I've Got You...
Aesop


TITLE: IíVE GOT YOU...
AUTHOR: Aesop
EMAIL: ENOWON@JUNO.COM
DISCLAIMER: I donít own any of the characters from BTVS or Roswell. I
gain nothing by writing this, so donít bother suing. 
CATEGORY: Crossover
RATING: PG-13
SUMMARY: The Roswell aliens have enemies, and those enemies have a
problem. Their time is running out. They have a way to save
themselves, but thatís not enough for their newly arrived leader. His
ambition may prove their undoing.
AUTHORíS NOTE: This is a crossover fic in my BTVS/Roswell series and
follows "Rumble." Iíve borrowed some aspects of the new season, but
pretty much ignored it, as it is difficult to reconcile what Iím doing
with the characters.



Maria watched the new waitress, Courtney, suspiciously. Maria thought
of Courtney as new even though sheíd been working at the CrashDown for
almost two months, having started a few days after Anya left. Maria
hadnít gotten to know the girl or her demon hunter boy friend very
well, but she did know she liked her better than she liked Courtney.
At least Anya hadnít flirted with Michael.

Michael. Now there was a different problem entirely. Anya and Xander
had stayed for a week or so after the battle with Coleís vampires. A
battle that none of her friends would talk about. From what little
Maria had gotten out of them, she was glad she hadnít been there, but
Michael had withdrawn from her just as he had after accidentally
killing Pierce. Heíd been badly shaken by what heíd seen and done that
night. They had all been affected. That much was obvious, but none of
them would talk about it. Michael was in his protect-by-withdraw mode.
He had gotten over his fear of hurting her with his powers by
practicing them with Tess, but this was different. Now, he was trying
to Ďprotectí her from something he had absolutely no control over.

Michael doing it was bad enough, but Liz had started to pull away as
well. Whatever they werenít telling her about must have been bad. They
had won, Liz said, but the price had been terrible. Maria could only
guess that the battle had been as devastating for the vampire hunters
as it had been for the vampires. Liz had looked pale and nervous for
days afterwards. Her father thought she was sick, and Liz hadnít
disabused him of the notion. She couldnít exactly tell him the truth. 

Liz had gotten better, but she still kept her distance from her old
friends.  She flatly refused to let them patrol with her or to help
her in any way even if it was something safe and simple, like
researching a demon in one of the books Xander had brought for them.

She really missed Liz. Her best friend had been working for
congresswoman Whitaker for less than a month, but it felt like a lot
longer especially because the two had only seen each other at work
since the Slayer business began. Liz had been keeping a regular patrol
schedule since the night of the battle between Coleís vampires and
Sethís hunters. When she wasnít patrolling she was training, training
hard. 

Spike had even convinced Michael and Max to get involved. The vampire
had been getting more and more inventive with the training. A few days
ago Maria had found the four of them playing hide-and-seek in the
factory. He must have been impressed by whatever Max, Michael, and
Isabel had done during the battle, and decided that they would be
useful, or at least interesting. For Spike it sometimes came to the
same thing.

Apparently the business with Cole had put Roswell on some sort of
supernatural tourist hot spot list. There had been several types of
demon poking around town since that night, ranging from the standard
vampires to what Spike identified as a slime demon. That one had been
vicious, and it had had a stink that could send a skunk running for
cover.

"Maria!" She looked around and saw Michael pushing a plate through
the window towards her. "Come on. Hungry people waiting." She glared
at him for a second then picked up the plates and moved off. Michael
was already turning back to the stove, but he stopped and glanced back
at her.  What now?  He thought they had worked out a lot of
their couple issues, so why was she suddenly angry with him? He shook
his head in frustration and focused on the grill and the burgers that
were threatening to burn. 

**********************************************************************

Liz frowned in concentration as she reread the last few sentences on
the print out of the campaign pamphlet. That didnít work at all she
decided, and marked through them. After a momentís thought she
penciled in a correction and set it aside to pull up the file on the
computer. The new job with Whitaker might look good on a resume, but
it was turning out to be a real snooze. Editing campaign literature,
making appointments, answering phones, and running errands for the
congresswoman were things that anyone could do. It did have its pluses
though. Looked good on a resume, paid better than waiting tables, and
it left her evenings free to train and patrol.  Actually, Iím not
sure if that last is a plus or not.  For an added bonus it allowed
her to keep an eye on someone who had shown a special interest in the
late unlamented Agent Pierceís work.

Contrary to what they had believed at the time, Nasedo had been doing
more than killing FBI agents. He had been destroying evidence and
diverting government money. He had also made sure that the General
Accounting Office got wind of it. When it came time for an audit, the
Unit was shy several million dollars with nothing to show for it and
no sign of the man whoíd diverted the funds. The Special Unit was
dissolved amidst a scandal that people were comparing to Iran/Contra
and Pierce was wanted on a list of charges as long as Lizís arm.

Congresswoman Vanessa Whitaker had been the only one to speak up on
the Unitís behalf, not that it had done any good. Now she was in
Roswell, conducting an investigation of her own. The idea made them
all nervous, and when a job opening had cropped up in her office Liz
had applied for it immediately. She hadnít had to work very hard to
get it either. Apparently enough of the real Pierceís suspicions and
or evidence had reached Whitaker that she jumped at the chance to have
someone close to her primary alien suspect under constant observation.

"Parker." Liz looked up, her reverie broken, and smiled at her boss
as the congresswoman stuck her head out the door. "Set that aside for
now. I need you to run some errands for me."

"Sure, what do you need?" Whitaker handed her a list of mundane
chores that included picking up her dry cleaning, filling a
prescription, and delivering a package to a law firm whose office was
across town. "Thisíll take most of the afternoon," she pointed out,
scanning the rest of the lengthy list.

"Donít worry. Youíre still on the clock," Whitaker smiled winningly.
"You can start right after lunch." 

Accepting that as a dismissal, Liz tidied up her desk, shut down her
computer, and quickly departed. By the time she arrived at the
CrashDown, the lunch rush was already on. She glanced at the crowd,
then at Whitakerís list and frowned. It would take too long to have
lunch and run the errands, and she still had to finish proofreading
and correcting the new campaign pamphlet. It was due at the printer no
later than 10:00 the next day. Best to get started.

The errands went far more quickly than she had anticipated. She found
the man she was to deliver the package to having lunch at the
CrashDown. The line at the pharmacy was short. Similar bits of luck
saw her back at Whitakerís office shortly before 2:00.

She entered the office quietly and was about to announce herself when
she heard heated voices coming from the congresswomanís office. One of
them was Whitakerís. The other belonged to a man Liz didnít know.  He
sounded angry.

"You were supposed to have prepared the way for us," the man was
saying to her. "We cannot begin our work on this planet without laying
the proper groundwork, and eliminating the royal four is not the most
important of these tasks. Eítahr and I came to oversee the final
preparations. You havenít accomplished one tenth of what needs to be
done."

"The situation here is more complex than we were led to believe.
Their guardian, Nasedo he was called here, did too good a job of
hiding them. They werenít even out of the maturation pods until about
12 of this worldís years ago."

"Meaning the royal four were helpless for decades, and you did
nothing. Youíve failed miserably and all of our plans have been
jeopardized because of it. The entire operation could fall apart. At
the very least weíll have to delay the occupation."

"The occupation canít work," Whitaker interrupted, "not as originally
planned. This worldÖ Thereís so much more here than we knew."

"No excuses," he cut her off angrily. "Do not seek to conceal your
incompetence by whining about how hard your work is." He took a moment
to calm himself before continuing. "Is the harvest at least on
schedule?"

"Yes sir," Whitaker responded in a subdued voice. "Just in time too.
The husks we wear now wonít last out the year, but the new ones will
be ready in just a few days." Her tone changed, becoming more
confident as she moved to a new topic. "There is good news however,
Iím certain I have identified the royal four. A girl in my employ
here, Liz Parker, is close to one of them, the leader. We can use her
and his attachment to her to set a trap for him, just as we did
before."

