Liz ran her fingernail along a scratch in the confessional wall. “It took John a while to adjust,” she said. “Luckily the others liked him already, and were willing to believe that he had just stumbled onto their secret, that he wasn’t a plant sent to flush us out of hiding. Still, I don’t think he was ever quite the same. I remember Jordan telling me that he got nightmares and became less trusting, which was sad because he’d just started opening up after his bad experiences in the CIA.”
“What about the FBI?” the priest asked curiously. It hadn’t taken long for him to regain at least a semblance of control. “And, now that you bring them up, how were they involved? Wouldn’t aliens fall under the jurisdiction of the Air Force?”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Liz answered, and took a deep breath. “The Air Force coordinated the study of physical evidence, UFO sightings, the ’47 clean-up, and the development of recovered alien technologies. The FBI came in because they have a broader mandate and it was easier to obtain secret funding, so they could do more covert stuff, like undercover surveillance.
“See, it turned out that we’d done too good a job of destroying the evidence of an earlier alien-hunting unit, and had spooked some higher-ups who wondered what the hell was going on in the suddenly ‘statistically significant’ little town of Roswell, New Mexico.” Her eyes grew distant, lost in another lifetime, as the priest struggled to follow along.
When she spoke again, her voice sounded older somehow. “I suppose it was fate that I met John and that he knew Tom”
“‘Fate’? Do you believe in fate or coincidence, child?”
“I didn’t use to believe in either,” she admitted. “But I do think that certain patterns were set into play a long time ago, and we’re only just seeing the consequences now. So it looks like coincidence when it’s likely that if we knew all the variables involved, we could calculate the mathematical probability of events and find that it’s really not so surprising. And fate – well, that’s probably more your department, Father.”
“Probably,” he admitted.
She continued her train of thought. “Now take John, who not only trained us but helped us with the FBI. I wouldn’t have met him if I hadn’t had insomnia, and I wouldn’t have had insomnia if I hadn’t been upset about being apart from Malcolm, and there are a whole bunch of factors that led to that point, and so on,” she explained. “Basically, if things hadn’t happened the way they did, they – we – would’ve been a lot more vulnerable when we joined the war.” Liz shivered. “I can only imagine what might have happened then,” she said softly.
He was silent as he tried to digest her convoluted reasoning. “You’ve really thought about this a lot, haven’t you?” he finally asked.
He couldn’t see her bleak smile, but he could hear it in her voice. “It’s hard not to. You know, I’m 25 now. I’m about the same age that John was when he realized he needed more control in his life, over the decisions he made. Lately it seems like all I do is think about the past, and I need to start looking forward again.”
She took a deep breath and focused on putting that past behind her. “Anyway, everyone panicked when I told them about John. But they calmed down eventually, and in the end he was too amazed and intrigued to just turn his back on his new friends. And we were friends, which convinced him that the government was in the wrong here. Also, his sister took over the business side of his gym, and this gave him a chance to use his training and skills for something important, something he could believe in.”
She smiled at the memory of a t-shirt he got in Las Vegas. It said ‘I’ve seen the king,’ and everyone, even Max, laughed when they saw it. “Father, he became more than a friend, he became family.”
“You sounded sad that he found out. I would have thought you would like him as an ally.”
“I liked him more as a friend. Finding out about aliens, meeting them, changes you, Father. It changed him. Like I said, he kind of closed down a little, got a little paranoid, and don’t forget that he was still dealing with the job the CIA did on him. And he was adamant that his sister not find out, so there was a whole world of complications right there.”
“How did the training go?” He asked then, and paused. “You’re not really a ninja, are you?”
She laughed a little. “Not really, no. More of a street fighter given the benefit of some time-honoured techniques. But honestly? I have found that a lot of the tenets of ninjitsu have come in handy. Hand-to-hand, grappling, escape art … they’re really useful when you need to get something done with a minimum of fuss or exposure. And you wouldn’t know this, but I don’t really have the size for true contact combat so I find technique to be especially crucial. Come to think of it,” she added, almost as an afterthought, “it’s probably influenced the way I train others now and a lot of my decisions regarding deployment and attack.” She was a little bemused at the insight into her thinking patterns.
“‘Deployment and attack’?”
