The plane fell from the sky, centered on the TV screen as though the reporter knew exactly where the explosion would take place. The camera followed the plane as it slowly fell, flames spouting from every crevice one wing missing into the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of California. Christien Elise Matcliff rewound the video and played it again, watching her family's death for the tenth time.
"Enough." The tall slender man stepped into the room and pushed stop on the VCR and ejected the video tape. "You cannot watch this anymore." He took the tape and left the young girl sitting on the bed in the pale pink bedroom.
"Matthew!" She screamed after him, scrambling off the bed and almost falling as her feet tangled in the blankets that had fallen. "Give that back!"
"Miss Christien." Matthew stopped and turned to face her in the hallway. "I will not allow you to sit here any longer and watch this tape." He held the tape up to her face. "You are fifteen years old and as your legal guardian I say what is right for you and watching this plane explode over and over is not it." He waved the tape in front of her nose and then let out a sigh.
I was supposed to be on that plane." She whined.
Matthew held his face from expressing the concern he truly felt. "Yes but instead you complained about how boring it was to travel to California for business, insisting that you should stay home and practice." He laid a hand on her shoulder. "If you had been on the plane you would have died."
"I yelled at her because I wanted to stay home with K.C." She screamed at him. "Matthew, I yelled at my mom." The momentary anger slipped away and her bottom lip trembled, tears tumbled out of her eyes and down her cheeks.
"I know." He pulled her to his chest. "I know all of it, but the plane crash was not your fault."
"You knew?" She asked through her tears pulling back to look at his face.
"Yes and so did your mother." He smiled down at her. "Did you think I was just being nice when I offered to have K.C. here for dinner last night? She asked me to keep an eye on the two of you since he was a little older."
"She knew I wasn't mad at her?"
Matthew nodded, brushing away a curl from her eyes. "She knew, Crissy everyone knew about the two of you, even your brother who encouraged K.C to ask you out on a date."
Criss pulled away and started to walk toward the kitchen, the large picture windows of the formal living room were open and she glanced out only to see a number of news vans, and paparazzi standing in the grass. "Matthew!" She screamed dropping to the floor and praying that she was not in any of the photos. "There are people outside."
Matthew stepped into the room and walked over to where Christien crouched on the floor. He helped her to stand and then covered her under his jacket and walked her into the kitchen. "I will take care of them and then you and I need to make some decisions." He instructed her to stay in the kitchen and left the room.
Criss pulled a box of cereal from the cupboard and then sat on the floor her back against the fridge and ate handfuls of cereal as tears rolled down her cheeks. After a few dry bites that stuck in her throat she gave up the cereal and pulled her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around them and buried her head in her legs and began to sob.
"Criss?" The hysterical female voice came streaking into the kitchen. Criss felt familiar arms circle her and it only set to increase her sobs. "I am so sorry."
"Mandy. They. Are. Dead." She said between sobs pulling her face up to look into the brown eyes of her best friend.
Tears streamed down Mandy's cheeks. "I came as soon as I seen the news, the reporter said you were on the plane."
"It was Matthew's idea to keep me out of the paper's headlines." Criss replied through sniffles.
"I was so afraid that you changed your mind and didn't stay home." Mandy hugged her again. "I came back soon as I could get a ride back."
Criss pulled away and scrubbed her face with the sleeve of her sweat shirt. "How was the class? Did you have fun?" She asked and tried to smile.
Mandy shrugged. "Utah is okay, but I don't know if I really want to study communications or if I want to go to medical school. But it was funny watching all those college kids do breathing exercises and make sounds like pigs." Mandy made deep breathing and snorting sounds, Criss giggled. "If that's what I have to do to be professional speaker then I might be rethinking my career choice." She made a few more jokes until Criss giggled a bit more. "I am sorry I wasn't here when you heard."
"I didn't hear. I watched, they played it over and over it was like the reporter knew exactly where the plane was going to crash." New tears gathered on both their cheeks. "He was going to tell the Visitors that he did not want to use his California factories to process their chemicals."
"But I thought that your dad was excited about the potential business with the Visitors, why did he change his mind?" Mandy leaned back against the fridge her shoulder against Criss. She reached across her for the box of cereal and dug in for a handful.
"I heard him say that his chemist had doubts on the Visitors and that the tests he had run were not giving him the results he wanted. He didn't know I was there he would have been so angry if he had known I was standing outside his office. It was sometime last week and I wanted to tell him about my date with K.C. but he was on the phone all night and he looked really unhappy all day." Criss closed her eyes and leaned her head back against fridge door picturing the time clearly.
