All my life I have been scared of who I am, of what we all are. Tales donʼt end in happy endings for the guy with the healing hands, history has never been kind to every little thing humans donʼt understand. When I was younger, I read every book on religion I could get my hands on, and thereʼs this line from the Bible, Matthew 2:2, that says we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him, that has always sounded familiar, warm, to me. It also raises so many questions, because whoʼs to say Michael, Isobel and I didnʼt come straight from a star somewhere up in the skies?
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
But he is floating.
The darkness around him only deepens as Max dives into it, boneless and bodiless, sure that he has died and turned into a meteorite tracing trails in the night sky. He remembers the pain and the glowing hands, the stretch of his skin as he ran himself ragged overusing his powers. Max remembers Rosaʼs despairing eyes, her words urging him not to give up, and he also remembers his inability to close his eyes.
His floating comes to a halt abruptly, as though he has hit a wall. Physically he feels like heʼs been run over by Michaelʼs truck and a Police cruiser taking turns; he understands that it has to be a side effect of resurrecting a girl who had been dead for ten years. Max reaches out in front of him, the darkness preventing him from seeing anything, but there’s nothing keeping him from moving. He doesnʼt know whatʼs going on, whether he is still alive or dead or in the limbo he was told about when he was a kid growing up in all too religious Roswell. He blinks, to no avail – the darkness remains firmly in place. He sighs.
Thereʼs the familiar push in his mind, a swirling whirlwind in pinks and oranges that heʼs come to associate to Isobel. Max wants to dismiss her, waving her off in his mind, trying to pull back and push forward into the darkness, a call in the silence that surrounds him. Isobelʼs reaching out to him, and soon enough he feels the distinctive whites and purples coming through from Michaelʼs mind.
No, he projects in his mind. Go back. Itʼs too late.
He feels Isobel fighting him back, Michael calling for him to stop being such a stubborn martyr. Max doesnʼt listen to them, the darkness seeping through his bones.
When have you ever listened to us? Michael questions rhetorically, but Max ignores his words and takes a step forward. The darkness still calls to him, but his feet donʼt push past the invisible barrier.
Wait! Isobel cries out in his mind, the psychic connection vibrating with her efforts to keep him in place, strong enough to actually fight against his own mind. Heʼs too tired to fight back, but he really wants to move forward. He meant what he said in the cave, right after killing Noah, right before healing Michaelʼs hand the way heʼd wanted for ten years. They canʼt live in the past anymore. They need to embrace who they are, what they are, so they can learn about themselves and become more powerful. Max isnʼt sure how much of that thought is his and how much is Noahʼs projection that he absorbed after striking lightning through his brother-in-law.
The darkness shifts, becoming lighter as Max can see his surroundings. He is standing in the middle of the New Mexico desert, dust in swirls around him as the sun bathes him. He blinks at the sudden disappearance of the dark space heʼs been in for what has felt like eons. He sighs when, turning around, he can see Isobel and Michael there with him. Max realizes then that he isnʼt in his own headspace anymore; Isobel has taken over and sheʼs trying to keep him in place for as long as her powers will allow.
“Max,” she says softly, taking a step his way. He lifts one finger in front of his face, and Isobel stops. By her side, Michael is frowning silently. “What have you done, Max?" she sighs.
“What I should have done ten years ago,” Max replies truthfully. “If I had known that Rosa–” he trails off, gesturing vaguely before himself, hands drawing circles as he shrugs.
“You resurrected her,” Michael accuses him. He looks like heʼs been sucker punched, eyes swimming in their sockets wildly, remnants of dried blood on his collar, left hand smooth and healed. Complete.
“Yes,” Max confesses. “Itʼs what I should have done,” he repeats.
“You fucking idiot,” Michael growls, but his voice doesnʼt rise above a monotone whisper. Max wonder briefly how much strength Isobel is putting out there to keep Michael from lunging forward. “You always have to be the goddamn hero. Did you even think of the consequences?”
“Where were you going?" Isobel asks, fulminating Michael with a glance so cold that it would have frozen hell, Max notices. He is glad not to be on the receiving end of his sisterʼs wrath, until Isobel looks back at him. “You were surrounded by darkness.”
“I donʼt know. I think Iʼm–”
“–dead,” she finishes his sentence, choking on the word when he couldnʼt pronounce it. “I can feel it. We can feel it,” she adds. By her side, Max can see Michael trembling, hands balling up in fists, clenching and unclenching spasmodically. “You have to come back,” she pleads.
Max shakes his head. He canʼt speak, not now, not when the darkness is already whispering his name at his back. Michael squints his eyes at him; Isobelʼs lower lip quivers as she wobbles. “Iʼm sorry,” he says. “I meant it. We need to move forward. This is forward for me.”
Drops start to rain from the cloudless sky as Isobelʼs eyes well up with unshed tears. “You promised we would move forward together!”
“You said to be normal,” Michael finally intervenes, stepping up and closing the space between them. “You dying after bringing back a dead girl is not normal.”
“Come back,” Isobel begs. Max notices sheʼs wearing her wedding band still, as though in this mindscape she hasnʼt yet got over the loss in her own life. Itʼs been less than twenty-four hours, but Max feels like his whole existence has passed by in that span of time. “Itʼs not too late. I have been able to reach you. I can bring you back, Max. Take my hand,” she adds, stretching fingers towards him. “Please, Max.”