“Oh yeah, I haven’t gotten to that part yet. We formally merged forces with Malcolm’s people about 4 years ago, and I’m a military advisor now to their, well, I guess we would call them generals. It’s interesting stuff,” she told him enthusiastically.
“You’re a military advisor to this alien force?” Liz frowned, detecting a new stress in his voice.
“Don’t worry about it, Father. I’m delusional, remember?” she tried to reassure him.
“That’s the first time since you came in here that I don’t believe you,” he said quietly. “Or at least, that you’ve deliberately lied.”
“Listen,” she sighed. “Why don’t I just work my way to the end, and let you get back to Buffy?”
She backtracked quickly. “We all graduated from high school but never got to college because that summer we made contact and discovered where we stood in the universe. And I do mean the universe – we finally got to space, Father, and boy, talk about getting perspective!” She joked lightly, remembering the way her stomach twisted when she looked outside a porthole and felt the enormity of space ‘pressing’ down on her.
“Malcolm grew into his role as king and diplomat, Terry made it her life goal to be a good queen, and Ingrid handled lesser royal duties when she wasn’t strategizing with Mitchell, who was the official royal – I guess you’d call him an attaché – to the military." She took a deep breath and continued down the human side of the list.
"The four of us, I mean, the humans in the equation, called the space station home but spent a lot of time travelling due to our new positions. Kevin serves as liaison between the alien military and some Earth forces that have joined us – long story, don’t ask. Suffice it to say, the “real” Girl and Boy Scouts have one very impressive secret distribution and training system going for them, and a lot of their graduates end up in very influential places. Andrew works in R&D most of the time and Monique is great at the people side of things, like maintaining morale and handling disputes. And like I said, I ended up a military advisor, although I’m getting a pretty good field record too, considering that my powers are fairly limited.”
“Powers?” he said immediately, and she hastened to reassure him.
“Well, Malcolm healed me once and a little something extra got transferred in the process. But Father, I’m still very much human.”
“Right,” he conceded weakly. Eager to change the subject, he asked “Did your friends follow their, uh, more personal destinies?”
“Not really,” Liz answered. “For a time they did try, when Malcolm and Terry were crowned officially, and there was a lot of pressure on them to demonstrate unity. By this point it didn’t bother Kevin anymore, and Andrew, Monique and I decided that we were in too deeply to back out now, so we’d just deal with it.”
She thought about what she just said. “Looking back, I can see we didn’t deal with it that well. I know I took a lot of dangerous assignments during that month, anything to take my mind off of them together. I didn’t hate Terry any more by that point, and actually, I’d gone to great lengths to make sure she and Malcolm grew close, but that didn’t make it any easier.”
“What do you mean, you tried to get them together?” he asked, sounding surprised.
“When I was younger, someone I trusted convinced me that while I was important to Malcolm, I couldn’t be with him that way; it would be disastrous to come between him and Terry. So after high school we stayed friends and watched as Mitchell and Monique worked at their own definition of a relationship, figuring that some day,” she added fondly, “they’d let the rest us know what that is. Ingrid and Andrew developed something between friendship and romance that frustrated everyone but them, and even Terry and Kevin flirted for a while, although they soon decided they were happier as friends. It probably didn’t help that their jobs kept them apart a lot,” she mused, and then her voice hardened slightly. “The coronation changed everything, of course.”
“But Malcolm, what about Malcolm?” the priest persisted. He wanted to know about the king.
She hedged for a moment. “We grew closer, Father,” Liz admitted. “By the time we headed out into space we could finish each other’s sentences and it – it was like we shared a soul, we were that comfortable together. And I knew that no matter what happened, I couldn’t turn my back on that. But he had to try to follow his d-destiny, Father. He had to. Besides,” she stated contrarily, “if and when we did, uh, cement our relationship, I wanted to be the only person in his mind. I had to be absolutely certain that he didn’t have any doubts, any lingering … desires … for anyone else.”
She paused for a moment, and asked uncertainly, “Father, was that wrong of me? Was it selfish?”
“I can’t answer that, child,” he said. “I can say that I understand it, and I think you did what was right for you, and that’s the best anyone can do.” When she was silent after that, he decided to change the subject. “How did Mitchell and Ingrid work out after the coronation?”