Her father a tall dark haired man who rarely ever frowned and seemed to have something nice to say to everyone he met had spent the entire day first in meetings with his board then on the phone with more of his business partners. Several times that day Criss had tried to talk to him to apologize for the fighting with him the night before, for being angry about his work, only he was too busy for her to get his attention. The conversation he was having seemed different than any other she had overheard, he seemed angry and stressed not even joining the family for dinner. The Visitors had landed early in the spring and for over eight months the entire globe had been in an uproar. The seemingly perfect aliens had offered everything that humans could ask for including the possibility of future space travel and the knowledge that life existed outside of our planet. They asked for very little help and according to her father, the stock market and everything associated with the Visitors was made of gold. But in the last month he seemed different, shutting his office door when he talked on the phone; missing her meets, skipping dinner, and keeping Matthew in his office until all hours of the night. Her mother was worried too, but she continued with everything like normal. Criss was surprised when her mother agreed to let her stay home instead of joining her family for a business slash vacation trip to California. Criss had begged to stay home explaining that she needed to practice harder to make the Olympic team and that she would not be able to continue her practice with her coach while on the road. It wasn't true, she was a sure in on the team and practicing gymnastics would be easy anywhere they went, her father and his bank account saw to that. The only thing that could keep a teenage girl in Idaho and not in the stores in Los Angeles was a boy, K.C.
The phone rang and Criss jerked startled by the sound. The kitchen looked so surprisingly normal that she almost waited to hear her mom come hurrying into the room and then scold her for not answering the phone. The phone rang for the fourth time and she pushed herself from the floor and walked across the tile, the phone cord was twisted and she smiled picking up the phone receiver.
Matthew grabbed the phone from Christien's hand before she could speak. "Matcliff residence." He spoke sharply. "Thank you for your concern." He said after a moment of listening. "Yes Mr. Smith I am taking control of the Matcliff Corporation effective immediately. No we will not be opening the California plant for processing at this time." Matthew turned and glared at the girls gesturing for them to leave the room. Criss shook her head and waited. "I can assure you that as the Matcliff's lawyer and friend I am intimately aware of their desires concerning their estate and company. You may dispute my choices at the board meeting after the funeral and the reading of the will." Matthew hung up the phone.
He turned to look at Criss. "What? I took the phone because we need to talk about what will happen if it is known that you are still alive."
"Why didn't my father want to do business with the Visitors?" Criss stared at him, waiting.
"Christien, your father was an excellent business man he did not feel it was in the company's best interest to continue with the arrangement."
"Bull Shit." Criss hissed quietly. "If I didn't love you so much Matthew it might look like you want me dead so you can have the company. But I know you. I know you won't leave me or Mandy alone in this so why do I need to be dead Matthew? What aren't you telling me?" She stepped forward and placed a hand on his chest. "You are all I have now, don't lie to me."
Matthew placed his hand over hers and met her gaze. "Your father and I have been reviewing the information about the Visitors." Matthew ran a hand through his hair and turned away walking to the sink and leaning forward. He looked out the small window behind the sink into the back garden of the estate. "You know that your great-grandparents took in my father and that your dad and I were raised as brothers." He didn't wait for her answer and continued. "When I went to law school and your dad took over the family business we promised each other that no matter what we would stick together, here in this house." He let out a sigh and turned around leaning against the counter. "Your dad got married had you kids and the business thrived. We never thought life could get better."
"But you, why did you stay here working like a butler?" Criss asked confused. "You served us food and lived in the house as a servant, I don't understand if you're our lawyer why didn't you practice law and stuff?" Criss shook her head. "You always acted like being a butler was all you could do. It was so confusing."
"I did practice law. I was your dad's secret weapon." Matthew laughed, and stopped his voice catching on a sob. "Only I didn't know about this, I swear Christien if I had known there was any danger I would not have ever let any of them travel."
"Danger?" Criss screamed. "They said accident. What do you mean danger?"
Matthew heaved out a sigh. "The investigation I have been doing has shown that the Visitors do not seem to have our best interests at heart. Hundreds of people have disappeared, mostly in the cities that were being hit by low economic times." Matthew crossed the room and then paced back. "I didn't have proof, then that reporter guy, Mike Donovan took that video and I was able to see it before it was pulled off the TV. I knew there was something wrong with them."
"You think the Visitors killed my family?" Criss asked
"I don't know. But until I do, I am afraid that if you come out of hiding they will either kill you or they will kill me to get to you and I can't bear to leave you alone." His face for the first time was covered in tears and red splotches and Criss realized that he had lost the only family he had known as well.
