BOOK 9 VERISIMILITUDE
(THE CONSPIRACY EXPOSED)
(Episode - Departure)
(Friday, May 18th, 2001)
Max let his eyes roam over Liz as he followed her through the Crashdown and up the stairs, attempting to memorize everything about her. There was so much he wanted to say to her, but right now the most important thing was making sure she and the others were safe.
Since last night when he'd discovered Liz had been correct about Alex's death, he'd felt terribly ashamed about how he had treated her. He'd seen the hostility in her eyes downstairs and he wouldn't blame her if she never forgave him.
Max stopped just outside Liz's door, an apology already on his lips, "You were right, about Alex. He was killed by an alien. I prayed that that wasn't the case but it was. We're responsible."
Tears gathered in Liz's eyes as she instantly forgave him. She knew how much he hadn't wanted it to be true. "I never blamed you Max. I never blamed any of you."
"I know," Max said with a sigh of relief. He should have known Liz was too good a person to hold a grudge against him. "I know you didn't."
Liz continued, "I never wanted to lose you."
"Me either," Max said and he took a couple of steps closer to her, wanting to be near her for maybe the last time. He could feel the emotions rising up within him and knew it was the same with Liz. She had never stopped loving him, but now it was all too late. He stopped suddenly and got back to the point of his visit, "Liz, I need all the information that you have on Leanna."
Liz was surprised by his request, "Why?"
"I have to take care of the situation," Max said, not wanting to admit to Liz what he had to do.
"Take care of it how?" Liz asked, but Max remained silent as he looked down, and then slowly raised his eyes to meet hers. The look on Max's face made the truth apparent to Liz. Max was going to execute Leanna for murdering Alex. Liz shook her head, "Well, I'm coming with you."
"No," Max instantly denied.
"I started this," Liz said. "I'm gonna see this through to the end. She killed Alex."
(The Valenti House)
Jim pressed a warm cloth to Tess' forehead.
"Thanks, that helps," Tess said.
"Mm hm," Jim grunted in acknowledgement. "Listen," he started, "I just want you to know if anything goes wrong, if you're not able to go home, then you have a home here. That your child has a home here too. I mean, you're uh, you're both part of this family now. We'll figure out what's wrong with the baby. We'll find a way."
Tess smiled, "Thank you." Since she had agreed to help Lonni and Rath she'd had a few moments of regret and this was one of them. She really cared for the Valenti's and she was sad that she'd had to deceive them. They were the only family she had known.
"Sure," Jim said. "I'll get some more warm water."
"Thanks" Tess said and a sudden impulse prompted her to add, "Dad."
(University of Las Cruces – dorms)
Liz stopped beside Max in the duct and looked through the vent at Leanna. "What are you going to do?"
Max glanced around the ductwork, devising a quick plan. "I'm gonna send a bolt of energy to that heater. It will explode. A fire will start, fast. Too fast for her to react."
"What about the other dorm rooms, the other students?" Liz asked, concerned.
Max explained, "I can contain the fire with my powers long enough for everyone else to get out of the building."
Liz shook her head. This whole thing seemed wrong. "Max this isn't like you, it's not planned out."
Max tried to make her understand, "Liz, I have to do this now."
Liz had a really bad feeling. "Max, this doesn't seem right."
Max had never killed anyone and he didn't want to start now, but he had to make sure his friends were safe after he left and this was his only option. If there was a way of prosecuting Leanna he would have done it, but there wasn't. He couldn't leave an alien murderer loose to kill off his friends one by one. And he couldn't let Liz stand in his way. "Go to the Jeep,” he told Liz, “you don't have to be a part of this."
Liz got in his face, stressing her words, "It doesn't feel right."
As Liz climbed out of the vent and headed toward the exit, the feeling of wrongness grew within her. She knew that Max had to kill the alien who murdered Alex, there was just no other way of taking care of it, but something she just couldn't grasp was hovering in the back of her mind.
Suddenly Liz had a flash of what Leanna had been doing, and everything snapped into place. Leanna had been attempting to sew a button on a shirt and even though sewing could be a hobby, Liz didn't think it was Leanna's. She had been clumsy, fumbling with the needle to the point that she had stuck herself, and that wasn’t the behavior of an experienced seamstress.
If Leanna were an alien, she could have used her powers to thread the needle, or more likely simply used her powers to attach the button and not bother with the needle and thread at all.
"Max!" Liz yelled, as she spun around, hoping he would hear her. She ran to Leanna's door and started pounding furiously and then let herself in when she discovered the door was unlocked. She had to get Leanna out before Max succeeded in setting the fire.
"Who are you?" Leanna asked.
Liz pushed her toward the door, "Come on! Come on! Get out! Get out! Fire!"
Liz grabbed the tissue Leanna had used to stop the bleeding on her finger. She was positive that she was right, but a quick look at Leanna's blood through a microscope would leave no room for doubt.
(The Valenti house – Tess’ room)
Tess finished the mind warp of Kyle with a sigh of relief. Obviously being in her room had jogged his memory of Alex being there, something in the room triggering it somehow. Tess had been afraid something like that might happen. There had been two other times when Kyle had gotten brief memory flashes of Alex, but this time he had nearly come out of the mind warp completely. And if he broke out of one mind warp, there was no telling what else he might remember. When she had mind warped him after Alex died, she could feel the beginnings of his powers. And she knew her mind warps were more easily broken by people with powers.
Of course the mind warp would probably eventually break down anyway but it should have lasted much longer on Kyle than it had. But she had been using her powers so much over the last few months, mind warping and reinforcing mind warps on practically everyone, that she was exhausted.
"What were you saying?" she asked Kyle to bring him out of it.
Kyle paused for a moment, having lost his train of thought and then continued as the planted memory surfaced, "That I'm really gonna miss you."
Song Playing: The Reason by Hoobastank
Max stopped the Jeep in front of the Crashdown. He knew he should say goodbye to Liz but he just couldn't let her go yet. "I always thought when we graduated I would give you my ring." He handed her the pendant they had found at Atherton's, one of the only things he had from his planet. "It looks like I won't graduate, so this is something from where I'll be."
"I can't believe that this is what I have of you. I can't believe that after everything..." she trailed off, unable to continue.
