If alien powers actually included death ray eyes, the ceiling above Isabel's bed would have perished hours ago. She hated this -- laying in bed alone, wide awake at five o'clock in the morning. Once again, Jesse had fled to the office to avoid sleeping beside his freaky alien wife. They barely spoke during the day. Maybe it was her fault, she had lied to him after all, but how much longer could Jesse stay angry? It's not like she could change the past.
If she could just stop being an alien, she'd do it. But unfortunately, she'd been born like this. Or, technically speaking, hatched. She wanted to live a normal life, with a husband and college, a career, maybe children. She wanted to do charity work, make friends with the neighbors, and really be a part of her community. But the alien thing always blew up in her face, and this time she feared it would destroy her marriage.
Tired of the monotony, she got dressed and went for an aimless drive around the silent streets of Roswell.
Isabel found herself in Kyle Valenti's driveway. The sky had yet to take on that slight grayish hue that heralded the approaching day, so she just sat there. Judging from the empty spot in the driveway, Jim Valenti was still out of town, and Kyle was probably asleep. It was bad enough that she felt compelled to make him the sounding board for her marital problems, she could at least stop short of waking him up to hear about them.
At least Kyle let her talk, instead of interrupting immediately with some snap judgment like Max or Michael. God, even Jesse cut her off mid-sentence these days. She hated that she couldn't even trust her own brother when it came to Jesse, because to Max and Michael, her marriage represented a threat. Protecting the secret mattered more than her happiness, and she couldn't talk to either of them without the fear that they'd act on anything she said.
So she sat in the driveway and gave up pretending that she'd left her apartment for any reason except to unload on Kyle, because right now she needed a friend, and unfortunately for Kyle, her options were limited. She'd make it up to him the next time he needed help repairing a particularly stubborn carburetor.
Kyle rolled from the bed to the floor for his morning pushups, and thought he heard a car door. There had been a time in his life when he would have ignored an ordinary sound like that, or more likely not noticed it at all, but ever since the whole alien invasion, he took little noises seriously.
He pulled on a shirt and went to check it out.
Isabel Evans -- he'd never get used to the whole married name thing -- sat on the hood of her car, and she smiled when she saw him. "Good morning, Kyle."
"Morning." He bypassed the obvious question. "Come on in. Want a drink or anything?"
"Jesse's avoiding me." She marched into the room and perched on the edge of the couch.
He sat down beside her. "That pretty much sucks."
She stared at him for a long moment, and sighed.
"He'll come around, though." He reached over and gave her arm a brief squeeze. "The whole alien circus is a bit much to take at first, trust me I remember, but you're his wife."
"Am I? Am I really the woman he married?" She studied him, her eyes demanding a real answer. "Would he have married me if he'd known the truth?"
"Of course," Kyle said immediately. Any man with the chance to marry Isabel Evans would be an idiot to give it up, and Jesse was a pretty smart guy. "He loves you."
"No, he doesn't," Isabel said. "Jesse fell in love with Isabel Evans, and is she even a real person?"
"Yes. Of course she is -- you are. It's not like you've been taken over by aliens. You just happen to be one. Nothing's changed. You're still Isabel."
"Jesse hates lies," she said. "And lying is the thing I'm best at."
"No," Kyle said, drawing out the word to emphasize his incredulity at the statement. "Isabel, you're great at everything you've ever done, and the lying thing? Sure, it's something you've had to do, but that's hardly your fault. You can't blame yourself for doing what you had to do, to protect yourself and your family. It's not like you're doing it for kicks."
"I think Jesse sees it differently."
"He'll come around." He wanted to offer real help. Isabel deserved her chance at happiness. "I could talk to him, if . . . "
She shrugged. "I don't think he's ready to listen, and he spends all of his time at work. I'm starting to worry that my dad will notice. Then, once again, it all comes back to keeping the secret, and I know that shouldn't be the priority right now."
"It kind of has to be, Isabel. You're not wrong to care about the possibility."
"No, I should care more about my husband than about this, this thing." She made a vague gesture meant to encompass the entire alien drama.
"Okay, it sucks. But it is what it is, and that's not your fault. It's not anyone's fault. If the whole alien thing comes out, the consequences are pretty dire. We've all heard Max talk about the White Room. It's hard to just ignore that kind of thing."
She didn't reply, but she relaxed back into the couch, and Kyle did the same. Neither spoke as they watched the morning sunlight push shadows across the floor.
Eventually, Isabel sat up straight again and treated him to a dazzling smile. "Let's get pancakes."
"The Crashdown opens at six-thirty." She bounced in her seat just the slightest bit and beamed at him.
He never could say no to Isabel.
Isabel felt better after pancakes, or if not actually better, at least more able to ignore the larger issue and go to class. Kyle had lived through the alien revelation thing, so when he said Jesse would come around, it was more than just talk.
Jesse needed time. Isabel just wished that waiting felt a little less frustrating and a little more proactive.
"Check out his dreams," Michael said later, in the middle of an interrogation that he seemed to regard as dinner conversation. "Find out exactly what he's thinking."
She started to explain the problem with that idea, but Maria summed it up far better with an elbow to Michael's ribs.
"Ow! What did you do that for?"
"She can't just do that, Michael, it would violate Jesse's trust, and that's what this whole thing is about. Or don't you get that?"
Isabel tuned out the bickering that ensued, and hated herself just the slightest bit for wondering if a dreamwalking session could help the situation. It wasn't like she'd never taken a stroll through Jesse's dreams. And that particular thought just made her feel worse.
Kyle got himself a drink of water, and then gave sleeping another try. It was the first time a dream had chased him out of bed since -- well, since he'd finally gotten a handle on the whole Tess thing. Coming to terms with her betrayal hadn't been a picnic, but he thought that he'd managed it. Still, he failed to make any other sense of the strange image already fading from his mind.
He'd woken up with his heart pounding, but now that he thought about it, he couldn't quite grasp the reason. He remembered something about Isabel, and nothing else had enough detail to even put into words. It was just a dream. Nothing but his subconscious dealing with the events of the day, possibly with a side of guilt over the somewhat confused feelings he had for his friend.
Get back on the horse -- that's what he needed to do. Maybe he'd give Bitsy a call, once the current crisis ended. For now, he just wanted to do whatever he could to keep the alien circus from stealing Isabel's chance at happiness. She loved Jesse, he was a good guy, and they deserved a long, happy marriage.
He walked back to the bedroom and braced himself to face the bed again. Right after Tess left, when the nightmares had taken over his nights, he had dreaded sleep. But as he faced down the bed this time, he felt like he really wanted to explore this dream, even if it did remind him of the old nightmares.
Like there was something waiting for him in his dream, and he wanted to go find it. Odd. He glanced at the clock, and put off any further thought on the subject. He really did need the sleep, and he could worry about the strange workings of his inner mind in the morning.
"What the hell is this, Isabel?" Michael shoved a piece of paper at her. Obviously this was the big crisis, and Isabel started to regret missing her last class of the day for this so-called emergency meeting if they were just here to humor some paranoid fantasy of Michael's. She shot Max a dirty look, but he failed to notice.
"Michael, stay calm, we -- "
"Don't tell me to calm down, Maxwell, we've got problems." He started to pace. "Big problems."
Isabel snatched the letter out of his hand and started to skim it. Her heart started to pound as her eyes caught certain phrases in such random order that her brain failed to keep up. . . . lying for years . . . aliens . . . Max's baby . . . too many lies to count.
She had to force her attention to the top of the page to read it properly. "He wouldn't. Jesse wouldn't -- he's upset, but, he'd never betray -- "
"Jesse did. If I hadn't taken that letter out of his briefcase, your father would know everything by now."
"What were you doing in Jesse's briefcase?"
"Does it matter? We have to do something before -- "
"It seems like you already did," Liz said. "You took the letter."
Michael spun around to wave the envelope at her. "That doesn't -- "
"It bought us time. He'll think it over again."
"So what? He can still -- "
"Not to spoil everyone's panic," Maria said. "But it's possible he was just blowing off steam. The alien thing is a little hard to take at first. And Liz is right. Maybe when he realizes it's missing, it might help him gain some perspective."
"It was addressed to Max's father." Michael waved an envelope in Maria's face. "It's not like Liz writing all our secrets in her private journal."
"No, it's more like me, three years ago, trying to figure out whether or not I should lie to Valenti."
"You almost -- see, this is why Nasedo had the right idea. Just kill anyone who finds out. No debates. No loose ends."
"What is with you, Michael?" Maria snatched the envelope and glared at her boyfriend. If he was her boyfriend at the moment.
Isabel had lost track, not to mention interest, and she had bigger concerns at the moment. Jesse had written it all down. He had considered telling people. "Someone needs to talk to him."
"I'm trying." Maria followed Michael, who had gone back to pacing.
"Not Michael." She rolled her eyes. "Jesse."
"I agree," Max said. "But I'm not exactly right for the job."
"I suppose I could -- " Liz began.
"No." Isabel shook her head. "Thanks, but he might be more willing to talk to another guy. I'll call Kyle."
"That's great, Isabel." Michael stopped wearing a hole in the floor long enough to shout at her again. "You make phone calls and try all that touchy-feely sharing crap, I'll go solve our problem."
"Michael!" Both Max and Maria spoke at once.
Isabel dialed Kyle's number as she headed out the door, and left the Michael situation -- at least temporarily -- to Max and Maria. They could figure out who's turn it was to keep him from doing anything crazy. She lacked the patience at the moment.
