Written and posted in 2000, though never completed. Originally had 18 chapters. 8888 indicates a change of scene or section break, as ff net likes to eat my asterisks.
Note and disclaimer: I haven't a clue who owns Roswell. It's probably Jason Katims or the WB or something like that. Whoever they are, I have no intention to infringe on their copyrights or to tread on their toes in any way. I'm not profiting from this beyond the writing experience. The exact same goes for The Pretender. I know NBC (or was it MGM) used to own it, but as for who owns it now, I'm too tired to try to keep up.
For all the loyal Roswell viewers who will be confused: I have taken a few substantial liberties with the plot in this story, especially as regarding Tess. In this story, Tess does not exist. The main events of Destiny still occurred (they used the communicator, killed/replaced Pierce, etc), but the old relationships (M/L, M/M, and I/A) still exist unchanged. Since I haven't seen any of the new episodes (I don't have a tv anymore) any of the events from the new season must be ignored. This takes place a few weeks after Destiny. Oh, and I don't know who Max and Liz's original bio teacher is, so I made her up. Sorry if this is out of sync with pre-determined canon.
For the Pretender fans: This could be set anywhere in Season four, after Jarod escapes again from the Centre and Miss Parker recovers from the bullet.
Spoilers: See above
Summary: The Roswell aliens grow suspicious when a new substitute teacher comes to town with a dark and mysterious past.
A Shadowed Mirror by Deichtine
Max strode into the biology lab and, heaving his backpack onto the floor, sat down beside Liz. She gave him a smile that made him warm right down to his toes, and suddenly the crappy day he'd been having didn't seem so bad anymore. Liz had an amazing ability to make nothing matter but her, all with one warm smile.
"So the new substitute starts today, hey?" she said.
"Huh?" Max asked, snapping out of his trance.
"Hello, Earth to Max. Mrs. Sheffield's on maternity leave, remember? So we have a substitute?"
"Oh, yeah. I'd forgotten about that. I wonder what she'll be like."
Just as Max finished speaking, a tall, dark-haired, and very handsome man carrying a silver briefcase came in and went to the front of the room.
Liz turned to Max and arched an eyebrow. "She?" she repeated. Max just raised his eyebrows and took out his biology books.
The new teacher set down his briefcase, took up a piece of chalk, and slowly wrote his name on the blackboard: Jarod Major.
"Good morning, class. As you can see, since Mrs. Sheffield is away on maternity leave, I'll be teaching you biology for the next few months. I suppose we might as well begin with the roll call, so that I can match faces to names. Miss Andrews?"
Mr. Major continued down the list.
"Miss..." He stopped, and looked up at Liz. "Do you mind if I call you Liz?"
"No," Liz answered, confused. "Not at all." What was so strange about the name Parker?
She glanced up at him as she said it - and met his eyes. She was struck. His eyes had a depth to them, a look of pure openness, and Liz instinctively knew that this was a man who had been through a lot of pain. She was startled. She had never seen eyes like that on anyone - except Max.
"So, have you had the new sub yet?" Maria asked Liz, the moment she met her on the lawn for lunch.
"Yeah. I had him for bio."
"Is he hot, or what?" Maria said this so intently that Liz had to laugh.
"I don't know. I don't really think about teachers that way. I guess you could say so - if you like forty-year-olds."
Max joined them a few minutes later, flanked on either side by Michael and Isabel. Within seconds, Alex ran up behind them to join the circle on the grass. Liz looked around at her friends and smiled. Without conscious thought or planning, everyone was distributed exactly where they should be - Max by Liz, who was beside Maria, who was in turn beside Michael, and then came Isabel and Alex, completing the circle.
"What were you two talking about?" Michael asked as they began unwrapping their lunches.
Maria said around a mouthful of food, "Liz was just telling me how cute Mrs.Sheffield's substitute is." She aimed a mischievous look at Max and Liz elbowed her in the side. Max just smiled and put his arm around her.
"What do you think of him, Max?" Maria asked.
Max swallowed the tabasco-laced Coke he had just sipped, looked at Michael and Isabel, and said, "I think we need to be careful."
Alex looked uncomfortable. "Do you think he might be here because of...Pierce?"
"I'm not going to rule it out. This soon after using the communicator, for a stranger to arrive in Roswell - in our school - seems a little too coincidental."
"But, I mean, the FBI couldn't have arranged Mrs. Sheffield's pregnancy or anything like that, could they?"
"Probably not," Max agreed.
"But they could take advantage of it," Michael said, seemingly reading his mind.
"Exactly. I'm not saying we need to hide from him or anything - nothing suspicious - just be on our guards. Don't attract any attention."
Isabel nodded her agreement, and they were silent for awhile.
"Kyle's back in school today," Isabel volunteered, finally. Everyone instinctively glanced at Max, then immediately looked away.
"Did he speak to you?" Michael asked her.
"No - I don't think he saw me. Either that, or he deliberately acted like he didn't."
"Maybe we'd better leave him alone for awhile - give him a chance to absorb it," Liz broke in, believing what she said, but privately admitting to herself that she didn't want to deal with the Kyle situation just yet. Having a still-jealous ex-boyfriend find out that her new boyfriend was an alien - and that alien having saved said ex-boyfriend's life - was not very comfortable for her, and she avoided thinking about it whenever she could.
"I'm not so sure," Michael said. "With this new teacher on the scene, I'd rather not have an emotionally messed-up Kyle running around loose. I say we give him a good scare - make sure he doesn't decide to go pour out his guts to someone who might spill."
"We're not going to frighten Kyle into keeping our secret," Max said firmly. "I don't want him to be scared of us. If we do that, we just perpetuate the idea that all aliens are evil monsters."
"Besides, it could backfire too easily," Isabel added. "We scare him too badly, he'll go running to the first person he thinks can protect him - or at the very least, act suspiciously enough to draw unwanted attention."
There was another uncomfortable silence, and then the conversation slowly turned to lighter matters, and Liz smiled again, hoping that they could soon put this whole situation behind them, and return their lives to normal.
Jarod staggered up the stairs, bent under the weight of the coffee table hoisted on his back. It was much heavier than it had looked in the furniture store. He had enjoyed with childlike delight furnishing the strings of new apartments for a long time after escaping the Centre first, but now the novelty was beginning to wear off. Setting the table down in the middle of the living room, he thought with glum acceptance of the load that still waited in the truck below. Taking a break from moving, he sat down on the table and took out the little red book he always carried with him. This time it contained not only newspaper clippings, but also printouts of some of the FBI's most secret and well-guarded files, from an unnamed division which officially didn't exist. It was known only as the Special Unit, and led by a man named Pierce. This unit had recently expended a great amount of time and energy in and around Roswell, and Jarod wanted to know why. There were still files he had not had time to look at, but for the time being, Jarod wanted to know what the FBI had been searching for in Roswell - and whether they had found it.
Max awoke with a start and sat upright in bed, breathing hard. The dream that had haunted him for weeks had returned again in full force. He was strapped to Pierce's operating table in the White Room, and they were cutting him open, slowly, as Liz screamed frantically for him to help her, somewhere just out of sight. Then Pierce smiled, and lifted Max's beating heart up to where Max could see it. Suddenly, it stopped beating - and at precisely that moment, Liz's screams stopped abruptly, grotesquely, and Max woke up full of the certainty that he had caused Liz's death.
His door was flung wide and Isabel rushed in, followed closely by his mother. I must have screamed, he thought. They're getting worse.
"Max, honey, what's going on?" his mother asked, her concern plainly evident in her voice and drawn expression.
"I'm fine, Mom. I just had a bad dream, that's all," he said, giving her a small, reassuring smile.
"Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Max inwardly smiled at how, even now, at 17, his mother still thought of him as her little boy - and how comforting that really was. He felt an upsurge of love for this woman, sitting there in dressing gown and curlers, lines developing around the eyes, grey creeping into her hair.
"It's okay, Mom," he said, allowing the full rush of his love for her to flow to her through his eyes. She smiled, and reached out to touch his face softly. He knew she understood. "Thanks."
She stood up again, saying, "Let me know if you need anything," and then she was gone.
Isabel immediately took her place, and, seeing her face, Max's smile fell.
"You were dream walking," he said. It wasn't a question.
"Why didn't you tell us it was that bad?"
He sighed. "What could you have done? It would just have gotten you upset for nothing."
"Max, we care about you."
"I know that, Isabel. Please, just let it lie. It's over now. And besides, these things are always much worse in dreams than when they really happened."
She leaned forward and hugged him, hard. "Oh, Max, I'm so glad you're safe."
Max returned the hug, and she stood up. "Goodnight," she said.
"Goodnight, Isabel," Max replied fondly, then jokingly threw a pillow at her, hitting her square on the behind. "And stay out of my dreams."
She grinned impishly, threw the pillow back, and went back to bed.
Jarod hacked into the FBI Secret Unit again in the morning before school and downloaded the last of the files concerning Roswell. Leafing through the printout as he wolfed down a doughnut, he came to one page and stopped short.
The special unit, acting under Agent Pierce, detained and examined one young male specimen (visually approx. 17 years of age). The being appeared both externally and internally human, but its cellular structure was unmistakably unlike anything found on earth (see X-rays and lab reports, attached). The being attends the local high school and responded to all stimuli as a human male would. He denied strongly his extra-terrestrial origins, but during questioning disclosed the location of a second orb akin to the one found at the crash site. The being has strong emotional ties to his human friends and family, and though physical pain produced little information, threats of harm to loved ones proved very satisfactory. The being was judged to be of no danger to society and was released, though he is under close supervision by Unit personnel.
"My God," Jarod breathed. "That "being" could be one of my students..." He sat down, stunned.
A few days later, after biology class, Max was picking up his books to go when the new teacher called to him across the emptying lab, saying, "Mr.Evans, could I talk to you for a minute?"
Max and Liz exchanged a glance. He nodded to her, and she gave him a small smile. "See you at lunch," she said, then left. When the last student had left the room, Max waited, and looked up a the older man enquiringly.
"Mr. Evans -- may I call you Max?"
"Max, I was wondering if I could ask you a favour." Jarod came around the desk and half-sat on it. "I'm working on a rather large research paper that I'm hoping can contribute to my Masters thesis, but with teaching - and now coaching the boys' basketball team - I have very little time for doing the legwork required - internet searches, picking up library books, that sort of thing. I know that you're an excellent student - you're almost the head of your class, even after your unexpected absence there a few weeks ago, so I know that you could handle a little side work. Would you help me? I would pay you well, of course."
Max blinked. "I already have a job, Mr. Major. At the UFO museum."
"Well, in your spare time, then. Whenever you have the time. Give it a try- if it gets to be too much, I'll understand."
Would it be too suspicious if I refused? It could be totally innocent. It could be a trap, but at least I'd be walking in with eyes wide open. It could be a way to gather information...
"You know, you should really ask Liz about this. She's much better at that sort of thing, really."
Jarod shook his head. "Though Liz is indeed a very intelligent young woman, I'm afraid I can't ask her. A new - male - substitute teacher inviting a pretty young student over to his apartment to help with research? You must admit, it would raise eyebrows. I know and you know nothing would happen, but, well, you get the idea."
Max thought about it some more, and within seconds he'd made his decision."Okay. I'll give it a try. When would you like me to start?"
Mr. Major smiled and asked, "Do you work today?" Max shook his head. "Then come by my apartment at four if you can, and I'll get you started. Here's my address." He scribbled it on a piece of paper and handed it to him. Max took it and stuffed it in his pocket.
"I have to get to class," he said then.
"See you this afternoon, then," Jarod replied, and Max went on to English Lit, wondering what he was getting himself into.
Isabel leaned against a locker, pretending to adjust her hair in a mirror on her locker door, but her eyes were not on her reflection. Liz came up and joined her, and, following her gaze, understood.
Kyle Valenti was slouching down the hall opposite them, walking quickly, alone. One of his friends from the basketball team called out to him, but he didn't answer. Then, just as he was almost past them, he looked up and saw Liz and Isabel watching him, Liz with open compassion, Isabel unreadable. His eyes grew a little wild and he looked away again, and hastened his step until he was well away from them.
Jarod closed the door behind himself and looked at his watch. He had about a half-hour left before Max was supposed to arrive. He checked the hastily written "thesis" notes he had written the night before; they were just as they should be. Now more than ever, he felt he needed to know what had really happened in the small town a few weeks ago. He knew better than to believe that a 'confirmed alien' would simply be 'released' from a secret unit that devoted all their resources to hunting them down, and was now possessed with the feeling that, whoever the person was, he needed help and support to maintain his freedom.
Of all the students that Jarod had thus far encountered, there were only two that stirred his suspicions: Max Evans and Kyle Valenti. In many ways they couldn't be more different, but there was something about them that Jarod couldn't shake. In any case, he was certain that, whatever had happened when the FBI were in Roswell, those two had been a part of it. Both of them had been absent from school with only flimsy excuses for several days in and around the time when the FBI were about. They were the right age. Kyle was an outstanding athlete; that could be a sign of superior abilities due to extra-terrestrial origins. But, that was not convincing; he could simply be a strong and agile young man. Max was an excellent student, who seemed to breeze through his classes hardly knowing that they were there, yet consistently getting high marks. But, again, that didn't necessarily prove anything; Jarod himself was a genius. No, what incited Jarod's curiosity was their behaviour. Since the incident, Kyle had been very quiet in class and his sports practises, and isolated himself from his friends. He acted nervous and almost scared; when Jarod had asked some of the other staff if this was normal for the boy, he had been assured that, no, Kyle was usually an outgoing boy, a troublemaker sometimes, even. What could have been scarier for him than for his alien identity to have been revealed? Max, on the other hand, seemed entirely unflappable and unreadable. He obviously loved young Liz very deeply, but it was only with her that Jarod had ever observed the young man display any open emotion. He was almost as guarded as Miss Parker herself, and Jarod guessed that he had many of the same reasons: fear, and a deep secret. He had seemed very suspicious when Jarod had invited him to work for him, yet had agreed. Jarod was trained to observe emotions and thought patterns in others -- it was his life's work, really -- but with Max Evans he felt as if he'd come up against a brickwall.