Ever since Liz had slipped up earlier, it had been on Max's mind, and he had to know the truth. "Liz, you never slept with Kyle, did you?"
He watched as Liz shook her head, and the pain of his betrayal of her pressed even more heavily on his heart. "I wish… I wish this all could have been different. I wish that so much."
Max pulled Liz into a kiss, savoring her sweet essence one last time.
"I guess that this is goodbye." Liz felt her heart breaking, knowing that soon he would be gone forever. He would go home and be with his wife and child, and suddenly Liz had to know. "Just tell me one thing. Do you love her?"
Max winced. It sounded awful to admit even to Liz that he didn't love Tess when he had created a child with her. He did love her in a way but not the way she wanted and not the way he knew that he should. He loved Tess as a friend, almost as a sister, but he loved Liz with a soul-searing passion he knew would never end. But he couldn't tell Liz now, especially when he was leaving to be with Tess.
He smiled sadly and settled for a few simple words, "Not like I love you."
He watched as Liz walked to the door, and she turned back to him for just a moment before disappearing inside. It was the last time he would ever see her and it was all his own fault. The tears he had been keeping at bay suddenly burst from him and he collapsed against the steering wheel, mourning the loss of everything that could have been.
(The Valenti House)
Max walked into Tess' room, "Let's go."
Tess looked at him. She’d been having doubts all day, wondering if Lonni was right. Would she be with Max once they reached Antar or would Khivar have him killed? Maybe Alex had been right. Maybe if she just told Max what Lonni and Rath had forced her to do, he would understand. Tess stood up slowly, "Max, are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes," Max said too quickly.
Tess wasn't sure if it was Max talking, or if his answer was the result of her mind warp, but he didn’t sound convinced either way. "Right," she said.
Max felt more unsure of himself than he ever had, but he didn't have another choice. The baby would die if they stayed on Earth, and he kissed Tess to reassure her of his commitment to her and their child.
As Max's lips met hers, Tess received one of the only flashes she had ever gotten from him. At first, she was happy that Max was finally lowering his defenses toward her, but then she recognized the content of the images. Max had been kissing Liz, declaring his love for her, just a short while before.
"You kissed Liz!" Tess blurted out, instantly furious. How dare Max treat her like that! She was his wife and was carrying his child, but he had gone to Liz anyway. Suddenly Tess’ doubts about returning home evaporated. When they got home, she would make sure Max never even looked at another woman and she would wipe every memory of Liz from his mind.
"Don't worry," she said, "you won't remember her where we're going."
(In the desert – outside Roswell, NM)
Jim arrived to meet Max, Michael, Tess and Isabel where Max had specified. Max had decided they should get rid of the Jeep, so there would be nothing for their parents to trace. But with everything else, they hadn't had time to sell it, so they decided to simply destroy it.
Max approached Jim and nodded toward the Jeep, "After we do this, we'll walk to the pod chamber. It isn't far and it will give you time to get somewhere that you can be seen when we take off."
"Do you know what will happen?" Jim asked.
Max shook his head, "No, but the last thing you need is to be MIA when there is another UFO sighting."
Jim nodded and then helped them secure the cans of gas inside the Jeep that would feed the explosion.
(Episode - Departure)
(Saturday, May 19th, 2001)
(The Valenti House)
Maria, Liz and Kyle climbed into the Jetta and headed toward the highway, desperate to get to the pod chamber and the Granolith before Max, Michael and Isabel left.
Liz had been to the pod chamber once before, but that was the day Max and Isabel had gotten the message from their mother. She had not paid attention to where they were going on the way there because she and Max had been too engrossed in one another. And after she’d heard the message and left Max, her grief had consumed her, and the drive home was just a blur.
"I can't remember exactly where the pod chamber is," Liz admitted. "Do you remember, Maria?"
Maria was incredulous, "Me?" She shook her head. "I get lost just driving across town."
"Okay, wait a minute," Kyle said. "Neither one of you can remember how to get there?"
"What are we going to do?" asked Maria. "We can't let Tess get away."
"She won't," Liz promised. "We'll find it somehow. I know the general area."
"What about landmarks?" asked Kyle.
"Yeah," Liz nodded, "it's on what used to be the Pohlman ranch, you know the crash site, and there is an old radio tower nearby."
Kyle nodded, "I know where that is. My Grandpa used to take me there sometimes when I was a kid. There's a dirt road just past mile marker twenty-eight that heads out into the desert to the tower."
Maria was practically jumping out of her skin, "Well let's go!"
"I still can't believe this is happening," Liz said. "It's all like a bad dream."
"So why are they going home?" Maria asked. "Michael and I didn't really discuss it."
Kyle kept silent hoping he wouldn't have to break the news of Tess' pregnancy to Liz but after a moment Liz answered. "Tess is pregnant."
"What?" Maria asked incredulously. "Who did that little tramp jump into bed with..." she trailed off. "Oh! You don't mean Tess and Max?"
Liz nodded. "Apparently the b-baby can't survive on Earth so they're going back."
"Oh Liz," Maria said sadly, "I'm so sorry."
Liz nodded but said nothing as the tears started to gather in her eyes, and she turned to look out the window.
They continued in silence, but after a few minutes Liz saw their landmark. "There's the mile marker. Kyle, how much further?"
"It's just up ahead," Kyle assured her.
Tess smiled as Max waved his hand over the control to open the pod chamber door. She was minutes away from getting everything she had ever wanted.
The Jetta pulled onto the dirt road and headed into the desert. Liz had never felt so anxious in her life. Max, Michael and Isabel might be leaving at any time, on their way back home with Alex's murderer.
Suddenly she saw the rock formation, "That's it."
The Jetta skidded to a halt at the base of the rocks and the three of them raced up the path. Liz stopped at the solid rock face, even though it was closed she recognized the door. "Wait it's right here," she called to Maria and Kyle. She pounded on the hard surface, yelling, "Hey guys open up."
Kyle and Maria joined her, "Open up!"
(The Pod Chamber)
Michael looked at the Granolith and then at the people before him and he suddenly realized he didn't want to go. Max and Isabel had been his family for so long but he had another home now. A home that called to him more than a planet he didn't even remember, across the galaxy. Maybe that was why he had never pursued the memory retrieval with Tess because subconsciously he didn't want to remember. He belonged here on Earth with Maria. "Max, I can't go," he said, barely believing his own words. "Ever since we came out of the pods, I've been on some quest to figure out where I belong. I finally found home. The weird thing is, it's here, it's on Earth."