Kyle met her at the Crashdown. "Sorry I missed the big meeting. Something came up. At work, I mean. Toby was out on an errand and this customer came in with a blown head gasket -- "
"It's fine," Isabel said. "We disrupt your life enough without making you leave work early. But I do need a favor."
"This isn't the favor?"
"No, me buying you dinner is not the favor. I was hoping you'd talk to Jesse." She lowered her voice. "He's upset, and he might be thinking about telling my dad."
"Well it was bound to happen."
"No, I'm serious, Michael found a letter he'd written -- "
"You shouldn't have married him." Kyle dunked one of his fries in ketchup and stared at it.
Kyle put down the fry, and took the bottle of Tabasco sauce out of her hand. "I mean, that's what you're thinking, isn't it? That you shouldn't have married him?"
"No, well maybe, but we covered all of this already. I need to know what he's thinking, and I need to keep him from causing trouble, but I don't want to push him right now, either. Will you talk to him?"
"So Michael's really upset?"
"Forget Michael; this is about Jesse. Could you at least pretend to pay attention?" Isabel lowered her voice and spoke through gritted teeth. Kyle's weird mood was the last thing she needed. "This is kind of important."
"Sorry. You have my undivided attention."
"Will you do it?"
"Talk to Jesse."
"Sounds like he's made up his mind. What makes you think he'll listen to me?"
She frowned, and not just because Kyle had a point. She was also getting the impression that he didn't really want to talk to Jesse, and she'd counted on him, because her only other option was to invade her husband's dreams.
If she crossed that line now, her marriage was doomed.
Maria treated Max to a quality glare and stalked out the door after Michael. Keep him from doing anything rash. Great assignment, Max. You're a pal. She'd need secret alien powers of her own to control Michael when he was in this kind of a mood.
"Keys." Michael held out his hand.
"Give me your keys."
Refusing was a valid option, but then he'd just go off alone to carry out whatever half-formed plan was floating through his head. Which would be fine if they were bickering over something normal, and only Michael had to live with the consequences of his bad planning, but since this had implications for the whole group, Maria let him have the keys.
But only after she'd entrenched herself in the passenger seat.
"Pfft. It's my car."
"Whatever." He started the engine.
"Let me see the letter again."
"What does it matter? Just let me see it."
He handed it over, and she read it as he drove. She really didn't know Jesse well enough to decide if it sounded like him, but something about it bothered her. She looked at the envelope. "It's typed."
"So? He spends all day in front of a computer."
"No, I mean the envelope. Who types an envelope?"
"Jesse, apparently. What does it matter?"
"I'll tell you who types an envelope. Someone who doesn't want their handwriting recognized. Which means whoever wrote this, it wasn't Jesse."
Michael finally got it, because he swore.
"Yeah," Maria said. "We've got bigger problems than you thought, which means you're lucky I'm here, Spaceboy, because it's time for a little of that Mulder and Scully routine we do so well."
Isabel rushed around her kitchen, determined to make herself an edible breakfast before class, instead of heading to the Crashdown yet again. For a moment, the sound of a key in the front door filled her with optimism, but the moment she met Jesse's eyes she knew that his talk with Kyle had gone badly.
Of course she knew that already, or he would have come home before sunrise.
"Tell me about Kivar."
"And don't lie to me, Isabel. You've done enough of that already."
Isabel felt her insides go cold. Just what did Jesse know? And how? Kyle wouldn't --
"So it's true?" Jesse demanded.
"Is -- " She started to ask what he'd heard, but thought better of it. "Kivar killed us. In our last life. It's not something I like to discuss."
"That's convenient," Jesse said. "You don't like to talk about him, so to you, that justifies not telling me anything! I'm your husband, Isabel. I married you. I deserve a little honesty."
She was still somewhat at a loss, so she went for indignation. "Jesse, what the hell are you talking about?"
"I want to know everything, Isabel. Right now. No more secrets."
"Even I don't know everything. We don't remember our other lives, just bits and pieces -- "
"That's bull! Why did I ever trust you?"
The anger on his face -- that she could take, she could be angry too -- but the look of hurt, of betrayal . . . Isabel felt like something was breaking inside. How could she defend any of her actions where Kivar was concerned? Past lives were bad enough, but she had chosen to keep quiet about what happened in La Jolla even after Jesse knew the larger truth. "I'm sorry."
"But are you sorry?" The dead calm in Jesse's voice cut at her. "This keeps happening. You lie, and I catch you, you lie, and I catch you -- over and over. What am I going to learn next? Either you tell me the whole truth, right now, or it's over. I can't be married to someone who has this many secrets."
"Over? Jesse, I -- "
He turned and headed into the bedroom. The sound of a suitcase scraping across the floor filled the apartment, and Isabel knew that he meant it. She did owe him the truth, but her mind kept returning to the piece that didn't fit -- how had Jesse even heard the name Kivar?
"I'll tell you everything." She swallowed, and stayed in the bedroom doorway. "Everything I remember about Antar, everything about my life now -- my real life. But it's a long story, and I'd rather do this when we have more time."
He turned around. "We have all the time in the world right now, Isabel. Maybe you'll miss a class, maybe I'll be late to work, but this is about our marriage. Our life. We have to deal with this right now."
"Jesse -- "
"You cheated, Isabel, in this other life you cheated on your husband, and I want to think it'll be different, that your old life doesn't reflect our future, but you've lied to me so many times I've lost count. I need to know everything. It's the only way."
"I didn't -- "
"No. No more denials. Now are we going to talk, or do I finish packing?"
She nodded. "Okay, we'll do this now. But can I ask you one question?"
For a moment, she thought he'd refuse, but he nodded.
"How do you know about Kivar at all?"
"That's what you want to know -- who's spilling your precious secrets. Of course it is, I don't know why I'm even surprised."
"Jesse -- "
He started packing.
"It's not like that, it's just -- anyone who knows about Kivar is dangerous. If there's another alien in Roswell -- "
"There's no other alien, Isabel. No impending intergalactic threat. And no excuse."
"Kyle told me everything. He thought I should know."
Even though she should have known it was coming, it still felt like a punch in the gut. She trusted Kyle, and that he'd betray her confidence like this -- maybe he had a reason, but he could have at least warned her. She had to deal with Jesse first. That could wait. "I'll put on some coffee."
She'd barely made it into the kitchen before her cell phone rang. Her first impulse was to ignore it, but if it was Kyle calling with an explanation, she needed to know just what he'd so helpfully told her husband.
The voice on the phone had already reached the midway point in some kind of explanation, but not on any topic that would shed any light on what Kyle had said to Jesse.
"Maria?" She really needed to learn to look at the caller I.D. before answering the phone. And dammit, she couldn't be running over to Michael's for a meeting every other morning.
"You probably need to bring Jesse," Maria continued. "This concerns him too."
"Look, Maria -- "
"No ambush, I swear. It's complicated, and I don't want to explain over the phone."
That sounded ominous, but then again, Maria always did have that flair for the dramatic. Damn. Another alien crisis, just when her marriage couldn't take any more stress.
"Don't hate me," she said when Jesse walked into the kitchen.
"That was Maria. Something's up, and we need to go to Michael's."
"What, now?" Jesse sat down at the kitchen table. "No, we're not going over there."
"We have to. Maria said it's an emergency, and it involves you."
"Isabel -- "
"I'm worried," Isabel said. "Maria sounded serious."
"Fine. But no matter what is going on, we're having this talk today. I am done with secrets."
She closed her eyes and nodded. "You're right. I agree. I've hated keeping secrets from you. This will be good for us. But right now, we need to go to Michael's."
They arrived to find Maria pacing, and Liz looking like someone had stolen her puppy. Max and Michael were glaring at each other across the table.
"It's called taking action, Maxwell. Something you need to start doing."
"I'm not just going to charge blindly into this situation, Michael, this is something we need to discuss as a group."
"Great. Group's here. Let's discuss."
Isabel looked around. "Where's Kyle?"
"Not invited," Michael said.
"Oh, since -- "
"Michael!" Maria smacked him in the head.
"What? She needs -- "
Maria shushed Michael again. "Isabel, I think you'd better sit down."
The room went cold and she felt her heart pounding. If another one of her friends had gotten hurt over this alien crap . . . she tried to brace herself, but she didn't sit. "Just tell me."
"Sorry. I'm really sorry. But that letter Michael found -- Jesse didn't write it. We think -- I mean, we know -- "
Liz cleared her throat.
Maria shot her a look, and softened her voice. "We figured out that Kyle wrote it."
"That's impossible." She let out a breath. She could deal with a silly accusation. "Why would you even think that?"
"Listen, I know you and Kyle are close, and I'm really sorry, but just hear me out. Whoever typed the letter to your father also typed the envelope, which doesn't make sense if Jesse's the one who wrote it. So Michael and I went to your house to look for clues. We found a Buddhism book under your kitchen table. Kyle must have dropped it."
"That means nothing, Kyle's at my house all the time."
"No, it's purely circumstantial. But this isn't." Maria pulled a crumpled piece of paper out and handed it to her. "I found this in Kyle's stuff. It's his handwriting."
She glanced down at the paper. The rather messy page full of crossed out phrases and other notes included several lines from the letter that Jesse had allegedly written to her father. "No, Kyle would never betray us. It can't be his hand writing."
"It is," Maria said. "I've been his lab partner for two straight years, I know his writing. And Liz agrees."
"Yeah," Liz said, her voice flat. "She's right. But I'm sure there's more to it. It doesn't make sense. Besides, I know Kyle, and I just have a hard time imagining him being so . . . mean."
"It has to be a trick. Someone set up Jesse, and now they're setting up Kyle."
"Hold on a minute," Jesse said. "What letter?"