"You think heíll fall for it again? Heís not stupid."

"He doesnít remember his previous life. Iíve determined that. Once
the heir is dead the rest will be easy to deal with. His second is as
much a hothead now as he was then. Iím certain one of them will give
up the location of the granalith."  Granalith?  Liz listened
closely for a few moments more before backing out slowly, quietly
closing the door behind her. She had to find the others. 

***********************************************************************

"Whitaker?! As in congresswoman Whitaker?" Mariaís voice rose several
octaves, and Michael put a finger in his ear, wincing. Maria noticed
and elbowed him in the side. "This is serious Michael. Sheís an alien!"

"And not on our side judging by the conversation they were having,"
Liz confirmed. "So what do we do now?" They all looked to Max
expectantly while he considered the problem. It had been short notice
to pull everyone together, but the entire group was present with the
exception of Spike. No one but Liz really felt comfortable with the
vampire.

"Oh, I know," Michael said sarcastically, "nothing, right?" Max
ignored him. Michaelís confrontational attitude was becoming more and
more of a problem. He questioned every decision, and took matters into
his own hands without consulting the others. He was desperate to do
something, but he didnít have any better idea what that something
should be than anyone else. Max knew how frustrating it was for him
and could sympathize. He was just as frustrated in his own way, but
couldnít let that frustration affect his judgment.

"We donít know enough to act intelligently." Michael loosed a
frustrated sigh. Max spared him an annoyed glance. "How many of them
are there? What powers or weapons do they have? Thanks to Liz we know
where theyíre based, but not what this Ďharvestí is. We need more
information. Getting it is our first priority."

"What about Whitaker? Maybe we could get some answers out of her,"
Liz suggested, "with a little persuasion." Max noticed her tone, a
tone that didnít promise anything good for the congresswoman, and
looked at his girlfriend sharply. That was something he was still
getting used to. Before she became the Slayer, Liz would never have
suggested such a thing. She simply wasnít that assertive, and she was
never violent. As hard as the change was to accept though, she was
still Liz, and she was being practical as she always was.

"Maybe," he allowed reluctantly, more to mollify her than because he
was considering it, "but we donít know what sheís capable of either.
We have to proceed carefully. We spy on them first." He looked at
Michael. "I need you to get into her office tonight and find out
everything you can learn about her." Michael nodded, glad to finally
see Max being decisive about something. "Thatíll mean getting her out
of her office and making sure she stays away from it." He turned to
Liz. "You say this man wants Whitaker to set the trap tonight? That
doesnít give us much time to prepare." 

"I know, but her boss, whoever he is, was pretty insistent. Theyíre
in a big hurry, and that may give us an advantage." 

"Maybe," Max allowed, "but it doesnít give us a lot of time to find
that advantage and act on it."

"Then we should get started." The next hour was spent making plans
and remaking them when inspiration struck, as it did several times.
Finally, they thought they had a workable strategy and even a
contingency plan or two, dependent on what they learned. Then each of
them was dispatched on a separate errand. Liz didnít have the luxury
of protesting the involvement of Alex and Maria, although she wanted
to, and for once Maria wished she had. Maria, as it turned out, was
the lucky one dispatched to the factory where Spike lived to tell him
the news and his part in the plan. 

***********************************************************************

Liz made a point of accidentally dropping the pill bottle from the
pharmacy when she came in, just in case Whitakerís boss was still
there. Whitaker poked her head out of her office. "Oh good, youíre
back. Get everything done?" Liz nodded, handing over the various
packages she was carrying. "Good. When youíre done with that pamphlet
I could use your help with something else. I hope you donít mind a
little overtime." Liz managed to look a bit disappointed even though
she had expected the request.

"Well, I have a date with Max, but I suppose I can cancel. What do
you need?" As predicted, Whitaker smiled at this bit of news.

"Thereís no need to cancel your plans for the evening," she assured
Liz, trying to sound magnanimous. "This wonít take very long. Why not
call him and have him pick you up? Iíll give you the address, and he
can meet you there at 8:00." Liz smiled.

"Thanks. Iíll call him now." Liz called Max and gave him the address
of what would was certain to be an ambush. Max understood that and
would take the appropriate precautions, which would include informing
the others. The plan was makeshift, but it should get them the
information they needed. And, Liz noted, makeshift or not, it was
working out perfectly.  So far.

***********************************************************************

Maria entered the old building nervously, looking around for the
vampire.  Iím looking for a vampire. Even if he canít hurt humans
this is too weird.  Maria was of the firm belief that vampires,
slime demons, and other things that went bump in the night should be
confined to the movies. She looked around the small loading bay where
sheíd come in. The door by the big roll-ups was always left open so
the Scooby gang as Spike sometimes called them, and what is that
about? could come and go as needed. Spike didnít really worry
about thieves.

She considered calling out, but couldnít manage it. Spike intimidated
her, neutered or not, and the only thing that gave her the courage to
face him was the fact that she knew he enjoyed the affect he had on
her. That made her mad. Squaring her shoulders she walked as
confidently as she was able through the factory to the room where
Spike kept his television and favorite chair. She could here voices as
she approached the door and paused for a moment before she realized
what she was hearing.

The television was on and Spike was griping at the characters. "Oh
come on, canít you see heís using you? He doesnít love you." 
Huh?  Maria moved closer and listened to the show for a second.
Passions? A vampire who watches soap operas. Just when I thought
life couldnít get any weirder.  She knocked on the door, and the
TV quickly went off. Spike appeared at the door a second later.

"What do you want?" he asked grumpily. Maria quailed a bit, but
rallied quickly when she saw the spark of amusement in his eyes. She
briefly considered making some wisecrack about interrupting his soaps,
but decided to get straight to the point.

"We have a problem. Congresswoman Whitakerís an alien hunter, and Liz
heard her talking to her boss about an occupation andÖ and she wants
to use Liz to catch the others andÖ Mmff!" The hand over her mouth
didnít hurt her in any way, Spike had gotten good at judging such
things, but it did cut off her frantic babbling.

"All right. Start again. Is Whitaker hunting aliens or is she an
alien whoís hunting?" He took his hand away from her mouth.

"Both. Whitakerís an alien, but sheís one of the bad guys."

"And sheís in congress? Isnít that taking affirmative action a bit
far?" Maria glared at him. "Okay. Okay. Give me the details, and
remember to breathe once in a while." He led her into the room and had
her sit on the couch. Maria told him everything that had happened and
outlined what they planned to do about it. 

"You have it all thought out then?" he sounded a bit peeved at being
left out. Maria picked up on it and felt a flash of sympathy. She knew
what it felt like to be left out of things.

"It was kind of short notice, but I think so. Here." She handed him
the props he would need to play his part. "We would have liked to
include you in the planning, but there just wasnít time. We had to
throw this together in under an hour. Whitakerís boss wants it done
tonight."

"Okay, okay," he relented. "Time is a problem." He considered briefly
and grinned. "I think I know a way to get you some of the information
you need though. Leave it to me pet. Just be ready to pick us up."
Maria nodded.

***********************************************************************

Max and Tess drove the route twice, looking for potential trouble
spots. Once they determined that the most likely place for the ambush
was at the address Whitaker had given Liz, they returned to the
address itself and drove by slowly, as if lost, before driving away.

"Looks deserted," Tess observed as Max pulled off the road and drove
behind a small rise. He parked there and looked at her.

"Itís probably intended to look empty. We need a closer look."

"We donít have a lot of time Max, and thereís no real cover. How are
you going to sneak in?"

"Thatís where you come in. Can you hide me using your powers?" Tess
looked uncertain.

"I donít know Max. I donít know how many there are in there or where
they are, and I canít hide you from electronic detection, burglar
alarms, security cameras."

"If they have an alarm, itís probably turned off during the day.
People would need to be coming and going without having to worry about
tripping their own alarms." He smiled in a way he hoped would instill
confidence and opened his door. "Do the best you can. Iíll be quick."
Before Tess could protest, he was gone. She closed her eyes, took a
deep breath and began to concentrate.

