Max Evans gazed in the bathroom mirror. "Not looking good, chief," he said to his reflection. Hollow cheeks. Bags -- more like a full set of luggage under his eyes. His skin had a transparent, grayish quality. He noticed a zit on his neck. It was actually kind of...comforting. It made him feel young.
Max stepped onto the scale. Three pounds less than yesterday. A wave of panic rushed through him. He lost his balance, fell off the scale, and managed to land on the toilet. He covered his face with his hands. Am I having a midlife crisis at sixteen? he wondered. Why do I feel so weak?
He heard a shrill giggle from downstairs. God -- I've got to get to work, he thought.
"Uh, I'm leaving now," Max called. He cleared his throat and descended the stairs. "To leave, I have to walk through the living room. I am now moving toward the living room."
Max stepped through the doorway. Oh, man. His sister, Isabel, and her boyfriend, Alex Manes, hadn't taken the hint. They were still all over each other. Max tried not to look as he rushed past them, but he still saw more than he wanted to. Lip lockage. Some buttons unbuttoned. Hands everywhere.
It just wasn't something a guy needed to see his sister doing. His little sister. Okay, she was a junior in high school. But still.
Max slammed out the front door and trotted over to his Jeep, relieved to be out of the house. He swung himself into the driver's seat, turned on the ignition, and backed out the driveway.
He made a left, heading toward the center of Roswell, then cranked the radio and put on his shades against the late afternoon sun. The cool air slid past him, blowing his blond hair off his forehead. He started feeling like a guy in a jeep ad. An I'm-the-king-of-the-world-up-here-in-my-Jeep feeling.
It had been a while since he'd felt this good. But things were basically. going his way. Isabel was with a guy Max actually liked, a guy who treated her right. Yeah, Max wished they would find a slightly more private place for their make-out marathons, but he approved of the whole Isabel-Alex thing.
He smiled. Isabel would be furious if she knew what he was thinking right now. She'd say just because he was her brother that didn't mean he had to give the guys she went out with the seal of approval, like they were sides of beef he thought were fit to be hamburger. She'd say it was none of his business.
But it was. Everyone in the group was his business. He was connected to all six of them. And they were connected to him. Sometimes when they all hanging out, their auras would swirl together and create one huge aura filled with colors. Even when they were apart, that feeling of oneness lingered within him. Max didn't think he could feel this good if something was really wrong with one of the others.
Isabel and Alex were certainly happy. Maybe even a little too happy for Max's taste. He was almost scared to think of them getting any happier -- they might break a natural law or something. That took care of two of the six.
Maria DeLuca was doing okay, too, especially considering that she'd almost died on them last week. She'd found a ring that contained one of the Stones of Midnight. It gave her psychic powers -- by merely thinking of someone, she could experience their thoughts and emotions. Unfortunately bounty hunters from Max's home planet were tracking the stolen Stone. They tried to kill Maria, and they probably would have.
But Michael Guerin, Max's best friend, faced the bounty hunters with her and basically saved her. Now the worst thing Michael had to deal with was adjusting to his latest foster home. His new foster parents, the Pascals, had a lot of rules, but they seemed to really care about the kids who lived with them. That had to count for something.
And Liz...Admit it, Max thought. Now you've come to the real reason you're feeling good. Liz Ortecho doesn't hate you anymore.
He had come so close to permanently messing things up with Liz. He'd kissed her and then told her he wanted to be just friends. Then he'd kissed her again and told her he wanted to be just friends again, and then when she decided to go out with another guy, Max had followed her like some kind of lunatic stalker. Not exactly something a friend would do.
So Liz had gone into Max-hating mode. But when Maria got hurt, it took all six of them to get her through -- so they put Max's maddening fickleness aside for the time being. They'd managed to find a way back to, being friends. Just
friends. But friends.
A new song came on the radio. One of those whiny, wailing chick songs about the pain of love. Not what Max wanted to hear right now. Not when he was actually, feeling decent for once. He did a fast button punch to change the station.