Isabel swore under her breath, because she hadn't exactly had time to bring up the subject with Jesse, and she had no idea what to say now.
"There's a letter exposing the alien stuff," Liz said. "Whoever wrote it signed your name."
"And you just assume I'm guilty?" Jesse demanded of Isabel. "That I'd betray you? You didn't even bother to ask me about it!"
"No, Jesse -- " Isabel felt her throat closing on her words even as she searched for them. "I didn't bother to ask because I didn't need to. I knew there was an explanation."
"Isabel insisted you'd never do anything to expose her," Liz said.
"We thought maybe you wrote it just to, you know, help you deal," Maria added. "I've been there, I know what it feels like."
"Why are we still talking about this?" Michael stood up suddenly and glared at Maria. "Jesse's been cleared. That's old news. We're here to deal with Kyle before he blows us all in to Mr. Evans or the FBI or who knows who else!"
"Michael, calm down."
"Why should I calm down, Maxwell? So we can all talk in circles? You want to plan? Fine, let's plan. But you'd better think fast, unless the plan is to let Isabel's love life get us all killed again."
"My love life? What the hell are you talking about?"
"Kyle's obsessed with you. Kyle knows our secrets. Kyle's dead."
"Michael! Back off. Kyle is not -- "
"Remember how he acted when he was still hung up on Liz? This is exactly the same."
"Except that it's not the same at all," Liz said. "All he did then was ask a lot of questions. This is different."
"Yeah," Michael said. "This time he's dangerous."
"Kyle isn't dangerous," Isabel said. "Can we all stop jumping to conclusions every five seconds and try to figure this out rationally?"
"I think between this and the things he said to me earlier, it's pretty clear," Jesse said. "Michael's right. He has feelings for you, Isabel, and he's decided to torpedo our marriage."
Isabel shook her head. "Kyle would never hurt me that way. It makes no sense."
"Isabel -- "
"There's a shape shifter, or you've been mind warped, or there's some other explanation." She turned to the others. "Nicolas is still out there somewhere, he had the power to get into people's heads. And Lonnie -- she's tricked us before."
"I agree with Isabel," Liz said. "It doesn't make sense, and when stuff doesn't make sense . . . "
" . . . it's usually alien," Maria finished for her.
"Isabel." Jesse's voice was pitched low. "Kyle does have feelings for you. Maybe this isn't what you want to hear, but -- "
"He's my friend, Jesse. That's all."
"So this alien theory is a reason to do nothing?" Michael was yelling at Maria now. "I thought you were on my side."
"This isn't about sides, Michael." Max stood up. "Whatever's going on, we need to figure it out before anyone gets hurt."
"Tick tock, Maxwell. While we sit around here, Kyle is free to do anything -- "
"Not Kyle," Isabel corrected. "Some enemy, and in the meantime, the real Kyle -- "
"How can you be so naive, Isabel?"
"It's called being rational, Michael." She turned to Max. "I need to talk to Kyle. He could be in danger, and besides, whatever's going on, he might know something we can use."
"Fine," Max said. "That's the plan. You'll go talk to him, he deserves a chance to explain his actions -- if they were his actions -- but we need to get this under control. Jesse -- " Max frowned.
"Where is Jesse?" Liz asked.
"Damn it!" Isabel went to the window, not that it offered much in the way of a useful view. "He wouldn't take off to confront Kyle on his own, would he?"
"Good for him if he did," Michael said. "I'm starting to like him better already."
When Kyle failed to answer his phone, Isabel drove to his house, and then to the high school. She felt a little silly loitering in front of his locker, but it seemed the best place to find him, at least before the bell rang.
"Vanessa, Elana." Isabel plastered on a smile. "How's senior year treating you?"
"Oh, forget about us," Elana said with gushing altruism. "We're not interesting at all. How about you?" She smiled and gave the locker a look that almost qualified as licentious. "Dating Kyle Valenti?"
Ah, that was more like Elana. She wanted gossip. Isabel grinned some more and held up her hand. "Nope. I'm married now."
She might have enjoyed their questions more if the husband about whom she was waxing poetic wasn't currently out hunting down one of her closest friends, and possibly stumbling into the trap of some alien shape shifter by doing so. Life had gone much smoother when the opinions of two shallow high school girls with great hair had mattered to her, back before Maria had liberated her from their clique by guilting her into status-busting servitude at the Crashdown.
As the small talk wore thin, she realized she owed Maria for that favor. "Listen, have either of you seen Kyle around? He left a book in my friend's dorm room and I promised I'd drop it off while I was here, but I can't seem to find him."
"Kyle Valenti is dating a college girl?" Elana loved this bit of gossip. Hopefully her interest would help Kyle's much bemoaned social life, rather than hinder it. "I think he has lab first period. You could check Mr. Seligman's room."
"Thanks, I will." Isabel thanked the bell for ending the impromptu reunion, and set off to continue her search.
All she had to do was glance in the door. No Kyle, just Maria, signaling that she hadn't seen him. A wasted trip, then. She wracked her brain. Where might Kyle go instead of school, and perhaps more importantly, where else would Jesse think to look for him?
Maria aimed her most intimidating stare at the empty seat beside her, as if she expected it to share some wisdom on the Kyle situation. On one hand, she felt inclined to trust Kyle. They'd survived some tight spots as a group, and besides, she genuinely liked the guy. She knew just how far he'd go for his friends.
Then again, Kyle -- or any guy -- doing something stupid out of hopeless jealousy, well it almost made sense. Or more sense than aliens trying to break up the newlyweds anyway -- what would they care? But then again, aliens often did things that made absolutely no sense. Take Michael, just for example.
An hour ago, one hundred percent of his focus had been aimed at hunting down Kyle to strangle him, based on evidence that was highly suspect, but instead he'd come to school and -- here was the real kicker -- he'd gone to class, which was hardly normal behavior for Michael. Maria was pretty sure he hadn't shown up at all since the previous Tuesday.
Maria poked at the lab report in front of her, and wondered if now that Meta-Chem had burned to the ground and left him with some free time, Michael might scrape up some ambition and actually find a way to graduate from high school. That is, if he didn't do something stupid in the meantime.
"He never showed up yesterday," Toby told Isabel, when she stopped at the garage. "Or the day before. When you find him, tell him to get his ass back to work or he's out of a job."
She muttered an insincere thanks, and hurried back to her car. Why did they have to make cell phone buttons so damn tiny? After two aborted misdials, she managed to try Kyle's house again. No luck. Damn. She left yet another message on Jesse's voice mail. Of course, it was then that one of them chose to call back, because as soon as she hung up, there was a new message on her own voice mail.
"I hope you're up for dinner," Kyle said in the message. "I'm a little tired of the Crashdown, so I've made reservations at The Eiffel for six tonight. Let me know if you'd prefer a later time."
Strange. More than strange. Kyle's sudden and inexplicable craving for French cuisine aside, she had to wonder how he could afford it while on the verge of losing his job. Maybe that explained it. He'd found a new job, and this was his way of sharing the news. Or -- and now that she knew he'd been missing work, the thought chilled her all the more -- it wasn't Kyle who had left the message at all.
A dozen other possible explanations presented themselves, none of them as happy as the first, but Isabel knew that even if she could dismiss the most disturbing possibility of all -- that Kyle actually did have some kind of twisted romantic intentions -- neither Jesse nor Michael would unless she gave them solid proof to the contrary. She had no choice but to avoid them both until she actually saw Kyle.
Well, Kyle, or whoever had left the message. If the pieces fit at all, they created a picture that pointed at trouble. Which brought up another problem -- meeting a potential shape shifter in a dimly lit restaurant, alone. Isabel stared down at her phone, and considered her options.
The Kit Shickers had a gig out of town, so Valenti was no help. Max and Michael would freak out. Jesse was riled up enough, even if he would return her call, which seemed unlikely. That left her with exactly two options. She tossed the phone into the passenger seat, and started the engine.
"So you want us to do what, exactly?" Maria glanced at the door again, lest Mr. Parker stumble upon the impromptu meeting in the stockroom. "Spy on you?"
"Yes," Isabel said. "That's exactly what I want you to do."
"Because it's a trap," Liz said.
"It has to be a trap," Isabel said. "But if a shape shifter has Kyle . . . "
"No, we're with you," Maria said. "It's just, shouldn't we have a real plan?"
"Once I prove he's a shape shifter, I'll signal you, and you can call Max and Michael."
"Okay," Maria said. "That's almost like a plan. But how will you know?"
"Yeah, that's the part of the plan that needs a little work."
"Shape shifters can't taste," Liz said.
Maria didn't see the connection, and apparently neither did Isabel, because they both waited for Liz to explain.
"When Max came back from California, he told me that it took years for Langley to develop any sense of taste at all, and that ordering him to shape shift destroyed whatever ability he'd gained."
"So we can poison him." Maria nodded. "He'll never know."
Liz rolled her eyes. "No, I mean, if we want proof he's a shape shifter, we test his sense of taste."
"This plan depends on the theory that Kyle has a sense of taste," Maria said. "Liz, I've seen him put ketchup on toast."
"Not toast," Liz said. "Scrambled eggs."
"And you think this helps his case?"
"Yeah." Isabel rolled her eyes. "Could we focus, please?"
"Right. Planning. So what if we . . . "
At least she'd finally heard from Jesse. He'd left her a very neutral-sounding voice mail which he'd obviously timed carefully, because it came right in the middle of the class she'd missed while planning with Liz and Maria. While slightly discouraging as far as the state of her marriage went, the message did prove Jesse's safety, so Isabel took it as good news and then put it out of her mind.