But the darkness calls to him, Max can feel it. Itʼs a sirenʼs call, the same he suddenly can recall from the moment they were pushed out of the pods and into an unwelcoming world. He turns around to face a wormhole beginning to form, turning and twisting black against the bright colors of the desert Isobel has created for him. Max closes his eyes, looking for his balance. When Isobel and Michael run up to him in a futile attempt to stop him, he projects a protective field around himself, pushing them back, stopping them from touching him. He can hear Isobelʼs strangled yelp; sheʼs usually in charge in this situation – no one can lie to her, no one can act against what she wants, except for Noah. Max is channeling some of Noahʼs energy, and he uses it to push against Isobel and Michael.
“Max!” Michael yells, but Max is facing the wormhole, a small vortex opening in front of him. “Donʼt!” Thereʼs panic in his voice.
Max shrugs, the motion throwing both his siblings stumbling backwards. He dares a glance over his shoulder to see Isobelʼs eyes glistening with tears, Michael brimming with anger. “I love you both,” he says. “But I have to do this. I have to move forward now that I can. You should do the same.”
He ignores their pleas, pushing down the grief Michael is throwing his way and the pain Isobel is projecting. He takes a step forward, and then another, until he is fully entering the wormhole and the darkness engulfs him.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
“Alex?” comes a voice through the static, and Alex sighs in relief. “Whatʼs wrong? First that text and now–”
“I need you to go to the Wild Pony,” Alex instructs, cutting Kyle off before he loses more precious minutes. If what heʼs gathered from both his conversations with Maria and Rosa – his heart still stops beating at the mere thought – then they are already running out of time. “Help Maria out, sheʼs in some situation and I canʼt–”
“I canʼt leave the bunker,” Kyle protests. “Need I remind you of the burden you and I have talked about? I canʼt up and leave here to go help DeLuca with whatever she needs to fix at her bar.”
“Itʼs Michael!” Alex all but bellows onto the speaker, head tilted to a side to keep his eyes on the road as he directs his voice towards the device on the passenger seat. The map on his laptop screen shows the pin far away from the main road, so he steers off the pavement and into the desert. The car runs into a few bumps before he can control the wheel again. “Somethingʼs wrong with him!”
“Werenʼt you going to meet up with him? Whatʼs he doing with Maria?”
“Sometimes you can be so fucking dumb, Valenti,” Alex spits out as he surmounts a crest and his eyes land on Lizʼs SUV parked askew in the middle of nowhere. “Iʼm in a bit of a situation myself, Liz needs me. And I need you to help Maria and Michael. Whatever it is, you needed to be there like, half an hour ago.”
“And what about–”
“I donʼt care about the burden right now, Kyle,” Alex says, deflated, as he stomps on the brakes of his own car next to Lizʼs.
“I havenʼt been able to contact Cam,” he hears on the other end, Kyle sounding as exhausted as Alex is feeling. “Whatʼs going on, Alex?”
“Youʼll understand when you get to the Pony,” Alex rubs a hand over his face. “I have to hang up now, Kyle. Wonʼt be reachable for some time, donʼt know how long. Keep trying to find Cam, we need as many hands with this as we can get.”
“That big?” Kyle doesnʼt ask anything else, just makes a noise that could be a groan or a growl, the static over the line making it difficult for Alex to distinguish over the rushing in his own ears. “Be careful, Alex,” he finally says. “I donʼt want to have to rescue you wherever you are now.”
“Same,” Alex replies before killing the connection and resting his forehead against the steering wheel for a second. His day has become increasingly stressful by the second – the call from Lizʼs phone and talking to a newly-resurrected Rosa has been surpassed by Mariaʼs own call crying that Michael Guerin of all people had collapsed on the floor of the Wild Pony of all places after playing the guitar of all instruments after a decade being unable to even hold it with his left hand.
He sighs as he opens the door of the car, the windy heat of the desert hitting him, sneaking up his nostrils. His left leg takes all his weight as he slowly gets out of the vehicle, so many hours of sitting and waiting having taken their toll on his stump. The leather jacket forgotten on the seat, he closes the door and makes his way through the dry rambla to the point his device is telling him that Lizʼs phone is. He rolls up the sleeves of his maroon sweater and talks himself into entering what looks like a cave when he reaches an uneven patch of ground, sliding a bit and almost landing on his ass in the middle of the desert.
“Liz?” he calls out before setting foot inside. He needs the reassurance that heʼs going to find what heʼs come here looking for. When she doesnʼt reply, Alex reaches for his weapon instinctively, only to come up empty handed when his fingers brush past his belt. He isnʼt wearing his holster today, because he thought – silly of him – that he wouldnʼt need a firearm to talk to Michael.
This is Roswell, he admonishes himself. And there are aliens and a government conspiracy to wipe them from Earth. What were you expecting?
“Liz,” he calls out again, stepping in between the rocks that form an entrance to a cave thatʼs hidden from view. There are voices coming out from the inside, Alex recognizes Lizʼs broken and despaired and Rosaʼs – he would have never thought heʼd hear her voice again. “Liz, itʼs Alex.”
He doesnʼt want to acknowledge the fact that he spoke to Rosa Ortecho on the phone barely twenty-seven minutes ago, because as crazy as growing up in Roswell has been – as crazy as having been involved with aliens his whole life – Alex canʼt wrap his head around the fact that the dead can still be walking the Earth ten years after their dismissal. Still, he walks into the cave, ready for a fight if necessary. What he sees, though, takes his breath and his balance away for a brief second.
There is a sparkling-white, oval-shaped, egg-like structure that partly illuminates the space. Alex stares at it minutely, curious as to whether it’s one of the pods Michael told him about, barely hours before, but now it feels like a lifetime has passed between this moment and the morning when Michael confessed his darkest secret. Alex wants to touch the shimmering surface thatʼs calling to him, but a wail at his feet distracts him enough to tear his gaze away from the pod and towards the sound.
