Here it is: THANK YOU!
There are a lot of people who helped me through the 9 years it took to plot, write, review and post this story, and I'm bound to leave someone out, but to all of you, THANK YOU!
KathyW: who convinced me the plot was not far fetched. I owe you big, girl! Your comments are always so appreciated! And your wonderful series has inspired me in more than one way. I hope one day I can write as well as you do.
Michelle in LA: aahhh, you, my friend, make the reviewing process a roller coaster: scary but fun :lol: Your insights are always taken into consideration, even if sometimes I'm glaring at you.
marzmez, I've been blessed with wonderful betas, and the story would never be what it is without your valuable red pen.
Josh: I can't say I'm sorry for dragging you into the alien abyss. Your timely betaing helped this thing get through .
To my wonderful betas through the years: thetvgeneral, sarah, sundance, Sundae, jero, behrinthecity and all the others who got a correction here and there for me, wherever you are, thank you for taking on beta duties with so much care and insight.
To all my reviewers: I have no words to tell you how much your reviews mean to us authors. All of them spark the desire to keep writing, even if they are one liners. The long, insightful ones are like Christmas.
And all of you who started, continued and finished the story, THANK YOU! Knowing you were out there was of great inspiration to get the muse back.
To thank you all, here's the first part of Chapter 1 for The Message, the next book. I'll come back next Monday to start the actual thread and post the entire chapter.
Part 1 – Soon
November 2nd, 2011
1 : Michael
T minus 3 hours, 17 minutes
They had stayed.
For eight long years the six of them had stayed within Dave's shadowy empire. Things had changed since those cold February days when they had accepted the offer, he would admit, but two simple things still remained: they still were under Dave's supervision, and they still were not clear about what exactly Dave was aiming for.
But not for long, Michael thought as his eyes swept the park. He was sitting on a bench in Central Park, the early November wind chilling his exposed hands. Tucking them in the pockets of his black coat, he tried not to get his hopes too high. He was waiting for Max and Isabel to share his latest discovery, and this time things did seem promising, if in a dark way. He could be wrong though, like so many times before. He actually hoped he was wrong this time, too.
Somewhere, children were laughing. The park was filled with trees in greens, yellows and reds, and more buildings Michael cared to count. Despite being in one of the world's most crowded cities, sitting here in a deserted area shou
ld feel lonely. But Michael always had the feeling that someone was watching him, at every turn, every time he stepped out into the world. Maria said it was only his paranoid self, and after years of being out and about, he thought that was probably true. Still, he felt edgy. Where were Max and Isabel?
Glancing at his watch for the hundredth time, he cursed his bright idea about being early. They had agreed to meet at 1 pm, and there were still 17 minutes to hit the mark. His foot impatiently drummed the floor, marking some inner rhythm that eluded his conscious mind. He was so eager about sharing his news he had rushed to this bench, but his eagerness was fast becoming dread.
He had news from home. That is, their other home.
Funny how he had spent half of his life wanting to know about it so much it hurt, and then he had spent the other half unraveling the secrets kept in his memories, just to be sitting on this bench pondering whether or not, now that home was closer than ever, he actually wanted to know.
He remembered what the view from Dimaras Rock looked like, how the skyline from the Palace looked, but most of what he remembered was facts. There had never been a sense of wonderment attached to those scenes. That life had always been about being alert, always being on the lookout. For some reason, he didn't remember much about what he felt for people or situations, and sometimes he wondered if it was because he didn't want to remember, or if nothing in that past life could compare to how he felt now. Here, in this time, in this world, he was in love, and for the longest time now, he felt like he fit in. Here on Earth. Although not exactly here on this bench.
He didn't remember much of his childhood back on Antar. None of them did. He didn't remember how he had died either, although his mind liked to play tricks on him from time to time and he would wake up in a cold sweat. He could never retrieve those memories, he wasn't even sure that those nightmares were about his death, but something told him that what lay dormant in his subconscious, was better left alone for now. At least until they could decide what to do with their growing knowledge.
He impatiently looked as a jogger went past him. The trail where he was sitting was secluded, but by no means private. New York was a busy city, and the fall foliage was a spectacle all on its own, making Central Park busier as well. But being out in the open made it harder for anyone following them to listen in on their conversation. Dave could swear all he wanted he was not following them, but Michael knew deep down with some inner sense that that wasn't the case. It was the strategist in him, the soldier in him maybe, that would not allow himself to feel comfortable about sharing this man's secrets in close spaces.
Eight years was a long time to learn about his enemy. And even if Dave still kept things behind firewalls, Michael had gotten past almost all of them. He'd learned a great deal about what kinds of business Dave liked to do, and what kinds of people Dave liked to make deals with. That was why, when he had deciphered the Level Six codes yesterday, he had frozen.
