TITLE: I’VE GOT YOU…
DISCLAIMER: I don’t own any of the characters from BTVS or Roswell. I gain nothing by writing this, so don’t bother suing. This story follows ‘Rumble.’
SUMMARY: The Roswell aliens have enemies, and those enemies have a problem. Their time is running out. They have a way to save themselves, but that’s not enough for their newly arrived leader. His ambition may prove their undoing.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a crossover fic in my BTVS/Roswell series and follows "Rumble." I’ve borrowed some aspects of the new season, but pretty much ignored it, as it is difficult to reconcile what I’m doing with the characters.
Maria watched the new waitress, Courtney, suspiciously. Maria thought of Courtney as new even though she’d been working at the CrashDown for almost two months, having started a few days after Anya left. Maria hadn’t gotten to know the girl or her demon hunter boy friend very well, but she did know she liked her better than she liked Courtney. At least Anya hadn’t flirted with Michael.
Michael. Now there was a different problem entirely. Anya and Xander had stayed for a week or so after the battle with Cole’s vampires. A battle that none of her friends would talk about. From what little Maria had gotten out of them, she was glad she hadn’t been there, but Michael had withdrawn from her just as he had after accidentally killing Pierce. He’d been badly shaken by what he’d seen and done that night. They had all been affected. That much was obvious, but none of them would talk about it. Michael was in his protect-by-withdraw mode. He had gotten over his fear of hurting her with his powers by practicing with Tess, but this was different. Now, he was trying to ‘protect’ her from something he had absolutely no control over.
Michael doing it was bad enough, but Liz had started to pull away as well. Whatever they weren’t telling her about must have been bad. They had won, Liz said, but the price had been terrible. Maria could only guess that the battle had been as devastating for the vampire hunters as it had been for the vampires. Liz had looked pale and nervous for days afterwards. Her father thought she was sick, and Liz hadn’t disabused him of the notion. She couldn’t exactly tell him the truth.
Liz had gotten better, but she still kept her distance from her old friends. She flatly refused to let them patrol with her or to help her in any way even if it was something safe and simple, like researching a demon in one of the books Xander had brought for them.
She really missed Liz. Her best friend had been working for congresswoman Whitaker for less than a month, but it felt like a lot longer, especially because the two had only seen each other at work since the Slayer business began. Liz had been keeping a regular patrol schedule since the night of the battle between Cole’s vampires and Seth’s hunters. When she wasn’t patrolling she was training, training hard.
Spike had even convinced Michael and Max to get involved. The vampire had been getting more and more inventive with the training. A few days ago Maria had found the four of them playing hide-and-seek in the factory. He must have been impressed by whatever Max, Michael, and Isabel had done during the battle, and decided that they would be useful, or at least interesting. For Spike, it sometimes came to the same thing.
Apparently, the business with Cole had put Roswell on some sort of supernatural tourist hot spot list. There had been several types of demon poking around town since that night, ranging from the standard vampires to what Spike identified as a slime demon. That one had been vicious, and it had had a stink that could send a skunk running for cover.
"Maria!" She looked around and saw Michael pushing a plate through the window towards her. "Come on. Hungry people waiting." She glared at him for a second then picked up the plates and moved off. Michael was already turning back to the stove, but he stopped and glanced back at her. What now?
He thought they had worked out a lot of their couple issues, so why was she suddenly angry with him? He shook his head in frustration and focused on the grill and the burgers that were threatening to burn.
Liz frowned in concentration as she reread the last few sentences of the new campaign pamphlet. That didn’t work at all she decided, and marked through them. After a moment’s thought, she penciled in a correction and set it aside to pull up the file on the computer. The new job with Whitaker might look good on a resume, but it was turning out to be a real snooze. Editing campaign literature, making appointments, answering phones, and running errands for the congresswoman were things that anyone could do. It did have its pluses though. Looked good on a resume, paid better than waiting tables, and it left her evenings free to train and patrol. Actually, I’m not sure if that last is a plus or not.
For an added bonus it allowed her to keep an eye on someone who had shown a special interest in the late, unlamented Agent Pierce.
Contrary to what they had believed at the time, Nasedo had been doing more than killing FBI agents. He had been destroying evidence and diverting government money. He had also made sure that the General Accounting Office got wind of it. When it came time for an audit, the Unit was shy several million dollars with nothing to show for it and no sign of the man who’d diverted the funds. The Special Unit was dissolved amidst a scandal that people were comparing to Iran/Contra and Pierce was wanted on a list of charges as long as Liz’s arm.
Congresswoman Vanessa Whitaker had been the only one to speak up on the Unit’s behalf, not that it had done any good. Now she was in Roswell, conducting an investigation of her own. The idea made them all nervous, and when a job opening had cropped up in her office, Liz had applied for it immediately. She hadn’t had to work very hard to get it either. Apparently, enough of the real Pierce’s suspicions and or evidence had reached Whitaker that she jumped at the chance to have someone close to her primary alien suspect under constant observation.
"Parker." Liz looked up, her reverie broken, and smiled at her boss as the congresswoman stuck her head out the door. "Set that aside for now. I need you to run some errands for me."
"Sure, what do you need?" Whitaker handed her a list of mundane chores that included picking up her dry cleaning, filling a prescription, and delivering a package to a law firm whose office was across town. "This’ll take most of the afternoon," she pointed out, scanning the rest of the lengthy list.
"Don’t worry. You’re still on the clock," Whitaker smiled winningly. "You can start right after lunch."
Accepting that as a dismissal, Liz tidied up her desk, shut down her computer, and quickly departed. By the time she arrived at the CrashDown, the lunch rush was already on. She glanced at the crowd, then at Whitaker’s list and frowned. It would take too long to have lunch and run the errands, and she still had to finish proofreading and correcting the new campaign pamphlet. It was due at the printer no later than 10:00 the next day. Best to get started.
The errands went far more quickly than she had anticipated. She found the man she was to deliver the package to having lunch at the CrashDown. The line at the pharmacy was short. Similar bits of luck saw her back at Whitaker’s office shortly before 2:00.
She entered the office quietly and was about to announce herself when she heard heated voices coming from the congresswoman’s office. One of them was Whitaker’s. The other belonged to a man Liz didn’t know. He sounded angry.
"You were supposed to have prepared the way for us," the man was saying. "We cannot begin our work on this planet without laying the proper groundwork, and eliminating the royal four is not the most important of these tasks. E’tahr and I came to oversee the final preparations. You haven’t accomplished one tenth of what needs to be done."
"The situation here is more complex than we were led to believe. Their guardian, Nasedo he was called here, did too good a job of hiding them. They weren’t even out of the maturation pods until about 12 of this world’s years ago."
"Meaning the royal four were helpless for decades, and you did nothing. You’ve failed miserably and all of our plans have been jeopardized because of it. The entire operation could fall apart. At the very least, we’ll have to delay the occupation."
"The occupation can’t work," Whitaker interrupted, "not as originally planned. This world… There’s so much more here than we knew."
"No excuses," he cut her off angrily. "Do not seek to conceal your incompetence by whining about how hard your work is." He took a moment to calm himself before continuing. "Is the harvest at least on schedule?"
"Yes sir," Whitaker responded in a subdued voice. "Just in time, too. The husks we wear now won’t last out the year, but the new ones will be ready in just a few days." Her tone changed, becoming more confident as she moved to a new topic. "There is good news however, I’m certain I have identified the royal four. A girl in my employ here, Liz Parker, is close to one of them, the leader. We can use her and his attachment to her to set a trap for him, just as we did before."
"You think he’ll fall for it again? He’s not stupid."