In the middle of the cave, poorly lit with candles, lies Max Evans, his chest being pounded by a silhouette backlit against the rocks. His eyes are wide open, as though heʼs staring at the ceiling during one of his pensive phases Alex remembers from high school, when Max would zone out whenever Liz was around. One of his arms is outstretched at a weird angle, and his face holds the stillness of centuries of death. Alex has seen enough corpses throughout his decade of service in the American military to recognize one when he sees it.
Thereʼs nothing he can do to help Max Evans.
He stares at his body, spread-eagle on the floor, until a thought heʼs been trying to push down surfaces with enough force to knock him out of breath.
According to Maria, Michael dropped dead in the middle of the Wild Pony without warning. Alex is sure that if he asks about the time when Max has passed away he might get a time frame compatible with when Michael was rendered unconscious. Which means he has to find Isobel Evans right away. And pray that whatever affliction thatʼs taken Max doesnʼt spread through their shared mindscape too fast for him to save the other aliens.
He doesnʼt realize heʼs staring until Rosa clears her throat and he blinks. The form pounding on Maxʼs chest morphs into a sobbing Liz, crashing her fists once and again, sputtering in Spanish as though no one can understand her – venga, vamos, Max, despierta – long black hair brushing Maxʼs arm with every movement, and Alex knows that, had Max been a tad more alive than he is right now, Max would have been ticklish all around from the soft caress of stray locks against his skin.
“Liz,” he whispers, taking a small, unsure step towards his friend. The ground isnʼt as even as heʼd like it to be, and heʼs got to be careful if he doesnʼt want to end up in the hospital with a broken prosthetic leg and a grumpy military doctor. “Liz, Iʼm here.”
“Thank God,” says another voice – the one Alex wasnʼt expecting over the phone – and suddenly the situation becomes almost unbearable as Alex turns to his left and takes in the sight of Rosa, standing tall next to her sister, hands tangled together in a nervous heap while a blanket with rich native American decorations wraps her frame. “I was beginning to think you wouldnʼt come.”
“Rosa,” he manages to say through the haze that seems to have taken charge of his mind. “Itʼs really you.”
“Of course itʼs me,” Rosa retaliates, picking the end of the blanket and wrapping it tighter around herself. “I donʼt know whatʼs happened, Alex, I donʼt really understand, but one moment I wasnʼt and now I–”
“Oh my God,” he half mutters, half chokes out. “Youʼre alive.”
“And Max is dead,” Rosa states, softly but loud enough that Lizʼs ears catch upon it, if the way she perks up is any indication.
“Heʼs not dead!” she protests without turning around. “He canʼt be!”
Rosa shoots a look at Alex that clearly means that she thinks her sisterʼs lost her mind. How Alex has missed these interactions, these moments when he could communicate with Rosa without any words needed – just a glance, a smirk, in their own little world. But time has passed, heʼs grown up and escaped one hell to enter another, and now heʼs facing the dead body of Deputy Evans and a very much alive Rosa Ortecho.
He feels like heʼs seventeen again, afraid and doubtful and worried that his life is running out of his control.
“Liz, if heʼs brought Rosa back,” he starts, circling his friend like he would a wounded animal, too scared to startle her into bolting, but also wanting to make sure she pries away from Max.
“Rosa is very much brought back, you jerk,” Rosa herself interrupts him, clearly offended by being addressed as if she’s not there.
“If heʼs done that,” Alex continues.“And it seems he has, thereʼs no way back. Have you checked his vitals?” When Liz nods, Alex sighs. “Heʼs dead, Liz.”
“We can still help him!” she cries out, finally turning around to look at Alex. “What are you doing here?” Liz blinks at him as if sheʼs just realized heʼs there. Alex decides that he could probably blame it on the shock of watching Max Evans dead on the floor.
“Rosa called me,” he explains simply. “Liz, I know youʼve grown close to Max, but thereʼs nothing we can do. He was the healer and–”
“Wait,” Liz cuts him. She stands up but doesnʼt budge from Maxʼs side. “First, I love Max. As in, Iʼm in love with him. But,” she frowns at him before daring a glance at her sister, whoʼs conveniently staring at the embroidery in her blanket. “But you know Max is a healer. How do you know about that?”
“Donʼt you think we have more pressing matters in our hands right now?” Rosa pipes up, pushing off the wall sheʼs leaned into while Liz went on a rant about how much she loves Max Evans. “I donʼt think itʼs important right now to know how Alex–”
“It is,” Liz states. Her voice grows firmer and steadier as she gazes Alex up and down. “Because heʼs military, and heʼs a Manes, and he was with Mikey for some time when we were still in high school.” Suddenly she seems to realize, as Alex lifts an eyebrow elegantly at her. “Mikey told you. Right.”
“Iʼm not sure I like your implications that I’m military,” he says, brows furrowed once again. He doesnʼt correct her on the assumption that what tied him to Michael was a brief thing from long ago. “But my point is still valid. Max isnʼt breathing. Not even Kyle could save him.”
“Wait, Kyle Valenti?”
“Yeah, Rosa, Kyle Valenti,” Alex snaps at her. He doesnʼt have time to explain anything, he has more pressing matters on his hands, and he needs to go find Michael and Isobel. “Liz, how about we move Max to my car and go from there? This situation might have affected Isobel and Michael too,” he settles on, in the hopes that her inclination to help others might finally kick in and shake her out of this nightmare.
“Yes,” she agrees readily. “Letʼs move Max to a proper pod, and then we can go find Michael and Isobel. Maybe theyʼll need the pods as well.”
