Title: Ham Sandwiches and Close Escapes
Title: Ham Sandwiches and Close Escapes
Spoilers (if applicable): Season 1, some season 2
Warnings (if applicable): Goes wildly AU from Season 2.03, Surprise.
Summary: The world is ending in Roswell. The Skins are in power, Kyle’s imprisoned, and Michael and Maria make brief appearances as resistance leaders.
The first thing Kyle Valenti chooses to do on the day he finds the world has ended is eat a sandwich. He does a few things before that, but that’s the first one he chooses. The other things he chooses to do that day include killing an alien dictator and breaking out of jail with hybrid clones of his ex-housemate. But you know, that comes after the sandwich.
Eating may seem like a weird response, but it’s a really good sandwich. Ham and swiss and coleslaw on a pretzel roll. The bread, meat and cheese toasted and hot and delicious, the coleslaw a cool, crunchy contrast. Mouthwatering. Accompanied by kettle-cooked potato chips and Crashdown Cherry coke—he thinks Liz’s dad may have slipped something addictive into the cherry syrup at the Crashdown, because it doesn’t taste the same anywhere else. When it all arrives—the sandwich, chips, and beverage—it’s better than he ever remembered it. And in the last few weeks, he’s had time to think about food.
He’s never been this hungry before. But he’s never been locked in a cell before either. To pass the time, he does pushups and thinks about food. Sometimes he meditates.
He never masturbates; he’s too aware of being watched, and he’s not an exhibitionist under these circumstances.
He redirects his sex drive into other appetites.
He’s thought about nice, thick porterhouse steaks, rare in the middle, with lots of A1 and not a drop of Tabasco in sight. And heaping helpings of three-cheese potato gratin, with bacon. And Amy’s pies. And Crashdown coke floats.
And beer. No matter how hard he tries, he can never quite remember the taste of beer, even though he’d swilled a LOT of it before…well, before.
Before he was shot. Before Max healed him. Before Buddha. Before Tess moved in. Before she disappeared on the night of Isabel’s surprise party.
Before Vanessa Whitaker called in the “National Guard” and imposed quarantine on Roswell. Before communications with the outside world were cut. Before his father was assassinated, perpetrator unknown. Before aliens who shed skins like snakes arrived offering to free the people of Roswell from military rule in exchange for three citizens—two brunette males, one blond female—and some kind of grain. Before the town turned over Kyle Valenti, Grant Sorenson, and Courtney Banks to the Skin shedders.
Before he was locked in a cell where the only “food” came in the form of a cube of vitamins.
So when he’s pulled out of his cell by masked men, brought into a white room, and shackled to a chair facing two versions of Tess, he starts to realize just how serious the situation is. He knows it’s not a concussion that’s making him see two girls where there’s actually one, because they’re alike and different at the same time. One has short purple hair and bloody cuts that look like piercings were ripped out of her face. Her eyes are wide open, and frightened. The other has bruises so bad her left eye is swollen shut. Her hair is the color of butter and corn. They are dressed identically in paper hospital gowns. White, naturally.
Neither girl meets his eyes. The blonde probably couldn’t if she wanted to; the purple-haired one seems too frightened.
That’s the moment he knows the world’s pretty much ended, and he was on the losing side. He’s not sure who the skin shedders are, but he does know Tess and the Fantastic Four (Royal Four, whatever) were Roswell—and Earth’s—last chance. And he’s not sure why there are two Tesses here, but he is sure it’s a bad sign. Somehow, the pod squad missed the meaning of Nasedo’s warning; they lost the war without even fighting a battle.
Max, Michael, and Isabel failed. They left town the day after Tess vanished—up till now, he’s sort of been hoping that Tess was with them. Like Maria—he hopes to God she went with her Spaceboy, because she hasn’t been seen since Isabel’s birthday either. And last he saw her, Liz Parker was catatonic, unable to explain why Max had abandoned her, where her best friend was, or why any of this was happening.
Failing escape with her pod-pals, he’d held onto some hope that Tess would get away from the men who had taken her. Because, yeah, it was a pain to have her and her girly things around all of the time, but he hadn’t wanted anything bad to happen to her.
He’s not sure what’s going on—all this light is overwhelming after his dim cell. That’s probably the point.