"He doesn’t remember his previous life. I’ve determined that. Once the heir is dead the rest will be easy to deal with. His second is as much a hothead now as he was then. I’m certain one of them will give up the location of the granalith." Granalith?
Liz listened closely for a few moments more before backing out slowly, quietly closing the door behind her. She had to find the others.
"Whitaker?! As in congresswoman Whitaker?" Maria’s voice rose several octaves, and Michael put a finger in his ear, wincing. Maria noticed and elbowed him in the side. "This is serious Michael. She’s an alien!"
"And not on our side judging by the conversation they were having," Liz confirmed. "So what do we do now?" They all looked to Max expectantly while he considered the problem. It had been short notice to pull everyone together, but the entire group was present with the exception of Spike. No one but Liz really felt comfortable with the vampire.
"Oh, I know," Michael said sarcastically, "nothing, right?" Max ignored him. Michael’s confrontational attitude was becoming more and more of a problem. He questioned every decision, and took matters into his own hands without consulting the others. He was desperate to do something, but he didn’t have any better idea what that something should be than anyone else. Max knew how frustrating it was for him and could sympathize. He was just as frustrated in his own way, but couldn’t let that frustration affect his judgment.
"We don’t know enough to act intelligently." Michael loosed a frustrated sigh. Max spared him an annoyed glance. "How many of them are there? What powers or weapons do they have? Thanks to Liz we know where they’re based, but not what this ‘harvest’ is. We need more information. Getting it is our first priority."
"What about Whitaker? Maybe we could get some answers out of her," Liz suggested, "with a little persuasion." Max noticed her tone, a tone that didn’t promise anything good for the congresswoman, and looked at his girlfriend sharply. That was something he was still getting used to. Before she became the Slayer, Liz would never have suggested such a thing. She simply wasn’t that assertive, and she was never violent. As hard as the change was to accept, though, she was still Liz, and she was being practical as she always was.
"Maybe," he allowed reluctantly, more to mollify her than because he was considering it, "but we don’t know what she’s capable of either. We have to proceed carefully. We spy on them first." He looked at Michael. "I need you to get into her office tonight and find out everything you can learn about her." Michael nodded, glad to finally see Max being decisive about something. "That’ll mean getting her out of her office and making sure she stays away from it." He turned to Liz. "You say this man wants Whitaker to set the trap tonight? That doesn’t give us much time to prepare."
"I know, but her boss, whoever he is, was pretty insistent. They’re in a big hurry, and that may give us an advantage."
"Maybe," Max allowed, "but it doesn’t give us a lot of time to find that advantage and act on it."
"Then we should get started." The next hour was spent making plans and remaking them when inspiration struck, as it did several times. Finally, they thought they had a workable strategy and even a contingency plan or two, dependent on what they learned. Then each of them was dispatched on a separate errand. Liz didn’t have the luxury of protesting the involvement of Alex and Maria, although she wanted to, and for once Maria wished she had. Maria, as it turned out, was the lucky one dispatched to the factory where Spike lived to tell him the news and his part in the plan.
Liz made a point of accidentally dropping the pill bottle from the pharmacy when she came in, just in case Whitaker’s boss was still there. Whitaker poked her head out of her office. "Oh good, you’re back. Get everything done?" Liz nodded, handing over the various packages she was carrying. "Good. When you’re done with that pamphlet I could use your help with something else. I hope you don’t mind a little overtime." Liz managed to look a bit disappointed even though she had expected the request.
"Well, I have a date with Max, but I suppose I can cancel. What do you need?" As predicted, Whitaker smiled at this bit of news.
"There’s no need to cancel your plans for the evening," she assured Liz, trying to sound magnanimous. "This won’t take very long. Why not call him and have him pick you up? I’ll give you the address, and he can meet you there at 8:00." Liz smiled.
"Thanks. I’ll call him now." Liz called Max and gave him the address of what was certain to be an ambush. Max understood that and would take the appropriate precautions, which would include informing the others. The plan was makeshift, but it should get them the information they needed. And, Liz noted, makeshift or not, it was working out perfectly. So far.
Maria entered the old building nervously, looking around for the vampire. I’m looking for a vampire. Even if he can’t hurt humans this is too weird.
Maria was of the firm belief that vampires, slime demons, and other things that went bump in the night should be confined to the movies. She looked around the small loading bay where she’d come in. The door by the big roll-ups was always left open so the Scooby gang as Spike sometimes called them, and what is that about?
could come and go as needed. Spike didn’t really worry about thieves.
She considered calling out, but couldn’t manage it. Spike intimidated her, neutered or not, and the only thing that gave her the courage to face him was the fact that she knew he enjoyed the affect he had on her. That made her mad. Squaring her shoulders she walked as confidently as she was able through the factory to the room where Spike kept his television and favorite chair. She could here voices as she approached the door and paused for a moment before she realized what she was hearing.
The television was on and Spike was griping at the characters. "Oh come on, can’t you see he’s using you? He doesn’t love you." Huh?
Maria moved closer and listened to the show for a second. Passions? A vampire who watches soap operas. Just when I thought life couldn’t get any weirder.
She knocked on the door, and the TV quickly went off. Spike appeared at the door a second later.
"What do you want?" he asked grumpily. Maria quailed a bit, but rallied quickly when she saw the spark of amusement in his eyes. She briefly considered making some wisecrack about interrupting his soaps, but decided to get straight to the point.
"We have a problem. Congresswoman Whitaker’s an alien hunter, and Liz heard her talking to her boss about an occupation and… and she wants to use Liz to catch the others and… Mmff!" The hand over her mouth didn’t hurt her in any way, Spike had gotten good at judging such things, but it did cut off her frantic babbling.
"All right. Start again. Is Whitaker hunting aliens or is she an alien who’s hunting?" He took his hand away from her mouth.
"Both. Whitaker’s an alien, but she’s one of the bad guys."
"And she’s in congress? Isn’t that taking affirmative action a bit far?" Maria glared at him. "Okay. Okay. Give me the details, and remember to breathe once in a while." He led her into the room and had her sit on the couch. Maria told him everything that had happened and outlined what they planned to do about it.
"You have it all thought out, then?" he sounded a bit peeved at being left out. Maria picked up on it and felt a flash of sympathy. She knew what it felt like to be left out of things.
"It was kind of short notice, but I think so. Here." She handed him the props he would need to play his part. "We would have liked to include you in the planning, but there just wasn’t time. We had to throw this together in under an hour. Whitaker’s boss wants it done tonight."
"Okay, okay," he relented. "Time is a problem." He considered briefly and grinned. "I think I know a way to get you some of the information you need though. Leave it to me pet. Just be ready to pick us up." Maria nodded.
Max and Tess drove the route twice, looking for potential trouble spots. Once they determined that the most likely place for the ambush was at the address Whitaker had given Liz, they returned to the address itself and drove by slowly, as if lost, before driving away.
"Looks deserted," Tess observed as Max pulled off the road and drove behind a small rise. He parked there and looked at her.
"It’s probably intended to look empty. We need a closer look."
"We don’t have a lot of time Max, and there’s no real cover. How are you going to sneak in?"
"That’s where you come in. Can you hide me using your powers?" Tess looked uncertain.
"I don’t know Max. I don’t know how many there are in there or where they are, and I can’t hide you from electronic detection, burglar alarms, security cameras."
"If they have an alarm, it’s probably turned off during the day. People would need to be coming and going without having to worry about tripping their own alarms." He smiled in a way he hoped would instill confidence and opened his door. "Do the best you can. I’ll be quick." Before Tess could protest, he was gone. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and began to concentrate.