“Thatʼs not what–” Alex cuts himself off when he sees the way Liz is looking up at him, hopefully. “Why do you want to move him to a pod when thereʼs one right here?”
“Noah said it was defective,” Liz explains. “Thereʼs a lot you still donʼt know, Alex. But Noah? Heʼs dead. He killed so many people. He killed–”
“–Rosa,” Alex finishes. The folders heʼs been perusing with Kyle and Cam come rushing to his mind, all the information theyʼve gathered and the fake autopsies signed under a fake name. “My father knew about it. God, we need to rush, Liz. We need to move now.”
“What do you mean–”
“Not now. Iʼll explain later,” Alex huffs as he steps forward and grabs Maxʼs arm, pulling at him. With what seems like unhuman effort, he lifts him and places all the weight on his left shoulder. “Cʼmon, help me. Weʼll move faster.”
Between the three of them they manage to move Max into Alexʼs car, while Liz babbles about how the pods keep the aliens in stasis – as though Alex doesnʼt already know from his conversation with Michael – and how they need to get Max into one with as much silver goo covering him as they can gather. With Max secured in the back seat alongside Rosa, whoʼs fidgeting away from him, Alex turns to Liz, sitting in the passenger seat, and asks the only question heʼs yet to get an answer for. “Why are you so sure Max isnʼt completely dead, Liz?”
He can see as her eyes well up again, darting back to Maxʼs unmoving form, and a sad smile creeps up her face. She pulls down her jacket from her left shoulder, leaving it dangling awkwardly from the other, as a glowing handprint peeks out from underneath the stripes of both her top and her bra. Alex watches it mesmerized, not fully understanding what heʼs looking at until she speaks again.
“This handprint is a psychic connection,” she explains. “I can feel what he feels. I can feel echoes of past sensations, memories of past times, but also what he feels right now. If heʼs scared, or angry, or thirsty,” her smile falters. “He doesnʼt feel dead, Alex. He isnʼt feeling alive to me either, but he definitely isnʼt dead. Iʼd have felt it, just like I felt Noah.” When she realizes sheʼs not making any sense, she sighs. “Trust me, I know what Iʼm feeling. Iʼm scared because heʼs scared, but heʼs also hopeful somehow? And intrigued. Wherever he is, heʼs investigating something. I canʼt bury him, not yet, Alex.”
Alex nods curtly, about to start the engine again, but Liz isnʼt done yet.
“We have to bring him back, just like we brought back Isobel.”
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Itʼs said that when humans die, they revisit their lives in the small moment between their last breath and the moment their soul leaves their body. Max wonders whether it might be the same for aliens, if thereʼs a heaven where people like him could go in the afterlife. Heʼs always been a religious kind of guy, but this doesnʼt sound nor feel like heaven to him; at least not the way heaven is painted in the books heʼs read.
Max knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that he is back home.
How could he believe that Earth was his home, when he was missing out on the amazing vibrancy of this world where rivulets of purple just entwine with trails of pink, forming structures he can brush with his fingertips?
He takes in what his eyes are registering: a cluster of buildings suspended in thin air, sentient beings skidding through the empty spaces, a sky white and blue and yellow, a ground pink and red and green. He feels like he canʼt breathe, for all the beauty that surrounds him all of a sudden. He wants to touch – heʼs dying to feel the way those surfaces spread smoothly under his glowing hands. Max breathes in, exhales, and gulps in the air that feels so different yet almost the same as it does on Earth. Itʼs somehow thicker, but breathable, and he revels in the feeling of what heʼs seeing before his mind registers the change in the scenery.
The buildings shift and turn, as if heʼs watching a movie, the skies closing off in stormy weather, and then the people – those sentient beings heʼs seen before – are gathering around one shrine, candlelit and richly ornate. Those beings look like humans, their bodies the right shape and varying heights, but the colors of their hair match the buildings and the atmosphere, and their clothes are nothing similar to those he used to wear on Earth. They make him feel self-conscious; after all, he died with simple jeans and a shirt on. He doesnʼt have enough time to wallow in self pity, because the image is changing, and Max is beginning to believe that heʼs suffering from hallucinations because it feels like heʼs watching a movie, a plot unfolding before his eyes.
There are three beings holding three bundles of blankets, wrapped tightly around what Max recognizes as babies. He frowns. He doesnʼt know whatʼs going on, but when the beings leave the infants on top of the altar, the rest bow and clap and coo. Thunder resounds and lightning threatens to strike. There is a storm brewing around the scene, and Max is scared for the three little babies deposited helplessly over the surface, exposed to the elements. He has to bite back a yelp when the lightning crosses the painted sky and strikes right through the shrine. The lightning strikes two more times, one for each baby, before vanishing in thin air. Max resists the urge to go check on the babies; no one seems to care about their well-being. He understands when he feels a voice in his mind rather than hear it, saying loudly, “The thunder has spoken, the lightning has struck. These are the chosen ones.” The voice isnʼt speaking in English but Max understands the words nevertheless, a litany of sounds and syllables that feels engraved in the deepest part of his soul.
The crowd cheers loudly. “Vilandra, Zan and Rath,” the same voice keeps talking, and Max realizes it comes from one of the three beings who had taken the children to the shrine. “They will lead us victoriously in our quest.”
Max frowns, he doesnʼt understand much of what heʼs seeing, but thereʼs a dreadful feeling of belonging whenever he sets his eyes on the bundles on top of the shrine. The image shifts quickly this time, and now heʼs facing a world torn by war and destruction, so similar to the picture Noah painted during his last hours on Earth that Max simply accepts that he is, in fact, on his home planet, whatever its name. He still doesnʼt understand why or how or whatʼs going on, but he can assure himself that heʼs witnessing the downfall of his own civilization.