He’s pretty sure they’re being watched. So he doesn’t say anything meaningful. He cracks a nervous joke because the twins are the first people he’s seen in a while and he wants them to look at him, even if they are aliens, “So, Tess, who’s your friend?”
The girls turn their heads toward each other, but not him. “Sister.” The purple one (not the one he used to live with) answers. It sounds like she’s choking on the word. Maybe it’s because her tongue is bleeding.
That’s when a kid enters the room. He looks to be about fourteen. He’s skinny, like Whitman, and Kyle briefly wonders if he’s been on the receiving end of too many swirlies. It would explain the I-hate-the-world attitude vibrating off of him. As if he knows what Kyle’s thinking, the boy sneers more. “Glad to see you’re getting acquainted.” His voice doesn’t break, though Kyle finds himself hoping it will. “Ava, you always were a consummate hostess.”
The girls look back at the floor. There’s a pause.
In the silence, Kyle’s stomach grumbles. “So,” He comments, “We’re in a white room. Where are the black curtains? Eric Clapton would be disappointed.”
“Do you even know who you’re talking about?” The boy rolls his eyes, clearly dismissing Kyle as stupid. Good. When you’re being held prisoner by aliens, it’s usually a good thing to be underestimated.
Kyle’s stomach growls again, louder. “Got any food?” He asks, feigning hope. The protein/vitamin cubes have all the nutrients he needs, but his stomach constantly feels empty. And he really misses eating.
He asks because 1) he’s hungry 2) it’s now obvious to everyone he’s really hungry and 3) anything he can do to seem like a dumb jock seems like a good move.
The boy laughs. It’s not a pleasant sound. Neither girl looks up, but Kyle notices that the blonde (Tess) is tensing up, like she’s holding something in. Purple-Tess—Ava—bows her head.
The kid says, “Just tell us what you want.”
Kyle takes him up on it. He describes in loving, lavish detail, the perfect sandwich. He recounts his memory of the perfect pretzel roll, its crust and texture and temperature. He details the deli ham he wants—wet-cured first, then smoked, and sliced thin. But the sandwich shouldn’t skimp on the quantity, just because it’s sliced so thin. Then, domestic Swiss, two or three thick slices. He’s not picky, he tries to say graciously. He describes the coleslaw he likes—the one at Albertsons, with the little caraway seeds in it. He gives specific directions about the order of assembly—Slice the roll, layer meat on both sides, add cheese, toast, then add coleslaw. He goes on for at least ten minutes. When he finishes, he can tell he has irritated the kid.
Damn alien probably doesn’t have taste buds.
“Shut up.” The boy bites the words out. He’s fuming.
Kyle hopes he still gets the sandwich.
They sit in silence for a while. The boy leaves.
The purple-haired girl sneaks a glance at him. The white room blinks out for a second, while she pulls a mindwarp, just long enough to tell him in the thickest New York accent he’s ever heard, “I’d’a axed for pastrami on rye. With a pickle.”
Which, you know, he can respect.
And Kyle does get the sandwich. Eventually.
When he finishes his food, and the cherry coke that came with it, he settles back in his chair, as comfortably as anyone can while he is handcuffed and chained to a chair. “Well, I’ll give you this. When I get out of here, I’ll have to start making T-shirts to advertise that alien abductors make good sandwiches. I don’t know if there’ll be much of a market, but I know someone who’s always up for distributing stuff with lots of local color.”
He sees the corner of Tess’s mouth twitch, though she doesn’t actually bare her teeth in a smile.
“You’ve been fed. Now tell me what you want.”
“A million dollars and my planet would be nice.” Kyle is impressing himself with how cool he’s being. He kind of wants to huddle in a corner and rock, but he might be the only human left. He doesn’t know.
The boy slaps the table, like maybe he’s been watching NYPD Blue reruns for tips on how to interrogate humans or something.
“Where is the granilith?” He snarls.
“The what?” Kyle isn’t even feigning ignorance.
The girls are even more careful about not looking at him.
“We know it’s here. Vanessa led us to it; we can feel its energy.” The boy sounds desperate.
“Who’s Vanessa?” Kyle asks. He has actually forgotten that that was Congresswoman Whitaker’s first name.
He flies backward then. His legs are still shackled to the chair, so he lands in an awkward heap, with his breath knocked out of him.