At the moment, she was much more worried about Kyle.
The maître d' seated her in a dimly lit corner booth. Cozy. And also an excellent location for a trap. Maria had said she'd take care of the seating issue, and this hardly seemed like a success. Isabel scanned the restaurant for Liz, and started to have her doubts about the plan.
Either Liz was a master of disguise, or she wasn't in the restaurant. Isabel reminded herself that if she could spot Liz, so could Kyle, and so she should take this as a good sign. Her friends had proven themselves quick witted in many a crisis, she just needed to have some faith in them.
"Isabel!" Kyle approached, all smiles and wearing a really nice suit. A designer suit, if she had any eye for fashion at all.
Score one for the new job theory. Isabel smiled as he slid into the booth, and squelched an urge to touch him. That wouldn't confirm that he really was Kyle, just that he was corporeal, and so far 'ghost' didn't appear on the list of possibilities. That was Alex's gig. She mentally cursed the strangeness of her life.
"Nice threads," she said. "What's the occasion?"
"You are the occasion, Isabel." He leaned close and placed a lingering kiss on her cheek. "You deserve a proper night out on the town."
The electric shiver had already run down her spine before all of the pieces fell into place with a clunk. Not a shape shifter. Not a mind warp. That was definitely Kyle Valenti's warm hand on her knee. And Isabel found herself leaning in to return his kiss.
Luckily, they'd gone the hidden camera route, because Maria gasped out loud. "Liz, you do not want to know what I'm seeing."
Liz, of course, remained silent. Any reaction might have betrayed her mission as she tried to blend into the scenery in the busy restaurant kitchen.
Maria envied her at the moment -- chopping vegetables or washing dishes or whatever she was doing as a pseudo-employee of The Eiffel beat the heck out of watching Isabel get cozy with Kyle. At least she only had to endure it in black and white.
Even as Isabel's lips brushed against Kyle's cheek, her stomach twisted with the knowledge that it wasn't Kyle steering the ship. That flickering slip of her own self control, that unwelcome flush of excitement -- it could mean only one thing.
It was Kivar. He'd done the possession thing again, and she couldn't even keep her promise to kill him, because he'd made Kyle his hostage. The only choice she had, in fact, was to play along, at least for now.
She drew back and flashed her brightest smile. She wanted Kivar's hand off of her leg, but she firmly reminded herself that the hand still belonged to Kyle, and while it still didn't exactly belong on her leg, that fact reduced her discomfort. A friend could touch another friend's leg without it meaning anything creepy.
The lingering was inappropriate, but that was hardly Kyle's fault at the moment.
Kyle -- Kivar -- Kyle she decided for her own sanity -- returned her smile. "Shall we order?"
Isabel snatched up her menu, grateful to use it as a screen while she pondered her next move. What she knew of Kivar lived in a part of her memory that she avoided. Kivar was the reason she made such a firm separation between herself, in this life, and her life on Antar, as Vilandra. Her alien predecessor had been foolish at best, the betrayer of a kingdom at worst. A betrayer of the kingdom either way, really. An accidental traitor for the sake of forbidden passion was still a traitor.
A thrill seeker. A flighty, spoiled princess driven by her own selfish impulses. Not exactly a description that Isabel wished to apply to herself. Isabel liked responsibility, strove to always have a plan, and was happiest when she could organize every little detail. Blind pursuit of passion just wasn't her style.
A waiter arrived at the table, and she went through the motions of ordering, her mind on other things. When Kivar had possessed a stranger in La Jolla, she'd only had to push him into a transportation beam to separate the two, but she knew Kivar would never fall for that twice.
Just like Kivar knew that any slim chance he'd had with the direct approach had expired on his last attempt. He'd underestimated her, though, and she'd make him regret involving Kyle.
The hand on her knee strayed higher.
She ignored whatever lurking trace of Vilandra delighted at the trespassing hand. The images of a moonlit alien beach that rose up from the deepest recesses of her mind held no power over Isabel. Those memories belonged to Vilandra, and Vilandra was dead. They were irrelevant.
She needed a nice, neutral topic. Something that wouldn't trip up Kivar and force her to act, because the best way to help Kyle was to play along. "I'm famished."
Well that would make for stimulating conversation.
Kivar squeezed her knee. "Your appetite will soon be satisfied."
Oh yuck. "The food here is excellent," she said. "They have a dessert with brandy-soaked pears, and the sauce is out of this world."
"Not literally, I hope." For the first time since he sat down, Kivar managed a smile that could almost pass for Kyle's.
She laughed. "Just a figure of speech, I assure you."
He seemed to study her as they lapsed into a silence that she would have found comfortable with Kyle. Kivar, on the other hand, made her consider dashing off to the ladies' room.
"Is Jesse still making you miserable?"
"Jesse's not making me anything." Isabel paused, and forced a lightness she didn't feel into her voice. Despite her instinct to defend Jesse to Kivar, he had to know that she usually told Kyle everything. In fact, he probably knew everything she had told Kyle. "You know what? Let's talk about something happier than my marital problems for once. I don't feel like wasting the night dwelling on them."
"I couldn't agree more."
The waiter chose that moment to serve their first course, and Isabel's insides went cold. One bite of his amuse-bouche, and Kivar would know of her suspicions. Shape shifters lacked the ability to taste, but possession was a different -- she had to distract Kivar from the meal.
His hand left her knee, and he picked up a fork.
"Kyle." She laid a hand on his wrist. When she failed to think of anything even remotely interesting to say, she let her thumb stroke his skin, which bought her a little time as the expectant look on his face turned just the slightest bit smug.
"I hope you know what this means to me," she said. "It's nice to have a night out for a change."
"You deserve to be treated like a princess." The muscles in his wrist twitched as his fingers tightened ever so slightly on his fork. Any moment, he'd reach for his first bite. He had ceded territory on her leg to reach for that fork, and stood to gain little from extended contact above the table. He'd take the bite, and the rules of the game would change.
Isabel had no choice. She leaned closer, and let her fingers slide further up his arm. "And you'd make a fine prince."
Kyle would have rolled his eyes at that line, but Kivar smiled and shifted closer to her. His hand snuck around her shoulder to brush against the base of her neck, and Isabel could feel Vilandra's rush of excitement.
Instead of quieting her inner demon, Isabel used her for what she had to do next, and as her free hand slid across the table to aim a discreet burst of power at the canapé that Liz had sabotaged, she leaned into Kivar, and kissed him.
"Holy -- Liz, something's up. And I mean really up. Isabel's kissing Kyle, and not on the cheek this time."
Liz continued to remain silent, and Maria made a mental note to invest in some better quality surveillance equipment. A hidden microphone would really come in handy at the moment.
Great. She'd become the kind of girl who needed to buy amateur spy gadgets. Situations like this arose far too much in her life. She felt like she lived in an alien-themed soap opera. One with negligent writers who failed to even consider plausibility, because why the hell would Isabel be kissing Kyle like that, and in public, where just anyone could --
"Crap! Liz, you have to do something. Jesse's here!"
Liz burst out of the kitchen, not exactly inconspicuous in her borrowed white uniform, and made a beeline for Jesse. He'd obviously seen Isabel, but Liz shoved him backwards into the men's room and out of Maria's sight.
For the second time that day, Isabel stood in her bedroom doorway while her husband packed his clothes. "Jesse, I know what it looked like, but I would never cheat on you."
"You were kissing him, Isabel!" Jesse didn't even look up from the suitcase. "What am I supposed to think?"
"Maybe you could try listening to me for once." She crossed the room and stood between him and the suitcase. If only he'd at least look at her.
"Listening to you? I'd love to listen to you, if you'd tell me anything! This morning you promised we'd sit down and have a real talk, and instead you run off to have dinner with Kyle, and when I track you down -- do you have a clue how that felt, to see you with him?"
"I'm sorry, Jesse, I really am."
"Sorry you cheated, or sorry you got caught?"
"Do you really think that if I was having an affair, I'd invite Liz and Maria along to spy on me?"
"As much as I appreciate the thoughtfulness you showed by bothering with lookouts, it doesn't erase the fact that my wife is cheating on me!"
"But I'm not -- "
"Your friends locked me in the men's room. Do you know how long it took to get that door open? The restaurant had to call a locksmith."
Isabel cringed. She knew that Liz still had little -- if any -- control over her powers, and she hoped that whatever her wild burst of power had done to the locks, it wouldn't bring any undue attention. The damn secret again.
"Well?" Jesse was finally looking at her -- staring, actually -- and she had failed to notice. "I asked you a question, Isabel."
"I'm sorry, I . . . "
"Weren't even paying attention. Yeah, I got that."
"I'm a little upset," she said, fighting to keep her voice calm. "It's been a long day."
"I asked if you would have married me if you'd known how Kyle felt. I guess I have my answer."
"It's not like that," she said. "That wasn't Kyle."
"Don't lie to me! I saw you!"
"No, I mean it wasn't Kyle. It was Kivar."
At least she had his attention now. She tried to explain, skirting carefully around the issue of Vilandra's instinctive attraction to Kivar, and focusing on Kyle's plight as Kivar's hostage.
Jesse stopped packing to listen.
"I need to lead him on until we have a plan," she explained. "If it comes down to a fight, Kyle could get hurt."
"This sounds dangerous, Isabel. I don't like it. Stay away from him, and let Kivar give up and go back to his own planet."
"Kivar won't just give up. I know him, I know how he thinks, and -- "
"You know him? This morning you could barely remember your old life, and now you know how he thinks." Jesse yanked open a dresser drawer and started flinging rolled up socks onto the bed. "Why am I even surprised?"