Max approached the warehouse. The place was not actually in Roswell.
The buildings werenít really part of anything. There had been plans
for an industrial park a few years back, an attempt to bring new
business and opportunities to Roswell by the chamber of commerce. A
group of investors had been talked into funding it and several
buildings had gone up before the entire project had fallen through. He
didnít know the details. All he knew was that Whitaker had business
here, and she would be bringing Liz around 7:00. That didnít give them
much time. It was already 4:30. Liz had agreed to delay her departure
for the trap as long as possible, but there was a limit to how long
she could stall without making Whitaker suspicious.

He reached the side door he was aiming for and unlocked it. There was
an alarm as Tess had expected, set to go off if someone opened the
door. Max had expected that though as he was using an emergency exit,
but the alarm wasnít that difficult to disconnect. The door opened
silently and Max made his way inside. He listened for a moment, but
didnít hear any voices, or anything else.

Lacking a better idea, he picked a direction and started to walk down
the corridor he found himself in. The place was definitely being used
by someone and not just for storage. There were signs that people had
been there recently. He turned the corner and began to hear voices
faintly from a room down the hall. He moved as close to the partially
open door as he dared, not sure whether Tess could hide him or not,
and listened to their conversation.

"There have been too many delays Nicholas. I expected better from
you. Where is the granalith?"

"We donít know Kívar," he paused, stopped by something Max couldnít
see then he continued more carefully, "sir, but we may not need it. I
believe Iíve found something on this world that will serve our needs
even better."

"What do you mean? The people of this world are primitives. Their
technology is centuries behind our own. If the occupation is to
succeed we must have the granalith."

"The occupation of this world can proceed without a hitch, if we
modify our plans. Iíve studied some of this worldísÖ peculiarities.
Iím certain we can turn them to our advantage."

"Youíre not making sense. What peculiarities?"

"Magic. We can achieve through magic everything the granalith is
capable of and more." There was a heavy silence following his
assertion. Finally the other spoke.

"Clearly your time here has damaged your faculties." The one he
called Nicholas began to speak but his superior, Kívar Max realized,
interrupted. "No. Not another word. You cannot mitigate your failure
by feigning insanity. You are relieved as of now. I am assuming direct
command of our operations on Earth. You will be lucky if I allow you
to use the new husk you are growing for yourself at Copper Summit.
When we have the leader tonight we will force the location of the
Granalith from him. You can do that canít you Nicholas?"

"And if I canít?" Nicholas asked.

"If you are unable to get the information from his mind, if you fail
in even that simple task, then it will be necessary to return to
Copper Summit for the harvest. It is a simple thing I expect of you
now Nicholas. Do not fail me or I will kill you."

Max had heard enough, and he had pushed his luck and Tessí abilities
as far as he dared. It was time to go. Back through the warehouse, out
the door, and back to the car where Tess was just shy of fainting from
the effort, Max moved as quickly and quietly as he had come. He
slipped behind the wheel, and started the engine. "Did you get what
you wanted?" Tess asked faintly.

"Yes. You did great Tess. Now we have to hurry."

***********************************************************************

Liz finished her work on the pamphlet shortly before 7:00. She had
delayed returning till almost 4:30, as long as she dared. Creating
delays had been relatively easy, faking a program error that lost her
20 minutes work the first time, and then spending another 20 on the
phone with Alex pretending to talk about a potential speaking
engagement for the congresswoman. Finally she had run out of delays
and gotten the actual work done.

"We can drop it off at the printerís tonight, and it should be done
by noon tomorrow easily." Whitaker smiled as she closed the sample
pamphlet Liz had printed after clearing three manufactured paper jams. 

She had to admit Parker was intelligent and efficient for a human. It
was going to be an inconvenience to lose her. The details of a human
life and job were annoyances she had to deal with to maintain her
cover. It was gratifying when she found someone who could do so much
of it for her. Still, Parker was no longer useful. Her true work on
Earth was about to begin.

"I like it. Iím ahead of schedule thanks to you." Gathering up her
briefcase and an armful of folders she nodded toward the door. "Letís
go." It was already dark out, and what needed to be done would go a
lot smoother without having to worry about witnesses.

They got into the car and Whitaker started the engine, or tried to.
The engine sputtered and died. "What? It was working fine this
morning." She turned the key again. This time nothing happened.
Whitaker resisted the urge to grind her teeth. Could anything else go
wrong today? It would be easy enough to fix, but she couldnít do it in
front of Parker. It was Parker herself who provided the solution.

"The CrashDownís just a short walk from here. I bet I can borrow
Mariaís car." Whitaker nodded reluctantly. They got out of the car and
started toward the diner. The quickest route there was through a
narrow side street that lacked streetlights. Liz fell behind a bit,
and several seconds passed before Whitaker realized that Liz was no
longer with her.

"Parker?" She turned to see that two strangers had emerged from an
alley they had just passed. One of them had Parker pulled against him
his teeth buried in her throat. She struggled weakly before going
limp. The other one, ridged demon face clearly visible, rushed her.
"Damn," she muttered, raising a hand and concentrating. The vampire
stopped as if it had hit a brick wall. It staggered back and let out a
choked scream before turning to dust. She turned to the one holding
Parkerís body.

"Oh crap," the vampire said, its eyes as big as saucers. He started
to backpedal while throwing Parker over his shoulder. "Sorry sweets,
you just became takeout." He turned and sprinted back into the alley.
Whitaker started to follow, but decided there was no point. Parker was
dead, but Max didnít know that. The plan could still work. She
returned to her car and quickly found and fixed the problem, a failed
starter motor, before driving to the warehouse where Max would show up
in only 45 minutes.

***********************************************************************

"Takeout?" Liz looked up at her teacher as she used a napkin to wipe
the ketchup off her neck. He was curled on the rear seat of Mariaís
Jetta while Liz sat on the floor. It was really too small a car for
hiding in and Liz was wedged between the front seat and the back with
barely room to breathe. They were, however, out of sight of anyone who
might notice the Jetta. Maria appeared to be alone and in no great
hurry to get anywhere.

"Sounded good at the time," Spike said shrugging as best he could. 

"Whereíd the vamp come from?"

"Found Ďim last night. He just got into town so I did the neighborly
thing and helped him find a place aní even got him a bottle of blood.
I thought he might come in handy."

"Planning a new lesson?" He shrugged. 

"It was supposed to be a surprise. The important thing is we learned
something about Whitakerís powers. I think we can assume she can do
anything the other little green people can do."

"You know they donít like it when you call them that," Maria said
from the driverís seat. She was looking up at the rearview mirror and
scowling. Spike grinned at her even though he knew she couldnít see
him in the mirror. He liked Maria, he really did. The word for her was
spunky, but he suspected that he really didnít want to hear the sound
sheíd make if he said it to her face. "And why canít you have a
reflection like a normal person? I mean it doesnít make any sense.
Does it have to do with the no soul thing? No it canít be that cause
that creepy Angel guy has one but he doesnít show up in mirrors
either." She continued to babble, but Spike tuned her out for a moment
and glanced down at Liz. Liz was smiling herself, taking a familiar
comfort in her friendís hyperactive monologue.

"And does one of you know how to get where weíre going? Iím not sure
where Copper Summit is." That got their attention.

"Tess will know," Liz assured her. "Weíre meeting her behind the
CrashDown." Maria scanned the street and thenÖ "There she is," she
pointed at something Liz couldnít see. A moment later the door opened
and Tess got in.

"Lets get going," she snapped and began giving Maria directions.
"Copper Summit is two hours away and theyíll know Max isnít coming
before then." Maria got on the highway and floored the accelerator.

"I obviously missed something," Liz said pushing her way up onto the
seat to sit beside Spike. "Why are we going to Copper Summit?"

"Thatís where the enemy has their HQ," Tess answered. "Max picked up
some interesting details about the harvest you heard them talking
about. It seems they need some sort of space suit here. It looks like
human skin, but what we see is just a covering of some sort."