The kid kicks him, and Kyle’s endured enough sports injuries to realize that’s going to leave a mark. The boy starts pacing, and ranting. Kyle watches the moving feet, trying to think of a plan that isn’t stupid.
The alien boy explains, “We tested your blood; yours and Sorenson’s. You are different than the mammals who populate this world, but you’re not alike. You’re not even like those hybrids-,” He spits in the general direction of the girls at the table.
Kyle’s kind of glad he isn’t capable of answering. Though when the gist of the boy’s rant gets through, all Kyle can think is “Shit.” He must be changed from the healing.
The boy’s words filter in while Kyle tries to breathe again, “Sorenson’s blood yielded traces of gandarium; he’s nothing in himself. You should be happy to hear we’ve contained it. For now.”
Kyle wheezes. But if Sorenson is different too… Was gandarium kind of like the alien version of an STD? Had he picked it up from Isabel? “Hnh,” Kyle grunts.
The kid picked Kyle’s head up off the floor and spoke the words very clearly. “Listen. I’ve been in this body for fifty something years. You are going to tell me where the granilith is so I can get off this planet and into my own body. Cooperate, and I won’t release the gandarium to exterminate your race. Resist and you’ll find yourself a test subject, like your friend.”
As if that were a cue, a video begins playing on the ceiling. Kyle finds himself kind of impressed by how disorienting it is to be flat on his back and watching TV. Then, his brain processes what he’s seeing. He feels sick.
Liz Parker is weeping on the screen. He can’t see what’s hurting her, or hear the words they’re saying to her, but he can hear her. He doesn’t love Liz Parker; sometimes liking her is a stretch. But seeing her suffer is painful.
Kyle wonders if Liz’s pain has also been chosen for Tess’s benefit.
The image flips to Grant Sorenson, who is strapped to a gurney, screaming. Machines whose purpose Kyle couldn’t even begin to guess are attached all over his body—how very Matrix. Protruding from his chest are the kind of nasty blue crystals that are featured on kid’s home science/crystal growing kits. He’s writhing and screaming, claiming innocence, begging for death.
The pictures cut off. “Tell me what you know.” The boy demands.
Kyle recites the three universal truths of Buddhism, “Nothing is lost in the universe. Everything is change. Every action has an equal, but opposite reaction.” That last one sounds more like science class than religion, but it makes his point.
This time, he’s more ready for the kick.
“Idiot.” His tormentor seethes. “Do you, or do you not understand that I have the power to crush you? To end your miserable existence?”
“I get that.” Kyle breathes through the pain. “But it’s two of the four noble truths. There is suffering, common to all. And we are the cause of our suffering.”
The boy blew a Bronx cheer. Still prone on the floor, Kyle couldn’t guess what his fellow prisoners were thinking. But he could see their feet and ankles—obviously they’d been broken and not allowed to heal, probably to prevent escapes.
“Ava one.” The boy is clearly addressing the girls. “Ava two. Reason with the human. You’ve seen what happens when they resist.”
Tess’s smoky honey voice sounds strange, like there’s gauze in her mouth. “Nick-lath, he dudn’t know an-thing.”
“How stupid do you think I am?” The boy—Nicholas—makes a gesture and suddenly, Tess is also on the floor. Kyle turns his face to look at her. She doesn’t have handcuffs, but her mobility is compromised by those busted ankles. “You were living with him, Ava. He must mean something to you. And I remember you. You weren’t like your sister-in-law at all. Family first, that was you. Of course, since you were nothing but a jumped-up domestic, I guess that made sense.”
Nicholas’s feet are turned away from the prisoners on the floor, and Tess makes a frantic gesture at Kyle. She seems to be encouraging him to keep talking. Or squirming, perhaps.
“I wouldn’t have minded a go with you.” Nicholas drawls. “For all your bad breeding, you were a pretty little thing. And your Zan always looked rather smug after a night in your bed. So you must’ve been good for something.”
The pacing pauses, and Kyle tenses. But then Nicholas resumes his monologue, “Or maybe not. You never did present him with an heir.”
“You used that one already.” Miss New York informs him. “You oughta think up some better insults.”