With a half-hour to go before Max was due to come, Jarod sat down with his laptop and quickly regained access to the FBI database. Now he was searching more deeply and widely, searching for anything that would give him more information. He found nothing more on the White Room subject, but he did learn more about the head of the Unit. It was all there: the man's career history, home address and telephone number, etc. From there it was child's play to go into Pierce's own files - and Jarod's eyes opened wide, his lips parted as he saw, shining from the screen, irrefutable evidence of the connection he'd desperately hoped not to find. Pierce did not work only for the FBI; he also received a substantial income from a highly classified corporation based in Blue Cove, Delaware.
Max arrived at Mr. Major's apartment promptly at four. Jarod came to the door quickly. Max noticed that he had already changed from his teacherly shirt-and-tie into more comfortable T-shirt and jeans. He invited Max inside and offered him a soda, then showed him to the kitchen table, which was apparently serving as desk, cutting board, and bookshelf, all at the same time. To Max's eyes, the apartment seemed like it had been designed with an eye for detail, but it didn't look lived in. The furniture - all the furniture - seemed brand new, and, aside from a few days' accumulation of clutter (in the form of newspapers with stories clipped out, mid-term tests midway through the grading process, and an abnormally large number of Reese's Pieces wrappers), the apartment bore no personal touches of the man who lived there.
"Just moved in?" Max asked, making conversation.
"Yeah," Jarod answered, coming in from the bedroom carrying an expensive-looking laptop. "Just a few days before I started at the school."
"So where're you from?"
Jarod looked away and began fiddling with the laptop on the table. "I grew up in Delaware, but I move around a lot." He looked up again. "What about you? Have you always lived here?"
"As long as I can remember," Max answered, truthfully. There was a slight pause, as both men grasped desperately for a way to leave behind the subject of their own pasts.
"So about this research- " Max began, and with relief they changed the subject back to the matter at hand. As Max looked through what his teacher had already completed, he had to admit that he was intrigued. Jarod's"thesis" included aspects of physics, biology and chemistry, looking at the effects of certain types of rare radiation on the chemical reactions within the human body and the ensuing physical symptoms.
"Man, Liz would love this," he said, skimming through the paper quickly. At Jarod's questioning eyebrows, he expanded, "Liz has her heart set on being a microbiologist."
Jarod smiled. "I'm sure she will. Liz is a very intelligent young woman."
Max returned the smile. "I know."
"Well, I'll let you get started. If you have any questions, please let me know."
"Oh, and Max?"
"Yes, Mr. Major?"
"When you're here, please, just call me Jarod."
A week later
Isabel was brushing her hair, giving it the hundred strokes she always did before bed. Yawning, she pulled the bristles through the glistening strands for the hundredth and last time, and was just setting the brush down when a soft knock came at her door.
"Come in," she called, drawing the hanging ends of her housecoat belt a little closer around herself.
Max came in and sat down on her bed. "Iz, I need a favour," he said without preamble.
Isabel considered what the last few weeks had brought in the way of surprises, and their pyjama-clad state, and made a few quick deductions."You want me to dream-walk your new teacher, don't you."
Max was visibly surprised. "How did you know?"
Isabel smirked knowingly. "Call it female intuition. Any reason in particular?"
Max grinned. "What, you can't intuit it?" She hit him with a handy teddybear, and he grew serious again. "I don't know - a bunch of things, really. The fact that he came so soon after we used the communicator, the fact that he's my bio teacher -- and he knows that I was out of school with no explanation a few weeks ago. He keeps asking me these questions, too. He asked me where I was from, but when I asked him where he came from, he would only say that he grew up in Delaware. I've been working for him on and off for a week now, and I still know next to nothing about the man - and he keeps asking me about my family. He has some really fancy computer stuff, and all-new furniture, but next to no photos or anything personal, really. I mean, how does a substitute bio teacher in a town like Roswell trying to write a Masters thesis afford stuff like that!" He seemed surprised at himself, as if he'd never really said it all out to himself before.
Isabel blinked. "I can see you've been giving this some thought. You know, there's probably a good explanation for all of that. Maybe he's rich. Maybe all his old furniture and photos were lost in a fire or something."
"I know, I know. I'm probably just paranoid. But, what can it hurt? If he's just a normal guy, it's no big deal and I can stop worrying. But, if he's a threat, we need to know."
His sister looked him for a moment, then sighed. "Okay. You have a point. I'll try. You don't happen to have a picture of him, do you?"
"Well, I'll try, anyway," she repeated. "If I find anything weird, I'll let you know tomorrow morning."
"Thanks, Isabel," Max said, and stood to go back to his own room.
"Max?" Isabel stopped him, just as he was taking hold of the doorknob to let himself out.
"Yeah?" Max turned around, but Isabel's expression was unreadable.
"Why didn't you just tell me to do it? You are the king, or leader, or whatever."
"I didn't think I needed to. We're all in this together, Iz."
She smiled. "Goodnight," she said.
"'Night, Isabel," he returned. "Sweet dreams."
Jarod wrote a few more pages of his thesis, idly wondering if he should actually submit it sometime, after this was all over, and actually get a real degree. He finished marking the day's lab reports, then changed and went in to bed. He was dead tired from basketball practise and the work of the day, and he fell asleep almost immediately.
Isabel opened her eyes and immediately wondered if she had indeed made it into Major's dream at all. She was surrounded by pure blackness; there wasn't a light to be seen anywhere. From the darkness, somewhere nearby, came a clink of metal on metal, as of chains being moved slowly about. She began to grow frightened; never since her childhood had she been comfortable with total darkness. She resisted the urge to step out of the dream, to return to the waking world where there was light and safety, and had almost give in to the temptation when, suddenly, out of the black, a face appeared. The darkness did not grow any less, but the face became visible nonetheless, as if it naturally belonged there in the blackness. It was a young man, handsome in a way, if it were possible to ignore the sheer malice radiated by his expression. The lips were twisted up into a sneering smile, and the dark eyes were cold and proud. Isabel could feel from all around her an intense hatred and fury directed toward this face; if she were not merely an observer in this dream, she would have lunged forward to throttle its invisible neck, such was the rage she felt.
The quiet clinking suddenly became a jarring metallic jangle, and in the corner of the room another man appeared, fettered at wrist and ankle by heavy chains, straining furiously to reach the owner of the face. The man was Jarod Major.
"Lyle!" he roared, lunging toward him.
Then, from one second to the next, they were in another room. Jarod now lay bound to a table, stripped to the waist, struggling anxiously. Other men crowded around the table, and one of them wore the face Isabel had just seen- Mr. Lyle. One of the men tapped the air bubbles out of a syringe and prepared to inject Jarod. He was screaming, again and again, in a way Isabel had never heard a man scream - throatily, uncontrolled, tearing from deep within as if fleeing the fear that caused it. If the other men even heard, they gave no sign of it.
Isabel tried to run to him, to stop whatever they were doing and whisk him away, as she had for Max in their childhood nightmares, but, to her surprise, she found herself powerless to change anything. This startled her; usually in dreams the situation was easy to manipulate and she could participate if she chose. Here, everything was different. It felt... fixed somehow, as if it had been meticulously planned in advance - or if it had already occurred. Isabel stopped short, shocked. This was no ordinary nightmare - it had actually happened. Someone had actually done these things to him. She felt ready to throw up.
The screaming stopped, and she felt Jarod's presence fading. She panicked, wondering what happened to a dream walker when the dreamer died -
And then the scene around her changed once more. It was bright daylight, at an airstrip somewhere - maybe a military base. Jarod was watching a bizarre scene unfold; an old man getting out of an airplane, another, with a teenaged boy beside him, getting ready to fly the plane away - Jarod was trying to get to them. Other people were there too, but Jarod didn't care, and so Isabel couldn't see them clearly. Suddenly a black car came squealing out of nowhere, and a tall brunette leaped out, running toward the old man who was exiting the plane. A chopper hovered nearby, filling the air with noise. Isabel could feel Jarod's anger and irritation at seeing the woman there - how dare she come after I told her not to? Then, as the brunette reached the old man, a shot rang out. She stiffened and fell, and Isabel felt an overwhelming surge of fear from Jarod greater even than before, a terror grounded in feelings so mixed she couldn't hope to name them. Oh, my God, she can't die! She can't die! She can't -
Isabel sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for breath.
Across town, in the darkness of his apartment, Jarod did the same.
The next day, when the gang converged at their regular spot for lunch, the laughter and light conversation that was their norm felt strained and forced, and soon died off altogether.
"Why all the long faces, guys?" Alex finally asked Max and Isabel, who had been silent the whole time.
Max quickly glanced around to make sure there was no one in hearing distance, then cleared his throat.
"You know the new substitute, Jarod Major?"
"What about him?" Michael asked.
"Do you think he's cute now, too?" Maria joked, then muttered something inaudible when nobody laughed.
"He offered me a job last week. The work's fine, but -"
Michael interrupted, "Wait a minute. He asked you to work for him, and you just went? Without telling any of us?"
Max looked annoyed. "What was I supposed to say? 'Excuse me, but I'll have to get back to you on that. I have to go consult with my war council.' It would have been suspicious to refuse. Anyway, the work's okay - kind of interesting, actually - but he's been acting kind of strange, asking me weird questions, so I asked Isabel to dreamwalk him last night."
Silence fell as everyone stopped eating at once.
"So what did you find out?" Michael asked her flatly, his voice betraying nothing of his inner thoughts.
Isabel shuddered at the memory. "I've never been so terrified in my life. Not even in my own nightmares."
The entire circle instinctively leaned in closer, and Alex reached over to take her hand as she spoke.
"First he was in this dark place, like a dungeon, all chained up, and this other man, called Lyle, kept coming to taunt him. Jarod hates him intensely. Then he was tied to a table in the same place, and they were killing him with some drug - "
"You mean trying to kill him, right?" Maria interrupted.
Isabel shook her head vehemently. "No. I felt him die." Alex put his arm around her as the others waited in stunned silence. After a brief pause, she continued to relate the rest of the dream.
When she had finished, Michael leaned back slowly, giving a low whistle. "That is one seriously messed-up dream."
"I'll say," Liz agreed. "I mean, you've gotta kinda wonder - what kind of movies has he been watching?"
"That's just the thing," Max responded, still deadly serious, exchanging another glance with his sister. "It was no ordinary dream."
"What do you mean, no ordinary dream?" Maria asked with confusion. "I mean, I know it was a nightmare, but a dream's a dream, right? What else could it be?"
"A memory." Maria didn't know how to respond to this, and simply stared.
"Everything I saw last night actually happened to Jarod." Isabel leaned a little further into Alex's sheltering arm.
"My God," Liz breathed. "The poor man..."
Michael shook his head again. "That poor man sounds pretty creepy to me."
"But, the stuff was being done TO him, right? He wasn't doing it to other people."
He looked her straight in the eye. "Liz, what's a substitute biology teacher gotta do to make someone want to do that to him? What was he doing at that airstrip when the woman was shot?"
"The man has a point, Liz," Alex added.
"The question is, what do we do about this?" Max asked.
There was another long pause. No one wanted to be the first to speak.
Finally Michael spoke up. "We're going to have to get rid of him."
Liz's eyes widened in shock. "What do you mean, get rid of him?" she demanded.
"I mean get rid of him," Michael said forcefully. "By whatever means necessary. It's too dangerous to have a man with a past like that - whatever it means - running around in Roswell asking questions, especially of Max, and especially now."
"You can't hurt him," Liz protested. She looked anxiously back and forth between Michael and Max, who faced each other, stone-faced, across the circle. "Come on, people, the man has one nightmare and we're ready to bump him off!"
"No one said anything about bumping people off," Alex soothed, but he didn't sound entirely convinced himself.
Max shifted on the grass to sit up straighter, and shook his head, unconsciously imitating Michael. "Liz is right. We can't do anything drastic until we have all the facts. There's just too much we don't know."
"So what do we do then, oh fearless leader? Wait here like patient little bunnies to be carted off to another little white room? I saw what they were doing to you, Max, and I'm not going to let it happen again - to any of us."
Max's eyes were unreadable. He thought for a moment. "The boys' basketball team has practise today, doesn't it?" Isabel nodded. The basketball team always practised right after the cheerleaders.
"Jarod - Mr. Major - has been coaching the team lately. That means he'll be out of his apartment."
"So we go in and search the place?" Maria asked.
Michael looked at her. "No. WE go in and search the place. You, Liz, and Alex aren't coming."
"But - "
Max nodded. "He's right. If he turns out to be...dangerous... and he catches us there, I don't want you guys around."
"But we're not -" Alex flushed. "I mean, they wouldn't hurt us, we're not... what they're looking for," he finished lamely.
"Not because of what they are, no. But because of what you mean to us, definitely." Max's eyes met Isabel's and he knew she was remembering his dream, and Liz's screams."Michael, Isabel, let's meet at the Jeep right after your cheerleading practise. Liz, Maria, it would help us a lot if you could watch the practise today, and phone us if it ends early for any reason."
They nodded, the worry plainly evident on their faces.
The bell rang then, and the conversation ended.
Jarod watched the boys trickle into the gym for basketball practise, most stopping for a few minutes to appreciate the scenery provided by the cheerleading team before heading into the dressing room. Last of all came Kyle Valenti, alone.
"Afternoon, Mr. Valenti," Jarod called. He had been carefully trying to build Kyle's trust in him over the last week, greeting him, smiling at him, talking sports. From the corner of his eye, Jarod perceived a stirring among the cheerleaders as the pyramid they were forming wobbled when someone momentarily lost her balance.
"Afternoon, coach," Kyle said, visibly trying to stop thinking about whatever had been occupying his mind before he came in.
