/ Language: English / Genre:sf / Series: Roswell’’

A New Beginning

Kevin Ryan

Facing an unknown futureAs Max, Michael, Isabel, Liz, Maria, and Kyle pile into their van and leave Roswell behind, they are each hoping for positive experiences – or at least something different from most of the events of the past three years. After all, their high school years were anything but typical – the whole alien experience has nearly cost them their lives, again and again. Still, they know that taking charge of their destinies and deciding to make a positive difference in the world has empowered them all. But it isn't long before Liz sees a vision of future destruction, and the group realizes by leaving Roswell they have changed history, and not necessarily for the better. When they end up in a town where young girls are disappearing, it quickly becomes clear that their lives beyond Roswell will be anything but easy…

Kevin Ryan

A New Beginning

(Roswell’’-05)

TV Series Placement: Post-Season 3 / Immediately following TV series finale

June 2003

Facing an unknown future

As Max, Michael, Isabel, Liz, Maria, and Kyle pile into their van and leave Roswell behind, they are each hoping for positive experiences – or at least something different from most of the events of the past three years. After all, their high school years were anything but typical – the whole alien experience has nearly cost them their lives, again and again. Still, they know that taking charge of their destinies and deciding to make a positive difference in the world has empowered them all.

But it isn't long before Liz sees a vision of future destruction, and the group realizes by leaving Roswell they have changed history, and not necessarily for the better. When they end up in a town where young girls are disappearing, it quickly becomes clear that their lives beyond Roswell will be anything but easy…

1

My name is Liz Parker, Liz wrote into her notebook. Then she paused and put down her pen. The notebook was new, which Liz thought was appropriate since she was starting a new phase of her life. From this point on, things will never be the same, she thought as the road swept past the van window.

Since she was eight, Liz had religiously kept a diary. However, in the last three years, the entries had gotten a lot more interesting.

Three years earlier she had been shot. Three years ear- lier she had died. Three years earlier Max had healed her and brought her back.

And yet those were just the first in a series of strange events that had happened since. They were not even the strangest things that had occurred.

Max. Aliens. The Skins. Losing her friend Alex. Then Max dying and coming back to her.

Strange things, yes. And many changes. Even now, she knew her body was changing. When Max had brought her back, he had changed something inside of her. Part of his alien self had touched Liz and made her like him… had made her part alien.

The word no longer meant what it used to for Liz. When she was a girl it meant monsters from space… monsters that weren't real.

Now it meant Max, Michael, and Isabel… people she knew and, in the case of Max, loved. Now alien meant Liz herself. When Max had healed her he had given her the gift of life. He had also given her powers that had lain dor- mant until a few months ago.

She now sometimes saw things before they happened. And she could occasionally move things with her mind. She had made a harmless schoolbook burst into flames.

The changes Max had started in her three years ago were not finished, Liz was sure. Would they be a gift? Or a curse? They were frightening. Of that much she was sure.

Turning her head, she looked at Max. He was concen- trating on driving. Like the others and like Liz herself, he was silent… lost in his own thoughts.

But he sensed Liz looking at him and shot her a glance, raising his eyebrows to ask a question that he did not have to speak out loud.

Anything wrong? his look said.

With a smile and a shake of her head, Liz responded just as silently and just as clearly.

Liz was no longer surprised at how often they didn't need to speak out loud to communicate or to know what the other was thinking. It wasn't an alien trick, though. She knew other couples who enjoyed the same kind of communication.

Turning her head, she saw her best friend, Maria, sitting in the van directly behind her. Maria gave Liz a thin smile. Next to her was Michael, who was looking intently out the window. In the seats behind them were Kyle and then Isabel, who was also staring out the window, looking lost… maybe more lost than any of them.

Liz understood. Isabel had given up a lot. Just a few hours ago, she had been a married woman looking for- ward to her life with Jesse.

Now, she was on the road… or was it on the run?… with Liz, Max, and the others.

Changes… for all of them.

Liz picked up her pen and started to write.

I thought things had changed three years ago, when I learned the truth about Max, Isabel, and Michael And while many things did change, my friends and I still went to school every day and went to sleep in our own beds most nights.

Even as our lives seemed to have changed completely, our world stayed almost unnaturally the same. I was still Liz Parker: good daughter, good student, and good girl.

I was going to do well in high school, win a science fair or two, and go to a good college: Northwestern. Then on to a good career. Now, on the night of my high school graduation, I am in a van… just going. Not even Max has a plan or a destination this time. Everything I thought might happen to me and every plan I ever made just disappeared.

Yes, this is the biggest change of our lives. This time, not only our perceptions will be different, but our whole world.

Liz. put down the pen. She took another glance at Max. He was alert. Liz herself, however, felt her eyes growing heavy. All the excitement she had felt earlier in the day had washed out of her.

As her eyes closed, she felt Max's eyes on her. No, everything hadn't changed. There is one thing I am still sure of, Liz thought as she fell asleep.

Max heard the change in Liz's breathing and knew she was asleep. The others were silent. He didn't have to turn around to see that his friends and sister were deep inside themselves.

He was particularly worried about Liz and Isabel. Of all of them, they had given up the most to follow him… No, Max stopped himself. To come with him on this… what was it? A road trip? An adventure? An escape? Maybe it was all of those. Maybe they wouldn't find out for a while yet. Max only hoped it lasted long enough for them to find out. He was still concerned that someone from the remains of the FBI's Special Unit was tracking them. It was unlikely, but unlikely was the story of their lives lately.

Or perhaps the Skins were onto them.

Again unlikely, but…

Max decided he would have to be content with the nearly empty road for now.

The only thing he was sure of was that he was not the leader of this expedition. He was not the King here.

Max had given up that role when he'd told the others what he was doing. He would not make the decision for the group, only for himself.

The others had all come on their own. Max was not leading them.

Yet, he knew that he was ultimately responsible for them. That he could not shake. He had sealed everyone's fate three years ago in the Crashdown Cafe when he had healed Liz. And again later that day when he'd refused to run, though Michael had insisted they do just that.

He had sensed that Liz could help them, and she did. So had Alex and he died for it. After that, Agent Pierce of the Special Unit had found them. Agent Pierce who had put Max into the White Room.

Agent Pierce, whom Michael had to kill in self-defense. Michael paid a high price for it. Though his friend refused to talk about it, Max knew that Michael was still paying that price.

Then there was Tess, her betrayal, and Max's own son whom Max had lost, then found again. Max had given him up finally, but at least now the boy had a chance at a nor- mal life.

All of that had happened because of Max's decision three years ago. Yet, even now he knew that not healing Liz had not been an option. Even then, even before they had become… close. Before they were together.

He could not have let her die. So he saved her and the whole group of them paid for his single act. Alex paid with his life.

Isabel paid with the end of her short marriage to Jesse and her only chance at a normal life.

Liz paid in tears. Way too many of them. She paid in other ways, too, deeper and more important ones.

But no more, Max vowed. If he accomplished nothing else with the rest of his life, he would keep her safe and do his best to make her happy for as long as she would have him.

Turning to Michael, Max whispered, breaking the silence that had lasted almost an hour. "You were right, you know," he said.

"What?" Michael asked.

"Three years ago, after Liz was shot… you were right," Max said.

Max saw his friend looking at him with raised eye- brows. "That's funny, Maxwell, I was just thinking that I was wrong. It you had listened to me, Liz would have died.”

"No," Max said, shaking his head gently. "I was right about that, but we should have done this that night. We should have run.”

For a moment, Michael was silent, and Max saw every- thing he needed to see in his best friend's eyes. Michael didn't gloat, though.

Michael made a small grin and said, "Does this mean that from now on you'll listen to me?”

Max found himself returning the grin. "I always lis- tened.”

"And then did whatever the hell you wanted," Michael added. "What's the plan now?”

"Plan? You're asking the wrong guy. I'm just the driver," Max replied.

Michael seemed surprised. Then he nodded.

He knows I'm serious, Max thought. And I am. More seri- ous than I have ever been.

Michael smiled again. "Okay, Jeeves, tell me when we get there." He leaned back in his seat.

Max saw something he almost couldn't identify on his best friend's face. A smile. Not a grin, but a smile… an actual, full-blown smile.

It took Max a moment to figure out what was wrong with that smile. He realized there were two things. First, Michael smiling at all was unusual. The second was that the smile looked almost… relaxed.

In the last three years… and even the fifteen before that… Max could rarely remember seeing Michael relaxed.

Something had changed in Michael, Max knew. He just wasn't sure what it was yet.

Well, I've got plenty oj time to figure it out, Max thought.

It took a moment for him to realize how important that notion was. In the past, he had jumped on every mystery or question as if his life and the lives of the others had depended on it. Quite often their lives had depended on those answers. Depended on Max acting quickly. On doing the right thing, making the right move.

Not anymore.

Now they had time.

Max and Liz had time to sort themselves out. Max had time to figure out what was happening with Michael. Isabel had time to come to terms with losing Jesse.

Time and open road.

Max smiled to himself and realized that his own smile was relaxed as well.

2

It took a moment for Liz to realize where she was. She looked around as the room seemed to take form, to solidify.

She was standing alone in the band room. Waiting. For Max.

She was excited. Nervous but excited.

Max was going to meet her. It was a secret meeting, and the thought thrilled her for a second. Guilt rose up. Kyle couldn't know. He wouldn't understand.

She didn't understand yet, herself, but she was sure that Max would explain it to her. He would explain what he had done to her. How he had saved her. How he had mag- ically healed the gunshot wound in her stomach.

How he had brought her back to life.

Liz realized she should be afraid of Max, but she wasn't because she loved him and he loved her.

No.

Not yet. That would come later.

She was aware of that contradiction, but it didn't trouble her. The logic of dreams made it all perfectly clear.

And this was a good dream. Liz would not question it.

Max was coming and he would explain everything. Then she had something to tell him.

After a few moments of waiting, he entered the room. Liz could see his perpetually serious expression soften for a moment when he saw her. Something flashed in his eyes and across his face. Liz was sure there was no single word for that expression, but she knew it was good.

She was also sure that something similar passed across her own face.

Then Max's control was back and his expression grim. "Liz, we need to talk," he said simply.

It was then that Liz realized that she didn't want to talk. There had been too much talk. Three years of discussion. Three years of worry.

A voice inside her said, None of that has happened yet. You are not with Max yet. You are with Kyle.

It was easy to push the voice down. It was even easier to lean into Max and kiss him. He responded immediately.

Of course, he was her… boyfriend. The word seemed much too small for what he was to her, but it would have to suffice until… until what? Until that changed, sometime in the future. Not the future of the dream, Liz realized, but the future of her waking now.

Even in her dream state, Liz was aware of the difference between her dream reality and the reality that awaited her when she woke up.

It was another contradiction that didn't trouble Liz as she kissed him more deeply. He pulled her to him.

They were done with questions, problems, and issues.

Finally, they had found their answer. Liz was sure she had found hers, and she held him tightly.

Her awareness shifted to the real world, which she felt hovering above her like the surface of the water when you were under it. A hand brushed her cheek. Max's hand, she was sure.

The touch was a like an electric shock. She felt the room shifting around her. She also felt Max slipping out of her arms.

When the world solidified around her, she realized that he had disappeared.

No, not exactly, she realized.

Taking in her new surroundings, Liz saw that it was she who had disappeared. There were lockers on both sides of her.

I'm in the hallway of school, she thought. Immediately, Liz realized that she didn't want to be here. Something was wrong with this place.

Liz started to run, trying to find her way back to the band room, where she sensed Max was waiting for her.

She tried every door she found, but they were all locked. Though the classroom doors all had glass panes, she couldn't see inside any of them.

We're running out oj time, a voice that Liz dimly recog- nized as her own rose up inside her.

Finally, she came to a single door with a light on inside. "Max," she called out as she peered inside. The single fig- ure inside the classroom was not Max, though.

It was Alex.

But Alex is dead, she thought.

Pulling on the door, she saw that it was locked. Alex obviously heard her and turned to see her. He looked at her calmly and expectantly.

Liz pulled on the door with all of her strength.

Alex will help me, she thought desperately. He will help me find Max.

But the door wouldn't budge.

We're running out of time, the inner voice yelled.

Turning, Liz looked down the hallway. At the very end she could see the door to the band room.

Her legs felt like jelly, but Liz made them work through sheer will. Soon, she was racing down the hall at full speed and somehow finding more strength to go even faster.

Max is behind that door, Liz thought, but the door receded, even as she approached.

Then there was a flash of orange light that threw Liz to the hallway floor. When she looked up, a wall of flames stood in front of her, blocking her way to Max.

Then she sensed something behind her. A monster, the inner voice said. And this one's real.

Turning to look, Liz saw something coming for her, rac- ing toward her… across the desert.

Liz barely noticed the change of scenery.

She had to get up. She had to do something.

But her peripheral vision caught sight of something on the ground nearby. It was Max. He was holding someone, Michael, who was lying on the ground.

Michael was hurt, she could see. No, not hurt, the inner voice said.

Max put Michael gently to the ground. As he did, he moaned. It was a terrible sound that told her without a doubt that Michael was much more than hurt. It was then that Liz saw another figure beyond and partially behind Michael. Though Max was mostly blocking the figure and it was not… completely intact, Liz was certain that it was Isabel. And that she was also much more than hurt.

Max got to his feet. He was wobbly, unsteady. He turned slowly to look at her and the site of her seemed to steady him… to give him strength. He gestured vaguely to Michael and Isabel. And she nodded that she understood.

Somehow, she found her voice. "It's coming, Max," she said, pointing behind him, from where the thing, what- ever it was, was coming. "You have to get out of the way”

Then Liz realized there was something odd about Max. "Liz, you look different," he said, speaking her own thought about him out loud.

He was different. He wasn't the Max who waited for her back in the band room. He wasn't even the Max who was sitting beside her in the van, up above the waterline of her dream.

This Max had not happened yet, and would not happen for almost fifteen years. Nevertheless, he had come to visit her. She and Maria had called him Future Max. He had come to warn her once.

Now it was her turn. "Max, behind you!" she shouted.

He held his eyes on her for a moment. She saw all the pain and grief in his eyes. And something else. Something just for her. Then she could see that he was determined. He would fight for her. He would give everything for her.

It won't be enough, the voice inside her said.

Darkness was racing toward Max as he steeled himself and lifted his right hand. Liz didn't need her newfound ability to see the future to know what would happen next.

She felt it, from someplace older and deeper than the source of her new powers.

"NO!" Liz screamed.

She didn't want to be here. She wanted to wake up, but she sensed this was not a dream. She didn't want to watch what was about to happen. Liz found that she could not even close her eyes. She watched Max steel himself from the darkness that was flying toward them now.

When the darkness was almost upon them, energy flared from Max's hand, and a green defensive shield appeared in front of them.

It's too big, Liz thought. Too strong.

She knew she had to do something. She had to help Max, but she knew it was already too late. Then the dark shape reached the shield and tore through it after less than a second's pause. There was only a moment now, Liz knew, and Max used that moment to fire a burst of energy into the darkness that swallowed it without even hesitating.

"NO!" Liz screamed as she watched the darkness tear into Max. Finally she was able to turn away, but she didn't need to see it to know what happened next. Whatever had raced into Max almost instantly tore him apart, and Liz felt him die.

Liz Parker screamed.

Liz was stirring.

She's having a bad dream, Max realized. No, not just a bad dreama full-on nightmare.

As she tossed in her seat, Max considered waking her. He couldn't remember if it was better to let someone who was having a nightmare sleep or to wake them up.

Maria would know, Max realized.

"No!" Liz practically shouted in her sleep.

"Maria…," Max began, but he was interrupted by Liz saying, "Max, behind you!" Her voice was clear, and for a moment Max was certain that she had woken up.

Then she lapsed into unconscious moaning and twist- ing in her chair. That's it. That's enough, Max decided.

He reached for Liz. Maria did the same and said, "Hey, Parker.”

As they did, Liz let out a terrifying scream and pitched violently forward in her seat. "NOOOO!" she howled as she thrust her hands forward.

Her hands would have cracked into the windshield if it were there. But a burst of white energy exploded from her hands and shattered the windshield outward. Max slammed on the brakes and swerved the wheel as the van skidded.

He was vaguely aware that the blast that came from Liz's hands traveled down the highway. Hoping there were no cars in front of them, Max skidded onto the road's shoulder.

As soon as the van came to a stop, Max turned to Liz, who was wide awake and reaching for him.

"Max," she sputtered as her hands cupped his face and she studied him with a wide-eyed stare.

As someone opened the side door of the van, Max pulled Liz toward him. "It's okay, Liz," he said, fighting to keep the worry out of his voice.

"No," Liz said forcefully, pulling back from him. "It's not okay. Oh my God, Max, you died.”

She's terrified, Max thought. Completely terrified.

"No, I didn't, Liz. I'm right here," he said gently.

Max could see that Liz was fighting for control. She pulled him toward her and started to cry. When her sobs began to die down, he whispered reassuringly into her ear, "Liz, it was just a dream.”

Pulling away again, Liz looked at him with a new expression on her face. It wasn't fear this time. It was grief. "No, Max, it wasn't," she said clearly.

3

Liz crumbled into Max's arms as Michael appeared at Max's side.

"There's a pretty big hole in the ground a few hundred yards ahead, but I don't think-anyone saw anything. Isabel is filling the hole now.”

Old habits die hard, Max thought. He's making a report.

Max simply nodded and held Liz. The others kept a respectful distance, though Max could feel Maria's tension. She was pacing a few yards away. Max was aware of move- ment in front of the van, and Isabel appeared, joining Kyle, Michael, and Maria.

As Liz's breathing returned to normal, he noticed for the thousandth time how small she felt to him. She was the smallest of the three girls, both in height and stature. As she nestled under his chin, Max gently stroked her straight, dark hair and felt a reflexive desire to protect her.

Protect her? Max thought. He had not done a very good job of that in the last three years. She had suffered too much because of him.

When her breathing slowed, he leaned back and said, "Did you have a premonition?”

Liz nodded. "I watched you die, Max," she said.

Michael stepped forward and said, "Where was it? What happened? And what do we have to do to stop it?”

Liz shook her head and said, "It's not that simple…”

"Tell us what you can from the beginning," Max said.

Starting from the beginning of the dream, Liz told about being in school and meeting Max in the band room like they had the day after he had healed her in the Crashdown. "I think you touched my cheek while I was sleeping," Liz said.

Max nodded.

"That's when the dream changed into one of my premoni- tions," Liz said, and told about seeing Michael and Isabel dead. And then seeing Max face the unseen force on his own. "You fought, Max, but…," she said as her voice broke.

Max nodded and kept his expression neutral.

"Maybe it was a dream, at least partly," Isabel said.

Liz thought for a moment and then said, "Partly, yes, but I'm sure I saw Max die, as well as you and Michael.”

"Do you have any idea how far in the future this was?" Max asked.

"Fifteen years," Liz replied immediately.

Max started at that. There was something unnerving about her certainty. "That is pretty exact. Are you sure?”

Liz nodded and said, "I recognized you…" Then she shot a glance at Maria, and something passed between the two girls.

"Future Max!" Maria exclaimed.

"What?" Michael said. "Who is that?”

Maria immediately looked sheepish, as if she had said too much.

Max looked down at Liz and said, "Future Max?”

"Who the hell is Future Max?" Michael said to Maria. "What are you two talking about?”

"Sorry, Liz," Maria said.

"It's okay," Liz replied. Then she turned to Max and said, "There's something I have to tell you.”

"We'll just give you guys a minute," Maria said.

"No," Max said, raising his hand. "This involves all of us. No secrets.”

"This involves Tess and Kyle and…" Liz collected her- self for a moment, and then spoke quickly and clearly. "It goes back to just before you found Kyle and me together.”

The memory of that night came back suddenly, like a blow. He remembered seeing Kyle and Liz in bed together. He remembered the shock and the feeling like someone had reached into his stomach and twisted his insides.

"Max, it wasn't an accident that you saw us. I set that up for a reason," Liz said.

Max felt the beginnings of understanding and said, "You wanted to be free of all this. You wanted a normal life.”

Shaking her head, Liz said, "No. I did it for you, because you asked me to.”

Max could remember few times in his life when he was as surprised as he was now. "I asked you to?”

"The night before you came to visit me, but not you, exactly. It was you from the future, fifteen years in the future," Liz said.

"How?" Max asked, finding things making less and less sense.

"You had used the Granilith. You explained that it had powers we had not discovered yet. You brought a warning and asked me to do something," Liz said.

"Go to bed with Kyle?" Max said, feeling even more confused. He looked over at Kyle, who was keeping his eyes to the ground. The boy looked as embarrassed as Max was confused.

"No," Liz replied. "You described a scene similar to the one in my premonition, where there was a battle and both Isabel and Michael died. And it was all because Tess had left and the four of you were not together for the battle. Max, Tess had left because… ”

"Of you and me," Max said, finally beginning to understand.

"You told me that 1 had to give you up to keep peace between Tess and the group," Liz said.

"Why didn't you just tell me?" Max said.

"You told me not to. You from the future told me that you would try to find another way," Liz said. "You said the only way to be sure was if you believed that it was over between us.”

Then the totality of it hit Max. Liz had given up so much… all because he had asked her to. Not who he was now, but some version of him from the future.

"It was all for nothing," Max said finally. "Tess…"He didn't have to say any more. Everyone there knew what Tess had done. She had killed Alex and betrayed them all. She had given birth to Max's son and tried to turn him over to Max's enemy Kevar on their home world. Then, when Kevar rejected Max's son as heir, she had come back looking for shelter.

"You didn't think to mention any of this before?' Michael asked. Then he turned to Maria and said, "And you knew?”

"What good would have it have done?" Liz said.

That stopped Michael in his tracks.

"How would you prepare for some mysterious danger fifteen years in the future?" Liz continued.

Then Max understood the final piece. Liz had taken all of that on herself. She had once accused him of taking too much on his shoulders, and now she was doing the same.

She turned to him and said, "I hoped that so many things had changed that there was a chance that that had changec too. And I didn't think you needed any more weight to carry You blame yourself for things that happened on another planet and in another life. You blame yourself for Alex and everything that happens to every one of us.”

Max shook his head. She didn't think he could have borne another burden. So she had taken it on herself.

He marveled at this small, slight girl in front of him. She had tried to protect him. Unfortunately she could not pro- tect him from the truth. He had been responsible for the fall of their home planet. He had been responsible for Alex's death and the pain his friends and his sister had suffered.

"What now, Max?" Isabel asked.

Max realized that everyone was looking at him… looking to him. He knew what they wanted. They wanted him to lead. To solve the problem. To keep them safe. Well, his track record on that score hadn't been very good so far. Max shook his head. "I don't have any answers here," he said.

"So we just chalk it up that in fifteen years we're going to take second place in a duel to the death?" Michael asked.

"I told you, Michael… I told you all before we left: I'm not the leader of this group anymore. And from what Liz is telling us, it's under my leadership that everything goes to hell," Max said.

Isabel was looking at him with a look of disbelief in her face. After a long moment, she said, "Well Max, as a mem- ber of this group, do you have any thoughts at all?”

"Yes," Max said. "I think it's very important that I not make all the decisions here. I honestly think that following me will lead us to ruin again. I brought us there on our home planet. I bring us there in the future that Liz describes.”

"Maybe third time's a charm, Maxwell," Michael said. It was a surprising attempt at humor for Michael, and Max found himself smiling. The effort won Michael a hard smack in the arm from Maria, however.

"I do have a few other thoughts," Max added. "If what Liz said was correct, then we lost because all four of us, including Tess, were not fighting together.”

"But Max," Liz said, "Tess is dead. She died when the air force base blew.”

Max nodded. In perhaps the only selfless act of her life, Tess had walked into the base instead of endangering the group further. She had chosen to die fighting instead of living out the rest of her life in the Special Unit's White Room. Shuddering from his memory of that place, Max wondered how much of his youth he had left in that room.

How much had been burned out of him by Agent Pierce under those bright white lights? Just about all of it, I guess, Max thought.

Max understood Tess's decision. He had vowed to him- self that he would die fighting before he ever went back there. Oddly, Max had died and had seen things, glimpses of the other side that he wished he could forget. Neverthe- less, he would go there before he would go back to the White Room, because he had seen both death and Hell… and Hell was white.

"I think the three of us have to become stronger, to.compensate for Tess's loss," Max said.

"How do we do that?" Isabel asked.

"By doing the opposite of what we have done up until now," Max said. He saw the light of understanding go on in Michael's eyes.

"Our powers," Michael said.

"What? What about them?" Isabel said.

"Up until now," Max explained, "we have tried to not use them, or to do so only when absolutely necessary.”

"But not anymore," Michael said.

Max nodded his agreement. "The point of this trip for me was to do things differently. We've been hiding our whole lives, denying who we are. Now I'm ready to use my powers to do whatever good I can. We're not hiding anymore and we're not exactly running. I think if we can keep moving we can stay ahead of… our enemies. Maybe as we use our powers more, well gain extra strength.”

"Sounds like a plan, Maxwell," Michael said.

Isabel nodded her agreement, and Max realized that in spite of what he wanted and in spite of what he had just said, he had just mapped out their future. And the others had agreed.

Old habits, he thought. As he approached the van, he sighed and thought, Well, Rome wasn't built in a day. And if took longer than a day to fall, he reminded himself.

As he surveyed the damage to the front windshield, he wondered if the fall took more or less than fifteen years.

Pieces of windshield were scattered on the road and desert around them in a radius of two or three dozen yards. The bits of glass were very small. The force must have been tremendous. He wondered how big the hole in the ground was that Isabel had filled in.

Max waited until three cars passed them and they were alone on the road. Raising his hand, he collected the hun- dreds of bits of broken glass and used his powers to lift them in the air. Bringing them together, he fused them into the windshield and reset the glass onto the van.

When he was finished he could see the problem: a hole about two feet around in the center of the windshield.

"Some of the glass must have been pulverized," Max said.

Liz looked embarrassed.

Maria looked amazed. "Remind me not to make you mad, Parker.”

"There's plenty of sand around, Max," Liz said. Max nodded and reached out with his powers to pick up a small pile of sand. It was simple to heat it to the right tem- perature and make it into a good approximation of the windshield glass. Then he fused the new piece into the hole. When he was finished, he smoothed over the whole piece of glass and saw that it would do.

"Not a bad job, Your Highness," Michael said.

"Michael…," Max started.

"Just a joke, Maxwell," Michael said, smiling. "It's good to see what you can do when you really let loose with your powers.”

Max found himself smiling back. "I also do light house- keeping.”

His smile faded when he saw Liz's face.

"Don't worry, we have a long time to figure something out," he said. "And you can tell us how we're doing. You will probably have a number of flashes between now and…”

Liz gave him a thin smile, and Max saw that she was still afraid. And not just about what will happen in fifteen years, he thought. Her vision had cost Liz something, he knew. The prospect of more like it was not comforting to her.

Another price Liz is paying for being with me, Max thought.

Back in the van, Max drove through the morning, head- ing north. For a moment, he was tempted to get on Inter- state 25… it was the quickest route. And though there was no rush on this trip to nowhere special, he wanted to put as many miles as he could between the group and Roswell as quickly as possible. Then he would relax a bit.

But Max's instincts told him to stay away from major roads, at least for now. They might be watched. They had found that out when Kyle's father had tried to get them out of the state, west to Arizona. Sheriff Valenti hadn't liked what he had heard on the police band, and the group had had to change direction and go north.

Since then, Max had been basically traveling in almost a straight line up from Roswell, which was in the southern part of New Mexico. This route allowed him to steer clear of Santa Fe, which was too large a city, and Los Alamos, where the first atomic bomb was built. It was still a center for nuclear research, with just too much government and mili- tary activity for him. He would feel better when they reached Colorado, which would be sometime that afternoon if they continued at the same speed. He made a mental note to start traveling northwest when they hit Colorado. If he traveled diagonally across Colorado, he would pass well below Pueblo and the Air Force Academy.

He looked over at Liz, who was watching the road speed by. She looked alert, and Max guessed it would be a while before she slept again.

Maybe we can all relax a little when we reach Colorado, Max thought. It was possible, but not likely, he realized.

It won't be long now, Maria thought as she watched the road ahead. She could see mountains out her window in the distance. For years she had been afraid that this would never happen, that she would never leave Roswell, never leave New Mexico.

Maria remembered her school report in sixth grade. New Mexico was one of the largest states in the country (fourth or fifth, she couldn't remember which). But it only had one and a half million people… and over half of those lived in the three major cities, of which Roswell was defi- nitely not one.

And they're about to lose the six of us, she thought. She shot a glance a Michael. They should have been friendlier to illegal aliens.

Michael was sitting in silence, like the rest of them. What drove her crazy was that he seemed almost relaxed, even after that incident with Liz.

Everyone else was on edge. Max seemed particularly tense, with every muscle on his wiry frame taut. And still, somehow he managed to give the impression of brooding even as he drove.

When Michael saw her looking at him, he actually grinned back at her. He was taller than Max, and more thickly built. Now his comfortable frame was sprawled on the seat. Something was definitely going on with him.

Maria knew the other… more normal… members of the group were waiting for the same thing she was. In the dis- tance, she saw the sign. In a few seconds, she could read it: YOU ARE LEAVING NEW MEXICO, LAND OF ENCHANTMENT.

She waited for the exact moment that the van crossed the dividing line.

Then it was over and she saw another sign, which said WELCOME TO COLORADO.

All these years, all that worry of being trapped in Roswell and getting out was as simple as climbing into a van and driving for a few hours.

Colorado wasn't New York. In fact, it looked pretty much like the rocky desert they just left. Still, being there felt good just the same. Maria could tell the others felt like she did. The tension in the car went down a couple of 'notches as soon as they crossed the border. Maybe I'll miss it someday, Maria thought, but not any time soon.

Maria thought about her mother and felt a pang of regret. They hadn't even had a proper good-bye. Well, there will be time far that one day, she thought.

Except for her mom, most of what she liked about home was in the van with her: her best friend, Liz, and then there was Space Boy. What were they to each other now? Was there even a name for it? She shot Michael another glance, allowing herself to think about what might happen to him. What would hap- pen to him if Liz's premonition came true? Whatever he was to her, she couldn't stand the thought of him dying.

"Maybe you don't have to fight," Maria found herself saying out loud.

"What?" Michael said.

"If Liz's dream comes true. Maybe you don't have to fight these aliens. Maybe you can just surrender or some- thing," Maria said, noticing that all eyes in the van except for Max's were suddenly on her.

Michael shook his head. "No way, the other aliens would make fun of us," he said.

Annoyed, Maria said, "This is serious!”

"Yes," Michael replied. "And these people, or whatever they are, are very serious. Our only chance will be to beat them. If it comes to a fight, we go to the mattresses," he said with an air of finality.

Maria was no longer annoyed. Now was angry. "That is such macho crap. What does that even mean?" she shouted.

"It means that when it starts to go down on the street, we don't leave until it's finished," Michael said.

"What does that have to do with mattresses? And I've heard it before. Is it from The Guy Book of Stupid Phrases or something?”

"It's from The Godfather" Max, Michael, and Kyle said in unison.

Maria shook her head. "Do all guys see themselves liv- ing out The Godfather?" she said.

"Yes," said the three guys in the car.

Maria shook her head again.

"Look," Michael explained with forced patience. "All guys see themselves as one of the Corleone brothers: Michael, the quiet but brilliant leader of the family, or Sonny, the hotheaded muscle.”

"Max, you don't buy this, do you?" Maria said, looking for a ray of sanity. "You don't think of yourself as Michael?”

"Well, I am… was King, after all," he said.

"I guess that would make you Sonny?" Maria said to Michael.

"If the shoe fits," Michael said.

Rolling her eyes, Maria turned to Kyle. "What about you, Mister Buddha? Tell me you don't think of yourself as… who?”

Kyle's face took on a serious expression. "It's true that Buddhist philosophy gives me a sense of peace that makes the Mafia metaphor a bad fit. On the other hand, it allows me to take a larger view of important issues, making me… if possible… even more like Michael," he concluded with a satisfied grin.

They are all crazy, Maria thought. Then she remembered something about those movies. "Wait, there was another brother, Free… Frey…," she said.

"Fredo," Michael said immediately. "Yeah, no guy sees himself as Fredo. He was the cowardly, loser brother. Plus, he betrayed Michael.”

"Well, I know plenty of Fredos. I've dated many of them," Maria said sourly, shooting Michael a look.

"Well, no guy sees himself as Fredo, ever," Michael said.

"In fact," Max added, "the more like Fredo a guy is, the less likely he is to see it.”

"You are twisted… sick and twisted," Maria said to Michael. She looked at Max, then at Kyle. "And not just you, the whole gender.”

"You asked," Michael said, "We're just providing information.”

Maria grunted and looked at Liz for support. Her best friend had been completely silent since she'd told them about her premonition. To Maria's surprise, Liz was watch- ing the exchange with a smile on her face.

"I'm glad you find this amusing," Maria said.

The frustration on Maria's face only made Liz smile wider. That made Maria smile herself.

Maria tossed her head back into her seat. "Impossible, all of you.”

Liz actually laughed, as Michael looked on with satis- faction.

Well, Space Boy might be driving me completely crazy, but at least he's good for a laugh, Maria thought.

Another thought quickly pushed that one out of the way. She barely remembered The Godfather, just a few scenes and images. One of them was terrible: Sonny met up with a bunch of guys with machine guns at a tollbooth.

There was a lot of blood, and that was the end for Sonny.

She took a look at Michael and wondered what she was in for with him.

Kyle heard his stomach growl. With all the excitement of leaving Roswell, and then Liz's dream, he had not thought much about food.

"I could go for a Snapple," he heard Michael say.

"Where's the next town, Liz?" Max asked.

Liz took a minute to wrestle with a beat-up road atlas she had found somewhere in the van. The oversize book was coming apart, but Liz located the right map and said, "I don't think this road is on the map, it's too small," Liz said.

