanted was for things to go back to normal. Knowing that and wanting it herself gave her the advantage and the motivation she needed.
All's right with the world, she thought happily glancing around at those closest to her. Then she glanced down at her grandson who was regarding her with a serious expression while he chewed on his tiny fist. His eyelids were beginning to droop, and she knew that Alexander 'Zan' Evans wouldn't last much longer.
Diane glanced up and smiled at Max. "Shh. He's almost asleep." Max nodded. "I'll put him to bed. You have to study for that test." The reminder drew a slightly sour look from her son. Things were back to normal all right, with one addition. It made her proud that Max wanted to be a good parent, but she wouldn't let him spend so much time with the baby that he forgot his other responsibilities, like school.
Max and Isabel were still in Roswell, having given up, without too much struggle, the idea of fleeing town. Jesse and Isabel were gradually coming to terms with the truth, and Diane did what she could to help. Even if Jesse couldn't accept that truth though, even if the marriage suffered or even ended, she still had what was most important to her. Her children were safe, the baby was safe, and their lives would go on much as before. Yes, life is good.
Life is good. It had worked out surprisingly well, given the rushed nature of the preparations. Isabel's offer hadn't left a lot of time for scheming, and it had been pure chance that he was able to make it fit so neatly into his own plans.
He glanced over at Velondra, Antar's new queen. Funny wasn't the word, not quite. Ironic perhaps. Ironic that the scheme might have worked, and ironic that, in a way, it had.
His own scientists had developed the technology that allowed a person to literally step across a galaxy. It was very reliable, when he wished it to be. He had taken steps to ensure that no one would ever discover that modifications had been made to it after all of the testing had been completed.
The 'accident' that had claimed the lives of Kivar and Velondra had been hailed as a great tragedy, and images of their lost rulers like the one he was contemplating, decorated many public places, despite the fact that Kivar had been secretly despised and the clone had been a complete unknown. All that mattered to him was that he had been the only one in a position to take advantage of the sudden vacuum.
Naturally, he had forbidden use of the technology immediately, at least until the flaw could be discovered. The 'accident' had not only rid him of Kivar, but it had caused a far greater drain on Antar's resources than anyone had anticipated, leaving large sections of the capitol without power for several days. Obviously, such a thing could not be allowed to happen again.
The fact that this meant that Earth was effectively cut off was an added bonus as far as he was concerned. What remained of the royal family was free to lead their lives as they wished.
His own position, while not unassailable, was secure enough to ensure that it would take a full-scale war to oust him. None of the leaders wanted that and had decided to accept the situation.
Yes. It had all worked out for the best, but one thing troubled him. Isabel's words kept coming back to him. 'The ends don't justify the means.'
Larek shook his head in irritation, turning away from the portrait that adorned the wall of the throne room. It was an absurd generalization, but the words kept coming back to him.