"You'd better hurry and change if you want to be properly warmed up before practise starts," Jarod said, exuding goodwill and trustworthiness. He didn't like this conscious psychological manipulation, but he really was concerned for Kyle; even if he were not the alien Jarod needed to find, he still obviously had some problems to work out.
"Yeah," Kyle said. He glanced at the cheerleader pyramid before turning into the dressing room - and froze, eyes wide. Jarod followed his gaze; the girl at the very top was staring back down at them, the smile normally glued to her face having fallen completely.
Before Jarod could say anything, Kyle turned and went into the changing room, and, out on the floor, the pyramid smoothly collapsed and dispersed.
Jarod caught one of the few male cheerleaders by the arm as he was going past, and asked him the name of the blonde at the top of the pyramid.
"Oh, her?" that's Isabel Evans," he answered in a how-can-you-not-know-that tone of voice.
"Evans? Now that's interesting..."
Isabel ran up to where Max and Michael were waiting by the Jeep."Sorry, guys. Practice went late."
"Why didn't you just - " Michael started.
"Leave early? A, I was on top of a pyramid. B, what reason would I give? 'Sorry, guys, my fellow aliens and I have only so much time to break into our teacher's apartment?' Really, guys. And, C, from the top of the pyramid I had a great view of Kyle - chatting with Mr. Major."
Max looked troubled. "That is exactly what we don't need right now. But, we can't jump to conclusions. Major is Kyle's coach; they were probably just talking basketball."
Michael was not so easily convinced. "Am I the only one who sees it as no coincidence that this guy is trying to buddy up to you and Kyle, out of all the people in this school?"
"I don't like it either, but there's nothing I can do about it now. Let's just get going. We're wasting time." Max hoisted himself into the driver's seat and they drove off.
Maria poked Liz in the side as a particularly good-looking boy bent over to pick up a ball directly in front of them.
"Is he deliberately showing us his ass?" she asked. "Not that I'm complaining."
Liz didn't answer, but simply watched Mr. Major intently, wondering what it was about him that convinced her, against all reason, that Max and the others were wrong, that the man meant no harm.
Max placed his hand on the doorknob to Jarod's apartment and concentrated. Almost immediately there cam a quiet click, and the knob turned in his hand. Silently, the three aliens entered the apartment.
Isabel immediately perceived what Max had been trying to describe the night before. The furniture was all new and nice, but there were no personal touches.
As per the plan, immediately they split up to cover the rooms; Max took the bedroom and bathroom, Michael the kitchen, and Isabel the living area. She wrinkled her nose at the candy wrappers littered everywhere.
"Man, this guy seriously needs something besides peanut butter in his diet."
Halfway through practise, Mike O'Rourke reached too hard to catch badly-thrown pass, and very neatly sprained his right ankle. After Jarod had taped it with professional skill, he ended practise for the day so that Mike could be brought to the hospital to be checked out.
Liz pulled out her telephone and dialled Max's number. It rang, and rang, and rang.
Max opened the door to Jarod's bedroom and immediately tripped over a t-shirt lying on the floor across the doorway, landing hard on his left hip. He didn't notice as he pushed himself to his feet that the on/off button on his cell phone had hit the floor as he fell, or that it was now dead to the world.
Kyle lingered as the rest of his team trickled out of the gym, shifting his weight from foot to foot, looking nervous. Jarod spied him from across the gym and walked over, lifting his whistle over his head as he did.
"Hey, Kyle," he said as he reached him. "Good practise today. That last shot you made was fantastic."
"Uh, thanks." Kyle paused, and Jarod waited patiently. "Um, Mr. Major, could I talk to you privately?"
"Certainly. We can go to my office if you like."
They sat down across from each other, Jarod trying to show concern without appearing to pump him for information, Kyle obviously trying to organize his thoughts and to find a way to begin.
Jarod leaned forward slightly, but not too far; he had deliberately arranged and spaced the furniture in his office so that he would be close enough to convey interest and privacy without invading the other's personal space."What's on your mind, Kyle?"
Kyle took a deep breath. "Before I say anything, I want you to promise me that you will never, ever repeat to anyone what I am about tot tell you. If you do, I'll deny it, and we could both get into a lot of trouble."
"You have my word," Jarod replied, and meant it.
Kyle looked at him searchingly. "Can I trust you?"
He waited a moment more, his scrutinizing gaze shifting from one of Jarod's eyes to the other, seeking deception, and finding none. "I don't know why I'm telling you this. Maybe it's because you're not from Roswell. No one here really believes in aliens; it's just a tourist attraction. I'd be the laughing stock of the town. Maybe it's just ... I don't know... I feel I can trust you."
"Thank you," Jarod responded simply. "This is about aliens?" He deliberately planted only the slightest shadow of skepticism in his voice, not enough to make Kyle angry, but enough to encourage him to elaborate in order to convince.
Kyle nodded. "Do you believe in aliens?" he asked.
Jarod thought a moment. "Before I came here, I never really thought about it much, but I didn't discount the possibility. Now, though, I'd have to say yes, I do."
"Are you afraid of them?"
"Only if they want to harm us."
Kyle looked at his hands. "They scare me," he admitted in a small voice."It all started when that new deputy came to town..."
Jarod listened, the wheels of his mind turning faster and faster as everything started to fall into place.
"Anything yet?" Michael called softly from the kitchen.
"Not yet," Max responded from the bedroom.
"Nothing here, eith-" Isabel began, then stopped herself. "Wait a minute." She bent down to get a better view under the coffee table. There, almost under the sofa, was a small silver disk, glinting softly in a beam of sunlight from the window. She picked it up as the others joined her, and she held it up to the light. It was smaller than a regular CD, and was identified only by the letters DSA, followed by a series of numbers. It cast soft rainbows on her face.
"What's that?" Michael asked, seeing it in her hand.
Max reached for it and she handed it to him. He turned it over in his hand a few times. "Jarod has a bunch of these in that silver briefcase of his. He always closes it when I come into the room though. The case is some kind of reader for them. Isabel, can you..."
She heard his unspoken question and took back the disk. It felt different to her mind than a music CD; the output was not only auditory, but visual as well. It was marvellously complex. She concentrated harder, set the disk on the table, and held her hand over it, palm down.
Immediately a two-dimensional, black and white image sprang to life before them.
For Centre Use Only
"I don't know, Sydney! I just don't know! I've gone through it ten times already."
"You must find the solution, Jarod. These people are counting on you!"
The three aliens watched in stupefied amazement as the simulation played out before them, and they finally realized the truth about their substitute teacher.
From down the hall, Liz looked on as Kyle left the office, followed a few seconds later by his basketball coach. They immediately parted, Kyle going in one direction, Jarod in the other, but Liz could tell that they had been talking about more than just basketball; Kyle looked more relaxed than he had in days, yet at the same time somewhat dazed, as if he were just now realizing the possible consequences of whatever he'd just done. Mr. Major looked troubled, yet determined. She panicked, and, taking her cell phone, called Max again and again and again, but still there was no answer. Finally, she gave up, and determined to stall Major before he could go home. She ran to the door where he had just exited, but got there only in time to see him driving away.
Jarod had no time to let his mind work through the implications of what he had just learned before he was forced to deal with them face-to-face. As he reached his apartment door, he could hear a familiar voice speaking within, its French-accented tonality rising and falling in cadences that he recognised immediately. For a moment he was certain he'd been found, and he readied himself to flee, but then another, even more familiar voice began to speak - his own.
"There could be coloured smoke bombs here and here," he was saying. "The simulation is flawed...the driver of the van will have to die."
There was someone in his apartment playing one of his DSAs - and he was holding the reader in his hand.
As quietly as he could, he turned the knob (it was already unlocked) and opened the door. Max Evans and two other teens, a girl and a boy, were standing with their backs to him, watching his younger self moving about in the air before them.
Jarod was so shocked to see them there that he found he had nothing to say. When he finally regained his composure, the DSA was ending.
"I suppose, seeing as I know your secret, it's only fair you should know mine," he said levelly.
The three turned as one, with lightning speed and with fear in their eyes. Jarod now recognized the other two as Isabel, the cheerleader from earlier that afternoon, and Michael Guerin, whom he had been warned against by the principal as a "troublemaker". It fit exactly what Kyle had told him.
Michael raised his arm out before him instinctively, resolution bright in his eyes, fingers splayed, but just as quickly, Max caught his wrist and shook his head.
"Max - " Michael exploded, but immediately Max cut him off.
"Pierce," he said, flatly, a finger in the leak of a breaking dam. Michael gave him an incredulous, angry look but subsided. Jarod sensed, however, that Michael would not soon forget that moment.
They stood there in silence for what seemed a long time, staring at each other. The image behind them flickered and disappeared, forgotten.
Finally Max spoke.
"Who are you?" he asked, his voice level, eyes opaque.
"Shouldn't I be asking you that? Who broke into whose apartment?" Jarod returned. Max just waited for an answer. The three of them made quite a picture there, Isabel and Michael on either side of Max, all wearing identical, unreadable expressions. Jarod was struck by how, despite their individual quarrels and problems, they automatically came together to face the larger threat, putting all else aside. It was so oddly opposite to his own situation with Miss Parker, and, to a lesser extent, Sydney; they ignored their instincts to trust one another and allowed the danger they all faced to become a reason not to support one another. He sighed, and suddenly realized how much he wanted to help these young people, and how much he needed their trust. Now was not the time to wallow in regrets.
"My name is Jarod," he began. "As you just saw on that DSA - I'm not going to ask how - I was taken from my family when I was very young to a place called the Centre, a large corporation in Delaware which performs research, then sells the results to the highest bidder. I was stolen for my intellect, and trained to perform the simulations you just saw. When I learned what my experiments were being used for, I broke out, and I've been on the run ever since, trying to find my family. That's the honest truth."
"Yeah, then what are you doing in Roswell?" Michael demanded.
Jarod smiled slightly. "Teaching biology," he answered simply. "Coaching basketball. Writing a thesis paper. And searching for you."
"What do you mean? What do you know about us?" Michael demanded, his voice betraying his angry fear.
Jarod sighed. "Sit down," he said, gesturing to the sofa. At their obvious indecision, he continued, "If I'd wanted to try to hurt you, I would have done so already. Please, sit down."
They sat, but didn't relax. "I know that you three have abilities beyond those of most people, and that the FBI believes that you, Max, are an alien. I know that something very strange is going on within the FBI and that you are all in more danger than you realize. I want to help you, if I can. I didn't know that there were three of you until today."
"What kind of danger are you talking about?" Isabel asked doubtfully. It was the first time she had spoken since Jarod had arrived. Her voice was calm, but her eyes looked at him differently than the others'; it was as though she already believed him, and had compassion for him. Jarod found it unsettling; the DSA they had seen really hadn't shown him being utterly mistreated, beyond his captivity. He sensed from her an understanding of his pain, a pain she shouldn't have known was there. "The FBI should be no further threat to us."
Jarod raised his eyebrow. "Why is that?" he asked.
"Let's just say we have a friend on the inside," Michael responded. The suspicion glinted strongly in his eyes.
"I regularly monitor FBI activity because of high-level connections between the Centre and the government. In fact, I often pose as an FBI agent myself. When I saw the unexplained expenditure of time and resources here in Roswell a few weeks back, I wanted to know why, as it might relate to my own past, so I came to investigate. It wasn't until after I got here that I learned the truth.
"The Special Unit of the FBI, Pierce and his predecessors especially, have always had very close, very secret ties to the highest echelons of the Centre, going back to the early fifties. They shared in the research that had been done on the being that was captured in the summer of 47, and in return they helped the FBI to complete the study of the parts recovered from the ship. Since the joining of the two organizations a pact has been enforced that, should survivors be found and captured alive, they should be brought to the Centre for study. I don't know if you knew this, Max, but when you were in Pierce's compound, a Centre team was already assembling to come collect you."
"You'll forgive me if I find this hard to believe," Michael said flatly.
"You yourselves are hard to believe," Jarod countered. "There's only one thing I don't understand."
"Really? You seem to have done your homework pretty thoroughly so far,"Michael interjected belligerently.
"Michael, cool it. Let him say his piece," Max said quietly. Michael shot him a look, but subsided.
"Look, Mr. Guerin, if you're smart, you'll listen to me. Whether you believe it or not, I'm here to help you - and you'll need that help. The Centre is an enemy to both of us, and it has power and resources you can never imagine."
"Yeah, well, we're not exactly defenceless ourselves." Michael pointed to an empty drinking glass on the table and it shattered.
"Michael!" Max said, a little more sharply than he'd intended. Michael opened his mouth to respond, but Jarod cut him off.
"I suppose that's why Max spent all that time at Pierce's mercy. Look, everyone has limitations, and if there's anyone on earth that knows yours, it's the Special Unit and the Centre, just as they know mine. I've survived on my own for four years now, but I've been recaptured and nearly recaptured more times than I care to relate. I know from first hand experience what these people are capable of, and I don't want to see you in their hands."
"How do we know that what you say is true? That you're not really working for them, stalling us until they arrive?" Max asked.
Jarod looked at them for a moment, his gaze passing from Max to Michael, then resting on Isabel. "Isabel knows. I don't know how, but she knows,"he said.
The two boys looked at her, and she looked from Jarod back to them and then nodded. "I trust him. I know what I saw, and it wasn't faked." Max nodded, and then, more slowly, Michael, though grudgingly.
There was a pause, and Jarod desperately wondered what Isabel had seen, and how.
Just then, the door to the apartment flew open, and Liz ran in.
"Max! Max, you've got to get out of here. Major is -" She stopped, taking in the tableau before her with widening eyes. "Oh," she finished, somewhat flustered. "Hello, Mr. Major. Mmm... what I meant to say was that..."
"It's okay, Liz," Max said, stopping her before she could embarrass herself further. "He knows."
"Oh," she repeated. "What...exactly...does he know?"
"Everything," Michael responded shortly. "Who we are, Pierce, everything. The man's a frigging' genius."