"I remember," Liz said thoughtfully. "Whitaker said something about
their husks wearing out. They wonít last out the year, she said."

"Thatís right," Tess nodded. "Apparently theyíre growing new ones. If
we can smash those husks before they finish growing we could be rid of
them."

"So the boy king decided to take the initiative huh? How unlike him,"
Spike observed. Liz elbowed him in the side.

***********************************************************************

Max drove while Isabel used a flashlight to read the information Alex
had gathered for them over the Internet. "Copper Summit is also the
headquarters of something called the Universal Friendship League.
Creepy. Itís a small, isolated community, perfect for a group of
aliens who want to go unnoticed." She sounded pensive and Max glanced
at her curiously.

"Something wrong?"

"Guess Iím just surprised," his sister admitted. "This plan
isnít like you."

"It needs to be done," he said, but he didnít sound happy about it.
He sounded, she thoughtÖ resigned was the right word. "This world has
enough worries with demons. These people are planning an invasion."

"Theyíd be biting off more than they can chew. This Nicholas guy you
mentioned knows about demons and magic and I still have trouble
believing in those, but-"

"The guy who took over may not believe in it, and his plan might
fail, but it would cause a lot of trouble. Thereís a chance though,
that Nicholas could succeed. I donít know what heís planning, but
between alien technology and some of the things we know magic is
capable ofÖ"

"Letís not think about that right now," Isabel interrupted. "Letís
just get there and do it so we donít have to worry about it." That
worked for everyone. 

**********************************************************************

"He wants to use magic? What magic?"

"We donít know," Maria admitted. "Max didnít hear any details. But
Spikeís told me some stories."

"A few that wouldnít give her nightmares," Spike elaborated. "No
telliní what this Nicholas bloke has gotten hold of, but it could get
ugly." 

"Aliens want to take over the planet. I think it already is ugly,"
Maria said. Tess shot her a look.

"Hey donít lump us all together." Maria didnít bother to respond, and
after a moment Tess gave up on waiting for one. "Spike packed you some
weapons Liz, a few stakes, a sword, and an ax. I doubt theyíll do much
good though. Why donít Slayers use guns?" Liz and Spike looked at each
other as if the idea had never occurred to them.

"Well," Spike answered after a moment. "Gunsíll just piss off a
vampire. Metal weapons donít bother us much unless you can cut off the
head. Iím hoping that ripping those space suits will stop them. If
nothing else cutting their heads off should do the trick."

"Letís hope so. Iím certain we can do enough damage to kill them,
even if decapitation doesnít work." 

***********************************************************************

The lock was easy to defeat, as was the alarm. Michael had wanted to
go with Max and the others when he learned what they were going to do
about the ĎSkinsí as Spike had started calling them, but Max had told
him that the information in Whitakerís office was still very important
to them. Alex followed him in and took a post by the window to keep a
look out. His van was on the next street, easily accessible from the
back door. 

"Any idea what youíre looking for?" Alex asked softly.

"Nope." Michael considered a moment before remembering the time he
and Maria had searched the FBI agentís room. He looked through the
garbage and found something immediately. "What the hell is this?" He
was holding up a translucent piece of something that looked and felt
like snakeskin. It looked like a glove.

Alex came over to look at it curiously. A few seconds later it
crumbled to dust. "I have no idea," Alex said as Michael dusted his
hands off carefully. 

"I think it might be part of her skin, that space suit she wears." He
wiped his hands on his jeans for good measure. "Creepy." He began
going through drawers, starting with Whitakerís desk and moving to the
locked file cabinets in her office. He didnít find anything at first,
not until he listened to some of the unlabeled CDs in the file drawer
behind her desk.

"Sheís taping Lizís calls?" Alex seemed surprised for some reason.
"Well, we suspected that Whitaker wanted Liz here as a way of getting
to Max. Anything else?"

"Hmm. Pictures. There are pictures of... whoa!" He focused the small
flashlight he carried on the photos. "I donít follow the news, but
even I recognize some of these people."

"So what is it?" Alex called softly from near the window.

"Blackmail material." He flipped through a few of the pictures.
"There are some very twisted people in our nationís capitol." He
handed Alex a picture, but after a glance at the image Alex declined
to touch it.

"That looks painful. I donít suppose thereís anything alien related
in there?" he asked, trying to get the investigation back on track.
Michael put the pictures back where he found them and opened a sealed
envelope from the same drawer.

"Jackpot. Correspondence from the Universal Friendship League hidden
in an envelope marked í98 income tax." He skimmed some of the letters.
"Oh boy." He slipped the letters back into the envelope, resealed it
and quickly erased any sign that heíd been there. "Come on. Weíve got
to go."

"Go where?" Alex asked as he followed Michael out the back door and
watched as he locked it and enabled the alarm system from outside.

"Copper Summit. The Harvest is tomorrow which means that pretty much
every Skin on the planet is likely to be there."

***********************************************************************

"Where is she?"

"Sir, there was a-"

"Where is Liz Parker, the bait for your trap?"

"Sheís dead sir. We were attacked by two vampires near the office.
One of them killed Parker."

"Vampires?" Nicholas sounded incredulous as he stepped forward, to
stand next to their commander. "Since when are there vampires in
Roswell?"

"Killings have been up across the region over the past month. I
didnít pay any attention to it." 

"This is incredibly bad timing." Nicholas thought quickly. "It
shouldnít matter though. Max doesnít know sheís dead. Heíll still be
here at 8:00."

"What," their leader demanded, "are vampires?" Both looked at him as
if surprised he was there. "And how precisely did you fail at such a
simple task? You were to bring one Human girl to this warehouse."

"Vampires are parasites. They feed on Humans, draining the blood from
them," Nicholas supplied. 

"Theyíre animals," Whitaker continued. "Running into two tonight was
just bad luck. I didnít even know they were there until they were on
top of us."

"You seem to have had nothing but bad luck since you came to this
planet," Kívar said quietly. "Fortunately for you this bit of bad luck
probably wonít interfere with our plans." He glanced at Nicholas. "You
are correct. As long as the heir doesnít know sheís dead, he will
still come here to meet her." They would just have to wait.

**********************************************************************

Max saw the Jetta coming up behind them and nodded, relieved.
"Theyíre here. There was a ways to go before they reached Copper
Summit, and they didnít know exactly what they would find when they
got there, but with the arrival of the others they had some
reassurance that the plan was on schedule. He drew out the cell phone
he had borrowed from Tess and called Maria.

"Hello? Oh, hi Max," Liz brightened at the sound of his voice. Maria
had passed her the phone, not wanting to take her attention off the
road at the speed they were traveling. "Yeah. Everything went as
planned. Spike really came through." She glanced at her teacher who
smiled, pleased at the compliment. "At this rate we should be in
Copper Summit in less than an hourÖ I know. Youíre due at the ambush
in ten minutes. Hopefully theyíll be patient."

***********************************************************************

"Her phone is busy." Michael clicked off.

"Sheís probably talking to Max. You know theyíre going
separately." Alex didnít glance away from the road. He was
breaking the speed limit by twenty miles an hour and didnít want to
slow down or risk an accident. "Wait a few minutes and try again."

"Right." Michael dialed again immediately.

***********************************************************************

"Where is he?" Kívar demanded. It was 8:05 and the newly arrived
leader was getting impatient. Nicholas and Whitaker exchanged nervous
glances.

"Anything could have delayed him," Nicholas reasoned. "He could
arrive at any time."

"For your sake he had better be here soon."

***********************************************************************

Eítahr double-checked the readings on the nutrient flow. Everything
seemed to be going well, at least on a technical level. The equipment
was the only thing that had worked correctly. She silently fumed over
the mess they had discovered when they arrived. It had taken them time
to even locate the community. They had hidden themselves away,
apparently accomplishing nothing over the last 50 years. Some of them,
like the one who now called herself Vanessa Whitaker, had gotten into
positions of power, but they had done nothing with that power, at
least nothing constructive.