Kyle scanned the two-lane road. It was a little less des- olate than the rocky desert that seemed to make up most of New Mexico. Southern Colorado was still a rocky desert, but it was one with more scrub and even a few trees. And the hills in the distance were a promising green.

"There has to be a town eventually," Kyle said, though they hadn't passed one for miles. And he could not see one up ahead on the twisting road that they were traveling.

Suddenly, there was a snap from somewhere in the front, and the van shuddered. Immediately, it began to slow down.. "Something's wrong," Max said. The car was coasting now, and losing speed quickly. He guided it to the road's shoulder… though shoulder was a kind term for the dusty earth next to the road.

A moment later they had come to a stop.

"Out of gas, Maxwell?" Michael asked.

"Not according to the gauge," Max said. "We should have over a quarter of a tank.”

"I think something went under the hood," Kyle said. "I heard a pop.”

Max nodded and said, "I'll take care of it," as he got out of the van.

"I'm going to stretch my legs," Maria said.

Michael followed her out of the car, and then Kyle did himself. He turned back to see Isabel coming. He instinc- tively reached out a hand to take her arm and help her out.

She tensed at his touch, and Kyle was immediately self- conscious. He realized that he could not remember Isabel speaking for hours since they had left.

A look at her face told him why. Isabel was always so controlled; it was strange to see her look… fragile. Her eyes were red… not from crying, Kyle knew, but from keeping herself from doing it.

Kyle hadn't given up nearly as much as she had. In fact, had he given up anything? A job in the local garage, where his boss had laughed in his face when Kyle had suggested that he might eventually become a partner. Kyle hadn't even been a full mechanic. He was just an assistant.

Just three years ago, he had been starting linebacker- running back at Roswell High and had Liz Parker as his girlfriend. He had been student athlete of the month, he remembered, and that had seemed very important to him at the time. It was during that month that things had started to go wrong between him and Liz.

Ultimately, he knew that he hadn't really loved Liz… not like Max did. Still, at the time, he couldn't imagine wanting anyone more. What had happened in the years since then? Well, a lot of strange things tied into the Big Alien Secret. But none of that really had anything to do with his fate later.

He was a good football player… one of the most tal- ented on the team. The coach had given him both offen- sive and defensive positions to keep him on the field more. He had led his division in sacks two years in a row, but it had been a small division. And in the end, no one was beating down his door to give him a scholarship. He was just not tall enough for college ball.

He had also been on the basketball team and the base- ball team. And he was good at each game, for Roswell. Yet, none of those sports would give him any kind of future, he knew. When the opportunity came to leave Roswell, he had jumped at it. He couldn't face spending the rest of his life in the garage. And he didn't belong in the sheriff's office like his dad and his grandfather did, he knew.

So he was in an ancient Volkswagen van with his friends in the middle of nowhere.

And this was the best prospect I had, he thought, with a smile. Back when he was still on the team and still cared about football, he'd thought he could never be closer to anyone than he was to the guys on the team.

A lot had changed since then. Taking a glance at his friends, he decided that this wasn't such a bad deal after all.

By now, Max had the hood of the van opened and was looking inside.

Michael looked up and down the road to confirm that there were no cars approaching and said, "All clear, let her rip.”

Max nodded and raised his hand, which was now glowing with green energy. He put his hand on the engine, concentrating hard for a few seconds. "Try it," he said to Liz, who was in the driver's seat now.

She turned the key; the engine clicked, but refused to start. Max was immediately by her side. "Did you give it gas?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Let me try," he said as Liz moved over.

Max turned the key. Still nothing but a click.

"I'll fix it," Isabel offered, taking a position in front of the open hood. Raising her hand, she used her powers on the engine, and then nodded to Max.

This time, there was a loud snap, then the familiar clicking sound.

Max jumped out of the car and tried again.

Nothing.

Michael weighed in.

Then Max and Isabel tried together.

Michael was shaking his head, "Wow, once unleashed, our alien-powers are truly staggering.”

Kyle couldn't watch anymore and walked over to the front of the van, where Max, Michael, and Isabel were star- ing at the uncooperative engine.

"Let me try," Kyle said.

His three friends looked at him in surprise. Liz came around front and said, "Have you been feeling any… powers?”

"Why didn't you say something?" Max said.

Kyle gave an apologetic shrug and said, "Well, I wasn't ready to talk about it, but… well, I've been an auto mechanic for the last two years!”

For a minute, his friends looked at him in confusion; then, Max gave him an embarrassed smile. "Of course… sorry, Kyle," Max said as the others laughed.

Leaning down into the engine compartment, Kyle found himself laughing too. "Stand back, my auto mechanic powers are pretty incredible," he said.

Taking a quick look, Kyle shook his head. The 1960s VW van was a classic. It represented a whole generation of youth and idealism. It was also old.

"Where did Jesse get this thing?" he asked, turning to Isabel, whose only response was a scowl. Fair enough. I deserved that, he thought.

Checking the back of the van, he found a broken wrench and a screwdriver. "We'll need some more tools if we're going to keep the van," he said to Max, who nodded.

Worse than I thought, Kyle thought as he looked over the engine. Twenty minutes later he looked up and said, "Well, there's good news and bad news.”

"Good news first, please," Maria said.

"The good news is that we've just witnessed a miracle: the van making it to Colorado," he said.

"But what's wrong with it?" Max asked.

"How much time have we got?" Kyle replied. Then, before Max could reply, he said, "Well, just about all of the belts and hoses need to be replaced. I figure you could spruce them up with your powers. However, two of the pistons aren't working. Now, that could be a tune-up, but I would need a shop to be sure. 1 also have a bad feeling about the starter, and finally, the thing that stopped us cold is the timing chain. It's busted.”

"How bad is that?" Michael said.

"On a foreign car? This old? Out in the middle of nowhere? Pretty bad. Even if we could find the part, I would need a full shop and a few hours to put it in," he said.

"But now that you know what it is, can't we just zap it?" Maria said. "In case you haven't noticed, we've been driv- ing all night and all day. I'm hungry and tired.”

"I don't think it's going to be that simple," Max said.

"Compared with putting a windshield back together, this should be easy," Maria said.

"But they know what a windshield looks like," Kyle said.

"To rearrange molecules of something, we have to be able to see it in our minds, or have a sense of how it works.

I think I was engineered with an intuitive sense about how the body works, which is why I can heal people," Max said.

"Unfortunately, an old car is more complicated than a piece of glass," Kyle said.

"How long would it take for you to teach me everything I needed to know to understand all the repairs?" Max asked.

"More time than we have today, and I won't know everything that's wrong until I take some stuff apart. I think we're going to have to get the van towed," Kyle said.

The others looked at Max, who thought for a moment and nodded his head. "Okay," he said.

Isabel and Michael nodded their agreement. For all of Max's protests about not wanting to be in charge, he was still making decision. And the others were still looking to him.

"Well, great!" Maria said. "But we're still in the middle of nowhere." She reached into her purse to take out her cell phone. "Who knows how long it will take for someone to get out here?”

"No," Max said firmly as Michael quickly took the cell phone from Maria.

"Hey," she said, grabbing for it as Michael kept it out of reach.

"Maria, we can't use a cell phone," Liz said.

"What!" she exclaimed.

"They could track us," Max said calmly.

"Who?" she said.

"Take your pick," Michael said. "The various bad guys we're trying to avoid, but my money would be on our per- sonal favorite, the Special Unit.”

"So what are we supposed to do? Just wait around in the middle of nowhere for someone to drive by? Well, I have news for you: It's been a long time since we've seen a car," Maria said. "We could be here for a while.”

Before anyone could respond, a pickup truck appeared in the distance. All heads turned to watch it approach from the direction they themselves had come.

"Or not," Michael said.

Maria squinted at him but didn't say anything.

Max leaned into the road and waved as the truck got closer. The pickup slowed and came to a stop on the side of the road just ahead of them. The group moved closer, with Max in the lead.

There was a single middle-aged man inside. He leaned over and rolled down the passenger-side window as he gave the group and the van an appraising look. "Trouble with your van," he said. It was a statement, not a question, and his expression was neutral.

"Yes," Max said.

"Lucky for you I came by. We don't see a lot of traffic out here," the man said.

"We noticed," Max said. "How far is the nearest town?”

"Stonewall is about five miles," the man replied, point- ing up ahead.

Max gestured to the back of the pickup and said, "We would appreciate a ride.”

"No," the man said simply.

Kyle understood. The man was alone, and they were six strangers.

"I don't know you kids, but I will send Gomer back with the tow truck, though.”

"Thanks," Max said, and the man sped away.

"Well, thank goodness for Gomer," Kyle said, smiling. The others laughed.

"How long do you think, Kyle? For the repairs," Max said.

"Depends on how long it takes to get the parts. A nine- teen sixty-six VW van timing chain…," he said. "The actual repairs I could do myself in maybe a day. The ques- tion is, can we afford to have them all done now? How much cash do we have, anyway?”

"Cash…?" Max said.

"Yeah, I'm assuming that using the ATM is out," Kyle said.

"Uh-oh," Liz said.

Together, everyone started to reach into his or her vari- ous pockets and purses. A moment later they had pooled their resources and Liz had begun counting. "Sixty-eight dollars and forty cents," she said.

"And we'll need gas once we get going," Kyle said.

Michael took a quick inventory of their sour faces. "Don't forget," he said as he reached down to pick up a medium-size rock. Handing the rock to Max, he said, "Powers unleashed, Maxwell. How about whipping up some gold?”

"Gold?" Liz said. "How are you going to sell that with- out attracting attention?”

"A small-town jewelry store or even a pawn shop shouldn't ask too many questions," Michael said. "Besides, getting stuck in this small town with no money will attract attention too.”

Max cupped the rock in his hands, which began to glow a familiar red. A moment later, he opened his hands to reveal two small bars of shiny gold. "Just a couple of ounces," Max said.

"It's plenty. You can always make more," Michael said. "We'll eat well tonight and sleep in decent beds.”

"As soon as Gomer gets here," Isabel said.

Twenty minutes later, they saw a tow truck approach from the direction of Stonewall.

The tow truck backed up to the van, and a tall, beefy guy who needed a shave jumped out. Kyle guessed he was in his early twenties.

"Gomer?" Max said, approaching.

"Trouble with your van," Gomer said, his face serious.

"Yes," Max said.

"It's old," Gomer said.

Max nodded to that.

Pulling on the tow truck's rig, Gomer quickly hooked. the van to it. "We'll get you fixed up. My boss has one of these out back. A junker," Gomer said.

Kyle was immediately relieved. If the garage owner had a junk VW van, they wouldn't have to wait for parts. Kyle could strip what he needed from the other van. Leaning over to Isabel, he said, "About time we caught a break.”

"That'll be fifty dollars," Gomer said.

"But you haven't taken it anywhere yet!" Michael said, unable to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

Gomer stopped and stared at Michael for a long moment, then he turned to Max and said, "In advance. I don't know you folks.”

Shrugging, Max nodded, and Liz counted out fifty dol- lars. Then she handed it to Gomer.

Turning for the van, Kyle said, "Let us get in before you raise it.”

"No," Gomer said, stopping Kyle short. "I can't have you in the van during a tow. It's against the law and it voids our insurance.”

Isabel stepped forward. When she spoke, she sounded firm, assured… more like herself. "You can't leave us all out here, five miles from town.”

Giving her an appraising glance, Gomer said, "I wouldn't do that." Then he gestured to the girls. "You three can ride with me in the truck.”

"No way," Liz said.

"Go ahead, Liz," Max said. "We'll catch up.”

"We'll be fine," Max assured her. Then he lowered his voice and said, "Stonewall might be dangerous, better if you go first.”

Liz smiled. "Okay.”

"Get yourselves something to eat. We'll be along," Max said.

By then, the van was raised, and Gomer was ready to roll. "Come on," he called from inside the tow truck.

The girls got inside, and the truck pulled away.

"This has been a long day," Kyle said as the three boys looked down the road after the van.

"Cheer up," Michael said. "The day isn't over yet. Things could still go our way.”

To Kyle's surprise, there was a small smile on Michael's face. Max was unreadable, as usual. But that smile still seemed out of place on Michael's face. Something was going on with him.

Aliens, Kyle thought, shrugging his shoulders.

Kyle, Michael, and Max started walking toward Stonewall.

5

Not much of a town, Liz thought as the tow truck approached Stonewall. They traveled along Main Street, which looked like a smaller version of the small New Mexico main streets she had seen in little towns near home. Maybe less of a Mexi- can influence in the architecture, but the same basic run- down appearance.

Maria made a face that said, We left Roswellfor this? Liz saw a place called Bell's Diner and said, "Could you drop us here?”

Gomer brought the truck to a stop and said, "Johnny's Garage is at the end of the street.”

"We'll come by when the guys get here," Liz said as Isabel and Maria hopped out of the truck. "Thank you," she added as she jumped out last.

"It's not the Crashdown," Isabel said, giving the store- front an appraising stare.

It certainly was not, Liz had to agree. The paint in the front was cracked and peeling.

"Hey Liz, look. Opportunity," Maria said, pointing to a help wanted sign taped to the inside of the window. Liz smiled at Maria. One thing was certain: They hadn't left Roswell to become waitresses again… not in a place like this.

Reaching for the door, Liz was stopped by another sign. This one was written in a childish scrawl and read, have you seen my sister? Then there was a photocopied picture of a teenage girl and a phone number.

Liz felt a chill as she looked at a yearbook picture of a girl about her own age.

Maria and Isabel gently nudged her into the diner. As they stepped inside, Liz saw ancient linoleum on the floor and some well-worn tables and booths. Her parents' restaurant, the Crashdown, was fancy by comparison. Whoever ran Bell's Diner was not particularly meticulous, On the other hand, Liz was sure that there was less money going around in Stonewall than in Roswell.

"Sit wherever you like," an older woman with graying hair was pouring coffee behind the counter. Though she wasn't wearing a uniform, Liz assumed she was a waitress. Liz chose a booth by the window, where they could see Main Street. That way, they could see when the guys showed up.

Maria threw herself into the booth and said, "I am starving.”

The waitress dropped menus off without a word. Maria and Isabel immediately opened theirs, but Liz waited a moment. "Maybe we should wait for the guys.”

"Liz…," Maria said. "Starving won't help them. Trust me, Max would want you to eat.”

Liz thought about if for a moment. Maria was probably right. Still…

The waitress arrived, interrupting her thought. Without hesitation, Isabel looked up and said, "I'll have a cheeseburger deluxe and a Coke." Well, that settles it, Liz thought.

The faded and chipped sign read welcome to stonewall.

"See, they said welcome, they must be friendly," Michael said.

Kyle stumbled, and Max immediately held out his hand to grasp his arm. "Are you okay, do you want to take a break?" Though it was just about eighty degrees out, the sun had been blasting them for the whole trip. And because of Michael's pushing, they had not stopped once. "Football has conditioned my body," Kyle said. "And walking Buddha's Middle Way has conditioned my spirit." "What the hell does that mean!?" Michael asked, mak- ing a face.

"I'm good," Kyle said.

They approached the town, and Max felt the begin- nings of relief. He would feel even better when they had the van fixed and were back on the road. The farther they traveled from Roswell, the harder they would be to track. They passed a Laundromat, which was the first store on Main Street. There were three women outside who stared at the boys as they came closer.

"Look, some of Stonewalls friendly citizens," Michael said. Then he raised his hand and waved to the women.

"Afternoon," he said as the strangers quickly looked away.

"Michael," Max said softly. "We are trying to avoid attracting attention.”

"Maxwell, I think the arrival of the morning paper attracts attention in this town. I get the feeling that we're the most excitement they've seen in years.”

Michael was right, Max knew. The Main Street was nearly empty of people. As strangers in such a small town, they couldn't help attracting attention. But that didn't mean they had to go out of their way to alert people to their presence.

Up ahead, they saw a sign for Bell's Diner.

"There we are," Michael said, "pointing to the sign. Let's eat," Michael said.

"Wait," Max said. "I'll feel better when we have money in our pockets, and it wouldn't hurt to make sure the garage has gotten started on the van.”

"Max, we left aliens and conspiracies hundreds of miles back there," Kyle said, pointing back the way they had come. "You can relax a little. We all can.”

That was it, Max realized. Kyle was relaxing.

Max wasn't there yet. And for a moment, he wondered if he would ever be. But he was done taking charge of every situation. "Okay, but let's stop and turn this into cash," Max said, patting the pocket that held the gold.

"And how are we going to do that in this town?" Kyle said.

"We're going to have to if we want to get the van fixed and get out of here," Max said.

"There you go, Maxwell," Michael said, pointing out a storefront that said simply, pawn.

Max nodded. "We won't get the best price here, but it doesn't look like the town has a jewelry store.”

Actually a pawnshop was the perfect place to sell their gold. From what he understood, pawnshops operated on just this side of the law… often dealing in stolen merchan- dise. There would likely be fewer questions here than any- where else.

Of course, everything he knew about pawnshops came from television and the movies, he realized as the three boys headed for the door. Taped to the outside was a homemade flyer that said missing and had a photocopied picture of an adult woman.

Max didn't stop to read the flyer. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. To his surprise, the shop looked just like what he had imagined. Stereo equipment and musical instruments sat on shelves on the walls, and jew- elry sat in a glass case near the counter.

A white-haired older man with at least four days' worth.of whiskers on his face sat behind the counter smoking a cigar. He had looked up from his paper when the boys walked in, and was eyeing them with the same suspicious glance they had now seen three times from people in Stonewall.

The man didn't say anything as the boys stepped for- ward.

Max wasn't sure how to begin.

Kyle broke the silence. "We were just a few miles down the road and our van broke down," he said. "And we were… ”

"You're in the wrong place," the man said, finally speaking.

"The wrong place?" Max said.

"Johnny's Garage is down the street," the man said. "I can't help you with your van.”

Max shook his head and held out the gold. "We'd like to sell these, to pay the garage for the repairs," he said, putting the two bars down on the counter.

The gold got the man's attention. He was looking at them with interest. "Where did you get these?" he asked.

"My father got them overseas," Max said, determined to keep his story short.

The man nodded and seemed satisfied. He picked up the bars, testing their weight. "I can't give you market value, you know. This is a pawnshop. You'll have to go to Pueblo if you want anywhere near market price," he said.

"What can you give us?" Max said.

The man sized the three boys up and said, "Let see what you've got here. He reached under the counter and came up with a bottle and a small glass jar. "Do you know the karat count?" he asked.

"I don't know," Max said honestly. He knew that gold's purity was measured in karats, but he wasn't sure how his homemade gold would measure. "It's pure, as far as I know," he said.

The man dipped the brush into the bottle and ran it across the surface of one of the bars. "Well, it's pure all right. Pure garbage," he said as he sneered and passed the bars back to Max.

"What do you mean?" Max asked.

"I mean, whatever they are, they are not gold," the man said.

"There must be a mistake," Max said.

"Yeah, and you made it, coming in here and trying to pass off your phony crap on me," the man replied.

The man stood up and gave the three boys a menacing look. "Now, we can do this two ways: You can either get the hell out of my store, or we can let the police handle this.”

"No need to get nasty," Michael said from behind Max.

Looking into the man's eyes, Max realized that the older man was scared. It made sense. Three teenagers in a town that didn't normally get visitors. Backing away, he said, "No need for that. I'm sorry. This was a mistake.”

"If I see you again, I'll call the police," the man said.

Turning to Michael and Kyle, he saw the look on Michael's face and thought the man might be right to be scared. Michael didn't respond well to threats. On the other hand, Max knew that his best friend was too smart to do something that would get them into trouble. Shak- ing his head, he said to his friends, "Come on, let's go.”

A moment later, they were on the sidewalk outside. Max felt like he had just had the wind knocked out of him. They had narrowly avoided a run-in with the police, but they were far from okay Michael started pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, while Kyle wore the same stunned expression that Max knew was on his own face.

What was he going to tell Liz and the others? And how were they going to get out of Stonewall with just a few dol- lars to their name? We're in trouble, he thought. It took him a moment to realize that he had spoken out loud.

6

“Cutie's looking over here again," Maria said, pointing to the bus boy. Liz nodded; he had been looking at them since shortly after the girls sat down. In between clearing the tables of dishes he had stolen glances at the girls for more than an hour and a half now.

"He looks… impaired," Maria said.

"He has Down's syndrome," Isabel said.

The other two girls looked at Isabel questioningly.

"1 used to volunteer at school," Isabel said.

Maria looked at Isabel with surprise. Liz knew how she felt. Isabel didn't seem on the surface to be the type to vol- unteer to work with handicapped kids. Then again, she didn't seem like the kind of person to embrace Christmas like Mrs. Claus on a triple latte but she did that, too.

"Down what?" Maria asked.

"He has an extra chromosome," Liz said. She knew that much.

Isabel nodded. "And that causes some impairment," she said. "But people with the condition can function very well.”

Liz watched the boy work.

"He's probably lonely," Liz said.

Isabel and Maria nodded.

Liz smiled absently at him and turned back to her friends. Isabel was checking her watch. "The boys should have been here already," she said.

"Let's give them a few more minutes before we go look- ing for them," Maria said.

"Okay," Liz agreed. They couldn't stay in the diner for- ever. And though it wasn't exactly full, they couldn't take up the table all day. The dinner rush… whatever passed for a dinner rush in Stonewall… would be starting soon.

"Excuse me," a voice said from next to Liz. She turned to see the boy who had been looking at them.

"Excuse me," he repeated in a slow, deliberate tone. Then the boy thrust a piece of paper toward the girls. "Have you seen my sister?" he asked.

Looking down, Liz could see that the paper was similar to the flyer that was posted on the door. It had the same picture of a teenage girl and read, have you seen my sister? with a phone number on the bottom.

"Have you seen her?" he asked again. His voice was friendly, but there was a worried edge to it.

"No, I'm sorry, we haven't," Isabel said.

"Jimmy stop bothering the customers," the woman who had served them shouted from behind the counter.

"It's okay," Liz said. "He's not bothering us.”

The woman shrugged and said, "Come on, Jimmy, I need you to take out the garbage.”

Before he turned away, Liz reached out her hand, touched him gently on the arm, and said, "Has she been gone long?”

"She's miss… missing," he said.

Then he looked a Liz with surprise and said very clearly, "You saw her.”

Liz shook her head gently. "No, I saw her picture on the door, but I haven't seen her.”

Shaking his head, Jimmy looked confused, the clarity that was on his face a moment ago now gone. "I remem- bered you," he said uncertainly.

"I'm sorry," Liz said.

"Okay," Jimmy said as he walked away.

"We'll call you if we see her," Isabel said as Jimmy headed into the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Liz saw Max, Michael, and Kyle approach on the sidewalk. She caught just a glimpse of them before they reached the door. "There's something wrong," she said.

"Another flash, Parker?" Maria asked.

"No, I just saw Max," she said.

Then the boys were inside, and Liz saw three long faces. She could also see that the boys were tired after spending an hour and a half walking from the car.

Max reached the table first. "We have a problem," he said.

"Sit down, Max. We'll get you something to eat and fig- ure it out," Liz said.

"We can't eat," Max said. Michael and Kyle frowned when he said that. "Let's just talk about this outside.”

After the boys had told their story, Maria asked, "So how much money do we have?”

Liz didn't have to check to answer that. They had spent almost twenty dollars at the diner. "Forty-two forty," she said.

Then she watched Maria give Michael a smack on the shoulder. "Why didn't your stupid alien-powers work?”

"Who knows," Michael replied.

"Something must be wrong," Max said with a grave expression on his face.

"No," Liz said. "Nothing's wrong.”

All eyes turned to her, and she said. "I should have thought of this.”

"What?" Max asked.

"There's no way you can use your powers to make gold," she said. The others continued to look at her with confused expressions.

"Look," she continued. "You can use your powers to change the molecular structure of things. You actually move molecules around, right?" she said.

"Yes," Max said, realization dawning on his face. "Mole- cules…”

Liz nodded, and Michael jumped in. "What? What about them? Would Mr. and Mrs. Wizard mind explaining this to the audience at home?" he said.

"Gold is not gold because of its molecular structure," she said. "Gold is gold because of its atomic weight.”

"And we can make something look like gold, but it won't actually be gold," Max said.

"But Max made you that diamond," Maria said.

Liz nodded. It was beautiful and still in her pocket. She and Max had meant to get a setting for it, but had run out of time. "He made it out of charcoal. Both coal and dia- monds are different forms of carbon. They're identical on the atomic level," she said.

Michael nodded and said, in a reasonable tone, "Wait, then, what you're saying is that because of the way our powers work… we're completely screwed and broke!”

"Well, yeah," Liz said.

"Why not make some more diamonds, Max?" Maria asked.

"The only place to sell them in this town would be the pawnshop, and the owner will call the police if we step inside again. And with no transportation, we can't get to the next town," Max said.

"So what now? We're hundreds of miles from home. We can't use a cell phone… or, God forbid, an ATM. The van is busted, and we'll be lucky if we have enough money for a motel room for the night.”

"If we don't spend anything else," Max said.

"Wait a minute, what about food? Buddha's Middle Way requires that I avoid extremes of self-denial," Kyle said.

That's right, the boys haven't eaten, Liz thought. Sud- denly, Liz felt guilty about the food she, Isabel, and Maria had eaten, and the money they had spent.

"There has to be something we can do to make some money," Maria said.

"We could use our powers to rob a bank," Michael said.

All the others shot him a look, and he put his hands up and said, "Kidding.”

"Max?" Liz said.

He shrugged. "I don't have any answers here," he said.

Kyle stepped forward and said, "It's obvious, then.”

"What?" Maria asked.

"We'll have to get jobs to make enough money to fix the van and get out of town," Kyle said.

"In the meantime, we'll have to pay for food and a place to sleep," Liz added.

"Looks like we don't have a choice," Max said.

"You guys have to eat," Liz said. "We have to figure something out.”

Max nodded and said, "After we have a room for the night, we'll see how much we have left.”

Michael and Kyle seemed relieved to hear that. "But first, we need to stop by the garage and make sure they've started on the van.”

Liz nodded and pointed down the street in the direc- tion of the garage. "Gomer said it's Johnny's Garage and is down the street," she said.

"We'll split up. Michael, Kyle, and I will see about the van and see if we can find a room and any work," Max said.

"We can start job hunting in the meantime," Liz said.

"We'd better hurry. It's getting close to five. People are going to start closing up. I don't think this town has much in the way of nightlife," Maria said.

As they approached the garage, Kyle said, "Let me do the talking.”

Max twitched in surprise, but didn't say anything. It took an effort for him not to take charge, Kyle realized. "Garage-mechanic powers, boys," he said.

"Of course," Max said.

"Yeah, we're just mere human-alien hybrids with the ability to transform matter and control incredible ener- gies," Michael said.

Johnny's Garage was at least a hundred yards past the last store on Main Street, an ancient Laundromat. The garage looked just as ancient. It was basically a large barn with sheds jutting haphazardly from the sides. A pair of gas pumps sat in front, and a number of equally old cars were scattered around the place.

The small office was empty, so Kyle led the way into the barn itself. There were four repair bays, three of which were currently occupied by cars that were nearly his age and looked it.

The first bay contained a car over thirty years old. It was a 1968 Thunderbird in mint condition. The hood was down, and Kyle was certain it was the owner's car and had obviously been cared for very well.

Kyle racked his brain for information on that car. It might come in handy.

The shop itself was surprisingly well kept… at least compared with the outside. He had been expecting the place to be littered with junk, but tools and car parts were all pretty much in their place.

And though Johnnys Garage lacked some of the com- puterized diagnostic equipment that Kyle had taken for granted back in Roswell, he doubted that equipment would be necessary in this town, considering the age of the cars he had seen here.

The other remarkable thing about the shop was that it seemed to be empty of people.

"Hello," Kyle called out as they walked toward the back of the barn.

After he repeated himself two more times, someone appeared from under the car in the last bay.

Kyle immediately saw that he was older than Kyle's own father, perhaps by ten years or more. Tall and wiry, the man had hair so gray, it was almost white. It was also long and tied back in a ponytail.

Like virtually everyone they had seen so far in Stonewall, the man eyed them suspiciously.

"Hi," Kyle said.

The man nodded.

"Is this your place?" Kyle asked.

"Yep," the man said.

"So you're Johnny," Kyle said, giving the man a friendly smile.

He shook his head and said simply, "Nope," offering no further explanation. Kyle didn't press the issue.

"That your T-Bird?" Kyle said.

"Yep," the man said.

. "It's nice… you don't see a lot of them on the road," Kyle said, keeping his voice friendly even as he felt the tension from Michael behind him. Buddha taught patience, but Michael was no Buddhist. The man didn't reply. Seeing that he wasn't getting anywhere with small talk, Kyle decided to get to business. "Gomer towed our van," Kyle said, gesturing to the van in the second repair bay.

"Won't start," the man said.

"Have you opened it up yet?" Kyle asked "Nope," the man replied.

"Well, I saw that two pistons were out, plus the timing chain, and the starter," Kyle said.

The man's expression changed slightly, and for a moment he looked at Kyle with a flicker of respect. The man approached the van and said, "Guess it's pretty well busted.”

"Can you fix it?" Kyle asked.

"Yep," the man said. "But parts will be a problem." The man circled the van, looking at it with mild inter- est now.

"Gomer said you had a junked VW van. Maybe we could work something out," Kyle said.

"Maybe we could," the man said. Then he shifted his attention to the boys and said, "Before we get into a long discussion here tell me if you have the money for this.”

Looking down, Kyle realized they were a mess after driving through the night and walking for two hours. He didn't blame the man for asking. The three of them didn't look like they had the money for lunch much less for expensive repairs on a classic car.

And, more importantly, they actually didn't have the money. Kyle realized that they should have concocted a better story. Of course, they had expected to have money from Max's gold. Now, they were broke, and Kyle didn't want to admit it, but he didn't see that he had much choice. "See, that's the thing…," Kyle said. "We don't have the money right now. But… ”

The man was already turning away from them and heading back to the car he had been working on.

"Wait," Kyle said, following him as the man leaned down under the open hood to look at the engine.

"Look, come back when you've got some money," the man said, not looking up.

"Well, I was wondering if you needed any help around here," Kyle said. "I worked in… " Kyle caught himself. He had almost said Roswell.

"Down south," he said finally.

"Don't need any help," the man said.

"Look, you're backed up, and you're here by yourself," Kyle said.

The man shook his head and was about to speak when Kyle added, "And you'll be here all night if you think replacing that fuel pump will make a difference.”

Kyle pointed to the old fuel pump on the ground next to the car the man was working on. The new one he no doubt intended to put in was sitting right next to it.

"What?" the man said.

"Your problem is with the fuel line," Kyle said.

The man looked at him with surprise. Kyle hoped he had not offended him. He also hoped he was right.

Ducking his head into the engine compartment, the man reached down for a moment and pulled his hand back up. Kyle could see that his fingers were wet with gas.

The man looked up at him in genuine surprise and said, "Long crack in the fuel line, like you said. How did you know that?”

"In these big, old eight-cylinder Chevys more often than not it's an old fuel line that's the trouble. Look, I really know what I'm doing," Kyle said.

The man stood up and studied Kyle for a moment. "We don't get a lot of strangers here, and they make people in Stonewall nervous," he said.

"Why?" Kyle asked.

The man shrugged and said, "There's been some trouble." He didn't elaborate, and Kyle decided not to push it.

"Be here at seven tomorrow morning. If you know what you're doing, I'll give you a chance. Seven bucks an hour.”

"Seven?" Kyle said, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice. He had made almost twice that at home.

"This isn't down south, son, in case you haven't noticed. Anyway, you look like you need a job, and I don't need the help that badly," the man said.

"Okay, okay," Kyle said. Then an idea struck him, and he pointed back at Max and said, "My friend here knows bodywork. He's, um, got great hands, if you need that kind of thing.”

Kyle turned to get Max's attention, but it wasn't neces- sary. Max kept his face neutral and nodded, going along with whatever Kyle was doing.

The man waved him off and said, "Let's see if you can hold a wrench first, then we'll see about your friend.”

Kyle held out his hand and said, "I'm Kyle, by the way.”

The man hesitated and then finally shook Kyle's hand. "Dan.”

"I'll see you at seven, Dan," Kyle said.

Dan didn't respond. He simply turned and went back to work on the car.

As Kyle and his friends stepped back outside, Max said, "Nice work.”

Michael added, "Yeah, one of us has a job.”

Kyle couldn't help but smile, then he said, "True, but at seven dollars an hour, it will take me a couple of months to pay for the repairs.”

"Michael and I will find something, and maybe the girls will too," Max said. Then he added, "You do realize that I've never done bodywork in my life.”

"Yes, but you can reorganize matter at the molecular level," Kyle said! "I'm sure your powers will work fine when it comes to banging out dents.”

Kyle realized as he spoke that he had done something that Max and Michael hadn't been able to do with their remarkable powers. He had done something that would help himself and his friends.

On the way back into town, Kyle found that he could barely keep the smile from his face.

7

You're kidding," Maria said finally. "Anything but that.”

"We've tried everywhere else," Liz said.

"Despite appearances, this town does not seem to be a powerhouse of opportunity," Isabel said. "Take it from me, the new relief person at the Laundromat.”

Before Maria could respond, Liz said, "Come on," and reached for the door of the diner. She stopped for a moment when she saw Jimmy's flyer about his missing sis- ter. They had seen three more missing notices at other places in town, all for young women.

A moment later, they were inside again. Jimmy was clearing a table and looked up immediately and met Liz's eyes. She saw the question on his face, but she had no answers for him.

I wish I knew where she was, Liz thought as she gave Jimmy a thin smile.

Inside, it was dinnertime, and Liz was surprised to see the place was two thirds full. The same woman was there, running from table to table. There was another waitress, also in street clothes, who was helping her. By the way she carried herself, Liz could tell that she had little or no wait- ressing experience.

She was fumbling around, clearly overwhelmed… both women were.

"They're in the weeds," Maria said, shaking her head in sympathy.