"Not quite everything," Jarod corrected. "I don't understand how you got away."
Max looked confused. "It doesn't say in the file you read?" he asked.
Jarod gave him a small smile. "The records state that you were judged to be of no danger to society and released. Somehow, I doubt that was exactly what happened."
Michael laughed contemptuously. "Released. So that's what they call being chased around the desert all night these days."
Max frowned. "Michael and Nasedo broke me out, with help from Isabel and some of our ... normal... friends, like Liz. We were on the run from them for hours. Nasedo was shot." He continued to relate the rest of the story in condensed form, unconsciously rubbing at the invisible line down his chest where the scalpel had cut into him. He explained who Nasedo was, and how he had taken Pierce's place in the FBI. "I don't understand why he wouldn't have put something more plausible in the report, though," he finished, exchanging a worried glance with his friends.
"Of all people, he should know better," Isabel added. "He was on the run from the Special Unit since before we were born."
"He must not know about the link between the Centre and the Special Unit, and I don't blame him. I've devoted years to finding out all of the Centre's dealings, but this is the first I've heard of it. It's that report that puts you three in so much danger. Nasedo's flimsy ending to the story- and the idea that Pierce would release you without contacting them first -has the Powers That Be at the Centre angry and suspicious. It's hard to tell, as they've been devoting more resources than ever to keeping me out of the system, but if I know the Centre - and I do - they'll be devoting all their resources to finding out who you are, and tracking you down. Don't kid yourselves; the Centre is very thorough, and once they know who Max is, it will be child's play for them to find you two. I didn't know because I wasn't looking, but believe me, they will."
Michael stood up suddenly. "And when were you planning to tell us about this? If we hadn't been here when you got home, were you just going to sit back and watch us take the fall? Or are you just trying to get us to trust you, so we'll be looking the other way when your friends come after us?"
"Michael," Max began, standing up to face him.
"No!" Michael shouted. "I'm not going to shut up and be snowed by this guy, whoever he is. Man, he doesn't even know who he is, and we're supposed to trust him? And I'm tired of you acting like you know everything all of a sudden. Just because you may have some kind of special DNA doesn't make you suddenly any more capable to lead us than you ever were."
"Michael - "
"I'm out of here."
Before the others could do anything, Michael took two quick strides to the door and flung it open.
Michael swallowed hard, as he found himself staring straight down the barrel of a gun.
The room filled faster than the eye could follow with black-suited men, all holding guns pointed unwaveringly at Jarod and the four young people.
Finally, when everyone was in place and the situation effectively in command, a young man, impeccably dressed, sauntered in, a triumphant grin on his face. One thumb was conspicuously missing. Jarod's lips curled down in a snarl, and Isabel gasped.
"Lyle!" she breathed, and both Jarod and Lyle stared at her for a moment.
"Jarod," Lyle said, deciding to ignore the inexplicable identification for the moment. "How nice to see you again. I hope you're all packed up; we don't want to keep the boys back home waiting."
"Go to Hell, Lyle."
Lyle shook his head in mock disappointment. "And here I thought you'd be happy to see me. I'm so sad. I am happy, however, to see that you've found our second quarry for us."
"What are you talking about?"
"Well, the alien, of course. We knew once you went to Roswell that it was only a matter of time before you would lead us to him. And so you have. Which one is he?"
Michael swore and lunged at Jarod, but was forcibly restrained by the sweeper guarding him. The gun was pressed painfully into his temple, and he stopped struggling. If looks alone could kill, however, Jarod would have been a smoking patch on the floor. At a signal from Lyle, the sweepers reached into their belts and handcuffed all five of them.
Lyle smiled, a sparkle glinting in his icy eyes. "Well, I guess that answers my question, doesn't it? Thanks, Jarod. Couldn't have done it without you." He turned to the sweeper at his elbow. "bring them. They're waiting for us back in Blue Cove."
"Sir, what do you want us to do with the other kids?" the sweeper at Isabel's elbow asked. She felt her heart stop, certain the man would order them all killed.
Lyle considered for a moment, cocking his head to one side. "Bring them,"he said finally. The Centre can always use new..." he looked Isabel, then Liz, up and down in a disgusting manner. "test subjects."
"Let them go, Lyle," Jarod said, his voice coming from deep in his throat, betraying his intensity. "They aren't involved in this."
Lyle laughed. "I think they are, Jarod. And, if not, they still know way too much. Teenagers can be dangerous creatures."Jarod thought of what young Bobby Bowman had been doing when he was a teenager and shuddered. He knew that there was nothing more to be done, and began switching his mental efforts from avoiding capture to planning escape.
Maria and Alex stopped running just across the street from Jarod's apartment and instinctively grabbed each others' hands. Mr. Major and their four friends were being hauled bodily into the daylight and stuffed into the shiny black cars that surrounded the building. Maria began to run forward, mouth open to call out, when Alex took her arm and held her back.
"There's nothing we can do," he said.
They stood there in stunned silence as the cars gunned their engines and zoomed away.
When they were gone, it was as if a spell had been broken, and Maria threw her arms around Alex, sobbing hysterically. "Oh, God, Oh, God, Oh, God,"she cried, speaking almost faster than Alex could understand. "Alex, they have Michael! They have all of them!"
Alex hugged her, hard, his whirling thoughts understanding only that Isabel, Liz, and the others were in danger, and that it was up to him to take the lead.
He slowly disentangled himself from Maria and, putting his hands on her shoulders, looked her straight in the eyes to steady her.
"Maria, listen to me."
"Oh, God, Oh, God, Oh, God-"
"Listen to me." She stopped, her tears leaving dark mascara lines on her cheeks. "Liz, Max, Michael, and Isabel are in trouble, and we have to help them." Isabel! Isabel! his mind screamed.
"But how? I mean, last time, with Max, he had Michael and Isabel, and Nasedo. Unless you have some sort of psychic ability I'm not aware of, there's nothing we can do. Or maybe I could put on my Crashdown antennas and tell those men I'm the true alien, the others are just faking it -"
"Maria!" She stopped in mid-tirade. "Pull yourself together. We may not have extra-terrestrial powers, but we do have allies."
"Valenti?" she said, blinking back the last tears.
He nodded. "And Nasedo."
"How do we reach him?"
"I don't know. Maybe Valenti can. But it's up to us to cover for the others with the Evanses and the Parkers. They need us, Maria. Do you think you can handle it?"
She took a deep breath and sniffed hard. "For Michael?" Straightening up and wiping her cheeks, she said, "I can do anything!"
When Max awoke, he nearly screamed aloud, certain that he was back in his nightmare again. As his vision cleared, though, and his mind began slowly to shake off the confusing effect of the drug he had been given, he remembered the truth - and almost wished he were in the nightmare. At least there he had some assurance of eventually waking up.
His first truly lucid realization was that he was cold. His own clothes were gone, and he was clad only in dull grey pants that felt almost like pyjamas. He was lying on his back on a small cot, which was wedged into the corner of the tiny cell. Of the cell itself, one wall was plain white, featureless but for a small air ventilation grille. The other three were made of thick glass - or perhaps clear plastic - through which Max could see five other cells like his, three of them occupied. Michael was pacing, leopard-like, around the confines of his cell two doors down, dressed in the same baggy pants. His hair was even wilder than usual, if that were possible. He sported a shiny black eye and was rubbing at his wrists; Max could only assume that he had not decided just to go peacefully along with his captors. Across the room in the facing three cells Max could see Liz and Isabel. They, too, wore featureless grey, though they had been given matching shapeless tops as well. Isabel was just waking up, and Liz was still lying motionless on her cot. For a moment Max panicked. She was so still -but then he saw her leg twitch slightly, and her chest rise as her lungs filled, and he gasped with relief. Jarod was nowhere to be seen.
Max sat up slowly. As his head began to float from his shoulders, he raised a hand to steady it, then froze as he saw a new mark on his forearm. Someone had drawn blood from him while he was unconscious. He looked up again to see Michael watching him. Max waved slightly, and pointed to the mark on his arm questioningly. Michael looked at his own arm, then nodded. Any chance of playing the ignorant by standing human was now gone.
Isabel was now sitting up too, and she gave Max and Michael a tremulous little wave. Michael began making little walking motions with his hands, and obediently they stood up (slowly) and began to pace about. Max found almost immediately that his friend was right - moving around did help to shake off the effects of the drug faster.
While pacing, Max encountered the only movable object in the cell besides himself - a small, lidded chamber pot. If he hadn't been so frightened, he would have laughed aloud. This was going way over-board. He pointed at the pot, and Michael shrugged. Isabel turned a little red, and Max smiled sympathetically. Though the transparency of the walls allowed communication(of a sort) and reassurance of the others' safety, one thing they did not afford was privacy.
Time passed slowly, and eventually Liz joined them in consciousness, much to Max's relief. He smiled at her briefly, but resisted the urge to act any differently towards her than to the others, praying that she would understand. Any pain he could spare her by hiding his feelings, he would.
Minutes stretched into hours, and Max grew ever more restless. Unbidden, his mind kept replaying his time with Pierce, and the fear grew in him, not for himself, but for the others. He knew that he could handle it; he had before, and would again, but his heart broke when he thought of the other shaving to go through what he had, especially Liz and Isabel. Michael was strong, and had gone through a lot with his various foster families, but Isabel and Liz were fragile. None of them deserved to be going through this.
Interrupting Max's thoughts, the door to the larger room which enclosed the six cells opened without warning, and Mr. Lyle sauntered in, smiling and rubbing his hands together briskly, the glove on one hand serving only to accentuate his deformity.
"Good morning, all," he said expansively, his voice circumventing the glass barriers by way of speakers mounted in the ceiling. "Welcome to the Centre. I trust you like your new homes? I must say, we're happy to have you here. Imagine our excitement when we discovered that we'd brought home not just one, but three aliens - and Jarod besides. Oh, and don't be disappointed, dear," he said, turning to Liz. "You won't be left behind. As you should know, every good experiment needs a control group." He ambled to the centre of the room and looked at them each briefly, considering. "Well, the day is wasting, and we should get started. Who wants to be first in the lab?"
They stared at him, Michael and Max equally impassive, fear obvious in Isabel and Liz.
"What, no volunteers?" Lyle continued in mock disappointment. "I guess I'll just have to choose for you. Why not..." he swung his arm around blindly and pointed. "You."
A Shadowed Mirror part 12
Maria smoothly slowed to a stop in front of Sheriff Valenti's office and, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, flawlessly executed a perfect - if entirely unnecessary - parallel park.
"Good job," Alex said as she cut the engine and sagged back against the seat, closing her eyes.
"It was, wasn't it?" she said. "I made it all the way here without crying or going all hysterical once."
Her eyes opened, and Alex could see they were filling once more with tears. He acted to distract.
"I was talking about your driving. If I were your examiner, you'd have your license all over again, no question." He smiled at her, and her lips turned upwards half-heartedly in return. It would have to do.
When they entered the station, they found the Sheriff waiting for them, watching through the front window.
"Nice parking job," he greeted them, one eyebrow raised in dry amusement. When he saw their faces, however, all traces of amusement vanished. "Come on into my office," he said, opening the door for them. When they were all inside and the door closed, he was all seriousness. "What's going on?" he asked.
Maria exploded, "The new substitute teacher has Max, Michael, Isabel, and Liz and these men drove them away in black cars to God knows where and they had GUNS and they were all wearing suits not Max and Liz and them they weren't wearing suits and oh, God, Sheriff I'm so scared."
There was a slight pause as the Sheriff digested this. "The substitute teacher, you say?" he repeated.
"Jarod Major," Alex confirmed, standing behind his friend, his hands comforting on her shoulders. "He's only been here for a week or so. He was acting kind of weird and Max and the others were suspicious, so they win over to his apartment to investigate." It occurred to Alex as he said this that he was basically ratting on his friends for breaking and entering, but that was the least of their problems. "Liz was watching the basketball game- Major coaches basketball - so that she could warn the others if Major was coming home. Basketball ended early, and Liz tried to call Max, but his cell phone wasn't working. She went over to warn him, but Major had already left. Maria and I didn't hear from them, so we came to see if there was trouble, and when we got there, there were a whole lot of black cars in front of his apartment building and a whole lot of men in suits with guns were forcing Max, Michael, Isabel, and Liz into them. They drove away, and there was nothing we could do."
"There must be something we can do. I'm not giving up on them," Maria declared, and the Sheriff nodded.
"Don't worry. We'll get them back. Now, how much do you know about this Jarod Major?"
Michael made a disgusted sound deep in his throat when he was brought into the sim lab and saw yet another small glass cell awaiting him there. It contained only a table and chair, and the guards who were leading him propelled him toward it.
"Do you guys have an obsession with glass rooms or something?" he asked."You should really talk to someone about that - it's not healthy."
"Just get in there," the guard growled, and, pushing his reluctant charge inside with a none-too-gentle shove, closed the door firmly behind him. Michael blew a furious breath out through his nose. It took every ounce of self-control he had not to simply blast his way out, but he knew that something like that could too easily backfire, and then these people -whoever they were - would know about his abilities. As far as he was concerned, the less they knew about him, the better. He eyed the chair, rejected it, and stood there, arms crossed defiantly, eyes focussed on the air in front of him.
Lyle watched, but said nothing, his lips twitching as if restraining a frown. Every few moments he looked at his watch.
Finally the door to the lab opened again and an older man hurried in. He looked at Lyle with undisguised dislike, but nonetheless listened and nodded as Lyle spoke earnestly to him. Michael watched this with mild curiosity, but, not being able to hear the words, quickly tired of it. He let his eyes scan the room, his mind automatically analysing for escape routes.
Suddenly his gaze came to rest on a shape sitting quietly in one corner, shadowed as the lights in the room focussed only on him. It was long and flat, about waist height on a grown man, and there were oddly-shaped objects attache to it whose purpose could only be guessed at, given the dim light. Suddenly he realized what it was, and his stomach lurched. The memory of Max on just such an exam table, a line of blood bright against the pale skin of his chest, too weak to walk, flashed into his head and he swallowed hard. Suddenly the arms across his chest no longer felt defiant, but rather protective, and he forced them down. One thing he could not show was fear.