The royal four had been located only recently, and that had been more
through accident than anything else. Their agents on Earth had mostly
concerned themselves with concealing their presence. It had been a
Human who had found them and gathered the proof they needed. Even when
they had the proof, they did nothing.

She and Kívar had both questioned them repeatedly. There seemed to be
no reason for their actions. They spoke of complications and delays,
but they were vague as to what those complications and delays were.
The Humans were a primitive species, yet their agents hid from them.
It made no sense. Just as well that she and Kívar had arrived to
oversee their final preparations. Time was short, but if they could
find the granalith, it was still possible to meet their schedule.
Nicholas and the rest would answer for their incompetence when the
time came. For now though, they were needed. 

Satisfied that the husks were developing properly and that the
harvest could begin the next day as planned, she left the storage area
and returned to the community center that the Universal Friendship
League used as a headquarters. 

She found Nicholasí second, an old woman using the name Betty
Whitaker, having a quiet conference with some of her officers. The
conversation ended when she entered the room. E'tahr was naturally
wary of treachery. Paranoia had become a way of life in the royal
court since the coup. Under other circumstances, the behavior of the
others might have made her suspicious, but the possibility of
treachery was discounted immediately. They would no doubt bungle any
such attempt as they had everything else. 

"The husks are in excellent condition, but they are at a critical
stage and will have to be monitored closely."

"We got everything under control," Betty assured her. "Donít you
worry about it."

"I am concerned for the future of this mission, of the occupation,
not for your health. You would do well to take this more seriously."
Betty shrugged dismissively, turned her back, and left the room.
E'tahr watched the others file out after her and silently fumed. What
was wrong with these people? Had they simply been living among
primitives too long? It was frankly incomprehensible. It didnít matter
to her though, as long as they followed orders.

***********************************************************************

Max watched the town from a small hill just beyond the farthest
building. They would have to move in carefully. Tessí abilities would
be of limited value. They could hide from an individual sentry or a
small group of people, but she couldnít hide them from the entire
population of the town, and there was a huge chance of being surprised
by someone she didnít see, especially since they would have to search
the town. None of them knew quite what they were looking for. 

There was suddenly a person on either side of him.  Wha..? 
Where had they come from? Max relaxed when he saw it was Liz and
Spike, but it unnerved him that he had heard nothing.

"Max?" Liz looked at him curiously. 

"Just startled. Learn to make a noise huh?" he joked, trying to cover
how much the ease with which Liz, his Liz, took to these skills,
disturbed him.

"Better not," Spike groused. "After all the time I spent teaching you
not to." Liz rolled her eyes, amused by her teacherís grumbling. He
moved on quickly. "That buildingís occupied and isolated enough." Liz
nodded.

"Itíll do. Letís go."

"Hold on," Max stopped them. "What do you have in mind. I doubt the
husks are in there."

"Maybe not, but thereís someone in there. We can get the answers from
them." Max looked doubtful. "Its that or search the town," Spike said
in a tone that showed how ridiculous he thought the idea was. Max
managed not to wince.

"All right. Be careful though."

"Not to worry," he assured. "Liz aní meíll be in and out before they
know weíre there." They moved away silently and were soon lost in the
shadows. Max turned and made his way back to the spot where the others
waited. He did his best to hide how disturbed he was. 

"Well Max?" Isabel demanded. "How do we do this?"

"Liz and Spike are doing it. Theyíll get the information." Tess
watched his face carefully, and saw the unease there.

"You know how theyíll get it." Her tone made it a statement, not a
question. Max nodded unhappily. Tess did her best to look sympathetic.
She knew Max hated violence, especially the type of casual violence
that the Slayer and her teacher seemed to indulge in more and more.
Violence was sometimes necessary, but she knew he was wondering where
the line was. It would be so easy to go too far. Max was afraid for
Liz. He was afraid that her duties as Slayer would change her beyond
recognition.

It had begun already. Liz had become more confident and forceful than
before, almost domineering on occasion. She gave orders as if it were
second nature and expected to be obeyed. She was still Liz though, and
he loved her dearly. The changes couldnít affect how he felt about
her, but they were coming between them.

There had been very little time for them to be together as a couple
over the last month or so, and when they were together he couldnít
help but see the changes in her behavior. She never seemed to relax
anymore. It would be difficult for anyone who didnít know her as well
as he did to see, but Liz now demonstrated an awareness and wariness
of her surroundings that she never had before. He had seen her scan
the rooms she walked into. Even in her own home she would glance
around the room, noting casually the position of every friend and
potential foe. Noting the position of every potential weapon and
escape route.

Seeing her do this made Max uncomfortable, and what disturbed him
most was that it had become second nature to her. She hardly thought
about it anymore. He had wanted to talk to her about it, to share his
concerns for her, but he honestly didnít know how to begin. There were
some things it seemed, that he just couldnít talk to her about, and
that disturbed him most of all.

***********************************************************************

"Still no answer," Michael growled. "What did they do? Turn it off?"

"Maybe," Alex reasoned. "Would you want your phone ringing and giving
you away while trying to sneak around a town full of hostile aliens?"
Michael bit off a sarcastic response, and reluctantly nodded. That was
probably what had happened, not that it helped to know that. "Anyway,
relax. Weíll catch up with them in less than half-an-hour."

"Yeah, but the people at that warehouse already know Max isnít
coming, or if they donít theyíre deeply stupid." Alex made no reply.
He knew the chances of the aliens realizing what they were up to was
slim, but telling himself that didnít help. He just drove faster.

***********************************************************************

Spike circled the house twice while Liz waited under a window at the
side of the house. She could vaguely hear voices inside, but couldnít
make out what they were saying through the closed window. Spike
returned after a moment and held up two fingers, indicating that there
were just the two inside. Liz nodded and they moved to the front of
the house. The covered front porch was dark and the house didnít face
any other buildings. Liz quickly unscrewed the bare bulb that served
as a porch light and, putting on her best innocent look, she knocked
on the door. Spike stood beside the door, out of sight of the
peephole. 

After a moment the door opened and a portly, middle-aged man looked
out at her. He didnít seem pleased to find an attractive young woman
on his doorstep. "Hi," Liz said brightly. "Sorry to bother you, but my
car broke down, just down the road. Could I possibly use your phone?"
The man apparently decided she was harmless and stepped aside. He
didnít invite her in though. Liz stepped inside and sent another smile
toward the gray-haired woman who came into the room from the kitchen.
The woman looked no more pleased than the man had been, but she nodded
toward the phone on a table next to her.

Liz had almost reached her when she saw the womanís eyes narrow as
she looked past Liz. There was a surprised grunt at the door and she
turned to see that Spike had entered the room. He looked as surprised
as she for a moment. He had entered without an invitation, and Liz
didnít like the implications of that. She nodded to him and he
delivered an uppercut to the manís chin that lifted him off the
ground. Liz spun back to the old woman with a kick to the side of the
head.

It barely fazed her. The woman raised a hand in a gesture she had
seen from Michael and Max on many occasions. She didnít get a chance
to use her powers though. Liz broke the wrist the hand was attached to
while twisting it behind her and shoved the woman face first into the
wall. For good measure she drove a knee into the alienís back.
Something broke.

Liz jumped back in surprise when her opponent collapsed into a pile
of dust and what looked like bits of dead skin.  Yuck.  A
glance at Spike showed that he had the man subdued and was looking at
the alienís remains, clearly as surprised as Liz. She shrugged,
bewildered. "Who knew?"

Getting over her surprise she moved to examine Spikeís captive.
"Unconscious. Can you keep him that way?"

"Sure, but how can he talk like this?" 

Liz smiled.  "I think Is can get us the answers we need. Be right
back." She slipped out the back door and headed for the place where
the others waited. They moved carefully, but as quickly as they could
until they were all gathered around their unconscious enemy.

"Can you do it Is?" Max looked down at the man Spike was keeping a
careful eye on. He had knocked the man out twice since Liz had gone to
fetch the others. In the process he discovered their tendency to shed.
The ĎSkinsí he decided, were entirely too resilient for his tastes. 