Heʼs standing in a cave, similar to the one where the pods remain on Earth, shaken by thunder and something Max canʼt put his finger on – something scary. There are three kids and a woman whoʼs hunched over them in a protective stance. The thunder outside relents after a few moments, and the woman stands up once again. One of the children, a boy with hazel eyes and soft curls, clings to the edge of her dress. "Mom,” he projects. Max doesnʼt think heʼll ever get used to that way of communication.
“Itʼs okay, son,” she coos, petting his curls. “Why donʼt we pick it up where we left it?" She pauses for a second, regarding the girl, barely five, big green eyes locked on the rocky wall behind the womanʼs back. "Vilandra, you have to focus. You hold the power now, and you have to share it.”
“How do I do that?” the girl whimpers, sucking on her thumb.
“Your brain is your power, Vilandra,” and Max is sure that the woman is trying so hard to remember the name, as though sheʼs about to call her by another all the time. "Think hard, focus on Zan and tell me, which power do you think will suit him better?"
The girl looks back at the third child, a serious boy with big hands that rings a bell in Maxʼs memory. “Healing,” the girl states. The woman nods, and pushes her gently towards the boys.
“He needs to be able to move things,” Vilandra mutters. “Mom says heʼs the one born to protect us.”
The woman huffs slightly; Max can tell she doesnʼt like what the girl has said, but she doesnʼt seem to act on it. “Well, then, honey. Focus on them, reach into their minds, and share what you think they need with them. Zan, Rath,” she commands. “Remember what I told you about opening your minds? Now itʼs time for that.”
Max stares at them as the girl squints her eyes and the boys close theirs. He can feel the surge of power and electricity running through them. The woman smiles sadly when she deems them done. “Now I will teach you how to use them,” she says. “Thereʼs much more to you than primary powers.”
Max doesnʼt remain in the cave to witness it. Thereʼs a pull in his gut and suddenly heʼs once again outside in the open, under a sky that threatens to split in two halves over his head. The buildings that once were bright and shimmering are now broken and ripped in pieces, the beings – aliens just like him, his people, his family – chased down by ships that fall from the sky in rows of destruction, hunting, killing, obliterating. He finds himself glued to the scenes, unable to speak or to act on what looks like yet another memory, even if he doesnʼt know whose it is, so he just stares and drinks in what heʼs seeing, so he can take it with him wherever he goes next.
Max is taken to a small room where a council of seven adult aliens is gathered, three kids running around seemingly unaware of the war destroying their home outside. One of the adults is projecting her voice to the rest, her blonde locks a river down her back. Max hears her in his mind, just like before when he witnessed the babies being chosen by lightning. “We have to send them away,” sheʼs saying. Some of the others nod slightly, but another brunette female alien shakes her head.
“Thereʼs no point in sending the saviors away. Whoʼs going to help heal the sick, or rebuild our homes, or rule our world?”
“Weʼve been doing it for centuries now, Kedra,” the blonde insists. “Itʼs the only way to ensure we survive.”
“We need them here, Kadja!” Kedra says. “Weʼve been sending them away, and where has that gotten us? Nowhere!” She stands up, her lips never moving as she speaks with her mind. “They have been reincarnating, they have been flown to different worlds across the galaxies, and every time they have been split up, tortured, killed.”
“If they stay here, theyʼll be killed as well!” the one named Kadja exclaims. “I just want them to survive, so our people have a chance to thrive in the future! If we keep them here, hidden and blocked, theyʼll end up finding out. Theyʼll kill them!”
“You seem to forget the twins are my children, Kadja,” comes the icy reply. One hand waves toward the kids, whoʼve stopped their games and are now staring at the adults with bright wide eyes. Max recognizes the features, but he refuses to believe – whatʼs there to believe, anyway? – until the child with chocolate locks lifts a hand that starts glowing red.
“You seem to forget that Mich–Rath is my only son,” Kadja retaliates, only a slight stumble in the way she pronounces the name Max doesnʼt recognize. “Sending him away might as well kill me, but I canʼt think of myself now. I have to think of the greater good.”
“Let the thunder and the lightning speak,” one of the eldest aliens projects then, effectively cutting off the rising argument between the two mothers. “If itʼs decided, then we will send the saviors away, safely tucked in travel pods, to reach a destination unknown to most of us, so if the time comes that weʼre tortured for their whereabouts, we wonʼt have that information to reveal.”
Max waits for the image to change, and surely it does, becoming a spiral of circling colors mashing up, memories and conversations and pictures of an escape in the making, of Kadja and Kedra fighting for control of a sinking ship, of smoke and fear in the air, of callused hands pushing three pods into a cave because the thunder and the lightning had deemed them so important that it was worth sacrificing everyone elseʼs lives.
His spirit drops when he finally realizes what has been under his nose the whole time, but itʼs something he could only notice after having been sent in the right direction by the images heʼs been shown – the memories of a life he doesnʼt remember having. He knows when he sees the face of the little girl, seven years old and blonde as the sun; he knows when he watches the curly haired boy wailing and painting the walls with red; he knows when he recognizes his features on the serious face of the brunette boy holding the weight of the universe on his shoulders.
Thereʼs some truth to the myths heʼd been fed while growing up. In the tales of gods and miracles and water turned wine and men walking on water and healing hands. As he spirals down into the dark void once again, he knows.
Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
Enabler, Healer, Protector.
Vilandra, Zan, Rath.