Finally Lyle left the room, and Michael and the older man were alone in the room. "Michael Guerin," the man said, his voice echoing nasally through the ceiling-speaker. He gave the last name a distinctly French pronunciation, and for a second Michael almost didn't recognise the word. He did, however, recognise the voice.
"Sydney," he responded, and noted with satisfaction the other man's surprise.
"How do you know my name?" he asked.
"I could ask you the same thing," Michael returned.
Sydney held up a flat hardcover book. "Your yearbook from last year. Jarod had it in his apartment. Your turn."
Michael shrugged. "I saw one of those little disks Major - Jarod - had."
Sydney raised his eyebrow and put his hands behind his back. "I'm surprised he would show you those."
"Yeah, well it wasn't exactly voluntary. So what's the plan? I just sit in this little terrarium like some snapping turtle or something, and we exchange pleasantries?"
"It's good to see you have a sense of humour, but you shouldn't let it get out of hand. Things will go well for you if you work with me. If you don't, I'm afraid what will happen will be out of my hands." The man's manner was so mild when he said this that it took a second for Michael's brain to analyse it as the threat it was.
His eyes flicked over to the exam table in the corner, then back to Sydney's earnest face. He took a moment to think back to what he had seen in Isabel's projection from the disc. Sydney hadn't seemed like such a badman; a hard taskmaster perhaps, but not cruel. There had been moments when he had seemed almost caring.
"So you think I'm going to be a nice little lab rat and run on a wheel whenever you want me to."
"I never expected you would be. All I'm asking is that you work with me a little, for your sake as much - or more - as mine. You will not be harmed."
Michael laughed derisively. "Why don't I believe that? I saw what they did to Max. I know what humanity does to what it doesn't understand. Well, you know what? I'm not going to let it happen to me."
Sydney raised an eyebrow. "And what do you plan to do about it?"
Michael didn't answer, but all of his previous resolution to hide his abilities were gone now. His anger was building, and he felt positive that he could handle whatever the Centre might throw at him. They were only human, after all. All he would have to do is put Sydney and the guards to sleep, collect Max and the others, and get out into the open...
He raised his arm stiffly in front of him, fingers out splayed in a gesture of command. He concentrated intently on the glass wall in front of him, willing it to shatter.
He tried harder, and a dull ache began to grow behind his eyes. He shook his head, and concentrated harder, ignoring the pain that was now threatening to split his skull.
Still, nothing happened. The barrier remained, as steadfast as ever, mocking him.
"It's no use, you know," Sydney mentioned gently.
Michael rounded on him. "What do you know about it?" he demanded.
"More than you do yourself, I suspect," the older man responded, and Michael gave up on blasting his way out of the cell and began to listen for the first time.
"Back in the late forties, and early fifties, as you know, the FBI conducted a fair amount of research on one of the survivors of the crash," Sydney continued. "Then, recently, your friend Max was brought in. What they discovered from this was that the majority of your special talents are located in your cerebral cortex. The air in the glass enclosures here in the lab and back where your friends are is specially treated with a chemical developed only over the past few months to inhibit these exact abilities while not interfering with normal cognitive functions."
Michael digested this information silently, glaring at his captor.
Sydney just waited, his expression betraying nothing but impassive patience.
"Well, what do you want me to do?" Michael demanded finally.
Sydney pulled a chair up from a dim corner and took a clipboard and pen from a nearby table. "We're going to start with some routine intelligence tests."
"Intelligence tests? You've got to be kidding. You guys beat me up, kidnap me, and haul me across the country just to find out my IQ?"
Sydney just looked at him. "I'm going to say this straight out. The only way you can delay being made into a medical guinea pig for the Centre is to prove that you have useful intellectual talents and are therefore more valuable intact. Now, are you going to be reasonable, or should I call Mr. Lyle back in here?"
Michael remembered the cruel smile on Lyle's face and made his choice. He flopped down on the chair and looked angrily at the wall.
"I'm going to ask you a question followed by four possible answers. I want you to tell me which answer is wrong."
"You mean, which is right."
"No, I meant exactly what I said. Let's begin."
Michael sat back and answered the questions methodically, purposely getting several of them wrong, though it was tricky when he had to remember that, to get it wrong, he had to get it right. Hopefully the results would be sufficiently high to keep him alive, but low enough that they would still underestimate him. What truly surprised him was that he knew all of the answers; he barely had to think about it. He had never done well in school, though he freely admitted that he had never really tried. It was almost enjoyable, just challenging enough to keep him thinking, but easy enough that when he was right, he knew he was right. He began, ever so slightly, to relax. They weren't going to cut him open today, it seemed. Now all he needed was a way to get rid of that damned drug, and he would jump through whatever hoops he had to and bide his time until he could.
A Shadowed Mirror part 13
Jarod paced around the perimeter of his cell for the hundredth time. Five steps exactly. He had been there, alone, for what seemed like days but could realistically have been only hours, since he had awakened from his drug-induced sleep. This cell was unfamiliar, not the same room in which he had grown up or the one Lyle had used when he had been recaptured first. It made sense; he'd escaped from the first room so many times it was laughable. The air ventilation duct was small and mounted in the ceiling, offering no aid.
"At least the Centre is capable of learning eventually," he thought. He would have to think of something else, but that would take time -- and, judging by what he knew of the Centre and its methods, time was one thing those young people couldn't afford.
The implications of their existence still seemed a little awe-inspiring to Jarod, but he had led a life stranger than most, and the bizarrely strange was somewhat less frightening to him than it must have been for young Liz when she found out.
Poor Liz. His heart went out to her. She was a normal girl with a normal life; she didn't deserve to be here, caught up in this. None of them did, but her most of all. One more life shaken by the Centre.
In the midst of these fuming thoughts, Jarod failed to hear the footsteps approaching his cell and was startled when the door was flung wide. He leapt in the air, turned, and landed instinctively in a defensive crouch.
Miss Parker stood framed in the light of the doorway, perfectly poised, gun pointed casually yet unerringly at his chest.
"Welcome home, Jarod," she said quietly. Her eyes looked him up and down, and a tingle ran through him. What was she thinking? He wondered. Just checking up on Daddy's prize, or does she actually care if I'm all right? He stood up straighter, forcing himself out of the defensive position.
"This time, maybe you won't leave so soon," she continued mockingly. Her eyes flickered around the room and then fastened back on him. "Not with such...luxurious...accommodations."
"Why are you here, Miss Parker?" Jarod demanded. Though he still saw in her traces of his shy childhood friend, he was sick of hearing her prove to herself through taunting him how much she had changed.
"I have been sent to debrief you on your extra-terrestrial friends," she said, dropping the I-only- came-to-see-you-squirm act so fast that for a moment Jarod began to muse that perhaps she found it as distasteful as redid.
"I'm surprised they even told you about them," Jarod said. "The Centre doesn't seem to make much of a habit of keeping you informed."
"That's none of your concern."
"They didn't tell you, did they?" He looked at her face and saw the truth of his words. "You found out on your own. So why did you come to me?" She didn't answer, which just confirmed his suspicions. "You want to help them, don't you."
She gave up the act. "Enough lives have been ruined by this place. It's too late for you and me." Her voice was harsh and deep, and Jarod could tell that the admission was hard for her. She avoided meeting his eyes.
"So why don't you help them?" He said gently.
She glared at him. "And what am I supposed to do? They're the Centre's new Wunderkinder; they're watched like hawks."
"Only the aliens are wanted by the Centre. Liz is human and innocent; she has no part in this except as an emotional lever for the Centre. Get her out of there - use the family name if you have to."
She looked at him for a moment, then nodded and went out, leaving Jarod alone once more.
Security control room
Half an hour earlier
Mr. Lyle stood beside his father, gazing at the surveillance screens that monitored the movements of the prisoners, the three young aliens from New Mexico and Jarod in his own cell below. The human girl was conspicuously absent.
"We can't keep them drugged forever. They're no use to us if we keep their powers blocked," Mr. Parker said. "I suppose we could use their genetic material, like last time, but it takes a long time for that to yield fruit."
His son nodded. "I'm taking care of that, or at least making a start." The aliens paced their cells anxiously, looking again and again toward the cell from which Liz had been taken. "I had the Parker girl -- no relation," he added hastily as his father looked up in surprise. "I had her removed from her cell half an hour ago and given a sedative. I'd stake my reputation that one of those two is her boyfriend. Maybe even thinks he's in love."
"So when she comes back unconscious --" Parker said, catching on.
"We watch their reactions." Lyle spoke softly through an intercom and a moment later the door opened to the cell block and Liz was wheeled in.
"Now to see who reacts the least," Lyle said, staring avidly at the screen.
"What do you mean, the least?" Parker demanded, confused.
"Oh, they know very well the consequences of letting their emotions for each other show," Lyle said, without looking up. On the screen, the three aliens watched as Liz was deposited back on her cot. The girl and the boy with the spiky hair both looked worried and angry. The other, the dark-haired one, watched intently, but his face remained strangely blank. "Whoever feels the strongest toward her will be trying the hardest to hide it, to spare her further pain. Don't look at the faces- there. Look at his hands."
The dark-haired boy was standing totally still -- except for his hands. They were shaking uncontrollably, curled in fists at his sides. "He's the one. No doubt about it." Lyle peered closer at the screen and smiled."He's got it bad. This is going to be fun."
Mr. Parker stared at his son, trying to figure out if what he was feeling was pride or revulsion.
When Liz woke up, she could see the three others watching her anxiously. She sat up slowly and shook the lingering effects of the sedative from her head. She did a mental check, but couldn't feel anything wrong beyond a light headache.
"I'm okay," she called, giving them a reassuring smile. When their expressions didn't change, she remembered that they couldn't hear her. She stood up and gave them a big, exaggerated thumbs-up signal. She looked straight at Max and smiled, letting her eyes reassure him.
For a moment they just stood there, looking at each other. Michael grew disgusted watching them and went to lay down on his cot.
They were okay. For now.
Sheriff Valenti was on the phone with the FBI, trying to find someone, anyone, who might admit to having heard of either Agent Pierce or the Special Unit. Just as he was being put on hold for the fifth time, Kyle burst in to the office.
"Hey, dad. Can I have some money for groceries? We're out of --" His voice cut off as he saw Alex and Maria sitting there and the phone in his father's hand. "Sorry," he finished uncomfortably. "I didn't realize you were busy."
"Sit down, son. Maybe you can help in this too," the older Valenti said, motioning toward a chair.
"What's going on?" Kyle said, crossing over to the chair but still standing.
Maria looked up at him and for the first time he saw the tearstains coursing down her cheeks.
"Jarod Major and a bunch of his government cronies just kidnapped Max, Michael, Isabel, and Liz. They're gone, and we don't know how to get them back," she said.
Kyle turned white. "Are... are you sure it was Mr. Major?" he asked weakly.
"They were taken right from his apartment," Alex confirmed.
"Oh, my god," Kyle said, turning away from them and forcing his fingers roughly through his hair. "It's all my fault."
"What do you mean, all your fault?" his father asked, looking confused.
"I mean, it's all my fault," Kyle repeated, his voice breaking slightly as his responsibility came crashing down on him. "I told Mr. Major... about Max and the others."
"You what!" Alex demanded, jumping to his feet.
"I told him. I was scared... I had to talk to somebody about it, or I was going to just burst... I don't know what I was thinking...I never meant to hurt Liz...Oh, God..."
"You bastard!" With a growl, Alex leaped at Kyle, his fists flying. Though Kyle was much bigger, in his surprise and guilt he barely defended himself, and Alex was wiry and quick. Blood was dribbling from Kyle's lower lip and one eye was rapidly swelling by the time the Sheriff was able to haul the frenzied Alex off of him.
"Do you have any idea what you've done!" Alex demanded, trying to pull free from the Sheriff's restraining grip. "Max saved your life, and this is how you repay him!"
"I didn't know! I thought I could trust him. He seemed..." Kyle trailed off, unable to finish. "I'm sorry..."
Alex shook free of the Sheriff. "You're sorry? Well, we're all sorry." He turned to the older Valenti. "Please let me know if you get through." With that, he turned and stalked out of the office, leaving the others in the office stunned.
Miss Parker approached her father's office purposefully, her posture, her cold eyes, and the quickness of her stride telling all and sundry that she was a woman on a mission; get out of her way. Inside, however, she was filled with indecision. She was flying by the seat of her short skirt, something she tried to avoid in cases such as these. She had nothing to go on but Jarod's urging - Jarod's! She wasn't even supposed to know about these aliens - if that was really what they were. She was having trouble accepting it, herself, but she also recognized that at the Centre, anything was possible.
Taking a deep breath, she flung wide the doors to her father's office and strode through, head held high. Mr. Parker was staring out his window, lost in thought, his back to her, and Miss Parker could see a large file lying on his desk marked only "1947". The thickness of the file only served to arouse her curiosity. Just how long had the Centre been involved in this?
"Daddy," she said.
He turned around and a smile stretched his moustache as he saw her."Angel!"he greeted her, then went to her and gave her a cozy hug. "What can I do for you today? I thought you were going to take a few days off, now that Jarod's been returned."
"Well, I was going to, until I found out who was with him when he was captured."
His forehead creased and his smile fell. "I'm not going to ask you how you know about that. Angel, why can't you ever accept that sometimes things are kept from you for your own good?"
She remained firm. "Daddy, I could care less what you and your pet scientists do to the...outsiders. They don't belong here. But the girl, daddy; she's a human, and has no part in this. What was Lyle thinking, bringing her here? And a Parker, too."
Mr. Parker hmmfed. "It's a common name. She has no connection to our family. I checked."