Max approached the warehouse. The place was not actually in Roswell. The buildings weren’t really part of anything. There had been plans for an industrial park a few years back, an attempt to bring new business and opportunities to Roswell by the chamber of commerce. A group of investors had been talked into funding it and several buildings had gone up before the entire project had fallen through. He didn’t know the details. All he knew was that Whitaker had business here, and she would be bringing Liz around 7:00. That didn’t give them much time. It was already 4:30. Liz had agreed to delay her departure for the trap as long as possible, but there was a limit to how long she could stall without making Whitaker suspicious.
He reached the side door he was aiming for and unlocked it. There was an alarm, as Tess had expected, set to go off if someone opened the door. Max had expected that though as he was using an emergency exit, but the alarm wasn’t that difficult to disconnect. The door opened silently and Max made his way inside. He listened for a moment, but didn’t hear any voices, or anything else.
Lacking a better idea, he picked a direction and started to walk down the corridor he found himself in. The place was definitely being used by someone and not just for storage. There were signs that people had been there recently. He turned the corner and began to hear voices faintly from a room down the hall. He moved as close to the partially open door as he dared, not sure whether Tess could hide him or not, and listened to their conversation.
"There have been too many delays Nicholas. I expected better from you. Where is the granalith?"
"We don’t know, Kivar," he paused, stopped by something Max couldn’t see then he continued more carefully, "sir, but we may not need it. I believe I’ve found something on this world that will serve our needs even better."
"What do you mean? The people of this world are primitives. Their technology is centuries behind our own. If the occupation is to succeed we must have the granalith."
"The occupation of this world can proceed without a hitch, if we modify our plans. I’ve studied some of this world’s… peculiarities. I’m certain we can turn them to our advantage."
"You’re not making sense. What peculiarities?"
"Magic. We can achieve through magic everything the granalith is capable of and more." There was a heavy silence following his assertion. Finally the other spoke.
"Clearly your time here has damaged your faculties." The one he called Nicholas began to speak but his superior, Kivar Max realized, interrupted. "No. Not another word. You cannot mitigate your failure by feigning insanity. You are relieved as of now. I am assuming direct command of our operations on Earth. You will be lucky if I allow you to use the new husk you are growing for yourself at Copper Summit. When we have the heir tonight we will force the location of the Granalith from him. You can do that can’t you, Nicholas?"
"And if I can’t?" Nicholas asked.
"If you are unable to get the information from his mind, if you fail in even that simple task, then it will be necessary to return to Copper Summit for the harvest. It is a simple thing I expect of you now Nicholas. Do not fail me or I will kill you."
Max had heard enough, and he had pushed his luck and Tess’ abilities as far as he dared. It was time to go. Back through the warehouse, out the door, and back to the car where Tess was just shy of fainting from the effort, Max moved as quickly and quietly as he had come. He slipped behind the wheel, and started the engine. "Did you get what you wanted?" Tess asked faintly.
"Yes. You did great Tess. Now we have to hurry."
Liz finished her work on the pamphlet shortly before 7:00. She had delayed returning till almost 4:30, as long as she dared. Creating delays had been relatively easy, faking a program error that lost her 20 minutes work the first time, and then spending another 20 on the phone with Alex pretending to talk about a potential speaking engagement for the congresswoman. Finally, she had run out of delays and gotten the actual work done.
"We can drop it off at the printer’s tonight, and it should be done by noon tomorrow easily." Whitaker smiled as she closed the sample pamphlet Liz had printed after clearing three manufactured paper jams.
She had to admit Parker was intelligent and efficient for a human. It was going to be an inconvenience to lose her. The details of a human life and job were annoyances she had to deal with to maintain her cover. It was gratifying when she found someone who could do so much of it for her. Still, Parker was no longer useful. Her true work on Earth was about to begin.
"I like it. I’m ahead of schedule thanks to you." Gathering up her briefcase and an armful of folders she nodded toward the door. "Let’s go." It was already dark out, and what needed to be done would go a lot smoother without having to worry about witnesses.
They got into the car and Whitaker started the engine, or tried to. It sputtered and died. "What? It was working fine this morning." She turned the key again. This time nothing happened. Whitaker resisted the urge to grind her teeth. Could anything else go wrong today? It would be easy enough to fix, but she couldn’t do it in front of Parker. It was Liz herself who provided the solution.
"The CrashDown’s just a short walk from here. I bet I can borrow Maria’s car." Whitaker nodded reluctantly. They got out of the car and started toward the diner. The quickest route there was through a narrow side street that lacked streetlights. Liz fell behind a bit, and several seconds passed before Whitaker realized that Liz was no longer with her.
"Parker?" She turned to see that two strangers had emerged from an alley they had just passed. One of them had Parker pulled against him his teeth buried in her throat. She struggled weakly before going limp. The other one, ridged demon face clearly visible, rushed her. "Damn," she muttered, raising a hand and concentrating. The vampire stopped as if it had hit a brick wall. It staggered back and let out a choked scream before turning to dust. She turned to the one holding Parker’s body.
"Oh crap," the vampire said, its eyes as big as saucers. He started to backpedal while throwing Parker over his shoulder. "Sorry sweets, you just became takeout." He turned and sprinted back into the alley. Whitaker started to follow, but decided there was no point. Parker was dead, but Max didn’t know that. The plan could still work. She returned to her car and quickly found and fixed the problem, a failed starter motor, before driving to the warehouse where Max would show up in only 45 minutes.
"Takeout?" Liz looked up at her teacher as she used a napkin to wipe the ketchup off her neck. He was curled on the rear seat of Maria’s Jetta while Liz sat on the floor. It was really too small a car for hiding in and Liz was wedged between the front seat and the back with barely room to breathe. They were, however, out of sight of anyone who might notice the Jetta. Maria appeared to be alone and in no great hurry to get anywhere.
"Sounded good at the time," Spike said shrugging as best he could.
"Where’d the vamp come from?"
"Found ‘im last night. He just got into town so I did the neighborly thing and helped him find a place an’ even got him a bottle of blood. I thought he might come in handy."
"Planning a new lesson?" He shrugged.
"It was supposed to be a surprise. The important thing is we learned something about Whitaker’s powers. I think we can assume she can do anything the other little green people can do."
"You know they don’t like it when you call them that," Maria said from the driver’s seat. She was looking up at the rearview mirror and scowling. Spike grinned at her even though he knew she couldn’t see him. He liked Maria, he really did. The word for her was spunky, but he suspected that he really didn’t want to hear the sound she’d make if he said it to her face. "And why can’t you have a reflection like a normal person? I mean it doesn’t make any sense. Does it have to do with the no soul thing? No it can’t be that cause that creepy Angel guy has one but he doesn’t show up in mirrors either." She continued to babble, but Spike tuned her out for a moment and glanced down at Liz. The Slayer was smiling herself, taking a familiar comfort in her friend’s hyperactive monologue.
"And does one of you know how to get where we’re going? I’m not sure where Copper Summit is." That got their attention.
"Tess will know," Liz assured her. "We’re meeting her behind the CrashDown." Maria scanned the street and then… "There she is," she pointed at something Liz couldn’t see. A moment later the door opened and Tess got in.
"Lets get going," she snapped and began giving Maria directions. "Copper Summit is two hours away and they’ll know Max isn’t coming before then." Maria got on the highway and floored the accelerator.
"I obviously missed something," Liz said pushing her way up onto the seat to sit beside Spike. "Why are we going to Copper Summit?"
"That’s where the enemy has their HQ," Tess answered. "Max picked up some interesting details about the harvest you heard them talking about. It seems they need some sort of space suit here. It looks like human skin, but what we see is just a covering of some sort."