Max smiled, "You of all people."
Tess suddenly realized that Michael meant to stay on Earth and she almost panicked. What would happen if she showed up without Michael? Then she calmed down. Nothing would happen. She doubted Nicholas or Khivar cared what happened to Michael. Then she saw Max turn to Isabel.
"I would understand..." he started.
Tess started to panic again. Michael didn't matter but Isabel definitely did. Khivar wanted her back. Tess didn't know what to do but she had to act fast. She had used her powers so much lately that she was exhausted, and she didn’t know if she had the strength for an additional mind warp.
Isabel smiled at Max, "What you said before, you're my home too."
Tess sighed with relief and stepped forward before they could change their minds. "Well, whoever is coming, we have to go. Now."
Michael couldn't stay in the chamber with the others, he couldn't bear to see them leave. He passed his hand over the door mechanism and the door slid open, and suddenly Maria was before him.
"Tess killed Alex!" she blurted out.
"What?" Michael asked.
Michael turned, and followed closely by Liz, Maria, and Kyle, rushed through the pod chamber and into the Granolith room
As she entered, Liz saw Max reaching for a large object she assumed was the Granolith. "Max, stop!" she yelled.
He drew his hand back as if he had been burned and turned toward her and she continued, "It was Tess. Tess killed Alex. She mind warped Alex and sent him to Las Cruces to decode the book, but he broke out of the mind warp and she killed him."
"It's true," Kyle said shakily, backing up Liz. "I was there. I witnessed it."
Max was stunned, "Why didn't you ever say anything?"
"Because she mind warped me," Kyle said. He turned to Tess, his pent up feelings pouring out, "You lived in my home, you were like my sister!"
Max turned to Tess and it was as if he saw her for the first time. She appeared the same physically but she was suddenly different somehow. He couldn't quite put his finger on the difference but it was there. It was as if he had suddenly seen Tess' true face and he was repulsed by her. She was a murderer. "How long?" he asked Michael over his shoulder.
"About three minutes," Michael said.
"Everyone out!" Max ordered.
"Max..." Michael started to protest, but Max cut him off.
"Now!" he ordered. He waited until the others left, not wanting them to witness what he had to do. He was the King and Tess was his responsibility. "Did you kill Alex?" he ground out.
Tess was so exhausted that she knew she probably only had one chance to save herself. There was no point in lying since Kyle and Liz had already revealed the whole thing. "I didn't want to. I wish I hadn't, but I did."
"Why?" Max asked.
"Look Max," she said, trying to distract him, "the, the clock's ticking, we don't really have time..."
"Tell me why!" Max shouted.
Tess talked, trying to buy herself some time. Max was so angry, she was afraid of what he might do if she refused. "He would have told you what I did and I couldn't let that happen."
"So you just, you just killed him?" Max asked incredulously.
"I didn't mean to," she explained. "His brain was just so weakened by the mind warp, and..." She trailed off and refocused, hoping she still had enough power to convince him. "Look, none of this matters now." She started to build her power for a mind warp.
"Life matters Tess," Max spat at her. "My life, your life, his..."
"What matters is getting home," Tess cut him off angrily, "but you could never understand that could you?" She could feel Max's power building, crackling around him, and knew she would never be able to force him to come with her. He was too powerful and she had lost all influence over him. She lashed out at the one person she saw as the cause of all her problems. "I might have been able to teach you, but that stupid bitch had you wrapped around her..."
"Don't you ever call her that!" Max shouted.
"See!" Tess said. "Look how fast you run to her defense! Why couldn't you ever feel that about me? I'm your wife Max!" She used the argument she knew would hurt him the most because it would remind him of her importance, "I'm carrying your child!"
"This was all some kind of plan to get pregnant and go home, wasn't it?" Max asked, horrified by his sudden realization. Maybe the baby wasn't even sick. Maybe Tess had concocted the whole thing to force them to go home. He couldn't believe she wanted to return so badly. "Home to what, Tess? To Khivar? To our enemies?"
"They're not my enemies, Max," Tess told him haughtily, trying to make him understand.
Max recoiled as if she had struck him. He couldn't believe she would betray all of them so calculatingly. "You made a deal with them, with Khivar."
Tess knew she had pushed Max too far. He looked as if he were going to kill her. She couldn't reveal Lonni and Rath's part in the plan or they would tell Max the truth about her past, so she placed the blame on the first person she thought of. "No, Nasedo made a deal, forty years ago."
"What was the deal?" Max asked. "Tell me!"
The lie was easy to continue, she simply based it on the truth, "To return home with your child, and deliver the three of you to Khivar."
"And what would happen to us once you delivered us?" he asked angrily.
Tess remained silent. She had asked Lonni the same thing. Lonni had assured her over and over, that Max would not be harmed after he stepped down from the throne, but Tess wasn't sure she believed Lonni. But what other choice had she been given, she asked herself? She'd had to believe Lonni, because Lonni had offered her the only chance to get what she wanted. But now it was all falling apart.
"How did I ever fall in love with someone like you?" Max spat at Tess. "How could I ever marry you?"
Tess was suddenly furious. How dare Max deny their love. "You were different! You were a King! Now you're just a boy," she finished disdainfully.
Max was so angry that he could have wrung the life out of her, but he tried to remain calm. Tess had coldly, calculatingly used Alex and then killed him when he threatened to expose her. She deserved to die for what she had done, but no court on Earth would convict her, so it was his responsibility to deliver justice.
Tess watched as Max raised his hand toward her and she knew he meant to kill her. For a moment, she was desperately afraid that Max would do it but then the solution suddenly occurred to her. She hadn't failed after all. She had the perfect leverage over Max to ensure it wasn't over between them. Max would come after her, he would never stop searching for her. She smiled and triumphantly spoke the words guaranteed to make Max back off. "You kill me, Max, you kill our son."
Max hesitated and then slowly lowered his hand. Tess was right. No matter what she had done, their son was innocent and he couldn't kill him. If he forced Tess to stay on Earth the baby could die. If there was a way he could take his son from her he would, but he couldn't take the chance that the baby was really sick. "Go," he told her reluctantly. "This isn't over, Tess."