Criss flung herself into his chest. "You are not going to lose me." She choked out holding onto him. "Please do whatever they want." She whispered into his chest.
"Miss Mandy." Matthew gestured for Mandy to join them. "You're part of this family too." Mandy joined them. "I promise you, both of you that I will not leave you."
He squeezed them and then leaned back. "There is no reason for you to continue this hiding if you don't want to."
Criss shook her head. "My parents, my brother. I want to know the truth; until we do I can't risk being seen. What did my parents leave for Mandy, is she in danger?"
Matthew shook his head. "No. They left Mandy some property, money and shares in the businesses but not enough to make her a voting partner." He smiled at Mandy brushing a tear from her cheek. "Your father and I wanted Mandy taken care of. You," He said looking at Mandy. "They wanted you taken care of if anything happened, he also wanted to make sure that your education was paid for, originally the business was split three ways. He changed it last week. We knew that you would be left alone if you received money but not if you controlled the company."
Criss shook her head and pulled away turning her back to Matthew unsure of what to think. Dead meant that everything in her life was gone, not just her family but her Olympic dreams, her friends, her chance of a future, she would have nothing but her life and money to live it. "I need time to think." She started to walk away, shaking off Mandy's hand and ignoring Matthew's voice.
The VCR tape of the crash rested on the dining room table where Matthew had dropped it in order to rescue the phone from her. Criss stopped and looked at the tape, she glanced over her shoulder, Matthew and Mandy were talking quietly and without another thought she picked up the tape and fled to her parents' room.
Locking the door she walked over to the TV and inserted the tape. Making sure the volume was so low that they wouldn't hear she replayed the beginning of the crash just as her parents plane flew into view of the reporter's camera, fully intact before the explosion. She rewound the tape and paused it, then ran it forward frame by frame; just before the explosion a streak of green light came from the left hand side of the screen and looked as though it hit the front hand side of plane just as the plane exploded into flames. She rewound it again to make sure she hadn't let her eyes play tricks on her, and again the green light streaked into the plane. The second time she let the tape play through and after the plane fell into the ocean the camera man panned the camera to the right and only a short distance away was the huge mother ship that hovered over the city of Los Angeles. She felt her body begin to shake, a queasy fluttering in her stomach she pushed the stop button on the remote and rushed to the attached bathroom and threw up.
She rinsed her faced and then stared at herself in the mirror for the first time seeing small similarities in her expressions that her parents had passed onto her. The same gold color eyes her father had and the same long unruly blond hair her mother had. She knew that she and her brother had been fair haired and spoiled and that her parents spent as much time loving and spoiling them as they did working and keeping up the manufacturing corporations.
New tears streamed down her cheeks. Finally she turned away and walked back into the bedroom crawling onto her parent's bed curling up in the middle like she had when she was little and frightened and fell asleep.
"Miss. Christien." The knock at the door was more insistent the second time. "Are you alright?" Matthew's voice was gentle through door. "Please answer me." He begged.
"I'm sorry." Criss stumbled from the bed and opened the door. "I was asleep."
"You slept the entire night away already." Matthew smiled, "You needed the rest. Can you come eat something?"
Criss nodded and followed him out of the room. Mandy was in the living room watching TV she turned when they came in. "K.C. called a few times. He seemed worried and freaked out. Matthew explained to him what was going on."
Criss nodded and glanced at the TV. She rushed to the set and turned up the volume. A man she knew well, Mr. Daniel Smith the head of her father's Los Angeles office was standing next to a short brunette dressed in a Visitor's uniform. The news conference was live from somewhere in LA. "What is he doing?" She asked Matthew before the pair on the TV started to speak.
"I don't know you heard me tell him we are not making decisions right now."
Criss looked back at the TV. Mr. Smith expressed concern and sadness over the death of her family, he even shed a few tears and she almost believed him. "But there is no need to worry; I have been assured by Visitor Commander Diana." He gestured to the woman standing next to him "That the visitors are going to assist with the investigation. They will be helping to salvage the plane to ensure that the family can receive a proper respectful burial and to make sure that there was no foul play in the accident we witnessed yesterday." He smiled. "I have been given permission from Matcliff lawyers to announce that the Los Angeles Company will continue into agreements with the Visitors to manufacture the chemical that their planet so desperately needs. Our chemists, as well as independent contractors have been researching the chemical compound and they have found that not only is the chemical harmless but it is also abundant in our atmosphere and surface. The combination process is time consuming and challenging but I have been assured by our chemists and by the Visitors that not only is it safe, but it is also profitable and will help our new friends."