She gave him a very pointed look. "You checked, or Lyle did? You think he would actually care about a blood tie with the possibility of another victim under his control? Look, daddy. I understand that she knows too much now just to let her go. All I'm asking is that you get her out of harm's way. Give her her own room, something nicer, and treat her better."
He raised his eyebrow. "Have you considered what she must know about those aliens?" He had no qualms about using the term aloud.
"And you expect her just to volunteer the information? Daddy, we'd be far more likely to get useful, truthful information from her if we gain her trust than if we keep her locked in a glass cage and constantly terrified."
He sighed and shook his head. "I'll think about it, Angel, but I won't promise anything. I think that, human or not, young Liz Parker will play a critical role in this project."
"And if it were me in there?" She looked straight at him, challenging him not to turn away.
He stared her challenge straight on, then turned and went back to his desk and sat down. "If you'll excuse me now, I have a lot of work to do. I'll think about what you said."
She shook her head. "I'm sure you will, Daddy." With that, she left, not seeing any point in staying any longer.
Max had finally drifted into an uneasy sleep and was just beginning to dream when he was wakened by voices and the touch of hands grasping his arms, lifting him to his feet. He opened his eyes and saw three men in dark suits in his cell and another waiting outside. They were all visibly armed. At first he was sure he was back in another version of his nightmare from the White Room, and for an instant all four of the guards had Pierce's smirking face. He struggled wildly.
Then he saw Michael and Isabelle watching from their cells across the room, their faces worried and angry, and he knew that it was real. He made himself stop fighting.
"You're wanted in the lab," one of the guards said as he dragged Max upright.
When Max had regained his stability in his standing position, he pulled his arms away from the guards, quickly yet as non-aggressively as he could, so as not to provoke them.
"I'll go peacefully. You don't have to drag me," he said quietly. They made no response, but formed up around him to march him to the lab.
Fear roiled through him as they moved quickly through the corridors. What were they planning? What would they do to him? He struggled to calm himself, breathing deeply through his nose. They had taken Michael away, and he had come back okay. They had taken Liz away, and she said she was okay, though he had been insane with worry when she had come back unconscious. It had taken every ounce of self-control he could muster to hide his feelings. All he had to do is get that self-control back and deal with whatever happened next.
It was not long before they reached the lab and he was deposited in the glass room at its centre, just as Michael had been earlier. A bright light was shining down on him from above, such that the cell and its contents were brightly illuminated, but he could see very little of the rest of the lab. What looked like a tricycle stood unobtrusively in one corner, which struck him as being incredibly out of place and somehow disturbed him more than anything he had yet seen.
A voice reached him from the speaker in the ceiling and he immediately recognized the sneering tones of Mr. Lyle. He could just make out the man's silhouette on the edge of the circle of light.
Max noticed a chair in the glass room with him and sat down uncertainly, thinking it a great improvement on the one in the White Room; this one had no built-in restraints.
"I have some questions to ask you, and I expect you to answer them."
Max said nothing, but maintained a blank expression, waiting. He folded his hands in his lap and gripped his fingers hard.
"How many of you are there?"
Max considered his response for a moment, trying to look confused. "What do you mean? How many of me, personally? No clones that I know of. How many teenagers? How many boys? How many people with the name Max Evans?"
Lyle took a step forward and Max could see the danger in his eyes.
"Don't get smart, Max. We're long past the stage for pretense. How many aliens?"
"Only the three of us, that I know of."
"Wrong." Lyle took another step forward, then began to pace, hands clasped behind his back, in front of Max's cell. "Where is the one you call Nasedo?"
Max shook his head. "He was killed trying to help me escape from the FBI compound."
Mr. Lyle smiled. "That's what our records say too. Except that his body was stolen shortly afterward by people matching the descriptions of your friends. What did you do with it?"
Max's thoughts whirled. How did they know all this? Why hadn't Nasedo, as Pierce, taken care of the records? All evidence beyond the most basic of reports was supposed to be gone.
"We cremated him, "Max answered finally. "We didn't want anyone to find him and do experiments on him. He'd been through enough already. It was the best we could do."
Lyle stared at him, obviously not trusting the response. "Where do you come from?"
Max looked at him. "I grew up in Roswell, New Mexico."
"What is your home planet?"
Max sighed. So it was to be a repeat of the white room after all. "Earth."
Lyle stopped pacing, and came to stand directly in front of the glass cage so that he was practically eye-to-eye with Max. His eyes blazed coldly.
"I warned you not to lie to me," he said softly. "I'll give you one last chance to answer the question. What is your home planet?"
Max shook his head again. He was tired, and he had told all of this to Pierce before. "I've lived here as long as I can remember. I don't know where we came from any more than you do."
Lyle turned away. "You just lost your last chance." He made a sharp motion
and the lights in the lab came up around them. He pointed, and Max looked behind him - and gasped, leaping to his feet.
Liz Parker was strapped to the exam table, her eyes closed against the brightness of the light, her smooth skin shining with a sweaty sheen; dark hair spilled down from the headrest in a tangled mass. Her shirt had been removed, and she was naked to the waist. Her young breasts, that Max had waited for so long to see and to touch, fell gently to either side, and at once she looked purely innocent and utterly helpless.
It was all wrong. Terribly wrong. Max wrenched his eyes away from her pale form. He had wanted to see her, yes - but not like this. Never like this. His nightmare was becoming real.
"What are you doing!" he demanded. "Liz!"
She opened her eyes and turned her head towards him, as far as she could. Her eyes were filled with tears. "Max!" she called, but he could barely hear her.
Lyle stepped quickly across the room and motioned the two technicians standing mutely by the exam bed to wheel it forward a bit.
"Maybe this will jog your memory," Lyle said sarcastically. "Pierce was an amateur. He threatened this young lady without even having her in his hands: a foolish move, even if it worked for awhile. He resorted too quickly to physical torture. Now I, on the other hand, am a fan of torture too, but I understand, you see, that people are far quicker to move to protect those they love than themselves."
"Oh, Liz," Max breathed, his face contorted with the torrent of fear, pain, and outrage that blasted through him.
Lyle looked down at her, judging. "I can't say I blame you. She is beautiful." He cocked his head to one side, his eyes running lightly down her body in a way that made Max feel unclean and ashamed to be male. His lips pulled back, showing his teeth. "Pity she's not Asian."
"What do you want from me?" Max demanded. "I don't know where we're from!"
Ignoring him, Lyle went on. "If you tell me what I want to know, Liz will go free. I'll even arrange to have her flown home. On the other hand, if you continue to defy me..." he trailed off, then, not taking his leery eyes off of Liz, he repeated his question one more time. "What is your home planet?"
"I don't know!" Max shouted. "It's the truth! I can't tell you what I don't know!" His hands were on the glass, and the fear and fury were growing in him so fast that he couldn't contain them, and the feeling of helplessness overall.
Liz nodded, the tears tracing drunken paths down her cheeks with the motion.
"He doesn't know! No one knows! Please, stop this!"
The evil man shook his head once more and went to Liz's side, a technician hastily making way for him.
"Pierce may have been overeager to resort to torture, but one has to admire his methods," he said. "I especially liked his last tactic. To dissect you alive...Right along here, wasn't it?" Lyle's thumbless hand reached out and the manicured nail of his index finger lightly traced a line down Liz's chest in the same place the scalpel had cut into Max. She shuddered back from his touch.
Reality snapped. The nightmare was real, and he wasn't going to let it happen this time. He stared at the glass before him, willing it to shatter. Nothing happened. In an instant he understood the purpose of the glass enclosures, but he didn't care. Focussing all he could on breaking the glass, screaming like a madman, Max charged, adding physical strength and animal rage to his depleted powers.
His shoulder hit.
The glass shattered.
Within moments Max was across the room, hitting Lyle as hard as he could in the eye, in the stomach, anywhere he could land a blow.
Within seconds he could feel himself being pulled back by many strong hands, and he was quickly wrestled to the floor, a knee pressing painfully into the small of his back as his arms and legs were held in vice-like grips. One of the technicians knelt down by him and he felt the now-familiar sensation of a needle being pushed into his arm. As he lost consciousness, he could hear Liz's sobs, and Lyle's hated voice:
"Foolish, Max. Very, very foolish."
Liz awoke crying. She had been hysterical after the ordeal in the sim lab, and, after Max was carried out, they had sedated her again. Now she found herself alone in a small cell not dissimilar to the other one, the only things that had changed being the addition of basic plumbing and the substitution of blank grey stone for glass walls. Turning her face into her pillow she allowed the hot tears to flow. Back in the glass enclosures she had refused to let her fear and pain show to the others – especially Max. They needed to be strong. Now she was out of their sight, and in a flood of tears, emotion, and relief, she sobbed away the pent-up fear.
Finally her eyes ran dry and the sobs petered out, leaving her with a wet pillow and an empty, drained feeling. She sat up and ran her fingers through her hair, then wandered over to use the toilet, no longer modest in front of the security camera mounted in the corner. She had been in the glass cell long enough that the sense of being watched was becoming almost bearable. When she was finished, she returned to sit on the bed, her back up against the wall. Refusing to get herself worked up about the others, she forced her mind to other things. She recited the periodic table aloud to herself, then the "To be or not to be" speech from Hamlet, then every other poem or nursery rhyme she could remember. When she could remember no more, she started on the multiplication table.
Just as she was entering the range of numbers she could no longer easily keep track of in her head, the door opened, and she leapt off the bed,turning to see who was entering.
A tall woman, made even taller by the sharp heels she wore, stood framed in the doorway, wearing expensive, business-like clothes and holding a small bundle tucked under one arm. She stepped inside and nodded to someone behind her, and an anonymous hand reached in and closed the door, presumably a guard standing outside. The woman's dark hair was perfectly arranged, and her expression was one of haughty disdain, but in the grey eyes Liz thought she saw just a shadow of compassion, and an illogical surge of comfort bloomed in her.
"Hello," Liz said, feeling clumsy and confused.
The woman's eyebrow climbed her forehead in what could only be amusement, and a smile tugged at her mouth. "Hello, Liz. My name is Miss Parker."
"Parker?" Liz repeated, startled.
"No relation. I checked," the woman responded dryly.
"No, no, it's just that when Mr. Major… Jarod…first came to our school, he didn't want to call me Miss Parker. I understand now."
The smile disappeared. "I'm afraid you don't understand the half of it. And believe me, it's better that way." Liz shifted slightly, uncomfortable. What was going on? Who was this woman? "I brought you the clothes you were wearing when you came in. What they gave you can't be too comfortable. I brought you a couple of books, too – a loan. You'll probably be in here for awhile, so you might as well have something to do while you're here."
"Thanks," Liz said uncertainly, accepting the bundle. The woman started talking aimlessly about the books – apparently they were mostly scientific in nature – but as she did so she kept glancing absently at one of the top corners of the room. Liz turned to follow her gaze just in time to see the little red light on the security camera flicker and go out. Once it did, Miss Parker stopped in mid-sentence and was suddenly dead serious.
"Look, Liz, I don't have a lot of time. I'm doing what I can to help you and your friends. Be patient. The others are fine. The one boy is a little bruised after that fight he got into with Lyle, but he's okay. Lyle had it coming, as far as I'm concerned. Just be ready to go when the time comes."
Liz nodded, then shook her head. "I don't understand. Why are you helping us? I mean, I appreciate it, but what reason do you have to help us?"
Miss Parker smiled faintly, then turned away. "Let's just say I'm doing a favour for a friend I betrayed a long time ago."
Liz nodded again, though she still didn't understand. "What are they planning to do with us?" she asked quietly, and when the older Parker turned back to her, the smile was gone.
"I'm going to be honest with you. I don't know anything for sure. From what I've heard, they're planning long-term. Both boys show strong intellectual potential, especially the one with the hair, so there has been talk of research in conjunction with Jarod. Of course they want information, and to learn what they're capable of in terms of their other abilities. I don't know what's in store for the girl, but given the Centre's reputation, I can't imagine that she's escaped their plans."
Liz stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"She's a fertile young woman. Think aliens raised from birth to be loyal to the Centre. You do the math."
Liz felt another tear slide down her cheek and she wiped it angrily away. "I'm such a fool. I thought we could trust Jarod. I don't know why. There was just something about him; I wanted to believe what he said. I was so stupid."
Miss Parker shook her head. "Normally, I'm the last one to defend Jarod for anything, but you're wrong there. Jarod told you the truth. He's been running from us for four years now and is currently biting his nails in a room just like this one. I hate to say it, but you can trust him."
"But Lyle said-"
The eyebrow climbed again. "After what you've seen of Lyle, you believe what he says? Look, the camera is going to be back on in a second. Just remember what I said. Everything's going to be fine. You're not alone. So if you and your friends cooperate, maybe you won't wind up back on that table, for real this time." Her manner was suddenly brusque and cool again, and Liz glanced up to see that the camera had returned to life. She nodded, slowly.
Miss Parker left her then, and Liz was alone once more, but no longer felt like crying.
Sheriff Valenti put the phone back in its cradle with a heavy sigh. "I can't find him. Even the one person I reached who would actually admit the man exists didn't know where he was. This Nasedo of yours is as slippery as a fish." He had been trying for almost two days now to contact "Agent Pierce" to no avail.
Maria looked first at Alex, who sat beside her, then at the Sheriff. "So what do we do now?"
"We go after them ourselves," Alex said flatly. His face had been a grim mask ever since finding out the truth from Kyle. In a way it frightened Maria, yet, paradoxically, it comforted her too; somehow she felt more certain than ever before that Alex was deadly serious about helping Michael and the others. He turned back to the Sheriff. "To what extent can we use your resources here?"
Valenti scratched his chin thoughtfully. "I'm afraid it's not much, if we want to avoid attention. I'm afraid just trying to contact Nasedo has probably raised some flags that we'd rather not wave right now. I can go over and search Major's apartment, and maybe his office at the school. We might get some kind of clue as to where they went. If I'm quiet about it, I might get his phone records, but we can't be very obvious about it or get the other officers involved. We're talking the kind of stuff that's illegal without a warrant, and quite frankly I hate being forced to do it, but there's no other way."