Tess reached out to the Granolith, not wanting to leave Max, but knowing it was the only course available to her now. She had backed herself into a corner and needed some time to regroup before she confronted him again. But as much as she knew she had to go, she was afraid of what would happen when she arrived without the others.
Max watched as Tess touched the surface of the Granolith and was suddenly transported inside. He didn't want to let her leave with his son, but there was no other choice. There was no way to stop the Granolith and it was the one chance he had to send his son to Antar where he could survive. He watched as long as he could, fearing for his son, but then the chamber started to collapse and he was forced to run.
Isabel was waiting for Max just outside, not knowing what he intended to do, and she cried out in relief when she finally saw him, "MAX!
"Quick, go," Max said as he turned her away from the pod chamber. The others were standing near the door and he yelled to them, "Let's go!"
Max grabbed Liz's hand and led her down the slope to the relative safety of the rocks below. He pulled her into his arms as the rock formation started to disintegrate.
The six of them watched as the pod chamber was destroyed, and the ship containing the Granolith and Tess shot into the air and out of sight.
Max turned back to Liz who was still shaking in the circle of his arms. Once again he had her to thank for saving them, but he just didn't have the words. "I've been really wrong about a lot. But I was right about one thing, to get you into my life, to be around you, to love you."
Liz gazed up at Max. She felt detached, as if she were in shock because of the enormous events of the last few days. Max's words had been an apology of sorts but there was still so much that had been said and done. But Liz released a sigh and pushed the thoughts to the back of her mind. She had been dreaming of being with Max for months and she let him pull her to him and laid her head on his chest, savoring the moment.
Hugging Liz had been instinctive but Max knew there was still a lot they had to work through including the fact that he had created a son with Tess. And after a few precious moments of holding Liz, he reluctantly released her and turned away. He and Liz needed to talk but this wasn't the time, and after everything that had happened he wondered if she would even consider giving him another chance.
All of the events of the past year flashed through Max's head, Tess' every action taking on a new, sinister meaning. And then he focused on the night at the observatory. He had thought it had been spontaneous, but obviously Tess had planned it all along.
Isabel's voice interrupted his thoughts, "What happens now, Max?"
Max didn't even have to think, he answered automatically, "I have to save my son."
Max's words ripped through Liz like a knife, slashing through the numbness that had protectively settled over her. After everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours, she had attempted to push that bit of information to the back of her mind, but now it came rushing forward again. Max had slept with Tess. Liz had known they were growing closer but she had never suspected they would move ahead so quickly, and now Tess was carrying Max's son.
Liz suddenly felt sick. Everything had turned out so badly, Tess had betrayed them and taken Max's son, and Alex was dead. But this was how it was supposed to be, wasn't it? The other Max had been convinced Max had to be with Tess to save the world, but Tess had left again and this time she had taken Max's son and the Granolith to the enemy.
For several minutes, no one moved and then Max turned to look at everyone. "Tess said some things when we were alone." He paused, still having a hard time believing the lengths she had been willing to go. "She said that Nasedo made a deal with Khivar to get her pregnant with my child and hand the three of us over to him."
"She was your wife," Isabel hissed. "How could she betray you like that? Betray all of us?"
"She intimated it was because I didn't love her like she wanted me to," Max said with a shrug. "But I think she would have turned us over anyway," Max glanced at Liz and then turned away, "even though she’s carrying my son."
Max's words sent a slow, freezing pain into Liz's heart. He may not have loved Tess, he had admitted that much to her, but the child would always bind them together.
Liz knew Max had loved her, still loved her, but her actions had driven him to Tess just as she had hoped and feared they would. She had hoped against hope that Max would remain faithful to her, somehow knowing she was only pushing him away for his own good, but she had done her job too well. Max had lost faith in them, in their love, and he had gone to Tess.
Liz stared at Max's profile. Now that Tess was gone, the Royal Four were no longer together. Liz wondered if the older version of Max who had come back in time, could have guessed at the future they had created together. Alex was dead and Tess had betrayed them. The world was still doomed. Maybe it was destiny. No matter what they did they were destined to lose to Khivar.
Liz stood motionless, as the others started toward the car, and she struggled to push the negative thoughts aside. She had to believe there was a chance for them. If they worked together, if they were smart, they had to have a chance. They had an advantage over the other Max and Liz who had lost their war with Khivar, because they had been given a glimpse of the future, she had. And it was time to tell the others the truth.
"Wait," Liz called.
The faces of her five friends turned to her with questioning eyes.
"What it Liz?" Max asked, the concern evident in his tone.
"There's something I have to tell you," Liz said with a sigh.
"Look Liz," Michael started impatiently, "we're all tired..."
"And we need to get to the Sheriff before he gives our parents the tape," Isabel interrupted.
"Okay," Liz conceded, "but this is important, maybe more important than anything else..." she stopped as Maria detached herself from Michael and came rushing forward.
"Liz!" Maria yelled, as she ran to join her friend. She grabbed Liz's arm and pulled her a short distance away, whispering fiercely, "You're going to tell them, aren’t you? Are you sure that's such a good idea? I mean look what happened here today."
Liz shook her head. "I don't know what to do," she said, as tears gathered in her eyes and started to roll down her face. "I only know that because of what the other Max and I did, Alex is dead and Tess betrayed us. Now Tess is gone again, and they are still short one member of the Royal Four and that is what Max said killed us all. That is the reason I pushed Max to be with Tess, so she would stay." Liz took a breath and pressed to continue, her voice cracking under the emotion, "Max said they are stronger together."
Maria pulled Liz into an embrace, realizing for the first time the strain her friend had been under for months. Liz had never really talked to her about what she and the other Max had done, and Maria figured it was for the best, but now she understood that Liz had been in pain every moment of every day since then. "I'm sorry Liz. I didn't know."
Liz let Maria hold her for a moment and then gently pulled away and wiped the tears from her face. "I don't know what’s right but we have to do something. At least this way they will be as prepared as they can be."
"Liz?" Max asked softly, his voice drawing her attention. "What is it you want to tell us?"
Liz looked at the expectant faces before her, each of them dear to her in their own way. How would they react when she told them the secret she had been keeping for so long? "This might take a while," she started. "Maybe we should meet later. We don't want to worry your parents and everyone is tired."