That leads to Ava joining them on the floor. Nicholas approaches Kyle again. “See what they’ve become?” He sneers. “Once upon a time, people lived and died by this woman’s whim. Now she grovels on the floor, like the animal she is. She’s polluted by flesh. Human weakness.”
Finally, Nicholas is in range. Kyle trips him with a sweep of his (still chained) legs, that motion possible because one chair leg cracked in the tumble. He pounces on the kid. Nicholas is flat on his back, with Kyle straddling his stomach. He uses the chain of his handcuffs to cut into the boy’s throat. It’s violent, vicious, and ugly—so far from the dumb jock who ate a sandwich and the passive prisoner who quoted Buddhist teaching that Kyle’s own head is spinning.
Like a dream, he notices Tess squinting her eyes shut, and he guesses she’s mindwarping the observers.
Ava grabs the chair leg that broke off. “The side.”
“Was it you?” Kyle hisses to Nicholas, absorbed in getting his own revenge. “Are you the one who killed my father?”
“No time.” Ava says. She sounds sympathetic, which he didn’t expect.
Nicholas is kicking and struggling wildly, but Ava’s put some kind of shield around Kyle, because the feared alien powers aren’t hurting him. Kyle inches up the body, trying to make Nicholas’s side accessible for her to bash it, while refusing to release his chokehold.
Ava tries, but her force is totally insufficient. Her muscles are weak, and she can’t stand up to get the leverage she needs.
“Hurry.” Tess begs.
“Hold him.” Kyle orders.
Ava frees Kyle from the cuffs, and then twitches them harder against Nicholas. Kyle stands, grabs the chair, and slams it into Nicholas’s side—the same place the alien kept kicking him, as a matter of fact. Nicholas drops into dust, and Ava’s hands slam into the floor. He hears a crack—probably her wrist, if the pain on her face is a reliable indicator.
She crawls to Tess on her knees, and puts her hands to Tess’s cheeks. They touch foreheads and close their eyes. It’s oddly intimate. In another lifetime, he’d have found the sight erotic—the kinds of magazines that lived under his bed made lots of money on photos of identical women embracing.
But right now, he doesn’t even look. He’s shaking a little, and his stomach, so long empty, is threatening to reject the sandwich, coke, and chips. It hardly matters that Nicholas was evil or that he wasn’t even human. Kyle is a murderer, a cold blooded killer. Serious bad karma.
After he pulls himself together a bit more, he watches the bruises shrinking on Tess’s face. Ava seems to be drawing strength too—her wrist isn’t at such an ugly angle.
“What now?” He asks.
“We escape.” Tess says, and her voice is stronger. She’s still mindwarping somebody though—he can see she’s only half with them. “We gather what’s left of Roswell’s people and form a resistance. We fight them.”
“Not to point out the obvious, but that strategy didn’t work out so well for you last time.” Kyle feels perversely dissatisfied with this solution. “And my feet are still chained.”
Tess is sweating with the strain of the mindwarp. Ava frees his legs.
“Last time, we didn’t fight.” Ava says. “The other three fought, but we died in the first battle. Then we woke up on this planet.”
“Speaking of the other three. Or six…” He leaves the tentative question hanging.
“Dead.” Tess says in a clipped tone, “I think.” He can’t tell if she’s sad or angry, “I know Isabel pulled a kamikaze. Max was captured trying to get her body. He died during a session like this.”
“They made us watch.” Ava supplies.
Kyle wonders how entangled their identities are. They keep saying “we.” It’s getting creepy.
“We don’t know about Michael.” Tess continues briskly, like she didn’t watch the love of two lives die in front of her. “Courtney said he’s gathering troops out there. But, you know, she followed him here from another planet, so you can’t always sort out what she wants to be true from what is true.”
“Courtney’s an alien?” Kyle stared.
“A rebel skin.” Tess confirmed. “Luckily, she doesn’t know anything compromising.”
“Maybe not so lucky for her.” He says, remembering Nicholas’s kicks. “What about yours?” He looks at Ava, easily accepting that if there are two Tesses, there are probably two Maxes, and so forth and so on.
“Lonnie joined them. And where Lonnie goes, Rath follows.” Ava explains, in a matter-of-fact tone. Fear later; planning now. “They locked Zan up. We haven’t seen him in six days. Don’t know if that’s good or bad.”