"Yeah," Liz said. That was the term they used for com- pletely drowning at their waitressing stations. There was no cure for it. You just had to struggle through until things got sorted out and business slowed down.

As Isabel found a table, Liz and Maria waited at the counter and caught the women in charge as she headed for the kitchen.

"Excuse me," Liz said. The woman turned to her and said in a short voice, "Yes?”

Liz spoke quickly and said, "We saw the 'Help Wanted' sign and we're looking for work.”

The woman looked them over quickly. Liz saw a flash of recognition in her eyes and realized that she remem- bered them from earlier. "You have experience?" she said.

"Yes," Maria and Liz said together.

"Tons," Liz added.

Without thinking, the woman said, "If you're here at six thirty tomorrow, you're hired.”

Then she was gone.

"We have jobs," Liz said, immediately feeling relief.

"Is that the good news or the bad news?" Maria asked, frowning. The two girls joined Isabel at the table just as Max, Michael, and Kyle arrived in the diner. Max smiled at Liz as the boys crowded into the booth.

"How did you guys do?" Liz asked.

"Well, the garage won't start on the van until we have some money, but Kyle got a job there," Max replied.

Liz saw the pride on Kyle's face and understood it.

"What about you two?" Maria asked.

Michael shook his head. "Nothing. I came close, at the Laundromat, but a tall girl with brown hair beat me to the coveted relief-attendant job," he said as he shot Isabel a look.

"It's okay, Maria and I will be working here tomorrow," Liz said. "We'll be out of here before we know it. How much will the repairs cost, Kyle?”

"If we were paying for them, could be as much as a thousand," Kyle said.

There were sharp intakes of breath around the table.

Kyle lifted his hand and said, "But I'm hoping that the boss will let me do the work after hours, so then it would just be the parts… just a few hundred.”

"Even so, it could be weeks before we earn that here… after we pay for food and somewhere to sleep," Max said.

"Did you guys find a place?" Liz said.

Max nodded. "There's a motel just outside of town. A room is forty dollars a night," he said.

"Just about everything we have," Maria said.

Liz quickly did the math in her head. "It would leave us with less than three dollars," she said. She shook her head. "We're not doing it. We'll sleep in the van tonight.”

"What?" Maria said.

"If we spend the money on a room, you guys will have nothing to eat. And we'll have nothing tomorrow," Liz said.

"We'll be okay," Max said. "We can get a room.”

Michael looked over at Max in surprise.

"No," Liz said, before Michael could respond.

"Tell you what, Max," Liz said. "Let's put it to a vote.”

"Out of the question," Max said.

"If you remember, you made it clear that you don't want to make all the decisions," Liz said, smiling. She turned to the group. "All in favor of getting the boys some food.”

Liz put her hand up, followed by Isabel, then Michael, Kyle, and finally Maria.

"That's the problem with democracy: Not everybody gets what they want," Liz said. Waving over the waitress, Liz watched the guys order. After the boys had finished, Liz realized she was tired. By the look of them, so was the rest of the group. Checking her watch, she saw it was almost six thirty. "We can't hang around here all night," Liz said.

"Yeah, we'll see enough of this place tomorrow," Maria said.

"We should head back to the van," Max said. He turned to Kyle and asked, "Do you think it's safe? I didn't notice when they close.”

"Five thirty," Kyle said. "If the sign was right. We should be okay.”

The group moved down the street, still attracting the interest of the few people who were on the street. There were very few people, Liz noticed, even for a sleepy little town. And no one seemed to be sitting outside anywhere… either on a porch or in front of a store. Instead, everyone she saw was either coming or going. No one was staying still or even lingering outside. Thus, they were able to make their way down Main Street without attracting too much attention.

"There," Kyle said, pointing to a large barn just past the Laundromat. When they got closer, Liz could see the johnny's garage sign. Fortunately, the place looked empty and locked up.

"I don't think anyone's here," Kyle said.

"Good," Max said.

The group made its way to the far side of the barn, where their van was parked among a bunch of old cars that didn't look like they had been running anytime recently.

And it doesn't look like they will be going anywhere any time soon, Liz thought.

Unfortunately, their van seemed to fit right in among them.

Max tried the door, which was locked; in fact, all the doors were locked.

"Dan has the only key," Kyle said.

"No problem," Max said as he placed his hand over the lock on the driver's side door. There was a click from inside, and Max opened the door.

"Alien-powers unleashed," Max said flatly, though Liz could hear the hint of humor in his voice.

Less than a minute later, the group was all in their seats.

It was just starting to get dark out, but already Liz felt like she had sandpaper on her eyelids. She hadn't had much sleep in the last two days, but even so, she knew she had had more than Max, who hadn't slept at all the night before.

Looking outside, Max said, "We should be warm enough.”

He was right. It was still in the seventies outside, and was comfortable in the van. If they would be sleeping in the van a lot in the coming months, Liz made a note to remember that they should not wander into cold climates as they got closer to the fall.

Liz heard a smacking sound, then Michael said, "Ow.”

That made Liz smile. If Maria and Michael hadn't fig- ured out their relationship yet, they would have plenty of time on this trip.

As her eyes closed, she felt Max's lips on hers.

"Good night Liz," he said.

"Night, Max," Liz said, smiling. She opened her eyes for a moment to see Max watching her. Then she stopped fighting it.

At the end of the first day of her new life, Liz Parker fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Max woke instantly to the sound of a flashlight tapping near his head.

Before he even remembered where he was, he lifted his right hand in defense. Then his eyes met the eyes of the man who owned the garage.

His name is Dan, Max's brain supplied.

Forcing himself to relax, Max lowered his hand and then opened the window on his door.

"Camping out?" Dan said, his face unreadable.

"I hope it's okay," Max said.

Dan glanced inside the van and took in the other five teenagers who were slowly waking up.

He shrugged and said, "There's a motel up the street.”

"We know," Max said, "But…”

Dan waved off the explanation, and then he studied the group. For a moment, something passed over his face. Then he was unreadable again and said, "Kyle, am I going to see you in forty-five minutes?”

"Yes sir," Kyle said.

Then Dan was turning away, heading back to the barn.

Max got out to stretch his legs. As soon as he was on the ground, Dan turned around and, pointing to what looked like a small shed that had been added to the side of the barn, said, "There's a studio with a shower. I'll bring you some towels," Dan said.

"Thank you," Kyle said.

Dan didn't respond. Instead, he simply walked off.

"The girls have to go to work first," Maria said as she grabbed Liz by the hand. Isabel followed. Before they got there, Dan had appeared with a stack of towels, which he handed to Isabel. Then the girls disappeared into the door to the building.

Half an hour later, the girls came out dressed and with their hair wet. Their clothes also looked freshly cleaned.

Max realized that Isabel must have used her powers for that. Well, it's not gold bars, he thought, but at least our pow- ers are good for something.

None of them had so much as a change of clothes. And even if they had the money, buying more would create a storage problem in the van. With six people taking up most of the available space, there wouldn't be much room for clothes or possessions of any kind.

Well, at least their powers would save them from hav- ing to do laundry.

When the guys approached, Liz said, "He left a pot of oatmeal on the hot plate inside. There's plenty.”

Max was surprised. Dan had given a strange teenager a job. Then the shower facilities…Though Dan was gruff, he'd given them the first real help of their trip.

Maybe things were looking up in Stonewall after all. As soon as the thought formed in his mind, Max chided him- self. They couldn't afford to get too comfortable anywhere… not until they had put a lot more distance between them- selves and Roswell.

Liz leaned into him. He kissed her, and she said, "Bye honey, I'm off to work.”

Max smiled. "Be careful. I don't like the look of the missing-person signs.”

Under normal circumstances, Liz would casually brush off one of his warnings. This time she became thoughtful. In fact, the whole group went still. Max knew why. They had all seen the signs, but no one had said anything out loud yet. They had all seen missing signs before, in Roswell and in the larger cities they had visited. But there were too many signs for a town this size. Then there was the air of… what?… tension?… fear? "Okay," Liz said.

Max, Kyle, and Michael watched the girls go, then headed for the room. Stepping inside the door, Max took in the small studio apartment. Well, apartment was a strong term for the place. It was one room with a double bed, an old kitchen chair, two beanbag chairs held together with duct tape, and a tiny sink with a hot plate next to it. On the floor was a low shelf that held some old toys… robots and dinosaurs… and a small television with a coat hanger for an antenna. The walls were covered with rock-and-roll posters that Max recognized from the 1960s. In fact, the room didn't look like it had been used much since then. It was clean, but Max couldn't shake the feeling that he was inside a time capsule.

To the right was an open door that Max could see led to the small bathroom, which had a stall shower.

"You first," Michael said. "You're the working man.”

Kyle disappeared into the bathroom, and Michael sat down heavily on the bed. "What now, Maxwell?" he said.

"We stay here and keep a low profile," Max said.

"But we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of things to do in this town," Michael joked.

"Actually Michael, I think we've seen it all," Max replied.

"I think you're right," Michael said, smiling.

Leaning down, Max tried the television. To his surprise, it hummed when he turned it on. For a moment he smelled something that seemed like burning dust. Then a picture flashed on. It was black and white, which made sense. The set was old and had dials instead of buttons. Getting nothing but static, Max tried every channel on the dial. He found two stations that seemed to work.

"Cable must be out," Michael said dryly.

Max improved the reception by playing with the coat hanger.

"I vote for cartoons," Michael said.

"News," Max said. "I want to see if anyone's looking for us.”

"Waiting for special bulletin telling people to be on the lookout for three alien-human hybrids?" Michael said.

"Something more subtle," Max said.

There was a talk show on one of the channels, and a game show on the other. It might be a while. Then some- thing on the shelf under the television caught his eye.

He picked up the pack of cards and started counting.

"How many?" Michael asked.

"Fifty-two," Max replied.

"Things are finally looking up. Your deal, Max.”

8

When they stepped into the diner, Jimmy was already there and watching the door, as if he had been waiting for them.. By the time they got to the counter, the owner appeared and said, "I wasn't sure you girls were coming, but I'm glad you did. I'm Bell," she said, extending her hand.

Liz shook first. "I'm Liz.”

Maria followed. "I'm Maria.”

"And you really have done this before?" Bell asked.

"Yes," the girls said together.

"Well, at this point, it wouldn't matter much if you hadn't. I really need the help," Bell said.

Liz noticed that Bell was friendlier and more relaxed than yesterday. Maybe the prospect of some help had cheered her up.

"We have to be honest with you," Liz said. "We won't be staying long in Stonewall.”

Liz felt Maria's elbow stick in her ribs, but she did not want to mislead this woman. Creating bad feelings would just raise their profile in town. "We're in town with our friends and we're trying to earn enough money to fix our van," she continued.

"Your van's at Johnny's?" the woman asked.

"And we have a friend who's working there," Liz said. She wasn't really giving anything away. Liz knew that in a small town, keeping secrets was nearly impossible.

Bell nodded. "Okay, thanks for telling me. For as long as you can stay, I'm sure you'll be better than my sister-in-law. She's a better wife to my brother than she is a waitress… and she's a terrible wife.”

Both Liz and Maria smiled at that.

"Come on," Bell said, leading them into the kitchen.

She pointed to a thin, middle-aged man and said, "This is my husband, Sam. Sam, these are the new girls, Liz and Maria.”

"Nice to meet you," Liz said. Sam nodded and went back to cleaning the grill surface.

"Sam doesn't say much," Bell said as they went back outside. "It's the secret of our successful marriage.”

"If Sam needs help, my boyfriend cooks short order," Maria offered.

Bell shook her head and said, "Sam's okay on his own, but thanks. Look girls, if you are going to be short-timing it, why don't we just settle up at the end of each day.”

"Great, thanks," Liz said, glad that she had decided to tell Bell the truth.

"You eat free while you're here," Bell said. "Your friends can eat… how many of them are there?”

"Four more," Liz said.

Bell nodded and said, "They'll get a discount.

"We've got twenty minutes until we open. Why don't you find uniforms and aprons in the back? You can't miss the bathroom. I saw that you met Jimmy yesterday. Let me know if he's bothering you.”

"No, he's fine," Liz said.

Bell nodded. "He's had a tough time. His sister Jessica used to work here." Bell studied them for a moment and added, "She's missing.”

"We saw the sign," Maria said. "In fact, we saw more than one.”

Bell nodded again, "There's been some trouble. You'll notice that people stay off the street. You girls stay together when you go out. Or better yet, have your boyfriends come get you.”

"What do the police say?" Liz asked.

."They don't know anything, and the sheriff's… gone. We don't have a replacement yet. Just be careful," Bell said.

Liz and Maria headed into the back. A few minutes later, they came out in uniforms. Liz found one that fit a bit tightly, but was comfortable enough.

Looking at the clock, she saw that they had about fif- teen minutes before they opened. "Is there any side work to do?" she asked Bell.

Bell smiled. "You have done this before. Yes, why don't you two fill the sugars and marry the ketchups. Then put the clean silverware in the bins and set the tables. I was too beat to do it all last night.”

While Liz was filling sugars, Jimmy approached her and said, "That's my sister's uniform.”

"Oh, I'm sorry. I can find another one," Liz said.

Jimmy shook his head. "That's okay. She doesn't need it right now.”

"I'm sorry about your sister, Jimmy," Liz said.

"Me too," he said. Then he looked surprised and said, "Don't worry about it. I spill stuff all the time.”

"Spill?" Liz said, but Jimmy just shrugged.

When she turned, she swiped the sugar container she had been filling with her hand. It spilled across the counter.

"Jimmy, how did…?" Liz began, but Jimmy had already turned for the kitchen.

How did Jimmy know that 1 was going to spill something? Liz wondered. Further musings were cut short when Bell went to the front door and turned the sign around so that the open side faced front. There were people waiting out- side already.

A moment later they had filtered in and it was time to go to work.

"War," Michael said, tossing down a card.

Max started throwing down cards at the same time In the end, Michael threw down a Jack face up. Max had a five.

Michael took the next two rounds and got rid of his last card, leaving Max with six cards in his hand.

"I don't have to count them, Maxwell. That wasn't even close," Michael said, smiling. "I don't think you are cut out for war.”

"I was King, you were the one with the advanced mili- tary training," Max said, keeping his voice even and his expression neutral.

"I always knew it would pay off someday," Michael said as he shuffled the cards.

"My deal," Michael said when he was finished. But before he could deal out the first card, the door opened and Isabel stepped inside. He could see something was wrong by the look on her face.

Max was on his feet instantly. "What is it?" he asked.

Isabel sighed. "Nothing serious, Max, but it looks like it's so slow today that they don't need a relief Laundromat attendant trainee," she said, sitting on the bed.

Michael shook his head. "Look at us, three of the Royal Four, with incredible alien-powers at our command, and none of us have a useful skill. If it wasn't for Maria, Liz, and Kyle, we'd be in even more trouble than we are now," he said.

"You mean more trouble than being stranded in a noth- ing town with no money and a broken-down van. We wouldn't have even eaten today if it wasn't for the oatmeal we lucked into," Isabel said.

By the time she was done, Isabel's voice was tight. Max decided that he had waited long enough. He had wanted to do it before, but he didn't want to begin in the van in front of all the others.

Now, Michael was here, but Max knew he had a respon- sibility to his sister. "Isabel, do you want to talk about it?" he asked.

She looked at him in surprise for a moment. "I think I said it all. Wait, I left out the part about sleeping in a van last night.”

Max shook his head. "No, not that." He paused, not sure how to begin. Isabel had always had trouble confid- ing in him when they were growing up. It had only gotten harder lately.

"About Jesse," Max said finally. With his peripheral vision, he saw Michael squirm uncomfortably. Isabel gave him a slightly stunned look. For a moment she was silent.

"This wasn't just another breakup. You were married…," Max said.

"I know I was married!" Isabel exploded. "In fact, I still am. It's just that I'm never going to see my husband again.”

She was angry and immediately went red in the face. Well, angry… even if it was with him… was better than what she could be feeling.

"I'm sorry, Isabel. I want to help if I can," Max said. "Maybe if you talked… ”

"That's the problem, Max. You can't help me," Isabel said, her voice tight. "You can't fix this. I left my husband and my last chance at escaping all this back in Roswell.”

Max could see that Isabel was near tears. He hadn't wanted to upset her, and seeing her so vulnerable unsettled him. He had rarely seen her cry, even when they were younger.

"Listen," Michael said, breaking the silence. "What's so great about being normal? We've been trying since we got out of the pods, and it hasn't worked out so well. And, Isabel, Jesse was okay, but he wasn't the one.”

There was dead silence in the room for a long moment. Max found himself holding his breath. Isabel looked shocked, as if Michael had just thrown cold water in her face, or slapped her. Max could see anger, grief, and some- thing else colliding on her face. For a second, Max wasn't sure if she was going to cry or hit Michael… both options looked like an even bet.

Then, as quickly as the storm of emotions came, it seemed to pass. Isabel seemed to deflate in front of them.

She was holding herself together, barely. Max preferred seeing her angry. Then she leveled a cool gaze at Max and said, "No, I don't want to talk about it right now.”

Isabel got up and seemed on the verge of storming out. Then she turned and sat on the floor next to Max. "What are you playing?" she asked.

"Um, war," Michael said, still holding the cards in his hands.

She grabbed the cards from him and said, "Dealers choice.”

As she shuffled the cards, Max took in what had just happened. He still couldn't believe that Michael had spo- ken up; his best friend usually avoided discussion about feelings with the same intensity that he guarded their big secret.

Max was equally surprised by how much sense Michael had made. They had been trying for their whole lives to be normal. It had never worked, and they had all paid a price for the failure.

And Max was even more surprised that Michael had said what he had about Jesse. It was true, Max knew. They had all sensed it, though they had never talked about it. Instead, they had discussed the fact that she was so young, and that they were rushing the wedding. But the truth was that they had all known the simple truth that no one had said out loud until Michael did a minute before.

Jesse was not the one.

Even so, Max had no doubt that Isabel had loved him and that her pain and grief right now were real. Well, maybe she would want to talk about it when a bit more time had passed.

If Michael could talk about feelings… and make sense doing it… anything was possible.

Isabel dealt out the cards. Since he was sitting on her left, he went first. Max looked levelly at Isabel and said, "Seven.”

His sister leveled a steely gaze at him and said, in an even voice, "Go fish, Max.”

Liz laid two plates at the first table in her station, smiled, and immediately headed behind the counter, where the large cutout in the wall led to the kitchen.

She nearly collided with Maria, who got there a moment before she did.

"Where's my omelette and home fries?" Maria called out.

Sam grunted from inside the kitchen but passed a plate out. Maria took it and was off. For all of her complaining about going back to work as a waitress, Maria had settled right in at Bell's. Liz found that she had, as well, though both girls were frustrated by the fact that they didn't know the menu and prices cold. After years at the Crashdown, they each could recite the menu forward and backward.

So they spent a frustrating first hour checking the menu before they added up the checks. But they picked it up quickly, and now, as the breakfast rush began to taper off, Liz could make out most checks from memory. And she could see that Maria was doing the same.

Liz was surprised at how much of a rush the breakfast rush had actually been. She wasn't sure the diner would keep even one experienced waitress busy, but they both had been. And in the beginning, Bell had been pitching in as well.

Once the owner had seen that the girls could handle the crowd, she had concentrated on seating people and working the register. Liz was glad. For one thing, it meant that she and Maria would keep all the tips. And while the checks were smaller than she was used to at the Crash- down, the running total she kept in her head told her that her tips were averaging a bit higher in percentage.

The customers were all working people… local farm- workers and factory workers commuting to Pueblo. At home, Liz had learned that working people tipped better. Before, she had thought that it might only be true in Roswell, but Liz saw that it was true in Stonewall as well. Maybe it's true everywhere, Liz thought.

Twenty minutes later, Liz watched the last breakfast customer leave. As soon as the door closed, Bell said, "Congratulations" to both Maria and Liz.

Liz found herself smiling and saw that Maria was doing the same.

"How long did you two say you were going to be in town?" Bell asked.

Liz shrugged. "A week or two," she said. She honestly didn't know how long it would take them to earn enough to get the van fixed and get moving.

"Well, I'll be sorry to see you go," Bell said.

"You'll find someone new by then," Liz said.

Just then, Jimmy was coming out of the kitchen, and Liz saw his face drop. Liz cursed herself. She walked over to Jimmy and said, "I didn't mean it like that. I'm sure she'll be back.”

Jimmy nodded and went back to work.

Then Maria was next to Liz and patting her arm.

"You girls deserve a break, if you want to sit down. And have something to eat," Bell said, gesturing to a table.

"If it's okay, we'd like to order some food to take to our friends before the lunch rush," Liz said.

"Sure, just tell Sam what you want," Bell said.

Then she shouted into the back, "Sam, keep the grill hot.”

She and Maria conferred on the order, and Maria brought it to Sam.

As soon as she left, Jimmy was next to Liz.

"Hi Jimmy," Liz said.

The boy was silent, but Liz could see that he wanted to say something. Finally, he said, "They only take girls.”

"What?" she said. Then she realized what he was say- ing. "Who takes them, Jimmy? Do you know who took your sister?”

Jimmy shook his head. "Why do they do that? Why do you think they take girls?" he asked.

Liz felt the weight of what Jimmy was carrying for a moment and she didn't need any special alien-powers to see it. "I don't know, Jimmy," was all she could say.

"Sometimes they come back after a day or two. And they're okay, mostly," he said. Then he added, "Jessica's been gone for a week.”

Almost instantly, Jimmy was on the verge of tears. Then he was over the verge. Liz reached out with her hand and touched his arm gently. The world shifted around her. She wasn't in the diner anymore. She was in a room, except room wasn't the right word for where she was.

Then there was screaming. A girl was screaming.

The scene changed, and Liz saw Jimmy standing in a field. No, it wasn't a field. There were buildings.

Headstones. He was standing in a sea of headstones. Leaning down, he placed a single white carnation in front of one of the stones. Liz didn't just see him, she felt him… felt what he was feeling. She felt the grief in her stomach. It felt like someone was tearing out her insides.

Then she was back in the diner and Jimmy was looking at her with concern. "Are you okay, Liz?" he asked.

Liz shook her head; the images were already receding, but not the knot in her stomach.

"You remembered something, didn't you?" he asked.

"Remembered?" she said.

"You remember things too. Things that haven't hap- pened yet," he said.

He said it evenly, matter-of-factly, as if he already knew.

– "Yes," she found herself saying. "Do you remember things, Jimmy? Is that how you knew I was going to spill the sugar?”

He nodded. "But I try not to talk about it. It makes people nervous," he said. "Did you see Jessica?" he asked.

"No," Liz said quickly, hating to lie to his open and trusting face. Yet it was a kindness, she knew. No doubt he had seen that she had remembered something bad.

"Okay," he said.

"Jimmy, Sam needs you in the back," Bell said from behind the counter.

"Okay," Jimmy said, and he was off.

"Come on, Parker," Maria said from behind her.

Liz turned to face her friend, and Maria immediately saw something in her face. "What is it?" Maria asked.

Liz shook her head. "Nothing, I'm just tired.”

"Liar," Maria said, sitting down and putting the bags of to-go food down on the table.

"I had another flash," Liz admitted. "I'm not even really sure what I saw.”

Maria's hand reached out for hers.

"It's okay, really. I'm sure it was nothing. Just spooked me. It's the first one I've had since yesterday. I don't even really know what it was," she said.

Her friend eyed her carefully for a moment and said, "Come on, we'll deliver this food and walk it off.”

Liz shook her head. "I'd rather just sit down for a few minutes," she said. The truth was that she knew she would be able to hide from Max even less than she was able to hide from Maria.

She didn't want to answer any questions right now.

"Okay, I'll do it," Maria said. She got up and grabbed the food. "Are you sure you're okay?”

"Yeah," Liz said, mustering a smile.

When the door closed behind Maria a few seconds later, Liz found that the knot in her stomach had not sub- sided a bit.

Who was that guy in Greek myths? He was cursed to see the future and be powerless to stop it, she thought.

Well, Liz was sure she had seen the future. And she was equally certain that Jimmy's sister was going to die, and soon.

9

Kyle walked around the front of the garage and saw Dan coming out of the office. "I'm ready to go," Kyle said.

Dan nodded and said, "Okay, go to the office and punch in, then I need you to pull the transmission on the Plymouth. You can do that?”

"Sure," Kyle said. "And I can drop the new one in.”

"We'll have it this morning," Dan said.

"Look," Kyle said before Dan could turn and head for the garage, "I want to thank you for letting us use the room in the back, and for breakfast. My friends and I really appreciate it.”

Dan just looked at him and nodded. "You and your friends can stay there as long as everybody behaves them- selves and you don't wreck the place.”

Then, without another word, Dan turned and headed for the garage.

Kyle walked around to the office and found it occupied.

The girl behind the desk smiled and said, "Hi, my name is Dawn.”

For a second, Kyle was too surprised to respond. He had expected the office to be empty.

"You must be Kyle," she said, holding out her hand. Kyle shook it and smiled, "Nice to meet you, Dawn.”

Kyle shook it and smiled, "Nice to meet you, Dawn.”

It was nice to meet her. Kyle guessed she was about his age, maybe a little older. She was definitely pretty. She had shoulder-length blond hair that curled at the ends. She also had a nice smile.

And she smelled great.

Suddenly Kyle was keenly aware of how long it had been since he had last had a date.

"Here," she said, holding out a time card with his name printed out in a neat, female handwriting.

Definitely way too long, Kyle thought. And Buddha's Mid- dle Way teaches us to avoid extreme forms of self-denial.

Kyle decided that a week or two in Stonewall wouldn't be so bad after all.

Taking the time card, he ran it under the clock, which stamped it with the time. Then he put it on a rack on the wall, a rack that held a time card for Dawn and another for Gomer.

"Have you been working for Dan long?" Kyle asked.

Dawn shook her head and said, "No, and I'm just part time. I'm getting his office in order.”

She gestured to the computer on the desk in front of her and said, "I'm also trying to get Dan set up on the Internet. He rebuilds radios on old cars, but he's hopeless on the computer, and he needs a Web site.”

She tutted gently and said, "Sorry to say that I'm not much better.”

"Well, maybe I could help," Kyle said. Actually, he wasn't sure that he could. He was okay on the computer, but he didn't know much about Internet programming. Too late, though. He'd already offered. Maybe Liz could talk him through a few things. And it would help him get to know Dawn a little better.

"Can I help you?" a stern voice said behind Kyle.

Turning, he saw Gomer standing in the doorway.

"What?" Kyle said.

"What do you need, partner?" Gomer said. He looked bigger than Kyle had remembered from yesterday. Or was it just that Kyle was closer to him today?

In any case, there was no mistaking the menace in his voice.

"Is this guy bothering you, Dawn?" Gomer said.

"Just calm down, Gomer," Dawn said. "This is Kyle. He's working for Dan.”

Kyle mustered a friendly smile and said, "Hi, I'm Kyle. You-towed our van yesterday.”

Then Kyle could see that Gomer recognized him. How- ever, his sour expression didn't get any friendlier. Kyle held out his hand.

Gomer ignored him and spoke to Dawn. "I've got the tranny. Any tow calls?”

"No," Dawn said, "but Dan might need you to go to Pueblo for some parts. You can talk to him.”

Gomer shot Kyle a dirty look and headed out the door.

"Well…," Kyle said.

"Oh, don't mind Gomer," Dawn said.

"Is he your… are you two…?" Kyle asked.

Dawn shook her head and said, "No, but he acts like it sometimes.”

Then she smiled that smile at him. "I'm happy to say that I'm a free agent.”

"Okay, then," Kyle said. "I'd better get to work.”

"See you later, Kyle," Dawn said as he left the office.

Dan and Gomer were talking when Kyle came into the shop area.

"Kyle, grab the lift from out back and pull the transmis- sion out of the pickup," Dan said. "Gomer will give you a hand with it.”

Kyle headed across the shop floor to the back door. Out- side, he saw more junked cars and the Volkswagen van that Gomer had mentioned the day before. The van was in bad shape. One look told Kyle it would probably never run again. The back was smashed in pretty well, and it just wouldn't pay to do the extensive bodywork on a car that old.

It was also rusted out along the bottom.

The most remarkable thing about the van was the classic sixties hippie paint job: psychedelic colors swirling around large peace signs painted on the front and the drivers side. Clearly the work had been done by hand, but someone had done a pretty good job. The colors were faded and mixed with a good deal of rust, but Kyle found it easy to imagine how the van must have looked years ago.

What he couldn't imagine was Dan driving it, ever. Aside from the long hair in a ponytail, Dan looked like an average, slightly grouchy, middle-aged guy.

Kyle wanted to get to work, but he figured he had time for a quick check under the hood. It took him some doing to get the hood open, but he saw that the engine was pretty much intact. Then he saw the crack in the engine block. That was it; the engine would never start again. However, that didn't mean that the timing chain wouldn't still be good, but he would have to take the engine apart to be sure.

He would have to remember to talk to Dan about that later. Now he had work to do. The transmission lift was a platform on wheels that had two U-shaped cradles that held the front and the back of a transmission. Because transmissions were roughly cone shaped, one of the cradles was larger than the other.

Grabbing the lift, Kyle wheeled it around to the front of the garage, where Gomer waited by an old pickup that was marked johnny's garage. In the back of the pickup, Kyle could see the transmission. He lowered the tailgate on the truck and raised the lift into place using the crank on the side. Later he would lower it and use the lift to set the transmission into place under the car.

Leaning into the pickup, he said to Gomer, "Would you give me a hand with this?”

Gomer lit a cigarette and looked past Kyle down the road.

"Gomer?" Kyle said.

The older man didn't even look in his direction.

"Would you give me a hand with this, please?" Kyle said. When Gomer continued to ignore him, Kyle raised his voice and said, "Hey Gomer!”

Gomer finally looked his way and said coolly, "I figure that you are such a hot mechanic that you don't need help.”

Then Gomer took a drag off his cigarette and blew the smoke in Kyle's direction. "You got a problem with that?" His voice was even, but Kyle could hear the menace there just the same.

In his football days, Kyle would not have hesitated to meet that challenge, even though Gomer had a good six inches and thirty pounds on him. And he more than likely would have given Gomer a surprise. But that was before he had found out the truth about Max and the others, before he had found Buddha.

Kyle felt blood rushing to his face and forced himself to keep steady.

"What do you say, Mr. Mechanic?" Gomer said, throw- ing his cigarette down and holding his hands out.

Maybe it's time to put Buddha on hold, Kyle thought, clenching his own fists.

And he might have used them, too, but he remembered his friends. The last thing they all needed was the added attention that a fight would bring… even if Kyle won. Still, the urge to knock that smirk off Gomer's face was strong.

Kyle forced a smile of his own and said, "Sorry, maybe another time. I've got work to do.”

Kyle caught Gomer's disappointed expression out of the corner of his eye as he wrestled with the transmission. He slid it toward the tailgate and took a deep breath. Though one person could lift one by himself, moving a transmission was really a two-person job. One person risked dropping it.

In one heave, Kyle lifted it, swung it a few feet over, and then lowered it into the cradles. He was relieved when the clang of metal on metal told him it was in place. He half expected Gomer to make a move on him, and Kyle was relieved when the other man just stood there.

By the time he reached the garage door, he found him- self relaxing and smiling at how quickly Gomer had almost baited him. Buddha would not be pleased, Kyle- thought. And neither would Max.

Before he pushed the rig inside, Kyle couldn't resist giving Gomer a wave and saying, "You have a nice day now.”

Smiling at Gomer's stunned expression, Kyle pushed the transmission into the garage. He used the hydraulic lift to raise the car about two feet, then he got underneath to drop the old transmission. For a few minutes, everything melted away. He was doing something he knew he could do well. And he was the only one of the guys in their group who had found a job.

Plus, there was something Zen about auto repair. His first introduction to Buddhism had come from a copy of a book called Zen and the Art oj Motorcycle Maintenance that he had found at football camp.

At first, he thought it was a joke, but the book had turned about to be serious. He read it cover to cover, and Kyle had never been much of a reader. Then, he had gone to the library to get more books on Buddhism. The next thing he knew, he was trying to walk the Middle Path. It had been almost as big a change for him as learning the truth about the aliens in his town.

Now he found the work relaxing him. His almost- confrontation with Gomer was forgotten, as was the fact that less than forty-eight hours before he had left the only life he had ever known. His worries were replaced by the work his hands did, his mind both concentrating on the task and drifting. Kyle wasn't sure if that was a true Zen state, but it was good enough for him.

Maria was glad to get out of Bell's, even though the morning had not been too bad. She and Liz had quickly settled into their old patterns, and the time had passed quickly. On the other hand, they still had lunch and dinner to get through. In the past, she had sometimes pulled twelve-hour shifts at the Crashdown, but they were tough. She knew she would be dragging her feet for the last couple of hours. Sleeping in the van hadn't helped. She doubted she had gotten more than four hours of actual sleep, and she had woken up sore and aching.

Well, tonight might be better if the guy from the garage let them use the room with the shower. Sleeping on a floor would be better than sleeping sitting up in the van.

Passing through Main Street, Maria was struck by how empty the town looked. Then she caught sight of another missing-person flyer. This one was new… or at least it was one that she hadn't seen before.

The woman in this photo looked older than the other two, maybe in her early thirties. She was outdoors some- where and she was smiling broadly. Maria looked at the picture for a moment before she realized that she was walking the streets alone. Hadn't Bell warned them not to go outside unless they were together? Maria felt a chill run down her back and started walking quickly toward the garage, which was still more than two blocks away.

More than two deserted blocks, Maria realized. Then there were a couple of hundred yards of open field. Sud- denly Maria was overcome with the strong feeling that she was being watched. It was a crawling sensation on the back of her neck. She tried to dismiss it as her mind play- ing tricks on her. Maybe she was spooked by the missing- person posters, or the emptiness of the streets, but she couldn't shake the feeling that someone was watching her.

Of course, she caught glimpses of people looking at her through windows, but those glances seemed mainly curious, benign. Still, she had the growing feeling that someone else was watching her, someone who meant her harm.