“Not well at all!” She snickered before she could catch herself. “From what I heard, not a day went by that the two of them weren’t at each other’s throats, and it was worse because they worked together too, so they couldn’t get any space, if you’ll excuse the phrase.” They both laughed a little, and she politely ignored the slight edge to his chuckle.
“Within two weeks they were sneaking off for little meetings with Monique and Andrew, and all hell broke loose when Monique ended up pregnant. Mitchell and Ingrid were both terrified it was Andrew’s, Andrew and Monique stubbornly refused to admit that they hadn’t found comfort in each other, and then when it was confirmed that it was Mitchell’s child, Ingrid started whacking him over the head for cheating on her.”
Liz grinned merrily at her memories of the chaos. At one point Michael had called Isabel ‘worse than Amy’, and Isabel had of course forgotten Maria’s mother and asked rather loudly just how many women he had going on the side. It had taken the technicians a week to restore their damaged quarters to order, but by then Isabel had moved into Alex’s quarters and Michael had found a more welcoming home with Maria. Well, most of the time. Their occasional ‘spats’ were still the stuff of legends.
“Don’t believe everything you hear, Father; there is noise in space. It’s only when you’re actually in a vacuum that you can’t hear it – and you can believe that the space station we were quartered on reported a record number of residents going off-site for a while!”
“Space station?” His tone was an incredulous mixture of disbelief and a hungry desire to hear more. Liz shrugged it off; she wasn’t about to bring technology and distant cultures into the conversation too.
“Well then, what happened with John?”
She brightened. “Well see, that’s where the story takes a turn for the better. He had stayed on Earth to take care of his sister and nephew, and while we tried not to, we kind of lost touch for a while. But one day Kevin showed up with the three of them in hand, because someone had figured out a connection between us and Kevin was afraid for their safety. I have to say,” she chuckled, “he was good at keeping it a secret.”
“Who? What?” the priest asked, confused.
“Kevin and Jordan,” Liz said significantly. “The way I understand it, they started seeing each other secretly about the time of Malcolm and Terry’s coronation, but once Jordan was in danger he used every connection he had to protect her and in the process ended up telling her everything. She took it fairly well, all things considered, but insisted that now that she knew why John moped around all the time, Kevin had do something about it because she couldn’t marry him until her brother was happy too.”
“Why was John unhappy?”
She laughed merrily. “Terry had a little secret of her own.”
“Oh. So … how did that work out?”
“Nicely, as it turns out. When we win the war, Terry is going to take day-to-day control of her planet with John as her consort while Malcolm remains titular head of the associated planets allied under us.”
“Well, you think I’d let him take anyone else as consort now?”
He laughed at her incredulous, and implacable, tone. “No, I don’t suppose you would. But who will pass on the throne? Malcolm or Terry?” he asked, genuinely interested.
“We don’t know. Malcolm’s people don’t assign the monarchy; it gets assigned to them. See, Malcolm wasn’t born royalty. But they found the seal of power in him –”
“Seal of power. Whenever a monarch leaves a throne, whether by choice or at death, a search is made and they always find someone with a unique genetic marker that cannot be explained scientifically, and that person always shows a remarkably strong affinity with the ‘Lith. No one really knows why, but since it works, his people have been using this system to find their ultimate ruler for millions of years.”
“The ‘Lith?” he asked immediately.
She didn’t hesitate. “Oh, just a religious icon,” she answered easily.
There was silence for a moment.
“Child,” the priest said, finally. “Why did you really come here today? Obviously you have people you can discuss these matters with, and frankly, I don’t believe that you truly do feel guilty about killing Skins.”
Liz answered slowly. “I don’t feel guilty. I don’t know what I feel. It’s like I said, something about doing it does weird things to your insides. And today I had some down time but there’s no one nearby that I can talk to,” she said. “I just saw the church, and then the confessional, and something came over me. I felt like I should come in here, and assumed that it was some compulsion to confess. And I believe in following my instincts, so I did.”
“I see,” he said, gracefully accepting the note of finality in her voice. “Did it help?”
“I think so. I think I know what I need to do now.”
“I’m glad. Go with God, child. Please come back any time you need to unburden your soul.”
“Thank you, Father.”
And Liz stepped out of the confessional box, a little surprised to see how much more time had passed, but it had been worth it. Like she’d said, she knew what she needed to do now.
She walked away with purpose.
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