"But what can we do?" Maria burst out. "I hate this! Sitting here, going to school and work like nothing happened, watching Mr. Parker get more and more worried…."
"That's something you can do. Both of you. Cover for your friends with their families and at school if you can. The Evanses and the Parkers must be worried sick. Be with them; reassure them."
"What should we tell them?" Alex asked.
"That's your problem."
Isabel lay back in her cell, staring at the ceiling. It still looked the same as it had for the eternity she'd been there. From time to time she would sit up and look around, but it did her no good; she could do nothing about what she saw. They had finally been fed something frightfully bland that she ate anyway, then Michael was taken out again. Liz was still gone, and Max sat in his cell. When he'd been returned to his cell they'd put him in a straitjacket, and he was wearing it still; he sat motionless, staring at Liz's empty cell with eyes so dark they seemed to burn. The rage in him was almost palpable, even from this far away.
Isabel glanced at him again, then at the empty cells. She was worried about her friends and her brother, but as the time passed, she was ever more terrified about what was going to happen to herself. She alone had never been hauled out of her cell to "the lab" or wherever it was they were taking the others. They must be planning something for her. Why were they ignoring her? What were they waiting for?
Suddenly she felt a familiar pain deep in her abdomen, and she groaned. Of all the times to get her period. She had lost track of the days, but now, counting back, she had to admit that the timeline made sense. She'd be bleeding in a few days, if not tomorrow. The thought of it made her angry. She was an alien – or an alien-human hybrid. She got all the cool alien powers, but still had to go through this monthly wretchedness. She had been resentful of that ever since she had first had it, at age thirteen.
As the cramp eased off into a dull backache, her thoughts returned to their previous track. What did these people have planned for her, and what were they waiting for? The pain in her stomach returned - and suddenly she knew.
She had to get out of here.
When Michael was returned to his cell he flopped down on his cot, intent on going to sleep as fast as possible. This Sydney guy seemed to think that he actually had some serious intelligence, which blew his mind. Michael had always been anything but academically inclined, and the success he was having with the problems posed to him here was frightening him. Even more frightening, though, was that for a moment there, sitting in the lab with Sydney – the glass cell there had been taken down, it seemed, and rebuilt a little bigger, with room for a table for the two of them to sit at – doing those hypothetical situation questions, he had almost caught himself enjoying it. It was so bizarre – for the first time in his life, he had found something that he was really good at, something that he enjoyed, and it was here, in this hell-hole of his nightmares. He felt guilty, doing what the enemy wanted with no way of hiding his ability, when the others were obviously having serious problems.
Isabel, across the room, was waving at the guards who had dropped him off and talking to them about something. Weird – she looked kind of pale. Then again, she had a right to be pale. She was probably scared stiff. Max seemed to have finally fallen asleep, despite the straitjacket and the bruises on his face, though he was still sitting upright. Michael forced his muscles to relax, closed his eyes, and followed his friend's example.
Immediately, it seemed, he was dreaming. He was back in one of those situations he had been talking about with Sydney. He was a rescue worker, trying to reach a small child who was trapped in a well. The child was crying, and he was straining to reach him.
He shut his eyes, concentrating on stretching his arm towards the child. Suddenly, he felt his hand clasped by another, and he opened his eyes. Isabel was reaching up to him. He hauled her up out of the well, and suddenly there was Max, and Liz with him. Max's arms encircled her protectively, and she leaned her head on his chest.
"What's going on?" he asked. Suddenly he was aware that he was dreaming, and it was a very odd sensation.
"I'm dreamwalking," Isabel responded.
"I don't get it. The gas in the air –"
"I don't get it either." She interrupted him. "All I know is that I had to try, and it worked. Maybe it's separate from the other powers somehow. I didn't know that I could talk to more than one person at a time, though. It takes some concentration, but here we are."
"Is everyone okay?" Liz asked.
"I'm fine," Michael said. "That Sydney guy from Major's tapes has me doing a bunch of intelligence tests and stuff. He seems to think I have potential."
Max smiled slightly, and it was obvious that, under other circumstances, Michael would be getting some substantial ribbing after that comment. Instead, Max moved on. "Liz?" he asked.
"I'm okay too," she said, smiling up at Max to reassure him. "They haven't done anything to me, really. They sedated me that first time; they didn't hurt me. I think they were trying to scare you. Now they've got me in another cell, alone, and there's a woman, Miss Parker, who says she's trying to help us."
"Do you think you can believe her?" Isabel asked doubtfully.
Liz nodded. "She had arranged for the security camera to be turned off so that she could talk to me. She said that it might take some time, but that we should be ready to get out when the time comes. She seems to have some authority here, but I don't think she's at the top. She liked what you did to Lyle," she added, looking up at Max, who smiled grimly again.
"That's good news, if we can believe her. Isabel, how are you holding up?"
"I'm fine, for now, but I'm worried. I think I know now what they're waiting to do with me."
Michael hauled the hard hat off his head and it vanished inexplicably."What?"
She looked at Liz. "My period is coming. All the signs are there."
Liz nodded, her face full of compassion.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Michael asked.
"Think about it," Max said quietly.
Michael did. "Fuck," he said quietly.
"Actually, I bet they'll probably use test tubes," Isabel said sarcastically.
"We're not going to let that happen," Max said, disengaging an arm from Liz to put a hand reassuringly on her back.
"What can we do? This stuff they have in the air keeps us as weak as bloody kittens," Michael demanded. Couldn't Max see that?
"Not quite. I think that, back in the lab, when I broke out of the cell, I was able to add just enough with my powers to let me shatter the glass. I don't think I could have done it with just strength."
"Wait a minute. You broke the cell!"
Max nodded. "I'll tell you all about it later, but that's why they've got me in a straitjacket. I think they turned up the gas in my cell too – the air smells heavy, and sometimes I have trouble thinking. It'll be up to you two."
"Poor Alex. He must be scared sick," Isabel murmured.
Suddenly Michael had an idea. "Can you dreamwalk Alex and Maria? Tell them where we are? Maybe they can get Nasedo and come help us."
"I don't know. I didn't know I could still dreamwalk at all until now. I'll try."
Then, just as he was opening his mouth to speak, Max's eyes widened and he started to fade out. "Someone's wak-" he had time to say; then he was gone .It seemed the conference was over. After some words of mutual support, they each gradually faded out, until Michael stood there alone, staring down at the well. The hard hat was back on his head, and he could hear sobs echoing up from below.
Jarod lay on his stomach on the bare cot. His cramped muscles demanded him to shift position and roll over, but the pain that washed across his wounded back at each shift of position kept him from obeying.
It was yesterday, he thought, that the Centre had ceased ignoring him.
It was not Lyle, surprisingly, but an unfamiliar man who came to "debrief" him. He appearance had been unremarkable: simple dark hair parted to one side, tailored navy blue suit, classically handsome features. His eyes, however, his eyes were chilling. They were as dark and emotionless as two obsidian beads.
The questions were mostly what he'd expected to be asked; how much did he know about the aliens and where they came from, about the FBI's dealings inRoswell and with the Centre, about the aliens' own abilities, his own family's whereabouts, etc.
The man himself was vicious, probing again and again why Jarod had sought out Roswell and the aliens and what his intentions toward them had been. He continued with question after question, pain after pain, no matter how truthfully Jarod answered him. Mr. Parker himself had finally put a stop to it, not wanting Jarod to be "permanently damaged."
Now, as he lay there in the dark, Jarod turned from thoughts of the ordeal behind him and continued planning the escape. He knew how he would do it; now that Miss Parker and Sydney were willing to help, he had real hope of success, but every detail had to be perfect before he went forward.
Alex sat in the Evans' living room, telling Max and Isabel's parents again how disappointed he'd been that Max and Isabel hadn't been able to take him with them on their trip to Carlsbad Caverns. There hadn't been room in the Jeep for him, he said, but just between the three of them, he thought it was a good opportunity for all of them to talk through the problems they'd been having.
Even as he spoke he felt how hollow his words were. One look in the Evans' eyes and he knew; he wasn't kidding anyone.
Maria pushed open the door to the Crashdown to find Alex already there, sipping a Pepsi and looking troubled.
"How did it go with the Parkers?" he asked as she sat down across from him.
"Hey didn't buy a word of it."
"Same here." He took a long pull at his Pepsi, looking for all the world like some tired old man trying to drown his troubles in Scotch.
She opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by the sudden arrival of Sheriff Valenti. His hair was tousled, his eyes were bleary and shadowed, and a noticeable growth of beard was taking over his chin. In short, he looked exhausted.
"I've done it. It took every resource I have, every favour that was ever owed me, but I've found them. Our Jarod Major, aka Jarod Russell, Jarod Forrester, Jarod O'Leary, and about a thousand other aliases, was raised by an experimental think-tank and research corporation in Blue-Cove, Delaware, called the Centre. I believe that's where he's taken them."
Alex's face brightened and he straightened in his chair. "How did you find them?"
Valenti dropped heavily into a chair, resting his hands on the table before him. "Well, this Jarod character seems to have gotten around quite a bit. Starting about four years ago, he started popping up in cities all around the country, always in a new job, always with a new name. He's pretended to be a doctor, a scientist, a business consultant, a cook, a mobster, a coroner, a college professor, a cop - you name it, the man does it, it seems. He's shown up in the Armed Forces numerous times and the FBI many times. He never stays long, though - usually just long enough to expose some criminal in whatever field he's working in. Then he disappears, only to resurface later somewhere else.
"The man cleans up after himself, too - it was almost impossible to trace him."
"Wow," Alex said, though whether his admiration was for the Sheriff's efforts or Jarod's genius was unclear. He didn't complain, however, when the older man reached over and took a big swallow of his Pepsi, polishing it off.
"So what do we do now?" Maria asked, rising to refill the glass.
"We go to Delaware."
"Broots." The programmer cringed slightly and glanced up.
"Wha...uh...yes, Miss Parker?"
"How strong is my father's computer security system?"
"I really can't say...I've never tried to break into it. I don't have clearance for it." His eyes lowered slightly and he fidgeted in his chair. He had never been a good liar.
"Oh, come on, Broots. There's no way you could have resisted the tempatation to crack the most powerful man in the Centre's computer system this long. You must have tried." She leaned in over him until her face was inches from his. "Give."
Broots looked at her for a moment, licking his lips nervously as he weighed the dangers of admitting his hacking versus what she might do to him if he didn't.
"It's pretty tight," he finally said. "The best in the Centre. Probably give even Jarod pause." For about thirty seconds, he finished mentally as she drew back slightly.
"Give him pause?" Miss Parker's voice dripped with derision as she mockingly repeated him.
"It's a perfectly valid English expression," he mumbled, then, louder, continued, "It wouldn't do you much good anyway. Mr. Parker, like Mr. Raines, doesn't like computers. He thinks paper files are safer."
"I see. Broots, in my father's office, on his desk, there's a file marked '1947'. I want it."
"Miss Parker, you're not suggesting -"
"I am. And after you have it, I want you back on that computer. I need everything you can find from the Centre's files on either 1947 or Roswell."
"Roswell? as in, New Mexico?" Broots fought to contain a giggle but failed.
"Is something amusing?"
"Well, everyone knows what happened in Roswell in 1947. Is the Centre involved in an alien cover-up now, too?" He intended it as a joke, but when she failed to respond, the truth hit him. "oh, my God-"
"Save the nervous breakdown for some other time, Broots. I need those files- now."
Alex lifted the blankets and eased himself into bed, hoping that he had managed to tire himself sufficiently to give him a good sleep that night. For what seemed like hours, he tossed and turned restlessly until the blankets were twisted and sweaty and he exhausted. Then, finally, slowly, he drifted into sleep.
He was surrounded by Isabels. They were everywhere, standing, sitting, kneeling, lying. Some were bound roughly to walls, others caged. Some huddled in corners while others shook in horror as they struggled on examination tables. One stood alone in a small glass cell. Faceless men in white advanced on them from all sides, and with one voice they called to him:
"Isabel!" he cried, wanting to go to her but not knowing which one was real.
"Alex, please, it's me! Here, in the glass cell!"
He concentrated on that Isabel, and, unnoticed, the others softly vanished.
"Isabel, thank God I found you."
"Oh, Alex," she said. "You're such a good friend. I can't talk to you here. Let me bring us somewhere better."
Suddenly they were standing in the pod chamber. Though it was bare and unadorned, the feeling of safety and security it exuded for Isabel comforted the both of them.
"Are you okay, Isabel? Have they hurt you? What about the others?"
"We're all fine, though I worry about Max and Michael. They found out about Max and Liz and Max attacked one of them...they were threatening her... but it's all okay now, I think. Michael - I don't know. He seems okay, but they've got him doing all these weird mental exercises, and he seems almost to enjoy them. I worry that maybe, when the time comes, he might not want to leave. They're trying to win him over."
"What about you?"
"They haven't done anything to me yet, really. In a way, that's harder; I don't know what they're planning or what to expect. We need to get out, Alex, but I don't know where they brought us."
"It's okay, Isabel. I know where you are. We're coming to help you."
Her face brightened. "Oh, Alex, that's wonderful. But you can't try it on your own. These people are scary, and this place is huge. You wouldn't stand a chance."
"Sheriff Valenti and Maria are helping too. Don't worry. We're leaving for Delaware tomorrow. We'll get you out of there - I promise."
She looked down at the floor of the cave. "How...how are our parents taking it?"
He sighed. "They're worried, of course. Maria and I told them you guys had all gone out on a trip to Carlsbad Caverns, but they didn't buy it. I think you'd better start thinking of an explanation for when you get back."
Her eyes once again rose to meet his. "Thanks," she whispered, as a tear began on its path down her cheek.
He wiped it away softly. "For what?"
"Not saying 'if'."