"I remember," Liz said thoughtfully. "Whitaker said something about their husks wearing out. They won’t last out the year, she said."
"That’s right," Tess nodded. "Apparently they’re growing new ones. If we can smash those husks before they finish growing we could be rid of them."
"So the boy king decided to take the initiative huh? How unlike him," Spike observed. Liz elbowed him in the side.
Max drove while Isabel used a flashlight to read the information Alex had gathered for them over the Internet. "Copper Summit is also the headquarters of something called the Universal Friendship League. Creepy. It’s a small, isolated community, perfect for a group of aliens who want to go unnoticed." She sounded pensive and Max glanced at her curiously.
"Guess I’m just surprised," his sister admitted. "This plan isn’t like you."
"It needs to be done," he said, but he didn’t sound happy about it. He sounded, she thought… resigned was the right word. "This world has enough worries with demons. These people are planning an invasion."
"They’d be biting off more than they can chew. This Nicholas guy you mentioned knows about demons and magic and I still have trouble believing in those, but-"
"The guy who took over may not believe in it, and his plan might fail, but it would cause a lot of trouble. There’s a chance though, that Nicholas could succeed. I don’t know what he’s planning, but between alien technology and some of the things we know magic is capable of…"
"Let’s not think about that right now," Isabel interrupted. "Let’s just get there and do it so we don’t have to worry about it." That worked for everyone.
"He wants to use magic? What magic?"
"We don’t know," Maria admitted. "Max didn’t hear any details. But Spike’s told me some stories."
"A few that wouldn’t give her nightmares," Spike elaborated. "No tellin’ what this Nicholas bloke has gotten hold of, but it could get ugly."
"Aliens want to take over the planet. I think it already is ugly," Maria said. Tess shot her a look.
"Hey don’t lump us all together." Maria didn’t bother to respond, and after a moment Tess gave up on waiting for one. "Spike packed you some weapons Liz, a few stakes, a sword, and an ax. I doubt they’ll do much good though. Why don’t Slayers use guns?" Liz and Spike looked at each other as if the idea had never occurred to them.
"Well," Spike answered after a moment. "Guns’ll just piss off a vampire. Metal weapons don’t bother us much unless you can cut off the head. I’m hoping that ripping those space suits will stop them. If nothing else cutting their heads off should do the trick."
"Let’s hope so. I’m certain we can do enough damage to kill them, even if decapitation doesn’t work."
The lock was easy to defeat, as was the alarm. Michael had wanted to go with Max and the others when he learned what they were going to do about the ‘Skins’ as Spike had started calling them, but Max had told him that the information in Whitaker’s office was still very important to them. Alex followed him in and took a post by the window to keep a look out. His van was on the next street, easily accessible from the back door.
"Any idea what you’re looking for?" Alex asked softly.
"Nope." Michael considered a moment before remembering the time he and Maria had searched the FBI agent’s room. He looked through the garbage and found something immediately. "What the hell is this?" He was holding up a translucent piece of something that looked and felt like snakeskin. “A glove?”
Alex came over to look at it curiously. A few seconds later, it crumbled to dust. "I have no idea," Alex said as Michael dusted his hands off carefully.
"I think it might be part of her skin, that space suit she wears." He wiped his hands on his jeans for good measure. "Creepy." He began going through drawers, starting with Whitaker’s desk and moving to the locked file cabinets in her office. He didn’t find anything at first, not until he listened to some of the unlabeled CDs in the file drawer behind her desk.
"She’s taping Liz’s calls?" Alex seemed surprised for some reason. "Well, we suspected that Whitaker wanted Liz here as a way of getting to Max. Anything else?"
"Hmm. Pictures. There are pictures of... whoa!" He focused the small flashlight he carried on the photos. "I don’t follow the news, but even I recognize some of these people."
"So what is it?" Alex called softly from near the window.
"Blackmail material." He flipped through a few of the pictures. "There are some very twisted people in our nation’s capitol." He handed Alex a picture, but after a glance at the image Alex declined to touch it.
"That looks painful. I don’t suppose there’s anything alien related in there?" he asked, trying to get the investigation back on track. Michael put the pictures back where he found them and opened a sealed envelope from the same drawer.
"Jackpot. Correspondence from the Universal Friendship League hidden in an envelope marked ’98 income tax." He skimmed some of the letters. "Oh boy." He slipped the letters back into the envelope, resealed it and quickly erased any sign that he’d been there. "Come on. We’ve got to go."
"Go where?" Alex asked as he followed Michael out the back door and watched as he locked it and enabled the alarm system from outside.
"Copper Summit. The Harvest is tomorrow which means that pretty much every Skin on the planet is likely to be there."
"Where is she?"
"Sir, there was a-"
"Where is Liz Parker, the bait for your trap?"
"She’s dead sir. We were attacked by two vampires near the office. One of them killed Parker."
"Vampires?" Nicholas sounded incredulous as he stepped forward, to stand next to their commander. "Since when are there vampires in Roswell?"
"Killings have been up across the region over the past month. I didn’t pay any attention to it."
"This is incredibly bad timing." Nicholas thought quickly. "It shouldn’t matter, though. Max doesn’t know she’s dead. He’ll still be here at 8:00."
"What," their leader demanded, "are vampires?" Both looked at him as if surprised he was there. "And how precisely did you fail at such a simple task? You were to bring one Human girl to this warehouse."
"Vampires are parasites. They feed on Humans, draining the blood from them," Nicholas supplied.
"They’re animals," Whitaker continued. "Running into two tonight was just bad luck. I didn’t even know they were there until they were on top of us."
"You seem to have had nothing but bad luck since you came to this planet," Kivar said quietly. "Fortunately for you this bit of bad luck probably won’t interfere with our plans." He glanced at Nicholas. "You are correct. As long as the heir doesn’t know she’s dead, he will still come here to meet her." They would just have to wait.
Max saw the Jetta coming up behind them and nodded, relieved. "They’re here. There was a ways to go before they reached Copper Summit, and they didn’t know exactly what they would find when they got there, but with the arrival of the others they had some reassurance that the plan was on schedule. He drew out the cell phone he had borrowed from Tess and called Maria.
"Hello? Oh, hi Max," Liz brightened at the sound of his voice. Maria had passed her the phone, not wanting to take her attention off the road at the speed they were traveling. "Yeah. Everything went as planned. Spike really came through." She glanced at her teacher who smiled, pleased at the compliment. "At this rate we should be in Copper Summit in less than an hour… I know. You’re due at the ambush in ten minutes. Hopefully they’ll be patient."
"Her phone is busy." Michael clicked off.
"She’s probably talking to Max. You know they’re going separately." Alex didn’t glance away from the road. He was breaking the speed limit by twenty miles an hour and didn’t want to slow down or risk an accident. "Wait a few minutes and try again."
"Right." Michael dialed again immediately.
"Where is he?" Kivar demanded. It was 8:05 and the newly arrived leader was getting impatient. Nicholas and Whitaker exchanged nervous glances.
"Anything could have delayed him," Nicholas reasoned. "He could arrive at any time."
"For your sake he had better be here soon."
E’tahr double-checked the readings on the nutrient flow. Everything seemed to be going well, at least on a technical level. The equipment was the only thing that had worked correctly. She silently fumed over the mess they had discovered when they arrived. It had taken them time to even locate the community. They had hidden themselves away, apparently accomplishing nothing over the last 50 years. Some of them, like the one who now called herself Vanessa Whitaker, had gotten into positions of power, but they had done nothing with that power, at least nothing constructive.