"It's complicated, Jesse." Isabel snatched a misfired ball of socks off the floor and dropped it back into the dresser. "All I know is that as long as Kivar thinks he's winning, Kyle's valuable to him. If he knows we're onto him -- God, I don't even want to think about what he might do."
"Look, Isabel. I don't know what's going to happen with our marriage. I don't know if I can trust you. But I still love you, and I'm not letting you risk your life to play games with this Kivar!"
"Not letting me? What is this, the 1950's?"
"Poor choice of words," he admitted. "I'm worried about you, Isabel."
"I know, and I wish I knew what to say, but -- "
"Let's just leave. Forget Roswell, forget Kivar, forget all the craziness, and just leave."
"I can't do that. Kivar is here because he wants me."
"So we leave, and he has no reason to stay."
"And no reason to leave Kyle unharmed. He's in this mess because of me, I'm responsible, and I owe it to him to protect him."
"And I need to protect my wife, if I still have one. This is it, Isabel. Him or me. Your choice."
"Now you're asking me to choose between my husband and my best friend?"
"I'm asking you to walk away from this situation, for our marriage, and for your own safety." Jesse was bluffing. Probably. "I've made my decision. Now it's up to you."
"I want to be clear. I'm not choosing him over you. I'm choosing to do the right thing by helping my friend." Isabel grabbed her purse and walked out the door before her emotions got the better of her. If Jesse couldn't wrap his head around her loyalty to a friend, then he wasn't the man she thought, and as steep a price as it was, she would not put her marriage before Kyle's life.
"Michael, why did you think to look in Jesse's briefcase?"
Michael rubbed his face and stared at her through his half-open apartment door. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Jesse's briefcase. Why did you go through it?"
"This again. Look, you can save the lecture, Max left me with a babysitter." He opened the door wider and gestured at the couch.
Maria clutched a pillow over her face and slurred a greeting.
"No lecture, I swear, just answer the question."
"I didn't trust Jesse," he said. "He's been jittery about the alien thing and someone has to take care of security if Max is too busy making out with Liz to care."
"But why his briefcase? Is this something you do all the time, or was it the first time you looked?"
"First time," Michael said. "Why does it matter?"
"So it was just an impulse?"
"Isabel." Maria sat up and lowered her pillow. "Why does Michael do anything? Of course it was an impulse."
"What she said. Can I go back to bed now?"
"Hold that thought. Maria, could we talk?" She glanced at Michael. "Alone."
Michael grumbled and disappeared into the bathroom.
"So how did Jesse take -- "
"Not well," Isabel said. "But we have bigger problems right now. Last time Kivar possessed someone, he invaded my dreams. What if he's doing that now, only not to me? Gleaning information, planting suggestions . . . "
"Oh, so that explains what's wrong with Michael." She rolled her eyes. "This time, anyway."
"Did you tell him about Kivar?"
"What, and let him go beat the crap out of Kyle? No, I lied like a dog."
"Good. That's good." She started to pace, stopped herself, and sat on the couch instead. "But Liz knows. And Max. Where are they?"
"Well, Max went to do the stakeout thing, but I think Liz went home."
"Do you think she's asleep?"
Maria gave her a look she usually reserved for Michael, and nodded at the clock.
"Right. Stupid question." She bit her lip and tried to think. "Do you have a picture of Liz?"
Isabel had visited Liz's sleeping mind before. A surprising number of times, actually, considering how utterly dull she found it. The Crashdown. (Yet again.) Cheesy lighting. (Cheesy.) Liz in her waitress uniform. (As always.) Max with his shirt off. (Yuck.)
No sign of Kyle, either as a guise for Kivar, or as an indication that Liz was particularly worried about him. Isabel wasn't sure whether to be relieved that this tableau would reveal little to Kivar if he did take a look, or offended at Liz's ability to dream about this while their friend was in danger.
"Liz," she said. "Are we alone?"
"Max is here." Liz gazed adoringly at Max.
"I am here." Dream Max stared back at Liz with such overblown adoration that Isabel fully expected his eyes to transform into cartoon hearts.
"Right," Isabel said. "Except you aren't. Liz, I really need to talk to you."
"How may I help you, Isabel?" Liz remained focused on her vision of Max.
"Okay then." Isabel spotted a white tablecloth, beneath a romantic candlelit dinner for two. With Green Martian milkshakes. She yanked the tablecloth out from beneath the spread, because one could do that in the dreamscape, and draped it over the source of Liz's distraction.
The tablecloth promptly dissolved into a flock of doves, which flew into the mural on the wall and engaged in aerial combat with the flying saucers. The dreamscape effect again -- so not helpful.
"Liz, could you try to focus? We really need to talk."
"Isabel." Liz finally focused on her, and the dreaminess disappeared from her expression.
"Better. Now I need you to look around and tell me if there's anything here that doesn't belong." Her own gaze focused on the giant bowl of strawberries on the counter. "Like these, maybe?"
Liz gave her a sheepish grin, and blushed. "No, there are always strawberries."
A flash of images made Isabel really sorry she'd asked, and once Liz confirmed that everything else looked normal, she explained about Kivar.
"So we need a plan," Liz said.
"Not here," Isabel said. "Just because he's not here now . . . you need to wake up, and meet us at . . . Maria said to meet us at the place by the thing where you went that time. And I hope that makes sense to you, because I don't always get Maria."
"Right," Liz said. "I'll be there. But how do I wake up?"
Isabel shoved the bowl of strawberries into shirtless Max's all-too-dreamy chest. "I don't know, but you'd better hurry, because isn't that your dad coming this way?"
Isabel found herself instantly back in Michael's kitchen, which told her that Liz had indeed woken up. A little cruel, perhaps, but in her own dreams, parental intrusion at a compromising moment always worked better than a bucket of cold water.
"Let's go," Isabel said to Maria. "She said she'd meet us, so I hope you both mean the same place by the same thing."
The thing in question turned out to be a fountain, and Liz beat them there. "I have an idea," she said. "Or the start of one, anyway. But it's a little risky."
"It can't be worse than letting Kivar run around with Kyle's body," Maria said. "If that boy goes much longer without quoting Buddha, someone's bound to get suspicious."
"Okay," Liz said. "I've been thinking about this possession thing Kivar does, and how it's different from the way Larek takes control of Brody."
Isabel nodded. "Kivar isn't using Kyle like a puppet, he's really in there. It's like I can feel him."
"Last time, you said he called it a transportation device, and said it's new."
"Only it doesn't transport matter, only energy. We know this because when Kivar entered the beam, Denny Ridgeley was left behind, completely unharmed."
"The guy Kivar possessed before. Max has been keeping tabs on him. Anyway, since it doesn't transport matter, we know Kivar didn't bring anything with him from Antar. We also know he has some way of controlling this device while he's here, because he took control of Denny in a parking lot in Roswell, and activated the beam again in La Jolla."
"Enough of the history lesson," Isabel said. "How does this help us?"
"I was getting to that." Liz spread out several pieces of paper covered in notes and mathematical equations. "There are a lot of different types of energy, but we can narrow down the possibilities based on the theory that Kivar is using a power similar to yours to control the device. That means we just need to search for anomalies in this range."
"You've spent way too much time thinking about this," Maria said.
"Yeah, well, I'm dating an alien," Liz said.
"That still doesn't -- "
"Max needs to rescue his son, and I need to make sure it's not a one way trip when he does."
Isabel tried to rein in her impatience, but time was limited. "So how exactly do we search for anomalies?"
"The UFO Center," Liz said. "Brody has the right equipment, he just lacks a way to narrow his search."
"So I'm guessing this means I'm taking Brody to breakfast?" Maria asked. "Michael's so going to love this."
"Anyway, once we know where Kivar last activated the device, we can try to take control of it. You're hardly going to be able to lure him into it unaware if it's still wherever he left it."
"So far, it seems pretty simple," Isabel said. "I mean, other than the fact that we have no idea how to control this thing."
"That's where it gets dangerous," Liz said. "Last time, Kivar intended to take you back to Antar, but his device doesn't transport matter. So he must have planned to separate your essence -- your consciousness, your soul, whatever you want to call it -- from your physical body and put it somewhere else."
"Whoa," Maria said. "Somewhere else?"
"Like into a clone or something. My point is we really don't want to aim this thing the wrong direction, and we don't exactly have the user's manual."
"Maybe that's the answer." Isabel's heart sped up at the idea. "Why don't I just let him take me back to Antar -- "
"Are you crazy?" Maria asked.
"No, it's perfect. Let the device send Vilandra back where she belongs. I'll just be me, Isabel, without all the alien complications."
"It doesn't work that way," Liz said.
"You just said we don't know how it works."
"I'm not sure of the details, but I have some grasp of the physics behind it. You can't just suck out your alien side, Isabel, it won't work."
"You can't know that, not for sure."
"You're a hybrid, not an alien possessing a human body. Your cell structure is even different. There aren't two parts to separate -- there's just you. Your mind would end up on Antar, if the device even works like Kivar seems to think it does, but your body would just be empty."
"I'm no philosophy expert," Maria added. "But I'm pretty sure even aliens only have the one soul."
"You're probably right." Isabel let the matter drop, but she disagreed with Liz's conclusions, because she could feel Vilandra stirring as images of Antar grew clearer in her mind. Vilandra wanted that life on Antar. Why not give her a one way ticket off the planet? Then Jesse could have the woman he actually married, and she could have the normal life she'd always wanted.
Everybody would win.
They met Max at the UFO Center, and Isabel resisted the urge to pace while Liz explained her theory.