“So, we free him and he helps us.” Kyle says. “Oh. And what was that about galadrium stuff that’s sticking out of Grant?”
“Gandarium.” Tess corrects. They’re healing each others’ ankles now, so they’ll be able to walk or run out of here.
“What is it?” He presses.
“What made us.” Ava answered.
Tess elaborates, “It fused our alien and human cells so we can exist. The skins don’t know how to use it. They’re dying; they want to find out what we did to make it work for us. But they really want a magic cure and a trip home.”
“The grain thing.”
“The less you know about that the better.”
“So why’s this blue stuff so scary?”
“Its job is to add alien matter to human DNA. But not every human is set up for that, and it kills them.”
“Would it kill you?” He asks, concerned.
“Buddha Boy, you better pray we don’t find out.” Tess suggests.
“I don’t think praying really works like that in Buddhism.” Kyle says. He watches the girls stretch their feet and ankles. They stand up together, testing their healed joints. They hobble at first, like newborn foals finding their feet for the first time. They become more confident, walking around the room more quickly.
“Shouldn’t we try to kill this gandarium, then?” Kyle asks.
Tess shakes her head, “It’s too late—they dumped some in the water. It’s just a matter of time now, till we find out if it’s as bad as we think.”
“Great.” Kyle fumes. “Great.” He pauses. “What is she doing?” He asks Tess, while pointing at Ava.
“She’s searching for Zan. She hears him in her head, sometimes.” Tess explains. “If he’s alive, we try to grab him, and then we run. We stick together if we can, but no matter what, we make sure that one of us lives to tell this story to the resistance.”
“Agreed.” Ava says, though she’s still frowning, making faces.
Both of them look at Kyle. “I don’t really want to leave you.” He protests.
“Do we really have to explain this situation to you?” Tess sounds incredulous.
“Fine, I agree. I’ll leave you to die and then I’ll go running around the desert in the dark.”
“Stop being so melodramatic.” Tess rolls her eyes.
“It’s the end of the goddamned world. I think that calls for melodrama.” Kyle sniped.
Ava comes out of the trance-like state. “He’s not here.” She concludes. “They moved him to New York. Khivar called a summit. He wants the planets to agree to our annihilation for our carelessness in letting gandarium infect Earth, since now it has to be quarantined.”
Tess raises an eyebrow. “How pissed is Lonnie? All that and she’s still stuck here.”
Ava nods reluctantly. “What do we do about the host?”
“Nicholas is dead.” Kyle says, because he can’t think of another host.
“She means Grant.” Tess translates.
“It’d be best to kill him.” Ava says. “I know he’s your friend, but we can’t get that thing out of him and have him live. And if we kill what’s in him, it might kill some of what’s out there trying to kill us.”
Kyle stares. He’s having enough trouble with killing an enemy. He doesn’t think he can bring himself to kill Grant Sorenson. But on the other hand, if he was the guy strapped to a gurney and alien machines with Kryptonite growing in his chest cavity, he’d rather be put out of his misery than learn from that suffering.
Maybe he isn’t a very good Buddhist after all.
“I won’t do it, but I won’t stop you.” He says, and his voice sounds like his father’s—like a man’s.
Tess just nods. “We don’t all need to go for him. Ava, you volunteered. I’ll look for stuff we can carry, in case we have to spend our time in the desert. Kyle, see if you can find Parker.”
“You want to bring Liz with us?” He asks. This is a new development to say the least.
“I don’t want to leave her.” It’s all she says.
“Can you cover that many mindwarps?” He asks, worried.
“Every Skin in the area thinks we’re already gone.” Ava reports.
Tess confirms, “The building’s empty, except for us. It’ll make the actual running hard, but we need time alone to get supplies.”
They split up. Kyle follows directions to Liz’s cell. Her hair has been cut raggedly. Her eyes are vacant; she seems to be lost in a fantasy world of her own. He coaxes her out of the cell, though she keeps whispering brokenly for Max.
He meets Tess and Ava, who have changed out of white paper and into black shirts and pants. Probably impractical for the desert, but they can change it once they’re away from this white room.
They each have a sack, and one for him—he presumes there’s “food” and flashlights and blankets. Liz won’t put on the shoes they got for her, and won’t follow them, so Kyle winds up with her across his back in a fireman’s carry.