"Matthew, why would he do that?" Criss looked panicked over her shoulder. "They killed my family and he is doing business with them only a day after they died."
"He is acting out of order, but more I am worried about the Visitors salvaging the plane. Their technology is so much greater than ours. What if they are able to tell that you were not on the plane?" Michael started to walk into the kitchen to use the phone but stopped when Christien grabbed his arm, he looked back at the TV. The small brunette Visitor stepped up to the microphone.
"I am truly and deeply sorry for the loss of the Matcliff family. As the Chief Medical and Science Commander of the entire Visitor fleet I had been working very closely with Robert Matcliff to finalize our plans." Her face contorted into sorrow that looked both tragic and contrite. "The completion of this processing plant not only provides the economic boost that this area needs, but also brings to fruition the dreams of the Matcliff Cooperation President."
"Shit." Matthew hissed. "Now I am screwed.
"She did it." Criss whispered. She turned and ran back to her parents' bedroom and ejected the VCR tape and ran back into the living room. Matthew had left to room and she stopped to look around for him. "Where did he go?" She asked Mandy.
"He went to your dad's office to make phone calls and see if he could fix what just happened, why?"
"Watch this." Criss put in the tape and rewound it and played it frame by frame for Mandy. She looked back at Mandy. "Did you see it?"
"See what? The explosion?"
Criss shook her head. "Watch again." She replayed it.
"What is that green light?"
"You did see it." Criss let the video play and when the camera panned to the right, the same direction from where the green light came from. The Visitor mother ship came into view.
"Oh my God." Mandy hissed.
"It was them."
"Criss you can't be sure." Mandy walked over and took the VCR remote away from Christien and pressed the stop button. The press conference was still on, the petite visitor still answering questions looking sad and trying to smile at the same time. Criss stared into the blue eyes on the screen seeing something far more sinister that what was being said. Mandy picked up the remote for the TV and pushed the power button. "You can't prove it."
"Criss, stop. You have the Olympic tryouts, and you are only fifteen years old."
"Mandy." Criss turned to look at her friend. "You forget dead people can't compete in the Olympics."
"Don't give up practicing yet." Matthew said from behind them. "If they figure out you were not on that plane and even if they don't I won't have you give up all of your dreams. A simple yet very public resurrection would give you the opportunity you need."
Criss shook her head. "Team tryouts are in six months." Her shoulders slumped.
"You already have enough competitions and wins in order to compete in the tryouts. Even if you hide for all six months." Mandy said.
"But my coach. How can I continue without my coach?" She looked up at Matthew.
Matthew laughed softly. "You forget who was with you when you heard the news. I think the only person who may love you as much as I do is Coach G."
Criss nodded. "Okay."
"Good. Now I will take care of the business. You just keep practicing and hanging with Mandy and you had better call K.C. so he stops worrying."
"I want to help." Criss whined. Running her hand down the back of K.C.'s shirt. "Why won't you let me?"
"Criss." K.C. turned around and smiled. He had spent the past five months splitting his time between her and then his new friends the local version of the resistance. Since Criss had shown him the video tape of explosion that had killed his best friend and her brother he had been actively seeking a way to get the Visitors out of their home town. The small group had been causing a lot of trouble for the Visitor friends group that ran out of the local high schools and for the group of Visitors that had settled in the towns. "What you don't understand is that people have disappeared from the smaller mountain towns all over the state. We are doing everything we can to get rid of the aliens but we are not getting far."
"Can't I help at all?"
"I can't lose you." K.C. looked into her soft golden eyes and pulled her to his chest for a brief embrace and then dropped a kiss on her mouth. "You are sixteen barely. I know that your brother was excited to see us together. Heck even your parents were okay with it, but I am nineteen. I have to keep you safe."
"Well at sixteen I think I am able to make a few choices of my own. After all I did pick you. I don't care what Rob wanted or my parents for that matter." She smiled up at him wrapping her arms around his neck. He shook his head his blond hair flopping over his blue eyes. "I picked you, not them." She insisted. "I want to help the resistance."
"You have Olympic Tryouts in two weeks, and your big resurrection next week." He shook his head. "I will not screw that up. If you got arrested you would be ruined."
"Fine. But maybe I can help with money?"
"I will let you know." He smiled knowing he had won the battle.
Criss studied herself in the full length mirror. The pale blue dress was made of silk and went almost to her chin, covering her shoulders and then plunging a few inches in the back. The dress was something she would never have chosen, Matthew had gone overboard with the modesty issue. The only skin showing was her arms from the elbows down and then the top of her back, but soft straight cut of the dress gave her an elegance that she had not expected. She looked older, more mature than her sixteen years. Matthew had thrown the benefit tonight in honor of her parents and to announce that she was alive and had been in mourning for the last six months and would continue competing in gymnastics.