Maria picked up her pace.

By the time she reached the edge of the sidewalk, she was nearly trotting. When she reached the open field, she forgot about her pride and ran, barely keeping her grip on the plastic bags that held the takeout food.

The few seconds it took her to reach the garage seemed to stretch to minutes, but finally she was there. She slowed to a walk when she was a few yards away from the garage. Almost immediately, she began to relax. By the time she reached the garage office, she already felt silly for worry- ing. Nevertheless, she decided to have Michael walk her back to the diner.

Just as she was reaching for the door to the office, someone popped out from behind a pickup.

Maria jumped.

Then she saw it was a man, a large man. She almost screamed, and then she realized he looked familiar.

"Hey," he said, and she started again at the sound of his voice.

Then she realized who it was: Gomer, the guy who had towed their van. With an unpleasant grin on his face, he said, "You want to be careful, watch out for them aliens.”

Maria's stomach leaped. Did he know? How could he? "What?" she gasped.

"The aliens, the ones that take the women. Least, that's what they say. You shouldn't be out alone," he said.

Maria felt her stomach start to work its way back down from her chest. "I'll be careful," she said, pushing her way into the office. Inside, she saw a blond girl behind a desk. The girl looked up and gave her a tight smile. She also looked Maria over carefully.

"Hi," Maria said. "I'm looking for Kyle.”

Then the girl gave her a smile that Maria instantly didn't trust. "Oh, he's in the garage. Are you his girlfriend?”

Maria was taken aback for a moment by the directness of the question. "Um, I'm a friend of his. I brought his lunch," she said, holding up one of the bags. "Can I get in through there?" She pointed to the door in the rear of the office.

"You sure can," the girl said, through the same tight smile.

Maria headed for the door. "Okay then, bye," Maria said.

"Bye-bye," the girl trilled, and though Maria couldn't see her anymore, she was sure the girl was wearing the same smile as she said it.

She came out into the large garage, scanning it for Kyle. Seeing the owner, Maria walked right over to him and pulled a food container out of the bag she carried.

"Hi," she said, holding out the Styrofoam box. "Meat loaf with gravy, no mushrooms. Bell said it was your usual.”

He looked at her, confused for a moment.

"It's our way of saying thanks for the shower and oat- meal this morning," Maria said, handing him the food.

Then recognition bloomed on Dan's face, and then he did something Maria didn't expect: He smiled. "Thank you," he said.

"Is Kyle around?" she asked. The question was just out of her lips when Kyle appeared next to her.

"Hey," Kyle said.

"Lunchtime," Maria said.

"Why don't you take a break," Dan said, the ghost of the smile still on his lips.

Kyle came with her around back. They guys weren't in the van, so they tried the room in the back. Before they entered, they heard laughter from inside. Opening the door, they found Michael, Max, and Isabel sitting on the floor huddled around an ancient board game.

"You're going down," Michael said to Max.

Maria leaned down and saw which game it was: Chutes and Ladders.

Perfect, she thought.

At the three aliens looked up, Maria frowned and said, "I'm glad that while we mere mortals are busting our butts, you guys are making yourselves useful.”

Max and Michael started to get up.

"Maria…," Max started.

She shook her head. "It's okay. Somebody should be having fun today. Lunch is served," she said, handing out the food.

"Can you stay and eat with us?" Michael asked. "You can get into the game if you want," he added.

"I have time to eat," Maria said, sitting on the side of the bed. She had brought something for herself, anyway.

"Where's Liz?" Max asked.

"She's back at the diner, brooding. I think she's been spending too much time with you," she said.

Concern immediately ran over Max's features.

"She's fine," Maria said quickly. "You guys should come by for dinner at the end of the rush, six thirty or so.”

Then Maria took out her own food. She was glad to sit, and even gladder to not have to go back outside alone to face the aliens or whatever it was that had the whole town (and now her) spooked.

On the other hand, as Michael dug into his burger, she realized she had an alien of her own to protect her.

come on, Space Boy, you're walking me back," Maria said.

Michael fought an urge to snap back at her for giving him an order. "Okay," he said, standing up.

Maria shot him a look of surprise, and that made the effort of holding his tongue worth it.

"Ready to go?" he said, grinning at her.

He enjoyed the slightly confused look on her face as she got up off the floor. "Sure," she said.

He nodded to Max and the others, and then he and Maria were out the door and headed for town.

He noticed that she seemed nervous as they walked along the open field that separated the edge of Main Street from the garage. She looked over her shoulder at least five times as they crossed the short distance.

"You know, this is the first time we've been alone since we left," he said.

"What?" she said, clearly distracted.

"I said, this is the first time… ”

"Michael, there's something strange going on in this town," she said, as if he hadn't spoken.

"Right here, in fact," Michael said, not even trying to keep the annoyance out of his voice.

"Michael, I'm serious. Haven't you seen those missing- person posters in town? It's creepy.”

"Well, we're not going to be staying long," Michael said.

"I ran into Gomer, and he said something about aliens, like the girls were abducted by… ”

"Here we go," he said, shaking his head.

"I know it sounds stupid," she said.

"That's because it is stupid," he said, raising his voice. He was angry now… more at himself than at Maria. He hadn't wanted to fight with her. As they drove in the van and the miles sped by, Michael had found the earliest stir- rings of peace on the road. He had hoped that things would be different for him and Maria. As they drover far- ther away from Roswell and the pressure they had always been under, he had felt sure that things would be different. He would make them different.

But why did she have to drive him so crazy? "So you're saying I'm stupid?" she said.

By sheer force of will, he kept himself from saying any more.

"Then what…," she started, her own face scrunched and angry.

"Stop," he said, raising one hand. "Look, I'm sorry.”

That seemed to stop her cold. Michael saw that they were getting close to the diner. He didn't want to spend the few seconds they had fighting.

"What?" she said.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to suggest that you're stupid. I'm just saying that the only aliens you're going to find in this town are the ones you brought with you. We need to be careful, but we left all that stuff behind in Roswell. That was the point of this class trip," Michael said.

Maria looked at him, thankfully silent for a moment.

"We've all seen the signs," he continued. "There is something strange going on here, but it has nothing to do with us and nothing to do with aliens. My guess is that a bunch of girls got wise and escaped this hole-in-the-wall without leaving a forwarding address.”

Maria started to speak, but he raised his hand and she was silent.

"But if some psycho is kidnapping girls, I'll watch out for you. Just don't go outside alone, or… better yet… unless I'm there.”

He paused for a moment and said, "Okay? "Okay," she said, nodding.

They were approaching the diner door when he stopped her with a hand. "Don't worry," Michael said.

He smiled and said, "I don't want to fight with you.”

Then he did what he'd wanted to do since they left the garage… actually, since they left Roswell. Michael leaned down and kissed her.

Though surprised, Maria responded immediately.

A few seconds later, he felt her hands on his chest. Then she was pushing him away… gently at first, then with force.

"What?" he said.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Well, I thought it was self-explanatory," Michael said. "I guess not.”

"What are you thinking?" Maria said.

Michael raised his hands in frustration. "Well, I was thinking that I wanted to kiss you, but I've reconsidered," he said, feeling his face go flush as the hairs on the back of his neck began to stand up. With effort, he fought down the rising anger.

"Look, Michael, I'm just not ready for this. Too much has happened, and I just don't know what we are to each other anymore. I'm going to need some time here," she said, the challenge clear on her face and in her voice.

A voice inside his head screamed, I stayed on this planet far you! 1 blew my one chance to go back to the place I came from. For you! But Michael put his hands down and said, as calmly as he could, "Okay.”

She was silent for a moment, looking at him with a sur- prised expression. When she spoke, her voice was calm. "Look, I'm just not sure what I want right now.”

"There's a surprise," he muttered under his breath.

"What?" she said.

"Nothing, but understand this: I know exactly what I want, and I will wait if I have to," Michael said.

She looked at him with the same surprised expression. Well, he was surprised at himself. But he did know what he wanted, and he was determined to break the cycle of stupid arguments that had kept them apart too many times in the past.

"I'll wait," he said, then he pointed to the diner door.

"Maria, you'd better get back to work. We'll come by before your shift is up. Don't go outside until then.”

He took a moment to enjoy her stunned expression, then turned and headed back for the garage.

Kyle found Dan in the office.

"I just have to check the seals and add the fluid, then I'll be done with the transmission," he said. "What's next?”

"Points and plugs on the Impala. And check the brakes. They've been grinding. They'll need pads, but see if you can save the rotors. I have to stop in town. I'll be back in about an hour," Dan said.

Kyle nodded, "I'll be fine.”

"I'll keep an eye on him for you," Dawn said, flashing Kyle a smile.

Kyle could barely keep the goofy grin from his face. When did my luck start changing? he wondered.

He nodded to Dawn on his way out and said, "See you later.”

"You know it," she said.

As Kyle entered the garage, he was glad his back was to Dawn, because he lost the battle with his goofy grin, which spread itself wide across his face.

A few seconds later, he was back under the car, doing a quick inspection of the seals on the transmission. It took some effort for him to concentrate on his work, but he forced himself to do it.

"Hey, I want to talk to you," a voice said from above him.

It took Kyle a moment to place the voice. He was immediately annoyed at the interruption, because it ended the warm feeling that lingered from his encounter with Dawn.

"I'll be up in a few minutes," Kyle said. He would actually be less than that, but the last thing he wanted to do was to let Gomer think he would rush on his say-so.

"We'll talk now. You don't have to get up," Gomer said. "I just wanted you to know that Dawn is my girl.”

Kyle shook his head. This was ridiculous. "Funny, she didn't mention that," he replied.

"Well, I'm mentioning it," Gomer said.

His voice was tight, as if he was trying to intimidate Kyle. Well, Kyle was not going to be intimidated by this bad-tempered tow truck driver who worked at a shop in the middle of nowhere.

Nevertheless, Kyle was very conscious of the fact that while Gomer was standing on the shop floor, Kyle was flat on his back with less than a foot of clearance between himself and the car above him.

Kyle knew guys at the garage who didn't like to work under cars, either out of claustrophobia or a vague fear about the safety of the hydraulic lift that held the car off the ground. Though he had never had that problem himself, Kyle suddenly understood it. He considered sliding out from under the car, but he didn't want to give his nervousness away and give Gomer the satisfaction of thinking he had shaken Kyle up. Keeping his voice casual, Kyle said, "I think Dawn's big enough to decide what she wants for herself.”

Kyle heard Gomer make a sound like a grunt. When he spoke, he shouted, "You got a smart mouth. You want to watch that. We don't much like smart guys around here.”

"Then you must fit right in," Kyle shot back immedi- ately.

Gomer didn't reply, but Kyle heard footsteps and a click. Leaning his head up, he could see Gomer's legs were very close to where Kyle's legs were hanging out from beneath the car.

Suddenly Kyle didn't care whether or not Gomer thought he had gotten the better of him. Kyle didn't want to spend another second under this car with Gomer up there.

Since Kyle was lying on a wheeled cart, he could roll out in a second or less, if he rolled toward where Gomer was standing.

He couldn't go the other way, because the transmission lift and some other equipment were blocking his way. He could try to angle himself and roll out next to the lift. It would put the car between him and Gomer when he got clear, but that would take several extra seconds at least.

He decided to just face Gomer. Reaching up, he grabbed the underside of the car and pulled, moving the cart and himself toward Gomer.

Then something came down on his leg. It took Kyle a moment to process that fact that it was Gomer's foot.

Kyle's forward motion stopped.

"Where you going, smart guy," Gomer said.

Kyle felt his heart sink in his chest, but he was surprised by the strength in his voice when he said, "Let go, Gomer.”

Instead, Kyle felt more pressure on his right ankle.

"What's wrong smart guy? Scared?" Gomer said.

"This isn't funny," Kyle said.

Then Kyle heard a click and he immediately knew that Gomer had his hand on the lever that controlled the hydraulic lift's up-and-down motion.

"Yeah, I think it's pretty funny. You know, you should be careful under there. I don't think these things are safe. If something happened, you might hurt your smart mouth," Gomer said.

Then the car lurched down two inches in a sudden motion.

"Ahhhh!" Kyle said, forgetting completely about his dignity. Frantically, he tried to move in any direction, but Gomer kept up the pressure on his leg.

Kyle tried to calculate how much clearance he would have between this car and the floor if it dropped to the ground. How much damage would the car do to him? Would Max be able to fix it? He decided he didn't want to find out. "Wait. Let's talk about this," Kyle said.

"I don't want to talk to you, smart guy," Gomer said, then he laughed. The laugh was low and creepy. Kyle decided he didn't like it at all. Then Kyle heard another click.

11

Michael heard the shouting from inside the garage. Maria’s talk about the kidnappings or whatever was going on in this town had gotten under his skin more than he had expected.

On the other hand, that was true about a lot of things that Maria said and did.

"… much like smart guys…" Michael heard from inside as he passed the entrance to the garage. The words didn't exactly make sense, but the tone was very clear.

Somebody was pretty pissed off.

Michael debated checking around the back to see if the others were all right, but he was confident that Max and Isabel could handle most of the trouble they could find in this town. Then he remembered that Kyle would be work- ing inside the garage. It might pay to check in on him.

Walking through the large door, he didn't see anyone inside at first. Then, three cars down, he saw someone he recognized.

Gomer was standing next to a car, shouting down… at the tire? No, that wasn't right.

Then someone spoke back to Gomer, but Michael couldn't make out the words.

"What's wrong, smart guy?" Gomer said.

Michael decided he didn't like the tone of Gomer's voice and started walking toward him.

Where was Kyle? There was some more back and forth, and Michael thought he heard Kyle's voice. Then Gomer grabbed a lever, and the car seemed to shake in the air.

Then he heard a scream.

Sure that the scream was Kyle's, Michael started run- ning. He saw that Gomer had his hand on a lever. And then he saw Kyle's legs sticking out, one of them kicking at Gomer. When Michael saw the car move downward, he realized instantly what was happening.

When he acted, he did so immediately and without thinking. Reaching Gomer, he reached out with one hand, grabbed the larger man on the shoulder, pulled him back, and then shoved him hard. Michael heard Gomer grunt, then fall backward to the ground.

He was dimly aware of the fact that Kyle was still under the car when Gomer went flying. A moment later, Gomer was sitting on his butt and looking up at Michael in sur- prise. That surprise lasted only an instant and was replaced with fury. Well, Michael knew how that felt.

For someone so tall, Gomer moved quicker than Michael would have guessed. Gomer was on his feet in seconds and was lunging for Michael. Acting on instinct, Michael leaned to one side and grabbed for Gomer's shirt. The larger man hit Michael's hip, and Michael used Gomer's momentum to toss him back to the ground. This time, Gomer went down face first in an awkward dive.

Again, he moved quickly and was soon lurching to his feet.

Too stupid to stay down, Michael thought as a red haze of anger descended on him, drowning out all other thoughts. A moment later, Gomer charged Michael again. This time, Michael met him straight on, launching one punch with each fist. His left hit Gomer low, in the ribs, while his right, then his left hit Gomer squarely in the face.

Gomer staggered back.

A satisfied smile crossed Michael's lips, and he raised his hand almost unconsciously. He felt his powers coalesc- ing and he prepared to…

"Michael," a voice said from next to him.

Michael ignored the distraction; he was dealing with a threat.

Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. The voice shouted this time, "Michael!”

Turning, Michael saw Kyle standing next to him. Then he saw Gomer looking at him, fear clearly on his face.

"Don't hurt him," Kyle said.

It took a moment for Kyle's words to penetrate Michael's red heat. Then he slowly put his hand back down. "He was trying," Michael said, not taking his eyes off Gomer.

"I was just kidding around," Gomer said, raising his hands in a warding-off gesture.

Michael felt himself relax by small degrees… very small degrees. "You think that was funny?" Michael nearly shouted.

Gomer shook his head. "I was just trying to scare him," he said.

Michael balled his right hand into a fist. It was not an act of anger, it was calculated, and by the look in Gomer's eyes, it had the desired effect.

"I'm sorry," Gomer said.

"Don't apologize to me," Michael said, gesturing to Kyle.

"I'm sorry, Kyle… I… was out of line," Gomer said.

"Urn, apology accepted," Kyle said. Michael noted that his friend was out of breath. Kyle must have been pretty scared.

Michael felt his anger rising again and forced it back down.

"Get out of here," Michael said. Gomer immediately turned to go, but not before shooting Kyle a look that Michael didn't like.

"Don't even think about it," Michael said. Then he paused for effect. "Remember, I'm everywhere.”

"Okay, okay," Gomer said, walking away.

Then Michael turned to Kyle and said, "Are you okay? You want Max to take a look at you?”

Kyle shook his head and said, "I'm fine, just a little shaken up.”

That's an understatement, Michael thought, looking at Kyle's face.

"Maybe he was just trying to scare me," Kyle said. Then, catching Michael's questioning expression, he added, "He thinks I'm after the girl in the office.”

"Are you?" Michael asked.

Kyle smiled and said, "Maybe a little.”

Michael shrugged and said, "I don't think he'll bother you either way.”

Kyle gave him a tighter smile and said, "I think you're right. Listen, Michael, were you going to…”

Michael shook his head and said, "No. I was just kid- ding around. You know, trying to scare him.”

That seemed to make Kyle relax. His smile was broader now. "Michael, thanks.”

"Sure," Michael said, giving him an uncomfortable shrug.

"I probably made it worse. It's not smart to bait some- one when you're stuck under a car. I'm just tired of taking it, you know. I feel like I've been taking it for long enough.”

Michael nodded. He knew how that felt. He, Max, and Isabel had been taking it their whole lives. And the group had been taking it pretty hard for the last three years. "Yeah, I know what you mean," he said.

"I'd better get back to work," Kyle said.

Michael turned to go, and Kyle added, "I mean it, Michael, thanks.”

"No problem," Michael said, heading out the door.

Outside, he decided not to go straight back to the oth- ers. Instead, he took a walk in the field behind the garage. Finding a quiet spot, he sat for a moment. He had told Kyle that he wasn't going to really hurt Gomer, but he wasn't sure himself what he was going to do.

In the moment before Kyle stopped him, he felt the same rage he had felt in their final battle with Agent Pierce… a battle that ended when Michael killed the agent. Since then, Michael had told himself a thousand times that he had had no choice. His friends' lives and his own life had depended on him.

And the truth was that he had acted in self-defense.

Yet when he had taken the agent's life, he had not felt scared. He had felt angry… furious, actually. And when it was done, there was a moment… -just a moment… when he had felt pleased with what he had done. Pleased that he had finally paid back the forces that had been dogging him, Max, and Isabel their whole lives. Pleased that he finally felt like he had won a small victory for them and for himself.

That moment had caused Michael more sleepless nights than the act of killing itself.

He had also wondered how much of that moment had been payback for even more, for his previous life and his previous defeats and eventual death. And not just his death, but Max's and Isabels.

He knew Max blamed himself for that failure as well, but Michael knew that it had been his job to protect them all. After all, he was a soldier, a defender… a general, in fact.

In his fight with Agent Pierce, with Gomer, and many other times in his life, he'd felt like something else was taking over. What was it? His training? His nature? Or something that had been programmed into him when he had been re-created and sent to Earth? Michael didn't know, but whatever it was, Michael didn't like it.

And it scared him more than a thousand Agent Pierces ever would.

Kyle's hands shook for several minutes after Michael left. He hoped Michael hadn't seen how scared he had been. At first, he had thought that Gomer was only trying to scare him. Although it was a possibility, the possibility dimmed when the undercarriage of the car had pressed against his nose… and three tons of steel threatened to drop down farther.

But Gomer had looked scared himself when he had left. Michael hadn't really hurt him, but he could have… in fact, he nearly did. Even Gomer wasn't so stupid to miss that.

Kyle had to go back under the car to check the seal on the transmission. He forced himself to do it quickly because he couldn't afford to be afraid in his line of work. It took about ten minutes, and Kyle was glad to be fin- ished. He moved on to the Plymouth and replaced the points and plugs. He finished that quickly, then took both cars for a test drive. An hour later, he parked the second car outside. By then, his heart had stopped racing and he was feeling more or less normal… which was just as well, considering what he now had to do.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the office door and stepped inside.

Dawn flashed him her smile, and Kyle felt the last piece of cold fear melt away.

"Hey, you," she said.

Without thinking, Kyle felt himself smiling back. "Hey," he said.

She stared at him for a moment. Then Kyle remem- bered why he had come inside. "Did Dan leave any instructions for me?" he asked.

"Just a note," she said. Though she held the note in her hand, she did not reach out to hand it to him.

As a result, Kyle had to lean over the desk to take it. When his hand reached hers, she pulled the note back and Kyle had to lean over farther.

He lost his balance for a moment and started to fall onto the desk. Reaching out with his other hand, he stead- ied himself and found that he was inches away from Dawn. He could even feel her blond hair tickling his cheek. He felt her hand on his shoulder and Kyle couldn't help taking a deep breath, taking in her scent. Wow, did she smell good.

"Careful there, sugar," Dawn said, not taking her hand off his shoulder.

Kyle got up slowly and returned her smile. Dawn held the note out in front of her again, a teasing smile on her lips.

Just looking at her, Kyle knew immediately that she was trouble. Gomer was jealous and bad-tempered. And Kyle had a responsibility to his friends to make sure they all kept a low profile. Plus, even when he was a Roswell High School star athlete he had never gone out of his way to seek out trouble off the field. That went double for the last two years, when he had become part of the Great Alien Secret Society.

like his friends, he had become adept at avoiding trouble.

Just two days ago, he would have taken one look at Dawn and headed in the other direction. But that was two days ago.

He had changed his life completely in that time. One of the reasons he and his friends had hit the road was so they could stop hiding all the time. They had started running so they could relax a little. It gave them the best chance of a normal life. And there was nothing more normal than a little lighthearted fun with a pretty girl.

Reaching out, he took Dawn's hand and held it for a long moment before taking the note. "Thanks," he said.

"Anytime, sugar," she said.

12

When Michael walked in, Max jumped to his feet. "Where have you been?" he asked sharply… more sharply than he had intended.

Michael didn't answer for a moment. Setting his face, he said, "Gee, Dad, I guess 1 should have called.”

"Michael, this is serious. People are disappearing right and left in this town, and you take off for hours," Max chided.

"Actually, women are disappearing in this town, so I think I'm pretty safe. Plus… news flash… I can take care of myself," Michael said, holding up his hand. "You know, alien-whammy and all that," he added.

His friend was right, Max knew. He immediately regret- ted his tone. And if he knew Michael, things would get worse from here. Some combination of his friend's nature and the difficult childhood he'd spent with a violent drunk named Hank had conditioned Michael's response to disagreemtents.

Max decided to stop the escalating conflict before it got going. "Michael, it's not that…," he began, but his friend waved him off.

"Forget it, Maxwell. I just went for a walk," Michael said. "Next time I'll give you guys a heads up.”

Michael had surprised Max a couple of times in the last two days, but this was the biggest surprise yet. There was something different about Michael, Max thought, consid- ering his friend for a moment. Max saw something in Michael's face, but his friend quickly looked away, study- ing the changes in the room.

Something was bothering Michael. Maybe he and Maria had had a fight. It would not be unusual. In fact, it would be par for the course.

"What happened in here?" Michael asked, before Max could say anything.

Michael surveyed the room and then said, "I mean, what did you guys do in here?”

"Just freshened things up a bit," Isabel said. "It was a little depressing.”

Michael took in the changes. The walls, which had been battered and pitted Sheetrock, were now smooth. Before, the original color had been anybody's guess because of the grime on the faded walls. Now the walls were blue and looked freshly painted. Isabel must have been using her powers.

Looking around the room, Michael took in the rest of the changes. The shelf looked like it had been refinished. The hot plate looked like new, and so did the sink. The beanbag chairs looked new and were no longer held together with duct tape.

Isabel had reattached the television's antenna and cleaned up the set as well.

Michael shook his head. "Way to keep a low profile guys," he said. Then he turned to Max and said, "You allowed this?”

Max was uncomfortable, and it showed on his face.

"Haven't you heard? Max is just a fellow traveler, Michael. He's not making all the rules here," Isabel said.

Michael turned to her and said, "Why did this feel like your work?”

"Oh, lighten up, Michael. We just did something nice for the guy who's letting us stay here," she said.

"Very nice, and we could maybe explain the walls, but how are you going to explain that you reconditioned the appliances?" he asked.

Michael turned back to Max and said, "Well?”

Max put his hands up and said, "I was against it.”

"Well, as long as you lodged a formal protest," Michael said.

"Maybe I went too far on some of it, but we can always change it back before we go," Isabel said.

Michael shrugged and sat down on the floor. He looked at Max and said, "I just want to point out how screwy things have gotten if I am the voice of reason around here.”

Shaking his head, Michael added, "So much for democ- racy. How long before dinner?”

Isabel looked up at the wall, which held a clock with a picture of a cowboy on its face. When they arrived, the clock had been worn and broken. Now it kept perfect time and looked new.

Max knew Michael was right. They had to be more careful.

"Just under an hour and a half," Isabel said.

"What's the game?" Michael asked.

"Fizzbin," Max replied. "Fizz-what?" Michael said.

"We'll explain as we play," Isabel said as she dealt out the cards.

Liz put her last dinner order down in front of the last two of the latecomers. The locals all ate early, Bell explained, but the people who commuted to Pueblo came in later. From what Liz saw, a lot of people commuted to Pueblo. There didn't seem to be much work in this town. She also noted that there wasn't a single woman or girl who came in alone.

They just didn't wander around by themselves in Stonewall. And now Liz knew that it was for a good reason. Someone was preying on the women in town. For a moment, she felt a flash of shame for letting Maria walk to the garage by herself. Liz had been shaken by her vision of Jimmy's future and had been too absorbed in her own thoughts to even think about the danger to Maria. She had felt better when she called Johnny's and the girl who'd answered had said that Maria had arrived fine. Liz had felt even better when Maria had come back with Michael in tow.

Maria came in with a frown on her face, and one look at Michael's face told Liz why. Another fight. Liz had asked, but Maria hadn't wanted to talk about it, and soon enough the dinner rush started.

Jimmy had watched Liz throughout the rest of the shift, but had not said anything to her. Liz was glad for that, then ashamed of herself. She was ashamed that she had avoided looking at him. But she didn't want to see what was in his eyes. She could feel the pain well enough with- out seeing it.

And she didn't want him to see what was in hers.

One of the reasons she had left with Max was so that they could be together and find some semblance of peace. So they could live together without fear… and without shame.

But that was not the only reason. They had also wanted to stop living only for themselves… living only to protect their precious secret. The secret of the alien-ness that had lived inside of Max, Michael, and Isabel. It now lived inside Liz and would probably one day take up residence in Kyle as well. They had left Roswell so they could use their secret and their powers to help other people. Like Tom Joad in The Crapes of Wrath, Liz herself had said. Doing good deeds and avoiding the law.

And she had believed in that idea.

And two days later she was avoiding the gaze of a boy whom she could not help.

Can't or won't? a voice in Liz's head said.

Shame.

There was danger here. Liz could feel it. She had sensed it very clearly when she'd had her vision of Jimmy at his sister's funeral. She had sensed it very strongly when she had seen the room that was not quite a room. And she had heard it in the girl's screams… a lost, terrified sound that she knew would visit her in her dreams for some time.

Whatever had Jessica was going to kill her. And he was very dangerous. No, not he, Liz thought. It's a they. She didn't know how she knew that, but something in the vision told her that it was a they… a very dangerous they.

Liz forced herself to look at Jimmy. He was clearing the last empty table. As if he felt his eyes on her, he turned to return her look a few seconds later. He smiled at her. It was a grim smile that didn't belong on his innocent face.

Liz smiled back. Then she felt something move inside her.

She had been afraid to look at Jimmy before, but she had done it. There was something else Liz was afraid of, very afraid, and it wasn't whoever had Jimmy's sister and the other missing girls in this town.

It was shame. She couldn't face it, and then she knew she didn't have to.

Almost immediately, the cloud started lifting. She walked over to Jimmy and put a hand on his shoulder. Though she was relieved when no visions came, she knew she would face them when they did come… without fear.

Liz knew she had made the right decision.

"Come on, Parker. We've got side work to do," Maria said.

Max saw Liz through the window. He felt a moment of relief when he saw that she was there. He knew his worries were probably baseless. She would be safe inside a crowded diner. He was sure of it. Yet, he was still relieved to see her.

As soon as he did see her, though, he realized that something was wrong. Something was bothering her. Almost as soon as he realized that, she was heading for the door. She was there as he stepped inside.

"Hi," she said, her voice even.

Max leaned down to kiss her and said, "Hi." He couldn't ask her what it was now. That conversation would have to wait until they were alone.

"You guys can sit down over here," Liz said, pointing to a long table near the center of the empty diner.

A woman Max recognized from yesterday came out from the kitchen. A smile appeared on her face, and she said, "Girls, are these your friends?”

Liz and Maria nodded together.

"Well, sit down," the woman said, gesturing to the table.

"I'm Bell," she added when they had all sat.

Liz stepped forward and said, "This is Max, Isabel, Michael, and Kyle," pointing to each one as she spoke their name.

"Pleased to meet you," Bell said.

Then she turned to Liz and Maria and said, "You sit down too.”

Liz started to protest, but Bell shushed her with a wave. Looking at Max, Bell said, "They have been on their feet for nearly twelve hours straight. Best help we've ever had here." As Liz and Maria sat, Bell took out a pad. "Now what can I get you kids?”

After she had taken their order, Bell disappeared into the kitchen. The door shut behind her and drowned out any sounds from the kitchen.

Once Liz was sitting, Max could see that she was tired. Maria, too. They had been working a double shift. Max felt a pang. He had done nothing to help their cause, while Liz and Maria had worked twelve hours in a row. Kyle, too. I'm some leader, he thought.

Then he noticed that Liz kept glancing at the boy from yesterday, the one with Down's syndrome. He was sitting in a booth next to the window, staring out and down trie street. "Do you want to invite him to sit with us?" Max asked Liz.

She shook her head. "I already did. Bell says that he likes to sit by himself at the end of the day and look for his sister.”

"How long has she been gone?" Max asked.

"Almost a week," Liz said. There was something in her voice and face that told Max there was something else, something she wasn't telling him. Instead, she turned to Kyle and asked, "So how was work at Johnny's?”

Kyle and Michael told the girls the same story Max had heard on the walk over.

"So Gomer is dangerous?" Maria asked, when they were finished.

Kyle shrugged and said, "Since Michael had a talk with him, I think he's mostly in danger of wetting himself.”

Though Kyle smiled when he said that, Max could see that their friend had been shaken up by his experience.

"So you did do something worthwhile today, Michael," Maria said.

Michael shrugged at that, and Max could see that he was uncomfortable. It looked like everyone was on edge today. Max was surprised. Stonewall hadn't looked like much of a town… the fact was, it still didn't look like much. But it was definitely dangerous. Women were missing. Crazed tow truck drivers were thrown into fits of jealous rage. Some- thing was going on here. Up until now, Max had thought the biggest danger they faced in Stonewall was being out of money. Max decided that he, Michael, and Isabel would have to keep an eye on the others.

It looked like there was something for him to do here.

A few minutes after Bell had brought their food out, she and Sam emerged from the kitchen with plates for themselves.

Liz and Maria immediately rose and started moving another table to add to theirs so that everyone would be able to sit together.

Pointing to the now larger table, Liz said, "Join us.”

She didn't have to look to know that Max was giving her a look… probably Michael, too. But there were things she needed to know, things that were more important than avoiding other people to keep their secret.

"You sure you want a couple of old farts intruding?" Bell asked.

"Don't be silly, just sit," Liz said.

Bell nodded and said, "Kids, this is my husband, Sam. Sam, these are Liz and Maria's friends.”

Sam gave them a short nod as the older couple sat down to eat.

"So what are you kids doing on the road in that van of yours?" Bell asked.

For a second, no one spoke, and Liz glanced at Max. She saw that the others were doing the same.

Max didn't hesitate further. "We all just graduated from high school. We wanted to see the country and to stay together for a while," he said.

Liz was relieved. It was a good story. It was also true… as far as it went.

Bell turned to Sam and said, "We should have done something like that when we were kids.”

Sam gave a snort but didn't look up from his food.

Turning to the group, she smiled and said, "Sam is not the adventurous type. But I'm glad to see you kids doing what you want. You'll have plenty of time later to settle down into jobs and a normal life.”

Will we? Liz wondered. Will we ever? She watched as Bell reached her fork onto Sam's plate and ate something from it. There was something very familiar and warm about the gesture. Liz was sure that the two did have something together.

Something good. Something normal.

Something that was impossible for the six of them now. Something that was impossible for her; even if she did somehow sever her connection to her half-alien boyfriend, could she find a normal life for herself? In that last three years she had spent countless hours hoping for that normality, but she had been changed by her experience. Even if she could somehow forget every- thing that had happened in the last three years, she was no longer the girl she once was. In fact, she was no longer completely human.

She was no longer normal.

When the changes in her body first showed themselves, she had been scared. Now with her new abilities even more pronounced, she was still scared, but there was something else. She was determined not to let the fear rule her life. Determined that she would do something other than suffer as…

Max's codependant girlfriend, as she had once said to Maria.

She was going to do something to make a difference with the new part of herself. And she was going to start right now.

"Bell, what do you think is going on with the disap- pearances?" Liz asked.

Liz watched a cloud cross Bell's face. She didn't speak for a long moment, and then said, "I really don't know.”

Then she paused again and said, "There have been about a dozen in the last three months.”

"About?" Liz asked. "Doesn't anybody know exactly how many?”

"Well, people don't need a reason to leave this town, a hole-in-the-wall with few jobs anymore. And a lot of people have taken off in the middle of the night over the years. Sometimes they're in trouble, running from the law or their beau. Sometimes they're looking for something that they won't find in Stonewall. And sometimes they don't leave a forwarding address.”