It was lucky the three of them were in the same city –let alone the same country these days—
and he had taken full advantage of that. What he had read was not something he wanted to discuss over the phone, or worse, with their human circle around.
He winced slightly. He hated keeping things from Maria, but this was a necessary evil. Once he knew what to do with these memories and responsibilities, then he would tell her… some of it… maybe. There was just no good reason to bring this subject to the table only to decide later on that his long forgotten past would stay forgotten. The current theory was they should embrace it but keep it at a distance. Hell, if it were only that easy.
"Hey," Max said by his left, making Michael jump out of his thoughts, his first instinct to defend. The closest lamppost flickered, and Max took an involuntarily step back with his hands slightly raised. A flimsy, small, green energy shield shimmered for about two seconds as they stared at each other. Then Max let it go and they both let go of the breath they'd been holding.
"Jesus, don't do that!" Michael admonished. It had been at least a couple of years since he had lost control of his powers, and the reminder now was not welcome. At least Max had been startled too.
"Sorry, I thought you had… already sensed me."
"I had other things on my mind," Michael murmured, as Max took a seat beside him, both men feeling slightly embarrassed at their reactions. Their matching black coats gave them an air of mystery, though neither of them was conscious of that. They both subtly looked around, trying to see if anyone was paying attention to their energy surges. No one did.
"That was interesting," Max said lightly, his eyes going to the tree line as Michael's had done when he had settled in. Michael wouldn't say almost-blowing-you-up was interesting, but Max always had had a dry sense of humor. "Last time you almost blew me up was five years ago…"
"That was Jake's fault," Michael sourly reminded his best friend. He had never really trusted Jake –that was Max's department— but after that day, he had trusted him even less.
"All I'm saying is," Max said in a calm voice, still looking at the trees and the buildings further out, "that I haven't seen you so tensed up about anything for a long time. How serious is this, Michael?"
The last sentence was not a question, really, more like a command. Here was Zan's side of the equation, talking to his good ol' general. Out of the three of them, Max had had the most success in blending in his former memories with his own, but it didn't mean he wouldn't sometimes slip into that part of him that was used to giving orders and expecting answers. Michael was getting there. Isabel was still struggling, but damn if any of them would confess such things to anyone outside the three of them. Except maybe Jake.
He was not going to get into another argument with Max about Jake, nor was this the appropriate time to get into any kind of argument.
"It's serious," he simply answered, and Max nodded once, acknowledging he understood.
There were few things they would consider serious enough to have a private talk about, and they all pretty much involved Dave or the Special Unit. Now Michael was bringing up a third option.
Max turned to his right a second before Michael did. Now that he was focused on sensing her, Isabel's familiar energy was getting near. They had always sort of felt each other in close proximity, but after years of training, they could pinpoint exactly where the other was in a 100 feet radius. That is, if they were not worrying about something else. No wonder Max had thought it exceptionally odd that Michael had been startled.
"We're not gonna like it, are we?" Max asked, his posture a little less regal. This was Max talking, and Michael was happy about it.
Do we ever? Michael silently thought as he shook his head. They had rarely had any sort of meeting this way, usually preferring Isabel's dreamwalking sessions for exchanging information, but the problem with dreams was that details got lost by the time they awakened. He could not afford for details to get lost now.
Turning the corner, Isabel's red coat and blond hair were hard to miss. Her smile shone the second she saw them, and it was hard not return the smile. They had not seen her in the flesh in the last five months.
"Hey!" she said enthusiastically as she hugged Michael first, and Max second. "I've missed you," she added, looking them both in the eyes, her smile dwindling as the seriousness of their faces sunk in. "We're not gonna like it, are we?" she asked the same way Max had.
"I finally broke through the Level Six codes," Michael said without answering her. She would know soon enough how much she was not gonna like it.
"And?" Max said, surprised and afraid at the same time. They had known for a long time that in those codes lay the answers to all their questions about Dave. Or at least they had thought so.
"I only went through a few of the files, and the Network Keepers helping me were having a heart attack at managing to get in, but there was one… about high-energy microwave signals in deep space."
"Wait—like Brody's microwave signals?" Max asked, trying to understand.
"Exactly like Brody's microwave signals. I got the file, and went to decipher it on my own. They seem to be messages, back and forth, though most of them are still gibberish."
"What are you saying?" Isabel asked, worry now in her voice. If there was one thing she hated, was remembering anything that had to do with Antar and her traitorous past. "That Dave's been communicating with someone out there?"
Someone pretty much meaning Khivar, and that would make Dave the next in line for the traitor title.
"It seems exactly like that," he somberly answered.
"Is there any chance he might be just monitoring communications?" Max added, ever looking for ways to make things not so bad. Michael reluctantly nodded.
"It's not like they have a sender and a subject, or that I could see where the signals are coming from here on Earth, I still have work to do on that, but… The last message that came through a couple of weeks ago was very clear: Someone's coming for us."