Criss smiled, her blond curls falling unruly about her shoulders half way to her waste. She swayed her hips and watched as the silk swung around her legs. Imagine the looks on the faces of the other gymnasts. The girls who must think she was dead and that they might actually win a metal. She laughed, and wondered if it would be the short whiney brunette or the skinny redhead that wouldn't make the team because of her. It didn't matter; both of the girls were rude and didn't deserve to compete for the USA. After her 'death' the tabloids had printed several false stories about her supposed drug abuse, and partying. The two girls had come forward to give details. She had hated them and looked forward to setting the record straight. She only wished that she could make sure that neither of them competed in the '94 Olympics. It didn't matter though, she would be taking all of the medals anyway; her only true competition was a sweet Russian girl she had met two years ago.
"You look beautiful." Matthew said walking into her hotel room.
"Hey. You need to knock what if I didn't have my dress on?" She smiled at him.
"I told you to get dressed two hours ago. I took a risk." He leaned forward and dropped a kiss on her forehead. "Are you ready to live again?" He asked taking her shoulders in his hands and looking at her. "Do you really need that much make-up you look too old."
"Matthew." She smiled. In the past seven months he had taken his guardianship far too seriously worrying over her every move and even working too hard to give her a sweet sixteen party when the only guests were her coach, K.C. and Mandy. "I think I know how the kids are doing their make-up these days." She smiled and teased playfully.
"Criss you have to see this." Mandy came bursting into the room from her adjoining suite. Criss stared at her bright blue taffeta dress that ended just above the knee in envy and let out a sigh. Leave it to Mandy to get the cool dress. Mandy turned on the TV. "Look, it's about the Olympics."
Criss had stopped watching TV shortly after her parents died. Ignoring all the news and TV shows, choosing instead to practice almost nonstop. "What's going on?" The head of the Olympics stepped up to the microphone and looked at the crowd her face a mixture of anger and sadness. "Mandy turn it up."
"It brings me great sadness to announce that the 1994 summer Olympics are canceled." She said without preamble. "Due to the recent attacks and bombings by the various groups around the world calling themselves The Resistance I feel that holding any more competitions or the event itself will cause more upheaval and useless deaths. To the athletes who have trained so hard to live out their dreams I am sorry. When the people of this planet learn to solve their disputes with words and not bombs and when they can accept that people from other countries or other worlds are not the enemy the Olympics can continue in the form they were originally intended." The woman didn't wait to answer questions or take comments she turned and left the stage.
Criss sank to the carpet staring at the TV long after Mandy had shut it off. She didn't hear the knock at the door or hear Mandy open it. She didn't notice Matthew stop K.C. from touching her, the only thing she could hear was the end of her last dream. "I want to go home." She whispered.
"You can still come out tonight." Matthew insisted.
"No." She shook her head. "No I would rather stay dead. They took away everything; I won't give them a chance to take you away also." She looked up at Matthew and then noticed that both K.C. and her coach had come into the room. "The games will continue in four years. I may be the oldest on the team but I won't give up. I can be alive then, for now I want to go home. You have to go to the benefit." Mandy stepped forward nodding and Criss brushed off her hand. "You too. They expect you. I am going to change my clothes and then I am going to drive home."
"You are not driving. I will have the jet fly you home. Mandy and I will catch a commercial flight tomorrow." Matthew looked at K.C. and her coach. "Who is going with her?"
"I will." K.C. said smiling. "Coach you go to the benefit. Today is as much a loss for you as it is for her."
"I will see you on Monday Coach." Criss tried to smile as she ushered all of them out of the room. K.C. stood in the doorway looking fabulous in his tuxedo; he stopped her from closing the door. "Go, we need to change."
"You look amazing." He whispered. "I am so sorry; I wanted to share this moment with you."
Criss met his eyes for a moment. "K.C. you know the window for a gymnast. This was my last Olympics. I am too tall and too old to wait four years. Even if I have the still have the skill, the judges would never score me high enough to make the team. If you won't let me help you fight with the resistance I will go where they will." She gently pushed his chest and then shut her door.
Criss pulled her long hair through the hole in a baseball cap and pulled on a pair of baggy sweats the same color of the silk dress she left lying on the floor of the hotel. She scrubbed the make-up off her face and pulled on her tennis shoes. Stretching she turned, leaving the room and everything she had once dreamt of behind.