"Finding it is the easy part," Max said. "We just guess until we get it right. But how do we take control of something we don't understand?"
"You do that all the time," Liz said. "When you heal someone, you're not relying on medical knowledge. You're letting yourself be guided by instinct. I'm hoping that when your powers encounter something that's designed to respond to them, you'll feel what to do."
"Hope is what we're going on?" Isabel asked.
"I said it was dangerous."
"How dangerous?" Max asked.
Isabel knew that tone. "Does it matter? Kyle's life is at stake."
"We won't be much good to him or anyone else if -- "
"I've got something." Liz waved them over to the computer screen. "This could be it. Right there."
"That's pretty close to the high school," Isabel said. "I'd think he would want to hide it, somewhere like Frazier Woods. Anyone could stumble into it there."
"I don't think Kivar cares much about innocent bystanders," Max said. "That settles it. We have to take the risk, before someone gets hurt."
Isabel sat in the back seat of Max's convertible and fiddled with her purse, rotating the leather through increasingly shocking shades of blue before settling on a deep burgundy. She wondered how it would feel to give up her powers. Not that the ability to always coordinate her handbag with her shoes really compensated for all the trouble, but she had to admit that she'd miss it.
The sun had just started to rise when they reached the high school. Their shoes got wet from the dew as they hiked out past the football field, and Isabel made herself ignore the little pieces of sticking grass. She could live with such minor annoyances, and she could survive without her powers.
Max held an arm out to stop her from going further. "Careful."
"Do either of you feel anything?" Liz asked.
Isabel studied the ground, hoping it might prove as simple as noticing signs of a recent disturbance. The device had stirred up a minor tornado in La Jolla. Of course, this particular area lacked anything to disturb, and she barely felt a hint of wind, although the damp chill in the air made her shiver.
Max put on his serious face, checked for an audience despite the early hour, and held his hand in front of him. "Well that's strange."
Isabel and Liz both looked at him expectantly. "What happened?"
Max frowned and stared at his own hand. "Nothing."
"Fascinating." Isabel moved down the field, and tried to concentrate on her alien side.
In La Jolla, she'd let Vilandra take control, all base instinct and carnal passion. When she wrenched control back, it came with such a wave of fury that she scared herself. Almost like the night she'd killed Whittaker. Only then, she'd thought she might never stop trembling, while in La Jolla, she'd soared along on an adrenaline high for hours. Then again, she had been on her honeymoon at the time.
She closed her eyes. Now's your chance, Vilandra. Figure out this portal device and you can be on Antar by sunset. The image of a skyline bathed in orange moonlight flickered before her mind's eye, and Isabel imagined she heard the lapping of water against the rocks. She knew the sound, even though Antar's oceans held little resemblance to the oceans on Earth. Something in Antar's seawater made it thicker, and she could almost remember the slippery feel of it.
Isabel opened her eyes and scanned the field, but while her mental images of Antar remained strong, nothing even hinted at the presence of an alien device.
Ten feet away, Liz was now aiming her crackling hand at nothing, her face tense with concentration. "That's all I can do," she said to Max, who caught her as she stumbled backwards.
"Okay," he said. "That's really strange."
"Find something?" Isabel frowned as she noticed the way Liz was shaking. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just, I've never tried to use my powers on purpose before."
"So what's strange?"
"My powers aren't working," Max said.
"We thought maybe it was related to the device, but if mine work . . . " Liz shrugged, and turned to look at Max. "Do you feel sick or anything?"
"No, I feel fine." He held up his hand again. "I just can't create a force field."
"Try something simple," Isabel suggested. "Something you do all the time."
This time he waved his hand over the ground and created a design in the grass. "That works."
Isabel smirked at him. "Crop circles, really? I knew working at the UFO Center would warp your mind."
"Maybe there's something about the force field specifically that the device blocks," Liz said. "It's a power that's unique to you, maybe Kivar knows that and has set up some kind of defense."
An image of Kivar appeared in Isabel's mind. Not as Kyle, or as Denny Ridgeley, but in his true form. She tensed, afraid he was somehow watching their efforts, but it felt more like a memory. And in the memory, she felt a giddy anticipation at sneaking off with him.
He'd betrayed her -- gotten her killed -- so why would any part of her forgive him, or feel anything but repulsed at the thought of him? Why would Vilandra want to return to a planet where he ruled? She felt an odd protectiveness for the naivety of her inner demon.
In the meantime, Max and Liz were still spinning theories about Max's inability to generate a force field.
"Could we worry about this crisis with your powers later?" Isabel asked. "We have bigger problems at the moment, and if Kivar catches us here . . . "
" . . . then the jig is up," Max said.
She grinned at her brother. "You kids and your groovy slang."
"Right." He looked at her like she was the one who sounded like a dork.
For some reason, the thought cheered her. As did the thought that followed. "Oh, I've got it! I know how Kivar controls the device."
"Hey Spaceboy, you can stop with the passive-aggressive omelet-making." Maria tossed a dishrag at Michael. "He's gone. And just in case it doesn't go without saying, Brody and I are not dating."
He ignored the dishrag, and handwaved away the splattered eggs. "So what was all that about?"
"Breakfast," she said. "And since when can you do that?"
She mimed the handwave. "If you've finally learned to use your powers for cleaning, do you think you could give the apartment the once-over? You've got dishes over there that could qualify as dependents."
He ignored her. "Where's Liz this morning?"
"Why do you care?"
"You mean besides me getting stuck with only Agnes for help during the breakfast rush, because you were -- " Michael slammed his fist into the counter. "You were distracting Brody, weren't you? Who's over in the UFO Center? Isabel? Everyone?"
"Not everyone," Maria said, honestly enough. She wasn't there, after all.
"Dammit! What right does Max have to keep me out of the loop?"
"Keep your voice down, we still have customers."
She rolled her eyes at him. "We also have this little thing called a secret."
"I'm not letting him get away with it." Michael pulled off his apron and headed for the door.
"Michael!" Maria started to follow him, but leaving Agnes the wonder waitress alone in the Crashdown never ended well. She glanced at the clock. The shift ended soon anyway, and Mr. Parker would be down to take over at the grill. Besides, she'd gotten the all-clear signal from the UFO Center before Brody had even finished his eggs, and she still had the Jetta keys.
A fact Michael soon realized, because he stormed back in the front door and held out his hand.
"No," she said. "You're not running off in my car."
"I said no. The shift ends in ten minutes. You can wait ten minutes."
Michael had the gall to roll his eyes at her. "Things are going to change around here. Max thinks he can order everyone around, but he's not the king any more. It's my turn to make the rules."
Maria glanced around the restaurant, but the regular customers tended to ignore their bickering, and therefore seemed to have missed the reference to alien royalty. "What the heck are you talking about?"
"This." Michael yanked the collar of his shirt aside. "See this? It means I'm in charge."
Maria stared at the five glowing blue dots on her boyfriend's chest, and had a full twelve seconds to ponder the spectacle before Mr. Parker walked in and she was forced to slap her hand over the suspicious glow.
"You're sure you can control it?" Max asked for what Isabel counted as the thousandth time. "If it opens in the wrong place -- "
"I know," she said. "And yes, I'm sure I can control it."
The arrival of the baseball team to run wind sprints had prevented Isabel from demonstrating her discovery, but she felt as confident about operating the transportation device as she felt about walking. Just as Liz had guessed, an empty body waited for her on Antar.
It lay in a cool stone room that Isabel recognized from childhood. Her other childhood, when she and Max -- he was Zan then -- would play tricks on the palace guards, and then hide in the cellar storerooms. Computers and medical equipment lined one wall now, but even with those changes, she knew the room as well as she knew her own bedroom on Valencia Place.
She knew that the third paving stone in from the door was loose, that the weird flickering shadow in the corner came from a flaw in the window glass, and that the tapestry of the three moons concealed a secret passage.
She remembered following it to the throne room once, where her father -- her alien father, who she only just now remembered -- had informed a guard that his children's antics were to be not only tolerated, but encouraged, as his son needed to hone the instinct for subterfuge he'd need someday as a military leader.
"Thanks, Dad," Isabel muttered under her breath. "That ended well."
"Did you say something, Isabel?"
"I just remembered our father," she said. "On Antar. Do you remember him?"
"Only a feeling," Max said. "Like he really didn't know me, and saw only what he wanted to see."
"Yeah." Isabel remembered hiding her intellect beneath a cultivated obsession with jewels, and using the guise of frivolity to mask her more interesting pursuits. "That feels right. There's a hidden passage, and I just had the clearest memory of using it to spy on him when we were kids."
"So about the device . . . " Liz said, when Isabel finished the story and lapsed into silence.
"Everything's on Antar," Isabel answered. "Kivar's body is in a pod connected to the system. So is Vilandra's clone -- my clone. The controls are designed to be dreamwalked."
Isabel had mastered the art of subterfuge in two lifetimes, but she still feared that her talents paled beside those of Kivar. No, not feared. In truth, she hoped that they did. The more detail she remembered, the more she realized just how duplicitous he had proven to be, and the thought of developing her own skills to such a degree, no matter how noble her motives, sickened her.
She could live with being a good liar. But that ability would not define her.
Instead of lying to Kivar now, she opted for a little self-deception. She'd just look Kyle -- her friend -- in the eye, and speak the truth.
"Jesse's leaving me," she said when he opened the door. The pain of that very real possibility made her voice break, and she shocked herself with just how much she wanted Kyle to say something comforting.
"I'm sorry." He drew her into a hug. "You know it's for the best."
She ignored the hot breath on her neck, and tried to quiet her pounding heart. "It is, I think." Oh how she hoped that wasn't the truth.