"So some are missing and some are escapees?' Maria asked.

Bell gave them a thin smile and said, "Probably.”

That didn't explain all of it, though, Liz knew. And it definitely didn't explain her vision of Jimmy's future.

"In the last three months, how many of the people who have 'left town' have been guys?" Liz asked.

"None," Bell admitted.

"What do the police say?" Max asked. Liz could sense that Max didn't approve of her interest in the town's strange business, but she was glad that he was helping.

There was silence from Bell for a moment, and then she said, "The sheriff was one of the first ones gone. She disap- peared, and no one has heard from her since.”

A chill ran down Liz's spine as she remembered the room that wasn't a room and the screams. She was sud- denly sure that no one would be hearing from the sheriff ever again.

"The state police don't believe what they're hearing. They think the girls just ran off," Bell said.

"Jimmy said that a few girls turned up later," Liz said.

Bell nodded. "Three more that we thought were miss- ing turned up five days later. They were pretty shook up and didn't remember anything about where they had been. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with any of them.”

Liz didn't want to ask her next question, but she couldn't back down now. "How long has Jimmy's sister been gone?" she asked anxiously.

"Seven days today," Bell said.

The entire table was silent. To Liz's surprise, it was Sam who broke the silence. "She was a nice girl," he said, and then went back to his food.

Bell nodded. "Actually, she had some wild years, but she always took care of Jimmy. Their parents died when they were young, and they were living with an aunt who doesn't much care about either of them. Jimmy still lives there.”

"Jimmy said she was planning to move to Pueblo with him," Liz said.

Bell nodded. "Yes, she had gotten into a hairdressing school. They were supposed to leave in a few weeks.”

The table went silent for the rest of the meal. Liz found she wasn't hungry, but forced herself to eat. As she did, she found the new thing inside her asserting itself more strongly, pushing aside the fear that she had felt for so long.

And she realized that she knew that new thing's name. It was determination.

13

Liz and her friends walked back to Johnny's Garage in silence. They automatically headed for the studio apart- ment in the back of the garage.

"So what do you guys want to do tonight?" Michael asked.

"Well, Space Boy, those of us who have worked all day are looking forward to sleeping," Maria asked.

"We'll have to work out sleeping arrangements," Max said. Gesturing to himself, Michael, and Kyle, he added, "We can sleep in the van.”

As the group came around to the side of the garage, Liz shook her head and said, "We'll squeeze in. The floor will be better than another night in the van seats.”

They reached the apartment door and found a pile of blankets and sleeping bags next to it. "The locals are a simple and friendly people who offer travelers oatmeal, blankets, and diner food," Maria said with a smile.

"That's really nice," Liz said, examining the pile. They were all old but clean. She grabbed up what she could and stepped inside, the others close behind her.

"What happened in here?" she asked. The room looked different, like it had been painted. There were some other changes as well.

"Don't get us started," Michael said. "Isabel, our alien- redecorator.”

They took a few minutes to figure out how to fit every- one. There were three sleeping bags, some blankets, four regular pillows, and two couch pillows. The guys insisted that the girls take the sleeping bags and pillows, while they made do with the blankets, the one pillow, and the two couch pillows.

Max and Liz would sleep next to each other, taking the first turn on the bed. Maria and Michael would share a blanket on the floor, though Liz could see that things were strained between them. At least, she could see the strain on Maria's face. Michael, on the other hand, seemed unusually relaxed. That meant that Kyle and Isabel would be next to each other. Kyle looked uncomfortable, but Isabel seemed oblivious. Well, there was a little room. They wouldn't be on top of each other.

The way things looked for the near future, Liz figured they had all better get used to being close together.

Back in Roswell, she had dreamed about the day after she and Max had left home and they could spend the night together without worrying about parents. Well, she was get- ting her wish, but none of those dreams included four other people in the room. And Liz found that, at the moment, Max was not the most important thing on her mind.

By now, everyone was sitting in his or her respective sleeping area. Liz stood up and said, "I want to talk to you all about something.”

The room immediately fell silent. Everyone was looking at her. From the look in Max's eyes, Liz knew that he already knew what this was about and he was not pleased.

Max didn't wait for her to go on. "Liz, we all feel for Jimmy, but this is a police matter. We can't get involved, not right now," he insisted.

"Max, in case you weren't paying attention, the police are among the missing," Liz replied.

"Liz, we just can't. We're less than five hundred miles from Roswell. We can't do anything to call attention to ourselves," Max said. He paused and said seriously, "I'm sorry, Liz, but I can't allow it.”

Liz felt the blood rising to her face. "I'm not asking your permission." She saw the surprise on Max's face. And hurt, too. Liz hated to see him look like that, but this was too important. "As you said, you aren't making all the decisions for this group," Liz said. She softened her tone. "I'm not talking about sending up a huge alien-flare to the Special Unit, but maybe we can help… find something out and place a call to the state police. That's it," she said.

"It makes me uncomfortable," Max said.

"Everything makes you uncomfortable," Isabel chimed in, surprising Liz. She had barely spoken since they'd left Roswell. "If we never wanted to make you uncomfortable, we wouldn't have left the house since we climbed out of our pods," she added.

Smiles broke out in the room at that. To Liz's surprise, one of them on was on Max's face.

"There's something else," Liz said. "I know for a fact that if we don't do something, Jimmy's sister Jessica is going to die.”

"Did you have a…," Max asked.

"I saw it when I touched him. I saw him at her funeral. I also saw her…”

She tried to describe the room that wasn't a room and the screams, but she knew they wouldn't understand unless they saw that place, heard those screams, and felt the menace that she had felt. "Whoever has her is very dangerous," she said simply.

Michael was the first to speak. "I'm in," he said. That once might have surprised her, but less than two days ago Michael had been the one to insist they help the air force pilot's daughter she had believed was still alive and the victim of a government conspiracy.

"I don't like bullies," Kyle said. "I'm in.”

"I'll help," Isabel said.

Liz looked at Maria, who shrugged and said, "What? You already have a majority. Okay, I'll help. My grand waitressing powers are at your disposal.”

Liz looked at Max last.

"That's the problem with democracy, not everybody gets what they want," he said, a tight smile on his lips. "Okay, I'm in. What's your plan?" he asked.

When she didn't respond, he prodded questioningly: "You do have a plan?”

"Well, I assumed we would come up with something together," Liz explained.

It was true; she had been so focused on convincing the group that she hadn't thought about the next step. Reach- ing into her pocket, she pulled out one of Jimmy's flyers. She had taken it from the diner as a reminder. Now she thought of a more practical use for it. "Isabel?" she said, holding out the flyer with the picture of Jessica on it.

"I'll do it," Isabel said. "But it's a long shot. Since I don't know her, she'll have to be asleep for it to even have a chance of working. And she'll have to be dreaming some- thing useful about her surroundings, something that will tell us about where she is or who has taken her.”

Liz nodded. "A long shot it is. We know what will hap- pen if we do nothing.”

Isabel tried to clear her mind. She found that most of the usual petty thoughts and distractions weren't there. They had been replaced by a single thought, by a single pain.

Jesse.

Leaving him had pushed aside a lot of things. Cleared out the cobwebs. Now, he seemed to have taken up resi- dence in her brain as well as her stomach as a large, heavy ball. By force of will, she loosened the knot and was relieved when it began to disappear. Flashes of her pain reared up from time to time. She let them come and then bubble away.

When her mind was finally clear enough, she opened her eyes and focused on the picture. She saw a girl of some- where between sixteen and eighteen years old. She was pretty, and the picture looked posed, like a school picture.

Jessica was smiling. Isabel concentrated on that smile.

Images of Jesse and other feelings that were surpris- ingly strong rose up. The knot started to form in her stom- ach again. Isabel didn't fight it. Instead, she concentrated harder on the picture, the smile.

Jessica.

Then Isabel began to feel the girl.

There was no better word to explain what dreamwalk- ing was like. She simply concentrated until she was able to feel people. The closest analogy she could make was the feeling she had about people that lingered after she had dreamed about them when she slept herself. Dreamwalk- ing was like that feeling, but instead of dissipating as she woke up, it grew stronger and stronger until she was with them in their dream.

With certain people, the feeling lingered long after the dreamwalk. She still had flashes of Max from the time that she had dreamwalked him while he was in the Special Unit's White Room. He had been so scared and vulnerable. She had felt it all; she had also felt him more clearly than she ever had before while they were growing up.

Then there was Alex. Isabel had dreamwalked him a number of times. At first it was just to find out if he was a threat to their secret, but even then the dreamwalks had left her feeling closer to him, connected to him in a way that she had had no words for at the time.

Eventually she was able to give that closeness a name. For a very short time around the night of the dance when she and Alex had held each other and she had called the closeness by its proper name… in her head if not to him.

Then Alex was dead.

Oddly enough, thinking of Alex did not distract Isabel. It focused her concentration and her energy. It had hap- pened before, and she liked to think that he was somehow helping her. Isabel began to feel Jessica more keenly, though the girl remained just out of sight, as if she was dancing on the edge of Isabel's peripheral vision. There was a cloud between them. Isabel had no trouble giving that cloud a name. It was fear. Wherever she was, Jessica was very afraid, even while she was sleeping.

Isabel concentrated again and suddenly found herself in a bedroom. Looking at the decorations on the wall, she realized it was a little girl's bedroom. On the bed she saw a dark-haired girl of perhaps nine or ten sleeping fitfully.

It was Jessica, Isabel realized. And she was dreaming about her herself as a little girl, sleeping in her room. The room felt very familiar to Isabel, but she knew that was only because it was familiar to Jessica. There was some- thing else, too, a sense of deja vu, as if Jessica had not only been here before, but had had this dream before.

Suddenly, Isabel was sure that Jessica was in the middle of a dream she had had since she was a little girl. That made the dream less helpful for Isabel. A recurring child- hood dream wouldn't have the kind of detail that Isabel and the others would need to find Jessica in the real world. There was a noise from inside the closet on the other side of the room, and the girl on the bed opened her eyes. Isabel could see fear in young Jessica's eyes.

Jessica glanced with recognition as if remembering this dream. Whatever was in that closet scared her badly. Isabel considered interfering, but decided to let the dream run its course. Perhaps it would show her something helpful.

Jessica got out of bed and walked toward the closet. She did so almost unwillingly, as if she knew what was inside and was being forced by some twisted dream logic to seek it out.

Isabel felt a swell of sympathy for the scared little girl in front of her in a long white nightgown and the scared young woman out there somewhere. She wanted to stop the girl from opening the closet door, but Isabel forced herself to keep out of it. Jessicas life would likely depend on what Isabel could learn here.

The girl padded across her room and reluctantly put her hand on the closets doorknob. Slowly she turned it and started to pull at the door.

An instant later, the door practically exploded open, throwing the girl backward and onto the floor in front of her bed.

What happened next, happened quickly. The first thing that Isabel noticed was the noise: A loud roar sounded from the closet.

It wasn't an animal sound that Isabel had ever heard, nor did she recognize it as anything from any movie or tel- evision show she had ever seen. It was a high-pitched and piercing series of clicks and tones that Isabel could feel in her chest.

Isabel was sure of one thing, though: It was terrifying Jessica. Feeling her panic rise, Isabel realized that there was something unnatural in that sound. Reflexively, Isabel found herself raising up her hand to defend herself as Jessica backed away from the closet as she sat on the ground. Then the creature that made the sound took a step from the darkness of the closet into the light of the room.

It was hideous. Isabel couldn't believe that it had come from a child's imagination. The creature had roughly the shape of a person, but that was where the resemblance ended.

Covered in a scaly brownish-yellow skin, it had a large head that came to a point in the back of its skull. Its eyes were a bright yellow, and it had a wide mouth that jutted out from its face and was full of long teeth.

It was a monster, and Isabel felt her blood run cold just looking at it.

A scream sounded from behind her, and Isabel turned to see Jessica cowering against her bed. The creature looked down at Jessica, and then it seemed to notice Isabel.

The monster began to make its sound, which was even louder now that it was free of the closet. When it lurched forward, Isabel instinctively raised her hand and sum- moned her energy. Before the monster could take a step, Isabel released her power and hit it full force in the chest.

The creature betrayed a moment of surprise as it sailed backward into the darkness of the closet. As Isabel caught her breath, she sensed motion next to her. Then she turned to watch Jessica getting up and heading for the closet.

"Wait," Isabel said.

But before Isabel could act, the girl grabbed the closet door and slammed it shut.

Then Jessica looked up at her and said, "We should go.”

Isabel nodded and said, "All right.”

She took Jessica's hand, and they started walking for the bedroom door. They had only taken a few steps when Isabel felt the little girl jerk in her hand.

Looking down, Isabel saw that something was pulling Jes- sica toward the bed. A claw with three fingers had snaked from underneath the bed and had grabbed Jessicas ankle. She recognized it as belonging to the creature from the closet.

Jessica screamed, blind terror in her voice. "Help me, don't let him take me!”

Isabel pulled on Jessica's hand, trying to tear her away from the bed. But the creature was very strong, and Jessica started to slip down to the floor.

"Nooooo!" Isabel heard herself scream.

Then the world flashed around her, and Isabel found herself in a large room. No, not quite a room, she realized as her heart hammered in her chest.

She looked around frantically and saw that the creature was gone. She was relieved, but still felt the tension and adrenaline of the encounter in Jessica's bedroom. As she started to relax, she took note of her surroundings. She was in a… place that she had never seen before.

It wasn't a room.

It had a floor that was made of some sort of metal and a ceiling maybe ten feet above. But it did not have walls. The floor and ceiling seemed to go on forever on all sides until they just disappeared into the distance.

There were no lights that she could see, but there was light all around her.

Looking down, Isabel saw that Jessica was with her, lying on a low table. The girl had her eyes closed, but Isabel could tell that she wasn't sleeping.

The little girl's eyes were shut, but they were being squeezed shut tightly. Jessica was afraid, Isabel saw. She was as afraid here as she had been in her bedroom. Isabel decided that she couldn't let this continue. She would have to try to contact Jessica directly. It risked waking her up and expelling Isabel from the dream, but she had no choice. She wasn't going to learn anything in this place.

And the girl was terrified.

Leaning down, she took Jessica's hand and whispered, "It's all right. I'm here to help you.”

Keeping her eyes closed, the little girl shook her head and whispered back, "Don't make any noise, they'll come.”

"I've come to find you. My friends and I are going to help you," she said.

"No, run. They'll catch you if you stay," Jessica said.

The little girl's eyes opened. Then her mouth opened. She was locked into a silent scream, gasping in terror over Isabel's shoulder. Spinning around, Isabel looked up and saw the monster from the closet's face. This time it was huge, hundreds of feet across and looking down at them from above.

Jessica screamed again, and this one wasn't silent.

Isabel realized a sound was rising in her own throat, and then the world shifted around her again.

Isabel came out of the dream in the small room off of Johnny's Garage. Jessica's screaming still echoed in her mind as she shook her head to try to clear it.

Someone had her by the shoulders.

"Isabel!" a voice called to her.

She focused on his face. It was Max. All at once, the screaming stopped. She realized that it was she who had been screaming.

Her friends were circled around her, looking at her with concern. Their sympathy made it harder for her to keep her composure, so she stopped trying. She leaned into Max's arms and let him hold her. When she finally felt like she had control over herself, she pulled away.

"What happened, Is?" Max asked, his voice gentle with concern.

"She was having a nightmare," Isabel replied. She took a deep breath and explained everything she had just seen. When she had finished telling the story, Liz nodded and said, "Thank you, Isabel. I know that was hard for you.”

"Not as hard as it was for Jessica," Isabel replied. "Wher- ever she is, she's in real trouble and she's terrified. And I don't think she'll live long if we don't do something.”

"At the moment, there's nothing else we can do," Max said. "We still don't know anything that could help her.”

"I'll have to keep trying," Isabel said.

"Are you sure you want to do that?" Max said.

"I'm sure I don't," she replied. "But if I don't, Jessica will die, and she's…" Isabel thought about how to explain how scared Jessica was. She was in terrible danger, and she was just a little girl on the inside And there was something else. Jessica had gone back to the closet to close the creature in… something Isabel was sure she would be afraid to do. And she had told Isabel to run, to save herself in that room. Jessica was brave and had tried to protect her.

Isabel thought of how to explain that to her friends and decided she couldn't… not that it mattered. What she had to do, they couldn't help her with.

"Maybe there was something in the dream we could use," Liz said, turning to Maria.

"You used to interpret my dreams. What does the room mean? The monster?" Liz asked her.

Maria thought for a minute and said, "Well, her room symbolizes security. When we dream about home, it rep- resents a place where we can't be hurt. The fact that the monster is threatening her in her room is odd. Monsters usually represent the bad characteristics of the dreamer.”

She shrugged and continued: "The large room without walls is emptiness. It usually means disappointment that a lot of effort put into something has come to nothing. The fact that she's stuck on the table is pretty clear: helpless- ness. All in all, not very useful. Sorry.”

"What if some of the dream images are real?" Isabel asked.

"Which ones?" Max said, looking at her with surprise.

"I don't know… what if the monster is just the guy threatening her? No, not a guy. She said they," Isabel said. "And what if she really is tied to a table somewhere?”

"You may be right… you probably are… but that still doesn't help us," Liz said.

"I'll have to go back," Isabel said.

"But not tonight," Max said. "If she woke up, it will be a while before she's asleep and dreaming again. You need some rest.”

Isabel nodded. She quickly undressed for bed, using her powers to make her shirt into a longer nightshirt. She was barely aware of the others around her. She crawled into her sleeping bag and put her head down. Though she was tired, she found that she was reluctant to close her eyes. Finally, she did.

She only hoped that no dreams came.

Kyle and the others went to bed right after Isabel. After watching her dreamwalk and hearing her tell the story, no one wanted to talk or play cards anymore. That was just as well with him. It had been a long day. He had worked a full shift, and then there had been that business with Gomer.

Settling under the blanket, he was suddenly very aware of the short distance between himself and Isabel… barely a foot separated them. It wasn't that he'd minded. It was just that… well, he knew it was a necessity. There just wasn't room in the small apartment to give anyone much space on the floor.

Still, he found he was very conscious of her breathing next to him. And, as usual, she smelled wonderful. Then he realized that Dawn was nothing compared with Isabel. No, not nothing. She seemed nice enough but, she wasn't what he wanted.

Well, it might be an accident, but it harmed no one if he enjoyed being close to her. His thoughts were foolish, he knew. She had just broken up with her husband.

Her husband.

Not her boyfriend, but her husband. And even before Jesse, when she was free, she had never looked at Kyle in any way other than friendship. Still, the thoughts came, anyway. And though they were foolish, he also knew that it wouldn't hurt anyone if he indulged in them.

Isabel started in her sleep, and for a moment, Kyle thought she might wake up. She didn't. Instead, her hand reached out and found his chest, and rested there for a moment. He found that the sound of his own breathing and the beating of his heart seemed deafening. However, no one else in the otherwise quiet room seemed to notice.

Then she was moving toward him in a sleepy haze. Kyle held his breath as she put her head down on his chest. He was amazed that the thundering inside didn't wake her, but she stayed asleep.

Well, he thought. She's had a scare. It's only natural. She probably thinks I'm Jesse.

Kyle regained his breath and slowly put his arm around Isabel's shoulder. He suddenly felt guilty about his thoughts about her. She was grieving the loss of her hus- band, and scared to death for some poor girl. And there he was entertaining a schoolboy crush.

They had more important things to think about now. Something awful was happening in this town. Liz, Isabel, and the others were trying to help. And Kyle knew what his own father would do. Sheriff or not, his father had never backed away from someone in trouble. Kyle would do the same. He didn't know what good it would do any- one. He didn't have Max's powers, or ever Liz's. He only had himself. Still, he would lend whatever help he could.

Isabel stirred, and Kyle looked down at the top of her head. She did smell wonderful.

Kyle knew it would be a long time before he fell asleep.

When Kyle woke up, Isabel was already up. In fact, all the girls were. He saw that Max and Michael were just getting up as well.

Maria was looking down at Michael and nudging him with her foot. "Come on, Space Boy, you can walk us to work," she said.

"We all will," Kyle said, getting up himself.

"Isabel, you should come too. I don't want you here alone," Max said.

Isabel nodded and said, "I tried again, Max. I couldn't make contact at all.”

Kyle stepped forward and said, "Maybe she's just awake.”

"Maybe," Isabel said flatly as she stepped outside. The others followed.

Kyle could tell Isabel was still shaken up. Something had happened to her in the dream. She was scared. That told Kyle all he had to know about what they were up against.

He had rarely seen Isabel frightened. Kyle had always thought she was fearless by nature, cooler even than Max. Part of it was her powers, he guessed. She could defend herself against almost anything. A larger part of it was just her nature, though. He had never seen her back down from anything from a fight with an alien menace to an uncomfortable situation with a friend.

Fear looked unnatural on her face, and Kyle found something strange rising up in himself: anger. He was angry that something would take hold of Isabel that way. She had suffered enough. She had given up enough. Instinctively, Kyle found himself walking closer to her. It was absurd. Of the three guys in the group, he was the least able to protect her or anyone else. In fact, if it were not for Michael, he might not have survived his encounter with Gomer.

Still, Kyle decided that anyone out to hurt Isabel would have to go through him first.

At the diner, Bell insisted that they stay to eat breakfast before the place opened. Kyle was glad. The food seemed to take Isabels mind off what was bothering her. Kyle ate quickly; he had something he wanted to do before work. He leaned down to Isabel and said, "Are you going to be okay?”

"Sure," she said. She looked cool and collected. It seemed like the old Isabel was back, but Kyle didn't believe it for a minute.

"Don't go to the Laundromat," he said. "Stay with Max and Michael.”

She started to protest, but Max interjected, "You can keep trying to contact Jessica.”

"I'll check out the Laundromat," Michael said. "I was the first runner-up for the relief-attendant position.”

"Okay," Isabel said. "I'll keep trying to reach Jessica.”

Satisfied, Kyle said his good-byes and headed back to the garage. He had about a half hour before work, and no one was in yet. Heading around back, Kyle found the minibus. It was sitting on cinder blocks and looking every one of its thirty-some years of age.

It had been a hippie vehicle… that much Kyle could see from the psychedelic paint. He wondered if Dan had been a hippie back then. Dan wore his long gray hair in a ponytail, but, still, the image didn't fit. He was way too serious a person.

Kyle grabbed a few old tools from the shed in the back and got back to the van.-He opened up the hood and checked out the engine compartment. He would need Dan's permission to open up the engine and take a look at the timing chain, but he did see a number of parts they could use: alternator, starter, fuel pump. They were all things that it would be a good idea to carry around as spares if they kept the van. After all, it was at least as old as his father, and Kyle was pretty sure that keeping it running would be a serious part-time job for him in the weeks to come.

Next, he opened the driver's side door… which took some doing… and climbed inside. The interior wasn't in very good condition, with plenty of rust on the various pieces of exposed metal.

There were only two seats in the front. The back was left open, covered by a light blue shag carpet that looked older than the van. It was also littered with old magazines and other junk, including a broken guitar. He checked the date on one of the magazines; it was a Life magazine from 1970. Like the van itself, it was an artifact from a different age… or a different world. In all likelihood, the van had been sitting on these cinder blocks since that time. In that case, it would never be good for anything other than parts and scrap metal.

When he put the magazine down, it opened and some- thing fell out. Kyle thought it was a response card and started to turn away when he noticed that it was actually a color photo.

Leaning down, Kyle picked it up and looked into a window straight into the past. The photo was of the van when the psychedelic paint job must have been new. It was parked in front of the garage, which looked much newer as well. In front of the van was a tall, gangly teenager with long hair, who was making a peace sign with his hand. He looked maybe seventeen, about Kyle's own age. Next to him was a boy of twelve or thirteen who had his arm wrapped around the older boy's waist. The young boy was smiling broadly and looking up in unabashed admiration at the hippie teenager. Kyle turned the picture over and saw, scrawled on the back, the words "Me and Johnny.”

Turning it over again, Kyle studied the picture once more. There was something touching about the way the younger boy was looking at the older one. And something familiar.

"Hey," a voice said from outside.

Surprised, Kyle lifted his head up quickly and banged it on the top of the van. Turning around, he saw Dan looking at him through the windshield. Up until now, Dan had been stiff and serious. In fact, Kyle realized that he had never seen the man smile.

But there was no mistaking the expression on his face. Dan was angry.

Kyle stepped forward, not sure how to handle this. What was his new boss thinking? Feeling clumsy, Kyle got into the driver's seat and pushed the door open. Once again, it was stuck and he had to struggle with it to force it open.

The whole time, Dan watched him, scowling.

When he was outside, Kyle said, "I didn't mean to… I'm sorry if I… ”

"What are you doing?" Dan asked.

"I was just checking out the van to see if there was any- thing we could salvage," Kyle said.

"But it's not your van, is it?" Dan said, his voice stern.

Kyle got the feeling that Dan was holding himself back with some effort.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know it would bother you. I wasn't taking anything. You said we could talk about us maybe using some of the parts to fix our van," Kyle said.

Dan was silent for a moment. His face didn't change, or soften at all, though. Finally, he said, "You've got work to do. I need you to put a new carburetor on the pickup inside. Dawn has the parts in the office.”

Then Dan turned and walked toward the garage. Kyle gave him a few seconds' head start and then started after him.

When Bell turned the sign on the door to open, Liz real- ized that something was wrong.

"Where's Jimmy?" she asked, as the first customers came inside.

Bell shrugged. "He's usually on time, but he hasn't been the same since…”

There were a dozen people inside the diner. Liz knew more were on the way. Liz had to put aside her worry for Jimmy and his sister.

"What can I get you?" she asked the three men at her first table.

Twenty minutes later, Jimmy came in. Gone was any pretense of normality. His face was vacant. No, not vacant, haunted.

"Hi Jimmy," she said.

He didn't look up until she repeated herself. Then he glanced at her mustering a thin smile that died quickly. Liz hated to see the broken expression on his innocent and open face. It didn't belong there, even though Liz knew she had seen it before: in her vision of Jimmy at his sisters funeral.

Suddenly Liz was overwhelmed with feelings of help- lessness. For all of the incredible things Max and her friends could do… things she was beginning to do her- self… they could do nothing to help a scared teenage girl in trouble and this boy who had lost his sister.

Bell came up to him and put a hand on his shoulder, "Are you okay, Jimmy?" she asked.

He nodded.

"You don't have to work today if you don't want to. Why don't you go home," she said.

He shook his head. "She'll come here first. She knows I'm working today.”

Jimmy disappeared into the back and came back out with his apron on. He immediately began collecting the first batch of dirty dishes. When he came back, he grabbed another tray to get some more. He stopped what he was doing for a moment, looked up at Bell, and said, "Sorry about the mess.”

"What?" she said.

"The mess. I'm sorry," he said.

Then he turned quickly, accidentally smashing his tray into the pot of coffee that Maria was carrying. Maria let go immediately and the coffeepot went flying to the floor, breaking and spilling half a pot of coffee onto the floor.

Though Maria jumped back, Jimmy just looked at the coffee and then at Bell. "Sorry, I'll clean it up.”

Bell was right there, putting a hand on Jimmy's shoul- der again. "It's okay. Why don't you come with me?”

She took Jimmy to an open booth near the window and sat him down gently "Why don't you take some time, Jimmy?”

"She might come," he protested.

"Then you can stay right here and watch for her," Bell said.

"Okay," Jimmy said flatly.

Liz and Maria immediately started cleaning up the mess when Bell came over and said, "I'll get that.”

Going back to the kitchen, Liz picked up the order for her table. She looked at Jimmy sitting at his booth, staring brokenly out the window. He was waiting for his sister, but he somehow sensed that she wasn't coming. Whatever force that allowed Jimmy glimpses into the future was telling him that his sister's time was very short.

Liz had the same feeling about Jessica's future.

As she worked, Liz found herself thinking about Jimmy and the spilled sugar, then about the spilled coffee. Jimmy had known about each event before it happened, but had been unable to stop it.

Teiresias, Liz remembered. That was the name of the man from ancient Greece who was cursed with the ability to see the future but was powerless to change it. Well, Max had given Liz the power to see the future. Was that power… that incredible ability… going to be Liz's curse? She and Max had used the power just days ago to save the life of a woman who was attacked in an alley outside the Crashdown. Then they had used it to save themselves from the gunman on graduation day.

Were those two successes going to be the exception, not the rule? As Liz looked at Jimmy sitting by the window waiting for his sister, Liz was afraid that she already knew the answer.

15

That is it?" Max asked.

Isabel was silent for a moment. "Nothing that will help. She was dreaming about her brother. They were both younger. They were playing Candy Land.”

"So maybe she's okay for now," he said.

Isabel shook her head. "No, something's wrong. The dream was disjointed. She's… fading somehow. And I got the feeling that the monster was always just around the corner.”

Max put his hand on her shoulder. "You're doing every- thing you can.”

When she looked up, her eyes were ringed with tears. "She was playing with her brother, Max. He's very sweet, and she loves him a lot.”

Max didn't need telepathy to know what Isabel was thinking. Isabel had been his sister for as long as he could remember… and for a lifetime on another world that he couldn't recall.

How many rainy weekends had they spent playing Chutes and Ladders or Monopoly… sometimes with Michael, but always with each other? Was Jessica dying? Was that image of playing with her brother going to be her last thought on Earth? Max had not had visions of the missing girl like Liz, nor had he shared a dream with her like Isabel. Nevertheless, he felt like he understood her.

He wanted to say something else to Isabel but could think of nothing to say, nothing to make this better. So he kept silent, but he did something he hadn't done in longer than he could remember.

He took Isabel's hand in his.

A few minutes later, Michael approached the bench they were sitting on and said, "Looks like they won't be needing any help today meeting the community's laundry needs.”

Michael looked closely at Max and Isabel for a minute and said, "No way. Get up, you just can't sit here and stew. Come on, let's take a walk or something.”

Max shook his head. "No, I don't want to leave Liz and Maria. We should stay here," he said, indicating the bench outside of the diner.

It wasn't rational, Max knew. Liz and Maria were indoors, in a public place with plenty of people around. Max was certain that he was being unreasonable.

But he was equally certain that he wouldn't be going any- where. Michael didn't argue. "Okay. You're probably right.”

Michael sat down next to Max. After less than a minute, he said, "But we can't just sit here all day.”

Max nodded. "Come on, I have an idea.”

He led the trio back into the diner and approached Bell, who was working the register. When she smiled at him, he said, "Maybe there's some work we can do around here." "There's lots we need done, but I really can't afford… " "We'll work for free," Max said, before he could finish.

Immediately he felt Michael's elbow in his side. Bell looked surprised. "Free?" she asked. "Well, Maria tells us that you're cutting us a break for our food," Max said. "We'd like to thank you." He paused and then said, "And frankly, it would let us keep an eye on Liz and Maria.”

"Okay, hang around till the breakfast rush is over and we'll figure something out," Bell conceded.

Kyle walked into the office and saw Dawn sitting there. She looked up immediately and smiled broadly. "Hello, sugar," she said.

"Hi," he said.

She looked good, and he could immediately smell her perfume, but something had changed in him last night while he'd lain next to Isabel. Suddenly, Dawn looked like a dim shadow.

"What can I do you for?" she asked.

"Who's Johnny?" he asked, keeping his tone polite but neutral.

"Who?" she said.

"Johnny. You know, of Johnny's Garage," he said.

"Oh," she said, a look of recognition on her face. "That Johnny," she said with a smile.

Kyle didn't return the smile. "Who is he?" Kyle repeated.

Dawn's response was neutral. "He's Dan's brother. He was some kind of a war hero in Vietnam. He won a medal from Congress or something.”

"Congressional Medal of Honor?" Kyle offered.

"Yeah, I've heard my dad talk about him," she said.

"Did he open this place?" Kyle asked.

"No, Dan's father did when he was born, or when he was young, before Dan was born, I think," Dawn said.

Kyle nodded. "So where is he now?”

Dawn looked confused. "Where?”

"Yes, where is Johnny? Does he ever come in?" Kyle asked.

Dawn shook her head and said, "No. He's dead. He died in the war. They gave him the medal post… poss…”

"Posthumously," Kyle finished for her.

"Why are you interested?" she asked.

Kyle shrugged. "Just curious. I found this out back," he said, holding out the photo.

Dawn studied it for a moment and said, "You think it's Dan and his brother?”

"Maybe," Kyle said. "Anyway, I'll just give it to Dan.”

"Dan never talks about his brother. I just know because my dad knew them both when they were kids," she said.

"Okay, thanks," Kyle said, turning to go.

"Anytime," Dawn said as he stepped outside.

Kyle went back into the garage and approached Dan, who was getting ready to test-drive one of the cars.

"Dan, I just wanted to apologize for poking around without asking you," he said.

His boss didn't say anything for a minute, then said, "Don't worry about it.”

"I still would like to put our van in one of the bays tonight and check it out, work on it a bit," Kyle said.

It wasn't ideal. Without a new timing chain, he wouldn't be able to start the car, which made diagnosing other problems even tougher.

Dan nodded. "Sure, as long as you lock up.”

"And I still need a timing chain," Kyle said.

But even as he said it, Kyle sensed that Dan was sensi- tive about the van. It would never run again, of that much Kyle was sure. But it must mean something to Dan. Sud- denly he had the feeling that his boss wouldn't want to part with even pieces of it.

"Ill see if any of my suppliers have what you need," Dan said.

That was it, Kyle realized. Maybe it was just as well. He would pay more from a classic car parts dealer, but he couldn't afford trouble with his boss. He was making more money at the garage than either Liz or Maria were making at the diner.

The group needed him to keep this job. On the other hand, it would take longer to earn the money for the more expensive part. And it would take some time to have it shipped over.

More delays. And they did need to move on. The closer they stayed to Roswell, the more danger they were in. And then there were the disappearances in the town. He knew Isabel could take care of herself, but he also knew he would feel better when they were out of here.

"Oh, I almost forgot," Kyle said, holding out the photo. "I found this in the van," he added.