Isobel, Max, Michael.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
With a sigh, he produces the second needle he prepared when he was trying not to fall into madness. He stares at it reverently, as though it holds the secrets of the whole universe, before uncapping it and sticking it in Manesʼ neck once again.
“Itʼs just a new dose,” he mutters. He stands up without touching the body on the floor. “It will slow down the process, reverting it to the early stages. It wonʼt kill you, but it wonʼt wake you up,” he keeps explaining like heʼd do to any patient come his way to seek for a cure to their pain. He doesnʼt know why he didn’t tell Alex about the second needle, the second plan he had in case things didnʼt turn out right – the liquid heʼd planned to inject in his own veins, a solution if things turned out to be unbearable for him. Jesse Manes doesnʼt take prisoners, he tells himself as he walks out the bunker, phone firmly in his pocket. Better out than dead, he reassures himself.
One day, Kyle will have to tell Alex about his plan to put himself into a coma for the greater good – he isnʼt a trained airman, under duress heʼd have spilled his guts – and about how much he values life that he would willingly go under before being broken. The price heʼs got to pay, the life he has in his hands right now, hanging in the balance of unconsciousness and organ failure, is too high for someone who just wanted to become a surgeon.
When he exits the bunker, heʼs still wearing the bulletproof vest.
The ride to the Wild Pony goes without incident. Kyle makes sure not to run any red lights, not willing to attract any attention to himself as he drives back into town. His fingers keep tapping on his phone, the fading sound of ringing filling the cabin through the speaker of his Bluetooth device. Jenna doesnʼt pick up the phone the first two times, and the third one, just when Kyle is about to enter Roswell, doesnʼt go the way he would have wanted it to. He hangs up, frustrated that heʼs not coming across with his point to the stubborn people heʼs surrounded himself with. But when the Wild Pony shows up in front of him, he promptly focuses on the task at hand – find Maria, help her with Guerin, and maybe, perhaps, be able to understand whatʼs going on.
The bar is closed, according to a sign hanging from the front door, but Kyle knows better. Heʼs aware Maria doesnʼt actually lock the place up if sheʼs already inside, so he strolls confidently to the door and grabs the handle, trying to turn it. The handle doesnʼt budge. Kyle tries again a couple of times, frantically moving it up and down with no success.
He pounds on the door, hoping he doesnʼt look like a needy drunk whoʼs up early to get his fix.
It takes Maria at least ten minutes to rush to the door; not that Kyle is counting. What he is counting, though, is the number of quirky stares he gets from bypassers and tourists on their way to the recently reopened UFO Emporium. Kyle huffs under his breath – he missed the only two town events where he could have bragged about being a surgeon and flirted with all the women he would have wanted to. And now heʼs looking like heʼs up for trouble in the middle of the day.
"Weʼre closed,” he hears Maria say from the other side of the door.
"Itʼs Kyle,” he replies. "Alex called me. Said you needed help.”
The door cracks open slightly. Kyle peeks Mariaʼs face, pale and exhausted. "I guess itʼs good youʼve come. Youʼre a doctor.” She opens the door fully and he steps inside, waiting for her to lead the way. "Michael was doing just fine, you know. And suddenly he dropped, eyes open, and he won’t wake up.”
Kyle nods, fear increasing. Michael has gone through a lot these past days, from what heʼs been able to gather – Caulfield was a minefield full of his worst nightmares, and the three of them had to watch go up in flames because they tried to help the prisoners. Kyle remembers Michael saying that he could feel the anger and the screams inside the building. He canʼt help but think that maybe the stress of the past few days has finally taken its toll on the alien. “Take me to him.”
He follows Maria through the bar, to the small cubicle where sheʼs hidden Michael from view. When he sees the alien, he has to fight the urge to covers his mouth with his hand in order to stop a wail from coming out. He takes in the sight – the eyes wide open, the lifeless slump of his body, the left hand dangling off the couch.
The left hand that looks completely healed, when just the morning before it had been as mangled and broken as the past ten years.
“Whatʼs going on, Kyle?” Maria demands, voice breaking.
“What was he doing here?” he asks in response, kneeling in front of the couch and checking vitals. Michael is still alive, but unresponsive. Kyle canʼt know the reasons why he fell unconscious, but he canʼt really take Michael to a hospital. He needs Liz and her biomedical training and her studies on alien physiology to understand.
“He came here. Asked if he could play. Then–” she trails off. Kyle has the feeling sheʼs keeping some secret but he doesnʼt pry.
“I need to make some calls,” he tells her. “He’s unresponsive but breathing. It may be related to stress or something similar. Keep him here, and call me if thereʼs any change,” he motions for her to give him her phone and punches his number on it.
“And thatʼs all?” her face is drenched in tears but her voice only quivers a little.
“I need my bag and some other things from the hospital. Guerin has an utter fear of doctors and hospitals. We canʼt risk taking him there to wake up surrounded by machines and white lab coats,” he reasons, hoping to sound reassuring. “I will be out less than an hour. I promise Iʼll be back.”
Maria nods slightly, letting him go through the open doors. Kyle closes the one leading to the front of the bar behind himself and slips into doctor mode once again. He has a mystery on his hands, but he canʼt afford to panic. His mind wanders back again to Michaelʼs words, and a thought occurs to him, a thought thatʼs scary enough to leave him breathless.
If the three of them are connected, Isobel might be in danger as well. And maybe the source of this illness thatʼs crept upon Michael is in Maxʼs hands.
Heʼs so engrossed in his thoughts that he doesnʼt notice the ruckus outside the bar until he almost runs into a couple of people shaking in the street. When he looks up, he sees a crowd cutting off the access to the parking lot, some women muttering under their breath, a man comforting a young child.