"And hungry," Kyle interjected.
Liz smiled. Trust Kyle to lighten the mood.
Max studied Liz's face for any sign of what she was thinking. He knew she had been keeping secrets from him for a long time and if she was ready to talk, he didn't want to give her a chance to change her mind. Without taking his eyes off of Liz he spoke, "Isabel, call Valenti and tell him we didn't leave. Then I think we should hear what Liz has to say."
Liz shied away from the intense look in Max's eyes, turning to pace back and forth, wringing her hands, searching for the words to explain what she had done. The others took seats on the rocks and she was aware of their eyes following her as she walked. And after a too-short moment, Isabel returned to them and Liz knew the time had come.
Song Playing: Meant to Live by Switchfoot
Ready or not, she turned toward them, took a deep breath and dived right in. "I had a visitor last October," she began. "He told me a lot of things, but he said the most important thing was that no one knew he had been here."
Michael leaped up and rushed toward Liz, stopping inches from her face. "You had a visitor?" he spat furiously. "What kind of visitor? Who was it? What did you tell him?" He turned to the others, "We trusted her and she just tells anyone?"
Max and Maria both jumped to their feet. Max rushed toward Liz but Maria reached them first and pushed Michael away from Liz, attacking him with pounding fists to his chest. "Don't you dare say anything bad about Liz!" Maria shouted in Michael's face. "She sacrificed everything for you!"
Michael grabbed Maria's wrists, holding her furiously wriggling body just out of contact with his, "What are you talking about?"
"I think she'll explain if you let her," Max said softly.
But Michael wasn't ready to let go that easily. "Somebody comes to her and she just believes them? It could have been the FBI, another shape shifter, a skin. Who is she sharing our secrets with?"
Liz shook her head, "Michael, I'm not stupid. I didn't believe him at first but he proved to me who he was. He was only here to help."
"Was it that Larek guy?" Kyle asked.
"No," Liz said softly, looking into the golden eyes of her beloved, remembering the other who had sacrificed his life to save theirs. "It was Max."
"Max?" Kyle asked, more confused than ever. He looked to Max, who shook his head with a shrug, and seeing that Max couldn't explain, Kyle turned back to Liz. "Maybe you had better start from the beginning."
Liz continued. "It was the night you came to my house with the Mariachi band," she said to Max, and then turned to encompass the others in her gaze. "A man who looked like Max came to my window just a few moments before this Max arrived with the band. At first I didn't believe him when he told me who he was, but he told me several things just before they happened."
She repeated the words that had helped to convince her, "Even if he was a shape shifter he couldn't know the future." Liz paused to let the information sink in.
Max was the first to grasp the implications. "Are you saying he was me? From the future?"
"How is that possible?" Isabel gasped.
"Max, the other Max, told me that with the help of a friend named Serena, we were able to modify the Granolith to tear a hole in time-space, and viola instant time machine."
Max pounced on the information. "That is what you meant when you warned me about the Granolith." He repeated her words from that awful night when he had left for New York, months ago, "The Granolith is powerful and it could be dangerous in the wrong hands."
Liz smiled sadly, remembering the same night. "You wouldn't believe me and I couldn't tell you the truth."
Max took her hands in his. "I did remember and I did believe you, even though I didn't know why. It just felt true."
Michael spoke, "I hate to interrupt you two but can we get back to the story. Why would Max come back? Just to warn you about the Granolith?"
Liz shook her head. "He told me things that had happened in his future." She shuddered remembering his words, "He said our enemies had taken over everyone, the Earth, but he and I could stop it from happening." She paused, remembering the feeling of horror that had overcome her because of Max's revelation. "There was one thing that had happened to weaken us as a group and if we could prevent it maybe we had a chance to save the world."
Liz took a breath and Max squeezed her hand in support. "He said that Max and I had gotten together and it drove Tess away. And without Tess you weren't strong enough to defeat Khivar."
Max felt his eyes fill with tears, remembering the night Liz had set him up with Tess. "So you tried to get me and Tess together that night outside the Crashdown. But I saw you in Whitaker's office."
"And you kissed me," Liz whispered, and squeezed her eyes shut as she remembered the sweetness and power in that kiss. Tears rolled down her face and she opened her eyes and continued, "You kept coming back to me. So I went to your room and told you I didn't want to die for you."
"You begged me to stop but I still wouldn't," Max remembered, "so you... had to go to Kyle."
"I didn't want to do it, Max. I fought with him, the other Max," Liz explained. "How could our being together doom the entire world? How could two people have that much power?" She shook her head, "I thought we could find another way. I thought it would be enough for me to stay away from you, but the other Max told me that Isabel and Michael had been killed in his time. I couldn't let my selfish wants destroy us all."
She paused, wiping the gathering tears from her eyes and then continued, "Max was convinced the only way to save us all was for you to be with Tess, and he knew you would never consider being with her if you were still in love with me. So even though it nearly killed me I did it. I pretended to sleep with Kyle to turn you away from me."
"Liz," Max choked with emotion, and pulled her into his arms. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. She had told him last night that she had never slept with Kyle, and he had assumed she had pushed him away to make him follow his destiny, but he had never suspected the burden she had borne alone, all of those months. She had carried the weight of two worlds on her small shoulders. Max couldn't imagine what her actions had cost her and he couldn't believe her strength. She had endured his lack of faith and cruelty and then she had been forced to watch as he grew closer to Tess. He didn't have the words to express his gratitude and sorrow for what she had been through. "I'm so sorry for everything," he whispered, as tears ran down his face.
Liz hugged him tighter and shook her head, "No Max, don't be sorry. Even knowing what I do now, I would do it all again. I did it because you asked me. I did it for you."
Michael approached Max and Liz as they embraced one another. "Um, Liz, I'm sorry for those things I said and for thinking, even for a moment, you would betray us. I should have known better. It was just this whole thing with Tess and then when you..." he let his sentence trail off with a shake of his head. "You've been a great friend to all of us," he looked down and scuffed the toe of his shoe in the dirt, "even when we didn't deserve it."
Isabel broke in, "But the other Max couldn't have known about Tess and Nasedo's betrayal or he wouldn't have wanted her to stay."
"No," Liz said, breaking from her embrace with Max. "I know he didn't. He thought Tess was necessary for you to win the war."