Dan took the picture and looked down. He was so startled when he saw the image, it looked to Kyle like Dan had just been struck. The color drained from his face, and he stared down blankly. Then he turned the photo over and read the back. Something moved on Dan's face and for a terrible moment, Kyle was afraid that his boss was going to burst into tears in front of him. Then Dan swal- lowed down whatever he was feeling, and his face was once again unreadable. Turning, he walked out toward the back door and said in a tight voice, "Get to work Kyle.”

Kyle stared after him for a moment, then he picked up the exhaust pipe he needed for his first car of the day and got started.

"Can you kids paint?" Bell asked.

Max nodded.

"Sure," Michael said.

"The outside?" Isabel asked.

Max had also noticed that the outside of the place needed it.

"I was going to wait until Sam got around to it, but I'm not getting any younger." Bell said.

"The front, side, and the back?" Michael asked.

"Yes, might as well do the whole thing," Bell said.

"It's pretty chipped. We'll probably have to scrape and prime it before we paint," Max said.

The building was red brick underneath but it had been painted many times since it was built. The last coat was white, but other colors showed through in a number of places as well as the original red brick.

"Just make it look nice. Match the white if you can. There's a ladder in the basement and some tools. Sam will show them to you. Then go see Harry at the hardware store to get whatever else you need. Tell him it's for me and that he can put it on my account," Bell said.

Then she turned toward the kitchen and shouted, "Sam!" A few minutes later they were rummaging around the basement, wading through old restaurant equipment. They found a tall, extendable ladder as well as a six-foot stepladder. There were also some drop cloths, old rollers, and one brush. They would be able to use all of it, and it would save Bell some money.

At the hardware store, Harry had looked at them with dis- trust. Max didn't mind. He was used to it in this town. And knowing what he did about what was happening here, he understood it.

But once Harry had called Bell, he had been helpful, if not particularly friendly.

Less than half an hour later, they were putting on three pairs of painter's overalls.

"I'll take the ground level," Isabel said.

Max put the extendable ladder in position, grabbed a scraper, and started climbing. They were working on the side of the building and Max started on the top left. He scraped at the chipped paint while Isabel did the same on the ground and Michael did the same from the stepladder.

The prep work is most of the job, his father's voice said in his head. Do it right, or you’ll be back at it again in an year. The sum- mer after sixth grade, his father had taught him to paint.

"Don't overwork it, Max," Isabel said from below. It was more of his father's advice.

When he looked down, he saw his sister; there was a slight smile on her face. He found himself returning it.

That summer when Max was thirteen and Isabel four- teen, Dad had announced that they were going to paint the house. Still, he was thirteen and there was a certain procedure for these things, so Max had protested. Isabel had too, but the next day the three of them were outside, surrounded by equipment and paint.

It was a clear day, early in the summer. And since it was pretty early in the morning (which had been a real sore point for Isabel), it was not hot yet. A few minutes into the job, Michael had shown up dressed in old shorts and a T-shirt.

"Glad you could make it, Michael," Dad had said.

"Sure," Michael replied.

No protests. Michael actually wanted to be there, Max had marveled. Well, Max knew things were tough with his foster father. Michael was hanging around more and more. Max's parents acted as if it was perfectly normal. In fact, they had taken to inviting him over themselves. A wave of feeling washed over him. He was surprised to find that he missed his parents.

He shook it off. It had only been a couple of days…

Yet, it would be much longer before he saw either of them again. Maybe never. He felt a stab in his stomach at that. It surprised him. Things had been rough with Mom and Dad after his and Liz's arrest for holding up the conven- ience store. Max had even moved out to live with Michael.

He had not been able to tell this father the truth about why they had really done it… or the more important truth about who he and Isabel really were. Finally, they had told their parents the whole truth. And then they'd had to leave Roswell, which just wasn't safe for them anymore.

But one summer before all of that… even before Liz… Max, Isabel, and Michael had painted the house with Dad.

And soon, the clear, warm air, the motion of the rollers on the side of the house, and some old rock and roll that was playing on the radio had begun to work on them all. Max had found all of his thirteen-year-old worries fading away. The group began to joke and laugh.

Michael burped once. Then Dad had made it a burping contest. Isabel had pretended to be disgusted at first, but she'd joined the game. In fact, Max remembered that she had won. It was a great summer, Max remembered. And that first day was one of the best days of his life, he realized.

Max glanced down at Isabel and Michael. They were working steadily. Maybe the work would take Isabel's mind off things.

Reminding himself to ask Bell if they could borrow a radio, Max got back to work.

16

Hey time to take a break, mister," Liz said from down below, a smile on her face.

Max climbed down as the others put down their tools. Shaking off the dust and paint chips, Michael said, "You know, we'd be done already if we used out powers.”

"That would be low profile," Isabel said.

"Just a thought," Michael said, raising his hands and smiling.

Max quickly scanned the wall. They had almost fin- ished scraping it smooth. As a result, they had made many patches that were bare brick or half a dozen different col- ors. It was already after the lunch rush now. With a break to eat, Max figured they would finish scraping the side and maybe the front by the end of the day.

"How's it going?" Liz said.

"We'll be at it a few days," Max said.

"I think it's nice. Bell really appreciates it," Liz said.

"Well, we appreciate the food," Max said.

"And you want to keep an eye on me," Liz said seriously.

Max shrugged as Michael said, "I would really appreci- ate some food about now.”

Inside, Max saw Jimmy sitting by the window of the nearly empty diner. The boy looked like he hadn't moved since that morning, when Max had seen him last. Jimmy was still looking out with the same forlorn stare. Max felt a stab of guilt at how much he had enjoyed working outside with his friends while Jimmy was inside thinking about his sister and worrying… with very good reason, Max knew.

Suddenly, he knew he had to help Jimmy, and the name- less others in town who were lost or who had lost loved ones. Just two days ago, he had said to Liz that he thought his path in life might be to use his powers to make a difference… to try to help people. Well, in front of Max was a person who needed help as badly as anyone he had ever seen. Helping him might be dangerous… that much, he had learned from Liz's visions and Isabel's dreamwalk. But since he had come out of the pod, his entire life had been dangerous.

Max didn't know if he really could help, but he knew he would try.

As soon as he finished eating with the group at the diner, Kyle headed back for the garage. He didn't want to do any- thing to tick off Dan. He had clearly upset his boss and he didn't want to add to the trouble. Unless he kept this job, they might never get out of Stonewall.

Outside Johnny's, Kyle saw Gomer for the first time that day. The bigger man glanced at Kyle and looked away quickly. Kyle hoped that meant his trouble with Gomer was over. He relaxed a little when Gomer climbed into the garage pickup truck and pulled away.

When Kyle stepped into the garage, he saw Dan at work on an old station wagon. Dan had disappeared after Kyle had given him the photo, and Kyle was relieved to see him back at work. Kyle approached his next repair job… another tune-up… and Dan didn't even look up. Apparently, things were back to normal.

About an hour later, before he was finished with the tune-up, Kyle heard footsteps behind him. Immediately sure that Gomer was looking for trouble, Kyle spun around to find Dan standing behind him.

Relieved, Kyle let out a sigh that was louder than he had anticipated. Dan didn't seem to notice. Then Kyle saw that the older man was holding out something. For a sec- ond, Kyle's brain wouldn't register what it was. Then, it finally did…

Dan was holding out a timing chain.

For a second, Kyle found that his mouth wouldn't work. Fortunately, his hands still did, and he took the heavy chain from Dan.

"I pulled it from the van out back. You can put it in tonight after hours if you want," Dan said, his face as unreadable as ever.

"Thanks, I mean… this is great," Kyle replied.

"It's not free. It'll come out of your pay," Dan said.

"Of course," Kyle said.

"And here's a key for the padlock on the big garage door. Lock up when you're done. Dawn will lock up the office," he said.

"Thanks," Kyle said.

Dan grunted and turned back to head for the office.

Kyle carefully put the chain down. It was a very lucky break for them. He would probably be working late into the night to get it into the engine of their van. Once that was done, he would be able to get it started and really get it running right. If they had to, they could probably be out of Stonewall in a few days or a week at most, depending on how much Dan charged him for the parts he needed.

Kyle used to dread full shifts at the garage in Roswell. Then, he had seen his future ticking away every hour that he worked. Now, his future and the future of his friends depended on his ability with cars. Kyle found himself look- ing forward to the next job. If he finished his cars early, he might be able to pull the engine of the van before dinner. That meant he would have no trouble getting the timing chain in and getting the engine back in the van before bed.

For the first time in… maybe the first time ever, Kyle found himself eager to get back to work.

Just after four thirty, Kyle went to get Max and Michael to help him push the van into a repair bay. Though they have been pleased by Kyle's news, they had left the diner reluctantly and then hurried back.

Kyle understood. There was something odd in the air at Stonewall. And lately, that air seemed to be getting thicker. He was glad the guys were staying close to Isabel, Liz, and Maria. That thought moved his hands even faster. He grabbed the engine lift and wheeled it over to the van. Yes, if he hurried, he could get it out before Liz called to tell him to come down for dinner.

Two hours later, when the shop phone rang, Kyle picked it up and knew it was Liz.

"Dinner bell, Kyle," she said.

Kyle smiled as he said, "I'll be right there.”

Before he headed out, he took a quick inventory of his work. The engine was out of the van, and he'd even pulled the old timing chain… which hadn't broken so much as disintegrated in a number of places.

He nearly trotted out the door. If he ate quickly, he would be able to get the new one in no problem and, if he was lucky, get the engine back in the van before it got too late.

Kyle was the last to arrive. He came in excited and told them about the van.

"I'll need a few days to get the van running well, but I should be able to get it started at least tonight," Kyle said.

Max was pleased that it looked like they would be able to leave town in a week of less.

"I want to thank you kids," Bell said as she brought out the first plates of food. "The place looks great.”

Max smiled and said, "Actually, it looks much worse.”

It did; they had scraped almost the whole outside of the building smooth, but there were now oddly colored patches everywhere. The diner now looked like a mottled mess.

"Well… you'll get there," she said.

"We will prime and paint the front tomorrow first thing, then we'll move on to the rest," he said.

"Fine, fine," she said as she headed back to get more plates.

When the food was all out, Bell came out and said, "Would you girls mind locking up? I have to go see my sister." She shook her head and muttered, "My good-for-nothing brother-in-law…”

"Sure," Liz said.

"Whatever you do, girls, don't marry a good-for-nothing lazy bum named Rex," Bell said.

"We'll remember that," Maria said.

Less than a minute later, Bell was leaving with Sam in tow. She stopped by Jimmy's table and said, "Come on, Jimmy. We'll take you home.”

Jimmy looked up, his eyes rimmed in red, and said, "What if she comes?”

"She'll know how late it is and know to go home. Come on. You need some sleep so you can come in tomorrow," Bell said.

"Okay," Jimmy said. And he headed for the door.

Then he turned and walked over to Liz. "I'm sorry about your friend," he said, quickly glancing over at the table. Was he looking at Max? "My what?" Liz said.

"Sorry," he said, and turned to leave.

Liz stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Which friend?" she asked.

Jimmy shrugged. Then he turned to go.

Bell came over and took him by the arm. "Don't mind Jimmy. He says the strangest things.”

An odd look crossed Bell's face. Liz wondered how much Bell knew about Jimmy's ability. Then Bell was all business again as she led Jimmy out the door with Sam in tow.

As soon as the door closed, Liz turned to Max and said, "Oh, my God!”

Max knew what she was thinking, but he shook his head. "It'll be okay.”

"No it won't," Liz said, raising her voice.

"Nothing is going to happen to me, or to any of us," Max said with more certainty than he felt.

"Jimmy has never been wrong. He has some version of what I have. He sees things before they happen," Liz said.

"Liz," Maria said, putting her hand on Liz's, "you pre- dicted the assassination attempt on yourself and our alien friends here twelve days in advance. Jimmy predicted spills in a diner. If you predicted one every day, you'd be right one hundred percent of the time.”

"No, he has the same gift. Or something like it," Liz said.

"I'll be careful," Max said.

"Maybe we should talk about getting out of here," Liz said. Then she turned to Kyle. "If we had to go, could the van get us to the next town tomorrow?”

Kyle was silent for a moment, and Max spoke before he could respond. "No," Max said. "We're going to stay and help these people.”

"But Max, you are in danger," Liz said. He knew how badly Liz wanted to help out here. But she was also con- cerned for him and the two desires were now at war inside her.

"We're going to help Jimmy. And we don't know any- thing about what Jimmy saw. Maybe he saw me get… hurt leaving town," Max said.

"But most likely, he saw you facing whoever it is that is hurting people in this town. The monster from Isabel's dream," Liz said.

"We're out here to make a difference. You said it your- self," Max said, and before Liz spoke, he added, "If the danger was to you, what would you do?”

Liz nodded. Then she turned to Michael. "You'll keep him out of trouble?”

Michael didn't smile or joke; he just nodded and said, "Yes.”

"I thought you were the one who didn't want to take any chances in this town," Liz said.

Max nodded. He thought about his own sister and his friends. "I changed my mind," he said finally.

"We still don't know if there is anything we can do," Michael said.

Isabel shook her head, "I haven't been able to contact her again. She may be awake or drugged, or out of it, or…”

"I don't think so. I saw Jimmy go to her funeral and she hasn't… turned up yet. But I think we're running out of time," Liz said.

"Another vision?" Max said.

"A feeling," Liz said.

"I don't know what else we can do, besides keeping our eyes open," Michael said.

"Then I guess we keep our eyes open," Max said.

"Are we even going to consider the possibility that… well, what Gomer said," Maria said.

"That the girls were taken by aliens?" Michael said.

"Isabel did see a monster in the dream," Maria said.

"And you said that monsters were metaphors," Michael replied.

"I know, I'm just saying that we should consider the possibility," she said.

"I don't think so," Liz said. "What are the odds of us running into aliens out here?”

"Isabel?" Maria said.

Isabel shook her head and said, "I don't know. The dream was awful, but that monster was like no alien we've ever seen. It just doesn't seem likely.”

"I agree," Max said. "We're dealing with a psycho or maybe a small group, but we have no reason to think any- thing else. Either way, we do the only thing we can and keep our eyes open.”

"I read a thriller about a kidnapping in Texas," Liz said. "The kidnappers are caught something like ninety-five percent of the time.”

That got Max's attention. "That's good," he said.

Liz nodded. "The problem is that eight-five percent of the time, the victims don't make it.”

Another spell of silence descended on the table.

"If I stay up late, I might be able to patch the van up so that we can make a quick getaway tomorrow," Kyle said.

"No," Max said. "We're in this for the long haul and we're going to need the van in good shape. Do it right and take the time you need. We'll leave when we're ready and can get far away from here. Besides…”

Max turned to Michael, smiled, and said, "When it starts to go down in the street…”

"We don't leave until it's finished," Michael replied.

Max heard a sharp intake of breath and then, Smack! "Ow," Michael said, rubbing his shoulder where Maria had struck him.

"This is not a gangster movie!" Maria said. "And it's just as well. They tend to end badly, Mr. Sonny Corleone.”

"It was just a joke," Michael said.

"Not a very funny one," Maria said.

Kyle rose, explaining, "I'd better get back. I want to at least get the engine back into the van.”

"Be careful," Max said.

"Always," Kyle said as he left the diner.

Everyone remained silent. Kyle wondered if they were all thinking the same thing he was: that there wasn't much time left before…

He wasn't sure what was coming, but he was certain that it was coming quickly. Like Liz said, it was a feeling.

17

When Kyle approached the garage he was glad to see that there was no sign of Gomer's pickup. He was also sur- prised to see movement through the office window. He caught a flash of blond hair. Dawn.

He entered the garage quietly through the large door. Kyle hadn't seen her enter the shop area since he had started at Johnny's. With any luck she would just go whenever she was done.

Back at the van, he was glad he had already rigged up the engine on the lift. He was getting tired after the long day. And he was slowing down after eating, as well. Max had said they were in this for the long haul. There was no point in staying up all night to work on the van.

He would have a long enough day tomorrow.

Well, if he pushed a little, he could wrap up the work in maybe an hour. He would have the engine set and bolted into place by then. He could take care of the finish- ing work tomorrow.

About an hour later, he tightened the last bolt on the last engine mount. Then he decided to clean up and join the others.

As he closed up the engine compartment, he realized there was something different about the air. It smelled…

Cool hands reached around and touched his face, then covered his eyes.

The air smelled nice.

It was Dawn. "Guess who?" she asked, laughing.

He placed his hands on hers and held them there for a long moment. Then he gently pulled them away. Without thinking, he realized that he was smiling. "I don't know… Dan," he teased as he turned around.

Her eyes flared in mock anger for a second, then she smiled.

"Oh, it's you," he said.

"Yes, it's me," she said. Then she just looked at him silently.

"Working late?" he asked, his voice rough. Surprisingly, he found that he was nervous.

She shook her head. "Dan's Web site. You're going to have to help me with that," she said.

"Maybe tomorrow… or…," Kyle began.

"I didn't mean tonight," she said. "I'm sure we can come up with something better to do tonight.”

Kyle's throat went dry. She watched him with a look of mild amusement on her face.

"What do you think, Kyle?" she said.

As it turned out, Kyle found that his mind was com- pletely blank. Then all he could think of was how good she smelled. What was that perfume? he thought.

And then she was moving. She leaned into him and put one hand around the back of his neck. As she pulled his head down, she extended her own neck.

Then she was kissing him. Soft and then open. For a moment, Kyle felt it. Sweet relief. This was exactly what he had wanted from the first second he had seen her sitting at her desk. There were no aliens, no Special Unit, no bullets slamming into his chest, no secrets… only her. And she was sweet.

For what seemed like a long time, Kyle lost himself in her. He kissed her firmly, and she answered back even more forcefully. This was what he needed. He wasn't a monk. And Buddha's Middle Way did not ask him to be.

Dawn was what he needed… but what he wanted was…

Isabel.

Not Dawn.

When the realization hit him, it did so with a sudden force that he felt in his stomach. He pulled his mouth away from hers. For a moment, she pulled him back with her tight grip. Then he was free again, pushing himself away gently but firmly.

"What is it, Kyle?" she asked, a light still on in her eyes.

"Ah… I can't, Dawn," he said weakly.

She glanced down and smiled at him again. "I know for a fact that isn't true," she said. She was still smiling, but the smile was getting tighter by the second.

"I like you. I really like you, but I won't be staying in Stonewall," he said, gaining more confidence in his own voice. The light in her eyes was almost completely out now. The look on her face hardened.

"I didn't ask you to, did I?" Dawn reminded him.

"And the van's full. I can't take anyone with me," he said.

Her eyes cold, she said, "I didn't ask you to do that, either.”

"I'm sorry, I…," he began.

"I know, you can't," she said sharply.

"Please understand," he said.

"Understand what?" she asked.

"I mean, I do like you," he said.

Her cold stare told him that she was expecting some- thing more. From him. But how to explain? How could he explain that it meant more to him to sit next to Isabel than it did to kiss her? How could he explain that he would rather talk to Isabel than… anything with her. Isabel was an impossible situation. She was still married, and up until days ago had been living happily with her husband. She wouldn't care what Kyle did with this girl.

But he would care. It would matter to him.

He couldn't make Dawn understand all that that. And she probably didn't really want him to try.

"I'm sorry, I really am. But there is someone else in my life," he said.

He saw a brief flash before the side of his face exploded into red.

Smack! His hand was touching his cheek before what had hap- pened registered on him. As he rubbed the place where she'd slapped him, she began shouting.

"Then why have you been playing with me, Kyle?" she said, drawing his name out like it was a curse. He thought she was overreacting. He felt compelled to try to calm her down.

"I…," was all he could say.

"This whole time, this whole game!" she said, her voice getting louder still.

Kyle kept silent. He had nothing to say. At least, there was nothing he could say that wouldn't make things worse.

"You've just been playing with me. Having a good joke at the local girl's expense!" she railed.

It had been a long time since he had seen a girl truly angry. And even longer still since he had been on the receiving end of that rage. It was unsettling. "I'm sorry," he said again. He knew it was lame.

Apparently she did, too. She was still angry, but some- thing was changing. Her eyes were beginning to get red.

Uh-oh, he thought. Angry was better.

As she started to sob, she turned and stormed away. Kyle let out a long sigh, glad it was finally over.

But before he had taken another breath, Kyle heard Gomer's voice.

"Dawn," he called out. Kyle could hear concern in his voice.

Gomer stepped into the garage. He didn't even glance Kyle's way and said, "Your dad said that you told him not to pick you up. I just wanted to make sure you got home okay.”

Yeah, and make sure she didn't work too late with me here, Kyle thought.

Dawn didn't respond, she just kept walking across the shop floor toward him. When she was just a few steps away, Kyle could see that Gomer had finally seen her face.

"What's going on here?" he asked, looking first to Dawn, then to Kyle.

"We were just talking," Kyle said.

Then he saw Dawn's shoulders shake and heard her first sob. Gomer looked both surprised and confused. Great, Kyle thought.

When Gomer looked at Kyle again, Kyle saw that some- thing else was brewing there.

"You," Gomer said, glaring at Kyle. Kyle saw that the only thing that kept Gomer from coming after him was Dawn falling into Gomer's arms. Whatever control she had fell away, and she sobbed openly into his chest.

"What did he do to you?" Gomer asked.

Kyle had thought Gomer sounded dangerous before, when he had trapped Kyle under the car. But now Kyle knew that Gomer had just been playing then, because now he was hearing what Gomer sounded like when he was really dangerous.

Well, Kyle had faced bigger and tougher guys on the football field. He could be pretty dangerous himself.

And he wasn't stuck under a three-ton car now. Kyle felt a shot of adrenaline race through his system.

Gomer was holding Dawn, but looking up at Kyle with murder in his eyes. Buddha only knew what he was thinking.

When Dawn's sobs began to subside, Gomer pulled back a little and said to her, "What happened here?”

"Nothing," she squeaked. "I just want to go home.”

"Sure, in a minute," Gomer said, completely disentan- gling himself from Dawn. He immediately headed for Kyle.

Kyle squeezed the fist on his right hand into a ball, ready. He was tired of running, and decided that he was going to give Gomer a surprise. It was almost too bad that he and Gomer would be getting into it over Dawn. Though Kyle knew that he had done nothing to her, Gomer didn't.

Kyle was tired of being a victim. Nevertheless, if Gomer kept his head, Kyle wouldn't make a move against him.

But it looked like Gomer was going to make the first move. Without stopping, he reached out with both hands and shoved Kyle hard.

Expecting it, Kyle didn't hesitate. He stood his ground and shoved back even harder. That surprised Gomer. The fury in his eyes dulled a bit, and uncertainty began to dawn there.

"What did you do?" Gomer said.

"Nothing," Kyle said. "At least nothing to Dawn. Touch me again and I will take you apart, though." Kyle saw that Gomer was buying his bravado. The uncertainty in the bigger man's eyes was growing.

"Dawn, did he hurt you?" Gomer asked, not taking his eyes off Kyle.

There was a long pause, and then Dawn said, "No, he's just a jerk. Take me home, Gomer.”

Gomer studied Kyle for a few seconds, and then began to back away.

"You're lucky," Gomer said to Kyle, trying to sound tough.

Kyle felt a rush of satisfaction. He had won this show- down, and had done it without striking a blow. Maybe Gomer wasn't much of an opponent, and this hadn't been much of a contest, but it still felt good to win one… to win something. As Kyle watched Gomer help Dawn into his pickup, he felt his body relaxing slowly. Rather than wait- ing around, he decided to lock up and go see the others. He would have plenty of time tomorrow night to work on the van. He pulled the large shop area doors shut. They were the old-fashioned kind that opened from the sides instead of the newer ones that opened up and down.

The doors were heavy and squeaked on their wheels as he pulled them together. Then Kyle locked the two doors together with the padlock and looked up in time to see Gomer's pickup heading down the road into the rapidly darkening sky As soon as he turned away, he felt an odd vibration in the ground.

Earthquake? he wondered.

Inside their room, Max felt the ground shake underneath him. He was immediately on guard. Instinctively, he turned to the others to make sure they were okay. His best friend was wearing the same hyper-alert expression than Max was sure was on his own face.

"What was that?" Liz asked.

"I don't know," Max replied, a chill running up and down his spine. He had a very bad feeling about whatever was going on. By the look on his best friend's face, he was not the only one.

"Let's check it out, Maxwell," Michael said, getting up.

Max was on his feet in a second.

"Wait here," Michael said to Maria.

"We'll be right back," Max said to Liz.

"You'll be right back? You're going to leave us here while you check out whatever is out there?" Maria said.

As Maria spoke, the shaking of the ground turned into a deep rumbling that was getting stronger.

"She's right," Max said. "Everybody stay together. We'll find Kyle and go from there.”

Kyle ran toward the road and followed the lights of the pickup as it drove away from the garage and the center of town. As the ground started to shake even more around him, Kyle saw the pickup begin to weave on the street. Then he heard a loud crash and saw it come to a sudden stop, as if it were slamming into a wall that he couldn't see. The rear of the pickup seemed to lift into the air and hang there for an instant.

Then the lights in the pickup went out. Kyle could still see the outline of the vehicle, but it began to dim in front of him. No, that wasn't it. The truck wasn't dimming. It was just getting darker, much darker. Looking up, Kyle could still see the night sky and stars clearly above him, but the road around the pickup was nearly pitch dark.

Looking into the darkness made Kyle queasy. Then he was not just queasy, he was nauseated. Something about the darkness made him want to…

The world seemed to be moving in slow motion, and then Kyle heard someone call his name. Max. It was Max. With effort, he turned away from the sight in front of him and saw Max and the others approaching him at a run. They were looking at him and past him toward the pickup.

Kyle wanted to tell them not to look, but then the dark- ness was gone, and he saw a bright light shining on his friends.

The ground continued to shake, harder. Kyle turned quickly to see a large, brightly lit… something hovering over the ground.

The ship, if that's what it was, was big. Almost as big as Johnny's garage. It also seemed like a perfect cylinder… almost like a giant, solid pipe. It was covered with maybe half a dozen small white lights and another half a dozen large searchlights that moved and crisscrossed over the road and surrounding area.

For a terrible moment, Kyle saw one of the searchlights point directly at him as his ears told him that his friends were right behind him. The light was blinding, and Kyle had to close his eyes and then turn around. Finally, he could see the searchlight's circle track away from him. He tried to focus on his friends, but a bright afterimage obscured his vision.

When his eyes began to refocus, he turned around to see the cylinder continue to hover. Then the lights went out all at once, and Kyle heard a rush of air as the ship raced away.

He tried to track it with his eyes, but he looked away when he saw the cloud of darkness again. When he looked back, the ship was nowhere to be seen.

"Oh, my God," he heard Maria say from behind him.

18

Uh, my God, Max, it was a ship!" Liz said from behind.

Max nodded, still looking out into the sky. It was a ship, there was no question about that, Max thought. The only question was what they did now. His instinct was to pile himself and his friends into the van or whatever vehicle was handy and get as far away from Stonewall as they pos- sibly could. "Kyle, are you okay?" Max asked his friend.

"Yeah, I got here a few seconds before you did," he said. Kyle didn't look hurt, but he was obviously shaken up. There was something else, too, something in his face.

"Are you sure?" Max said.

"I think so. I feel a little sick," Kyle said. He explained about the black cloud that had hidden the ship, or what- ever it was. "Looking into that darkness made me feel sick to my stomach, I can't explain it," Kyle said.

"What kind of technology was that? What kind of ship? Max, who are they?" Liz asked.

"That was nothing like the ship that brought us here. A Skin ship maybe?" Michael said.

"I don't think so," Isabel said in a very firm voice. "I think I know exactly who they are, or at least what they look like.”

"Who is it?" Max asked.

"The monster from Jessica's dream. I think she was dreaming about the things that took her," she said.

Then a sound disturbed the quiet around them. Until Max heard it, he hadn't realized how quiet it had been. Since they had arrived, there hadn't been any of the usual insect sounds, not even the endless chirping of crickets that usually went on all night.

This sound was a growling. No, not a growling… it was someone moaning.

"Help me," a weak voice said.

"I'll go," Max said. Then he caught a glimpse of Liz's face and corrected himself: "We'll all go.”

The group approached the pickup. The truck was angled toward them, and Max could see that the front end was pretty well smashed.

As they approached, someone pushed his way out of the pickup. Max recognized him immediately.

"Gomer," Kyle said.

The large man staggered away from them, to the side of the road.

"Gomer," Kyle repeated as he rushed to the pickup to look inside.

"Gomer!" Kyle shouted. Gomer finally turned around and looked at Kyle as if he didn't recognize him.

Max saw that the tow truck driver had a bloody nose. Other than that, he looked okay.

"Where is Dawn?" Kyle asked.

"They took her," Gomer said, his voice weak.

Max knew that the next logical question was: Who took her? But Kyle didn't ask it. They all knew.

"What happened?" Max asked.

"I don't know," Gomer said. The man's head seemed to clear a small fraction, but he still looked like he was in a fog.

Shock, Max thought.

Kyle had produced a rag from somewhere and handed it to Gomer. "Put this on your nose," Kyle said.

Liz put a hand on Gomer's shoulder and said, "Gomer. Do you remember anything?”

That seemed to bring him out of his haze a little more.

"We were driving… then it got dark all of a sudden," Gomer said. He was struggling to remember details.

"Then we crashed into… something," he said, shaking his head, "but there was nothing there.”

Gomer took a breath and continued. "It was too dark to see, but there was noise. Dawn screamed. I tried to grab her, but something had her… The dark, there was some- thing wrong with it.”

Max could see that he was barely holding himself together. He looked like he was about to cry, and then something else crossed his face.

In a huge heave, Gomer leaned over and threw up on the side of the street. Kyle took a position next to him to see if he was all right.

"Max, I think we have to call the police," Liz said.

"What do we tell them?" Michael jumped in. "That aliens kidnapped Dawn and we should know because… ”

Max shushed him with a wave. Then he called for Kyle, who left Gomer leaning on the pickup several feet away "We do have to report this," Max said, keeping his voice down. "A girl is…missing.”

"We can't talk to the police. God knows who is looking for us. There's probably alerts across the country for us," Michael said.

"And if we disappear right after another girl is kid- napped, every cop in this state will be after us… and they'll have a pretty good idea of where we are. I don't like it, either, but we don't have a choice. We'll have to take our chances. We tell the truth: We heard a crash and found Gomer in the car. Nothing about the ground shaking or the ship. Gomer is the only eyewitness to the… abduc- tion. And he didn't see anything.”

Then a thought struck Max: Whoever was after them would be looking for six. "Michael, why don't you take the girls back to the room. Kyle and I will answer their ques- tions.”

The others nodded, and then Kyle said, "I'll get Gomer into the office and call Dan.”

Kyle grabbed Gomer by the shoulders and said, "Come on, let's get you some help.”

A little earlier, Kyle had been ready to take Gomer apart. Now he felt nothing but sympathy for the shaken figure in front of him.

Gomer stood up and allowed himself to be led toward the garage. "Dawn…," he muttered.

"We'll call Dan and then the police," Kyle said.

They reached the office door, and Kyle realized that he didn't have a key for that, so he had to prop Gomer against the door and run to open the shop area door. Once that was done, he led Gomer inside and into the office from there.

Instead of a couch, the office had a large bench seat from an old car. Kyle put Gomer down on that and reached for the phone and dialed.

After a few rings, his boss picked up.

"Yes," Dan's voice said.

"Dan, it's Kyle. I'm in the office. There's been some trouble. Gomer and Dawn were in an accident.”

"Are they okay?" Dan asked, concern in his voice.

"I've got Gomer here, but Dawn is… missing," Kyle said.

"Missing? She was in a wreck. She can't have gotten far," Dan said.

"It's not that. We think, Gomer thinks, that someone took her," Kyle said.

There was silence on the other end of the line, and then Dan asked, "Does Gomer need a doctor?”

Kyle took a look at Gomer, He had a vacant look on his face and was shaking. "Yes," he said.

"I'll call an ambulance and the state police. Stay there," Dan said.

Less than two minutes later, a disheveled Dan appeared in the office. He looked over Gomer, who was half out of it on the couch. "The ambulance will be here soon. The state police, too. What happened, Kyle?”

"Dawn was working late. She came into the shop, and we talked for a minute. Then Gomer came to pick her up, and they left together. I was locking up when I saw the truck hit something in the road. Then its lights went out. I ran over.”

"We heard the accident too," Max said.

"We found Gomer but not Dawn. Gomer said someone took her," Kyle said.

Dan was upset, but seemed satisfied with their story. And then a few minutes later the ambulance showed up. Two state police officers arrived just as Gomer was getting loaded into the back of the ambulance. Max and Kyle told the same story they had told Dan, and the state police offi- cers tried to question Gomer, whose muttered replies didn't make much sense.

One of the two officers came back and took out a pad. "What are your names, boys?”

That was it. Kyle knew if they gave their real names, they were dead… the FBI certainly had them on some sort of wanted list by now. If they gave fake names, their false identities would fall apart as soon as the police asked for identification.

"Max," Max said. He hesitated only for a moment and said, "Max load.”

That was it. Max had thrown the dice. They had already told Dan their real first names. They couldn't tell the cops something different. Their last names, on the other hand…

"I'm Kyle Miller," Kyle said.

The officer studied them with disinterest and turned to Dan. "Do you know these boys?" he asked.

Dan said, "Yes. Kyle works for me, and they're staying in my studio out back.”

The cop didn't hesitate. He just closed his notebook and said, "Stick around. We'll question Gomer when he's feeling better. Then we may have some more questions for you boys.”

Max and Kyle nodded.

"Do you know the girl's folks?" the officer asked Dan, who nodded and gave them the address.

"I should go with you," Dan said, his voice tight. "I know her father pretty well.”

The officer nodded, and they left together.

Kyle tried not to show his relief. Less than three days into their great trip, it had almost ended with a simple, Let me see some identification, please.