Thereʼs a woman wearing a t-shirt that reads Iʼm a believer standing near a big black SUV. “Call the police!” the tourist is screaming, flailing around as her husband kneels between two parked cars in the lot. “Heʼs dead! Heʼs dead!”
When Kyle wades his way through the crowd gathering around, muttering that heʼs a doctor and that he can help somehow, he feels short of breath. Itʼs like heʼs starring in a shit show with increasingly spooky elements, because heʼs sure heʼs staring at Racist Hankʼs dead body, a gleaming handprint blooming in his chest, glowing through the ripped shreds of his torn shirt.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Adam Duritz is singing in the background of her mind, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot, and she finds herself humming along. As she approaches Terre Haute, the traffic becomes denser and harder to navigate. Her grip on the wheel tightens as she squints her eyes at a car that passes her old truck way over the speed limit. Jenna mutters under her breath, fingertips catching up with the rhythm, when she’s abruptly interrupted by the blaring of her phone, thrown hastily onto the passenger seat when she left the motel this morning in the blaze of the engine and the pedal to the floor.
“Who the hell–” she cuts herself as she dares a glance at the screen, lit with an incoming call. The car sheʼs following in this lane surrounding Terre Haute swerves towards an upcoming exit, making her hit the brakes abruptly to avoid a collision. “Where did you learn to drive?” she yells more to herself in the confines of her car than to be heard by the careless driver whoʼs now navigating happily away. Her phone has gone silent, finally. Sheʼs already fed up with the noise of the newest Panic! At The Disco song sheʼs set up as ringtone.
When the gas tank indicator points below one third, dangerously nearing the red marking reserve, Jenna scans the road signs and takes one of the exits for a gas station. Just a few more miles, she tells herself as she drives slower. The gas station is almost upon her when she exits the freeway, the black and white stripes of I-44 E shimmering in her rearview mirror.
The music seeping through the speakers is now even more upbeat than before, and she sings along the lyrics, nothing ever comes without a consequence or cost, tell me will the stars align?, as she taps the fingers of her left hand on the plastic cover underneath her window. Her head bobs in time with the sound, her tight ponytail bouncing as Dan Reynolds bleeds out on the lyrics. Right around halfway into the song, her phone rings again insistently, persistent in its quest to ruin any of the good songs this forsaken radio station plays. This time she manages to grab it from the passenger seat, lifting it so she can read the name on the screen. Itʼs lucky that Jenna was already pushing on the brakes as she neared the gas station; otherwise she would have come close to hitting one of the trees that salute drivers from the side of the freeway. She brings the car to a halt next to the gas pumps, but when she aims to swipe her finger over the phone screen the call has already been disconnected.
“Fuck,” she swears under her breath. Her long nails, previously perfectly manicured until she discharged her firearm in a public place to save Max Evans of all people, get in the way as she falters while attempting to unblock the screen. Luckily for her, the phone blares once again, and this time she manages to pick it up in time. “Valenti,” she says, suddenly out of breath.
“Thank God, Cameron,” comes the reply from the other end. Static muffles the line and she doesnʼt hear whatever heʼs saying.
“Valenti, Iʼm losing you,” Jenna says. “Are you in the clubhouse?”
“Iʼm driving,” Kyle explains. “Iʼm getting into town right now, you should be hearing me just fine.”
“Whatʼs the emergency, Valenti?” Jenna demands, biting her thumbnail as she eyes the gas station trying to decide whether she should buy some chips or wait until sheʼs all settled down in Marysville to go grocery shopping.
“I donʼt know,” Kyle answers shortly. “I need you to go to the desert. Alex is already there, he hasnʼt told me much but–”
“Hold your horses,” she cuts him off. Her left hand threads through her ponytail, messing it up. She closes her eyes. “Is this related to,” she lowers her voice although sheʼs still inside her car, “the alien manhunt?”
“I guess so. I really donʼt know,” Kyle repeats between huffs, as though heʼs working hard on controlling whatever emotion heʼs bottling up. “I already told you. Alex called for reinforcements, and thatʼs all I know. We need you to go to the desert.”
“Do you ever ask a question, Valenti?” she hisses, opening the door of the car and stepping outside under the scrutinizing gaze of one of the station workers. Her ponytail bounces against her back. “Iʼm not in Roswell. Hell, Valenti, Iʼm not even in New Mexico anymore.”
“What do you mean?” And there it is, Jenna can hear it crystal clear – Kyleʼs voice breaks by the last syllable, and the panic breaks through his words. “Where are you going? Whatʼs going on?”
“Listen, Valenti,” she interrupts him again before he can go on and on with endless questions she doesnʼt want to answer right now. “I donʼt owe you any explanation. Iʼm no longer a Deputy in Roswell, and Iʼm moving to Ohio with my sister. Iʼm not coming back.”
“Valenti, this fucked up quest of yours has already cost me my job and my sisterʼs safety,” Jenna snarls. “Iʼm not giving up any more of myself to it, am I being clear?”
“Jenna,” he resorts to first names, but sheʼs having none of it.
“I should have left a note in the clubhouse,” she laments. “Leaving town. Donʼt look for me. Hell, Valenti, tell Manes Iʼm out of it. Whatever it is, look for help somewhere else.”
She hangs up, harsh and angry. She collapses against the side of her car, one hand still holding the phone close to her chest while she splays out the fingers of the other against the cool surface of the vehicle. She tries to focus on her breathing – one in, one out, steady, counting down to three every time she inhales so she can calm her nerves – before she pushes away from the car and to the pump, ready to refill her tank and speed away from Indianapolis so she can reach Ohio on schedule. Sheʼs just shy of three hours from her final destination. She can make it.