The royal four had been located only recently, and that had been more through accident than anything else. Their agents on Earth had mostly concerned themselves with concealing their presence. It had been a Human who had found them and gathered the proof they needed. Even when they had the proof, they did nothing.
She and Kivar had both questioned them repeatedly. There seemed to be no reason for their actions. They spoke of complications and delays, but they were vague as to what those complications and delays were. The Humans were a primitive species, yet their agents hid from them. It made no sense. Just as well that she and Kivar had arrived to oversee their final preparations. Time was short, but if they could find the granalith, it was still possible to meet their schedule. Nicholas and the rest would answer for their incompetence when the time came. For now though, they were needed.
Satisfied that the husks were developing properly and that the harvest could begin the next day as planned, she left the storage area and returned to the community center that the Universal Friendship League used as a headquarters.
She found Nicholas’ second, an old woman using the name Betty Whitaker, having a quiet conference with some of her officers. The conversation ended when she entered the room. E'tahr was naturally wary of treachery. Paranoia had become a way of life in the royal court since the coup. Under other circumstances, the behavior of the others might have made her suspicious, but the possibility of treachery was discounted immediately. They would no doubt bungle any such attempt as they had everything else.
"The husks are in excellent condition, but they are at a critical stage and will have to be monitored closely."
"We got everything under control," Betty assured her. "Don’t you worry about it."
"I am concerned for the future of this mission, of the occupation, not for your health. You would do well to take this more seriously." Betty shrugged dismissively, turned her back, and left the room. E'tahr watched the others file out after her and silently fumed. What was wrong with these people? Had they simply been living among primitives too long? It was frankly incomprehensible. It didn’t matter to her though, as long as they followed orders.
Max watched the town from a small hill just beyond the farthest building. They would have to move in carefully. Tess’ abilities would be of limited value. They could hide from an individual sentry or a small group of people, but she couldn’t hide them from the entire population of the town, and there was a huge chance of being surprised by someone she didn’t see, especially since they would have to search the town. None of them knew quite what they were looking for.
There was suddenly a person on either side of him. Wha..?
Where had they come from? Max relaxed when he saw it was Liz and Spike, but it unnerved him that he had heard nothing.
"Max?" Liz looked at him curiously.
"Just startled. Learn to make a noise huh?" he joked, trying to cover how much the ease with which Liz, his Liz, took to these skills, disturbed him.
"Better not," Spike groused. "After all the time I spent teaching you not to." Liz rolled her eyes, amused by her teacher’s grumbling. He moved on quickly. "That building’s occupied and isolated enough." Liz nodded.
"It’ll do. Let’s go."
"Hold on," Max stopped them. "What do you have in mind? I doubt the husks are in there."
"Maybe not, but there’s someone in there. We can get the answers from them." Max looked doubtful. "It's that or search the town," Spike said in a tone that showed how ridiculous he thought the idea was. Max managed not to wince.
"All right. Be careful though."
"Not to worry," he assured. "Liz an’ me’ll be in and out before they know we’re there." They moved away silently and were soon lost in the shadows. Max turned and made his way back to the spot where the others waited. He did his best to hide how disturbed he was.
"Well Max?" Isabel demanded. "How do we do this?"
"Liz and Spike are doing it. They’ll get the information." Tess watched his face carefully, and saw the unease there.
"You know how they’ll get it." Her tone made it a statement, not a question. Max nodded unhappily. Tess did her best to look sympathetic. She knew Max hated violence, especially the type of casual violence that the Slayer and her teacher seemed to indulge in more and more. Violence was sometimes necessary, but she knew he was wondering where the line was. It would be so easy to go too far. Max was afraid for Liz. He was afraid that her duties as Slayer would change her beyond recognition.
It had begun already. Liz had become more confident and forceful than before, almost domineering on occasion. She gave orders as if it were second nature and expected to be obeyed. She was still Liz though, and he loved her dearly. The changes couldn’t affect how he felt about her, but they were coming between them.
There had been very little time for them to be together as a couple over the last month or so, and when they were together he couldn’t help but see the changes in her behavior. She never seemed to relax anymore. It would be difficult for anyone who didn’t know her as well as he did to see, but Liz now demonstrated an awareness and wariness of her surroundings that she never had before. He had seen her scan the rooms she walked into. Even in her own home she would glance around the room, noting casually the position of every friend and potential foe. Noting the position of every potential weapon and escape route.
Seeing her do this made Max uncomfortable, and it disturbed him more that it had become second nature to her. She hardly thought about it anymore. He had wanted to talk to her about it, to share his concerns for her, but he honestly didn’t know how to begin. There were some things it seemed, that he just couldn’t talk to her about, and that disturbed him most of all.
"Still no answer," Michael growled. "What did they do? Turn it off?"
"Maybe," Alex reasoned. "Would you want your phone ringing and giving you away while trying to sneak around a town full of hostile aliens?" Michael bit off a sarcastic response, and reluctantly nodded. That was probably what had happened, not that it helped to know that. "Anyway, relax. We’ll catch up with them in less than half-an-hour."
"Yeah, but the people at that warehouse already know Max isn’t coming, or if they don’t they’re deeply stupid." Alex made no reply. He knew the chances of the aliens realizing what they were up to were slim, but telling himself that didn’t help. He just drove faster.
Spike circled the house twice while Liz waited under a side window. She could vaguely hear voices inside, but couldn’t make out what they were saying through the closed window. Spike returned after a moment and held up two fingers, indicating that there were just the two inside. Liz nodded and they moved to the front of the house. The covered front porch was dark and the house didn’t face any other buildings. Liz quickly unscrewed the bare bulb that served as a porch light and, putting on her best innocent look, she knocked on the door. Spike stood beside the door, out of sight of the peephole.
After a moment the door opened and a portly, middle-aged man looked out at her. He didn’t seem pleased to find an attractive young woman on his doorstep. "Hi," Liz said brightly. "Sorry to bother you, but my car broke down, just down the road. Could I possibly use your phone?" The man apparently decided she was harmless and stepped aside. He didn’t invite her in though. Liz stepped inside and sent another smile toward the gray-haired woman who came into the room from the kitchen. The woman looked no more pleased than the man had been, but she nodded toward the phone on a table next to her.
Liz had almost reached her when she saw the woman’s eyes narrow as she looked past Liz. There was a surprised grunt at the door and she turned to see that Spike had entered the room. He looked as surprised as she for a moment. He had entered without an invitation, and Liz didn’t like the implications of that. She nodded to him and he delivered an uppercut to the man’s chin that lifted him off the ground. Liz spun back to the old woman with a kick to the side of the head.
It barely fazed her. The woman raised a hand in a gesture she had seen from Michael and Max on many occasions. She didn’t get a chance to use her powers though. Liz broke the wrist the hand was attached to while twisting it behind her and shoved the woman face first into the wall. For good measure she drove a knee into the alien’s back. Something broke.
Liz jumped back in surprise when her opponent collapsed into a pile of dust and what looked like bits of dead skin. Yuck.
A glance at Spike showed that he had the man subdued and was looking at the alien’s remains, clearly as surprised as Liz. She shrugged, bewildered. "Who knew?"
Getting over her surprise she moved to examine Spike’s captive. "Unconscious. Can you keep him that way?"
"Sure, but how can he talk like this?"
Liz smiled. "I think Is can get us the answers we need. Be right back." She slipped out the back door and headed for the place where the others waited. They moved carefully, but as quickly as they could until they were all gathered around their unconscious enemy.
"Can you do it Is?" Max looked down at the man Spike was keeping a careful eye on. He had knocked the man out twice since Liz had gone to fetch the others. In the process he discovered their tendency to shed. The ‘Skins’ he decided, were entirely too resilient for his tastes.
