Part 17 : Shadows
November 2
nd, 2011 - New York

1 : Van

He was sitting on the floor of his cell. The concrete was solid in the way the bed wasn't, and safer in the way the chair wasn't. He couldn't fall if he was already on the floor.

He'd been brought here, pushed inside and left, with only his hands cuffed in front of him. Clearly, they didn't think he would be much trouble.

It's not me you should worry about, he thought darkly as his breathing evened out. Staying calm in time of crisis was a must, but staying calm when the alternative was panic was lifesaving.

He moved his eyes, opened them and closed them, the world as dark as ever. He'd been in small, dark places before, and had no patience for claustrophobia, but this darkness was different. It was never-ending, unyielding to any source of light. He could be staring at Earth's yellow sun without getting a single flicker of color.

His breathing quickened, and he scolded himself for the lapse in concentration. He sat in a kneeling position, roughly at the center of the room, his hands on his lap. His sensitive ears picked movement outside, and further—much further—the alarm was going on once more. This was the fourth time in less than half an hour that some alarm had been set off.

His blinded eyes moved in the direction of the sound. By this point his guards had been lulled from a state of trigger-happy vigilance, to a state of annoyance, thinking the malfunctioning alarm none of their concern.

Van knew better. He smiled. An alarm to ignore all the alarms was a clever idea and he knew a shapeshifter wandered the halls.

Maybe there was a malfunction—coincidences did happen—but whatever the reason, Jet would be bound to seize the opportunity and get him free. It was just a matter of logistics.

The floor vibrated slightly under his legs, in a familiar rebel code.

"Jet..." Van exhaled in a whisper, finally relieved that not everything was lost.

Out there, the alarm was turned off again.

2 : Jet

Earning a place in the Invisible Guard was no easy feat. It required training, will, but most of all, it required brains.

That was true at any time, but it was more so in time of war. The enemy could be very creative when it came to harming his ward, and every Guard was expected to repel anything.

It was one thing to let Van know that he was guarding him. It was an entire differently challenge to tell him what the plan was. If I actually had a plan, he told himself, moving from wall to wall in Van's cell, getting to know everything there was to know about this environment.

The place was an underground arrangement of cells, interrogation rooms, a clinic, and only two exit doors to the outside world. He'd watched the screen as they had reviewed the video of Dave's escape, and had found it increasingly intriguing that Dave had gotten help from the outside. Who had freed him was not of Jet's concern, just how it had been done. The guards on duty had scrambled to take precautions to prevent a recurrence, so that way was pretty much closed.

The only other exit he had found was for maintenance less guarded, it was equally hard to navigate with a blinded man.

In a cell down the corridor, another prisoner had been brought in on suspected terrorist charges. In the clinic down the hall and to the right, Jake kept analyzing Van's blood, furtively stealing supplies from the shelves. Whatever Jake had in mind, it was beyond Jet's powers of deduction.

It wasn't as if Jet were counting on Jake, anyway.

Somewhere close, the alarm went off. It was the fifth alarm, and for Jet's tactical mind, it was worth noticing that the alarms had been getting closer and closer to their position.

If Dave had gotten unexpected help, maybe lightening could strike twice.

Jet's choices were few: he could focus all his energy on getting Van out, or he could try to devise a plan where both Van and Jake could aid him in their escape. As each second passed, it became painfully obvious that Jet needed something else to change for the odds to be in his favor. Something like Van regaining his sight, for example.

Damn it!

The more Jet tried to see a way out of this, the more he realized Van's handicap would be a problem. His leader was a formidable fighter and no stranger to Earth's weapons, but blinded, he was no better than a sitting duck. And that was assuming Jake could pull his own weight in a fight.

He'd seen Dave training on occasion, but he'd never seen Jake. Odds were the doctor would be good at running, but not at fighting.

His other variable would be numbers. He was alone in secret enemy headquarters, and no one knew where they were. Even if he could send a message, the Guards' priority would be Zan. Luke had made that clear once it became obvious they would have two people to protect today.

Luke would come for Van, the shapeshifter thought. The other Guards were out of the question, but Van's own second in command was a different thing entirely. That was a comfortable thought, but nothing more than that. He had to deal with the here and now.

He finished recon, and stepped in front of the door. Van would be safe here for a while.

He turned around, and slid under the door, curious to see if he could guess which alarm would go off next. A technician in a foul mood stepped into the hall from a door marked "Security", looking ready to scream. The guard for Van's cell stood immobile in front of the door, suppressing a rather unbecoming grin at this human's maintenance trouble.

Idiot, Jet thought, knowing full well that a distracted guard could bring an entire house down. Or palace.

Or prison.

Beyond the security door, a lightbulb flickered. Jet stared at it for ten seconds, his pulse accelerating. In front of them, the technician slammed a control panel, turning the alarm off.

"Busy day?" the guard said, unable to resist the jab. The technician gave him an obscene gesture, and walked off, followed by Jet.

That had not been a randomly flickering lightbulb. That had been an Antarian code. An Invisible Guard Antarian code, to be exact.

Who was here? Violet, Ash, and Shade were all with Zan. They had to be. Who would have abandoned their post to come for Van? If fate had been reversed, if Jet had been guarding Zan, would he have abandoned his king to go rescue Van?

The flickering message had been short: Meet me on the right.

On the right was a closed door. It was a supply room, dark enough to make Jet cautious. It was the perfect place for a secret meeting—or an ambush. Jet moved slowly, sensing in all directions, looking for the signature of the other Guard. He didn't feel anything. As far as he could tell, this room was empty.

"Show yourself," Jet said, half in human form, half in wall form. From the wall in front of him, a man materialized.