As much as she tries, during the remainder of her road trip to her sister, Jenna canʼt stop thinking about Kyleʼs words, repeating on a loop over the music that the radio host is playing. She isnʼt paying attention anymore, only focused on her breathing and the road as her mind plays tricks on her. She tells herself that both Valenti and Manes could have come across something important that needed her backup, but she also talks herself down from turning around and driving back home because Charlie needs her in Ohio and not in Roswell.
Jenna has let her sister down so many times that she canʼt afford to disappoint her once more.
Right on time, according to the plan she had built before hitting the road back in New Mexico, she rolls into Ohio and drives easily towards Marysville. She follows the GPS instructions, navigating through the main roads until she finds her way to the military facility where Jesse Manes had managed to transfer her sister. She knows she should check into the hotel room sheʼs booked in advance, in a tiny, family-run hotel near everything but the prison. But Jenna canʼt wait to get her clearance into the building where theyʼre keeping Charlie, so she’s ready to visit her first thing in the morning. It’s well into the afternoon by the time she pulls up to the facility parking lot and kills the engine; she hasnʼt been able to shake Kyleʼs words from her mind, but she has to gather herself if she wants to go through the motions of becoming Charlieʼs only approved visitor.
The military men guarding the entrance eye her shamelessly as she wraps her jacket tighter against her skin. Sheʼs forgotten that fall in Ohio gets colder than in New Mexico, and her leather jacket puts up no fight against the forty-six degrees Fahrenheit hitting her before she sets foot inside the building. The reception is aseptic, just a desk with a computer on it, flanked by posters calling for recruitment; Jenna canʼt help the smile that creeps up her face when she thinks of another building, another time, when need and love had made both the Cameron sisters enlist in an adventure that had left them reeling and broken. Unconsciously she rubs her thumb over the tattoo imprinted on the inside of her left wrist. Time to man up, she tells herself, snickering at her own choice of words. The bored-looking woman sitting at the desk looks up from inspecting her nails when Jenna approaches.
“May I help you?” she says, and it surprises Jenna to notice that sheʼs not military.
“My nameʼs Jenna Cameron. Iʼm here to get clearance to visit Charlotte Rebecca Cameron,” she explains, taking some papers out of the bag that she grabbed from her trunk before. The forms are neatly organized; Jenna doesnʼt like chaos to reign in her life, and sheʼs filled the dotted lines with all her information and Charlieʼs beforehand so she wouldnʼt waste any time. “Here, I think I have everything covered.” She hands the papers to the woman, whoʼs looking unimpressed with her.
“Leave them there,” the woman gestures vaguely toward the surface of the desk while she turns to the computer and punches some keys. “Whoʼs the inmate you want visit clearance?”
“Charlotte Rebecca Cameron,” Jenna repeats, already frowning. She doesnʼt like repeating herself. “Do you need me to spell it?”
“No, thank you,” the woman – Rhona Shelley according to her name tag – replies, typing up fast. “Thereʼs no one under that name here.”
“Look again,” Jenna snaps. The feeling of dread that has been pooling in her gut since sheʼs hung up on Kyle only grows. “My sister was transferred here a couple of weeks ago, following Master Sergeant Jesse Manesʼ orders,” she explains.
“Wait a moment,” Rhona Shelley commands, as she stands up and disappears through a door on the side of the reception hall, leaving Jenna alone. A couple of uniformed women walk by; Jenna thinks they might be guards as well, but she canʼt be sure. After a couple of minutes, Rhona Shelley shows up again, with a stack of papers in her hands and a frown matching Jennaʼs on her face. “Miss Cameron, your sister never made it to Marysville,” she informs. “There was no record of orders for her to transfer here.”
“That canʼt be possible,” Jenna protests, but Rhona Shelley is already sitting down on her chair and leaving the papers in front of her. “She was transferred.”
“She isnʼt here,” Rhona repeats. She proceeds to peruse through the papers, promptly ignoring Jenna.
“Canʼt you please tell me where my sister is?” Jenna tries for politeness but fails halfway through when her words come out spiteful and angry.
“Sadly, I canʼt,” the other woman tells her, brushing past the papers without looking back up at her. “Thatʼs confidential.”
“Iʼm her sister!” Jenna snaps. “Iʼm her only family!”
“Sorry,” Rhona says, although she doesnʼt sound sorry at all. “I canʼt do anything.”
Jenna huffs but pushes herself off the desk, walking back out. Once faced against the cold air and the fading sun, she closes her eyes. Manes had told her Charlie would be in Marysville, but he had lied to her. She wonders which other lies heʼd fed her, but she already knows the answer for that – sheʼs been working with Alex and Kyle for a while, sheʼs seen Max and his brother-in-law, and even if she doesnʼt fully understand whatʼs going on, Jenna has the inkling that Isobel Evans and Michael Guerin arenʼt the evil Manes wanted her to believe they were. Her train of thought trails off as she realizes her mistake.
She shouldnʼt have trusted Jesse Manes; her instincts told her so when he tried to blackmail her into helping him. Now she knows he tricked her to get her away from Roswell, and it irks her. Jesse Manes doesnʼt act without a purpose, and Jenna would be crazy if she thought otherwise.
Rubbing a hand over her face, the other gripping the edges of her jacket as though she was holding the edges of a reality crumbling down to ashes, Jenna knows exactly what she should be doing.
Walking past the two guards who eye her once again as she rushes to her car, she yanks the door open and jumps inside.