"But she's gone," Isabel said woodenly, "again."
"That's why I had to tell you," Liz explained. "I wanted you to have the whole story so we can stop it from happening again and all of this suffering won't be for nothing."
Isabel had a haunted look in her eyes. "What happened to Alex, in the other time?"
Liz hung her head, fresh tears pricking her eyes. When she spoke it was with a strained voice, "He was alive. The other Max told me that we eloped when we were nineteen and afterward all of you and Alex came to help us celebrate." She paused and took a deep breath, "That's why I couldn't let go of his death. I knew it wasn't suicide because he was alive in the other time, and that meant Alex died this time because of something I changed." Liz raised her head to look Isabel in the eyes and her voice was just a whisper, "I killed him."
Tears were running down Isabel's face but she brushed them angrily away. "No!" she cried. "No Liz, you saved him, you saved us all. Tess killed him. It was her choice, her fault."
"But if I had done things differently..." Liz started, only to be stopped by Max.
"Liz you did what you had to do to save us all," he said softly, wondering if he could have given her up, even to save the world. "I don't know if I could have been that strong in your place."
"But you were," Liz assured him. "What do you think happened to the other Max? He knew what would happen before he came here. When we changed the time line he disappeared, dissolved into nothing like he never existed."
"Liz," Michael said softly, "you should have told us when you were investigating Alex's death. If we would have known..." he trailed off, trying to imagine if he would have believed her.
"When should I have told you Michael?" Liz asked softly. "I didn't know what Tess was doing. I thought she had to be with Max. If I told you some of it, I would have had to tell you all of it and risked history turning out the same way. I didn't think I would ever tell any of you, I thought it would be safer that way."
"But you told us now," Isabel realized, "because without Tess you are afraid it will happen again."
Liz nodded. "I don't know what will happen, I don't know anything, its a different world," she said, echoing the words the other Max had used, "but I think we should gather all of the information and resources we can to prepare."
Max nodded agreement, "She's right. We need to prepare for the worst. With Tess gone and the power of the Granolith in Khivar's hands..." he trailed off. What had he done? He had sent his son and the Granolith to their enemy, but once the countdown had started it couldn't have been stopped. He'd had no choice. Or had he? He looked at Liz and could see the same questions in her eyes. "Tess must have set you up to find the translation. She engineered the whole thing, leading you from clue to clue to find the book. But what if the translation she gave us wasn't the real one?"
"I wondered the same thing," Liz said with a nod. "I think we should go back to Las Cruces University and get Don's help to run the decryption program to find out what the book really said."
"Or maybe we should just go to Brody and talk to Larek," Maria suggested.
"Larek," Liz said, "I should have thought of him before. Surely he can read the book."
Michael, Isabel and Max all spoke at the same time, "No!"
Liz and Maria looked at them. "Why not?"
Michael was shaking his head furiously and Max spoke, "We can't go to Brody. It's too dangerous, especially after what happened."
"But that wasn't his fault," Maria declared, defending her friend.
"No," Isabel said adamantly, "we can't risk hurting him."
Kyle stepped forward. "Wait a minute. You get my father fired for helping you but you won't even talk to Brody. What the hell?"
"Yeah Max," Liz said, her confusion evident in her knotted brow, "Larek would be a great source of information. He could tell you what is happening on your planet; if Tess arrived, and what is happening to your s-son." She took Max's arm. "Didn't you contact Larek when you found out the baby was sick? Ask him how to get home?"
"No," Max said simply.
Liz couldn't understand their hesitation. "Max we need to know what’s going on and Brody may be our only source. We have to risk it."
"No," Max snarled, "we're not going to Brody." He snatched his arm from Liz, and the abrupt action caused her to fall to the ground.
She looked up at him, stunned by his actions.
Immediately Max was on his knees before her. "I'm so sorry. I don't know why I did that. Are you hurt?"
"Max, what's wrong?" Liz asked. "Why are you so against seeing him?"
Max pressed he hands to his head, "I... I don't... I, I don't know. I just know it would be bad."
Liz looked at Michael and Isabel. "And what about you two? Why don't you want to see Brody?"
"We shouldn't bother him," Isabel said in a soft voice. "We might hurt him again."
Michael continued to shake his head silently.
Liz shared a look with Maria and Kyle and stood with Max's help. "I think Tess has mind warped all of you. For some reason she didn't want you to go to Brody, so she made you think it was dangerous to confront him. Probably because she didn't want to risk that you would try and get his help."
Michael was instantly indignant, "Tess did not mind warp me. I would know..."
Kyle cut him off with a smile, "Welcome to the club, Guerin."
After Liz's revelations, it seemed more important than ever that they work together. They were the only ones who knew the world was in danger and they were the only ones capable of saving it.
With Liz's help, they worked to clear the compulsion about Brody from their minds; Max, Michael and Isabel each discovering the memory of Tess mind warping them to stay away from him.
Max knew Brody would be at the UFO Museum that morning and they all agreed to meet there just after it opened. Isabel, Michael and Maria squeezed into the Jetta while Max and Liz volunteered to wait for the second trip.
"You should report the Jeep stolen right away," suggested Kyle. "It'll look suspicious if you don't."
"Thanks Kyle," Max said with a glance toward Liz, "Thanks for everything."
Kyle smiled. His hostility toward Max had dissolved instantly when he had heard Liz's story. "I told you I would take care of her."
Max nodded and Kyle climbed into the car with the others and they drove away.
Song Playing: Breathe You In by Stabbing Westward
As the car disappeared in the distance, Liz was suddenly nervous to be alone with Max. She was hyper-aware of him and knew without looking that he had turned toward her.
"Why Liz?” Max asked softly. “Why did he, did I, choose that particular time to change the course of history? I mean why not go back before..." he let his voice trail off. He was going to say before they had met, but he knew why his older self had not chosen that time. If he had gone back that far, he wouldn't have been in the Crashdown the day Liz was shot.
Liz misinterpreted Max's hesitation. "He never said specifically why they choose that day but I've had months to consider their motives. I believe he waited until that specific time because there were certain things he wanted us to discover. We found the healing stones, the communication orbs, Nasedo and Tess. We stopped Pierce and the Special Unit."