Leaving the building is harrowing. Kyle has trouble getting Liz to shut up until Ava threatens to stuff a sock in her mouth. Surprisingly, this is the first thing that penetrates the haze around her. Liz settles into sullen silence.
The unlikely foursome creep around patrols, with judicious mindwarps and lots of luck. They resist going to the obvious places—despite aching temptation, they don’t go to the Crashdown or the Valenti house, or the high school. Not to the Evans’s house or the UFO Center. They don’t go to the library. Kyle draws the line at stealing a car to take off for Fraser Woods, Pohlman Ranch, or the pod chamber. Being on foot sucks, but driving would draw far too much attention.
Ava makes noises about retrieving the orbs or the book, but ultimately agrees that they should seek out the resistance first. Tess leads them to a small group somewhere even Kyle wouldn’t have thought of—the old juvie hall.
They’re all dripping with exertion by the time they get there—even Liz, and Kyle has carried her half the time.
Approaching the Juvenile Detainment Center, he puts her on her feet. He takes the lead.
Liz has an arm draped around his neck as she stumbles with him into the cafeteria.
The six people in the room get to their feet, spilling food. A curly-haired boy draws a pistol.
“Sean!” Liz’s voice reverberates through the room. “It’s me. Liz Parker.”
Kyle evaluates Maria’s no-good cousin, then the wacky British millionaire who bought the UFO Center. Brady something? He recognizes Pam Troy, and his football buddy Malamud. His eyes lock on Amy Deluca, and then dart to the sixth person in the room. “Hanson?” his jaw drops.
“Kyle.” His father’s deputy nods.
A strained moment of silence follows when Tess and Ava show themselves. So their secret’s not so secret; will these humans hold these aliens accountable for the skins’ sins?
“Where did you come from?” Amy squeaks, taking the burden of Liz out of his arms by embracing her.
Suddenly, the questions break out of the stunned humans. Kyle slumps in relief.
“The skins had me locked up. I killed one. These two--,” He indicates Tess and Ava, “They helped free Liz, get supplies, and find you. We’re ready to fight with you.”
Pam and Malamud look at him like he’s insane—or a ghost returned to haunt them. Good. Serves them right for not arguing against turning him in.
Brody is nodding enthusiastically. Sean and Amy mostly have eyes for Liz. Hanson is taking it all in, then offers his opinion, “Let’s take it to the sheriff.”
“My father’s dead.” Kyle said, harshly.
“The new sheriff.” Hanson says. “The remaining human population of Roswell voted him in two weeks ago.”
At that moment, Michael enters the cafeteria, with a badge pinned on. Tess and Ava rush to him, babbling. He holds up a hand for silence—interesting, how he became the leader after all that time chafing under Max’s pacifism.
Ava and Tess stop talking, respectfully.
“What happened to Maxwell?” Michael asks.
“He died.” Tess says. That’s it. She doesn’t tell the whole story—doesn’t waste his time. “We’ve brought some intel; where’s the debrief?”
And just like that, they’re welcome.
Sean puts the gun away. The millionaire brings water. The four escapees drink, and Kyle listens to the information Tess and Ava have gleaned through mindwarps, hallucinations, intuition, and eavesdropping.
He adds his own insights here and there, but in the end, they turn to Michael, “So, Guerin, what’s the plan?” He asks. “Go after Zan, to that summit in New York? Kill the gandarium? Hunt skins one by one? Find out what a grain-lift is?”
“Granilith.” Brody corrects. “And since I’m going to be abducted and taken to the summit anyway, I’d say that the young lady who knows that city should accompany me as a guide. They won’t deny the king his bride; she’ll have a chance to free him.”
“Done.” Michael agrees. Kyle is surprised Michael is taking other people’s ideas—it doesn’t seem like his leadership style. He’s more of an order-giver. But then, maybe he knows when to be flexible.
“As for the other two, we’ll split into two groups. Parker, you and Ms Deluca and Pam are going to look at the science stuff with these crystals. Figure out what causes them, how they’re going to kill us all, etc. And then how to stop it. Once you know, we’ll all do it.”
Hanson adjusts his weight in anticipation. He knows what’s coming.