When they had first arrived in Stonewall, Kyle had looked down on it for being a hick town. The sticks. Well, apparently they did things a little differently in the sticks. And that difference had just saved their lives.

19

"What now?" Maria asked when Max and Kyle got fin- ished talking.

"We can't leave," Max said. "It would be too suspicious.”

"Well, it would look bad to the cops, but the cops are not the biggest problem in this town," Michael said.

He was right, Liz knew. There were worse things than police here. Worse things even than the Special Unit.

There were rooms that weren't rooms.

And monsters.

"But in a few days we will have to get out of town and put as much distance as we can between us and these aliens," Max said.

"What about Jessica? Dawn? Who knows how many others?" Kyle said.

"I don't think we can…," Max said. He didn't allow himself to complete the thought out loud.

Liz wanted to say that it wasn't true, that they could help. They could do something, find a way. But even as she thought it, she knew it wasn't true. Max and the others would likely lose any battle they fought. She had seen it happen in her vision of the future, in her vision of a differ- ent battle.

What chance did they have against a huge ship full of monsters? But if that were true, what hope did Jessica have? What hope did Jimmy have? As if he were reading her mind, Max said, "I'm sorry, but I don't think we can fix this.”

Liz caught Isabel's eyes and saw her own feelings mir- rored there. Liz had caught glimpses of Jessica's pain, but Isabel had visited the girl's dreams.

No one spoke much for the rest of the night. They got ready for bed and took their places with minimum conversa- tion. They didn't sleep much either. Whenever Liz did close her eyes, she saw rooms that weren't rooms, and monsters.

It was a long night, but it passed and Liz and Maria had to get ready for work.

The others got ready as well. Without discussion, they headed together for the diner, where Bell was waiting for them with concern written on her face. "Are you kids all right? We heard about Dawn," she said when they entered.

"We're fine," Liz said. She was surprised to see Sam peek out from the kitchen. He didn't say anything, but he looked concerned. Bell sat them down, and they told Bell and Sam the same story they had told Dan and the police. It was true, to an extent.

"It's a shame. I hope they get the bastards before anyone else gets hurt," Sam said.

Liz realized that that was the longest sentence she had heard Sam speak since they'd arrived.

The group ate quickly, and Kyle headed off to work while Max, Isabel, and Michael got ready to paint.

"You don't have to do that today" Bell said.

"We want to," Max said. Then, to keep her from protesting, he added, "It'll keep us busy." He didn't add that it would keep them near Liz and Maria.

A few minutes later, Jimmy arrived, but he barely acknowledged them. He just took his place at the booth by the window and put his head down.

The day at the diner moved slower than it ever had before. At first Liz thought it was because of how she was feeling. Then she realized that it was because there were fewer customers… and no women. It looked like people were not going out if they could avoid it. Things had got- ten bad in Stonewall… very bad, and desperate.

Unfortunately, it looked like they weren't going to be getting better anytime soon.

Kyle got to the garage early and decided to get right to work. If he finished early, he would be able to get even more time in on the van. And it seemed important to get the van running as fast as possible.

He found that he didn't like the idea of running out on the town. People had helped them here. And now those people were scared and facing something they didn't understand.

Better that they don't, he thought.

If they knew what was really happening, they would be terrified and they would all run for their lives.

Like us.

Max was right, though, he knew. What could they do against the force they had witnessed? Even Max's powers, incredible as they were, would be no more effective than Kyle's wrench against that technology.

When he reached the garage, he was surprised to see the shop doors open already. Then something struck him about the shop doors… they were only partly open. In fact, they looked exactly as Kyle had left them the night before.

Dan had said he would lock up, but clearly he hadn't.

Kyle found his boss in the office, he head down on the desk. He was still wearing the same clothes from the night before.

Hearing the door open, Dan woke up and raised his head. His eyes looked haunted, and he looked exhausted.

He also looked like he had aged ten yeas "You okay, Dan?" Kyle asked.

Dan shrugged. "I've known Dawn's father since I was a kid. He used to hang out with my brother. Last night I told him his daughter is gone.”

"I'm sorry, Dan. I'm sorry about Dawn and about your brother," Kyle said.

His boss showed a tiny flash of surprise when Kyle mentioned his brother. "This place is named after him. Our father opened it the year he was born.”

It looked like Dan wanted to talk. Kyle was too sur- prised to move for a long moment. Then he sat down on the office couch. "Was the van out back his?" he asked slowly.

Dan nodded. "Yes, he and my dad rescued it from being junked somewhere. He did the paint job himself.”

"It looks like it was a hippie-mobile," Kyle said.

Dan actually made a slight smile at that. "I guess he and his friends were hippies. They were also good kids. Ever heard of Woodstock?”

"Well, yeah. My dad has the movie," Kyle joked. "Did you go?”

Dan smiled and shook his head. "We tried. Made it as far as Indiana before the van broke down," he said.

"1 know what that's like," Kyle said, smiling. "Too bad for you guys, though.”

Dan shook his head. "Not really. We camped out in the van for a week, me, my brother, and three of his friends. That was the best trip of my life. That summer…" He drifted off for a moment. "I was thirteen, hanging out with older kids. I had the time of my life. Tom, Dawn's father, was there.”

There was a long pause, then Dan added, "The next summer my brother was gone.”

Kyle didn't know what to say. Dan clearly wanted to talk… for the first time since Kyle had met him. But he didn't know if he should ask the obvious question. After more than a full minute of silence, Dan continued on his own.

"Johnny and Tom went to Vietnam together. Tom wanted to go… he thought he was saving the world. My brother wasn't as sure, but he didn't want anyone going in his place. I mean, he thought we were on the right side of that mess, but he would have rather stayed home.”

Dan took a deep breath, then spoke the next part quickly. "Johnny looked after Tom over there, and a lot of other guys as well. He was a hero. Problem was, his squad was caught in an ambush and there was no one to look after him.”

On the verge of tears, Dan held himself together… barely, Kyle thought. "Sometimes you lose someone and, well, things are never the same. You are never the same.”

Kyle nodded. He thought of his mother. He knew something about that. He thought about Dawn. He had liked her. They had shared a connection, a small one, but a real one just the same.

And now he was running out on Stonewall. Running out on her.

"Well, tonight I told my brother's best friend that he's lost his daughter. Actually, I told him she was missing, but we know what that means in this town. His wife was there, so he said things were going to be all right, but I don't think they will be. I don't think Tom will be all right either." Dan shook his head. "What kind of place is this? What kind of people would do this?”

Kyle had an answer to that, but he didn't think it would help Dan to hear it. In fact, whatever his boss's suspicions were, Kyle knew Dan would be better off if he never found out what was really going on in his town.

Getting up, Kyle said, "Come on, you need some sleep. I can handle the cars in the shop for today.”

Dan nodded and allowed Kyle to lead him up and out of the office. "Maybe just a little, then I'll head over to Tom's to wait with him. Not much else to do.”

Kyle walked his boss around back and up to his house. At the door, Dan turned around and said, "Thanks, Kyle. Why don't you work on your van today? Take what you need from Johnny's van. Get yours running and get yourself and your friends out of Stonewall. Okay?" Dan's voice was stronger and clearer than it had been in the office. He clearly wanted Kyle to listen to him. "Okay?" he repeated.

"Sure, thanks," Kyle said, and turned to head back to the garage.

In the shop, there was only one car waiting. He checked Dawn's book and saw that four cars were due in this morning, but he wondered if they would show.

As he worked, Kyle thought about another group of kids traveling in a van more than thirty years before. They had shared the trip of their lives, but one of them would be dead a year later, leaving a brother who looked like he'd never really recovered and a best friend who would lose his daughter.

Tragedy. Loss. Were they waiting for Kyle and his friends at the end of this trip? Or would they not even wait for the end? Kyle knew he couldn't even begin to answer those questions now, so he did the only thing he knew he could do: He worked.

Max peeked into the diner for perhaps the hundredth time since they had started working. Liz and Maria were fine.

As he turned back to his work, he saw Michael staring into the front window as well. Michael looked away a moment later, and Max caught his eye as he friend did so. Michael shrugged, but neither one spoke. They didn't need to. They both knew what they were doing: keeping a close eye on the girls until they could get them all out of Stonewall.

Max thought that the prospect or running out on this fight should have shamed him, but he found that it did not. I'm not running, his mind replied on its own. He was protecting Liz and the others.

Once again, he wondered what kind of King he had been in his last life. What would that person think of what he was doing now? Had he loved Tess… his wife and betrayer… then as he loved Liz now? Would he have been willing to risk or sacrifice her? What about Michael? Or Isabel? Whoever he had been then, he knew he would not risk any of his friends now… and Liz least of all.

Maybe that made him unfit to be a King. That was fine… he didn't want the job. And by all accounts, he had blown it for himself, his friends, and his whole planet back when he was a King, anyway. For now, he would concentrate on protecting his piece of this world. If he couldn't save a planet, perhaps there was wise enough a ruler in him to save his friends and the girl he loved.

Max tried to concentrate on the work in front of him. It was an effort, but he kept his hands busy. By the time the lunch crowd was done, he, Michael, and Isabel had managed to finisn priming and painting the front of the diner. The work had not calmed him or given him any peace, but he fig- ured it was better than sitting idle. Isabel had used her pow- ers a bit in the end to spruce up the restaurant's sign, but Max hadn't bothered to protest. There was no one on the street to see them. They were finished, but Max was reluctant to move on. When they were working on the side and die back, he wouldn't be able to watch Liz through the window.

"Looks like the lunch rush is over," Max said.

"Rush?" Michael repeated. The restaurant had had maybe one third of its usual number of customers that day.

"That does it," Max said. He stepped back to look over the work.

"Let's clean up and get something to eat," Max said.

"Great job outside. Thank you," Bell said, after they'd freshened up. Though she was trying to put on a smile, Max could tell that… like him and everyone else… she was really thinking of only one thing.

"Thank you," Max said. "We used to paint with our dad back home.”

Bell nodded. "I didn't expect you to do the sign, too," she said.

"I found some matching paint in the basement," Isabel said, covering quickly.

"How did you get the neon to work?" Bell asked. "It hasn't come on in years.”

"I fixed it," Michael said, jumping in. "It was just a loose contact.”

Bell nodded politely, then turned serious. She looked from Max to Michael and said, "You look after the girls.”

"We will," Max said.

"These things happen in threes. They always take three girls at a time within about twenty-four hours. I know it sounds like crazy superstition, but every time it's happened, three girls have gone missing. Okay?" Bell said.

"Okay," Max said. Since she was opening up, Max con- sidered pumping Bell for information, but he decided against it. He needed to concentrate on getting his friends as far from Stonewall as possible.

Bell nodded and walked off. Liz came over and greeted him with a thin smile. Then she kissed him. holding it longer than usual.

Bell brought them food, but didn't stay to eat with them. "I'll be in the back with Sam," was all she said. Max understood. He wouldn't leave Liz's side voluntarily.

Kyle came in just as they sat down. Leaning into his friends, he said, "The engine is in and back in one piece. I have more I could do, but if we have to go, the van will be ready tonight.”

Max nodded. At the same moment, Jimmy stirred and Max felt a pang of guilt. We can't help her, Max reminded himself. No one can. Not now.

The voice in his own head sounded so convincing that he almost believed it.

"Then we'll go tonight when you get off work," Max said to Liz and Maria.

The others nodded. No one liked it, but they all silently agreed that they did not have a choice. A moment later, Max realized that they had fallen into their old habits: Max making decisions, and the others going along. But this was a decision that Max knew was the only one he or any of them could make.

After lunch, they started on the side of the diner. He didn't like not being able to see the girls, and he knew that Michael didn't either.

Yet he knew it was irrational. There had never been an… incident during daylight. And they would be on their way tonight.

"Too bad we won't be able to finish," Isabel said as they began. They would finish priming the side and rear of the diner today. And they would paint maybe half of the side wall before dinner. "Bell and Sam have been good to us," she added.

Max only nodded. "Too bad," he said, knowing that the painting was the smallest part of it… but the only part they could talk about now.

20

Kyle finished the tune-up and decided to call it a day. There wasn't much more he could do, at least not before he had to meet his friends. The van's engine had new points and plugs, and he'd gotten all cylinders working. The brakes were new, and he'd replaced all the belts and hoses.

Given more time, he would have done more with the suspension and taken a very close look at the carburetor. For that matter, he would have stripped both the engine and the carb and completely and rebuilt them.

But they were out of time. The van would get them hundreds of miles from Stonewall, at least. That would have to be enough. He had done all he could.

After he cleaned himself up, he headed into the office. Stepping inside, he reflexively looked for Dawn, scanning the small room for a moment before he realized the fool- ishness of the act. Still, her perfume hung in the room, and he imagined that he could feel her there. Yeah, I've done all 1 could, he thought. I'm a regular hero.

Kyle did what he had to do quickly. Using the com- puter, he found out the going rate for his timing chain. Then he figured out what he had earned from Dan so far. It wasn't enough, but he knew that would be the case. So he took an envelope and put in the difference with the money Liz had left him.

Then he pulled the van up to the pump and filled it with gas. Going back inside, he put the money for the gas into the envelope.

Grabbing a pen, he jotted a quick note on the side of the envelope: Dan, thanks for everything. Here is the balance I owe you for the timing chain and some gas.

It wasn't enough, Kyle realized, but he didn't even know how to begin to say the things he wanted to say. In the end, he just scrawled, I'm sorry on the bottom of the note and signed his name.

Taking the letter outside, he placed it in the garage mailbox, which was nailed to the wall outside the door.

He quickly parked the van by the side of the garage, making sure that it was pointed toward the road. All they would have to do now was get into it and drive. Walking around back, Kyle took a last look in the room where he and his friends had stayed. He wondered what Dan would make of some of the "improvements" that Isabel had made.

He wondered if Dan ever went inside that room. Johnny's room, his mind supplied.

Kyle wasn't sure where that thought came from, but he was sure that he was right. The room had been Johnny's. Maybe a playroom or something when the boys were younger, then a teenage rec room when Johnny was older… before he went to war.

There was more than one ghost in the garage, Kyle real- ized.

Collecting the towels and blankets, he carried them outside and shut the door behind him. Kyle was sure that Dan would not be back in the room. It was a shame, he thought. It was a good place… it had been a good place. And it must have meant something to Dan once.

Now it was just a painful reminder.

Kyle heard the door swing shut as he carried the linens to the office. Inside, he placed them on the couch and headed off to meet his friends. He spared a glance down the road, where Gomer and Dawn had met with the aliens who had taken her. He remembered the dark cloud, the ship, and the feeling it had given him in his stomach. He wasn't looking forward to driving past that spot, but it couldn't be helped. They would leave it and all of Stonewall behind soon enough.

As he headed down the empty Main Street, Kyle realized that he was sorry to be leaving Stonewall. They had gotten stuck here, and the town made Roswell look like New York City, but there it was. It didn't make sense, but Kyle real- ized that he had better stop trying to make sense of his life… it certainly hadn't gotten himself anywhere lately.

Kyle reached the diner just as the sun was started to set behind him. Through the window he saw his friends milling around inside the empty diner. He found himself wondering if there had been any customers for the evening rush.

There was something in the air again in Stonewall. Kyle had felt it yesterday before Dawn was taken. The feeling was even stronger today.

His friends greeted him as he walked in, their faces somber. He could see painting gear piled up near the kitchen door. Then he realized something was wrong. Jimmy wasn't at his place by the window. A moment later, Bell came out and Max approached her. "I'm sorry we won't be able to finish the painting job," Max said.

"Finish…?" Bell said, confusion on her face.

"We have to be going," Liz said.

Understanding spread across Bell's face. "If I didn't live here, I'd be going too. In fact, I've been thinking that this might be a time to make that trip to the Grand Canyon Sam and I have always talked about. As for the painting, you kids did a beautiful job. Thanks," Bell said.

"The front is done, and the side and back are scraped, patched, and primed. Sam can do most of the painting that's left with a roller and an extension pole," Max said apologetically.

"Don't worry about it. It looks like business is going to be slow for a while. We'll feed you kids and send you on your way," Bell said, turning back to the kitchen. "Sam, last order of the night," she said.

Kyle noticed that Maria was already in her street clothes. Liz, however, was still in uniform and was busy cleaning out the coffee machine.

"It's time, Parker," Maria said.

"I'll just do a few things while we wait for the food," Liz replied, moving on to fill a silverware holder.

Kyle understood what she was doing. She was keeping busy and trying to do something nice for Bell, because the woman had been good to her and because Liz felt like she was running out on her.

A few minutes later, Bell started bringing out the food. She and Sam sat down with them to eat. "I'm sorry that we can't give you a better sendoff," Bell said.

"You've done plenty for us," Liz replied. "We needed the jobs, and we wouldn't have eaten much in these last few days without you both.”

Bell shrugged, "I'm glad you girls came. If you ever get tired of the road, you can always come back and work here.”

Then the group started cleaning up, a ritual that felt like long habit though they had only been doing it for a few days. When they were finished, Bell handed Liz and Maria envelopes. The girls opened them, and Liz immedi- ately said, "This is too much.”

Bell shook her head. "I think that's just right.”

"Combined, this is probably more than the diner made today," Liz said.

"Think of it as a bonus, for the painting and every- thing," Bell said.

Liz was about to protest, but Bell shushed her, saying, "Sam feels pretty strongly about it. And you don't want to get into an argument with him. Trust me. For one thing, it takes forever.”

"Thanks," Liz said, tears forming in her eyes. Liz hugged Bell, then Maria, then Michael, Isabel, and Kyle.

They each said thank-you, and Bell looked outside and said, "You kids better get going. It's starting to get dark out.”

Liz turned for the door when Max stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. "Liz," he said, pointing at the wait- ressing uniform that she was still wearing.

"Oh yeah," Liz said, smiling. "I'll just be a second." Liz followed Bell into the kitchen.

Grabbing her clothes, Liz watched Bell go to the open base- ment door and shout down, "Sam, let's get a move on.”

Smiling, Liz went into the bathroom. She quickly took off her uniform and put on her street clothes. She stopped to check herself in the mirror when she heard a dull rumbling… like the sound of a large truck barreling down the highway in the distance.

The problem was that she wasn't near a highway.

Then she felt a vibration in the floor. As soon as she felt it, she realized what was happening. From that moment on, what followed seemed to happen in slow motion. The sound and the rumbling seemed to be coming from the rear of the diner, in the alley behind the kitchen area where Liz was herself.

Bell, was her first thought. She's back there.

With agonizing slowness, she reached for the doorknob of the bathroom and opened it. The rumbling was now a roar in her head.

The light in the kitchen was dimming, but she could still see the open basement door. She also saw that the back door was open. Bell must be outside, probably taking out the garbage. She found her voice and called out, "Bell!”

There was no answer, but Liz thought she saw a figure silhouetted outside. It was hard to tell because the world went almost completely dark.

No, it hasn't gone dark, Liz realized. A dark cloud was covering it somehow. It was a cloud you couldn't touch or feel, but it somehow covered light in blackness.

No, Liz could feel the cloud. She felt it right in her stom- ach in a twisting mass.

Don't look, she thought, and willed her eyes shut.

She felt only slightly better. Whatever that cloud was, it was penetrating even her closed eyes. She felt queasy, and her legs were rubbery under her.

She pushed all that aside. Bell was in trouble. And she didn't need her gift to see Bells future unless she did some- thing.

Liz didn't know what she could do, but she wouldn't stand here while whatever was out there took Bell.

Before she could think, Liz found herself running toward the back door. Her hip banged into a counter, and she opened her eyes. It didn't help. The dark cloud was everywhere, and she couldn't make out anything.

Using her hands, she felt her way. Then there was a strangled cry. Liz was sure it was Bell.

"Bell! Hang on!" Liz said.

Then there was a voice calling her name.

"Liz!" It was Max's voice.

Max would help. He would know what to do.

Then Liz's hand found the open door that led to the alley behind the diner.

"Liz," Max called again. It was hard to judge where his voice was coming from. Max might be right next to her, or on the other side of the diner. She couldn't wait, and stepped out into the ally, feeling her way through the night air even though she couldn't see anything. Her stomach was doing flip-flops, and she had to struggle not to retch.

"Bell!" a voice called out. It was Sam's and he sounded desperate.

"Bell!" Liz called, reaching out with her hands.

Nothing but air. Then… something.

But it wasn't Bell. Liz grabbed hold of something and then suddenly realized that something was grabbing her back.

It was hard, but alive. And Liz was immediately certain that it wasn't human.

It felt like a claw and pulled Liz forward in a single sharp movement. Liz felt a slight pressure on her neck, and plunged into the darkness.

21

It took Max an instant to place the sound. By the time the floor started to shake, he was already on his feet. He got up so quickly that his feet got tangled in the chair. He would have fallen if Michael had not been there, holding on to his shoulder.

"Liz," he said, voicing his thought.

She had gone into the back. Max headed for the kitchen at a run as the diner went dark. He banged into a table and heard Michael and Kyle doing the same.

"Close your eyes," he heard Kyle say, and did so immediately.

It helped relieve the nausea and the lightness in his head… a little.

It seemed to take forever to reach the back of the diner. Then Max's hand found the door to the kitchen and pushed it open. Michael and Kyle were right behind him, he knew and he pushed on. He felt the energy crackling in his hands as he ran, fear for Liz summoning it. He would make whoever was doing this regret they had ever come to Stonewall… if he could see them long enough to strike at them.

The ground was shaking so hard that Max found he had trouble keeping to his feet. Still, he felt his way back. There were screams and the rumbling all around them changed pitch. Something was happening.

"No!" Max said.

Then there was an odd whooshing sound, and the dark cloud lifted. Max opened his eyes, trying to readjust to the light in the alley. By the time his vision returned, he realized that the rambling had stopped. In fact, the alley was deathly quiet.

And Liz was gone.

"Bell!" a frantic voice called out next to him. It was Sam; he had a desperate look on his face.

Max knew exactly how he felt.

"Did they take her?" Sam said, his eyes wild.

Michael put a hand on the mans shoulder, and Max knew what he had to do.

Reaching out, he cupped his hand around the back of Sam's neck and concentrated. Slowly, the man crumbled to the floor.

"What did you do, Max?" Michael said.

"Put him to sleep for a while, 1 think," Max said. Lean- ing down, he touched the man's forehead.

"He's all right," Max asked.

"Liz," Maria said, from behind him.

Max shut out everything and concentrated on the prob- lem at hand. "Michael, help me with him.”

Together, they half carried, half dragged Sam into the diner and drew the curtains.

"Maybe, we should call someone," Maria suggested as Max and Michael drew all the blinds.

"No. No police. We don't call anyone," Max said.

There was no one to call. There was no one who could help them… no one who could do what he had to do now.

"Isabel, I need to connect with Liz. Asleep or awake, I need to know where she is, now," Max said, his voice tight and controlled… nothing like the swirling mass of grief and fear inside him.

"I'll try," Isabel said.

"No, don't try. Do it. Like you did with me when I was in the White Room. Direct contact," Max said.

Isabel nodded and sat down in a chair. She closed her eyes and fell immediately and deeply in to a trance. With- out asking, Max knew that Isabel was pushing the limits of her abilities.

A few moments later, Isabel came out of it, gasping for breath. "I know where she is," Isabel said, taking deep breaths. "She's not in the big room. She isn't on a table… yet. Bell is there and someone else," Isabel said.

"Dawn?" Kyle asked.

"I think so." Isabel said.

"Where?" Max said.

Isabel pushed her way out of the diner and scanned the road in the distance. "She could see outside for a second. There was a window, or a screen.”

Searching in the moonlight, Isabel pointed to a hill a mile or so in the distance. "There, behind that hill.”

Max turned to Kyle. "I need the keys to the van," he said.

"Max, you can't," Isabel said. "It's too dangerous. You said it yourself. Even our powers…”

"I'm going," Max said, his tone inviting no argument.

"Then we'll all go," Maria said. Max heard steel in her voice too. He understood. Liz was her best friend.

"No," Michael shouted. "Absolutely not.”

"She's my friend," Maria said defiantly.

"Don't you get it? They only take women," Michael replied.

"So you're saying that I can't help save Liz because I'm a girl?" Maria said, the challenge clear in her voice.

"Yes, in this instance, you can't go because you are a girl," Michael replied. He was clearly struggling to keep in control.

Max felt the seconds slipping away. If the ship left the planet or even the immediate area, they would never find it… and he would never see Liz again.

"You unbelievable, sexist…," Maria began, but stopped herself.

"You need to stay, Isabel, and keep and eye on Maria," Max said. "It won't be safe for either of you where we're going.”

Max didn't make it an order; he had given up that right. However, he would stop them if they tried to come. But Isabel only nodded, and then she gave Max a quick hug. "Come back, Max. And bring Liz with you," Maria said.

Nodding, Max turned to go. "Stay with them, Kyle," he said.

"I'm going," Kyle said.

"We don't have time for this," Max said. "It's too dangerous.”

"I know what's going on here, Max. Do you really think your chances out there are that much better than mine?”

"He has a point, Max," Michael said.

"I can't allow it," Max said.

"Well, maybe, but you're not the King and not the boss of me," Kyle said.

Kyle was right, but Max didn't want another person's life on his conscience. He reached out his hand. To his surprise, Kyle acted quickly. He leaned into Max for a moment and grabbed the keys from Max's other hand. Then he twisted his body away from Max. A second later he was holding the car keys.

"Nice try, Max, but I'm going. In fact, I'll drive," Kyle said.

Max felt the time ticking away. "Okay," he said, starting down the street. The boys were immediately at a run and reached the van quickly.

Kyle jumped in the driver's seat while Max and Michael jumped through the side door. Before they were even sit- ting, Kyle hit the gas and the van shot forward.

Even in his super alert and focused state, Max realized that the van was running smoother than it had since they'd gotten it. It also had more pickup, he noted as Kyle accelerated quickly.

They tore down the empty road, past the place where Dawn had been taken.

"There," Max said, pointing to the tall hill to their left. Immediately, Kyle pulled off the road and onto the open field.

The van bumped its way through the field, bouncing up and down. Kyle had to slow down to maintain control, and Max felt precious seconds ticking away. Then, when they were maybe two hundred yards from the foot of the hill, there was a loud snap from up front, and the van veered sharply to the left and came to a stop.

Kyle winced when he heard the snap. Something had broken in the front end. He knew it didn't matter now. The van couldn't take them any farther on tonight's trip.

If they succeeded in what they had to do, they would fix or replace it. If they failed in what they had to do, they wouldn't be needing transportation anymore. It would be cheerfully provided by some mean-tempered aliens. And the trip would be one-way.

"Van's toast," Kyle announced as he opened his door.

Almost as soon as they came to a stop, the three boys had jumped out of the vehicle almost simultaneously. Without a word, they started running for the hill at full speed. They were there quickly, and Kyle was sure that he had just beaten every sprinting time he had ever made on the football team.

They started climbing the hill and were at the top in less than a minute. Looking down, Kyle saw the ship. There was no black cloud, no running lights. Just a large cylinder sitting on some sort of landing struts in the rocky field.

It looked smaller on the ground, and Kyle figured it was maybe sixty yards across. It also looked a lot less men- acing, but that was a dangerous illusion, he realized.

"They don't look so tough now," Michael said, echoing Kyle's thoughts.

"We have to move quickly. Once they're in the air, we'll never see Liz again," Max said.

"What's the plan, Max?" Michael asked.

"No plan. We just go in and hit them with whatever we can, and we go from there," Max said.

"Looks like its about to go down on the street," Michael said.

"And we're not leaving until it's finished," Kyle added.

Michael gave Kyle a thin smile, but Kyle could see Michael's face setting into… what? His friend had had the same look during the confrontation with Gomer. Michael looked dangerous… and so did Max.

Kyle felt a rush of optimism and decided that he wouldn't want to be those aliens in the ship right now.

"Looks like they haven't turned on the cloaking device," Michael said.

"The what?" Kyle said.

"Whatever it is that creates the black cloud," Michael said.

"It might be a defensive weapon, or just a by-product of their energy source," Max said. "Let's hope we'll get close enough to do some damage before they turn it on. Let's go," Max said.

The boys moved quietly but quickly down the other side of the rocky hill. The ship was less than a football field's length from the bottom.

Kyle's heart was hammering in his chest, but not in fear. He remembered the feeling from the big games of his high school football career. He was "flipping the switch." That was what they had called it on the team. Flipping the switch was the change that came over you when you played the game. Athleticism could get you only so far on the field. To win, you had to turn a corner, you had to get aggressive. Kyle felt pretty aggressive now. He felt like he was ready for anything.

"Come on," Max said. "Let's get as close as we can with- out giving ourselves away.”

The trio had taken less than ten steps when Kyle heard a click from up ahead. Kyle kept moving until Max's hand went up and he said, "Stop.”

Instinctively, Kyle went as quiet as possible. Something was ahead of them, and Max was pointing to it.

There was that sound again, a high-pitched click, fol- lowed by another one. Kyle couldn't place the sound, then he realized he didn't like it… it sounded unnatural.

It took Kyle's eyes a moment to focus in the moonlight. Then he saw a figure up ahead. It was tall, taller than Michael… mabye seven feet in height. And though it was roughly the shape of a person, Kyle immediately knew that what he was looking at was no person.

He was looking at a monster… something out of a nightmare that Isabel and a girl named Jessica had shared.

The color of its reptilian-looking skin was hard to make out in the moonlight, but Isabel had called it brown and Kyle thought that was probably right. The shape of the head was the creepiest thing about it. The mouth was wide, but the head was relatively narrow at the top, and it came to a rough point in the back of the creature's skull. The yellow eyes were hard to look at. They had a mali- cious intelligence. And they were looking right at the three boys.

"He sees us," Max whispered.

"Why isn't he doing anything?" Michael wondered aloud.

"I don't think he takes us very seriously," Max replied.

Michael lifted his hand, "Well, he can take this seri- ously.”

"No," Kyle whispered back. "No fireworks or energy balls or whatever it is that you guys do. You'll sound what- ever kind of alarms they have. Let me take him the old- fashioned way. It'll be quick and quiet.”

Max turned his head in surprise.

"I've taken down two-hundred-and-sixty-pound defen- sive linemen on the field," Kyle said. "If I get into trouble, I'll call you and you can come back for me. Come on, we're losing time.”

As if to punctuate Kyle's comment, the ship began to hum. Then a few of the exterior lights switched on. If the ship took off…

Max studied him for a moment, "Okay. He's yours.”

Turning to Michael, Max said, "We'll circle around him and meet up at the center of the ship.”

Kyle nodded and took a step toward the creature. "Man, are you ugly," his whispered to himself.

Freshman year, the coach had decided that all the play- ers take a karate course offered by the phys ed depart- ment, for discipline. Like most of the guys on the squad, Kyle had not taken it very seriously, but there was one thing the instructor had said that Kyle had remembered. He had been showing them how to crack boards with their hands.

"Before you strike, see your hand breaking the board. If you can't see it, you'll never be able to do it," he had said.

This is just like the all county championships. Now there were some scary guys, Kyle thought.

Kyle noticed the creature eyeing him with interest. When it tilted its head, Kyle got the distinct impression that it was amused by him and his friends. There was a sound of footsteps from the direction that Max and Michael had gone. The creature's head turned quickly and scanned the area. It fixed on Max and Michael.

That was it. Kyle started running. He was less than fifty yards from the alien and he covered the ground quickly.

As he got closer he saw that the creature was fairly bulky up top… broad in the chest area. Its legs and lower body were thinner. Kyle knew what to do now. When he was only yards from the alien, he got himself ready and fought back the revulsion he felt.

Massive upper body means a higher center of gravity, he heard the coach say in his head. In that case, hit them low, the voice continued.

At the last second, he threw himself forward, at the crea- ture's lower thigh. He hit the creature with his shoulder. The creature didn't have time to move. The alien obviously didn't, think humans posed it a physical threat.

Then again, maybe he knows something we don't, Kyle thought as he took out his opponent with the best hit- and-wrap move of his post-football career. Like he learned on the team, he wrapped his arms around the alien's rough skin so it couldn't throw him off.

The rest was physics. The alien was going down.

He met with much less resistance than he expected. The creature immediately fell back, and Kyle realized that it was lighter than it looked. Though he couldn't be sure, Kyle thought he heard a solid snap as he made contact. Kyle and the creature went down together in a heap.

As soon as they hit the ground, he let go and scrambled to put some distance between himself and the alien as he tried to get to his feet at the same time.

Something grabbed his foot.

It's got me with its claw, Kyle thought, fighting down panic.

Kyle felt himself getting pulled closer to the creature and all he could think about was its wide mouth full of teeth. As he slid closer, Kyle heard a series of loud clicks from the alien. They went right through him and brought the panic closer to the surface. While he squirmed and tried to get away, Kyle felt the second claw trying to find purchase on his body.

I'm caught, his mind cried out.

Out of instinct, he reared up with one foot and slammed it where he thought the creature's head would be. He made contact with something and felt the second claw jab him in the stomach. He brought his foot down again and, this time, he heard a satisfying thud and knew he had landed a very solid blow. Kyle had hurt him. Sud- denly, the creature released him and… as far as Kyle could tell… went still. He wasn't sure, because he didn't turn around until he had scrambled several feet away.

When he did turn around, he saw the alien lying in a heap. It didn't move and had stopped making its horrible sounds.

Got him, Kyle realized. He had won one for his friends and for himself. A quick smiled formed on his lips, but Kyle knew they were a long way from done. He had to get to Max and Michael. Kyle pushed off the ground and found that he couldn't get up.

There was an odd pressure in his abdomen. Kyle's hand went to the spot and came up wet.

What? he thought looking down at his hand. It was wet with his blood.

As the haze of his adrenaline rush started to fade, Kyle realized that it wasn't pressure he was feeling in his stom- ach. It was pain.

The creature had stabbed him with his claw when they were struggling. It had gotten him pretty good, too, judg- ing by the fire in his abdomen now. Kyle tried again to get to his knees and found that he couldn't. A moment later, he was on his back, pressing his wound with one hand.