A drum solo pounded out. It was loud. Way too loud. Louder than it would be if he were sitting next to one of those huge amps at a concert. Max fumbled, for the volume control and turned, the knob to the left. But the drums got louder. He as if the drumsticks were slamming into his brain. Stabbing through the gray matter.
Max pulled over to the curb and stopped. He snapped the radio off. The drumming stopped. But there were still so many sounds. A car honked as it passed him. Max jerked his head back and gritted his teeth. The honk seemed to pierce delicate eardrum like a needle.
Max shoved his hands against his ears. He tried to keep from screaming. The sound of his own howl of pain would be agony.
He squeezed his eyes shut, leaned down, and pressed his forehead against the steering wheel. His hands weren't blocking out enough of the noise. He could still hear car wheels against the street, a bird chirping in one of the trees, two girls giggling. He could hear electricity pulsing through the power lines over his head. And the leaves of the trees brushing together. And his own blood rushing through his veins. It was too much. He couldn't take it.
Then, it stopped. As if some giant hand had reached down and lowered the cosmic volume control. Max could hear only dim, muffled sounds through his hands. He slowly opened his eyes. He watched a car drive by. He could hardly hear it.
Max moved his hands a few inches away from his ears. He held them poised there, ready to slap them back in place if he needed to. But the sounds were...just normal sounds. Some louder than others, but none getting even close to the pain-inducing level.
What was that? Max thought. He glanced around the street. He spotted a woman a few houses down, working in her garden. She seemed too absorbed in her work to have experienced anything like what Max had.
Of course she hadn't. Maybe there had been a screwup at the radio station, something that made it blast out music at eardrum-popping levels. But that couldn't explain the volume on cars and birds an power lines. No, whatever that was had happened inside him.
Max let out a long, shuddering breath and lowered his hands to the wheel. He waited a few more minutes to make sure he wasn't going to get hit with another sound blast, then he pulled away from the curb.
He felt the tension in his neck and shoulders and arms as he drove. Even his fingers were curled too tightly around the wheel. Relax, he told himself. Just take a deep breath and relax. His body wouldn't obey -- it was bracing itself for the next assault.
But it didn't come. Max made it to the UFO museum without even a flash of the mega-sound blast. He maneuvered the he jeep into an empty spot in the parking lot. Should I ask Ray about what happened? he wondered. Maybe it was an alien thing.
But Ray Iburg didn't like being asked question's about alien things. He said that even though Max, Isabel, and Michael were from his home planet, earth was their home now. He didn't want them to spend their lives thinking about some other place.
Even though Max suspected that Ray spent a lot of time thinking about home -- his home.
When Max first found out that Ray was an alien too, he'd gotten this picture in his mind. He'd never admitted it to anyone else, but he'd thought he and Ray would get a Luke Skywalker-Yoda kind of thing going, where Ray would impart all his wisdom to Max, tell Max about his parents, teach him how to refine his powers, that kind of stuff. Okay, maybe it was dorky. But that's what he'd thought.
It hadn't turned out like that. Ray had told him and Michael about their parents' death. He'd shown them a hologram re-creation of the spaceship crashing in the desert outside Roswell back in 1947. And he'd told them how he brought their incubation pods from the ship to the desert cave where they would be safe during the years it took them to develop to maturity. He'd even shown them a few new things that they could do with their powers, things that might help protect them against being discovered by Sheriff Valenti. Plus he'd completely been there for them when a group of alien bounty hunters came after Maria.
That was all. Ray was happy for Max to keep working at the museum. But he acted as if he and Max were just two ordinary humans. And he wanted Max to act the same way.
Max wanted so much more from Ray. He wanted Ray to teach him the history of their planet -- its culture and all its phenomena. Ray might tell him if the intense volume thing Max had just experienced was alien related. But then he'd probably clam up.
Max climbed out of the Jeep and crossed the parking lot. He took off his sunglasses and hooked them over the edge of his T-shirt.
"I found a great painting of foo fighters," Ray announced the second Max walked through the door. "Come check it out." He started toward the back of the museum without waiting for a reply.
"I didn't know Foo Fighters had any UFO connection," Max commented as he followed Ray.