"I can try," she said sounding doubtful. "But I’m not sure it will work. We don’t even know what species he is."
"You dream walked Max in the white room," Tess reminded her. "And you’ve done it with Humans, so why shouldn’t it work with… whatever he is." Is shrugged and settled down to concentrate. The others backed off to give her peace and quiet. Liz took a position by the window and watched the street through a space between the drapes and the wall. The others took similar positions around the small house. Spike stayed nearby, in case he had to kick the man in the head. After Whitaker’s display earlier in the evening he had decided that he preferred this type of demon… alien… whatever, either unconscious or dead.
Isabel focused on the alien before her, doing her best to tune out the watchful vampire. It wasn’t easy, and she finally asked Spike to stop humming ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.’ She closed her eyes and drifted for a moment, finding a calm center within herself. When she was ready she pictured the man’s face and entered his mind.
Disjointed images. Some of them were mundane. Some were fantastically alien. She drifted for a moment, watching the bizarre parade of his past move by her in fits and starts. None of it made much sense to her, but she suspected she was missing the context for most of it. That was one of the problems with dream walking. Dreams weren’t rational. She focused on his recent past, trying to zero in on thoughts of the husks. More images played before her eyes. It was slow work, hit and miss. Eventually, she pieced together a picture of the town by nudging him toward certain memories. This wasn’t easy. Normally she just watched, but that wouldn’t do it this time. So she concentrated, and found, much to her surprise, that she could influence which images wandered through his slumbering mind.
Finally, she found it. The place where the husks were being grown was near the center of town in what had been a museum when the town had boasted several tourist attractions. Those attractions had been shut down years ago. Time to go.
"I found it." The others came back in and gathered around as she told them what she had learned. "There’s a whole bunch of ‘em in town for the harvest. It won’t be easy to get in there. Till now secrecy has been this place’s main defense. There’s nothing interesting to see or do here so no one comes here."
"With the harvest so close that’s bound to change," Max observed. He had a feeling things were about to get far too interesting for his tastes. "We’ll have to be careful. Sneak in." He turned to Liz. "You and Spike do that best. The rest of us need to hide nearby in case we need to create a diversion. When you get in, we’ll join you."
"Sounds like a plan," Spike said briskly. "So are we done with this guy?" They looked at him curiously, but no one objected. "Good. Now watch closely children." He turned the man on his front with one foot and stomped on the spot Liz had discovered. The body literally went to pieces. "Remember that spot. It seems to be their only vulnerability." Even Liz looked uncomfortable with this. "Oh come on. These people are your enemies. You can’t play nice with them. Kill or be killed, take your bloody pick."
"He’s right," Isabel said after a moment. "This is a war. We can’t hesitate." After a moment the others nodded reluctantly.
The museum was one of the larger buildings in town. It was harder to be inconspicuous there than it had been at the house. The main entrance was across from a small restaurant, probably the only one in town, Liz reflected as she watched from the shadows down the street. Spike was checking for other ways in.
Max, Isabel, and Tess had selected spots around town Maria was waiting with the Jetta to rush to the rescue in case they needed a quick escape. Isabel had made her way to a building at the far end of the main road and found a fire alarm to pull if it became necessary to draw unwanted attention away from the museum. Tess was nearby waiting to deflect attention if necessary. They had given each other five minutes to get ready, synchronized our watches and everything
, Liz thought feeling very James Bond about the entire business. She allowed a slight smile before squashing the notion by reminding herself that there would be no second take if they got this wrong.
"Liz." She looked around and saw Spike coming out of the shadows. "All of the doors and windows are wired. We’re gonna need one o’ the pod squad to get through." Liz ignored the crack and nodded.
"How many guards?"
"I spotted one inside, but there are probably more." Liz quickly went to retrieve Max and they moved to a window that Spike felt would give them their best chance of sneaking in. Max easily circumvented the alarm, and they let themselves in.
"Let’s start at the bottom," Spike suggested and they started looking for a way into the basement. They found it finally, but they also found one of the guards. Spike drew the others back. "That makes two guards. The other is making rounds. Find him first." They spread out. Liz took another staircase to the second floor, listening carefully each step of the way. She heard him long before she saw him and more importantly before he could see her. The guard wasn’t very attentive. Obviously, he believed that no one even knew of the place, let alone had intentions of breaching their security.
Moving quickly, she overtook him and hooked one arm around his neck. There was a surprised grunt as she pulled him back and drove a fist into his lower back. She felt a crack just as before, and the body collapsed into dust without a sound. Okay, that was easy.
Liz turned back toward the stairs and headed down them quietly. The last guard was still at the entrance to the basement, and Liz withdrew to find the others. It didn’t take long to round up Spike and Max. They hadn’t found any other guards. After comparing notes they went back to a hiding place near the basement entrance.
The guard was still there and looked as bored as ever. It was clear that his mind was miles away, but there was at least twenty feet of empty floor between them and no way to approach him without being seen.
"Tess," Max whispered. The others nodded, and Max left to find his former wife. Tess had accepted that things weren’t going to go back to the way they had been automatically, and had begun to try to win him back instead of acting as if he were being unfaithful with Liz. Max knew she still resented Liz, and he tried to understand her point of view, but he found the entire concept just a little too weird. The situation between himself and Liz, strained as it was, seemed normal by comparison.
It was some choice, he reflected, between an alien who had been his wife in a former life and a Human whose duty it was to hunt and kill things that most people didn’t believe in. Except… it wasn’t really a choice. He’d do whatever it took to stay with Liz and to keep her with him. No demon or alien was going to take her away from him. Speaking of aliens…
"Tess." She turned to face him, startled by his silent approach. "We’re in. We need you to help us get by the last guard and to keep out anyone who happens to check in on him." She nodded silently and followed him.
E'tahr looked up at the window from her table in the eating establishment. The local cuisine, such as it was, didn’t agree with her. It was just another thing on this planet she found unsatisfactory. Speaking of unsatisfactory… where is that guard?
She had set the guard’s path herself. They had seemed reasonably competent, and it was clear they understood what was at stake, but obviously that was not enough. He should have passed that window three minutes ago.
Either he was ignoring his duty or something was wrong. She rose and left the restaurant.
The doors were locked just as she had left them, and the guard she had left there was in place at the head of the basement stairs. She approached him and he nodded to her. "Where is Clark?" she demanded.
"Clark?" He looked blank for a moment.
"The other guard I assigned. Where is he? He’s not following the route I laid out for him."
"I don’t know ma’am. I haven’t seen him." E'tahr fumed silently. "Have you seen anything out of the ordinary? Heard any odd noises?" He shook his head.
"I’ve been at my post since you left and haven’t seen any sign of trouble." Something was wrong, but E’tahr couldn’t put her finger on it. Focusing carefully she spread her awareness throughout the building, or tried to. There was resistance. Something was definitely wrong. She decided to fetch reinforcements to do a proper search of the building. She turned away and started toward the door before she realized what was wrong. A projection! She turned abruptly; taking on her side the blow that would have opened the seam in her husk irrevocably.
Although not fatal, the blow was delivered with considerably more force than she’d expected. She hit the floor and slid several feet. There were four of them, two young men and two girls, one of who was clutching her head with a pained look. Obviously she had been the one holding the illusion. The closest, the one that had struck her was male with blonde hair and pale skin. He looked annoyed and was already coming after her again.
Max saw her focus on Spike and raised a hand. The protective shield formed in front of the vampire just in time to absorb what felt like a wrecking ball. He grunted with the strain of holding the shield.