"Kyle, are you okay?" a voice called out. It was Max.

When Kyle spoke, he thought his voice was remarkably strong. "Yeah. I took him down, but he clipped me good. I'll have to sit out the rest of the game.”

"You sure you're okay?" Max said.

"Yeah, go… do what you have to," Kyle said.

He spoke the last sentence quickly as the pain got worse. Kyle knew that Max would stop to heal him if he knew that Kyle was hurt. They couldn't afford the time now. Liz's life depended on them striking hard and fast.

If they succeeded, there would be plenty of time for Max to help him when they were done and Liz was safe.

"Stay where you are," Max said. "We'll be back for you.”

No problem, Kyle thought. I'm not going anywhere.

Despite the pressure he was putting on the wound, Kyle felt the blood seeping from it. He saw the blood spreading over his shirt and begin to drip down to the ground.

Suddenly he knew he was a long way from all right.

Well, the important thing was that Max thought he was okay. Now, he and Michael could finish what the three of them had started. Kyle was glad he had been able to help, even if it was just to take down one of the bad guys.

He shivered. That was new. Had it gotten colder all of a sudden? Kyle figured it had. He noticed something else; the pain wasn't as bad now. The waves were gone, and he felt only a dull ache now.

He shivered again. When did it get so cold?

22

“Doesn't look like there are any more guards," Michael said.

"I'm not sure he was a guard. He didn't even have any weapons," Max said.

"Either way, it looks like they are all inside," Michael said.

They crept closer to the ship. A few more steps. Then a few more. They moved as silently as they could. Now they were less than twenty yards form the ship. Details were clearer. Max could see the landing struts and a single ramp that let up to some kind of hatch or doorway.

"How is that plan coming along, Maxwell?" Michael said.

"Slowly," Max replied, considering the scene carefully.

"We have no idea how many of the aliens are around or inside. We don't know what kind of weapons the ship has. And for all we know, they're watching us inside on the big screen now and laughing," Max said.

"Well, sure it sounds bad when you put it like that,”

Michael said. "I guess that leaves us only one choice.”

"The front door," Max said.

"On three," Michael said.

"One," Max said.

"T…," Michael began, but he was interrupted by a loud, high-pitched clicking that suddenly filled the night.

Max's eyes searched the ship for signs of movement. An instant later, he saw a spot near the top begin to glow. Reacting instinctively, Max threw up his hand, and two things happened nearly simultaneously. A green barrier appeared in front of Max and Michael and a bolt of some- thing tore out from the ship toward them.

It struck the barrier Max had created with tremendous force. The barrier held, at first. But the blast of whatever it was was still there… an angry ball of swirling white energy pressing itself against the barrier.

The blast was pushing into the barrier, closer to Max and Michael. In seconds it would be over for them.

No, not just for them. For Liz, too.

"Noooo!" Max said, pushing forward with his hand… except that Max knew that it wasn't his hand that was doing the real work.

Somewhere in his mind, in his cerebral cortex, power- ful forces were at play. When Max pushed, he pushed with his whole being. The green shield crackled with energy and blew outward, the blast that the ship had sent to them went flying back toward its point of origin.

It struck the ship in a shower of sparks that blinded Max for a moment. It also shook the ground.

Before his vision cleared, he said, "Three," and started running.

He sensed Michael next to him as a new sound emerged from the ship. No, not a new sound, a familiar one. It started to grow darker. Max felt a queasy sensation beginning in his stomach and heard Michael say, "No way. Not now." Before the darkness became total, Michael lifted up his hand and fired off a burst of his own.

This one hit the ship nearly dead center and shook it visibly. Instantly, the dark cloud dissipated.

"What did you do?" Max asked.

"Not sure, but it looks like it worked pretty well," Michael said.

They were at the foot of the ramp now. There was light inside the ship, and Max ran toward it.

Liz is in there, he thought.

An instant later, two figures appeared at the top of the ramp. They were pointing something down at Max and Michael. ' Even as that thought registered, a blast from Michael leaped out at them and tossed them very hard back into the ship. Max realized that Michael had taken the lead and was barreling up the ramp just ahead of him.

Well, he's better at this part than I am, Max thought. He had an instant to wonder where that thought had come from, and then they were inside the ship, standing on a landing with one door on each side of them.

The ship was filled with loud clicking sounds, which Max guessed were some sort of automated alarm. Some- thing was wrong. The floor was shaking beneath his feet. He and Michael must have hit the ship pretty hard.

Good, he thought.

An alien appeared from a door that slid open. Max cursed to himself. He had held out a slim hope that there might only be the three they had seen so far. Clearly, there were more. This one was similar to the one Kyle had taken down. Actually, it looked identical.

Michael blasted him back the way he came.

"That way," Max said, pointing into the hallway the alien had emerged from.

They stepped inside and found nothing. Just thirty or forty feet of hallway.

"What now?" Michael said.

Max thought for a moment. The ship was shaking now. Something was wrong with it. Whatever they did, they needed to do it fast.

No time. No time. No time.

There were sounds of movement from inside the ship. Max did the only thing he could think of: "Liz!" he called out.

He did it again. Michael called out as well.

"Shhhh," he said, holding up his hand.

Nothing.

They called for her again.

"Max," a voice said. There it was. Faint, but he had heard it. A look at Michael's face told him that it wasn't his imagination.

"Max," the voice said, louder this time.

It was coming from back behind the door. Max led them back to the small landing they had first reached when they entered the ship.

He heard Liz again, louder this time. Then he realized where they were. They were in the dead center of the ship. The landing obviously connected two main hallways that ran the length of the vessel.

Max started for the door on the opposite door, the one that would lead him to Liz. The door opened, but Michael's hand on his shoulder pulled him aside before he could step through.

"Let me check it out," Michael said, stepping through. Max was an instant behind him.

Faster than he could ever have reacted, Michael identi- fied and blasted two aliens that were waiting for them.

"Max," Liz called out again. She sounded much closer now. Max ran down the hallway. He and Michael checked doorways together and only once saw an alien… whom Michael quickly dispatched.

Then they tried another door and saw three people inside against a wall.

Liz was there, Max realized, feeling a rush of relief. She was standing up attached to the wall with some sort of straps or bands. Next to her were Bell and Dawn. Both of them looked unconscious. Liz seemed half out of it her- self, but she was fighting. She had retained enough con- sciousness to see where they were and had told Isabel.

A rush of love for her overwhelmed him, but he pushed it aside. He still had plenty of work to do. Max didn't bother to scan the room. He sensed Michael was doing it, and since he didn't hear any blasts he assumed it was clear.

Rushing to Liz, he waved his hands and the bands around her flew off. She fell into his arms. Putting her down on the floor, he ran his hand over her whole body. She seemed okay, except…

Drugged. They had given her something. It was affecting her, keeping her docile. Summoning his power, he placed his hand on her head and felt his energy flow into her.

Immediately her eyes cleared and she looked up at him.

Holding his hand up to tell her to be still, Max ran his other, glowing hand over her body, clearing it of the drug.

An instant later, Liz's arms were around him and he was pulling her up. "We're in the ship," he said.

Liz nodded. "I told Isabel where it was.”

"Can you walk?" he asked.

"I'm okay," she said, taking a step to make sure.

"Good, we'll have to carry them," Max said, pointing to Bell and Dawn.

Michael had removed their bands and quickly threw Dawn over his shoulder. Max did the same to Bell and they headed down the hallway, making for the landing and the ramp.

Michael was in front, and Max could see that he was watching carefully for aliens. Thankfully, none appeared. Then they were on the landing.

The ramp was in front of them. Michael headed down first.

Max almost stumbled when the ship shook and the ramp nearly threw him. Liz's hand was on him and he kept his balance. Finally, they were on the ground. Ten feet. Twenty. Thirty.

Michael stopped and put Dawn down. Max did the same with Bell. He took a quick look at them and saw that they were both breathing.

That done, he had only one thought. He wanted to put his arms around… "Max, we have to go back," Liz said.

"What?" he said.

"Back in there? We just got out… miraculously… in one piece," Michael said.

"There are others in there, I heard… screaming," Liz said. "We can't leave them.”

Max thought about Isabel's dreamwalking experience and Liz's vision. Whatever the aliens were doing to the people they took, it was awful. He looked at the ship. It was shaking visibly. And inside, there were girls who were imprisoned and being experimented on.

Max had some experience with that.

"Liz, it's too late," Michael said.

"We'll go," Max said.

"We'll what?" Michael said, shocked.

But Max was already running back to the ship and he knew Michael was just behind him. By the time he reached the ramp, Michael was ahead of him… muttering, but leading the way.

Since they had searched the hallway that was to the right of the landing looking for Liz, this time, they turned left.

There were no aliens in the hallway… at least, none that were moving. Quickly, they tried doors. Max saw equip- ment he didn't recognize and seemingly empty room, but no people- -or aliens, for that matter. Finally, at the end of the hall, they saw a single large room. Scanning it quickly, Max saw a long row of tables like the ones Isabel had described from Jessica's dream. Ten tables. No, twelve.

And three of them were occupied.

Max ran over to look at the closest one. Once he stepped next to the bed, something happened. The rest of the ship seemed to disappear around him. He could see the floor and ceiling going on in all directions, seemingly forever. There appeared to be no walls.

Rooms that aren't rooms.

"Michael?" Max called.

"I'm here. I see it too. Weird," Michael said.

Max stepped away from the table, and the room took on its normal appearance. It's an illusion, he realized.

"Maybe it keeps them from trying to get away," Michael said.

Max nodded and said, "Let's get them out of here.”

"Max, I don't think… this one. Max, this girl is dead," Michael said, pain in his voice.

Dead.

Rage boiled up in Max. These creatures had taken an innocent girl. Experimented on her, and killed her. They had also taken Liz, and that fate had been waiting for her.

There were straps holding the girl in front of him to the table. Max used his powers to break then and took her into his arms. He gently put her on his shoulder and stepped away from the bed.

He was relieved when the illusion was broken and the room appeared normal finally.

"I've got Jessica," Michael said. "Can we go now?”

Max nodded, and they headed into the hallway. The ship rocked violently under their feet for a moment. Then it moved again.

"Did you feel that?" Michael asked.

"Yes," Max said, a feeling of dread coming over him.

"The ship is moving," Michael said, voicing Max's worst fears.

He and Michael raced through the ship. Max had a sec- ond to note the rough texture of the metal walls and floor. Otherwise the alien vessel was sparse except for a few lights, panels, and screens of different shapes.

It was a real spaceship. Under different circumstances he knew that he and Liz would love to explore it. Max lurched forward and pushed all other thoughts from his head. He knew that if he didn't hurry, he would have plenty of time to study the ship from the inside.

It's not cold out, Kyle realized. The growing puddle next to him told him that much. This cold he was feeling came from inside.

On the plus side, the worst of the shivers seemed to be over. And he barely felt the hole in his abdomen that was causing all his trouble. He had stopped pressing on his wound, not because he didn't care anymore, but because his hands would no longer obey his commands.

In the beginning, he had heard noises and seen flashes of light. That was when he had still been able to lift his head.

There had been one great moment, when he had seen a bright ball of something strike the ship and rock it hard. It had looked like Michael's work. Max and Michael had hurt them. Good, he thought. Kyle had always had a problem with bullies, and he sensed that these creatures were the worst kind. Whatever their motives, whatever their reasons for coming trillions and trillions of miles, they were just bullies… like the ones he had seen growing up. But some- times bullies picked on the wrong kid and got a surprise. When he heard a loud rumble coming from the ship, he decided that his friends were giving him that surprise.

He would have smiled if the effort had not been too great.

He thought of his dad. He wished he could see him again, but at least he had been able to say good-bye. It was more than he had been able to have with his mother. Still, he let them both go.

Liz, Max, Maria, Michael. One by one, he let his friends go. Isabel was last and hardest, but he let her go in the end.

Other friends, other times. Girls he had known. Dawn, who had liked him and had smelled very nice. Vicki Delaney, with whom he had spent an evening in the back of a pickup.

He let them all go.

His world became very simple and very small. He had thought the Middle Path was difficult to walk, that it would take great effort for him to find it. But now he knew it was as easy as letting go. In the end, there was only his breathing. He realized he probably should have stopped making he effort, but old habits…

In the end, life was astonishingly simple.

Small breaths. In. Out.

Soon, he knew he would have to let that go too.

23

Liz felt her strength come back as she watched the alien ship. Max had healed her, but she still felt weak.

As the minutes ticked by, she felt her heart thundering in her chest. I'm sorry about your friend, Jimmy had said.

Was it Max whom Jimmy had seen? Was her vision coming true, just earlier than she had expected? She had seen Max fight. He had been brave and had stood strong… and he had died. Maybe her vision had become mixed with her dream. Maybe she had just seen this moment.

And I sent him back inside, Liz thought.

The ship shuddered a few times, and there were noises from within. Could he already be…? No, when he had died before, she had felt it. If anything happened to him now, she knew she would feel it. That told her he was still alive, but for how long? The ship shook again… no, it didn't shake; it moved.

Liz was on her feet, blood suddenly pounding in her veins. The ship had lifted several feet of the ground and was wobbling in the air. She had seen it move the night before. It could move quickly, and any second now, she knew it could disappear.

Then it might not matter if Max was alive or not. Either way, he would be gone. And the aliens would have him.

No! her mind screamed.

He had come for her and he and Michael had saved her.

Max had fought in the vision, though it had not been enough. He had still died. She had stood there helplessly and watched him die.

She had stood there.

Helpless.

That was what had bothered her about the dream. She had watched it all, but she was unable to help. Like now.

Except she wasn't helpless, and Max was not fighting by himself. She threw her hand forward and hit the ship hard. It was the same force that had blown out the wind- shield of the van but many, many times stronger, Liz realized.

The ship shuddered at the impact and drifted across the field for several seconds.

Then it started moving up.

Ten feet. Twenty.

Then fifty. More.

"No!" Liz screamed, reaching out her hand. She willed the ship to stop moving.

To her surprise, it did. And then it started drifting back down to the ground.

The ship made an ugly humming sound, and Liz felt her- self straining at the effort. The strain wasn't physical, but it was just as real. Then it was slipping. The ship stopped its descent maybe twenty feet from the ground.

Liz concentrated her mind and her will to the task. She managed to hold the ship.

There was movement in the door. Then on the ramp.

It was Max and Michael, she was sure. But the boys were struggling. They were each carrying something… someone. They were close, but it was still too high.

With a final burst of effort, she willed the ship down. It lurched to the ground and touched for just an instant.

But that instant was enough. Max and Michael jumped clear.

Liz lost her hold on the ship, and it shot into the air with the same speed it had moved the night before. Except this time, it was racing straight up.

She quickly lost track of the vessel in the night sky. "Max!" she screamed, racing toward him.

When she reached them, Max and Michael looked okay. In fact, they looked great. They were both carrying the weight of a person on their backs, but they were stand- ing strong. Max smiled at her, and she led the boys back to where Dawn and Bell were lying. Max and Michael put the two others next to them.

"Jessica," Liz said. "Oh, my God, you found her." Liz felt tears streaming down her face as she threw her arms around Max.

"Turns out they're only tough when they're picking on girls," Michael said.

"Liz, the ship was moving. It was leaving. Did you…?" Max said.

Liz nodded.

"Remind me not to make you mad, Parker," Max said, and kissed her.

"I guess jimmy was wrong," Michael said.

I'm sorry about your friend.

Thank God, Liz thought.

"The others?" Liz said.

"Maria and Isabel are fine, they're back at the diner," Michael said.

"Kyle was with us, but…," Max said.

"He got into it with one of the aliens, but Kyle got him. He got banged up but said he was okay," Michael said.

Liz felt her stomach fall. There was something wrong, she could feel it. "Kyle!" she shouted.

Nothing.

Then Liz and Michael repeated it, calling for their friend.

"Come on," Max said, running with Michael right behind him. Liz followed for a few seconds, then she saw the figure lying on the ground.

"Kyle," Max shouted.

Kyle didn't respond. In fact, he wasn't moving at all.

As Liz got closer she saw the dark pool on the ground next to him. His hands were resting on his stomach, and he was completely still.

Max's hands were glowing as he leaped the last few feet to their friend. Then he was on he knees.

"Oh my God," Liz said. "No, please.”

Kyle was still. His chest was not moving…

Max touched Kyle with one hand on his head and one on his stomach. Both hands were glowing brightly.

He was standing strong. Max was fighting for Kyle. It was costing Max something, Liz realized. He was fighting with everything he had. The pool around Kyle was starting to disappear, but the effort was etched across Max's face.

He was still fighting, but Liz knew that not even Max could win all of his battles. In her vision she had seen him lose in his final battle. And she knew that sometimes defeat was not a measure of how much you put into a fight.

Some battles were just lost before they began…

But not this one.

Kyle coughed and sputtered… and breathed.

He coughed again, and then Max was helping him sit up.

"He got me good, Max," Kyle said, feeling his stomach. "I thought I was…”

"We thought you were too," Michael said. "Good to have you back.”

"You fixed me," Kyle said, looking at Max. "Thanks. I mean, thanks again.”

Max nodded, and both guys looked away from each other, embarrassed by what they were feeling. By what all of us are feeling, Liz thought.

Kyle looked around. "Where is he?" he asked. A few feet away, smoke rose from the ground. They investigated and saw a puddle of goo there.

"What did you do to him?" Michael said.

Kyle smiled. "It's called a hit and wrap.”

Michael glanced back at what was left of the alien and said, "Cool.”

"We should get back. We found Dawn and Bell, Kyle. Jessica, and one other too," Max said.

A few seconds later, Max was looking over the girls. Jessica looked pretty bad, so he healed her first, then the others.

Michael stayed next to him the whole time and then looked at him and said, "Max, I say this as a friend, but you look like hell.”

He did, Liz realized. Max was covered in sweat and felt cold to Liz's touch. The fight and then healing them all had taken a toll.

"Liz, get him back to the garage. Kyle and I will take care of them," Michael said.

Max turned to Michael and said, "Michael…”

"Trust me, Maxwell," he said.

Max nodded, and Liz put his arm around her shoulder. They started walking to town.

Michael still felt the rush from their fight with the aliens. During the battle, he had felt strong, alive. And as he had struck out at each of them, he had felt a moment of satisfac- tion, but that didn't bother him now. Whoever they were, the creatures were like… pure malice. They were killing women, but not before they terrified and tortured them.

It was kind of like what Agent Pierce had done to his best friend in a cold, white room. The aliens saw people as lab rats. Well, today the lab rats had fought back. There was justice there, and Michael knew he would sleep with- out trouble tonight. But first, he had some things to take care of.

"Wait here, I’ll carry them one at a time to the van," Michael said.

Kyle had nodded and had not asked any questions. That was just as well. Michael had a lot to do and didn't want to waste any time. Once they were all safe in the van, he said to Kyle, "Wait with them, I'm going to get us some transportation.”

"You're going to steal a car, aren't you?" Kyle said.

"I'm just going to borrow something," Michael said.

Kyle nodded. "Just make sure it's big enough for all of them. And try to keep it low profile.”

"You bet," Michael said. Then he ran off into the night, toward town.

Kyle was surprised when he saw the headlights less than twenty minutes later. Michael had made good time. Town was at least a mile away.

When the car came closer, Kyle realized there was something wrong with it. The dimensions were off, and the taillights were too far back.

What the…? he thought.

A minute later, the bus was close enough that Kyle saw why.

That's low profile? he thought, shaking his head.

The large, bright yellow vehicle bounced slowly through the field and came to a stop next to the van.

Michael jumped out and said, "Come on, let's get moving.”

"You realize that's a school bus, right?" Kyle said, taking Dawn in his arms and stepping toward it.

"Yeah," Michael said, picking up Jessica.

"Very subtle," Kyle noted.

"It's a long story," Michael said.

Once the unconscious girls were in the bus, they quickly went back for the other two. Michael threw the bus into gear and headed into town.

Michael's first stop was the diner. Maria and Isabel were waiting. Maria was awake and she didn't look happy. When he stepped out of the bus, she ran up to him and slapped him hard across the face. Then she hugged him tighdy and kissed him.

Women, Michael thought as he returned the kiss.

"Max and Liz were here. They told us what happened. Max woke Maria up. Dan is still out," Isabel said.

Then she went to Kyle and said, "Are you okay?”

Kyle nodded.

Michael ran back into the bus and came out carrying Bell. He put her inside, laying her down next to her husband.

"Are you just going to leave them here?" Isabel said.

He shrugged. "Unless you want to wait with them and explain what happened tonight.”

Then he softened his tone and said, "Look, they'll be together when they wake up. Can't be helped.”

"You two go back to the garage. We will be right there," Michael said.

"What are you going to do?" Isabel asked.

"Don't worry, I have everything under control," he said.

Maria looked up at the school bus and said, "I can see that.”

"What?" he said, annoyed.

"A school bus, Michael?" she asked.

Immediately, he felt the blood rushing to his face. "Look, I needed something big enough to… " He stopped himself, shaking his head, and said, "Oh, forget it. I'll see you later.”

A few minutes later Michael laid Jessica and the other women down on benches in front of the Laundromat.

"Why not leave them in the diner? They'd be safe there," Kyle said.

"It would raise too many questions," Michael said. This way would also raise questions, but that couldn't be helped. When they were a few feet away, Michael picked up a rock and threw it straight at one of the Laundromat's front window. It shattered, and a loud alarm sounded.

A few seconds later, Michael and Kyle were inside the studio, where the others were waiting. Max was sleeping next to Liz, who was awake and looking only at him.

A glance at the clock gave Michael a surprise. "It's only eleven thirty," he said aloud. How could that be? Had that whole thing played out in only a few hours? Michael told the others what he and Kyle had done. They could hear commotion in the town. Then sirens.

"What are they going to make of tonight?" Isabel said.

"I don't know, but there won't be anything to connect us to any of it," Michael said. That was important. The town would likely be crawling with state police tomorrow.

"Gome on, Space Boy, let's get some sleep," Maria said.

Michael got onto the floor next to her. She pulled him closer, and Michael didn't question it.

What's the point? It will probably all change tomorrow, he thought.

Maria turned around and pulled him tightly against her. Michael stared at the back of her head as he held her.

Well, it might all change tomorrow, but it was pretty good right now.

24

Someone was shaking him. Michael shrugged them off. They shook him again.

"What?!" Michael said, not even opening his eyes.

"Come on. You can walk us to work," Maria's voice said.

That opened his eyes. Maria was glaring down at him.

Of course she is, he thought.

"You have got to be kidding me," Michael said.

"We should," Max said.

Michael looked up and saw his best friend looking down at him. Max looked better. Almost like himself… almost. His eyes were a bit sunken, but he looked better than he had last night.

"We don't even know if the diner will be open, but we should not change our routine. We don't want any extra attention," Max said.

Michael nodded. Max was right. The others were all up already. Michael showered quickly, and they were all out the door in minutes.

As dead as the town had been before, it looked like Grand Central Station now. There were half a dozen police cars and people milling about everywhere on the street. It was chaos, but Max knew it was good chaos. Before, they had been watched from every window when they walked down the empty main street. Now, they were barely noticed.

Max was mildly surprised to see Bell and Sam in the diner. Bell smiled at them when they arrived.

"I'm so glad you kids are okay," she said. "I thought you were on the road again.”

"We had some more trouble with the van," Max said.

"Well, let's get you some food," Bell said.

While they were all eating, Bell told them the "incredi- ble news." The night before, someone had broken into the diner after Max and his friends had gone. Bell was unclear on the details, but thought that she and Sam had been drugged. They had woken up feeling fine and had been checked out by the ambulance crew who had come for the girls who showed up mysteriously in the Laundromat.

"One of them was Jessica," Bell said, tears in her eyes.

"She looked fine, except a little weak. It looked like she hadn't eaten in a while," Sam said, joining the conversation.

"Becky Taylor was there too. She went missing the same day that Jessica did," Bell said.

"It's a miracle," Sam said.

Then, when the food was finished, she and Sam-disap- peared back into the kitchen.

"Do you think they'll come back, Max… the aliens?" Isabel asked.

"No," Max said. He couldn't say for sure why, but it felt like it was all over for Stonewall.

"Bullies don't like it when the prey fights back," Kyle said.

Michael nodded his head. "Especially when the prey kicks their butt.”

"Looks like we'll be staying here a little longer," Liz said.

"What about the van?" Max asked Kyle.

"I'll have to check it out," Kyle said. Then he got up suddenly. "That reminds me. I have to go see Dan before…

"I'll see you guys later," he said, heading for the door.

Kyle got to the garage quickly. Someone was already inside the office. When he got closer, Kyle could see that it was Dan. He was sitting behind the desk and looked up at Kyle immediately. He was holding up the envelope Kyle had left him the night before.

"I didn't expect to see you," Dan said.

Kyle shrugged. "We were going to leave last night.”

"What stopped you?" Dan asked.

For a second, Kyle was at a loss to explain. In the end, he said simply, "The van broke down." It was the simplest explanation. And it was even partly true.

Dan stared at him for a minute.

Kyle finally said, "Look, Dan, if it's okay with you… ”

Then something was sailing through the air at Kyle. His football reflexes kicked in and he caught the keys in midair.

"Take the tow truck and bring her in. We'll take a look," Dan said. He handed him back the envelope and said, "Hang on to this. We'll settle up when you're ready to go.”

"Thanks," Kyle said.

"They found her, you know. Dawn is okay," Dan said, the emotion clear on his face.

"I heard," Kyle said. "I heard back in town.”

Heading out the door, Kyle climbed into the tow truck. Half an hour later, he had the van up on a lift.

The garage was empty, so Dan came over to look at it with him.

"Spring snapped," Dan said, pointing to the metal coil near the left front tire. "Could probably use some shocks, too. You know, you can improve the handling if you get a torsion bar. When my brother…”

Dan talked for the longest he had since Kyle had met him. He told Kyle all about his brother's van and a little about the trip they had taken.

An hour later, the first car came in. Then another. Then they were actually busy.

They would be here a little longer. He would have plenty of time to work on the van. That was good in a way; there was a lot more he wanted to do with it.

"She came back, she came back!" Jimmy announced as he raced into the diner.

Bell immediately wrapped her arms around him. "We know, Jimmy," she said.

To Liz's surprise, Sam came out from the kitchen and patted Jimmy on the back. "It's a miracle, son," he said.

Someone in the nearly full diner started clapping. Then everyone did. In seconds, the people from the town and the police who were eating were all on their feet, applauding Jessicas return.

"Can I have the day off?" Jimmy asked. "Jessica's com- ing home from the hospital," he exclaimed, tears of excite- ment running down his face.

"Of course, dear," Bell said through her own tears.

"Okay," Jimmy said.

When Jimmy finally disengaged himself from Bell, he turned to go. Then he caught Liz at the waitress station.

"I knew I remembered right. You saw her, didn't you?" he asked, his innocent eyes full of gratitude. Jimmy kept his voice down. He had secrets of his own and had obviously learned to keep them. "You helped her," he said. It wasn't a question.

Liz nodded. Jimmy wrapped his arms around her and held her silently for a minute. In that time, Liz had a flash. Jimmy and his sister were in a room. She couldn't be sure, but it felt like a new place.

There was a game on the table in front of them. Jimmy was rolling dice and smiling as his sister watched him with a smile of her own on her face.

Liz's own tears… tears of relief… came freely, and she let them come.

Throughout the day, Liz heard endless speculation about what had happened the night before. In the end, Liz knew it would remain a mystery. It was a story that had at least a partly happy ending and would keep the town talking for as long as it was there. She was amused that much of the speculation revolved around the school bus that had been found parked on Main Street.

Though she knew that Max was still feeling the effects of the night before, he had insisted on continuing the painting job outside.

When she went out to call Max, Michael, and Isabel in for lunch, she had heard what sounded like… burping, and then laughter. It had stopped when she called out, but all three of them were smiling when she saw them.

That night, they headed back to the garage and settled down for the night. A few moments later, there was a knock at he door. Max answered it.

Dan stood in the entrance. "I just wanted to see if you kids were all right," he said.

"We're fine, come on in," Liz said as she got up.

Dan stepped inside and looked around as if he were seeing the place for the first time… or at least the first time in a long time. From what Kyle had told them, Liz thought she understood.

"We painted and spruced it up a bit. I hope that's okay," Isabel said.

"Fine," he said, his voice tight. "It looks good." Dan glanced down at the playing cards in Michael's hands. "Cards?" he said.

"Yeah, you want to play?" Kyle said.

"Please," Liz invited him.

Dan plopped down on the floor against one of the beanbag chairs as if he had done it a thousand times: Michael handed him the cards and said, "Dealers choice.”

Dan nodded and said, "Seven card follow the Queen, deuces wild.”

The others all shot him confused looks. Dan smiled. "Pay attention," he said as he dealt the cards.

A week later, they were saying their good-byes. Bell had hugged each of them, and Sam had even shaken the boys' hands. A rare display for him, Kyle noted. They had already said his good-byes to Dan, who was going to be in Pueblo for the day. It was just as well… better, in fact, con- sidering what Kyle was planning to do.

Kyle hadn't seen Gomer or Dawn since the night she disappeared, but that was just as well. From what he had heard from Dan, neither of them remembered much about what had happened after they'd left the garage the night she was abducted.

That being the case, Kyle figured she wouldn't have anything to say to him.

Bell was giving Kyle and his friends a going-away breakfast. It was the same food they had eaten since they had arrived, but there was a bon-voyage banner and some balloons.

As things wound down, Kyle got Isabel to one side and said, "Can I borrow you for a few minutes?”

She'd looked at him questioningly, but had nodded.

"We'll be right back," Kyle said.

The van was parked outside the diner. It looked the same on the outside, but under the hood was a different story, Kyle noted with some pride.

The diner, on the other hand, looked nice on the out- side. Max, Isabel, and Michael had finished painting the exterior, and it seemed to shine now.

"Where are we…?" Isabel asked.

Kyle raised his hand. "Just come with me," he insisted, leading the way back to the garage. He led Isabel around back and showed her the van.

"This is the one that belonged to his brother?" she asked.

"Yes," he said. He told her what he wanted her to do. When he was finished, she smiled.

"It's not very low profile," she said.

"No," he said. "And Max would hate the idea.”

"That's the problem with democracy," Isabel said. "Not everybody gets what they want.”

"You're in?" Kyle asked.

"What do you want me to do first?" she asked.

They started on the structural work. There was real damage to the chassis and body in the back. Isabel straightened it all with a few touches, and the ancient injuries to the van seemed to mend themselves. A ruined van that had been rusting for thirty years came to life in front of him. It was amazing. No, she was amazing. Kyle found himself watching Isabel's face most of all. The sim- ple joy it held was incredible.

He got down on the ground and checked her work. The frame and bumper were straight now. Body panels were smooth. The rear doors opened easily. Even the tail- lights looked new.

Kyle showed her the rusted-out frame on the side and seconds later it was whole. They circled the van smooth- ing dents and removing rust.

Checking his watch, Kyle saw that they had been there about ten minutes. They needed to hurry or Max and the others would come looking for them.

Opening the hood, Kyle showed Isabel the engine com- partment and explained to her what the engine block was, what it did, and how it looked.

"It has a crack there," Kyle said, pointing it out. "I don't know how far it runs.”

"I think I can get it," Isabel said, touching it. "That's it.”

There would still be plenty of work to do on the engine, Kyle thought. For one, it would need a new timing chain. But Dan was a mechanic, and something told Kyle he would enjoy this job.

Opening the door, he took her inside, and she removed rust and fixed holes and tears in the upholstery. She made it all look new.

"And now the fun part," Kyle said when they got back outside.

Isabel touched the side panel of the van and concen- trated. It was like a wave of color washed over it. And then the psychedelic paint job looked like it must have when a teenager named Johnny had first applied it.

Isabel took her hand off the van.

When she was done, she smiled broadly and gave Kyle a quick, impulsive hug.

Kyle took a moment to look at the van. The tires were missing, and it still sat on cinder blocks. Otherwise it looked like it must have thirty-some years before, when Dan and his big brother had set out on the road with a group of friends to see a rock-and-roll show.

"Let's go before Dan comes looking," Isabel said. And they left, heading toward Main Street and their own friends.

Liz watched Max as he pulled away from the diner. Bell was waving frantically. Liz waved back.

In seconds, they passed the garage, then the hill where the alien ship had sat. From there, it was just open road.

"The van sounds good, Kyle. Actually it sounds great," Michael said.

Kyle smiled, "Thanks. I had some extra time.”

"We really did something back there," Liz said.

The others nodded. They all felt it. They had helped Jimmy and others they didn't even know.

"I know what you mean. You should have seen the way the paint was peeling on the diner. We got there just in time," Michael said.

Liz heard a smack and Michael say, "Ow!”

She smiled, and then found herself getting thoughtful. "What do you think they wanted?" she asked.

No one answered for a long moment. Finally, Maria said, "That's just one mystery we may never solve, Velma.”

"What did you call me?" Liz said, whipping her head around.

"Like you're not completely Velma?" Maria teased.

"If anybody's Daphne, it's me," Liz said defiantly.

"You've got… ”

"Hold on," Max said. He smiled. "Are you telling me that all girls see themselves as either Daphne or Velma?”

"Well, yeah," Liz and Maria said in unison.

"See, you're either the hot one with the cute boyfriend, or the smart one in the bad orange sweater," Maria said.

"I don't know, I like Velma," Max said seriously.

"You're kidding me," Liz replied.

"Yeah, smart girls are hot," he said. "Besides, do you realize what a killer body she has under that sweater?" Max said.

Liz laughed out loud, saying, "I didn't realize you watched so closely.”

"I'm only human. At least only half-human," Max cor- rected himself.

Everyone laughed at that, Liz noticed. Even Isabel, which Liz was glad to see.

There was more laughter and lots of talk about nothing. Though she wouldn't remember a single thing that she and her friends discussed, Liz knew she would remember that morning for a long time.