"It's definitely for the best." His fingers curled into her hip. "Shall we start to explore the benefits?"
"There's the freedom." She laid her hand against his chest, firmly but diplomatically increasing the space between their bodies. "Yes, freedom, but there's something else on my mind."
"Oh? We could do something to -- "
"I've been having these really strong memories of home. I mean Antar." Even as she said it, her mind brought up images of the tunnel system beneath her family's palace, and some of those images made her blush. "I can't stop thinking about them."
"Good memories?" He almost managed a warm smile, and his fingers brushed against her arm.
"Some make me need a cold shower." She enjoyed admitting such things to Kyle, because his goofy embarrassment always made her laugh, but Kivar took the statement as an invitation.
Just as he had dozens of times on Antar, he dragged his warm fingers against her waist. "You know there's a better solution, right?"
She caught her breath, then forced out a giggle and slapped his hand away. "Not now, Kyle, I'm being serious!"
"And I seriously want to hear everything." His smile made him look nothing like her Kyle at all. "Unless you'd rather provide a demonstration."
Ignoring that last bit seemed prudent. "Last night, after fighting with Jesse, I was trying to clear my head by meditating, like you're always suggesting, and all of these events just came rushing back. I feel like . . . I don't know."
"You feel like what?" He looked almost concerned. Almost like he cared, just like he'd pretended so well a lifetime ago.
"Well, I almost feel like I want that life again." She used the opportunity to pull away from him and pace nervously. "I could see the palace, and hear the ocean. I remembered how I'd sneak off to meet Kivar. Those nights were all my own. They had nothing to do with my brother or politics or my royal duties, they were just my own little chance at happiness."
"You want to be free of this life of secrets. You're tired of having to answer to your brother."
She cringed at how recently she'd really felt that way, albeit for different reasons. She could never leave her family behind. "Let's take a picnic out into the desert, where there's nobody to interrupt us, and I'll tell you every detail I can remember."
"What are you doing?" Mr. Parker asked.
Maria glanced from him to her hand, clamped over Michael's glowing chest. "Nothing, just -- "
"Your shift ended five minutes ago," he said. "You'd better hurry up and get changed, unless you plan to wear that uniform to school."
"Right." She straightened Michael's shirt. "Clothes. I was just telling Michael here about a little concept called doing the laundry."
"Thanks Maria." His glare made it clear how he felt about the cover story.
"Let's go, Michael. We don't want to miss anything." She led him into the back room, and changed without letting him out of her sight. Enjoy the peep show, Bucko, because it's all you're getting until you grow some manners.
"Okay, we're alone," Michael said. "Now are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"We're meeting everyone at mile marker twenty," she lied. At least if she lost him, he'd run off in the wrong direction. "I'll give you the details on the way."
Isabel had considered at least a dozen possible responses to her invitation. This one surprised her.
"I'd better take a rain check," Kivar said. "I have school in about ten minutes."
Thanks to her investigation the day before, she knew that Kyle had missed the last three days, so Kivar had little reason to bother attending now. Was he testing her? Angling to lure her to the practice fields? Playing hard to get? "I was hoping we could play hooky together."
He smiled, and for a moment he sounded so much like the real Kyle that it made Isabel's heart ache. "Tempting, tempting."
"It's just one day," she said. "Everyone slacks off a little senior year."
"Good point. I'll get the sodas."
Isabel drove, and they headed out toward the old radio tower. Liz had suggested the location because it fit three important criteria. First, it was isolated, which eliminated any worry about bystanders, innocent or otherwise. Secondly, the area appeared pretty open, but actually provided some cover for Max and Liz. And finally, unlike other good spots in the nearby desert, they didn't have anything valuable buried there.
"Now it's a party!" She turned the radio up, and rolled the window down. Anything to prevent conversation. One wrong word, and she could lose control of the whole situation. Plus she'd grown tired of Kivar's ridiculous idea of human seduction.
On Antar, he'd been smooth and sophisticated, but his poor attempt to pass as Kyle sounded like the wacky neighbor on an old sit-com. Only evil.
She turned down a dirt road. The car stirred up a cloud of dust as it jolted along at speeds she ordinarily avoided.
"Where exactly are we going?" Kivar shouted over the radio. "I'd like to keep my spine inside my body, if it's all the same to you."
It's not your spine, Isabel thought acidly. Or your body, for that matter. And it's not all the same to me. If I had my way, I'd love to pull your actual spine from your actual body. She laughed. "Come on, Kyle, where's your sense of adventure?"
"I'm driving." Maria slapped Michael's hand off the Jetta's door handle. "Get in the car, and I'll fill you in on the way. Unless you'd rather stand here and waste time arguing."
He treated her to his most sullen glare, but he circled around to the passenger's side.
Maria let out a small sigh of relief. She'd expected an argument, and while the wasted time would have suited her just fine, she probably couldn't hold her own if he lost it completely and the fight got physical. What the hell was that thing on his chest? Something Kivar had done to him?
It didn't make sense. Not that anything ever did, at least by any normal person's standards. Alien drama made up the fabric of Maria's life, even when she tried to separate herself from it. Sometimes she felt as if she had no more choice in the matter than the pod squad themselves.
"Start talking." Michael glared at her from the passenger's seat.
"Okay," she said. "But you have to stay calm, and let me finish. Okay?"
"Fine, whatever. Now spill."
"No, not 'fine, whatever,' Michael. Promise me you'll behave like a rational person."
"I'm rational, just tell me what I need to know."
She considered lying to him again, in case that thing on his chest meant Kivar had control of him somehow, but if he was an unwitting double agent, she needed to smoke him out, and besides, if that was the case, he'd know about Kivar anyway.
Plus there was the fact that as a double agent, most of his actions made no sense. Why would Kivar go out of his way to take control of Michael, only to use him to call their attention to Kyle? As evil plans went, it seemed self-defeating at best.
"It's Kivar," Maria said as calmly as she could. "He's back."
Michael failed to react at all.
"Well, say something."
"I'm staying calm." The sarcasm in his voice reassured her.
"Right." She filled him in on the highlights, including the plan, with a few edited details.
"And Max thinks he has a right to leave me out of this? Like he's still in charge?"
"He is still in charge, Michael, and besides, he's not leaving you out."
"That's the thing, Maria. You said this is all supposed to go down by the highway, but we both know that can't happen. They need someplace secluded for the transportation device, which means you're lying to me. You're distracting me, just like you distracted Brody earlier."
"I am," she admitted. "But only for your own good."
"Bull." He raised his palm, flickering with power. To his credit, he aimed it at the dashboard, instead of at her, but the threat was clear. "Pull over, Maria. It's time Max Evans learned to follow orders, instead of handing them out."
"My sense of adventure is fine. I'd just rather live long enough to have a few adventures, and your driving has me worried."
If she'd been talking to Kyle, and not Kivar, Isabel might have added a quip about New Year's Eve, but if Kivar tripped over a specific reference, he'd suspect her suspicion, at the very least, and she'd lose the element of surprise. That was her ace, and she kept it firmly up her sleeve.
"This looks good." She pulled the car over next to a rusty barbed wire fence, its posts leaning at random angles better suited to providing a generally run-down atmosphere to the area than to keeping anything on any particular side of it.
"Rustic." Again, Kivar managed to sound enough like Kyle to twist the knife.
Isabel took comfort in the rapid approach of eviction time, now that they were out here alone. She looked for signs of Max and Liz, but wherever they'd hidden, it seemed as discreet as Liz had promised.
Her goal was simple. Put enough distance between herself and Kivar that she could open the portal without getting sucked into it herself. The last thing she wanted was to end up in Kivar's freaky science lab on Antar.
She grabbed a blanket from the back seat and rushed toward the desert with mock enthusiasm. "Hurry up, Kyle, that looks like a good spot over there."
"Relax." He opened the back door for the soda she'd hoped he would forget, so that she could fetch it later. "I don't see much competition for prime locations."
Another flash of memory made her pause. She had snuck away from the palace, disguised as an ordinary citizen, and visited one of the public beaches. The novelty of the crowd, jostling each other in the lines around the vendors' booths, sent a thrill through her. She liked wandering alone, without her father's guards clearing a path before her.
Kivar had arranged to meet her there, proud of the little square of real estate he'd secured with a large towel, and she'd found it charming. A powerful man like Kivar -- he'd held political power long before the coup -- showing as much pride in this small, temporary claim as he did in his vast tracts of land, just for her benefit.
That was the moment when she fell in love with him. Or so she had thought at the time. This weird parody of the event sent a shiver through her.
She spread out the blanket, and once Kivar flopped down on it and opened a soda, she made a show of shielding her eyes from the sun. "I left my sunglasses in the car."
He failed to offer to go fetch them for her, but she had expected as much. Either option worked for her plan.
Isabel jogged to the car, and let her mind focus on the palace basement untold light years away. She could feel the cloned body, and see a projection of the controls above it. If she just --
The rattle of a vehicle bouncing recklessly along the dirt road broke her concentration, and she looked up to see a Jetta-shaped cloud of dust come to a jolting halt beside her own car.
Damn it Michael!
Maria echoed her sentiments as she launched herself out of the passenger seat and raced after Michael, who stomped toward Kyle, hand raised for attack.
"No!" Isabel propelled herself between them.
"That's Kivar!" Michael shouted. "I'm not letting that murdering scum drag you back to Antar. Now get out of my way!"
"Michael, calm down."
"He killed us!" Michael's hand crackled with power, his face twisted with rage. "He deserves to die for his crimes!"
"And what about Kyle?" Maria asked. "Does he deserve to die?"