He took her in his arms, then, and they remained that way until the dream faded.
When Broots found Miss Parker, she was standing opposite Sydney in the Sim Lab before the newly-rebuilt glass enclosure, which now dominated the lab, having been expanded to include a larger table and room for movement. A young man sat at the table, his unruly hair pointing in all directions, his eyes inscrutable as they flicked back and forth between them.
That's one of them, Broots thought, then, He doesn't seem so different to me. Then those dark eyes focussed on him, and suddenly he found himself eager to put the documents he was holding in Miss Parker's hands and return to the Tech Room.
"...can't keep them drugged forever, if we ever want to use their abilities," Sydney was saying. His tone was defensive, persuasive, and above all, tired. "I have to train him until he himself wants to continue-" He stopped then, noticing Broots for the first time.
Broots cleared his throat and, with a shaking hand, held a thick file folder out to Miss Parker. Prominent on the cover was written "1947".
"There was nothing in the computer I could find," he said. "These are photocopies; he should never know it was gone."
She took the file and opened it. As the cover swept open, from the corner of his eye Broots saw the boy in the cubicle catch sight of the number written there and stand up in surprise, his face betraying for the first time his honest shock and curiosity.
Miss Parker's eyebrows furrowed with concentration as she paged through the information. Finally she came to what looked like a medical report and stopped, frowning. After a long pause, she thrust the page out to Sydney.
"Syd, you're the scientist. What's this all about?"
He took the sheet and read it through, then closed his eyes. Broots saw the page in his hand begin to shake.
"I should have seen it long ago," the older man murmured.
Miss Parker grabbed the sheet back as the boy looked from one to the other, obviously frustrated not to be able to hear what was being said. She looked over the page again, then back up at the psychiatrist.
"What, Sydney? You should have seen what?" She demanded.
He pointed to something on the page and gave it back to her. "That number corresponds with Jarod in the patient files in the Centre infirmary and other files."
"But this is dated before he was born," she said.
"Precisely. As you know, Jarod was conceived at a fertility clinic in 1959. Only a short while earlier, in the early 1950s, the FBI and the Centre as it was then were busy analyzing the data they gleaned from studying the survivors of the crash."
"Get to the point, Sydney."
"Jarod's unique abilities are a result of a particular gene, a gene he shares with Angelo, Kyle, young Davy Simkins, and the other red files. This gene is extremely rare and was thought to be a defect...or mutation, of some kind. Now, of course, it all makes sense..."
"What makes sense?" Broots asked. He felt helplessly confused, as one hearing only one side of a convoluted and dreadfully important telephone conversation.
"The Pretender gene is not natural - to humans, anyway."
Broots looked from Sydney to the boy and back again. "You mean-"
"When the FBI was studying the alien they captured, the Centre took full advantage. Using newly-discovered genetic splicing techniques which have only been released to the world's scientific community in recent years, they introduced the alien gene into the most promising candidates available: the red files children."
"Oh, my God," Miss Parker breathed.
"I should have realized the truth when Michael here began to display the ability. It was too much coincidence that he should be a pretender, that his human half would have had the gene."
"The question is, what are we going to do about it?" Miss Parker asked.
"What can we do about it?" Broots asked. "I mean, we can't change it now."
"I have to tell Jarod," Sydney said.
"NO." The vehemence of Miss Parker's exclamation surprised them both.
"Parker, he has the right to know -" Sydney started.
"In the Centre Jarod has no rights, and you would do well to remember that. We keep this between the three of us." Her voice lowered to an intense, aggressive growl. "Is that clear?"
Broots nodded quickly, but Sydney simply looked at her fro a long moment, the angular planes of his features seeming to sharpen his unspoken opposal. Finally he turned away, ending the standoff. "Even if I wanted to, I couldn't get close enough to Jarod to tell him anyway. Now, if you two will please excuse me, I have work to do."
"Come on, Broots," Miss Parker said as she stuffed the page back into the folder. "Let's leave Pavlov here to his dogs."
Max awoke to the now-familiar sensation of being violently shaken and lifted by the omni-present lab orderlies. They wasted no time making sure he was fully conscious before hauling him to his feet by the straitjacket he still wore and half-pushing, half-dragging him to the door. By the time he was able to stop stumbling and regain partial control over his own movement they were suddenly turning down unfamiliar corridors, and Max knew that they were not headed to the same lab as before.
A short elevator ride (requiring a keycard, Max noted), a few longc orridors, and a sharp right turn brought them before a door, marked in small letters "Auxiliary Sim/Research Lab (PS & EOC)"
"What's PS and EOC?" Max asked as he was pushed through, and a voice inside called out in answer.
"Properties, Setting, and Extended Observation Capabilities." It was Lyle. Growling, Max tried to lunge forward, aiming for the direction of the voice, but the guards were ready for it and held him fast.
Entering the room, Max found a very different scene from the stark openness of the primary lab. The room itself was of comparable size and shape, but this one boasted several tables covered with various objects - pens, balls, weights of various sizes, samples of different metals and other elements, and so forth. A wide open space was cleared in the centre, and near the door, facing inward, was a black chair much like that Pierce had had in the FBI white room. Seeing it, Max felt a slight disappointment. So much for the lack of built-in restraints. Lyle half-sat, relaxed, on one of the tables.
Swiftly and efficiently, the guards stripped him of the straitjacket and secured him in the chair, his resistance notwithstanding. Max stared at the various objects on the table, wondering what they were for, his mind creating horrible uses for each as he gazed. As his fear threatened to become panic, he forced himself to calm down, guessing that this was exactly the reaction they were looking for. He recalled a book he had once read wherein an interrogator was able to frighten a subject into talking by sending for salt and a bit of cooking oil; the anticipation of pain, an unknown pain especially, being more effective than the pain itself.
When Max was fully restrained in the chair, Lyle walked over to stand before his subject, and Max noticed with some satisfaction that his left eye looked painfully swollen and tellingly bluish. A party of medical technicians began affixing electrodes to various parts of his head as Lyle spoke. Max tried very hard to ignore them.
"You see, Max," Lyle began, with the air of one continuing a conversation already begun, "after all the study we conducted on the alien in the forties and fifties, and the tests that were done on you by the FBI and ourselves when you first got here, there's not a lot more we can learn from you biologically - well, except for a few minor points that I'm afraid you won't be able to help us with. So, poking and prodding you and all that really won't be very productive."
"Then why are you holding us here?" Max asked. "We want to go home. You have no right to keep us here."
"Rights? You're going to be here for a very long time, Max, and one thing I hope you will learn very quickly is that at the Centre the concept ofrights" - this word he spat out, as if he found it distasteful - "has no meaning. You have none. End of story. But, as for why we're keeping you here, that's why you're here today. Each of you is serving one of our research purposes here. Sure, there's overlap, but generally you each have a purpose. Michael's is related to his particular intellectual abilities. Isabel's is - well, we needn't go into that right now. And you, Max, you are going to show us how your powers work."
"That's another thing you're going to learn, Max. To forget that word. See, you're going to participate, whether you like it or not."
"You can do whatever you want to me. I won't help you."
"Oh, don't worry. We won't do anything to you. You're much too valuable to damage permanently. It's young Liz Parker you should be worrying about."At this Max felt his fists clenching until the knuckles whitened and his heart beginning to pound. He forced his hands to open and did not respond, but waited for Lyle to continue.
"You see these cameras - there, in the corner - there - up there - behind that mirror. They have a live feed to monitors in the room where Liz is being kept. As long as you cooperate, she will not be harmed. If you do not cooperate or attack me or anyone else in any way, they will act long before anything you can do - which, frankly, isn't much - to prevent it. If you are a good boy and do as you're told, we'll let you visit her briefly. Do you understand?"
Max swallowed and let out a long breath, slumping dejectedly in the chair."Yes." The chance of seeing Liz in the flesh, making sure that she was indeed safe, was too much to refuse, and the thought of being responsible for hurting her too much to bear.
"Good. I want you to take several deep breaths and exhale as completely as possible after each. This should help to expel the greater part of the gas from your system. We'll wait a little while for you to regain your...strength, and then we'll begin."
They worked for hours. Max caused objects to fly across the room, created force fields, mixed elements to create new ones, strengthened and weakened various materials, created heat and cold - and even, to his great disgust, healed Lyle's black eye. He smiled at the thought of what Lyle would look like with a silver handprint over half his face. He was exhausted. Just when he thought he could take no more, a voice from the door across the room interrupted them.
"Lyle. Enough for one day. The Chairman wishes to speak with you in his office."
Max's head whipped around at the familiar voice and could not hide his shock when he saw the speaker: none other than Agent Daniel Pierce, Max's fellow alien and protector, Nasedo.
"What do we tell our parents? Alex asked. A map of the US, covered almost entirely by several different maps of Delaware, covered the Crashdown table at which they sat planning, Kyle and his father facing Alex and Maria. Kyle still seemed somewhat shell-shocked, and Alex still would not speak to him, but he insisted on helping, feeling responsible for the situation.
"We can't just go off to Delaware without telling anyone, especially with Liz and Max and the others already gone. I'm sorry, Sheriff, but it would look like you..." He did not finish, but they knew what he meant. All the suspicion would fall on him.
"Well, it will take three days at very best to drive to Delaware - better say four to be safe," the Sheriff said, thinking aloud. "Allow three days at least in Blue Cove - we have to find the place, check it out, make a plan. Then another four or so days back. We need a story to cover an eleven day - if not more - absence. Ideas?"
"Whatever it is, it has to be better than the Carlsbad Caverns story we told the Evans and the Parkers," Maria said. "They didn't swallow it for a second." Now that they were doing something, acting, she had calmed down a great deal and was beginning to contribute rationally to the decision making.
"Uhhh... maybe a fishing trip?" Kyle ventured. Alex just looked at him scornfully, and Maria rolled her eyes.
"Do I look like the kind of girl whose great joy in life comes from catching that elusive massive rainbow trout? I ask you."
"Kyle and I can claim a family emergency," the Sheriff cut in, a hint of reproach in his voice. "But you and Maria will need something more inventive."
"An audition." Alex said suddenly. "We'll say you were asked to try out for some national young talent search or something. I'll go as your accompaniment. I can fake a piano if I have to."
"My mom would want to come."
"She has to work."
"We can work out the details later," the Sheriff said. "Next problem. Blue Cove, Delaware. It's not on any map I could find, of Delaware or the United States. Even small towns - heck, even dead towns are shown on this one, but no Blue Cove."
"I say we worry about it when we get there, " Alex said. "Maybe we can find a road-sign, or someone who can tell us how to find it. It's a pretty small state. And with a name like Blue Cove, it's got to be along the coast somewhere."
"Well, it will take time, but it's our only choice, as far as I can see,"Valenti said. "Okay. Go home, talk to your parents, and get ready to go. We leave from here at six am tomorrow. I'll take my car; Maria, you and Alex can take yours. Everyone understand? Good. I just pray we can get there in time."
Coming back to himself after the simulation finished was getting easier each time, and as Michael's head cleared he could feel a hand on his shoulder and Sydney's voice, warm and approving.
"Very good, Michael. That was much improved. One thing you must learn to resist, however, is your instinctive urge to use your powers when the situation becomes difficult. The person whom you are simulating has no powers to call on; the fact that you are still trying to use them indicates that you are not fully immersing yourself into the second personality. Before you go to sleep tonight -"
"Sydney." A voice from the doorway interrupted them, and they turned to see two lab orderlies and an infirmary nurse standing there. Michael felt Sydney's hand tense on his shoulder.
"We have orders to bring the...boy down to the infirmary for some tests. Immediately."
"Why was I not informed?"
The nurse looked uncomfortable. "I'm afraid you'll have to take that up with Mr. Parker," he said. "I'm just following orders."
"Well, I suppose we're done here," Sydney said, giving Michael's shoulder a quick squeeze before releasing it. The alien looked up at him, confused by the unfamiliar gesture, but the psychiatrist was already gathering the papers from the table and opening the door to the glass cubicle.
In the infirmary, Michael sat impatiently through all sorts of poking and prodding: blood tests, scans, "scopes" of every sort, motor and sensory tests, palpations over virtually his entire body, measurements and weighing. He hated it, but he told himself that it wasn't worth it to fight them; he would save his strength for when it could do him some good. It seemed to take hours, and when the doctor handed him a small cup and told him what he wanted him to put in it, Michael had had enough. He stood up abruptly from the exam table and threw the cup across the room.
"Not a chance. Don't you think I can guess what you want it for?"
If this surprised the doctor at all, he didn't show it. He motioned slightly with his hand, and two burly orderlies stepped forward loomingly. "There are two ways to do this," the doctor said, sounding bored. "The one which I have just suggested, and one which, I assure you, you will find extremely distasteful. One way or another, we will get that sample. It's up to you how." He held out a new cup.
Michael looked from one impassive face to another, part of him refusing to believe that they would do it, and another part certain that they would. Finally, he grabbed the cup, swore loudly, and headed for the washroom cubicle.
He had to get them out of here. Somehow, he had to, and soon, or else he and Isabel would soon be finding themselves much closer than ever before.
I don't really know where I was going to take this from here - one main reason why it was never finished, I guess. Unlike FMAB, in which I knew basically how I wanted it to end but lost the drive to write it, this one just kind of wandered off. I don't think I had decided whose side Nasedo was really on, or whether or not Isabel would escape with an empty womb. One thing I do remember, however, is that in the final escape, things would converge such that Jarod and Miss Parker and the Sheriff, Alex, and Maria would all make their rescue attempts on the same night, and there would be a confrontation in which Jarod wanted to lead them in one direction, and the Sheriff in another. Max would have to make a decision as to whom he should trust.
The idea behind the title was that Max and Jarod had a lot of similarities. They were both people with special abilities, pasts they had to hide from everyone around them, deeper pasts and families they never knew but longed for. Both were being hunted by 'evil organizations', and both were understandably slow to trust. And, of course, both loved a Parker. :)