"Thanks," Spike said, shaken by the way the shield, which could turn bullets, was now wavering. He turned to Liz. "Go take care of business. We’ll hold her." Liz headed down the stairs.
"Who’s ‘we’?" Max grunted again as the woman got to her feet and started toward the door while directing another pulse back towards them. Max focused doing something he had never tried before. The shield suddenly shot forward, staggering the woman. "Now!" Spike stepped forward as the shield dropped briefly and delivered an uppercut that lifted her off her feet.
Betty Whitaker almost dropped the plate she was washing when E’tahr suddenly appeared in the room. She looked angry. "What?! What’s wrong?"
"We’re under attack. The husks are in danger. Gather a large group and-" The image vanished. Betty frowned and turned to call to her husband. Together they headed for the museum, calling out as E’tahr had to the residents of the town.
She stopped when a fire alarm went off several blocks away. She looked at her husband and nodded. "Check that out. The rest of us will go to the museum." Less than two minutes later there was a sizable group at the entrance. They headed inside.
Those at the head of the group burst through the door in time to see E’tahr floored by a human none of them had seen before.
Liz had to break the lock on the door at the bottom of the stairs, but it proved no great obstacle. The small antechamber she found herself in was deserted. After checking behind the door and in any part of the room that could conceal an enemy, she moved into a much larger room. The walls were lined with large cylindrical tanks, each containing what looked like a person. These, she realized, must be the husks.
She moved into the room carefully, looking for enemies or traps, but saw nothing. There wasn’t much time so she moved to what looked like a control panel. It was covered in symbols similar to those on the wall of Nasedo’s cave, and she couldn’t make any more sense of them now than she had then. There was no time to try to puzzle it out.
"Okay, something delicate and something heavy to hit it with." She looked around quickly, trying to find anything that fit her needs. Liz didn’t know what alerted her. There was no sound, no motion to catch from the corner of her eye, but something warned her.
Ducking to the right she barely avoided the full impact of the crowbar the man swung at her. The glancing blow on her right hip sent her sprawling as the crowbar, barely slowed by the impact continued on to the cement floor. The impact sent a shock up her attacker’s arms, and the crowbar slipped from his numbed hands. There were advantages to being a Slayer, Liz reflected as the pain quickly faded. Stepping in quickly, she delivered a roundhouse kick to his chest with her right leg and followed it up with a left cross. It spun him around, exposing his back. Liz aimed a kick at the exposed back, only to have her injured leg give way under her.
Wincing, she tried to stand but a wave of the man’s hand yanked her feet from under her, and she found herself sliding toward him. Desperately she tried to get up, but she had no traction.
"Liz!" The man looked up, distracted and Liz used her hands to give herself a huge push toward her opponent and lashed out, kicking his legs out from under him. He didn’t fall though. Instead he flew back through the air as Tess focused her power and released it in a controlled burst of pure force. His body struck one of the tubes, hard enough to shatter it and break the seal on his husk. Both Liz’s attacker and the husk exploded. There was a pounding from above.
"Whatever you’re doing, do it fast," Max yelled down. "I don’t know how long I can hold them." Liz snatched up the fallen crowbar and smashed the nearest tube. She moved to the next one.
"Too slow," Tess said looking down the long line of tanks. There was a pipe connecting all of them. She followed it to a control box of some sort where a monitor was apparently tracking the flow of nutrients to the husks. "Here," she called. "This should do it." Liz looked at the box and the pipes running from it, and nodded.
It took two swings to destroy the control panel, but the effect was dramatic. The tanks exploded in rapid succession like dominoes falling. The pounding from above stopped immediately. Max called down for them to hurry. Tess and Liz rushed up the stairs and found Max opening the door. The townspeople were sprawled around the room, groaning.
Max didn’t know what was wrong with them, but he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Okay, move now." They ran across the room and out the door. None of the Skins were in any condition to stop them. Outside it was a different story. There were several more aliens lying in on the front steps, groaning. The teens passed them by and Tess sent a message to Isabel and Maria. They reached the road and turned to move toward the Jetta coming toward them. None of them saw E’tahr rise up behind them.
"Look out!" Isabel’s cry and the blast of force that accompanied it, distracted E’tahr. It was a fairly weak blast by her standards, but it was sufficient to stagger her. She tried to reorient herself, but had to dodge. The small red Jetta screeched to a halt where she had been standing. E’tahr lost her balance and staggered into a left hook from the Slayer.
"Liz!" Maria tossed the sheathed blade to her friend. She hadn’t had long to decide on a weapon. She was certain one would be needed, but the question was which one. Finally she had simply grabbed the sharpest looking sword, a Japanese Katana she thought, and put it on the seat next to her.
Liz caught the blade out of the air, unsheathing and swinging it in one fluid motion. E'tahr’s head flew clear of her body and exploded. The other Skins were starting to recover and Maria gestured frantically. "In, in, time to go!"
The Jetta was a tight fit but they managed it, only to find their way blocked by a shaky but very angry looking group of aliens. Maria looked behind her, back the way she had come, but they were surrounding her car.
"You’re going nowhere," an old woman in the group told them.
Alex had had ample time during the journey to regret letting Michael take over driving. Now his eyes widened as Michael accelerated. "What are you doing?!"
"Tess contacted me earlier. The town is full of ‘Skins’." He plowed into the mob surrounding the Jetta causing several of them to explode into clouds of skin flakes. The rest scattered. Michael leaned out the window. "Let’s go!" The van and the Jetta reversed direction, sending several more Skins running for cover, and headed back to where the jeep was parked. Max, Isabel, and Liz took the jeep the others got into the van. Spike stayed with Maria, much to her irritation.
Betty Whitaker came out of her house carrying the box that Nicholas had left in her keeping. She knew what she was about to do was dangerous, but she had no choice. She spoke the words and opened the box. The eyes that stared up at her glowed in irritation.
"You are not the vessel. Nor do you have what I need. Why do you disturb me?"
"We’ve been attacked. Many of us are dead or dying. They endanger us and thus you and your chances to be whole again. Destroy them for us and you will be safe, and soon you will be whole." The box’s resident considered her words for a moment.
The corpse next to her was grinning like a madman and laughing. "Now that was just… neat. Loved the way the van ran right through ‘em."
"Glad you enjoyed yourself."
"I live for this stuff," Spike continued, oblivious to Maria’s sour mood. He didn’t seem to be able to get the smile off his face. "You did great with that katana. Just in time." Maria allowed a slight smile.
"That was pretty smooth. I mean the way Liz caught the sword and took off that alien’s head. Whoa." Spike nodded proudly.
"Taught her everything she knows," he boasted. "That girl will be a real terror in the demon circles someday."
"I think Liz has other plans," Maria reminded him. Spike glanced at her, completely oblivious to her concern.
"All Slayers have other plans before gettin’ called. A normal life just isn’t normal for them." He shrugged. "‘Sides what’s the attraction in this ‘normal life’?" Maria looked at him incredulously. "What?" He was wearing the same bewildered expression that he always did when anyone looked at him the way Maria was. "Normal is boring," he said somewhat defensively. Maria gave up and concentrated on the road. They were making good time away from Copper Summit, but it was still a long drive and they didn’t want to attract attention from the highway patrol. It was necessary to travel at the legal limit. They also had to use a different route to return to Roswell, not wanting to run the risk of meeting Nicholas and the other aliens returning to Copper Summit. Confident they would not run into trouble ahead of them, they looked primarily for signs that they were being followed.