"I can try," she said sounding doubtful. But Iím not sure it will
work. We donít even know what species he is."

"You dream walked Max in the white room," Tess reminded her. "And
youíve done it with Humans, so why shouldnít it work withÖ whatever he
is." Is shrugged and settled down to concentrate. The others backed
off to give her peace and quiet. Liz took a position by the window and
watched the street through a space between the drapes and the wall.
The others took similar positions around the small house. Spike stayed
nearby, in case he had to kick the man in the head. After Whitakerís
display earlier in the evening he had decided that he preferred this
type of demonÖ alienÖ whatever, either unconscious or dead.

Isabel focused on the alien before her, doing her best to tune out
the watchful vampire. It wasnít easy, and she finally asked Spike to
stop humming ĎUnder My Skin.í  She closed her eyes and drifted for a
moment, finding a calm center within herself. When she was ready she
pictured the manís face and entered his mind.

Disjointed images. Some of them were mundane. Some were fantastically
alien. She drifted for a moment, watching the bizarre parade of his
past move by her in fits and starts. None of it made much sense to
her, but she suspected she was missing the context for most of it.
That was one of the problems with dream walking. Dreams werenít
rational. She focused on his recent past, trying to zero in on
thoughts of the husks. More images played before her eyes. It was slow
work, hit and miss. Eventually, she pieced together a picture of the
town by nudging him toward certain memories. This wasnít easy.
Normally she just watched, but that wouldnít do it this time. So she
concentrated, and found, much to her surprise, that she could
influence which images wandered through his slumbering mind. 

Finally, she found it. The place where the husks were being grown was
near the center of town in what had been a museum when the town had
boasted several tourist attractions. Those attractions had been shut
down years ago. Time to go.

"I found it." The others came back in and gathered around as she told
them what she had learned. "Thereís a whole bunch of Ďem in town for
the harvest. It wonít be easy to get in there. Till now secrecy has
been this placeís main defense. Thereís nothing interesting to see or
do here so no one comes here."

"With the harvest so close thatís bound to change," Max observed.  He
had a feeling things were about to get far too interesting for his
tastes.  "Weíll have to be careful. Sneak in." He turned to Liz.
"You and Spike do that best. The rest of us need to hide nearby
in case we need to create a diversion. When you get in, weíll join
you."

"Sounds like a plan," Spike said briskly. "So are we done with this
guy?" They looked at him curiously, but no one objected. "Good. Now
watch closely children." He turned the man on his front with one foot
and stomped on the spot Liz had discovered. The body literally went to
pieces. "Remember that spot. It seems to be their only vulnerability."
Even Liz looked uncomfortable with this. "Oh come on. These people are
your enemies. You canít play nice with them. Kill or be killed, take
your bloody pick."

"Heís right," Isabel said after a moment. "This is a war. We canít
hesitate." After a moment the others nodded reluctantly.

***********************************************************************

The museum was one of the larger buildings in town. It was harder to
be inconspicuous there than it had been at the house. The main
entrance was across from a small restaurant, probably the only one in
town, Liz reflected as she watched from the shadows down the street.
Spike was checking for other ways in. 

Max, Isabel, and Tess had selected spots around town Maria was
waiting with the Jetta to rush to the rescue in case they needed a
quick escape. Isabel had made her way to a building at the far end of
the main road and found a fire alarm to pull if it became necessary to
draw unwanted attention away from the museum. Tess was nearby waiting
to deflect attention if necessary. They had given each other five
minutes to get ready, < synchronized our watches and
everything, > Liz thought feeling very James Bond about the
entire business. She allowed a slight smile before squashing the
notion by reminding herself that there would be no second take if they
got this wrong.

"Liz." She looked around and saw Spike coming out of the shadows.
"All of the doors and windows are wired. Weíre gonna need one oí the
pod squad to get through." Liz ignored the crack and nodded.

"How many guards?"

"I spotted one inside, but there are probably more." Liz quickly went
to retrieve Max and they moved to a window that Spike felt would give
them their best chance of sneaking in. Max easily circumvented the
alarm, and they let themselves in. 

"Letís start at the bottom," Spike suggested and they started looking
for a way into the basement. They found it finally, but they also
found one of the guards. Spike drew the others back. "That makes two
guards. The other is making rounds. Find him first." They spread out.
Liz took another staircase to the second floor, listening carefully
each step of the way. She heard him long before she saw him and more
importantly before he could see her. The guard wasnít very attentive.
Obviously, he believed that no one even knew of the place, let alone
had intentions of breaching their security.

Moving quickly, she overtook him and hooked one arm around his neck.
There was a surprised grunt as she pulled him back and drove a fist
into his lower back. She felt a crack just as before, and the body
collapsed into dust without a sound.

Okay, that was easy.  Liz turned back toward the stairs and
headed down them quietly. The last guard was still at the entrance to
the basement, and Liz withdrew to find the others. It didnít take long
to round up Spike and Max. They hadnít found any other guards. After
comparing notes they went back to a hiding place near the basement
entrance.

The guard was still there and looked as bored as ever. It was clear
that his mind was miles away, but there was at least twenty feet of
empty floor between them and no way to approach him without being
seen. 

"Tess," Max whispered. The others nodded and Max left to find his
former wife. Tess had accepted that things werenít going to go back to
the way they had been automatically, and had begun to try to win him
back instead of acting as if he were being unfaithful with Liz. Max
knew she still resented Liz, and he tried to understand her point of
view, but he found the entire concept just a little too weird. The
situation between himself and Liz, strained as it was, seemed normal
by comparison.

It was some choice, he reflected, between an alien who had been his
wife in a former life and a Human whose duty it was to hunt and kill
things that most people didnít believe in. ExceptÖ it wasnít really a
choice. Heíd do whatever it took to stay with Liz and to keep her with
him. No demon or alien was going to take her away from him. Speaking
of aliensÖ

"Tess." She turned to face him, startled by his silent approach.
"Weíre in. We need you to help us get by the last guard and to keep
out anyone who happens to check in on him." She nodded silently and
followed him.

***********************************************************************

E'tahr looked up at the window from her table in the eating
establishment. The local cuisine, such as it was, didnít agree with
her. It was just another thing on this planet she found
unsatisfactory. Speaking of unsatisfactoryÖ where is that guard?

She had set the guardís path herself. They had seemed reasonably
competent, and it was clear they understood what was at stake, but
obviously that was not enough.  He should have passed that window
three minutes ago.  Either he was ignoring his duty or something
was wrong. She rose and left the restaurant. 

The doors were locked just as she had left them and the guard she had
left there was in place at the head of the basement stairs. She
approached him and he nodded to her. "Where is Clark?" she demanded.

"Clark?" He looked blank for a moment.

"The other guard I assigned. Where is he? Heís not following the
route I laid out for him."

"I donít know maíam. I havenít seen him." E'tahr fumed silently.
"Have you seen anything out of the ordinary? Heard any odd noises?" He
shook his head.

"Iíve been at my post since you left and havenít seen any sign of
trouble." Something was wrong, but Eítahr couldnít put her finger on
it. Focusing carefully she spread her awareness throughout the
building, or tried to. There was resistance. Something was definitely
wrong. She decided to fetch reinforcements to do a proper search of
the building. She turned away and started toward the door before she
realized what was wrong. A projection! She turned abruptly; taking on
her side the blow that would have opened the seam in her husk
irrevocably.

Although not fatal, the blow was delivered with considerably more
force than sheíd expected. She hit the floor and slid several feet.
There were four of them, two young men and two girls, one of who was
clutching her head with a pained look. Obviously she had been the one
holding the illusion. The closest, the one that had struck her was
male with blonde hair and pale skin. He looked annoyed and was already
coming after her again.

Max saw her focus on Spike and raised a hand. The protective shield
formed in front of the vampire just in time to absorb what felt like a
wrecking ball. He grunted with the strain of holding the shield.