She took a breath, "If I hadn't worked for Whitaker maybe we wouldn't have found out she was a skin and stopped her. Maybe Michael wouldn't have met Hal and learned about the other pods. Those events would have happened in the other Max's time too and I think he didn't want to risk changing them. They were too important."
Liz sat down on a rocky outcropping and wrapped her arms around her knees, "As for the specific thing he wanted to stop," she paused, risking a look at Max, "he told me that on the night of the Gomez concert our relationship changed."
"Changed how?" Max asked.
"You should know, Mr. condom in his pocket," Liz tried for humor but felt a bitter laugh rise up in her throat and pushed it down, trying not to think of another time when he obviously had not used a condom.
Max blushed as he sat down beside her, "You mean, we made love."
Liz nodded, "That's what he said." She looked into Max's face and saw the same pain that she had felt all of the long months. "He told me after that, we were never separated again."
"And we eloped," Max prompted, wanting her to continue.
"In Vegas, at the Elvis chapel."
Max gasped, "The vision I had in Vegas."
Liz nodded, "I don't know how you saw it, but it was real. Maybe somehow the other Max brought the memory back with him, or maybe because it was the only thing I was thinking about the whole time we were there."
"And you tried to tell me while we were dancing," he suddenly realized. "If only I had let you finish."
"I don't know if I would have told you," Liz admitted. "I wanted to so badly. When we were dancing everything seemed so perfect, as if none of the awful things had happened. And I thought it might be okay to tell you because it seemed like Tess and Kyle were getting close. I thought it could be our second chance."
"But I didn't give you the chance,” Max said. “I thought you were going to tell me I was getting too close to you again and you were going to push me away. I just couldn't bear to hear you say the words."
Liz gave him a smile that was more of a grimace, "Afterwards I was glad my moment of weakness hadn't doomed the planet."
"Liz," Max said stroking her hair, "I am sorry for so many things."
"Max you don't have to..." Liz started.
"No," he interrupted, "I need to tell you."
Liz remained silent and he continued, "I was so hurt when I saw you in bed with Kyle. Even though we weren't together I knew we belonged together and I knew you thought so too. The connection we have is so strong and we love each other so much, I was just waiting until you came back to me. I thought we both knew it was only a matter of time until we were together again. So when I thought you slept with Kyle, it was a betrayal of everything we shared. I felt torn, broken, like a piece of me had died." He practically choked on the words, "And that was what you felt when I told you I was with Tess."
Liz nodded. "I thought you would know I was doing it for you, and even though intellectually I knew you might turn to her, the reality of it never really penetrated into my heart. I was devastated when you told me she had helped you to remember your past, because I thought you would remember how much you loved her. I felt as if I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Any day you would come to me and say, 'oh guess what, I remember Tess and she is the love of my life.' I just couldn't handle it, so at the prom I pushed you away first. And then when I saw you kissing her, it was as if my worst nightmare had come true. Or so I thought."
Max hung his head, deeply ashamed of his actions.
Liz took a deep breath. "Last night when you told me you had been with T-Tess, I felt like I would die. I knew I couldn't mean anything to you anymore if you had slept with her." Liz's voice dropped to a whisper, "You had really stopped loving me."
"No Liz," he denied instantly, "I never stopped loving you. But everything between us just seemed so impossible. We were fighting about everything, constantly at each other's throats and I felt so guilty about Alex's death."
He shook his head, "I know there’s no excuse. I overreacted when I found out you were investigating but I was so angry and hurt that I just lashed out. I could hear my words and see my actions but it was as if I were watching someone else do it. Inside I was horrified about what I was doing to you and Isabel, but I couldn't stop myself. You told me you were only trying to help us but I couldn't hear you, and I will never forgive myself for the way I treated you.”
Max sighed, “I am sorry for everything I did but one of the things I regret most, is telling you that we weren't friends anymore. I was desperate to stop you from leaving me and it was the only thing I could think of to make you stay.” He shook his head, “I think I went a little crazy for a while."
"I went a little crazy after Alex died too," Liz said. "I blamed myself, I blamed you, the other Max, all aliens. I don't mean that I thought you killed him, but Alex died because he was mixed up in this conspiracy with us. He died because of something I did, something I changed, and I felt so guilty. I couldn't let you or anyone else stop me from discovering the truth."
Liz's voice turned harsh as she remembered the events of that morning, "And when I found out it was Tess who murdered Alex, I could have killed her with my bare hands. She took everything from me, including my best friend. She won. She got you, she is carrying your child and still she betrayed you. And everything I did was for nothing."
"No Liz," Max said adamantly, taking her by the shoulders and turning her to look at him, "it wasn't for nothing. Don't let your sacrifice and Alex's death be for nothing. He sacrificed himself to save us all just like you did. If you hadn't investigated his death we wouldn't have discovered Tess' betrayal, and Isabel, Michael and I would be on Antar in the hands of our enemies." Max shook his head, "No Liz, it wasn't for nothing. You did it to save us and I won't let you blame yourself. Tess made her own decisions. Especially after Nasedo died, she didn't have to go through with the plan. She could have told us what was happening, asked for our help, but she chose not to."
Liz smiled weakly, "Thank you for saying that Max."
Max wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side. "It's just the truth," he said with a chaste kiss on her head.
He took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh scent of her hair for the first time in months. He had missed her so much and even the time he had spent with Tess, he had been thinking of Liz. But he couldn't help himself, he loved Liz.
He had been such a fool to think that Liz could have betrayed him. They had looked into each other's souls and he should have known she just wasn't capable of it. But he had lost faith and betrayed her, sleeping with Tess for all the wrong reasons. He had just been so hurt and confused.
Max closed his eyes with a sigh. He had been such a fool. Sitting here with Liz in his arms made everything so clear, as if he were waking up from a bad dream. This was where he belonged. He knew that Liz would probably never forgive him for what he had done, but he still felt they were meant to be together and he had to at least try.
Max took Liz's face gently in his hands, "Liz, after everything I have done, I know that I have no right to expect anything. But I never stopped loving you and hoping..." he trailed off. "Do you think we have a chance?"
Liz could hear the longing in Max's voice and saw it echoed in his eyes. A part of her was jumping for joy but there was another part that warned her to be cautious and take it slow. "I don’t know. I want to try again too, Max, but a lot has happened and I need some time."