"Don't say that so loud," Ray cautioned. He took a quick glance around for tourists, but the museum's few customers were flipping through the T-shirt rack on the other side of the place. "People pay good money to come in here and enjoy their wacky human theories. Myself, I think it's the World War Two version of an urban legend. That generations hook-handed man in the back of a car."
"Whoa. I'm talking about the rock band here, Ray. And you would be talking about?"
Ray turned the corner and nodded at a massive oil painting of an old fighter plane being chased by what looked like balls of orange and green fire. "The band got their name from these foo fighters. That's what people called the incredibly fast, glowing balls and silver disks reported to follow planes and ships in the European and Pacific theaters during the war. The UFologist types think they were UFOs," Ray explained. He pointed at Max. "And if anyone asks you about them, you believe the same thing. Got it?"
"I live to deceive the public," Max said. Now seemed like a good time to ask about what had happened in the car.
I Ray tilted his head to one side. "I think that painting is crooked. Good thing I left the ladder out."
"I'll fix it." Max hurried over and climbed up to the second-highest step. He pushed the corner of the painting down about half an inch. "How does that look?" he asked.
He stood way too close to it to tell. The painting was so big, it filled most of his field of vision. Max stared at it, transfixed. The orange and green balls practically vibrated with color. He felt as if they were flying toward him. They were so bright, they almost seemed to glow.
"Ray? Is it straight?" Max repeated. He felt his mouth moving, forming the words. But no sound came out. He realized the museum had become absolutely silent.
"Ray!" he shouted. He could feel the muscles in his throat working. But he couldn't force out a sound.
He started to turn and look for Ray, but his gaze locked on the colors of the painting. They were brighter now. So bright, they made his eyes burn.
Look away! Now! he ordered himself. But the colors were so beautiful. So vivid. Mesmerizing. The green and orange filled his vision. It was like staring directly into the sun. And he couldn't force his gaze away.
His eyes felt like hot coals jammed into his head. The green and orange balls exploded in front of him. Filling his vision with searing bits of color.
Then a wave of dizziness swept through Max, and the world went black. He couldn't feel the ladder under his feet. And he was falling.
He knew he was only a few feet off the ground. He should have landed instantaneously. But he kept hurtling through the dark, silent void. Spinning, twisting, rolling. But always falling.
Then it was over. He could feel the museum's tile floor under his back. He could hear Ray's voice saying his name.
He opened his eyes a crack. He saw blobs of color, but none had the effect of the paintings green and orange balls of fire. He opened his eyes the rest of the way and sat up.
"Are you okay? What happened?" Ray asked.
Max scrubbed his face with his fingers. "I was hoping you would tell me," he muttered.
Ray turned to the group of tourists who had gathered. "He's fine. You can all go back to what you were doing. Don't miss the crop circle exhibit," he told them. Then he helped Max to his feet. "Come on, I'll get you something to drink."
Ray led Max to a table at the back of the museum's little coffee shop. "You want water, a Lime Warp, what?"
Max shook his head. All he wanted was information. And fast. "Nothing. I just need you to help me figure out what's going on. I was standing on the ladder, and everything was normal. Then the green and orange in the painting got brighter and brighter until they were burning my eyes. Then it's like I went blind. And deaf -- that actually happened first. And then I was falling. It was like I'd fallen off a skyscraper or something. It took me forever to hit the ground."
Saying all that out loud...it made him feel like a loon. Maybe he had a fever or something.
Ray sat down across from Max and studied his face tensely "Is this the first time anything like this happened?" he asked.
"On the way here something weird happened, the sounds got incredibly. loud. I thought my eardrums were going to explode. And then it just stopped. Everything sounded normal again," Max told him. He lowered his voice. "I thought at first maybe it was an alien thing. But maybe it's -- "
"You thought right," Ray jumped in. "Have you had any spells of extreme
"I guess, sort of. Once or twice," Max admitted thinking back over the past few weeks. He hadn't really thought anything about those spells.
Ray nodded, his expression grave. You've just described the first stage of the akino.