"That was rather bold," Langley said, looking straight at Jet with a smirk that spoke of how easy it would have been to dispatch the other shifter.

been a Guard, of course. Not only that — a Guard from before.He had abilities similar to the ones Zan had, and that was incredibly scary. No wonder Khivar had put an end to their psychic abilities. Shifters would rule the world by now if they had been allowed to use them.

"We need your help," Jet blurted out, not having time to ponder the mysteries of the once traitor who was coming home.

"I always liked you the best," his new ally said. "You know what needs to be done and are not hesitant to ask for help."

"The alarms are your doing?"

"A little crude, but quite effective," Langley answered.

"Van is blind," Jet pointed with his finger outside, an unnecessary gesture. Surely, Langley already knew about this.

"The Unit will move him to a more secure location soon, so we don't have much time."

"What do you propose?"

"McKay is on the upper levels, tracking Ma—Zan's footsteps rather closely. I'll give the Head of the Special Unit a final push to get him out of the building. When that happens, tell Van to fake a seizure. Anything that looks scary enough to get these sorry excuses for guards to panic. They'll take him to the clinic. We'll take it from there."

By the time Langley had finished explaining, another alarm was blaring somewhere down the hall.

3 : Max

Khivar was going to kill him. It could take him a few hours or a few days, but he sure as hell could take his time, enjoying every second of Max's fear of what the next moment might bring. It was the perfect execution plan, really. Khivar didn't even have to leave his palace to kill him.

My palace, a voice fiercely admonished, a sense of possession over his world and his people growing in his mind.

Zan's palace, his palace, it didn't matter. Max was going to die one way or another if no one stopped his enemy from figuratively cutting off his head. A tiny part of him admired Khivar's clean solution. At least no one else has to die but me.

No one is dead yet, he told himself—strangely in Michael's voice.

Before him, his Guards looked scared. They couldn't rescue Van. They couldn't go back to Antar. They couldn't fight something that wasn't tangibly in front of them.

"Okay. Okay. Firs—What are your names?"

"I'm Violet, your Highness."

"Ash, sir."

"That's two of you…" his memories of the Guard were few and blurry, but Max did his best to make sense of them. "There should be two more. One who's always invisible, meaning he's here with you but won't show himself unless absolutely necessary…"

Violet nodded. "Shade. And one who is with Van, Jet. That was the contingency plan, sir. In case we got separated."

"In case all hell broke loose," Max added, nodding. It made sense for the rebels to always plan for the worst. He'd certainly grown accustomed to it after a few years with Ray as his teacher.

"We need to state the facts and take it from there," Max said, sitting straighter. "Can we disable however Khivar does the possession thing?"

"We don't know much about that," Ash said, "sire," he added hastily. Max waved in dismissal, not interested in titles. "The wormhole technology took over possessions a few years ago. Without the proper calibrated equipment, preparing a human host consumed too much energy, and it was dangerous for us on Antar, too. That's why Van never attempted it himself. Luke wouldn't let him."

"The only secure place to do it would be the Academy of Sciences," Violet added. "Larek built his own when rumors of you being alive reached Antar. We didn't know of its existence until it became public knowledge that a Summit had taken place on Earth. And the only reason for that was you, of course."

"Okay, that's two places we know of. Can the rebellion disable them?"

"Larek's, for sure," Ash said, while Violet nodded. "Antar's might take more time. We need to reach headquarters, in any case."

"Then to headquarters we go."

4 : Maria

Knowing where Michael was had become a tricky affair. It was as if suddenly she had a built-in radar that beep-beep-beep-ed Michael's direction in her mind, but it was so new and so distracting, she had no way of controlling it.

The only good thing about it was that she knew Michael was getting closer. Cramped beside her in the taxi's backseat, Liz had closed her eyes in an attempt to get a clearer connection with Max, while Jade watched out the window as if every man, woman and child in New York City was going to attack them.

On the front seat, Kyle merrily chatted with the taxi driver, as if all was right with the world.

She wanted to scream.

At the very least, she wanted to stop the taxi and wait for Michael. She didn't know if this radar thing was a two-way connection. Did Michael know where she was? Would their connection last long enough for them to find each other?

The irony of the whole thing was that Michael had run out of the hotel in search of Liz, and in the end, Maria had been the lucky one. That kept nagging at her. What had happened to Michael once he'd run out into the street?

He was a roller coaster of worry and frustration, but she was fairly sure he wasn't injured, captured, or incapacitated in any way. Michael was out there, but what was he looking for? Did he know where Max was?

If Maria had been able to find Liz, surely two guys with otherworldly powers would be able to find each other as well. If Liz could find Max, maybe Maria would stumble upon Michael, too.

Come on Spaceboy, give me a sign you're coming my way.

They were leaving Manhattan behind. She was too disoriented to know which bridge they were crossing, but she stared long and hard at it in some attempt to tell her husband where she was going. Too bad all she could see were cars, lights, and the darkness beyond.

So much for landmarks.

"Are you sure you're heading that way?" the taxi driver asked with a Middle Eastern accent. Probably from Yemen, she absently thought. She'd picked up an ear for languages once she'd started seriously working for Dave, something she didn't think of as a skill outside the negotiation room. When they were on the run, it was how hard they could run or how hard they could fight that made a difference. Neither required her pinpointing the exact location their attacker had come from.

"We're sure," Kyle said, waving a hand dismissively. "A couple of friends are picking us up from Yorktown."

The taxi driver shrugged, and Kyle kept talking about nothing particularly interesting to her melting mind.

The fleeting thought that her vacation was ruined actually made her smile. For once, it hadn't been Michael's fault. Just his goddamn planet.

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