The creature that landed on the hood of the Jetta, which was second in the small caravan, took them all by surprise. It drove a scale covered and wickedly clawed hand through the windshield. Maria screamed and the car started to swerve. Spike swore colorfully, just as startled as Maria but recovering more quickly. Grabbing the arm, he pulled it away from Maria and toward the back seat. He pulled hard. There was a loud bang and an indignant screech as the creature’s head impacted with the roof of the car.
Changing his grip slightly, Spike shoved the momentarily stunned creature away from him as hard as he could. Off balance and with head ringing from the blow, the thing fell from the hood to the street and under the wheels of the car as Maria finally regained control. There was a wet sounding crunch as the little red car rolled over the demon before coming to a stop.
They weren’t the only ones having problems. The others had stopped when the Jetta did. As soon as they had stopped though, a group of demons, just like the first, made their presence known.
Max and Liz piled out of the jeep as four more of the demons emerged from the shadows. These were cautious, after witnessing the fate of their impetuous brother. Spike left the Jetta with a brief warning to Maria to stay down. The group gathered around the car and watched the approach of the demons.
"Where’d these guys come from?" Michael demanded. Spike’s eyes narrowed as he took in the details. They were basically reptilian, lean and muscular with reverse articulated legs, hard scales and vicious teeth and claws. There was something familiar about them, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
Michael focused on the nearest one. It flew backward several feet and hit the ground hard, but quickly scrambled to its feet. "Oh crap." The demons closed in, bolder now that they had seen that their intended victims’ powers were useless against them. "Max, Tess, Is, work with me here." They concentrated together, focusing on the lead demon. It staggered back. Then it began to convulse, screaming in pain. Before their eyes, it stiffened and its coloring changed, becoming gray before exploding into fragments.
"Well," Spike said, sounding as shaken as the others felt. "That’s new." The remaining three demons backed away. "Maria, pop the trunk." He moved to the back of the car and retrieved the sword Liz had used earlier and a fire ax for himself.
Seeing this the demons rushed forward. They had lost what advantage their vicious forms and sudden appearance had given them, and Spike and Liz waded into them. Max, Isabel, Michael, and Tess concentrated on disorienting the creatures and knocking them down to make them easy targets. The fight was over in under a minute.
"Well. That was interesting." No one disputed Spike’s statement. "There’s somethin’ familiar about this lot," he mused. "Gather up some of the pieces and I’ll check some books back at the factory."
"You’re joking right?" Maria asked. "I don’t want to touch those things. Even if they did turn to stone when they died."
"We have to find out what they are Maria," Liz reasoned as she picked up a mostly intact head. "I want to take some of these pieces to the school lab for some tests too."
"Fine," her friend groused and picked up a hand from the demon she’d run over. "How am I gonna explain this to my mom?" She gestured at the Jetta’s dented hood and broken windshield. "I just can’t see myself telling her we were attacked by stone monsters."
"Why not?" Spike asked innocently. "That’s what happened." Maria scowled at the vampire, but Spike just grinned, amused by her temper. "Seriously, though," he said after a moment. "Tell your mum that a statue fell off the back of a truck and landed on your hood. You’ve got the proof." He gestured to the hand she was holding; now permanently frozen in the act of stretching its clawed fingers toward something unseen. The rest of the group had stopped and were staring at the vampire. "What? It’ll work. Just don’t tell ‘er the part where it tried to rip your throat out." Maria paled and hurriedly put the hand in the trunk as Spike tried hard not to laugh.
Michael shot an annoyed glance at the vampire, which Spike ignored. "Come on. Let’s go home." This time he got into the Jetta with Maria and made sure there was no room for Spike. He felt immediately warmed by Maria’s look of gratitude.
When Whitaker had disappeared so had Liz’s job at her office. The sheriff had stepped in and, with some hints from Michael, had discovered the blackmail material. The fuss that would cause should, Valenti reasoned, keep people from looking too closely at Liz or her friends. After a few questions had been answered about Liz’s whereabouts and the last time she had seen Whitaker, she was left alone to find a new job, or more precisely an old one. "So how did your mom react to the car?"
"She didn’t have to," Maria said as she loaded the last plate into the dishwasher. "Michael and Max fixed it, as good as new. One less complication, Michael said."
"Now why didn’t I think of that?" Liz mentally kicked herself.
"You did have a few more important things on your mind," her friend reminded her. "Completely understandable." Liz gave her a grateful look and changed the subject as her father came into the CrashDown’s kitchen.
"How could you have let this happen?" Kivar demanded, glowering at Betty Whitaker. The list of disasters seemed impossibly long. How could he have been so wrong? These people had once been among his most trusted followers, but they had failed him miserably. "E’tahr and thirteen others dead, the husks destroyed, and the royal four have gotten away. How could you have let this happen?" he asked again.
"We didn’t ‘let’ anything happen. Our security wasn’t penetrated until you tried to capture them. I’m guessing one of them overheard you. Maybe Liz Parker was listening when you ordered their capture at Vanessa’s office." Kivar did not respond, too infuriated by her impudence. He took a moment to regain his control.
"Whatever you’re about to say won’t matter." He turned to see Nicholas enter the room. "Nothing matters at this point."
"The husks may be gone, but you can still have revenge," Kivar pointed out. "We have the technology to isolate them. Without the Humans in the way they will be easy to find and then we can force the location of the granalith from them." Nicholas shook his head in exasperation.
"We don’t need the granalith, and once we have completed our part of the bargain the royal four will be washed away in the fire that Devarri will bring."
"What are you talking about?" Kivar demanded, wondering if Nicholas had come completely unhinged. The young man didn’t answer. He simply set down the box he was carrying and opened it, drawing out a silver chain at the end of which dangled an irregularly shaped piece of bas-relief, obviously broken from a larger image. On the flat piece of stone was the image of a face, a hideous face.
Kivar stared at it, transfixed for some reason by the eyes. It was a moment before he realized that the eyes were glowing. "Your interference and impatience could have cost us everything. It isn’t us you’ll answer to, though." Nicholas’ voice seemed to be coming from a great distance. Kivar didn’t notice. The eyes of the image grew larger and larger still, until they became his entire world.
"Oh bloody hell." Spike shut down the browser and then grabbed the pages he’d taken from the printer. He hoped he was wrong, but he rather doubted it. Spike liked chaos. He liked a good brawl, and he got a real kick out of risking his un-life for a little excitement.
But even he had his limits. Just as when he had helped Buffy stop Acathla. Dru had been the biggest part of his reason, but what he had told Buffy about the Human world was true. He liked the Human world. It had a lot to offer even if he couldn’t kill humans anymore.
Spike wasn’t prepared to see it all go down the tubes. He left Philip Evans’ home office and went out to where Liz was having dinner with the Evans’ family. "Sorry to interrupt," he said, not really caring if he was or not, "but we’ve got work. Slayer stuff." Phil and Diane both looked unhappy at the interruption, especially since neither of them liked the vampire to begin with, but Liz looked at him expectantly.
"What’s up, Spike?"
"You need to pack a bag and make yer excuses. We’re goin’ on a road trip." Liz looked confused.
"Road trip? Where? Why?"
"In reverse order," Spike answered. "I found out what those things were that attacked us. They’re servants of a major demon called Devarri. It means big trouble if he gets loose, but we can’t do anything about it here. So we’re goin’ to a place the Skins’ll need to go if they want to release him." He scowled. "I hope you appreciate the lengths I’m goin’ to to keep the world from endin’, cause it’ll mean goin’ to the one place I never wanted to see again." The group at the table traded confused and worried glances while Spike griped. "On the upside you’ll get to meet another Slayer. We’re going to Sunnyhell."
THE END FOR NOW