"And that would be?" Max asked. He struggled to stay calm and rational, even though there was something in Ray's tone that made Max's anxiety level spike. Not to mention the streaks of sickly yellow invading the blue-and-green whorls of Ray's aura.
"Our race has a...collective consciousness," Ray explained. "It's like a psychic Internet. All the knowledge, all the life experience, all the emotions of all of our people are there in the consciousness. When a person reaches maturity, he or she is able to make the connection to the consciousness for the
first time. This rite of passage is called the akino. The physical symptoms you've experienced -- the bursts of heightened sensation, the fatigue -- are signals that it is time for you to make your connection."
Max breathed a sigh of relief. "So, it's a good thing, right?" Actually it sounded more than good. It sounded awesome. The collective consciousness would hold the answer to every question Max had about his home planet his people.
He felt some of the tightness in his muscles ease a little. He didn't have some hideous aliens-only disease. And Ray knew exactly what was going on. He could walk Max through the whole akino deal.
"Usually it would be a cause for celebration," Ray agreed. "Like a human bar mitzvah or a wedding. But -- "
"I know, I know. I live on earth. This is my home. I shouldn't waste time thinking about a place I'll never go," Max interrupted.
"That's not what I was going to say," Ray told him. "There is no question that you must join the collective consciousness. And soon. But we're too far away. You need...you need the communication crystals. And they're on the ship."
"The ship? The ship disappeared after the crash, remember? We don't know where it is," Max protested. "Michael and I have been looking for it practically our whole lives."
Ray reached across the table and grabbed Mix hand. Which was weird. Ray wasn't one of those touchy-feely guys. Max felt his muscles retighten until his entire body ached.
"Max, if you don't connect to the consciousness, you will die," Ray said slowly and clearly.
Die. The word sucked all the air out of Max's lungs and left him gasping.
No. It couldn't be. A few dizzy spells could not possibly equal a fatal disease.
"Wait," he protested. "I've lived on earth my whole life. You have no way of knowing how that's changed my body. You can't be sure I'll respond the same way I would have if I was on our home planet," Max said in a rush. He tried to pull his hand free, but Ray tightened his grip.
"You're right. I don't know how growing to maturity on this planet has affected you. But here's what I do know," Ray answered. "I know that the experiences you described to me -- the painfully loud sounds and bright colors -- they're almost exactly what I went through myself when it was my akino time."
"That doesn't mean crap. I thought you were supposed to be a scientist or something. Don't you think you're making a huge assumption here?" Max demanded. He gave his hand another wrench, and this time Ray let it go.
Max crossed his arms, tucking his hand against his body. But he could still feel the tremors running through it.
"Maybe you're right," Ray said gently. He used his sleeve to rub a coffee stain off one of the little alien faces decorating the table. "But just in case you're not, I -- "
Max felt like he was about to lose it. He could already feel a lump growing in his throat, and his eyes were getting so wet that another blink might bring tears.
He sprang out of his chair so quickly that it topled. He caught it before it hit the ground and slammed it back in place. Then he took a long breath, pulling it deep into his lungs. "What do you want me to do today?" he asked. "I know you're not paying me to grow my hair."
Ray gave a small smile -- whether because Max had used one of Ray's favorite expressions or because of his amazingly obvious subject change, Max wasn't sure. "Why don't you go into the storage area and see if you can find any more foo fighter stuff for the display?
"On it." Max took three steps away from the table, then turned. "Ray, if you're right and I do have to connect to the consciousness, how much time do I have?"
"It's hard to, say exactly," Ray admitted. "Maybe months. Maybe days."
Copyright © 1999 by Pocket Books
Max is dying. No one wants to believe it, but he knows it's true. And as the end grows closer, he can only think of one thing: Who will protect Liz if he's not here?
Liz can't stand watching Max suffer. She's determined to find some way -- any way -- to save him. But the only way to help Max is to risk her own life. Is she willing to die for the one she loves?
- Gallery Books |
- 176 pages |
- ISBN 9780743434454 |
- April 2001 |
- Grades 11 and up
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