"Thanks," Spike said, shaken by the way the shield, which could turn
bullets, was now wavering. He turned to Liz. "Go take care of
business. Weíll hold her." Liz headed down the stairs.

"Whoís Ďweí?" Max grunted again as the woman got to her feet and
started toward the door while directing another pulse back towards
them. Max focused doing something he had never tried before. The
shield suddenly shot forward, staggering the woman. "Now!" Spike
stepped forward as the shield dropped briefly and delivered an
uppercut that lifted her off her feet.

***********************************************************************

Betty Whitaker almost dropped the plate she was washing when Eítahr
suddenly appeared in the room. She looked angry. "What?! Whatís wrong?"

"Weíre under attack. The husks are in danger. Gather a large group
and-" The image vanished. Betty frowned and turned to call to her
husband. Together they headed for the museum, calling out as Eítahr
had to the residents of the town. 

She stopped when a fire alarm went off several blocks away. She
looked at her husband and nodded. "Check that out. The rest of us will
go to the museum." Less than two minutes later there was a sizable
group at the entrance. They headed inside.

Those at the head of the group burst through the door in time to see
Eítahr floored by a human none of them had seen before. 

***********************************************************************

Liz had to break the lock on the door at the bottom of the stairs,
but it proved no great obstacle. The small antechamber she found
herself in was deserted. After checking behind the door and in any
part of the room that could conceal an enemy, she moved into a much
larger room. The walls were lined with large cylindrical tanks, each
containing what looked like a person. These, she realized, must be the
husks.

She moved into the room carefully, looking for enemies or traps, but
saw nothing. There wasnít much time so she moved to what looked like a
control panel. It was covered in symbols similar to those on the wall
of Nasedoís cave, and she couldnít make any more sense of them now
than she had then. There was no time to try to puzzle it out. 

"Okay, something delicate and something heavy to hit it with." She
looked around quickly, trying to find anything that fit her needs. Liz
didnít know what alerted her. There was no sound, no motion to catch
from the corner of her eye, but something warned her. 

Ducking to the right she barely avoided the full impact of the
crowbar the man swung at her. The glancing blow on her right hip sent
her sprawling as the crowbar, barely slowed by they impact continued
on to the cement floor. The impact sent a shock up her attackerís
arms, and the crowbar slipped from his numbed hands. There were
advantages to being a Slayer, Liz reflected as the pain quickly faded.
Stepping in quickly, she delivered a roundhouse kick to his chest with
her right leg and followed it up with a left cross. It spun him
around, exposing his back. Liz aimed a kick at the exposed back, only
to have her injured leg give way under her. 

Wincing, she tried to stand but a wave of the manís hand yanked her
feet from under her, and she found herself sliding toward him.
Desperately she tried to get up, but she had no traction.

"Liz!" The man looked up, distracted and Liz used her hands to give
herself a huge push toward her opponent and lashed out, kicking his
legs out from under him. He didnít fall though. Instead he flew back
through the air as Tess focused her power and released it in a
controlled burst of pure force. His body struck one of the tubes, hard
enough to shatter the tube and break the seal on his husk. Both Lizís
attacker and the husk exploded. There was a pounding from above. 

"Whatever youíre doing, do it fast," Max yelled down. "I donít know
how long I can hold them." Liz snatched up the fallen crowbar and
smashed the nearest tube. She moved to the next one.

"Too slow," Tess said looking down the long line of tanks. There was
a pipe connecting all of them. She followed it to a control box of
some sort where a monitor was apparently tracking the flow of
nutrients to the husks. "Here," she called. "This should do it." Liz
looked at the box and the pipes running from it, and nodded.

It took two swings to destroy the control panel, but the effect was
dramatic. The tanks exploded in rapid succession like dominoes
falling. The pounding from above stopped immediately. Max called down
for them to hurry. Tess and Liz rushed up the stairs and found Max
opening the door. The townspeople were sprawled around the room,
groaning.

Max didnít know what was wrong with them, but he wasnít about to look
a gift horse in the mouth.  "Okay, move now." They ran across the room
and out the door. None of the Skins were in any condition to stop
them. Outside it was a different story. There were several more aliens
lying in on the front steps, groaning. The teens passed them by and
Tess sent a message to Isabel and Maria. They reached the road and
turned to move toward the Jetta coming toward them. None of them saw
Eítahr rise up behind them.

"Look out!" Isabelís cry and the blast of force that accompanied it,
distracted Eítahr. It was a fairly weak blast by her standards, but it
was sufficient to stagger her. She tried to reorient herself, but had
to dodge. The small red Jetta screeched to a halt where she had been
standing. Eítahr lost her balance and staggered into a left hook from
the Slayer.

"Liz!" Maria tossed the sheathed blade to her friend. She hadnít had
long to decide on a weapon. She was certain one would be needed, but
the question was which one. Finally she had simply grabbed the
sharpest looking sword, a Japanese Katana she thought, and put it on
the seat next to her.

Liz caught the blade out of the air, unsheathing and swinging it in
one fluid motion. E'tahrís head flew clear of her body and exploded.
The other Skins were starting to recover and Maria gestured
frantically. "In, in, time to go!"

The Jetta was a tight fit but they managed it, only to find their way
blocked by a shaky but very angry looking group of aliens. Maria
looked behind her, back the way she had come, but they were
surrounding her car.

"Youíre going nowhere," an old woman in the group told them.

***********************************************************************

Alex had had ample time during the journey to regret letting Michael
take over driving. Now his eyes widened as Michael accelerated. "What
are you doing?!"

"Tess contacted me earlier. The town is full of ĎSkinsí." He plowed
into the mob surrounding the Jetta causing several of them to explode
into clouds of skin flakes. The rest scattered. Michael leaned out the
window. "Letís go!" The van and the Jetta reversed direction, sending
several more Skins running for cover, and headed back to where the
jeep was parked. Max, Isabel, and Liz took the jeep the others got
into the van. Spike stayed with Maria, much to her irritation.

***********************************************************************

Betty Whitaker came out of her house carrying the box that Nicholas
had left in her keeping. She knew what she was about to do was
dangerous, but she had no choice. She spoke the words and opened the
box. The eyes that stared up at her glowed in irritation.

"You are not the vessel. Nor do you have what I need. Why do you
disturb me?"

"Weíve been attacked. Many of us are dead or dying. They endanger us
and thus you and your chances to be whole again. Destroy them for us
and you will be safe, and soon you will be whole." The boxís resident
considered her words for a moment.

"Agreed."

***********************************************************************

The corpse next to her was grinning like a madman and laughing. "Now
that was justÖ neat.  Loved the way the van ran right through Ďem."

"Glad you enjoyed yourself."

"I live for this stuff," Spike continued, oblivious to Mariaís sour
mood. He didnít seem to be able to get the smile off his face. "You
did great with that katana. Just in time." Maria allowed a slight
smile.

"That was pretty smooth. I mean the way Liz caught the sword and took
off that alienís head. Whoa." Spike nodded proudly.

"Taught her everything she knows," he boasted. "That girl will be a
real terror in the demon circles someday."

"I think Liz has other plans," Maria reminded him. Spike glanced at
her, completely oblivious to her concern. 

"All Slayers have other plans before gettiní called. A normal life
just isnít normal for a Slayer." He shrugged. "ĎSides whatís the
attraction in this Ďnormal lifeí?" Maria looked at him incredulously.
"What?" He was wearing the same bewildered expression that he always
did when anyone looked at him the way Maria was. "Normal is boring,"
he said somewhat defensively. Maria gave up and concentrated on the
road. They were making good time away from Copper Summit, but it was
still a long drive and they didnít want to attract attention from the
highway patrol. It was necessary to travel at the legal limit. They
also had to use a different route to return to Roswell, not wanting to
run the risk of meeting Nicholas and the other aliens returning to
Copper Summit. Confident they would not run into trouble ahead of them
they looked primarily for signs that they were being followed.