Kivar climbed to his feet behind Isabel. Well, Kyle's feet. "Rath. Nice to see that some things never change."
Isabel kept blocking Michael's shot with her body, and reached a hand behind her to restrain Kivar as best she could. "Kiv dear." The old term of endearment rolled too easily from her lips. "Please don't hurt him. It's not like he can follow us."
"Of course I knew." Isabel stepped back against Kyle's chest, and lowered her voice. "What else could possess me to kiss Kyle Valenti in a restaurant full of people."
"Get away from him, Isabel. Don't make me blast you both."
"It's Vilandra," she corrected, for Kivar's benefit, although the look on Michael's face made her regret it.
"A shame he lacked the guts to kill your husband," Kivar said in a stage whisper. "It would have been quite poetic had they eliminated each other."
The crap with the letter suddenly made a lot more sense, and Isabel whirled around, tempted to blast Kivar herself. "And how exactly was Jesse supposed to defend himself?"
Kivar laughed. "Your pet human has been carrying a gun since he learned the truth about you."
Isabel felt her blood run cold, and if Kivar had worn any face but Kyle's, she might have let her temper loose on him as she realized just how narrowly they'd avoided a tragedy.
Michael took advantage of the moment, and circled her to blast Kivar into the dirt. "If you want to live, you'll answer my questions, got it?"
Maria grabbed Michael's arm, but he brushed her aside.
"I want to know what you've done with Max's son, you coward, dragging a baby into your sick power games."
Michael exploded a rock near Kivar's head, and the spray of dirt showered them all.
Kivar raised a hand and returned fire, narrowly missing Michael, but only because Maria yanked him aside.
"That's enough, Michael." Max marched into the fray, his hand trained on Kivar, only to land on the ground himself as Michael blasted him.
"He's mine, Maxwell. You had your chance."
Isabel jumped to defend Kyle before Michael really did kill him, shielding his body with her own as she pulled him to his feet. She caught his arm when he raised it. "Just let them fight it out," she whispered. "Maybe we can sneak away while they're distracted."
"It would be amusing to watch them kill each other," Kivar said. "The mighty King Zan, brought down by his own incompetent second. I daresay there are a few people back home who would really enjoy that story."
"What is wrong with you?" Max demanded. "You're completely irrational."
"Show him, Michael," Maria said.
"Oh I'll show him." More clumps of dirt flew in all directions.
"Fine." Maria grabbed Michael's shirt and yanked. It tore. Five glowing blue points now adorned Michael's chest.
"The royal seal," Max said.
"That's right, Maxwell! No more waiting around and thinking when something needs to be done. I'm in charge now. You died and now I'm the boss. So get out of my way and let me deal with our murderer."
Max tackled Michael, this time using brute force instead of alien powers. The two wrestled in the dirt, and Isabel grabbed Kivar, pressing him back from the scene before he killed them both with a single shot.
"You're a ghost," Michael kept saying as they struggled. "You're nothing but a ghost."
Isabel winced as Max landed a punch, knocking Michael's head against the ground. She wished she could bring herself to look away. Kivar was distracted, maybe if she opened the portal behind him . . . but no, not in the middle of this chaos.
"Don't kill him," Maria said. "Please Max . . . "
Max had Michael pinned, and he laid a hand over the glowing seal. "I believe that's mine."
Michael's scream tore through the desert, and then he fell silent.
Maria dropped down beside him as Liz gave Max a hand up.
Kivar laughed. "So good King Zan kills his second. That ought to rile up a few select factions."
"He's not dead," Max said. "You, however -- "
"Max no!" Isabel stepped forward, arms spread defensively, but Kivar dodged around her and aimed at Max.
The shot bounced harmlessly off the force field Max created.
Isabel started to slowly move away. If Max could just keep Kivar occupied for a couple of minutes, she could activate the portal, and maybe he could force Kivar into it.
Kivar raised both hands, and a force field of his own crackled into existence. The two fields of energy clashed with a display of pyrotechnics that would have impressed even the most jaded theme park employee.
Max stumbled backward, the sweat beading on his forehead as he tried to hold his force field up against Kivar's attack.
The field of energy pressed forward, and Isabel knew she had to do something, or watch her brother die. She let loose with a blast, knocking Kivar aside. "Sorry," she lied. "It's just, you don't have to kill him. We can just leave. He's no threat to us."
"As long as he lives, there are those on Antar who will plot against me, waiting for his return." Kivar raised another shield, although this one said defensive, at least for the moment. "If I kill him, his political party falls as well. With Zan out of the way, the people will rejoice to see you upon the throne."
That's what he wanted. To legitimize his stolen throne with a royal marriage. Isabel scolded herself for letting the fact sting her ego, and tried to concentrate on the problem at hand. If she could just open the portal.
Max fell to the ground, his force field collapsing, and he rolled clear of Kivar's next attack by mere inches.
Isabel desperately looked for a way to separate them. They were too close to each other now, as Kivar pressed his advantage. If she opened the portal she'd lose Max. Then she noticed Maria, sneaking around the parameter of the fray, the picnic blanket in her hands.
She could tell that Max saw her too, and he stood up slowly, prepared to dodge another blast.
Maria threw the blanket, and they all scrambled to put distance between themselves and Kivar.
Isabel threw her mind into that room so far away, and turned on the transportation device. The portal whirled into existence behind Kivar, flinging bits of scrub brush in all directions.
Kivar charged at Max before he even finished tearing the blanket away from his head. He shoved Max backward into the dilapidated fence, and fell on top of him. He grabbed a piece of rusty barbed wire. "I may not return with a bride, but I will return with news of your death!"
With some hidden reserve of energy, Max flung up a force field and used it to shove free of Kivar, only to find himself embroiled in another wrestling match made of lightning. Kivar backed him toward the portal, one painful inch at a time, the energy sparking between them with growing ferocity.
Max twisted, and for a sickening moment, Isabel was sure he'd throw himself into the portal, just to take Kivar with him.
Then Liz burst out of nowhere -- or, more accurately, out of five feet away, but Isabel had barely noticed her in the midst of the chaos -- and attacked Kivar with a full blast of her own.
Max ran forward, intent on physically tackling Kivar, but ended up face first in the dirt, courtesy of Liz, who knocked him down in order to once again blast Kivar herself. She advanced on him, wild-eyed and angry, and when he hit her in the face, she shoved him backward into the portal.
Isabel let it close, and nearly dropped from exhaustion. Her vision swam from the effort of using her powers in such an unfamiliar way.
Maria was helping Michael to his feet, while Max crawled over to check on Liz.
"She's okay," Max said. "Just knocked out."
Isabel rushed to his side and took his hand. "Kyle?"
He sat up, his free hand rubbing his forehead, and he looked around. "Isabel! Are you okay?"
"Oh God, Kyle!" She flung her arms around him, and squeezed hard enough to stop her own shaking, or at least to mask it. "I've really missed you."
His arms closed around her, one hand rubbing her back. "Okay," he said, after this went on for a while. "This is nice and all, but what exactly are we doing out here?"
"You are a soul which possesses a body," Kyle said, when they reached the part about the clone in the lab on Antar. "Not a body which possesses a soul."
Isabel nodded, and tried not to think too hard. She'd almost put that theory to the test, so the logic of it made her shiver. "Buddha again? What did I say about quoting -- "
"Hey, you owe me. You said so yourself."
"I said I owed you a dinner." She grinned at him.
"And you still do," Kyle said. "This is lunch."
"Then I hope you'll take a rain check on dinner, because I really should track down Jesse."
"I suppose after all this, my offer to go talk to him won't be all that useful."
"His talk with Kivar certainly made things interesting."
Kyle cringed. "Yeah, sorry -- "
"No," Isabel said. "It's not your fault." She frowned. "Did you know Jesse has a gun?"
"Jesse has a gun?"
"I don't know. Kivar said he did, but if he didn't get that from you, then it might not be true." She stared down at her food. "Jesse owning a gun. I really don't know how to feel about that one."
"You might want to give Jesse the benefit of the doubt, at least for now. Evil guys tend to be pretty sketchy sources of information."
Isabel poked at her lunch. "I can't believe I thought I loved him, once."
"I can't believe you kissed me, and I don't even get to remember it." He looked away from her, and reached for his soda. "After all, that was probably the most action I'll get this month."
"It was toe curling," she teased. "Or maybe that was the canapé."
"That's right," Kyle said cheerfully. "Kick a guy when he's down."
"On a related note, you'd better give Toby a call. Kivar wasn't all that worried about your paycheck. Or your education, for that matter, but Maria covered for you at school."
Kyle sighed. "Why do I doubt that my boss will believe the old possessed by an alien excuse?"
"Tell him you went rock climbing and hit your head." She reached across the table and traced the long cut on his cheek. "Maybe it's a good thing Max was too drained to heal you after all."
"Yep, my luck is looking up." He smiled. "Seriously, though, Isabel. Thank you. I appreciate what you did for me. What you all did. If it costs you your marriage -- "
"If it costs me my marriage, it'll be Jesse's fault. He didn't marry a woman who abandons her friends." She smiled and laid her hand over his on the table. "You're my best friend, Kyle. I'm just sorry that the fallout from my life keeps screwing up yours."
"Every obstacle is an opportunity," he said. "Besides, it's all worth it. I've grown fond of the whole alien circus. Life would get awfully dull without it, and I'm not sure how I feel about boredom."
Isabel nodded. "I was bored on Antar. A princess with the planet at my feet, I could have had anything -- anything material, anyway -- with the snap of my fingers. I could have gone back to that life today." She shuddered. "I can't imagine a worse fate."