Michael looks in Kyle’s face, then at Malamud, then to Tess. He glances at Sean and Hanson. “And the rest of us are hunters. We work in pairs, like cops or wingmen. Kyle, as rook, you’re with me till you get five kills; then we’ll look at partnerships. The other pairs—huh, Malamud and Hanson, you did pretty well on the last raid. Sean, meet Tess. She looks like a ninety-pound weakling, but give her a test drive sometime.” Michael shoves his hands in his pockets. “That goes for everyone. I expect you to practice, people. I know this stuff isn’t easy, but it is what’s going to keep you alive. Got it?”
They all nod. Kyle looks at Amy, Sean, and Michael. Even Brody. Where is the one person who links them all? Does he dare to ask?
Evidently, he doesn’t have to—Maria comes in, hair cut ruthlessly short, like last school year. More practical for a fugitive, he supposes. She has four orbs and an Indian amulet with her.
Kyle has never been so happy to see her.
“Hey Kyle. Tess.” She says casually, like they’ve always been here, in the middle of a one-time detention center, during a civil war. “Oh my God, Lizzie.” Her squeal could have shattered glass, and he’s not the only one who thinks so. She grabs her best friend in a desperate hug, and Liz falls apart into tears again. Liz, Amy, and Maria retreat to a less crowded corner; people turn their backs on the scene, like that gives them any privacy at all.
Pam does not look overly excited by these additions to the party. She edges toward Sean, as if advertising that her claim had been staked. Tess and Ava look mildly irritated—they’re not looking to move in on anybody’s man.
Malamud appears to believe he’s hit a jackpot—it’s the end of the world and there are gorgeous twins in his orbit. He’s not quite the last man on earth, but it’s close enough that he’s really hopeful. Idiot.
“A word?” Kyle asks.
They step away from the larger group, “You holding it together?” Kyle asks.
“Day by day.” Michael says. “But this really isn’t supposed to be my job.”
“‘Supposed to be’ went out the window in October.” Kyle comments. He pauses, then asks very seriously, “Can we win?”
Michael surveys the scruffy civilians before him. Hardly an army. And he’s facing opponents who think like he does. They have superior resources, intel, and training. But his team is fighting for their homes. “Maybe. If we knock out the leaders; get the footsoldiers sniping at each other. It’ll either leave them so weak we just pick ‘em off like flies, or…” He stops speaking.
“Or?” Kyle prompts.
“Or it’ll backfire like a mother and we’ll unify them against us, till they crush us.”
“I like the first one better.” Kyle remarks. What else can he say?
“Me too.” Michael admits. “But I’m planning for both.”
“Ok, then. What do I do next?”
“Eat something. Catch some sleep. We’ll figure it out from there.”
Kyle respects Michael’s style. There were so many times everyone looked at Max, after someone asked “what next,” when he left them hanging that Kyle almost expected not to get an answer.
Kyle says, “thanks.” He’s just turning away as Maria approaches, “There’s a pharmacy not too far away; one we haven’t raided yet. Pam and I want to go and stock up. We’re going to need some tranquilizers.”
All three of them look at Liz, who is weeping in the corner, pulling at her hair, as Amy tries to stop her.
Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way.
“Don’t forget antibiotics. Clean out as much as you can carry.” Michael advises. “If there’s a plague coming, I want us prepared.”
Maria nods, rolling her eyes like she already knows this.
“Oh, and Maria?” Michael stops her with his voice.
She turns back, and he says loud enough for the group to hear: “Take Sean with you too, okay?”
She nods, and they kiss, quick and hard. Now that the rest of the world is completely insane, apparently, they don’t have to introduce drama by fighting. Or maybe they do. Considering he isn’t actually an alien, the millionaire is doing a good impression of a green man. Though how he thinks he’s got a shot with Maria is anybody’s guess.
Kyle crosses the room to where the chow is being heated by a sterno. Baked beans and canned peaches never looked so good. He eats a small amount, then goes to the corner of the room where sleeping bags are laid out. Tess and Ava are sitting together on one blanket, eating from the same plate. It’s eerie to see the harmony of their movements.
They turn to him together.
Kyle nods, unsure of what to say. He’s suddenly exhausted and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people around him. But as he settles in to sleep on the floor of the correctional center cafeteria with possibly the only eleven allies he has in the world, he feels hope.
Maybe Kyle wasn’t on the losing side of this apocalypse.
Not yet, anyway.