Max had Maria drop him at the Sheriff's office to report the Jeep missing and then Sheriff Hansen offered him a ride home.
At his front door, Max waved to Hansen and entered the house. He was exhausted from the events of the last few days and desperately needed some sleep, but instead of going to his room, he went straight to Isabel's door and knocked softly.
"Come in," she called out after a moment, and he let himself in.
Isabel was sitting on her bed, looking at pictures of Alex and Max could see wet trails on her cheeks where she had quickly tried to wipe away any evidence of tears. He smiled sympathetically and sat down near her. The events of the last few weeks had not left any of them unscathed but Isabel's wounds were still raw and it was mostly his fault. "I wanted to come and apologize for the way I've been treating you..." he started, only to be cut off by Isabel.
"Max, its okay, really."
Max shook his head, "I know that we came to an understanding but I need to tell you how sorry I am. Hearing about the sacrifices Liz made, it just puts everything into perspective. I feel like such a jerk and I want try and explain."
Isabel nodded and he continued, "After Alex died, I think I needed to feel in control because it seemed like everything was spiraling into chaos around me. I was trying to protect all of you but it seemed that no matter what I did, it just got worse. You were keeping things from me about Vilondra. Michael told Courtney the location of the Granolith. I thought Liz had slept with Kyle but I still held out some hope that we might get back together, until the night of the prom. Liz told me I had to let her go, that she was suffocating with me. I thought everyone was turning against me."
He glanced at the photos on the bed. "Then Alex died and even with all of my powers I couldn't save him. I felt so guilty and so useless, but at the same time a part of me was denying the fact that he had been murdered. It was easier to think he had committed suicide and I felt guilty about that too. And when Liz started defying me by investigating, the rift opened between us and the humans, and I thought I was losing all of them."
"Everything seemed so hopeless. You and Liz are two of the most important people in the world to me and I could feel you both slipping away. So I kept tightening my hold on both of you but I was only pushing you farther away."
"The day I confronted you about college, I knew what I was doing was despicable but I couldn't stop myself, even though I hated myself for treating you that way. It was one of the worst days of my life." He shook his head, "I know there's no excuse but I just couldn't stand the thought of losing anyone else for any reason."
Isabel nodded, "I understand that now Max and you were right about one thing you said to me. I was trying to get away so desperately because everything here reminded me of Alex.” She shook her head, “We were both hurting Max, and we both did things we regret."
"And Tess," Max spat out the name with a twisted grimace. "It seemed like she was the only one there for me, the only one who supported me, but now I can see what she was really doing; manipulating me with soft urgings and whispered encouragements, telling me what I was doing was right, that I was justified. And all she was really doing was separating me from the rest of you so I would feel more lonely and turn to her." He shook his head, "I listened to her and my whole world came crashing down. I can't believe I was so stupid to believe in her."
"Tess fooled us all," Isabel said softly. "I'm just glad Liz was able to figure it out and stop us from going with her."
"Liz saved us, again." Max smiled sadly, "I feel like I need to spend the rest of my life apologizing to Liz for the way I treated her, for not believing in her."
"But you had a chance to talk it out, in the desert after we left," Isabel said.
"Yeah," Max agreed, "and she forgave me, but that is just another reason I don't feel worthy of her."
"Don't say that Max. I know Liz loves you and I'm sure it will work out between you. Sure, you made some mistakes but everyone does, you're not perfect. After all you're only..." Isabel trailed off when she realized what she was about to say.
"Human?" Max prompted. He shook his head and rose from the bed to look out the window, into the sky where Tess had disappeared just that morning. "You and Michael and I may be human, but my alien wife and child are out there somewhere. And I don't know if Liz can ever forgive me for that."
Michael, Maria, Isabel and Max emerged from the Jetta just as Kyle stopped his car in front of the UFO Museum. He glanced toward the Crashdown, and right on cue, Liz came out and jogged across the street to meet them.
Kyle was a little nervous about meeting Larek but he thought maybe the guy could give them some answers. "So what's the plan?" he asked as Liz reached them.
"I've got it covered," Isabel said.
The five of them followed Isabel into the Museum and straight into Brody's office. Without a word she placed her hand on his shoulder and sent a burst of energy into him. Her whole body jerked as she felt the contact with Larek.
Max pulled Isabel away from Brody, "Are you all right?"
She nodded, "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Max," Brody said. "What can I do for you?"
"Brody?" Max asked.
"No, it's Larek."
"Larek, we've got some big problems," Max started. "Tess and one of our protectors betrayed us to Khivar. Tess took the Granolith and is returning to Antar."
"Max, your protector is not capable of betraying you," Larek explained. "They are genetically coded for loyalty. It would be impossible for one to work against you."
The six of them looked at one another but Michael spoke first. "So Tess lied, big surprise."
Larek looked around the group, "Tess was the short, golden haired girl?"
Max nodded, "You knew her as Ava."
"No," Larek said, "the blonde girl Tess was not Ava."
"What are you talking about Larek?" asked Max incredulously. "Tess is Ava."
Larek shook his head, "She is not."
A whirlwind of thoughts flashed through Max's mind. This person who they had taken into their homes and hearts, who had killed Alex and betrayed them all, was not Ava. The woman who was carrying his child was not his wife?
"I know you have little memory of our planet," Larek continued, "but I don't know how you mistook her for Ava. On Antar her name was Chanya. She was Vilondra's closest friend."
"How do you know so certainly?" Max asked, horrified.
"I can see auras," Larek explained. "None of your auras have changed and neither has Chanya's." He motioned to Max, "I'm sure you don't remember, but I once told you that her aura is a very unique icy blue, like her eyes. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before or since. I noticed who she was when I met you in New York but I didn't say anything because I assumed you were trying to pass Chanya as your wife to keep Ava safe. I did wonder why Chanya had been sent to Earth. I thought only the four of you were sent but obviously I was wrong.”
"But if Tess isn't Ava," Isabel gasped, "what happened to Ava?"
A look of confusion passed over Larek's face. "You don't know? How can you not know?" he asked as he looked around the group. "She is Ava," Larek said, and he pointed to Liz.
AUTHOR’S NOTE - PART 2: I know the episode Departure ended with the gang standing outside the ruined pod chamber and my additions would have taken place in the new season. But I just love a cliff-hanger ending.
The End of Book 9
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