The creature that landed on the hood of the Jetta, which was second
in the small caravan, took them all by surprise. It drove a scale
covered and wickedly clawed hand through the windshield. Maria
screamed and the car started to swerve. Spike swore colorfully, just
as startled as Maria but recovering more quickly. Grabbing the arm, he
pulled it away from Maria and toward the back seat. He pulled hard.
There was a loud bang and an indignant screech as the creatureís head
impacted with the roof of the car. 

Changing his grip slightly, Spike shoved the momentarily stunned
creature away from him as hard as he could. Off balance and with head
ringing from the blow, the thing fell from the hood to the street and
under the wheels of the car as Maria finally regained control. There
was a wet sounding crunch as the little red car rolled over the demon
before coming to a stop. 

They werenít the only ones having problems. The others had stopped
when the Jetta did. As soon as they had stopped though, a group of
demons, just like the first, made their presence known.

Max and Liz piled out of the jeep as four more of the demons emerged
from the shadows. These were cautious, after witnessing the fate of
their impetuous brother. Spike left the Jetta with a brief warning to
Maria to stay down. The group gathered around the car and watched the
approach of the demons.

"Whereíd these guys come from?" Michael demanded. Spikeís eyes
narrowed as he took in the details. They were basically reptilian,
lean and muscular with reverse articulated legs, hard scales and
vicious teeth and claws. There was something familiar about them, but
he couldnít put his finger on it. 

Michael focused on the nearest one. It flew backward several feet and
hit the ground hard, but quickly scrambled to its feet. "Oh crap." The
demons closed in, bolder now that they had seen that their intended
victimsí powers were useless against them. "Max, Tess, work with me
here." They concentrated together, focusing on the lead demon. It
staggered back. Then it began to convulse, screaming in pain. Before
their eyes it stiffened and its coloring changed, becoming gray before
exploding into fragments.

"Well," Spike said, sounding as shaken as the others felt. "Thatís
new." The remaining three demons backed away. "Maria, pop the trunk."
He moved to the back of the car and retrieved the sword Liz had used
earlier and a fire ax for himself.

Seeing this the demons rushed forward. They had lost what advantage
their vicious forms and sudden appearance had given them, and Spike
and Liz waded into them. Max, Isabel, Michael, and Tess concentrated
on disorienting the creatures and knocking them down to make them easy
targets. The fight was over in under a minute.

"Well. That was interesting." No one disputed Spikeís statement.
"Thereís somethiní familiar about this lot," he mused. "Gather up some
of the pieces and Iíll check some books back at the factory."

"Youíre joking right?" Maria asked. "I donít want to touch those
things. Even if they did turn to stone when they died." 

"We have to find out what they are Maria," Liz reasoned as she picked
up a mostly intact head. "I want to take some of these pieces to the
school lab for some tests too."

"Fine," her friend groused and picked up a hand from the demon sheíd
run over. "How am I gonna explain this to my mom?" She gestured at the
Jettaís dented hood and broken windshield. "I just canít see myself
telling her we were attacked by stone monsters." 

"Why not?" Spike asked innocently. "Thatís what happened." Maria
scowled at the vampire, but Spike just grinned, amused by her temper.
"Seriously though," he said after a moment. "Tell your mum that a
statue fell off the back of a truck and landed on your hood. Youíve
got the proof." He gestured to the hand she was holding; now
permanently frozen in the act of stretching its clawed fingers toward
something unseen.

The rest had stopped and were staring at the vampire. "What? Itíll
work. Just donít tell Ďer the part where it tried to rip your throat
out." Maria paled and hurriedly put the hand in the trunk as Spike
tried hard not to laugh. 

Michael shot an annoyed glance at the vampire, which Spike ignored.
"Come on.  Letís go home." This time he got into the Jetta with Maria
and made sure there was no room for Spike. He felt immediately warmed
by Mariaís look of gratitude.

***********************************************************************

When Whitaker had disappeared so had Lizís job at her office.  The
sheriff had stepped in and, with some hints from Michael, had
discovered the blackmail material.  The fuss that would cause should,
Valenti reasoned, keep people from looking to closely at Liz or her
friends.  After a few questions had been answered about Lizís
whereabouts and the last time she had seen Whitaker, she was left
alone to find a new job, or more precisely an old one. "So how did
your mom react to the car?"

"She didnít have to," Maria said as she loaded the last plate into
the dishwasher. "Michael and Max fixed it, as good as new. One less
complication, Michael said."

"Now why didnít I think of that?" Liz mentally kicked herself.

"You did have a few more important things on your mind," her friend
reminded her. "Completely understandable." Liz gave her a grateful
look and changed the subject as her father came into the CrashDownís
kitchen.

***********************************************************************

"How could you have let this happen?" Kívar demanded, glowering at
Betty Whitaker. The list of disasters seemed impossibly long. How
could he have been so wrong? These people had once been among his most
trusted followers, but they had failed him miserably. "Eítahr and
thirteen others dead, the husks destroyed, and the royal four have
gotten away. How could you have let this happen?" he asked again.

"We didnít Ďletí anything happen. Our security wasnít penetrated
until you tried to capture them. Iím guessing one of them overheard
you. Maybe Liz Parker was listening when you ordered their capture at
Vanessaís office." Kívar did not respond, too infuriated by her
impudence. He took a moment to regain his control.

"Whatever youíre about to say wonít matter." He turned to see
Nicholas enter the room. "Nothing matters at this point."

"The husks may be gone, but you can still have revenge," Kívar
pointed out. "We have the technology to isolate them. Without the
Humans in the way they will be easy to find and then we can force the
location of the granalith from them." Nicholas shook his head in
exasperation.

"We donít need the granalith, and once we have completed our part of
the bargain the royal four will be washed away in the fire that
Devarri will bring."

"What are you talking about?" Kívar demanded, wondering if Nicholas
had come completely unhinged. The young man didnít answer. He simply
set down the box he was carrying and opened it, drawing out a silver
chain at the end of which dangled an irregularly shaped piece of bas-
relief, obviously broken from a larger image. On the flat piece of
stone was the image of a face, a hideous face. 

Kívar stared at it, transfixed for some reason by the eyes. It was a
moment before he realized that the eyes were glowing. "Your
interference and impatience could have cost us everything. It isnít us
youíll answer to though." Nicholasí voice seemed to be coming from a
great distance. Kívar didnít notice. The eyes of the image grew larger
and larger still, until they became his entire world.

***********************************************************************

"Oh bloody hell." Spike shut down the browser and then grabbed the
pages heíd taken from the printer. He hoped he was wrong, but he
rather doubted it. Spike liked chaos. He liked a good brawl, and he
got a real kick out of risking his un-life for a little excitement.

But even he had his limits. Just as when he had helped Buffy stop
Acathla. Dru had been the biggest part of his reason, but what he had
told Buffy about the Human world was true. He liked the Human world.
It had a lot to offer even if he couldnít kill Humans anymore.

He wasnít prepared to see it all go down the tubes. He left Philip
Evansí home office and went out to where Liz was having a dinner with
the Evansí family. "Sorry to interrupt," he said, not really caring if
he was or not, "but weíve got work. Slayer stuff." Phil and Diane both
looked unhappy at the interruption, especially since neither of them
liked the vampire to begin with, but Liz looked at him expectantly.

"Whatís up Spike?"

"You need to pack a bag and make yer excuses. Weíre goiní on a road
trip." Liz looked confused.

"Road trip? Where? Why?"

"In reverse order," Spike answered. "I found out what those things
were that attacked us. Theyíre servants of a major demon called
Devarri. It means big trouble if he gets loose, but we canít do
anything about it here. So weíre goiní to a place the Skinsíll need to
go if they want to release him." He scowled. "I hope you appreciate
the lengths Iím goiní to to keep the world from endiní, cause itíll
mean goiní to the one place I never wanted to see again." The group at
the table traded confused and worried glances while Spike griped. "On
the upside youíll get to meet another Slayer. Weíre going to
Sunnyhell."

THE END FOR NOW